by Frank Cordaro, posted on Jesus Radicals
I have wanted to read this book for many years. It just was not written yet. Now that it is, we Catholic Workers and faith-based-nonviolent-resistance-to-the-USA-Empire type folks owe Wes Howard-Brook a debt of gratitude. Not since reading Ched Myers’s ground-breaking Binding the Strong Man has a book so influenced my reading of the scriptures. What Myers did with the Gospel of Mark, Howard-Brook does for the whole Bible by laying out a template for reading it.
Come Out, My People! addresses two major issues that have plagued my reading of the Bible. The first is the seeming great divide between the New and Old Testaments, or what we Christians have called our “Jewish question.” James Carroll’s book Constantine’s Sword, documents this tragic misreading of the scriptures and the bloody history that has followed. The current political discourse surrounding the State of Israel shows that these issues are still very much with us and not going away anytime soon,
My second issue surrounds the question of violence in the Bible. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s book Jesus Against Christianity highlights this perplexing issue well. Nelson-Pallmeyer asks the question, how are we who believe in the nonviolent Jesus and the unconditionally loving God of unlimited forgiveness with the violent deeds attributed to God and God’s people in the Bible? Nelson-Pallmeyer‘s answer is a bold and liberating one. If we really believe in that Jesus and that God, then where ever God is portrayed as violent in both the New and Old Testaments, the violence is human pathology imposed on the text. I find Nelson-Pallmeyer’s answer very appealing. It rings true in my spiritual guts. Yet it is somehow too convenient, too easy a solution. It does not adequately or systematically deal with the Bible’s violent biblical texts.
Wes Howard-Brook’s book Come Out, My People! addresses both of these issues and then some.
The “Jewish question” is addressed in the introduction, “Is God on Our Side?” Most people believe the Bible to be the book of two religions: Judaism and Christianity. This is not the case according to Howard-Brook. There are indeed two religions embedded in the biblical text, but they are not Judaism and Christianity. They are a religion of Creation and a religion of Empire.
The religion of Creation is “grounded in the experience of and ongoing relationship with the Creator God, leading to a covenantal bond between God and God’s people for the blessing and abundance of all people and all creation.” The religion of Empire, “while sometimes claiming to be grounded in that same God, is actually a human invention used to justify and legitimate attitudes and behaviors that provide blessing and abundance for some at the expense of others.”
These two religions are in direct opposition to each other, with differing ends and means. And despite attempts in the biblical text to reconcile the two, in the end, at the end of the book and in the New Testament, a clean break is made, with the religion of Creation overriding the religion of Empire.