The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Rome

Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding of the church over the centuries has been related to how the church is to manifest the Kingdom of God in society. One of the main purposes of my blog and indeed, why, a half dozen years ago I decided to “deconstruct” my evangelical assumptions, can be summed up in a desire to better manifest the Kingdom of God. The gospel message is about the Kingdom of God and not, as in evangelicalism, about what you must do to avoid hell and “go to heaven when you die.”

When Jesus was asked by Pilate if he was the “king of the Jews,” his reply of “my kingdom is not of this world,” seems to have never fully registered with his followers in the centuries that followed. Looking at the social milieu in the first century we see a Palestine under Roman control. Israel has faced a number of centuries being conquered and reconquered by foreign powers. In other words, a theocratic state conquered and ruled by secular states. In order to survive and maintain some degree of power, the Jewish Sanhedrin and the Pharisees compromised with the Roman government. In doing so, they took on the methods of Rome: quest for power, control, wealth, in other words, their own self-interests. The common person was largely left out of the equation and reaped little benefit form the merger of church and state. In fact, they suffered because of it. 

In a blatant rebuff of an earthly theocratic rulership, Jesus declares the Kingdom of God is not “of this world.” This is something he conveyed over and over in his parables and is the central theme of the Sermon on the Mount: the Kingdom of God is not like early kingdoms. It is worth pondering for a moment. If God’s Kingdom is not of this world, was a theocratic state, i.e., Israel, ever really a “final plan” of God’s, or was it a misunderstanding, a tribalistic anachronism of Moses and Aaron’s? Certainly, the tribalistic, warrior God of early Israel seems at odds with the Heavenly Father Jesus portrays.

In large part, Jesus’ clashes with the religious leadership was over collusion. When religion merges with the state, it is religion that suffers or is diminished. So how is it that the Kingdom of God is to flourish among men (and women)? The key to understanding is scattered throughout his teaching via parable. Parables were a popular teaching method in the first century and allowed Jesus to be subversive to the Jewish leadership in a way that the common folk could understand and agree with, but not give legal reason for his arrest. It bought him time to get his message out before his inevitable arrest and murder by the state.

Jesus knew, no doubt, that his “good news” was good news to the poor, the sick, those rejected by the religious powers, but would be a threat to those who colluded with Rome. The growth and distribution of the Kingdom of God was not to follow an earthly blueprint. Like a tiny mustard seed it would start small and eventually snowball into something huge. But not by coercion or manipulation. Not by putting the Ten Commandments back in courtrooms, not by putting Bibles in classrooms, not by having compulsory prayer in our schools, not by passing legislation to deny women, minorities and foreigners equal rights, but by the selflessness of people sharing the love of God to others. For almost 300 years this was the paradigm of the early church, in stark contrast to the Jewish-Roman collusion, which did not end well for the Jews.

But, then, in the early 4th century, the emperor Constantine, a ruthless violent man, “converted,” i.e., saw the advantage of merging the growing Christian church with his secular power regime. The early church fathers, tired of the relentless persecution, did exactly what the Jews had done in the first century, they colluded with the enemy of the Kingdom of God. To some, this was seen as a godsend, the opportunity to spread the gospel unhindered by persecution. In retrospect it allowed a perverted and unhealthy church to grow in power, wealth and influence. In time holding the “keys to the Kingdom” meant the religious controlling majority could not only declare heresy, or anathematize “false teachers,” but arrest and execute those who did not toe the line.

History had repeated itself. The lesson that collusion with the state does not end well, as with the Jews, was a lesson not learned. The entire Middle Ages was squandered by the Church of Rome consolidating its stranglehold on Europe. And again, with the Reformation and it’s break with Catholicism, the same mistake of collusion was made. Some finer points of theology had shifted but the Reformers policies were straight out of the Catholic playbook.

Fast forward to the 18th century. Christianity in Europe had become, state religions. Dying institutions propped up by the secular governments as a way of morally legitimizing their harsh governments. Ah, the great American democratic experiment. Unfortunately, again a major misunderstanding of how the Kingdom of God operates. The cries of religious freedom were then, as they are now, primarily not about freedom for all, but freedom to practice particular forms of religion at the exclusion of others. Slavery, the seizure of tribal lands and subsequent displacement of First Nation peoples and the various persecutions of Catholics, Jews, Chinese, Mormons, etc., all an outgrowth of a nation who fancied herself, “Christian.” Yep, collusion again.

Someone once said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over again, expecting a different result. This is what the American church is guilty of, colluding with the state and eventually expecting it to result in the Kingdom of God. The evangelical church over a two century period, enjoyed a tremendous growth, not only in numbers, but in power and prestige. It identified completely with the nationalist interests of the American government. The government, as conceived by the fathers of our nation, became an object of worship, in its romanticized form by the conservative church.

Any hint of change to the chummy relationship the church had developed with civil government was seen as an attack on “Christian values.” This is the tragedy of Trump Christianity: the Right has so thoroughly mixed partisan right wing conservatism with Christian ideals, that the Gospel of the Kingdom has been pushed out. Now, with the major shift in American ideology away from conservatism and towards equal rights  and inclusivity, the Religious Right is majorly threatened. It would mean the death of “church as usual.”

This is an observation I made a few posts back, that society is advancing morally faster than the Religious Right is. Society as a whole, is acting more Christlike than the church. The goal or methodology of the church, in its endeavor to bring the Kingdom to earth, is not to impose legal sanctions and laws against what it determines to be “sin,” but to simply love others, regardless, and seek justice, mercy and grace for all mankind. This is not meek pacifism, but a call to action. Actions that will have an effect on society for the better.

Libertarian or Socialist: What’s a Christian to do?

Faith in action is, by nature, political. In other words, Christians and those of other faiths, when acting out their beliefs publicly, will, inevitably have political consequences. While I tend towards Anabaptist theology and world views, I tend towards political action, hopefully in a bipartisan fashion, rather than eschew political involvement. I do respect many within the Anabaptist fold’s decision to be “above the fray,” but personally feel a responsibility to vote and hold political leaders accountable. To be fair, Anabaptist’s teach that voting is a personal choice, and not a binding rule.

Something I have noted in the past year or so, is that there is a growing margin to the far left and far right politically. On the left in we have Bernie Sanders and Democratic Socialists of America. On the right we have Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and an increasing amount of Christians who distrust “Big Government” on social issues. Republican politicians relish the socialist swing in the Democratic Party, as they can equate it to communism and its failures. On the other hand, Democrats can point to the callousness of libertarian ideals and its social Darwinism. Although libertarianism was on the upswing among conservatives before the Trump fiasco, aspects of it still find favor among evangelicals.

Simply put, evangelicals find the libertarian resistance to big government appealing when it comes to social issues like states rights, abortion, gay marriage, and freedom of religion, but reject its aversion to military spending. Also shared is the evangelical general belief that taxes are too high. It is an odd combination of smaller government, support for big business, a rejection of government mandating social reforms at the expense of personal liberties, combined with a willingness for the government to limit the personal freedoms of those who don’t share their evangelical worldview.

While I am not a fan of Ayn Rand’s survival of the fittest, I understand the appeal of “individual freedom through lower taxes and reducing the size and scope of government,” which a few years ago, was the view of 40% of Republicans polled. (1) No one likes to be told they have support financially, things they don’t believe in. However, as a Christian who is concerned about society, there are things that spiritually just don’t line up.

Conflicts invariably arise when Americans define the role of government. Although not strictly libertarian, evangelicals have remained fairly consistent in their criticism that the government spends far too much on social issues that would best be left to churches and private charities. The fact that those non profit organizations cannot possibly meet the needs of so many needy is of little consequence to them. I often hear “those that don’t work, don’t eat,” and the belief that the homeless and those on welfare are lazy and are part of a systemic jobless environment. In other words, only those they deem worthy should receive charity.

On the other hand, the lean towards socialism amongst Democrats raises fears among the Religious Right that they will be forced to tolerate or even support groups of people they mistrust or are in disagreement with. It is no secret that the reforms of the last 100 years are not viewed favorably among evangelicals, who see them as proof that America is sliding towards perdition. And socialism directly affects the pocketbook of Americans.

One should not discount the strong appeal that finances have on the libertarian impulse among evangelicals. It is costly to run social programs and subsidize non profits, especially if one does not agree with the aims of those programs. Hence the appeal of trickle down economics among evangelicals, which, ironically, has had little effect over the long haul on the typical American pocketbook, favoring mainly the upper 1% (2), or for community services like Planned Parenthood. The result of the evangelical love affair with a libertarian small government is an evangelicalism that sides with the wealthiest 1% and eschews government social reforms for some of the neediest and most marginalized in our society. This is totally backwards to the Kingdom principals put forth by the Messiah they are supposed to be following.

While quick to describe what they feel is NOT the role of government, they are eager to give power to the government to enact laws favorable towards evangelicals and unfavorable to non-evangelicals. This is where things get scary, and I think departs furthest from libertarianism. True libertarianism wishes to limit, as much as possible governmental control over the individual citizen. Evangelicals wish this for THEMSELVES but not for others. Pure and simple, this is a longing for a return to Christendom, a time when western governments supported and promulgated a form of Christianity that merged with government. A period that covered most of church history, both Catholic and Protestant.

While I am in support of the teachings of Jesus underlying our laws in principal, I am not in support of the church as institution validating our government. This has been an abject failure historically for society. Repeating the same mistakes of the past expecting a different result this time, is insanity.

So what about socialism? Well, despite the fact that it more closely aligns with Kingdom principals of “doing unto the least of these,” it promotes almost everything evangelicalism has rejected. The problem is that the Religious Right aligns more with a totalitarian, authoritarian view of the Kingdom, than a merciful one. Law and order (affecting non-whites mainly) and the freedom to discriminate freely against those who are “others,” has replaced tolerance and caring for one’s neighbor. The Religious Right has opted for a Kingdom that only they will feel at home in.

A few closing thoughts. We have, I believe, entered an ugly time in America. The conservative church has basically shot itself in the foot with its obvious callousness, selfishness and disregard for the needs of the “others” in society. There are and will be consequences. Civility in discourse, especially in disagreements, has died. While not the reason for the mess, Trump feeds off of and encourages the discord. He has tapped into a very ugly side of America, and the church has done little to dissuade him, and in most instances, sided with him. Where will evangelicalism be a decade from now? It will be far smaller for sure. It will be reforming and repenting, as the current leaders die off, are accused of sexual misconduct or are replaced by younger more inclusive individuals. But Christianity will never be the same again in America. And that, I believe, is a good thing.

1 https://www.politico.com/story/2013/09/poll-republicans-libertarian-096576

2 https://www.cnbc.com/2018/01/04/warren-buffett-on-the-failure-of-trickle-down-economics.html

Andy Stanley and Our Problem with the Old Testament

Wesley Hill’s Post

Andy Stanley

Wesley Hill’s response to Andy Stanley’s sermon about “unhitching ourselves from the OT” is emblematic of a larger, systemic and long standing problem in the church. In order to understand the nature of the problem, one needs to be able to step back from the historical investment the church has placed in the OT canon, and try to look at church history more objectively. The problem, as I will describe, is not uniquely evangelical, but has marred the church’s understanding of Christ’s teaching for over 2 millennia. I apologize for perhaps over estimating the evangelical responsibility in the matter.

What Andy Stanley, in this sermon has done, is attempt to bring to our attention a certain problem within the church, that has historically hindered the church from truly grasping the nature of the Heavenly Father that Jesus introduces us to. Wesley Hill’s response that the various councils, the church Fathers, the Anglican Church, etc., have all revered the Decalogue is true. He is stating the obvious. But when you understand that the Decalogue is symbolic of and integral to the Jewish covenant alone, as Christians we must be careful how we appropriate it for ourselves.

Stanley has used the Ten Commandments as a sort of code word for the church’s attitude towards the OT as a whole. Marcion was not the only Christian leader to be troubled by the apparent dichotomy between the OT Jewish understanding of God and the new revelation of God’s character presented in Jesus’ teaching and in Paul’s theology. Origen and others in the early church tended to smooth over the difference by the use of allegory, that the Bible had spiritual meanings that superseded the literal meanings of the text. Unfortunately, the grace and unmerited forgiveness of God through Jesus Christ has been muddied by a literal appropriation of much of the legalism of the OT.

For Augustine of Hippo, AD 354-430, there was a “veil” over the OT. One had to get past it to understand the spiritual sense of the passages, even the more scurrilous ones. As a Manichaean, Augustine had spurned the OT scriptures as rather crass and uninspired, but with the influence of Ambrose, and his subsequent re-conversion to Christianity, he changed his mind. It is important to note that, like Origen, Augustine and other church Fathers were not unaware of the ethical problems inherent to the OT. They dealt with the tension by spiritualizing the passages. 

With the collapse of the Roman Empire and increasing pressure from Islam, the Eastern and Western branches of Christianity grew further apart, until Catholicism, the Western branch, became dominant. During the Middle Ages, survival of the church relied on support from various monarchs, and the success of the monarchies relied, in part, on the approval of the Pope. While there were various reforms, and good Popes, there was a growing unhealthy symbiotic relationship between the secular state and the church. While technically not a theocracy, it became increasingly difficult to differentiate between the secular and the divine.

The state’s use of violence, war and coercion had a parallel in the OT, and the church’s collusion with the state implicated the church increasingly with that same coercive, violent mindset. Abandoning the more allegorical interpretive understanding of the OT, treating the enemies of the church violently became a way of treating heresy, following the similar pattern of ancient Israel.

The die was cast. According to the Catholic Catechism, the church was the new Israel. Protestantism had similar parallels. As a result, what we have seen historically in the church, is a gradual departure from the Sermon on the Mount as descriptive of the Kingdom of God, to a church that uses much of the same playbook as earthly kingdoms do. Ask any atheist about the church’s ethical shortcomings. We ignore the past to our own peril.

Frankly, I am a bit shocked that a scholar such as Wesley Hill does not seem to understand, that for Paul the Law leads to death and failure. That you can never have enough laws, nor follow enough laws to merit favor. Stanley’s point that we do not “need” the Ten Commandments as Christians, while certainly controversial, is, at root, true. We have something better, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the example of Christ and the teaching of the apostles. The Decalogue is so incredibly obvious, why should we need it as a reminder? Does anyone here need to be reminded that murder, lying or sleeping with the neighbor’s wife is a bad thing?

Instead the author of John and the apostle Paul, repeatedly remind us to LOVE others. Why? Because it is far harder than keeping the Law of Moses. The Pharisees kept the Law fastidiously yet failed being loving. This is the draw of legalism. It lets you off the hook in the love department. This is why the church, in its efforts to keep doctrinal, legalistic purity, could burn people at the stake, or torture them to get them to convert. In their perversion of love, they saw it as a way of saving souls.

While we no longer burn people at the stake for heresy, witchcraft or being Gay (except in Africa), the same obsession with legalism and doctrinal purity ostracizes people and turns people away from Christ. It is the old “love the sinner, hate the sin” mantra that fails so miserably. Like Paul in Romans 2, people instantly know hypocrisy when they hear it.

While Origen and Augustine may have understood the OT in allegorical terms or spiritualized difficult passages, today’s evangelical is not so sure. With the rise of the Princeton School of Theology and the pushback on Christian liberalism and the historical critical method, inerrancy and literal interpretation has become the defecto evangelical methodology of understanding scripture. In effect, it mires scripture down to the understanding of scholastics like Aquinas and legalists like Calvin. Unintended side affects are a gospel that is irrelevant today and a rigid doctrinal system that cannot be reformed. It cannot be reformed because in the declaration of an inerrant scripture, the defender becomes inerrant himself. Check out Roger E. Olson, “Reformed and Always Reforming, The Postconservative Approach to Evangelical Theology,” for more on this matter.

The danger with understanding scripture this way concerns us most when coming to the OT. While the Decalogue is certainly a wonderful document, Christian appropriation of certain Levitical laws generally ends up backfiring by creating legalistic Christians. Instead of manifesting God’s love and forgiveness, they become harsh and judgmental. This, of course, can happen when using the NT as well. I think Wesley Hill’s comment are illuminating:

It is striking how frequently flirtations with Marcionism are aimed at revising Christian teaching on sexual morality. Though he doesn’t walk through it himself, Stanley’s sermon opens the door to this revisionism. He says that Paul tied sexual behavior not to the old covenant, not to the Ten Commandments, but to “one commandment that Jesus gave us: that you are to treat others as God in Christ has treated you.

For Hill this is simply not enough. The example that Jesus showed us in his life. The forgiveness he showed his tormentors on the cross, the admonition to love greatly by Paul and John…not enough. As he further states:

we Christians so often fail to discern what real love amounts to, and we need the Old Testament’s commandments to shine a spotlight on our slippery self-justifications. We may intend to treat a sexual partner as God in Christ has treated us, we may try to act toward them out of self-giving love, but the distorting effects of sin mean that we must be told what love looks like in action if we’re not to get it wrong. That divine telling, sadly, is what Andy Stanley’s sermon would keep us from hearing.”

So here we have the real reason behind the uproar: the need for Christians to monitor others sexual behavior. This is the slippery slope conservatives fear if the church “unhitches” itself from following certain OT “moral laws.” Heavens! Some one might interpret that as freedom to love someone else of the same sex! And as Hill has pointed out, the OT is such a stellar example of marriage and sexual relations, come on Wesley Hill! Really? We’ve all seen the Facebook mimes. OT marriage looked nothing like marriage today, even among Southern Baptists!

So here’s the deal. The human tendency to legalism, is a universal. We gravitate towards laws. When they are used to protect us from each other, they are useful. When used to exclude, marginalize or persecute others…not so good. When treated as absolute inerrant codes of conduct, and end up hurting people, it’s time to step back and reassess things. It is my personal opinion that the doctrine of inerrancy actually produces unethical behavior in the church. One of the things that has come out of the battle for marriage equality, that SS relations would destroy the family, the nation, would result in pedophilia, that it was immoral, were false. The claims were disingenuous, misleading and were fear mongering. In Biblical parlance, it was bearing false witness.

A rigid inerrant view of scripture “unhinges” the church from the love of Christ unconditionally for others and replaces it with a “performance minded” conditional Christianity, something Stanley obviously was critiquing. As Robert Farrar Capon puts it:

I’ve always had a problem with the phrase, ‘cheap grace.’ As far as I’m concerned, nobody can make God’s grace in Jesus any cheaper than it already is: it’s free”. “…But what I really object to is people who use the so-called danger of cheap grace as a way of browbeating others into thinking there’s some level of performance they have to achieve before they can be worthy of grace.”

“…I guess what I really don’t like is the way people start out by defining sin as ‘moral failure’ and then go on to think that if they commit ‘sins’ they will cut themselves off from grace. That’s all nonsense of course: ‘sinners’ are the very thing God gives his grace to —lost sheep, lost coins, lost sons. As a matter of fact, the true New Testament opposite of sin isn’t virtue, or moral success, or getting your act together: it’s faith in the grace that takes away all the sins of the world. Paul says, ‘all that is not of faith is sin.’ And Jesus says, ‘the one who believes is not judged.’ We’re not on trial: ‘there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’”

“The Mystery of Christ and why We Don’t Get it.” p. 171-172.

I just don’t think Wesley Hill understands this, nor unfortunately, do many Christians.

Peace

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

 

CA Bill AB 2943, Are They Coming for Our Bibles Next?

Ok, first off, a disclosure. I am a liberal Christian, and as such, support the LGBTQ community. But I understand the handwringing, as this California bill, AB 2943, has a direct effect on limiting what evangelicals view as a “service” they “should’ be able to offer to the community, as a outgrowth of what they believe scripture teaches. The bill primarily expands an original California bill that prohibited reparative therapy being performed on minors, to a prohibition of that type of therapy being performed on anyone, regardless of age. The history of reparative therapy, predates modern psychological and biological findings on gay, non-binary and intersex individuals, and in the past included shock therapy, nausea inducing drugs and electro shock to the genitals.

The bill does not limit free speech, and conservatives will continue to be able to preach against homosexuality and write books to that end. The Bible never addresses reparative therapy, so it cannot be banned as the CBN has suggested. That is just fear-mongering. While I don’t agree with the evangelical stance towards the gay community, it is largely hurtful and counter productive, I support the right to have your opinions. What the bill is trying to address, is when those opinions are translated into a money making business, one that many now believe to be a sham. In other words, gay conversion therapy is malpractice. When pastors and Christian mental health workers council others they can be liable, depending on what is said and done. Often times they are not adequately trained as therapists, or have religious opinions contrary to science, and law suits can occur, and have in the past. Yes, that is one more concern for pastors and councilors, but the ability to do great psychological harm warrants being more careful.

Christian pundits have claimed these bills, such as the Massachusetts bill H1190, will stifle “talk therapy” as well. These bills do not prohibit a licensed therapist, social worker or mental health professional helping a person through the often painful and traumatic event of coming to grips with their sexuality, but it is not to be a professional platform for “converting” an individual to a particular Christian understanding of sexuality, especially when that understanding is not based on science. 

“Therapist should facilitate coping, social support and identity exploration and do so in a neutral manner. Therapists should not try to push sexual reorientation.

As a result of supportive therapy, some teens will determine that they are straight or cisgender and others will come out as a sexual minority. Such therapy is legal under this bill. Religious therapists should be perfectly fine with this arrangement. Therapy should not be a platform for spreading religious beliefs or making clients into Christian disciples.” (See Warren Throckmorton’s link below)

“What the state of MA is trying to prevent is for a therapist to use the cover of a state license to pursue sexual orientation or gender identity change. Therapists may do many things to support families who are traditional in their beliefs, but under a law like this, they may not actively use techniques or prescribe methods which have the intent to change orientation. Given that those techniques rarely, if ever, work, this would be beneficial for teens on balance.” (Throckmorton)

Looking at it in another way, when a Christian becomes a mental health professional, their practice should be based on the best, most current medical information available. Basing therapy on questionable, outdated or false science IS grounds for malpractice. How much faith would you have in a surgeon who told you, “as a Christian, I will not operate on your cancer. Instead I will pray for your healing.” No, we expect to get what we pay for, the best medicine has to offer.

The amount of disinformation, conspiracy theory and denial of expert witnesses amongst evangelicals is alarming, and yet again, another good reason the therapy should not be allowed. Anyone who still believes, for example, that being gay, transgender or intersex is a choice, is not fit to offer therapy or counseling to anyone. It is my hope, that eventually evangelicals will be faced with the biology behind human sexuality and modify their religious beliefs so that they are more loving and empathetic towards the LGBTQ community.

For further thought:

http://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/politics/2018/april/one-step-closer-to-law-could-a-california-bill-ultimately-lead-to-the-banning-of-bibles

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/04/24/christians-claim-wrongly-that-ca-conversion-therapy-bill-will-ban-bibles-too/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/01/27/the-torture-of-conversion-therapy-must-be-banned-across-the-country-2/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/03/22/christian-group-dont-say-we-support-gay-conversion-therapy-even-though-we-do/

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2018/04/09/md-delegate-my-state-sen-father-sought-conversion-therapy-after-i-came-out/

Throckmorton

 

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.

Becoming Truly Human

The following is a Facebook post by Jacob M. Wright.

“The gospel is not about going to heaven. It’s about bringing heaven to earth. This means that getting “saved” is not about saying “the sinners prayer” or “accepting Jesus into your heart”. That might be a good step, and the Spirit works through all kinds of different language, but it means nothing if it doesn’t lead to a life that begins being shaped by the ethics of Jesus (most clearly expounded on in the Sermon on the Mount) and participating in his visionary movement of peacemaking and world-reconciliation which he called “the kingdom of heaven”.

While Jesus did affirm himself as the Son of God, he rarely used this term for himself but rather favored the title “the son of man” which was an identification with humanity. Jesus’ constant usage of “the son of man” in referring to himself was an expression of Jesus’ embracing and revealing of full humanity. Jesus’ validates and demonstrates true humanity as the image of God.

Jesus is the way of becoming truly human. When we invite people to Jesus, we are inviting people into the way of Jesus. You cannot separate the two. The early church did not call themselves Christianity, they called themselves followers of “The Way.” Jesus called himself “The Way.” The Way/Jesus is not just about living a “holy” or moral life according to this or that cultural standard, rather Jesus hones in on what holiness is really about. It is about coming into our true humanity. First, in having a transformational initiation from darkness to light, an awakening into a new life, out of a futile life marked by pride, greed, selfishness, malice, lust, etc. by which we blindly participate in the victimizing systems of the world, and into a new self-aware way where we recognize these destructive powers and participate in the restorative power of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. This is an awakening to our authentic self in union with the Abba of creation. This transformation is what the sacrament of baptism marks. This is the “rebirth” experience.

However, a problem with much of Christianity is that it is just about “believing in Jesus” and living “moral”, but you can do both of those things and completely miss The Way. The Sermon on the Mount calls us so much higher. It is Christ’s call to participate in the new true humanity, which means practicing his kingdom ethic and being a part of a community of mercy and reconciliation in the world. This means to come to terms with Jesus teachings on peacemaking, non-violence, loving enemies, binding up the wounds of the world and being a force of healing and life to the nations through laying down our lives, emulating him who sent us.

This also happens to be the opposite of culture wars and fighting political battles for “Christian laws” and killing terrorists and declaring judgment is coming to America if such and such happens.”

“As the Father has sent me so I send you.”

“As I am, so are you in the world.”

He is currently raising money for a book: “God is Like Jesus,” and his Go Fund Me page is here:
https://www.gofundme.com/jacobwright