February 14th, 2014
In something out of Kansas called The Rolla Daily News, Jim Brock rants about the proposed pro-discrimination bill. He doesn’t think it’s very Christian:
I guess some members of the Kansas House never read Matthew 25:40-45: “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’”
The holy words of Bible can be so inconvenient, especially when they don’t come from Exodus or Leviticus.
Refusing to love the sinner
January 3rd, 2014
I’ve long derided the glib phrase, “Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin”.
First, I don’t think there is anything inherently sinful in homosexuality, especially lived in a responsible, mature and spiritual way. But that isn’t my objection; you can define sin however you like.
Believe me, growing up the son of a Pentecostal pastor, it seemed like most everything was either sin or right up next to it: movies, television, secular music, dancing, playing cards (but just the kind with clubs and diamonds, not the kind with old maids), boys going shirtless, boys and girls swimming together, and of course smoking and drinking and sex outside marriage. And if anything new came along, you’d better put it on the sin list just to be safe.
But those were ‘things Christians don’t do’, not things that you lobbied and tried to ban in Caesar’s realm. So if you want to think something is sin, by all means don’t do it. Just stay out of my life and my rights (and my Ketel One martini, dry with two olives).
No, my problem with the phrase is that it has mostly been a lie, a claim that was mocked by the actions of those making it. Never did I see much love directed toward the “sinner” and it seems that all the hate was directed not towards whatever sin was imagined that he engaged in, but rather toward the one who was imagined to be doing it.
Love the sinner? Fire him! Love the sinner? Take away her children! Love the sinner? Ban his marriage rights! Love the sinner? Bully her in the school hallways! Love the sinners? Don’t let them eat cake!
But Micah Murray, writing at Huffington Post, gives another reason why this trite phrase will no longer pass his lips. Murray still considers homosexual acts to be sinful, but he now sees that by focusing on the sin of gay people, you don’t see the people of gay people.
And despite all my theological disclaimers about how I’m just as much a sinner too, it’s not the same. We don’t use that phrase for everybody else. Only them. Only “the gays.” That’s the only place where we make “sinner” the all-encompassing identity.
Then we try to reach them, to evangelize them. We speak of “the gays” in words reminiscent of the “savages” from those old missionary stories — foreign and different and far away, the ultimate conquest for the church to tame and colonize and save.
Maybe we accept them in our midst. But even then, it’s sinners in our midst — branded with a rainbow-colored scarlet letter. They aren’t truly part of us.
Even that word “them” makes me cringe as I speak it, as if my brothers and sisters are somehow other, different from me.
It’s a special sort of condescending love we’ve reserved for the gay community. We’ll agree to love them, accept them, welcome them — but we reserve the right to see them as different. We reserve the right to say “them” instead of “us.” We embrace them with arms full of disclaimers about how all the sinners are welcome here. And yet, they’re the only ones we constantly remind of their status as sinners, welcome sinners.
And sadly, that is quite true.
I still find Micah’s position to be less than ideal. For all his efforts, it’s clear that he is still clinging to gay=sin. But I applaud his honesty and his desire to set aside the weights that hold him in a place of condemnation.
He is in an in-between place. But if more of conservative Christendom were in that place, my life would be easier.
Breaking ground in the heart of our opposition
August 13th, 2013
Our community has gradually gained support in Mainstream Christianity, to the point where some more liberal denominations and pastors are taking up the mantle of advocacy in areas where there are not strong gay political action groups. And the support of churches has proven to be invaluable in such situations as the Minnesota marriage battle.
But we have, until recently, seen a sharp divide between liberal churches or the nominally Christian on one side, and the hard-core, pew-warming, born-again, biblical literalists on the other. But a study out of Baylor University has identified a new group which they call Evangelical Ambivalents who are starting to stake out a central position. (phys.org)
For their study—”How the Messy Middle Finds a Voice: Evangelicals and Structured Ambivalence towards Gays and Lesbians”—researchers analyzed national data from the 2010 Baylor Religion Survey, a random sample of 1,714 individuals across the country. Researchers found that 24 percent of evangelicals fit into the ambivalent category, supporting gay civil unions even though they are morally opposed to homosexuality. The survey, designed by Baylor University scholars and conducted by The Gallup Organization, included more than 300 items dealing with religion and the attitudes, beliefs, and values of the American public.
And these are not Easter Sunday Christians or liberals displaced in an evangelical church. They are part of the conservative evangelical fold who are finding a way to balance both their church and their social conscience.
Other research findings about Ambivalent Evangelicals:
They are similar in biblical literalism and religious practice to those who oppose civil unions, while the 35 percent who are Culture Progressives—with positive attitudes toward homosexuality—are less involved in such activities as church attendance, although they pray privately.
Ambivalents are not as politically conservative as Gay Rights Opponents, but they are more politically conservative than Cultural Progressives.
They are more likely to be married, have lower levels of education, be biblical literalists, and attend church frequently than Cultural Progressives.
They are more likely to believe that sexuality is innate than Gay Rights Opponents, but less likely than Cultural Progressives to do so.
They are more likely to identify themselves as “born-again” than Cultural Progressives are.
If, as this study suggests, one quarter of evangelical parishioners are finding themselves in support of gay rights, the end to our biggest struggle is not far off.
UPDATE: The Atlantic takes on a similar theme, discussing the change in the way that religion in American interacts with gay people.
Lord Jenkin’s theology
June 6th, 2013
Sometimes you read something that simply must be shared.
Patrick Jenkin is a rather accomplished man from a distinguished family. He served in several positions in the Thatcher Cabinet and has been Baron Jenkin of Roding since 1987.
In the debate in the House of Lords over marriage equality, Lord Jenkin said the following: (PinkNews)
Finally, I return to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester. I hope that he will not feel it is unfair if I call him my “old friend”, as indeed he is. I have come to the firm conclusion that there is nothing to fear in gay marriage and that, indeed, it will be a positive good not just for same-gender unions but for the institution of marriage generally. The effect will be to put right at the centre of marriage the concept of a stable, loving relationship. As a practising Christian, perhaps I may make the point to the Bishops’ Benches, including to the most reverend Primate, that there is every reason why, in time, the Anglican Church should come to accept that, although I recognise that it may take some time. The character of love which marriage reflects—that it is faithful, stable, tough, unselfish and unconditional—is the same character that most Christians see in the love of God. Marriage is therefore holy, not because it is ordained by God, but because it reflects that most important central truth of our religion: the love of God for all of us.
This is a very compelling argument for those who value their faith as something more than a mask for their prejudices.
Identifying your (dwindling) opposition
January 4th, 2013
On NomBlog, the National Organization for Marriage describes a letter issued in opposition to equality as “An extraordinary show of support for true marriage by a wide spectrum of faith communities in Illinois”. But that letter illustrates just how narrow that spectrum has become.
Our denominational opposition in Illinois consists of:
* Catholic Conference of Illinois
* Anglican Church in North America
* The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
* The Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago
* The Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod
That may seem like a “wide spectrum” at first glance, and quite diverse, but when you look closer it reveals how few denominations have signed on to oppose civil marriage in the state. Our opponents are the Catholic hierarchy (lay Catholics support equality), Mormons, Muslims, and two Protestant denominations: the churches that left the Episcopal Church when she became pro-gay, and the smaller of the two major Lutheran churches (the other blesses same-sex unions).
It can no longer be said that the battle over civil marriage is between the gay community and people of faith. Far too many in the religious community have either disengaged or defected to our side.
Have Evangelicals stepped out of the marriage battle?
January 2nd, 2013
Google news for “Catholic” and “gay marriage” in just the past week you will have hundreds of unique articles. Google “Southern Baptist” and “gay marriage” over the same period and you will get:
1 article about the Metropolitan Community Church (132 hits)
3 articles recapping top stories from 2012
1 article about gay athletes
1 article about abortion
In response to legislation which will likely result in two more equality states this month, the Southern Baptists have no comment. Sure, Rhode Island and Illinois are not SBC strongholds, but still… nothing?
And this is not a fluke.
Over the last year or so I’ve noticed that while the debate over marriage equality has intensified and while the news surrounding marriage equality has been non-stop, one voice has been increasingly silent. The conservative evangelical Christian community has been nearly mum on the subject. Baptists, Missouri Synod Lutherans, Pentecostals, conservative Methodists and Presbyterians, and the dozens of Reformed, Brethren, Campbellites, and other denominations barely muttered a peep. Even in battle states, evangelicals have – at most – stood in the background while Catholic Bishops have become the voice and face of anti-gay efforts.
This is not to suggest that they have changed their theology, though I do think it has softened. Nor does it suggest that Alabama is going to willingly reverse their Constitutional ban. But it is a fascinating phenomenon which gives me a great deal of hope for change in the near future.
It could be that we are beginning to convince evangelical lay people that allowing gay people to marry at the courthouse or at some other church does not threaten their right to believe and live as they choose. This would explain the shift in support. Evangelicals, being grass-roots driven, are more susceptible to changes in the perceptions and beliefs of their congregants while Catholics, being hierarchal, can hold to positions that are shared by few in the pews but appeal to a handful of old men in Rome.
It’s not a gay thing
October 8th, 2012
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Every day en route to work, I’m greeted by a billboard telling me “Obama supports gay marriage.” It then asks if I do, while recommending that I “vote Republican.”
Really? That’s supposed to be my voting criterion? Why are decisions like choosing presidents or chicken sandwiches now a gay thing?
Go read the rest of it. And then read the comments.
Marriage, just like christening
October 2nd, 2012
Another institution that is religious in nature that also has had a civil component is christening. Though this is less evident and a less common practice, christening or baptismal documents can in many instances be presented as evidence of citizenship. Take, for example, the Florida requirements for obtaining a driver’s license. Each citizen must produce a primary document (birth certificate, naturalization papers, etc.) and a secondary document, one of which can be “Baptism certificate, which shows date of birth and the place of baptism.”
Baptismal documents are no longer a frequent proof of birth. The social security system, use of hospitals for birth, and the adoption of state birth certificates has pretty much diminished the need. But as genealogists well know, for a significant time in this country they were the primary evidence of birth and even after the incorporation of birth records, frequently fires, lost records, racial discrimination, reconfigured county lines and inconsistent record keeping would result in church records being far more thorough and reliable than municipal records. For much of our nation’s history it was these religious documents that provided evidence of citizenship. And though it is rare, some very elderly people still rely on these records as proof of birth.
Which is an interesting parallel.
Because, just like marriage, different faiths had strongly divergent baptismal beliefs and practices. Some, like Catholics and Lutherans, practice water baptism (generally a sprinkling or dripping of water) while other protestants strenuously object to baptism before the age of consent and instead will bless or dedicate a child. But in either case, the parent will receive a document recognizing the event and listing the relevant details.
Which raises the point, what if some religious advocates sought an amendment in Florida declaring that baptismal documents would be “defined” by the state to include only for such ceremonies as conformed with Catholic doctrine? And suppose their campaign was sold to the public solely in terms of “what God designed”.
I think that there is little question that a number of denominations would immediately sue to have such an initiative stricken from the ballot as being a violation of the separation of church and state. And they would win, and rightly so.
Which makes me wonder, why doesn’t the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the Episcopal Church or Reformed Judaism sue to have Minnesota’s discriminatory amendment stricken from the ballot? It discriminates along doctrinal lines, declaring that such marriages as are sanctioned by one church are recognized by the state while the theological practice of another church is declared to be void. And the campaign is presented purely along theological lines; their ads defend anti-gay marriage law because “it was made by God” which declares in no uncertain terms that the state of Minnesota will vote whether the beliefs about what “God made” will include the teachings of Lutherans and other liberal Christians and Jews or be excluded to just what Catholics, Mormons and other conservatives believe.
It is time for those churches who believe that the call for justice and mercy as an integral doctrine of faith compels them to defend the marriage rights of gay citizens put their faith in action. They are victims of these amendments, just as we are. They need to stand up and be strong and demand that the anti-mainline-Christianity bigotry and anti-Jewish bigotry that is all over the face of these laws cease and hold no legal standing.
Otherwise it seems to me that their beliefs about baptismal documents are more important to them than their belief in equality.
Publisher pulls David Barton’s book of lies about Jefferson
August 9th, 2012
Former Texas Republican Party Co-Chair and evangelical “historian” David Barton is a darling of conservative Christians who believe that America is a Christian Nation and that God hand-selected very devout men to bring about it’s creation and that whole “separation of church and state” thing is just a fiction created to exclude Christians from their rightful role in government. He has for several years appeared on Christian television with stories that confirm their beliefs.
Earlier this year he set out to “debunk” the horrible lies that liberals and atheists were saying about revered Founding Father Thomas Jefferson. In his book, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson, Barton bets his reputation on articulating just how and why history backs up his claim that Jefferson was a devout Christian (of Barton’s flavor) who opposed slavery, and that the Founding Fathers really set out to enshrine religious principles in the Constitution rather than protect the citizenry from religious coercion.
He just rolled snake eyes.
Evangelical Christian professor and blogger Warren Throckmorton was long been on a campaign of debunking Barton’s absurd assertions. In May, he and fellow Grove City College professor Michael Coulter authored Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, in which they use documents (often more complete examples of Barton’s snippets) to disprove his revisionist history.
This encouraged others to take a closer look at Barton’s historical claims. For example, Greg Forster writing for First Things, a project of The Institute on Religion and Public Life, found his claims about John Locke to be, well, let him say it:
I should note for the record that I’m not only a conservative (both theologically, as an evangelical, and politically, as a Republican) but one with a track record of defending Locke against claims that he was a deist or that his philosophy is antithetical to Christianity. As providence would have it, just over a week ago I published an article on how Locke’s Reasonableness helped me come to faith in Jesus Christ.
Yet Barton’s attempt to fit Locke into his larger historical narrative forces him into numerous distortions. Moreover, the article contains a number of incidental facutal errors that don’t even advance his thesis, indicating that his inability to write reliable history stretches beyond ideological cheerleading and into outright incompetence.
Criticism mounted – much of it from fellow conservative Christians who were offended by the blatancy of the dishonesty. But the final straw was when a coalition of Cincinnati area pastors – including several African-American pastors – threatened to boycott the Christian book publisher that printed Barton’s book.
Bishop Dwight Wilkins, president of The Amos Project, said, “We have privately approached Thomas Nelson about our concerns, with no resolution.” The pastors/church leaders pointed to four major concerns the group has with The Jefferson Lies:
1. It glosses over Thomas Jefferson’s unorthodox and heretical beliefs about Jesus Christ;
2. It minimizes and justifies Thomas Jefferson’s racism;
3. It excuses Thomas Jefferson’s practice of enslaving African-Americans.
4. The Jefferson Lies is riddled with factual distortions and falsehoods.
Rev. Damon Lynch said, “David Barton falsely claims that Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves.” In fact, Jefferson was allowed to free his slave under Virginia law, but failed to do it. The Jefferson Lies glosses over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views.
So today David Barton’s publisher, Thomas Nelson, has announced that they will cease publication and distribution of The Jefferson Lies. Because, ironically, it is lies: (World)
Casey Francis Harrell, Thomas Nelson’s director of corporate communications, told me the publishing house “was contacted by a number of people expressing concerns about [The Jefferson Lies].” The company began to evaluate the criticisms, Harrell said, and “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”
Barton stands by his story, asserts that other publishers are ready to take up the book, claims Throckmorton is nuts, and blusters about a room full of PhD’s who endorse him but insist on remaining anonymous. But he has taken a serious blow. In the field of history, your credibility is your meal ticket. Once it has been proven that you’re a liar, you no longer have much to contribute.
A god not worthy to be praised
May 30th, 2012
Throughout the Jewish Scriptures and into the Christian testament there is a theme: worship of G-d is conditional. Their god was not worshiped simply because he was powerful and demanded it, but because he deserved to be worshiped.
In the Exodus story (the Hebrew people flee slavery conditions in Egypt by a miraculous parting of the Red Sea which closes on the Pharoah’s army and drowns their pursuers), Moses praises God for delivering them:
I will sing to the Lord,
for he is highly exalted.
Both horse and driver
he has hurled into the sea.
The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
In the 145th Psalm, attributed to David, it is God’s wonders and goodness that cause adoration
Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised,
and his greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
They shall pour forth the fame of your abundant goodness
and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
The Lord is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
The Lord is good to all,
and his mercy is over all that he has made.
And closing out the black leather bound book, in the apocryphal Revelation, it is the act of creation that merits praise
Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.
While one might question whether the creation of all things is truly deserving of applause (one of the many problems which I have with apocrypha, especially the vision of John of Patmos), still there is present the notion that God is deserving of praise due to His actions or choices or attributes.
But I’m guessing the notion of God deserving praise totally bypassed Curtis Knapp, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Seneca, Kansas. Knapp is more of a “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” kinda guy. And Knapp’s god said that gay people should be executed:
Knapp went on to read from Leviticus 20: “If there is a man who lies with a male as those who lie with a woman, both of them have committed a detestable act; they shall surely be put to death.”
“They should be put to death,” Knapp declared. “‘Oh, so you’re saying we should go out and start killing them, no?’ — I’m saying the government should. They won’t, but they should.”
“You say, ‘Oh, I can’t believe you, you’re horrible. You’re a backwards neanderthal of a person.’ Is that what you’re calling scripture? Is God a neanderthal, backwards in his morality? Is it His word or not? If it’s His word, he commanded it. It’s His idea, not mine. And I’m not ashamed of it.”
“He said put them to death,” he continued. “Shall the church drag them in? No, I’m not say that. The church has not been given the power of the sort; the government has. But the government ought to [kill them]. You got a better idea? A better idea than God?”
Well, yes. Now that you ask, I do indeed have a better idea than the one proposed by Knapp’s god. Instead of executing people because they are attracted to the same sex, why don’t we become mature enough to question whether God is great, worthy to be praised, holy, or any other trite phrase that Knapp could babble?
Ultimately it comes down to this:
* Either our understanding of sexuality, morality, decency, a functional society, and the way to treat people is severely flawed,
* or Knapp’s theology is severely flawed,
* or that there is a horrific monster named God who delights in torment and is most definitely not worthy of praise.
Regardless of one’s particular beliefs about homosexuality, I think most readers here would agree that Knapp’s theology is not one that reflects the will of God. Some see the Levitical prohibitions as needing consideration of context and culture and do not read Scripture as literal. Others might find that grace abounds and that Christ’s declaration that all Law is subject to the command to treat one’s neighbor the way one wants to be treated would reverse any command to execute gay people. And, of course, others will see Knapp’s theology flawed because it includes the presumption that deities exist.
But there are many many people out there who, as Paul put it, “think like a child” when it comes to Scripture. And if it’s written right there in 21st Century English, then it must be the divine word of God. “Is it His word or not?”
Oddly enough, people like Knapp are not really the problem. They are a small minority and if responded to intelligently, they have little influence. The problem is Christians who do not respond to Knapp and leave his words the only words in the vacuum.
Surely the vast majority of American Christians do not think that the government should execute gays. But if they don’t say so – outside their pulpit and where people can hear them – then this becomes the defacto position of the faith.
All the nice neighborliness in the world, all of the loaning of lawn mowers, all of the “you’re such a nice couple” will not rebut what Knapp says. Unless Christians tell us that they absolutely do NOT agree with Knapp (and loan the lawn mower, of course), then we have no reason to believe otherwise. Yes, actions speak louder than words; but the words have to be said as well.
And when some very lovely Presbyterian invites the lesbian couple next door to join them for Christmas Eve service, they really have no one else to blame if the response is, “Bya-ha-ha-ha! You’ve got to be kidding! No way do I want anything to do with a religion that wants to execute me!”
The complicity of silence
May 22nd, 2012
It isn’t reasonable to hold one pastor responsible for what another one preaches. There is a great deal of diversity of thought and theology within Christendom and there is no presumption that what is said from the pulpit at First Baptist Church in any way mirrors the beliefs of All Saints Episcopal Church. We don’t hold one church accountable.
But sometimes something so outlandish is said in the name of faith that it requires a denunciation. A rejection. A refutation.
And the words of North Carolina pastor Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church calling for placing gays and lesbians behind electric fences is beyond the pale. This is not a casual suggestion, this is not a theological position, this is not a difference of perspective, this is not an idea with which we are unfamiliar and about which reasonable people could differ. This is advocacy for evil.
So now we will see whether The Church responds.
Certainly there will be those who are asked and who will, naturally, say that they do not support such a notion. But will they be willing to call such a sermon evil or ungodly? Will they be willing to publicly refute Worley and chastise him? Are they brave enough to declare that such a proposition is anti-Christ and that it reflects a heart that is not right with God? Will whatever Baptist organization with which he is affiliated pull his license?
These are not just reasonable responses, they are required responses. When a sermon calls for an act that is of such a level of evil, godly persons cannot stand by and claim that they have no responsibility.
To say nothing is to condone Worley’s position. So be silent is to be complicit.
Church, take notice. It is your response by which today’s youth will judge you. If you say nothing, those who are unchurched will assume that Worley speaks for you.
It is a reasonable assumption.
April 16th, 2012
The “Value Voters” have announced their Summit again, and hate groups, exclusionists, and theocrats are well represented. And again good and decent people are too reluctant to challenge it in the way that it should be challenged.
* * *
In December, a friend asked what I was doing Christmas Day. I told him that there was a church near where I live, St. James in the City Episcopal Church, that has a food pantry and I was going to see if they had a Christmas Dinner I could volunteer for. He laughed at me. It seems that if you want to volunteer at St. James, you have to sign up months in advance.
St. James caught my attention again this week when a client listed them as their church. This individual is very generous with time and money and seems committed to helping the less fortunate, so this confirmed to me that this congregation had a emphasis on contributing to the world.
St. James in the City is located on Wilshire in a section dotted with beautiful early 20′s Century Churches. Glorious architecture with heritage built for an affluent community that migrated outward leaving their mansions to be torn down and replaced with apartment buildings. The handful of older ladies that venture back each Sunday to the First Congregational nearby surely don’t support the upkeep – that is from movie production rental. And the handsome Italian Romanesque beauty that is Wilshire Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) went up for sale a few months ago.
Church attendance is down in general. And with the mega-church phenomenon sucking away many who might otherwise attend their local church, the old standbys are hurting. And mainline denominations are hurting the most.
But not St. James. It is packed on Sundays.
And one congregate wrote a few years back about her experience for a British audience, explaining the appeal.
While churches in England have, for the most part, modernised their services in an attempt to attract bigger crowds — some of them becoming painfully evangelical and happy clappy — the Episcopal church in the US still uses the older, traditional liturgies, the ones that I remember nostalgically. It was these superficial trappings that appealed to us originally. My husband, who writes music for a living, is a sucker for a choir — but it is the values that we found there that has really kept us coming back.
At our church, it is not unusual to see children with two mums or two dads, sitting next to Koreans, African-Americans, Hispanics, as well as many white middle-class families. There are monied people from Beverly Hills, rubbing shoulders with artists from downtown. Gay people next to straight. It’s jolly, social and somehow has a relevance to everyone’s life. It reflects an acceptance of all, the kind of value I’d like my children to have. And it is a community. Spirituality, I believe, comes from acknowledging that we are part of something greater than just ourselves.
I believe that she has identified something. And I think that it is a notion that mainline Christianity should note.
For too long those who have obstinately held to theological positions that do not reflect either modern understanding about sexuality or the spirit of the message found in Christ’s recorded teachings have owned the word “values”. And mainline churches have been in the public’s perception limited to “no, we aren’t all like that”.
I think it is long passed the time when Mainline Christianity stand and say, “We have strong values including inclusion, relevance, flexibility, and especially love for our fellow man. Our values predate whatever those others are selling and were, in fact, the values of our founder”.
Mainline Christianity deserves a better position that “the Christians who don’t hate you”. What they have to offer is a much needed commodity. It’s not just what they don’t give – it’s what they do give: values, the kind you wants your kids to have.
Who speaks for Jesus?
March 8th, 2012
Within the more than 2 billion people on the planet who fall under the very diverse umbrella of Christianity, there are a good many voices who claim to speak for the founder of the faith. What Would Jesus Do is not only a trite slogan but a question that many religious leaders seek to answer, often with “exactly what I want to do”.
But sometimes that isn’t a question without an answer. If the gospels reflect the attitudes and theological positions expressed by Jesus, then sometimes it’s really pretty clear what Jesus would do, or say, or expect. Take, for example, this small disagreement between a Methodist minister and the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento.
For decades Francis House in Sacramento has served the needy of the community. The Bee describes them thusly:
Each morning, dozens of poor people line up at Francis House, in Sacramento’s homeless services epicenter on C and 14th streets, for help with basic services such as housing and transportation. Now in its 42nd year, the organization is one of the largest homeless services agencies in the Sacramento region, serving upward of 25,000 people. It has an annual budget of about $500,000.
More than a soup kitchen or homeless shelter, Francis House is partly referral agency for address substance abuse, legal issues, and basic needs and partly an effort to provide the immediate necessities for people to become employable or safe. They do things like provide bus tokens, training in what is expected from employers, and yes get food and shelter to individuals and families in crisis. But, recognizing that while food may address hunger, it cannot change a life, a significant part of their work is counseling.
And though some of this is possible through programs funded by various levels of government, the majority is contributions from individuals and organizations. With three full time employees, three part time, and about 50 volunteers, they try to put their faith into action to change the world for those who most need change. The final paragraph in their Form 990 listing of accomplishments puts it this way:
Through God’s grace and the generous support of our community, we strive to serve the poorest among us, as worthy of His grace and His love regardless of circumstances. As we open our hearts to healing and growth we strive to assist our guests to discover a better life.
(I love the language that sees the necessity for healing and growth in the hearts of those who are not disadvantaged)
The group is not denominationally driven and receives funding from a wide variety of sources, one of which was an annual $7,000 to $10,000 contribution from the Catholic Church. But in December 2010 the director for the past 2 decades died from a heart attack and the new director just doesn’t live up to the Church’s expectations.
You see, before Rev. Faith Whitmore became the executive director, when she was still the senior pastor at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, she expressed her personal views on some issue and her personal views are in disagreement with the declarations of the Vatican.
No, these views were not about liturgy or sacraments. They didn’t address papal infallibility, transubstantiation, or the veneration of Mary. No problem arose about catechism, form of baptism, or even whether each could consider the other a brother or sister in Christ.
But the issues about which Whitmore expressed opinion go to the heart of the differences between where the United Methodist Church and the Roman Catholic Church today: the extent to which each church believes it has a claim on the unquestioning obedience of those around them. Whitmore expressed opinions which “publicly oppose Catholic teaching” and that makes her and Francis house unacceptable. And these teachings, unlike the mystical matters of faith that purported divide denominations, are the matters which define the approach of each.
Within her own denomination, she has been a strong advocate of same-sex marriage. In 2008, during a short period in which gay marriage was legal in California, Whitmore openly defied church law by marrying same-sex couples. She has said publicly that she supports a woman’s right to obtain an abortion.
Gay marriage and abortion. These are the issues with which one MUST conform to Catholic teaching (a position that would disqualify most Catholics). And the difference is not even whether each should be a part of sacrament or even recognized as morally acceptable, the difference is what society can and should demand of its citizens and to whom it should defer.
It should be noted that Whitmore does not hold these views despite her faith. These are not matters of a secular nature, but rather are to her matters of justice and mercy situated at the heart of Christ and his message.
And so here we have two intractable positions, both integral to their faith, both established and bound by what each party believes is the will of God. Each believes that their view is the holy and righteous position.
And I can see how each came to hold their views and why they believe them to be moral. But views are not all we are discussing. And when we look at the priorities chosen and the behaviors resulting from a clenched hold to these views, I cannot see how one of these two parties can see themselves as being ambassadors of Christ.
Because one of these parties has been on a consistent path: if society will not conform to their doctrine, they will not run orphanages. Civil law must follow church law or they will not administer governmental aid programs. And now, if anyone dare differ with their beliefs, they will not feed the hungry or provide counsel for those seeking to reestablish themselves in the working world.
There are many issues on which Christian voices can claim to speak for Christ, but on this one, I’ll let Jesus speak for himself.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
A Christian question
February 6th, 2012
For many Americans the question of marriage equality circles around what they see as ideal or moral or approved by their Christian faith. It is a question of “what does God want them to do?” And being convinced that homosexuality is a sin, they need go no further to justify their discrimination.
But that approach misses the general theme of Jesus and the early Christian writers. The gospels and epistles don’t discuss what the Roman law should be. The early church didn’t establish agenda to oppress the worship of Diana or to seek dominion over the mountains of entertainment and government. Even their condemnation of unacceptable behavior didn’t extend beyond refusing to fellowship with the offender.
Although one would be hard pressed to see it in the culture or the dogma, Christianity was never supposed to be focused on the flaws of others, real or imagined, or to shape society in a godly manner. Rather it was designed as a personal faith directed inward and evidenced by how it changes the individual, not what he could demand of his neighbor.
The real question that Christians are scripturally directed to ask, the one that would be familiar to the founders of the faith, is “what does God want me to do?” And it is this question that Sen. Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) asked herself.
“I have very strong Christian beliefs, and personally I have always said when I accepted the Lord, I became more tolerant of others. I stopped judging people and try to live by the Golden Rule. This is part of my decision. I do not believe it is my role to judge others, regardless of my personal beliefs. It’s not always easy to do that. For me personally, I have always believed in traditional marriage between a man and a woman. That is what I believe, to this day.
“But this issue isn’t about just what I believe. It’s about respecting others, including people who may believe differently than I. It’s about whether everyone has the same opportunities for love and companionship and family and security that I have enjoyed.
I am certain that Sen. Haugen will be soundly condemned by those who will claim that she “went against her faith and her religion.” But her considerations go to the heart of what Christianity was intended to be and, sadly, so seldom is.
Single Father Laughing removes the asterisk
November 21st, 2011
One of my great frustration is with Christian people who read Scripture and establish values and build character with an asterisk and footnotes. They truly believe that they are to love everyone* and that they are to abhor discrimination and bigotry towards anyone* and to work for a more just world for all*. Because, after all the Bible says to love your neighbor* as yourself.
* – except gay people
But if you’re gay then there are all sorts of “sanctioning immorality” and “putting a seal of approval on sin” and “not standing up for righteousness” issues that really must be considered, you know. So, well, it’s different.
Dan Pierce, who blogs as Single Father Laughing, isn’t buying it. And I’ll let his commentary I’m Christian, unless you’re gay speak for itself.
And then he followed up with the responses he received in Powerful Responses to ‘I’m Christian, unless you’re gay.’
Dammit, Dan, I told myself I wouldn’t cry.
The irony of opposing HPV vaccination
September 15th, 2011
As we discussed earlier today, some conservative Christians find Rick Perry, a Southern Baptist politician, an unacceptable choice for president because he supported the vaccination of young Texas women to prevent their possible future infection with the human papillomavirus. Firmly believing that the wages of sin is death – and should damn well stay that way – they oppose any efforts to inoculate for a virus that is spread primarily through sexual behavior.
I believe that much of this opposition is based in a fear that their literalist faith might be losing relevancy. Should a moral code no longer provide an observable service – such as protection from disease and unhappiness – then it becomes an arbitrary set of rules imposed by a capricious deity at his whim. So it is important to them that HPV – and it’s correlation with cancer – remain associated with sinners.
You can sense the desperation in this comment on the American Family Association’s website from Sally in Pennsylvania:
Sorry… Christian or not, I cannot support any candidate who signed an executive order to mandate a series of painful vaccinations for 12 year old girls – FOR AN STD that’s preventable by BEHAVIOR! On top of that, there was no provision to allow parents to opt their child out until enough pressure was put on him and he gave in. That’s a pretty clear indication as to where he stands on the issue of parental authority versus state control on the raising of children. No thanks.
But what Sally hasn’t realized is that she may her way; HPV may well remain associated with a group.
Should sufficient numbers of people refuse vaccination, the virus will continue to have a distinct pool in which to replicate and a strong correlation will become detectable. Soon, should Sally’s thinking prevail, HPV and the correlating cervical cancer rates will come to be associated with conservative Christianity.
Conservative churches welcome homosexuals
August 18th, 2011
Tony Perkins, lead anti-gay activist at Family Research Council tweeted the following
And he’s right.
As long as you are a “homosexual” – as Tony and fellow believers define the term – the church doors are open wide. To them, a homosexual is someone who engages in sex with persons of the same sex, and has nothing whatsoever to do with attractions, instincts, love, or family. If you show up looking to be delivered from a sinful homosexual lifestyle then you are not only welcomed but celebrated.
Church members will joyously go online to leave comments on the Militant Homosexual Activist Blogsites reporting that the saving grace of Jesus healed a broken and wounded soul right that very morning. Of course, they don’t actually want to associate with that person, “do you know what he’s done? And he’s so very, well, flamboyant still”, but nevertheless they are happy to report deliverance.
Yes indeed, homosexuals are welcome.
Ah, but as for conservative churches welcoming gay people? The folks that do not believe that their orientation – that immutable, natural, and powerful force – is inherently evil? Those folk?
Yeah, not so much.
(hat tip: Joe My God)
The champions of the bullies
July 14th, 2011
In recent years bullying of gay children and those perceived to be gay has caught the attention of the nation. While this is not a new phenomenon, the rise of “new media” has allowed for stories that individually may have received little notice – or may have been intentionally misconstrued – to be seen as a pattern and an ongoing problem. And as the list of names of children tormented to the point of suicide grew, so too did a collective awareness that our culture has a serious problem with bullying.
Secular concern has been consistent and compassionate. Individuals, celebrities, corporations, and the President of the United States have all sought to give kids a message of hope that they should hold on because it gets better.
But the response to this problem from people of faith has been mixed. Some, mostly in Jewish and mainline Christian denominations, have condemned the bullying and expressed acceptance, love, and support for the gay and presumed gay victims. Others have agreed that bullying is not a good thing, but have dismissed its seriousness and resisted anti-bullying programs as being homosexual propaganda.
But generally there has been agreement that slurs are not appropriate behavior for Christian youth.
Yet there are those among conservative evangelical Christianity who don’t just downplay slurs and expressions of contempt but engage in such behaviors themselves. One such person is Daniel Beckworth, youth pastor at Union Grove Baptist Church in Opelika, Alabama and regional representative of Youth for Christ.
David Rattigan, at Ex-Gay Watch, chronicles an email exchange between himself and Beckworth which was initiated by a slur that Beckworth left on the site. When David reached out to Beckworth to remind him of the consequences of bullying kids who are “different”, he was met with a particularly telling rebuttal:
Maybe you should speak to the young boys who wish they had someone to help them be manly. You dont need to reply. You have no chance of convincing me that we need to pamper young boys.
David does not see Beckworth as an isolated instance. Rather he traces his views to rhetoric and example from Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle’s mega-church Mars Hill Church. Driscoll too, it appears, practices a religion that values contempt over compassion and arrogance over kindness.
But while Driscoll engages in a pattern of insult followed by pseudo-apology, his example gives cover to those like Beckworth who find virtue in abusing the weak. Go read the entire story at Ex-Gay Watch and keep it in mind for the next time that some conservative Christian tells you, “It isn’t us, it isn’t kids from our churches that are doing the bullying!”
In coming commentaries I’ll be discussing some things I’ve observed about a growing tension in a conservative denomination as well as how some recent correspondence illustrates the peculiar logic and self-deception required to justify cruelty.
Which One Is The Parody?
March 16th, 2011
Please select one, but don’t click on any links until after you choose:
Japan had built tsunami walls along their coasts but this tsunami was bigger than that. No matter what you say, they either weren’t blessed with protection or they were cursed with an earthquake. …God did say, Christ did say that earthquakes would increase in the last days and that’s what we’re seeing.
…[T]his island, Hokkaido, looks like the head of a dragon with the body being the rest of Japan. The people of Asia have worshipped the dragon for 5,000 years. If one looks at the place where the earthquake took place, it looks like the soft underbelly of most vulnerable part of the dragon. Let’s pray that the deep idolatry and the worship of hundreds of idols under the guise of Shintoism, Buddhism, and allegiances to being “sons of the dragon” will be broken and thousands will turn to the Lord. My interpretation of this is that while God did not want people to perish, He is going to use this to “pierce” the darkness surrounding the Japanese people if we will cry out to God for them in the midst of this crisis.
There will be a shaking coming to Japan that will bring them to their knees. This shaking will change the industry of the nation. Japan has been built upon a fault line linked with a deep wounding from the past. This shaking will occur before the apostolic team that I am sending to Japan arrives. When they arrive, I will begin the healing of the fault line and release a new anointing for industries. I am sending you to the people group of that area and they will be humbled in the midst of their pride. Do not fear. I am causing the mountain to be brought down and the valleys to be brought up. I will create a leveling effect in Japan.
Peter Gomes: a powerful voice for gay Christians passes
March 1st, 2011
As minister of Memorial Church of Harvard University since 1970, Peter Gomes held a pulpit of prestige. An international preacher, Gomes was highly respected and his influence ranged from discussing theology with the Queen Mum to offering prayers and sermons at the inaugurals of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush. Every Harvard alumnus for the past 40 years has started and ended their education with his advice.
But for me, Gomes will be remembered as the author of The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart, a book which allowed me to look at some of my presumptions and question my own interaction with faith. The premise of this work, which really isn’t all that surprising, is that few Christians have much working knowledge of the Bible, know how to read it, or feel confident to understand what it says. Instead they opt for a deification of the image of the Bible rather than attempting to apply the truths found in its contents.
And it was demystifying the Bible and shaking up Christianity’s comfortable assumptions that consumed the past few decades of his life. Although a life-long Republican of the Massachusetts variety (until a recent registration change to support Deval Patrick), he viewed Jesus as a social revolutionary whose gospel would not be much welcomed in today’s established Christianity and deplored the way in which Scriptural literalism could be text proofed to support just about any social injustice.
In 1991 Gomes came out as gay, (NY Times)
Then, in 1991, he appeared before an angry crowd of students, faculty members and administrators protesting homophobic articles in a conservative campus magazine whose distribution had led to a spate of harassment and slurs against gay men and lesbians on campus. Mr. Gomes, putting his reputation and career on the line, announced that he was “a Christian who happens as well to be gay.”
When the cheers faded, there were expressions of surprise from the Establishment, and a few calls for his resignation, which were ignored. The announcement changed little in Mr. Gomes’s private life; he had never married and said he was celibate by choice. But it was a turning point for him professionally.
“I now have an unambiguous vocation — a mission — to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he told The Washington Post months later. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the ‘religious case’ against gays.”
Gomes was not hesitant to tie the ‘religious objection to homosexuality’ as preached in American Christianity to the actual mistreatment of homosexual persons as experienced in America. (The Good Book)
Although most contemporary Christians who have moral reservations about homosexuality, and who find affirmation for those reservations in the Bible, do not resort to physical violence and intimidation, they nevertheless contribute to the maintenance of a cultural environment in which less scrupulous opponents of homosexuality are given the sanction of the Bible to feed their prejudice and, in certain cases, cultural “permission” to act with violence upon those prejudices.
As an American Baptist preacher from a very young age, Gomes took the Bible seriously. He took his religion seriously. And it was through his faith, not in spite of it, that he spoke out for tolerance, for understanding, for inclusion, for treating your neighbor like yourself even when you really truly don’t want to, and for adhering to a meaningful thoughtful Christianity rather than a superstitious set of rites, rules and prejudices.
The religious community and the gay community have both lost a guiding light and a powerful advocate.