Editor’s note: this is a retransmission of story #09622, originally published July 20, 2009. The story contained two errors; the corrections are noted in italics in the fourth and fifth paragraphs. — Jerry L. Van Marter
The closing plenary of the 2009 Churchwide Gathering of Presbyterian Women was a “Celebration of Wonders.” Emily Martin presented the interpretation of God’s Word, titled “Celebration?”
Emily grew up in Denson, Alabama and graduated from the Alabama School of Math and Science in Mobile. In 2003, she graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts and went on to pursue a Master’s of Divinity from Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia. Between programs, Emily spent a year in South Africa on a Watson Fellowship to study how that country has responded to the AIDS crisis.
Last year, Emily worked as an intern and ran a summer mission camp for students in Mobile, Alabama. She currently works for an organization called DOOR Atlanta where she organizes week-long, urban immersion experiences for junior and senior high school students from all over the United States. The students “sleep at Central Presbyterian Church where there’s a men’s shelter in the winter,” she said. Throughout the week, the students do mission work in the city and at night they participate in educational activities, worship services and Bible studies. Emily works with a staff of college students to plan the experience for some sixty participants.
The closing plenary session focused on Joshua 21:43–22:8 which describes the fulfillment of God’s promises to Israel after they achieve military victories over their enemies. The passage itself focuses on the blessings that God gave to Israel after the wars were over, but Emily provided the biblical and historical context for the text. “Like a good Presbyterian, [I] just read the whole book of Joshua,” she said. She described the conflict and bloodshed that led to the blessings described in Joshua 21–22. Given the serious nature of the historical context she described, one might expect the interpretation that followed to be a solemn one. Yet Emily was able to deliver the message with humor and grace. At one point she exclaimed, “Forty thousand grown Israelite men allowed themselves to be circumcised — sisters, that has to count as a wonder!”
Emily described how some theologians justify the violence that the ancient Israelites committed against other nations. She explained that scholars who acknowledge the violence tend to say things like, “The Israelites didn’t understand violence in the same way that we do.” Although some scholars might accept explanations like these, Emily said, “the more justifications and qualifications I hear, the more suspicious I get.”
She is suspicious in part because of what she hears about in the news today about conflicts and injustices that are happening around the world, from the Middle East to our own inner cities. While researching “the twenty-first century version of the Israeli-Canaanite conflict,” she describes an interview she found with an Israeli woman and a Palestinian man who became friends after they each lost a child in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian Muslim, Ali Abu Awwad said in the interview, “To be honest is difficult. Nobody wants to be honest; everybody wants to be right.”
Emily acknowledged how difficult it is for modern believers to celebrate the book of Joshua given the violent history it describes. “In light of God’s character and God’s commandments, I believe our resistance to celebrate a violent conquest is a faithful resistance and one perhaps allowed for in the text itself,” she said.
Emily included a call to action for Presbyterian women. Wondering what it would be like to be obedient to God’s commandments today she said, “Maybe it would mean viewing the land not as something to take, but something to take care of, even as it takes care of us.”