Christians and the 2nd Amendment: An Unholy Obsession

April, 2008, Barack Obama, angered many conservative midwesterners by saying

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

At the time I was still processing what would later become a rejection of conservative Christianity, but at that particular moment I was still “clinging” to a fair amount of my conservative heritage. Like many conservative Christians, I was outraged by the comment. Since then, and many mass shootings since, I have become acutely aware of the truth in President Obama’s observation. American Christians have an unholy obsession with the second amendment. Owning a gun for the majority of Christians and conservatives in general, has shifted from a hunting hobby to a perceived need for “protection.” (1)

The merger of conservative Christianity and conservative American political ideology is so complete, it has become increasingly difficult to tell them apart. While my conservative friends and my nemeses on the blogs will be quick to point out that my Christian support of liberal causes is no different than their support of conservative ones, there is a difference, however. Conservatism and conservative Christianity preserves the status quo, it stifles change and resists reform. In short, conservative Christianity has joined the powers of Babylon. As Brian Zahnd has observed,

“America is many things. It’s a country, a culture, an empire, and a religion. As a country and culture America can often be respected, admired, and celebrated. But as an empire and religion, America is a rival to Christ. One of the reasons that Christian discipleship is so difficult in America is that we are trying to make disciples of people who are already thoroughly discipled into a rival religion. You can either operate under a governing philosophy of America first or you can seek first the kingdom of God, but you can’t do both. To claim otherwise is to either tacitly or explicitly claim that Christ is a servant of the American cause. But as Karl Barth (who knew a thing or two about the dangers of Christian nationalism) taught us, Christ cannot serve some other cause, Christ can only rule.” (2)

On the other hand, liberalism is never satisfied with status quo, nor is it ever “at home” with the current political regime. Progressive Christianity is counter-cultural, regardless of the naysayers who accuse it of bowing to current cultural ideology. It is subversive to those movements which seek to bolster abusive power structures.

One such power structure is the NRA and the American gun lobby. The NRA has identified itself so successfully with the dogma that owning a gun is patriotic, that conservatives opine that any talk of restricting that ownership is tantamount to treason. Since patriotism has become so completely entangled with Christianity among conservatives, they follow blindly along with the narrative. This toxic blend of blind patriotism and gun ownership among Christians has created a dangerous climate in America, the ugly results of which we see on an almost daily basis.

Instead of seeking a reduction of the vast arsenal of guns in the hands of civilians, conservative Christians claim more guns will make us safer, despite the evidence to the contrary. For example the recent statement by Jerry Falwell, Jr. that students should be allowed to carry guns on the Liberty campus:

“…if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walked in, …I just wanted to take this opportunity to encourage all of you to get your permit. We offer a free course, Let’s teach them a lesson if they ever show up here.” (3)

Not only is this rhetoric contrary to the calling to be peacemakers in the Bible, but it is based on faulty evidence. The research relied on by the NRA is too small a sample and too old to be reliable:

“The rhetoric that credits guns with reducing violence draws largely on a 1995 analysis titled ‘Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense with a Gun’ by Gary Kleck, a criminologist at Florida State University. Kleck estimated at 2.2 to 2.5 million the occasions when a gun might have been used in self-defence. That 2.5 million is the figure most often quoted by the National Rifle Association. It’s the data that forms the scientific bedrock for VCDL, and organizations like it, to claim that guns save lives. But are its data and conclusions reliable?” (4) the estimate was based on a telephone survey of less than 5000 people, 213 of which claimed they’d used a gun in self defense. Based on that small sample, Kleck estimated there were up to 2.5 million self defense cases a year involving firearms.

On the contrary, gun proliferation has been shown to INCREASE rather than decrease gun violence in most studies. The 2010 Violence Policy Center study showed that in 2010 for every defensive gun use there were 36 criminal uses. According to the long range study by the Boston University School of Public Health conducted between 1981 and 2010, the states with higher levels of gun ownership showed significantly higher numbers of gun related deaths. Researchers in an article for the American Journal of Public Health predicted that if Mississippi’s gun ownership rate went down from 76.8% to 57.7%, it’s gun related deaths would decline by 17%. (4)

What conservative Christians fail to to understand is the corruption behind the gun lobby and the NRA. There is a dark side to all the talk of patriotism and constitutional rights:

“That wholesome public relations veneer masks something deeply sinister and profoundly destructive. There is no other way to say this: The N.R.A. funds domestic terrorism.
A shadow government exists in the world of gun sales, and the people who write gun regulations are the very people who profit from gun sales. The N.R.A. would like to keep it that way.
Just this week, the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on a measure that would loosen restrictions on gun silencers and armor-piercing bullets (the vote was indefinitely postponed after the Las Vegas massacre). It’s not hard to learn about how millions of N.R.A. dollars have spread throughout Congress to influence that vote.“ (5)

The church needs to stand up to those that facilitate violence, to speak with one voice against the organizations and businesses that seek profit over public safety. The church needs to separate itself from Babylon, as Brian Zahnd reminds us:

“From birth every American has been formed by the dominant script that Walter Brueggemann identifies as “technological therapeutic military consumerism.” But Christians are those who have embraced the subversive counter-script of the cross. It’s not the task of the church to “make America great again.” The contemporary task of the church is to make Christianity countercultural again. Once we untether Jesus from the interests of empire, we begin to see just how countercultural and radical Jesus’ ideas actually are:

Enemies? Love them.
Violence? Renounce it.
Money? Share it.
Foreigners? Welcome them.
Sinners? Forgive them.

These are the kind of radical ideas that will always be opposed by the principalities and powers, but which the followers of Jesus are called to embrace, announce, and enact. The degree to which the church is faithful to Jesus and his radical ideas is the degree to which the church embodies a faith that is truly countercultural.” (6)

 

1 http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/24/5-facts-about-the-nra-and-guns-in-america/

2 https://brianzahnd.com/2017/10/postcards-from-babylon/

3 https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2015/12/05/liberty-university-president-if-more-good-people-had-concealed-guns-we-could-end-those-muslims/?utm_term=.582485e01081

4 https://aeon.co/essays/the-us-gun-lobby-says-that-guns-save-lives-do-they

5 https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/03/opinion/rosanne-cash-country-musicians-nra.html

6 https://brianzahnd.com/2017/10/postcards-from-babylon/

Is Evangelicalism a White Nationalist Movement?

I am appropriating a post by Fred Clark that he posted on Patheos’s Slacktivist blog just after last year’s election of Donald Trump, who’s only qualifications for POTUS were that he was White and wealthy.

Original post here:
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2016/11/09/white-evangelicalism-is-white-nationalism/#disqus_thread

While I know a good many wonderful conservative evangelicals who would not dream of calling themselves “racist,” having grown up in the evangelical environment I have seen my fair share of racism, usually disguised as a concern for “law and order” or the belief that non-whites are somehow lazier than Whites. Due to a certain degree of cognitive dissonance, White evangelicals are very resistant to any suggestion that racism, both implicit and explicit, has played a part in the development of conservative evangelicalism. This is due in large part to both ignorance of the history of evangelicalism/fundamentalism in America, and the acceptance of the evangelical revisionism of American history as a true account.

The degree to which individuals share in the racism behind the evangelical movement, of course varies with individuals and their awareness of said racism. I, for example, as an evangelical, fell into many of the standard reductionist views of Blacks and poor people that my conservative evangelical friends and fellow parishioners held. I, like other evangelicals, was almost totally ignorant of anything other than a White world view.

America is rapidly changing, and it is not a White America that we are seeing arising out of it’s racist past. For many Whites this is deeply troubling, for a chapter of American history where Whites controlled everything is coming to a close. In the future there will not be a White America, period. It is this realization that has fed the xenophobic election of Mr. Trump, a last ditch effort to shore up a crumbling edifice of isolationism, nativism and White privilege.

As Fred Clark has stated: “White evangelicalism yesterday performed the purpose for which it was designed: It elected a white nationalist as president. This was not a failure, but a success. This was not a side effect or an accident or a collateral consequence. This was not the end of white evangelicalism, but the culmination of its purpose, its origin, its intent. White evangelicalism is white nationalism. This is what it is, and always has been, for.”

Mr. Clark then goes on to argue convincingly, that when overt racism within the fundamentalist and evangelical camp became too obvious prior to Jerry Fallwell’s Moral Majority (and Bob Jones University I might add) in the 1970’s, a change of focus became necessary for evangelicals to claim the moral higher ground, as building on a history of resistance to civil rights became increasingly difficult to sell to America. Hence, anti-abortion became the new crusade and litmus test for true evangelicalism:

“But then came calamity — the Civil Rights Movement turned America upside-down and exposed the disgraceful evil of segregationist white evangelicalism for all to see…White evangelicalism was laid bare as white nationalism in all its ugly glory. It’s claims of moral authority and moral superiority were proved to be a sham. White evangelicalism lost all credible claim to the moral high ground, and that dealt a heavy blow to its political agenda of white nationalism.”

I would add, the election of a Catholic President, JFK, in the 1960’s had cut off access to the Oval Office by evangelicals, a privilege they had enjoyed for decades. Something had to be done. Evangelical influence in Politics was slipping.

As Mr. Clark puts it, “The only thing to do, then, was to change the subject. And so, with stunning abruptness, white evangelicals adopted a second, and suddenly non-negotiable defining doctrine: anti-abortionism.

“This was new and alien. White evangelicals had mostly applauded Roe v. Wade, regarding anti-abortion views as a peculiarly Catholic mistake. The prevailing attitude among white evangelicals, on the rare occasions they thought about it at all, was similar to the prevailing attitude in Judaism — that a developing fetus has great value and moral significance as a potential person, but that this value and significance did not equal the full personhood of infants or adults”

“That belief — the majority opinion among white evangelicals as recently as the mid-1970s — was soon to become anathema. After Nixon’s failed presidency failed to reverse the losses for white nationalism, white evangelicals pulled a 180 and embraced anti-abortionism as their path to regaining moral legitimacy. This would be their ticket to reclaiming the pretense of the moral high ground while still continuing to promote a political agenda of white nationalism.
It’s simple, really: Redefine abortion as baby-killing and you redefine everyone who supports it as a baby-killer. And you’re always guaranteed to hold the moral high-ground compared to a bunch of baby-killers, even if you’re a white nationalist. Who’s worse? Segregationists? Or baby-killers? The baby-killers, obviously. They kill babies. It’s murder.”

“No white evangelical born before 1970 grew up believing this. No white evangelical born after 1980 grew up not believing this.”

“So now white evangelicals were no longer in the morally indefensible position of explicitly defending segregation and white nationalist politics. Now they were able to regard and portray themselves as moral champions battling against Satanic baby-killers, just as earlier generations of segregationist, pro-slavery, white-nationalist white evangelicals regarded and portrayed themselves as moral champions battling against those who disrespected “the Bible.”

Clark continues: “…white evangelicals again voted for white nationalism. They supported a candidate who explicitly and unambiguously made white nationalism the centerpiece and driving passion of his campaign. The fig-leaf for this support was abortion. And once again we are asked to believe — after centuries defending slavery, segregation and Jim Crow — that it was only about abortion, and that the 100-percent correlation between this anti-abortion politics and white nationalist politics is just an unfortunate and unforeseen coincidence.”

Unfortunately, many good, loving people were duped by the shell game performed by the Republican Party. In the remote chance that Trump would appoint a SCOTUS that would turn Roe v Wade around, a Faustian bargain was made that ignored the poor, refugees, women, minorities, the LGBTQ community and rights for the disabled and other disenfranchised individuals. America will remember this deal with the devil for decades to come. It does not bode well for evangelicals.

 

Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Kevin’s Door: Kevin DeYoung and Gay Exclusion in the Kingdom of God

Kevin DeYoung of Gospel Coalition fame has recently published a small book entitled, “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” Russell Moore, current head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, states on the back cover of DeYoung’s book “Every Christian should read this book.”

After reading DeYoung’s book I cannot say I share Moore’s enthusiasm. Although the book does give one a simplistic overview of the Conservative stance on same sex relations and exclusion of sexually active Gays from inclusion in the Kingdom of God, it is disappointedly lacking in sound Biblical exegesis.

DeYoung criticizes Progressives (Liberals) for building their arguments on silence (Jesus does not directly address it), yet, like Preston Sprinkle in his recent book, “A People to be Loved,” bases a great deal of his argument on the assumption that egalitarian same sex relations had to have been known to Paul and Jesus therefore Jesus did not have to mention homosexuality directly in his condemnation of pornea (fornication). Likewise, Paul must have known about egalitarian same sex as well, therefore his condemnation must have included all types of SS sexual behavior. This assumption is based itself to a large degree on silence.

Starting off, DeYoung bases his argument on the Levitical Holiness Code of the Old Testament: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” Two Greek words are used in the Septuagint translation: arsenos and koiten. Paul combines the two separate words to coin a new phrase used in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy literally meaning bedders of men.

First off, DeYoung, in tying Paul closely to Levitical Law, reflects a general trend among conservative Christians of creating a hybrid of Mosaic Law and Gospel Grace. Despite Paul’s general rejection of The Law in favor of the inward working of the Holy Spirit, conservatives like DeYoung seem honor bound to cherry pick favorite verses from the Pentateuch to point out the sins of others.

Did Paul, in addressing the church at Rome, have all same sex relations in mind, as DeYoung declares, or was he addressing a unique situation? Curiously absent from both DeYoung’s and Sprinkle’s assessment of Romans 1 is the inclusion of verses 29-37. In these verses Paul further clarifies the character of the of the men and women who “committed shameless acts” (v.27) and were therefore “worthy of death” (v. 32) and anchors the entire passage into a unique period of Roman history.

The omission, I am sure, is intentional, as it weakens both Preston’s and DeYoung’s argument considerably. Verses 29-37:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (ESV)

Likewise, the switch to the vocative that Paul uses beginning in Romans chapter 2 is not discussed, which is odd as the whole context of chapter 1 hinges on Paul’s condemnation of those who pride themselves on not sharing in the Roman licentiousness. Something conservatives should take note of: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Some scholars see Romans 1:18-32 as evidence of an early Jewish polemic against Gentiles rather than Paul’s own thoughts. (1)

Paul’s description reveals a justifiable, deep revulsion of what we know of Roman sexual practices. His extreme indictment would seem out of place leveled against today’s Gay Christians or those in the LGBTQ community trying to live loving, committed lives in a society that has been historically hostile towards them. If Paul was indeed including loving committed SS relations, as DeYoung states, then we have a problem with perjury, or bearing false witness.

Likewise, in a few other passages, Paul includes SS activity placed among a list of other sins, but there is no indication that he has now switched gears to talk about committed “Gay” relations. Indeed, the severity of some of the sins, slave sellers, liars, murderers, etc., indicates he still has the same individuals in mind as described in Romans 1.

What the Religious Right, Preston Sprinkle and Kevin DeYoung have attempted to do is take a unique circumstance out of its historical context and make a universal application that transcends time and place. Did Paul have a personal aversion to committed SS relations? Since we have no written record from him addressing that, we simply do not know. What I have seen time and time again is the Right basing their assessment of homosexual behavior on the belief that Paul’s description in Romans 1:29-37 accurately describes Gays today. Hence the references to “abomination” by luminaries of the Right like Falwell and Robertson, and hate groups such as Westboro Baptist and their “God Hates Fags” signs.

Like DeYoung, in “A People to be Loved,” Preston Sprinkle has presented Evangelicals with a roadmap to continue to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, yet feel better about themselves in the process. Discrimination without guilt, stone throwing but with softer words of condemnation. Sprinkle covers no new ground in this book, which was disappointing.

While repeatedly admitting the church’s failure to be loving towards Gays, Sprinkle fails to admit the underlying presuppositions about Scripture that plague Neo-Fundamentalists and bog them down in 19th century attitudes about the relationships of God and man. His is not a Cruciform theology, but one bound to an inerrant, infallible Bible. The unspoken and taken for granted assumption is that God has spoken definitively, once and for all time, through Scripture, how mankind is to structure itself socially. What traditional marriage proponents, like Sprinkle have given us is first century marital codes filtered through Western 19th century Victorian standards of propriety.

I hope to address in a future post the underlying hermeneutical problems of fundamentalism and it’s odd blending of a wrathful God and a loving God. The failure to consistently interpret the God of the OT through the lens of Christ continually hamstrings conservatives from worshipping a truly “Christlike God.” (2) rather than the Gospel being “good news” it ends up being an alternate legal system replacing the Law of the OT.

(1) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2013/10/romans-126-27-a-clobber-passage-that-should-lose-its-wallop/
(2) See Bradley Jersak, “A More Christlike God, a More Beautiful Gospel,” and Gregory A. Boyd, “Crucifixion of the Warrior God.”

The Nashville Statement and Patriarchy

The recent Nashville Statement (1) on human sexuality is the latest attempt by the Religious Right to position male-female complementarianism, patriarchy and gender stereotypes as the Biblical norm for today, based largely on the ancient cultural norm in which male dominance and female subservience was the norm. One of the main problems with the belief that the Bible paints a clear picture of “one man, one woman,” is…that it does not. The truth is conservatives must carefully pick and choose their verses to support their thesis, conveniently overlooking the much more numerous passages that portray the ugly side of patriarchy and submission.

Contrary to most evangelical thinking, while the NT gives us excellent advice on loving our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves, the Bible, as a whole is a mixed bag on the issue of “Biblical Marriage.” With Biblical marriages involving polygamy, concubines, maid servants, spoils of war, sisters-in-laws, rape victims, etc., conservatives must do a lot of cherry picking to come up with a definitive view of marriage.

So, the basic quandary behind the Religious Right’s rejection of non binary human relationships and identity is the question of whether or not the “Biblical” model of sexual relationships is culturally informed and outdated, or whether strictly male-female complimentarianism and male headship (2) should be the cultural norm for moderns. As evident from the Nashville Statement, most evangelicals believe the latter, although headship is not specifically mentioned here. The traditionalist stance presented in the Nashville Statement is based, in large, on a specific biblical hermeneutic that is literal and believes the Bible is without error. But pushing for a literal, inerrant understanding of the texts poses problems for the definition of Biblical marriage. If one would follow the various examples of marriage in the Bible religiously and consistently, Christian marriage would differ little from that of Islamic fundamentalism. What conservative evangelicals have done to soften the hard edges of this fact is to couch male dominance in the language of “complimentarianism.” In other words, men and women have separate but equal clearly defined roles. We have heard “separate, but equal” used before and it never truly means “equal.”

This is not to say that all evangelicals hold to a strict male headship relationship of human sexuality and gender role. The minority model I grew up with was “mutual submission,” which is more egalitarian and follows a much more Christlike attitude of serving one another. It also follows the broad outline of Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

Behind the language of the Nashville Statement, is a history of a cultural shift from evangelicalism to fundamentalism within the Southern Baptist denomination. As David Gushee points out, fundamentalists within the denomination waged a fierce battle for control of the Southern Baptist convention between 1979 and 1993. What resulted was a decisive string of victories within the SBC that put fundamentalists firmly in control. In, turn, these men made sure that women and moderates were forced out of teaching positions within Baptist colleges as well as diminishing the role of women within the denomination. (3) Prior to 1979, Christian fundamentalism’s primary hand-wringing involved the Civil Rights movement and resistance to Black equality and the “mixing of the races.” But as Gushee puts it, “by the late 1970s, a different strategy was developed on the conservative side, focusing especially on traditionalist Christian discomfort with the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion…This proved a more appealing agenda for conservative Christian consumption than directly attacking progress in racial integration and black empowerment.” (4)

The shift from outright racism (which is still very much alive among fundamentalists) to “family values,” i.e., anti- feminism, anti-Gay, anti-abortion, is very much based on a traditional male headship model, as presented in scripture. One would wonder why evangelical and fundamentalist men would be so upset by Gay marriage, but the answer is simple: non binary individuals fall outside the control of male headship. They don’t fit into a patriarchal scheme of human sexuality. Which begs the question, in an egalitarian society, where an individual’s self worth and purpose is not based on their genitalia, exactly what value does male headship bring to the table? If divorce rates among evangelicals are any indication, the answer is, none, as the rate of failed marriages mirrors that of society as a whole.

The tragedy of the Nashville Statement is that it closes the door to dialogue about human sexuality, and attempts to rigidly compartmentalize gender stereotypes, ignoring the realities of gender and sexuality. It also closes the door to further understanding and reform amongst evangelicals. The door too has been shut on careful consideration of the Biblical passages themselves, preferring a inerrant, literal hermeneutic that does not take into consideration a great many things: culturally bound materials, story as opposed to historical facts, and a general inability to differentiate Kingdom principals from cultural mores. It has sadly become all too apparent that fundamentalists favor law over Grace, continuing over a century of vigorously defending indefensible attitudes towards race, women, violence and sexual minorities. This needs to stop.

1. https://www.scribd.com/mobile/document/357531494/The-Nashville-Statement
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarianism
3. David P. Gushee, “Still Christian, Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism,” see chapter 3.
4. Ibid., p. 32.

The Myth of “Biblical Marriage”

Someone who’s theological musings I have admired in the past recently announced on Facebook that he and his wife have decided to have an “open marriage.” That is, although they consider each other’s relationship as “primary,” they are open to new relationships outside their own marriage.

I was very disappointed to hear this, not because I am an arbitrator or authority on human sexual relationships, but because I believe it will diminish their own relationship and stymie the personal growth that occurs in a healthy, loving and respectful marriage.

Looking outside one’s own marriage for fulfillment or to make up for some kind of perceived lack in one’s spouse, sidesteps the healthy process of communication, compromise and problem solving that eventually ends up with an immensely satisfying relationship. In addition, the problem, or portion thereof, may be the one staring back at oneself in the mirror.

50% of all marriages end in divorce, that includes those in the church. Among Christians, progressive and conservative alike, are subtle (sometimes not so subtle), unrealistic expectations for marriage. In this consumer driven society, we often make bad decisions, then we decide we can’t live with those decisions, so we buy a new, better car, phone, job or a new spouse.

For many Christians the concept of marriage is drawn from the hodgepodge of examples given in scripture as to what marriage looks like. The problem is that those examples are drawn from foreign societies thousands of years ago. The Bible is not a particularly good marriage manual. It is outdated, at times misogynistic and simply did not deal with the same social pressures that a 21st century world places on relationships.

The trouble I see with the conservative view that there are Biblical “rules” to follow: headship, husband priest of the home, women subordinate to husband, etc., is that following those rules don’t seem to have any measurable success in avoiding divorce. The usual scapegoat is to blame the lure of modernism and sexual hedonism they see as prevalent in society. This is only partially true; the descriptives given in scripture were never meant to be applied to 21st century marriages. They are culturally bound.

Among progressives, the freedom from the Bible as a rule book, will, inevitably lead to experimentation, which can be a two-edged sword. If there is to be a “rule,” let it be that of love. Not the mushy, sentimental kind, or the seeking mutual satisfaction kind, but the true, Christ-like sacrificial kind.

Defining Evangelicalism: Fences or Faithfullness

I am currently reading Roger E. Olson’s ‘Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology.’(1) It is an excellent book, tying together the various postconservatives evangelical theologians and showing how they differ from conservative evangelicals. Having grown up in a Pentecostal evangelical church I was always aware that there was a certain uneasy alliance between the dominant Calvinism and “fringe” groups like Pentecostals and other Arminian denominations. The tension between the majority evangelicals and minority voices within it have been at odds for a long time. Which brings me to Olson’s book.

Olson identifies a number of beliefs that postconservatives find problematic with the conservative wing of evangelicalism. They find the basic epistemology of conservatism lacking, that is, the reliance on inerrant original documents and the reduction of revelation to propositional truths, tending “to place too much emphasis and value on facts; authentic Christianity is too often equated with correct grasp of information. That is, conservative evangelicals, in varying degrees and with some exceptions, underscore and highlight the ‘propositional’ nature of revelation and the ‘cognitive’ aspects of Christian discipleship. When attempting to determine whether a person or group is Christian, they often turn to examination of doctrinal beliefs.”(2)

While many conservatives such as Millard Erickson agree that the gospel message must be contemporized to meet new generations, the general consensus among them is that any new understanding of what are viewed as ‘timeless biblical truths’ leads to pluralism and relativism.(3) For D. A. Carson his major problem with the budding Emerging Church movement is that he sees it as placing ‘experience’ above biblical revelation: “Truth itself, ‘rightly understood,’ may correct experience, but not the other way around.”(4) Typical, however, of conservatives, the “truth” of biblical doctrine is as traditionally interpreted by conservatives. By ‘experience’ conservatives are basically talking about a distrust of claims of personal ‘relationships to Christ,’ especially if they don’t line up with traditional truth claims. This is one reason the work of the Holy Spirit seems to take a back seat to the propositional nature of Scripture amongst hardline conservatives.

One characteristic of conservatives listed by Olson stuck out recently for me as being especially true of conservatives: that of ‘fence building.’ As I have briefly shown above, biblical ‘truths,’ as defined by conservatives, becomes the yardstick for determining authentic Christianity. Where did the interpretation and codification of these truths come from?, the fundamentalism of the Old Princeton School of Theology. Contemporary conservatives still appeal to the Enlightenment epistemology of foundational truth claims. Without getting into the problems of both modernism, which conservatives are influenced by, and postmodernism, which postconservatives are influenced by, I find that the inevitable result of attempting to build a universal system of absolute truths is that the creators of such a system become too attached to their system, in a sense becoming prisoners to their own status quo. Once a ‘truth’ is declared ‘absolute,’ questioning of it becomes heresy. Walls go up to delineate Orthodoxy, to keep the faithful in and the unfaithful out.

Besides keeping people out, a lack of humility and understanding of our human limitations, as well as a loathing to question assumed universal truths creates a situation where reform becomes very difficult. As Olson puts it in ‘Reformed and Always Reforming:’ “The essence of conservatism in theology is a determined—if often implicit and unacknowledged—adherence to tradition. It is the establishment of a magisterium, whether formal or informal, that exercises prior restraint over the critical and constructive tasks of theology. Very few evangelical theologians admit that they recognize or follow such a magisterium and most deny it. But their conservatism shows in their tendency to slam down any and every new proposal for revisioning Christian doctrine by appeal to what has always been believed by Christians generally or by what evangelicals have traditionally believed.”(5)

This was made very clear recently when Eugene Peterson, in an interview, initially supported Gay marriage.(6) As a result of the subsequent firestorm and the threat of his ‘The Message Bible’ and devotional books being pulled from Christian bookstore shelves, he recanted his statement.(7) This seems to be the all-to-common conservative reaction to any attempt to reassess conservative understandings of church teaching; panic mode sets in, the wagons are drawn in a circle and the offending party is essentially burned at the stake. Lifetime friends sever relations, speaking engagements and book deals cancelled and teaching positions ended. As the Christian ethicist David Gushee recently remarked: “Eugene Peterson discovered painfully that the evangelical establishment will immediately seek to destroy anyone who breaks with their understanding of orthodoxy on LGBTQ issues. Nothing he did before mattered. Nothing else he believes mattered. The guns were turned on him, posthaste, in a choreography of rejection as public and painful as possible. This has happened so many times before that the real wonder of events last week was that Rev. Peterson somehow did not anticipate that it would happen to him.”(8)

This conservative knee-jerk reaction is not a sign of a healthy church. It stifles what Derek Flood calls ‘faithful questioning’ of Scripture.(9) Olson, in rebutting the 1989 Evangelical Affirmations conference that attempted to establish adherence to a basic doctrinal structure, says: “This way of identifying who is an evangelical theologian and what justifies calling a theology evangelical is problematic in that it closes the door to reform of the doctrinal structure and adds an extrabiblical content to the canon of divine revelation…How is continuing reform of evangelical faith and life possible if being evangelical requires firm adherence to a humanly devised cognitive structure of doctrinal content? That is, if being evangelical necessarily includes being orthodox, how can orthodoxy itself be reformed by evangelicals?”(10)

Olson and other postconservative evangelicals have not given up hopes of having meaningful dialogue with conservatives over their differences, but like David Gushee, I have my doubts. Partly because postconservatives are, in large, barely distinguishable from progressive Christians, who are viewed as ‘liberals’ by most conservatives. Although being labeled a ‘fundamentalist’ is a badge few conservatives would apply to themselves, the theology espoused is virtually the same.

 

1. https://www.amazon.com/Reformed-Always-Reforming-Postconservative-Evangelical/dp/0801031699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1500771317&sr=8-1&keywords=reformed+and+always+reforming
2. Roger E. Olson, ‘Reformed and Always Reforming,’ p. 67.
3. Ibid., pp. 70-71.
4. D. A. Carson, ‘Becoming Conversant with the Emerging Church,’ p. 219.
5. Olson, p. 17.
6. http://religionnews.com/2017/07/12/best-selling-author-eugene-peterson-changes-his-mind-on-gay-marriage/
7. http://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2017/july/eugene-peterson-actually-does-not-support-gay-marriage.html
8. http://religionnews.com/2017/07/17/lgbtq-equality-evangelical-rejection/
9. https://www.amazon.com/Disarming-Scripture-Cherry-Picking-Violence-Loving-Conservatives/dp/0692307265
10. Olson, p. 39.

Human Sexuality and Corporate Worship: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

What does human sexuality or sexual preference have to do with church worship services you might ask. But this is exactly the question Hillsong faced 2 years ago. There were a couple of talented Christian men leading worship at the New York campus. When it came out that the two were “courting” each other, all Evangelical hell broke lose. Outrage, condemnation and questioning of the denominations commitment to Christian principals. In other words, everything that conservative Christians seem to do best.

This is from an older Sojourner’s post that I contributed a number of comments to and interacted with some pretty upset Christians.

https://sojo.net/articles/why-gay-couple-barred-leading-worship-will-keep-singing-hillsong-church

The problems that conservative American-flavored Christianity faces in our post-modern society revolve around the conservative conflict with pluralism, diversity, inclusivity, freedom of individual expression and a world view that rejects legalism. The handwringing over SSM and inclusion of our Gay and Queer friends and neighbors incorporates all of these conflicts.

Predictably, the comments used in the post against SS relationships fall under the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, comparisons to drunkenness, bestiality, incest and an appeal to God’s “moral law.”
The following excerpts from the Sojourner’s post’s comments illustrates this.

Cindy: “You do not know your Bible. Please go read it. GOD is very, very clear on this. It’s an abomination unto him. He destroyed the cities Sodom and Gomorrah because of its practice and other evil deeds. The men in that city were actually going to gang rape the Angels that were sent to tell Lot to get the heck out of there! Of course you can do the research yourself to find it throughout the Bible where it goes against the very nature, essence, Word, and obedience of GOD.”

Me: “Cindy, where in the Bible does it say S & G were destroyed because of homosexuality? Look as hard as you like, the Bible simply does not make that claim. The view that these cities were destroyed because of a bunch of Gay men is a presupposition first promulgated by the Western (Catholic) church and is not supported in Scripture. The men of those cities broke ancient rules concerning hospitality of strangers/foreigners in one’s town and the Bible clearly states as much (Ezekiel 16:48-50), as well as adultery and lies (Jeremiah 23:14, 49:17-18, 50:39-40, Lamentations 4:6) and in general, shameless sinning (Isaiah 1:9-10, 3:9, 13:19-22). Note Isaiah is comparing Babylon to S & G for sin in general, no mention of same sex interaction.

One must look at the socio-political situation in those cities at the time Lot and his wife and two virgin daughters moved into Sodom. In general the various cites in the plains were aligned with various different kings, who were at odds with each other. Things were dangerous and hostile. At one point S & G were taken captive as spoils of war and treated brutally. Then the tide turned and they won their freedom again. So when the angels arrived in Sodom, the men of the town did not recognize them as being on their side and assumed they were enemies. In ancient Semitic times what you often did with your enemies was rape them, not for sexual pleasure, but to show dominance, to disgrace them by treating them as a woman.

Note too, that Jesus describes the sins of towns that treated the disciples poorly as greater than the sins of S & G (Matthew 10:1-15, Luke 10:1-12), no mention of SS interaction but those towns rejection of the Gospel. Now, if you want to make it about homosexual behavior you will not find support in early Jewish thought but can find support within the Quran, which ties it to homosexual rape in particular.

It is curious, that within Jewish culture, where there were so many constraints on sexual behavior that they “missed” an opportunity to clearly define S & G’s sins as sexual, but did not.”

Christian: “You sound like a Democrat…” (honestly, he got me on that one)…”What does Christ say???” He then produces a list of “sins” from the Old Testament, claiming because Jesus and the Father are “one,” the list is Jesus’s list!

Me: “Christian, I am not quite sure why that is your name as you are obviously Jewish. You have quoted exclusively from Levitical Law. As a Gentile Christian I never was, nor will be under those laws. They were a covenant between YHWH and the Jews, read the Pauline letters to get a better grasp of this Kingdom truth. If you are Christian, then it seems to me that you have erroneously created a new set of Laws to follow, borrowing heavily from the old ones. Kingdom living under the New Covenant is not based on legalism but on a relationship with God built on love, not rule keeping. Now, if you want to understand SS relationships from a Christian standpoint you really need to keep to the New Testament.

Paul talks about SS relations in a few passages, but only in Romans does he go into detailed description about who these people are who engage in SS activities. He starts by clearly addressing Pagan Rome and its idolatry v. 18-23, God delivered them over to sexual impurity v. 24-15 (Roman orgies come to mind). Next Paul describes a downward spiral that includes SS activities v. 26-27. But, watch closely. Verses 28-32 describe who these people are. They do not acknowledge God, filled with unrighteousness, greed, evil, wickedness, envy, murder, quarrels, deceit and malice. Gossipers.slanderers, arrogant, proud, inventors of evil, unloving,etc..

Now if you can make a blanket accusation that all Gays are these things then you would be guilty of breaking the 9th commandment, bearing false witness. Modern day Gays are quite normal in most regards so the accusation of Paul’s does not fit. He was addressing a particular group of people at a particular time who were behaving quite badly. The problem for conservatives is that they take a specific situation that had specific people in mind, then generalize it to apply to all Gay people, regardless of their decency. We have seen that done repeatedly by conservative leadership such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. This is shameless slander on their part, and quite unchristian.

But Paul doesn’t end there. Chapter 1 was setting the stage for the following chapters where he lambasts the Jews and their legalism and self righteousness. Understand that Paul makes no distinction between sexual orgies and religious self righteousness! In Paul’s thinking, both are equally displeasing to God. In fact, chapter 1 is not even his main point! Legalistic, religious self righteousness is, and he goes to some length to discuss it. The fact that so many conservatives stop with the passage on SS activity, just underscores my belief that they fail to understand that chapter 2 is actually addressing them!

Hopefully I have given you a new perspective to ponder. God bless.”

Joe: “So, are you saying that Paul is saying that homosexuality is sin as well as the other sins that he mentions. The people who condemn the homosexuals are also addressed as being sinners themselves. It just proofs the point, doesn’t it? Homosexuality is sin and unless you repent from it, including all the other sinners, and follow Christ as Master and Lord they will ALL die and burn in hell forever.
The hypocrite included. So, we are in agreement, liars must repent, receive Christ as Lord and allow Him to deliver you from lying/stealing/adultery et.
There is no such thing as a Christian murderer, liar, adulterer et. “Go and sin NO MORE”.”

Me: “Joe, I think you’re not getting my point. Paul is describing a particular bunch of people, involved in very bad specific behaviors that don’t fit today’s LGBTQ community. What the church has been guilty of over the centuries, is taking a specific incident in the Bible directed at a particular group of people at that time and generalizing it to apply to different people than it was originally intended to describe. The average Gay person simply does not fit the description in Romans 1, although some conservative leadership attempts to do so.

What conservatives like Preston Sprinkle and Kevin DeYoung have attempted to do is acknowledge the extreme perversion and abusive sexual activities involving the orgies, young boys and slaves, but attempt to throw committed, loving SS relations into the mix as well, because Paul must have known about them and therefore have had them in mind too. Besides being conjecture, thus would not fit the extremely negative description Paul gives of these people. They do this with Jesus as well, only somehow have turned his silence on the issue into a condemnation of Gays!

But bear in mind, as I have pointed out, the purpose of Romans 1-3 is not to point out homosexuality as bad. Paul used the corruption and degradation of Rome, well known to his readers, to criticize the legalistic, unloving behavior of the conservative religious people of his day, something that, ironically, seems to be totally lost on Evangelicals in their dealings with Gays.”

(Note: In my use of Romans 1 I have followed the traditional view that it is Paul speaking. More recent scholarship questions that view and sees the 1:18-32 as Paul quoting a popular Jewish polemic against Roman culture which he then turns into criticism of the Jewish religious leadership for their lack of charity and their self righteousness. I am leaning towards that understanding now because of the curious change of the Greek grammar between the first and second chapters, going from third person to second person use of pronouns.)

A few concluding thoughts. I keep running into Christians who compare the loving consensual relationship between two same sex adults as equal to bestiality, incest or alcoholism. Why do Christians make this comparison? They are not the same, are they? But in doing so, it makes the condemnation of a loving relationship somehow more justifiable, doesn’t it? It’s really a straw argument used to justify hatred for others who are different.

The Bible as a book of rules to follow for all time, (it’s actually many books by different authors written to different cultural circumstances). When Christians start with the assumption that the Bible is a “book” written by God that lists a number of things to do or not do to garner God’s favor one is thinking as a primitive, never quite sure what side of the scale they are on. So the task becomes to determine that you are on God’s good side, then condemn everyone else as being on His bad side. The easiest way to do this is follow the example of the Jews: create laws that divide the sheep from the goats. It is an outgrowth of tribalism, not the inclusive nature of the Gospel and is counter active to the universal trajectory of Scripture in general.

Finally, and Southern Baptists in particular hate this argument, the example of slavery and the Bible. The Bible permits slavery in both the OT and the NT. The SB denomination was created when the Baptist denomination sought to condemn slavery. SBs still have a hard time facing racial bigotry and hatred as illustrated by the difficulty recently coming to a consensus disavowing the Alt-Right. (1) Was the church wrong about slavery? The answer is apparently, yes. What Christians find harder to admit, is that the Bible was wrong about slavery. “Wait, what? No, we simply interpreted the Bible wrongly. The Bible can’t be wrong, it’s God’s Word.” No. The Bible is clear. There is nothing inherently wrong with owning another human. It’s actually more clear about this issue than that of SS relations. So the problem arises, what do you do with scripture that conflicts with Christ’s teaching? That conflicts with what we know about the love of God? We grapple with Scripture, seeking to interpret and apply it in a manner that fits the over-all trajectory of Scripture. This is what the church ultimately did with slavery and now needs to do with SS relations.

(1) http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/politics/southern-baptist-convention-alt-right/index.html