Evangelical Thuggary

If you’ve read my brief introduction to my blog, you are aware my background is (or was) evangelical. When I first woke up to the realization that trouble was brewing in the evangelical camp, I did not know where this knowledge was going to lead me. The current culture wars that were being waged by the Religious Right seemed over the top mean spirited. As a concerned evangelical I thought there must be a way to better present the love of God for humanity. Having gone through the sexual revolution of the 60’s followed by the Moral Majority’s reaction in the 70’s and 80’s, I realized that there was a pattern here.

In both cases, the hard right conservatives within evangelicalism pushed for political control, both within evangelicalism and within the American legal system, drowning out more moderate voices within evangelicalism. It was becoming increasingly difficult to separate neo-fundamentalism from evangelicalism as a whole. As a result, I wanted to understand more of what it meant to be evangelical. So a few years back I somewhat timidly decided to step outside the evangelical “bubble” and get third party perspectives on the movement, especially the unique American manifestation of it.

The first books I read were “American Apocalypse, A History of Modern Evangelism” by Matthew Avery Sutton, and “God’s Own Party, The Making of the Christian Right” by Daniel K. Williams. It was an eye-opener. The history revealed was nothing like the rosy narrative of evangelicalism I had been taught. But it rang true as I had actually experienced a great deal of it coming of age in the 60’s, I had simply submerged it under the more flattering presentation of my chosen tribe.

I soon realized I was going to have to set all my beliefs on the table and begin to examine all in the light of the gospel. At this point I was still very much an evangelical, just a very concerned one. Then, when the Christian Bakery in Oregon refused to bake a wedding cake for the lesbian couple hit the news in 2013, red flags went up. Mind you, at this point I was somewhat typical of most evangelicals: SS marriage was not “Biblical marriage” in my thinking. But the thought of Christians refusing to serve others seemed so anti-Christian. Serving others, even one’s enemies, is so central to the story of Jesus, I could not wrap my brain around how anyone calling themselves a Christian could treat others that way. It also brought up memories of a time past when other Christians declared “we don’t serve your kind here.”

So the last 5 or 6 years has been a gradual move away from evangelicalism to a more inclusive, less judgmental faith in Christ. This was never my original intent, but after a few years I realized I had so little in common now with the tribe I had grown up in, that I was now outside that tribe. This has been confirmed over and over in my interactions since with evangelicals. I have dealt with trolls and bullies, Judaizers and self righteous bigots, my interactions, when they find out I am progressive, are seldom pleasant. There is an unfortunate tendency among the evangelicals I deal with to pummel and bludgeon you into compliance with their “orthodox” views.

I attempt to be thorough, critical and cite sources for my views. This is seldom met in kind. Thuggery and name calling is the more typical response. This seems to be the new norm among what I would call the “Fox News Christians,” the “MAGA Christians.” Evangelicalism is now defined in the public eye, largely as represented by the Christians that put Donald Trump in power. For evangelicals, this is a sad turn of events that has been almost 50 years in the making. Post-conservative and moderate evangelicals struggle to have their voices heard, and are generally drowned out by the thuggish majority that have found a champion in Trump, the much anticipated “Cyrus,” that will return fundamentalism to a major force in America.

This is not just my online experience, either. When I share Christ with friends and coworkers the apprehension is palatable. They assume at first, I am an evangelical. I have to get past that hurdle in order to share the gospel. People this is sad! It is only after they learn I am not an evangelical that they feel free to open up and share with me.

While there are notable exceptions, Beth Moore, Jen Hatmaker, Phillip Yancy come to mind, most I fear have been or will be drummed out of the evangelical camp. Like Andy Stanley and his recent sermon on “unhitching” from the OT, they will be deemed “heretics.” It is a relentless process of gradually cutting off any novel or critical thinking in favor of a Borg-like assimilation of all theological thought by the Pharisaical thought police. I do not think history will look back kindly on the movement. Nor do I think the neofundamentalists are going to suddenly become moderates. They taste victory and victory is sweet.

Is American Christianity too Exclusionary?

One of the many books I am reading is Robert Gagnon’s “The Bible and Homosexual Practice.” As one can deduce from the title, Gagnon assumes from the start a couple of things. One, being Gay is a psychological pathology and, two, it is something one chooses to do, a practice. To be honest, I am not particularly invested in what he has to say about what the Bible says about LGBTQ individuals. I am more interested in HOW what he has to say affects others, and whether typical American white patriarchal hypocrisy and its exclusivity ends up being counterproductive to the gospel message.

Being a heterosexual Gentile, I don’t find arguments based on Levitical code particularly compelling, or indeed, relevant to a 21st century Christian’s worldview, nor understand why scholars like Gagnon spend so much time dissecting them and passionately defending prohibitions that defined the covenant between JEWS and YHWH. There were many things listed in those codes that were forbidden, toevah, and were designed to set Israel apart from her neighbors. Evangelicals tend to concentrate on a few toevah that have little impact on them, while disregarding all the other toevah that would inconvenience them or that they enjoy, such as shellfish or wearing clothing of mixed fabrics.

Indeed, some of Israel’s practices were anything but moral. The prohibition against human sacrifice was cruelly circumvented in Israel’s Canaan holy war, where women and children were slaughtered as “herem,” set aside, dedicated to and destroyed for YHWH. This ethnic cleansing was a form of human sacrifice, just not done in a ritualistic manner. The same literalistic “if it was ok for Israel, it’s gotta be ok for the US Cavalry” was the go to excuse for American Manifest Destiny as an American Christian nation systematically raped and pillaged across the lands of the First Nation peoples. Conservatives go to great lengths to rationalize and validate Israel’s genocide, why, so that they can justify their own attacks on others.

The excuse for imperialism from a religious standpoint has always been grounded in the view that the Church universal has replaced Israel as God’s “set apart” people. There is a certain self conscious pride that accompanies that claim, an underlying arrogance that says “we know what’s best for everyone else, and we are going to force it on you.” “We will assimilate you, and if you resist, we will alienate you.” Conservative Christianity has always had a Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde relationship with society, loving, if you meet the requirements for membership and know the rules, but don’t step out of line, or you’ll be ostracized.

This tendency towards religious imperialism is currently on full display in America amongst white conservative evangelicals, Mormons, and other conservative Christians. The outcries against women’s reproductive rights, against minority, immigrant and refugee rights, against the women’s movement, against the LGBTQ community, all give evidence of the need to exclude others, and set one particular group, apart, and above all others. Conservatives have taken the worst aspect of Israel’s past and appropriated it for their own form of Levitical law. While Jesus, and later Paul, show a marked departure and trajectory AWAY from legalism, conservative Christianity shows a dogged determination to return to as much literal interpretation and legalism as possible.

Indeed, the great commandment and the Golden rule seem to almost get in the way of the conservative agenda of “defining” Christianity, of establishing its boundaries. When someone mentions God’s love for all mankind, when Jesus’ cry for God’s unconditional forgiveness for sinners is brought up, all sorts of exceptions are raised. God loves you except if you do this or that.

And, of course, what follows whenever you have religious imperialism, is the effort to impose laws that maintain that religious superiority, again, as we are seeing in America. Just as we saw in ancient Israel with it’s insistence on conformity of society, while maintaining its “apartness” from the heathen, we have this concerted effort to force Christianity (one form of it, anyway) on society, while retaining a sense of superiority at the same time. Time and time again, I have heard my evangelical brothers and sisters talk about America needing to be a Christian nation, while not the other hand, refer to “wide is the path to destruction” and few will find the “narrow gate.” I have even heard Christians joke about it. Their exclusiveness becomes a badge of honor.

Gagnon and others fall into the same trap of seeing Christianity as exclusionary, legalistic and controlling. They make the mistake of defining the relationship God wishes to have with his children as following a set of rules. In doing so, being a child of God becomes something you DO rather than something you ARE. And in the process of defining, as narrowly as possible, who God’s children are, they turn away the greatest amount of people they possibly can. This should not be the goal of Christianity.

Conservatism’s Troubled Marriage to the Bible

Recently on Patheos, the following meme was made by a fellow progressive concerning fundamentalist Christians and their relationship with the Bible:

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The context for the meme was a discussion on James McGrath’s Blog Here As one conservative, Realist1234, on Patheos pointed out, everyone comes to the Christian Bible with an agenda, progressives rejecting the parts that don’t fit their views. At the same time, Phil’s meme resonates with what I know to be true, in large part among evangelicals and fundamentalists. What has happened historically within orthodox Western Christianity is that in the development of the Christian canon, in the development of the various creeds, in the creation of various denominations, the church has built a framework of understanding scripture that subconsciously “bends” the Bible to meet certain religious and philosophical presuppositions. Fundamentalists would point out, I’m sure, that progressives do that very same thing: bend scripture to meet their own presuppositions.

Fair enough, but the key to fruitful dialogue between conservatives and progressives has to start with a willingness to examine those presuppositions for validity and whether those presuppositions promote a “healthy” religion or a toxic one. It is interesting that Phil chose to frame his statement within the marriage context, that of the Bible being the faithful “wife” and the fundamentalist as being the “husband.” I am reasonably sure fundamentalists would state just the opposite, that they are the dutiful “wives” obeying their husband, God’s Word. It is interesting to me because the marriage image is so often used in both the Hebrew canon and the Christian, as an apt metaphor for mankind’s relation to the Creator.

For me, where the marriage “hits the rocks” among conservatives is when literalism becomes the “glue” that holds their marriage together. It tends to promote a “contractual” relationship with God, where the contract becomes the object of adulation rather than God, the husband. This is due, at least in large part, to the Reformers, who raised scripture itself on to such a high pedestal that it detracts from our marriage to Christ. 

I think conservatives miss the irony that Jesus spoke in parables when they scour the scriptures for propositional truth statements. They are missing the fact that scripture uses, as Gary Dorrien calls it, “true myth,” to impart spiritual insight. The conservative church is not content with the beautiful poems and allegories her husband brings her, but obsesses with the marriage license, reducing the relationship to hard facts. In doing so, conservatism misses the broader truths that parables and myths bring. The search for propositional truth stops short of discovering broader principals of living and applying Christ’s teachings. Instead of a developing love story the Bible becomes a rule book, a legally binding document stipulating the terms of the marriage agreement.

Don’t get me wrong, as a progressive Christian I have great respect for the Bible, but I am not married to it. I am married to Christ, and it is he whom I desire to please. The Bible is very valuable in helping us understand how to best serve God and others, but if it becomes the focus of our adoration, it becomes idolatry.

Do People Support Sexual Minorities Because they are “Christianobobics?”

So, I just read an evangelical article on George Yancy’s blog entitled “Do Sexual Minorities Benefit from Hatred of Christians.” (See link below) In it Yancy presents the common assumption among conservatives that evangelicals are “hated” somehow because of their faith in Christ. This presents us with what I believe to be the biggest misunderstanding amongst conservative Christians and the leading reason for dislike of fundamentalism in general. Conservatives have taken the statement by Christ: “You will be hated by men for my namesake,” had it emblazoned on their shirts, and strut around proudly proclaiming how hated they are because they are following Jesus. This prideful self-proclaimed martyrdom is about as far from the truth as one can get and gets me riled up every time I see it.

Darn it, I really would like to find more positive things to write about when discussing American Christianity in my blog, but crap like this just keeps cropping up. Honestly, I am going to try to find more uplifting things to write about, I promise, but the evangelical pity-party needs to be addressed. You can read his article for yourself but here is my general assessment.

Yancy looks at approval of sexual minorities, then looks at those who disapprove of fundamentalist Christians and sees a correlation between the two. Yes, there is overlap, so far so good. He notes that some people have a negative view of fundamentalists and also of sexual minorities. Ok, sooo, now the correlation is getting fuzzier. Then he notes that people who support sexual minorities don’t seem to hate Jews or Muslims either. So, obviously it’s not that they hate religion in general. At this point he is starting to lose me. Somehow he then draws the conclusion that people, even those who are not particularly supportive of sexual minorities will end up supporting those minorities because they are, at root, “Christianophobics.” In other words, people support gay rights because they hate Christians, in particular evangelicals!

This turning things around so that the bully somehow becomes the bullied is all to prevelant in evangelical circles, and is promoted unceasingly by the Christian Broadcast Network and leading evangelicals. In declaring sexual minorities benefit from Christianophobia, Yancy removes any personal responsibility for this supposed hatred of Christians by society. He also obviously, rejects any legitimacy of the LGBTQ’s claims of persecution. It is denial all the way.  Anything to turn the table around so that it is Christians who are being persecuted in America!

It doesn’t seem to occur to evangelicals like Yancy, that people don’t dislike you because you are acting Christlike, but because you aren’t! The lack of self introspection amongst evangelicals is so thick you could cut it with a knife. In our current American situation, evangelicals are seen as bullies, hypocrites and power hungry. The tribe of evangelicals needs desperately to stop and take stock in what they have done and are currently doing to see where they’ve gone wrong before it’s too late. Unfortunately, I do not see that happening anytime soon. They’ve buried themselves too far into the current administrations right wing agenda. It may just be too late for evangelicals to pull themselves up from their nosedive.

Yancy

 

When Your “Sincerely Held Religious Belief” is Not Ok

Hardly a week goes by when I run into someone who says its “ok” if they believe being Gay is “abnormal” or “sinful.” “You have your opinion and I have mine.” “What’s wrong with having an opinion?” As one gentleman recently told me “…nothing wrong with being of the opinion that it is abnormal. What would be wrong is insisting that everybody agree with that opinion. I don’t want anyone to insist that I accept homosexuality as normal, so I don’t insist that anyone must agree with me.” The irony of his comment was that he was Black. Talk about a lack of cognitive dissonance! The context for this particular discussion was on a conservative Christian English blog site, Premier, and the title was: “Cardinal says homosexuality is ‘abnormal’ and Church shouldn’t apologize for traditional teaching.” 

(https://www.premier.org.uk/content/view/full/901417)

So here’s the deal. Let’s not confuse normative human sexual behavior with what some Christians believe the Bible teaches about sexual behavior. Same sex and bisexual behaviors occur in about 10% of the human population, which is by all accounts, a fairly large group of people. I would hesitate to refer to 10% of the world’s population as “abnormal.” (*)

I would also hesitate to follow the Bible too closely, or literally, as a guide to sexual behavior, as that is not its purpose, nor does it do a particularly good job as a sex manual if used that way. Polygamy, slaves used as concubines, women taken as booty in war, male ownership of women, etc., kind of throws a monkey wrench in to the whole Biblical Marriage schtick.

Often when religious people fail to convince others that they “must” except their view they fall back on “I have the ‘right’ to my own opinion.” In this day and age there is a great deal of conversation and concern about individual “rights.” In most Western societies there is some sense of it being wrong to infringe upon the rights of individuals to live their lives free of discrimination, that everyone regardless of who they are, should be treated equally. Most people expect to be treated fairly.

Unfortunately, many religious people don’t see things that way. While expecting to be treated respectfully and fairly by others, they feel that the Bible gives them a mandate to do otherwise with those they deem “sinful.” When reprimanded for being discriminatory or bigoted, they claim they are being persecuted for believing what the Bible teaches. This type of thinking adds a sort of self-righteousness to bigotry and turns the oppressor into the oppressed.

Another tactic used by zealous religious folk is to dismiss arguments for equality and diversity as being “politically correct,” as catering to public opinion, or following “this world.” This is a cop-out, as getting to choose who we treat equally and who who do not, kind of negates the whole purpose of equality. It’s like saying all people are equal, but some are more equal than others. It also flies in the face of the “Golden Rule.”

I sincerely doubt the gentleman above would agree it’s “ok” to have racist opinions. Just what is meant by “it’s ok to have our opinions?” Is this a healthy attitude? Do opinions matter? Can opinions be hurtful and unChristlike? How has the evangelical adage of “hate the sin but love the sinner” worked out? Historically, not so well. And as long as religionists view Gays as abnormal and an “abomination,” they will continue to confuse hatred for acting loving.

All right, time to role up our sleeves and do a bit of research. One of the problems with patriarchal orthodoxy and its historical stranglehold on human sexuality is its blindness to sexual diversity in nature. In the OT Jewish canon, sexuality was defined solely in terms of a man’s dominion over the woman and the ability to pass on one’s “seed” in order to keep up one’s line perpetually. In other words, a woman was largely defined in terms of her ability to raise children, especially a male heir.

Anything, or behavior not fitting into that purpose was suspect. Women who were “barren” or didn’t produce a male heir were shamed or pitied, one of the reasons for multiple wives. Jewish laws before the Talmud, had no consequence for female same sex behavior, largely because it did not threaten men and women were not seen to be especially sexual in nature since there was no emission of seed. (1) On the other hand, male same sex erotic behavior circumvented what was understood to be the purpose of sex: to hopefully produce a male heir.

The Levitical prohibitions against SS behavior amongst males uses the term “toevah” which has a cultic meaning, i.e., pertaining to non-Israelite cultic practice. In this context homosexual temple prostitution is regarded as a “taboo” for Israel. “Abomination” in the KJV is a rather unfortunate and misleading translation of the word. For a good discussion of the use of the term toevah see the following footnote. (2)

“Now, if by “abomination,” the King James means a cultural prohibition—something which a particular culture abhors but another culture enjoys—then the term makes sense. But in common parlance, the term has come to mean much more than that. Today, it connotes something horrible, something contrary to the order of nature itself, or God’s plan, or the institution of the family, or whatever. It is this malleability of meaning, and its close association with disgust, that makes “abomination” a particularly abominable word to use. The term implies that homosexuality has no place under the sun (despite its presence in over 300 animal species), and that it is an abomination against the Divine order itself. Again, toevah is not a good thing—but it doesn’t mean all of that.” (3)

In the NT, it is Paul who non-affirming Christians most often turn to, and in particular, the first chapter of Romans. What is ignored in their proof-texting is the use of the vocative in Romans 2:1…

“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.” Here, then, is the vocative in the Greek, “Oh man,” a grammatical case used for direct address: ὦ ἄνθρωπε. And this takes us to the question I have posed to those who repeat 1:26-27 in condemnation. Who’s the ἄνθρωπος that Paul’s addressing here?” (4)

Rather than Paul condemning all SS activity in 1:26-27, he is quoting the ἄνθρωπος as saying such, then soundly rebuffing them in chapters 2 and following. Chapter 1 of Romans contains a typical Jewish diatribe against Roman culture, in particular its practice of orgies. What has occurred in the past is that theologians have concentrated so narrowly on the wording of Romans 1:18-32, assuming it is Paul speaking, that they totally miss the connection in chapter 2.

“Some scholarship of late, of which Porter’s article is the most thorough example, has noted that Romans 1:18-32 does not represent Paul’s view, but the prevailing view of Gentiles among many Jews at the time, which this apostle to the Gentiles feels compelled to refute. Building off of the scholarship of J.C. O’Neill (who calls it “a traditional tract which belongs essentially to the missionary literature of Hellenistic Judaism”) and E.P. Sanders (who explains that “Paul takes over to an unusual degree homiletical material from Diaspora Judaism”), Porter ultimately concludes that “in 2:1-16, as well as through Romans as a whole, Paul, as part of his Gentile mission, challenges, argues against, and refutes both the content of the discourse and the practice of using such discourses. If that is the case then the ideas in Rom. 1.18-32 are not Paul’s. They are ideas which obstruct Paul’s Gentile mission theology and practice.” (5) 

Wrapping things up, at best we can only claim that Scripture’s treatment of male homosexual activity is based on cultic prohibitions (OT), and that the practice of egalitarian, loving SS relationships are not addressed at all in the NT. Paul’s discussion in Romans hinges, not on the condemnation of SS activity, but on the hypocrisy of the Jews who do condemn it. Paul’s personal views on the matter are not really addressed. Even Preston Sprinkle, in his “A People to be Loved,” bases his anti-gay bias largely on an argument of silence on the matter. 

So, in conclusion, I think the use of the terms “abnormal” vs “normal” are unfortunate and misleading and do not reflect a medical/psychological analysis and ultimately result in marginalization and persecution of Gays and, in truth, and go far beyond what Scripture actually teaches. Opinions do matter. The church needs to do better.

* Those who identify as Gay in some fashion or another vary greatly from culture to culture, depending largely on the cultural understanding of what it means to be Gay. 10% is a ballpark figure representing Western Culture as a whole. As more individuals come out, percentages of those who identify as LGBTQ continues to rise. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

1 https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality_and_Judaism

2 http://religiondispatches.org/does-the-bible-really-call-homosexuality-an-abomination/

3 Ibid.

4 http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2013/10/romans-126-27-a-clobber-passage-that-should-lose-its-wallop/

5 Ibid.

Was Jesus Inerrant?

A few months back I was embroiled in a rather lengthy discussion on the inerrancy of scripture vs. the progressive view of scripture on my blog. It basically ended up being a platform for one individual’s “orthodox” view that scripture HAD to be inerrant in order to be of value. As I tried to peel back the problems inherent to this thinking, he finally asked me if I believed Jesus had to have been inerrant? It’s a good question and reflects the struggle the early church had with understanding who Jesus was. There was not a unanimous consensus for half a millennia. Was Jesus infallible? Does Jesus claim to be? Honestly, I don’t know. Nothing really leads me to believe he was or by necessity needed to be. His argument on inerrancy of scripture, and now, Jesus himself, hinged on the belief that one cannot have certainty of faith without an inerrant text, or at least an inerrant leader…at least that is my understanding of the way the discussion began. The implication of his reasoning is that one cannot have “absolute truth” without an inerrant source. I find that not to be the case at all and I would question the definition of “faith” implied here. Is inerrancy necessary for conveying truth? I don’t think so. As I have already explained, we learns truths all the time from errant sources. It is part and parcel of the human condition.

We haven’t delved into the historical-critical method of scripture study, nor have I wanted to because I think the discussion was getting over long, and getting nowhere, but we must realize when theologians like Wayne Grudem talk about inerrancy of scripture they mean “that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” In other words, we do not have in our possession any “original” manuscripts, yet the claim of inerrancy only applies to the original documents. I wonder what an inerrant version of our Bibles would look like. What would have to be rewritten, what would be dropped off? What passages are missing, etc.? So, in lieu of actually possessing an inerrant text, we are in reality forced to make due with something that, contains not a few problems. Does the fact that we do not have an inerrant Bible prohibit us from having faith in God or Jesus? People have been getting by for centuries without one just fine.

Now things do get problematic when Grudem and others claim that the original mss were inerrant, yet tell us the compiled Greek and Hebrew texts we now have are a 99% accurate reflection of the original inerrant texts. I say problematic, because scholarship over the last 3 centuries has uncovered many problems and contradictions within the mss’s. These are commonly known and most seminarians will encounter them in their first year of school. This is where I find Grudem, Piper, Hodges and others to be dishonest. They were and are aware of the difficulties found within scripture, yet refuse to honestly acknowledge them, instead going to great lengths to excuse, minimize or attempt to harmonize them. In the process they are giving us something different from the Bible we do have. And all in an effort to bolster a hypothetical principal rather than the truth. Believing the Bible “has to be inerrant” does not make it so. I would also wonder why, if an inerrant text was so important to having faith, why God did not preserve an inerrant text for us. You need to realize that God breathing himself into something does not make it inerrant. He breathed into Adam, and he was anything but perfect.

As to Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross, my friend has provided only two basic alternatives, again falling back on the “all true or nothing is true” argument. Either Jesus had infallible, absolute knowledge of heaven, or he knew nothing: just making a wild guess, hoping for the best. In his scenario, Jesus had to have “special, absolute knowledge of truth, something beyond how mere humans learn truth, i.e., parents, schooling, life experiences observations and spiritual encounters. No, without an inerrant, absolute knowledge of eternal truths, for him, basically Jesus has nothing to offer. He’s no better than any other peddler of religion.

Which brings up an interesting aspect of his Biblical ontology: Either the Bible is all true, or it is basically worthless as a reliable guide to right relationship with God.

“As a human product, the Bible is not “absolute truth” or “God’s revealed truth,” but relative and culturally conditioned. To many, “relative” and “culturally conditioned” mean something inferior, even negative. But “relative” means “related”: the Bible is related to their time and place. So also “culturally conditioned” means that the Bible uses the language and concepts of the cultures in which it took shape. To use a nonbiblical example, the Nicene Creed uses the language of fourth-century Hellenistic philosophy to express the convictions that mattered most to the Christians who framed it. It is not a set of absolute truths, but tells us how they saw things. So also the Bible tells us how our spiritual ancestors saw things—not how God sees things.”

— Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity

What modern evangelical theology does is straightjacket God with an inerrant Bible. In a sense, the Bible is above God, he is beholding to it and bound by it. But I believe God to be bigger than the Bible. I believe Jesus’ reinterpretation of scripture and Paul’s selective quoting (leaving out some very negative stuff in his quest to include the Gentiles) aligns with this belief. The quest for an inerrant Jesus or an inerrant text, mirrors the old heresy of Docetism, that Jesus only appeared to be human, that humanity is of a lower plane of existence and that Jesus as spirit existed above mere flesh.

Just how human Jesus was is best left for a future discussion. Peace.

Link to previous discussion on inerrancy:
https://weseeinamirrordarkly.com/2017/11/04/the-bible-tells-me-so-so-whats-with-pete-enns-and-progressive-christians-anyway/

I’m Back, and Retired! Just Checking In

So, it’s been a few months since my last post. Who would’ve known preparing for April retirement would be so labor intensive! So many forms to fill out, so many phone calls, so many emails to confirm this and that. But it’s finally here and I it’s beginning to sink in that this is my new reality. A lot has happened so far this year. Yet again another school shooting leaving 17 dead. In desperation, the trolls for the NRA have vilified the young survivors that have called for sane gun legislation. The corruption of the current Republican administration continues to make the news as the Mueller probe digs deeper. “Draining the swamp” seems to entail mainly the Trump cabinet. Misogynists have no where to hide as the “Me Too” movement gains momentum. Conservatives have moved from Gay-bashing to Trans-bashing. The administration fights an ongoing war with the states over illegal aliens, or as progressives prefer, “undocumented immigrants.” The saber rattling continues between two ego maniacs: Trump and Kim Jong-un prompting Trump to request a huge military parade. Trump has continued his “bull in the china shop” foreign trade policies prompting a tariff war and has sent military to guard our borders against a country he seems to think we are at war with. The president with numerous sexual assault allegations and hush money payed to a porn star declares National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Oh, the irony!

I think the midterm elections will be very interesting. We just finished watching the lengthy series, “The Roosevelts,” on PBS. So proud of Teddy, FDR and Eleanor and the legacy of Progressivism that has followed. The fight goes on. But, politics aside, as you know from my bio, I grew up evangelical, attended evangelical churches for years and graduated from Fuller Seminary, an evangelical school. I grew up in the evangelical bubble, largely insulated from conflicting world views and protected from “liberal” views like historical criticism. But, all that has changed over the past half-dozen years for me as I stepped outside the bubble and critically assessed evangelical orthodoxy and the legacy I had inherited. The evangelical insistence that “Christian” businesses could legally refuse services to gays set off red flags for me, even though, at the time, I was not gay-affirming. The parallels to Christian businesses in the South during segregation and the Southern Baptist resistance to desegregation was just too obvious.

So, where am I today, 6 years later? Oddly enough, still attending an evangelical church. It is not a good fit, as I am no longer evangelical, but it’s my 94 year old mother’s church, and we take her there. It is also the church my wife grew up in. We have a new pastor, who has been influenced to some degree by the Emerging Church Movement: “You can belong before you believe,” so I have been guardedly optimistic. Becoming a church member is out of the question for me as I am at odds with much of the Assemblies of God denominational affirmations, such as the infallibility of scripture and the “biblical” definition of marriage. In many ways, my growing rejection of evangelicalism has created an “outside looking in” situation for me and the church I attend…not ideal.

I do enjoy singing and worship there, but… For the most part our pastor is non-controversial, no political statements and light on theology, which, if you knew me, is a bit disappointing. No discussion of gun violence, no discussion on Police treatment of Blacks, no discussion of misogyny in society, no attempts to reach out to Gays, in short, no social gospel. It’s as if the Sermon on the Mount never happened. He is a nice guy and sincere, but follows the usual White, evangelical road map. Although the church practices “outreach” to the community in a number of different ways, English classes for immigrants, help with applying for citizenship and an Easter egg hunt that included special needs children, the church programs center around personal discipleship. In other words, like most evangelical churches the goal is getting people “saved” then keeping them happy they made the right decision by constantly affirming them.

A personal relationship with Jesus is the tantamount theme, which, if it resulted in a realization of responsibility to society would be ok with me. But instead the goal is to try and get as many people “saved” as possible in as short amount of time. Evangelism always seems to end up being an exclusive club, where once in, we congratulate ourselves on our good fortune. Nothing is done for purely altruistic reasons. The reason behind everything from missions to Easter egg hunts is, basically a sales pitch for Jesus, or at least the evangelical version. No wonder Amway has done so well in evangelical circles. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying following Jesus or learning to be Christlike is a bad thing, but it seems like evangelical churches are immature in their faith, inward, self serving and overly concerned with a personal “walk with Christ” that ignores too much of society and its problems.

As I have grappled with my own doubts and questions, and engaged in (sometimes very lively) conversations with evangelicals online, I have come to the conclusion that evangelicalism in its dominant form is probably not redeemable. It is too closely aligned with dominionism and White Christian Nationalism. As we saw in Nazi Germany in the 20s and 30s when religion and state marry, the ends justify the means and Christians are willing to look away when the state tramples individual rights. That so many evangelical leaders see The Donald as God’s chosen, anointed leader to lead us back to a Christian America is further proof of how far white evangelicalism has strayed from Christ’s example. It is a worldview, that quite frankly, scares me. I don’t think evangelicalism will have the last word, however, despite an uptick in fundamentalism within it’s ranks. Time will tell.