Following Jesus: You’re Doing it Right

My wife said to me the other day that it’s good to have a balance in the subject matter of one’s writings.  I asked her what she meant, to which she replied: “Don’t always be so negative.  People like to read positive things too!”  My reaction was much like The Dude’s in The Big Lebowski when The Stranger confronts him about swearing:

But, after realizing that my wife is in many most ways, much wiser then myself, I decided to take her advise.  So this post will (hopefully) have a different tone then my other ones.

I spend a lot of time on this blog bemoaning the shortcoming and failures of conservative Christians/Evangelicals and I’m certainly not the only one on the internet doing so.  But, I think it’s worth while to show the other side of the coin, the side that doesn’t enough attention. The side of humanity, whether Christian or not, that is quietly loving those around them in their own small way.

I came across this video recently and it really touched me.  I have a heart for the homeless, and seeing everyday, common people taking an active role to bettering their lives puts a big smile on my face:

This is what it’s all about!  This is what caring for “the least of the these” looks like!  When I see the gentleman’s reaction at 2:11, I can’t help but think of Jesus bringing good news to the poor and how they must have reacted to his random acts of kindness.

What I really like is how deliberate and selfless this act is.  Whether it’s dropping money in a cup on the street or into a collection plate in church, neither requires a personal investment.  This kid obviously did his research and found out the things that homeless people most need and then took the time (and money) to put the backpacks together.  But, best of all is the act of getting personal  with the people he meets.  He asks them their names, asks about their life, sits down with them, talks with them, let’s them share a song.  Taking a moment of your time to sit and talk with someone can often be just as meaningful as a material gifts.  This kid gives both.

Stories like this give me hope.  They make me realize that there are people out there doing it right and making a positive impact on their community and on the world.  People like this inspire me to keep seeking the greater good, to not get stuck in a pit of my own negativity and loathing, but to take that energy and do something good with it.  What a different world we would live in if everyone would follow his example.

A Lesson in Prejudice

 

Yesterday I watched the powerful documentary, A Class Divided, about a schoolteacher from Iowa who wanted to give her kids a first-hand lesson on what discrimination feels like.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you do so.  I first saw the film five years ago, as part of the training I took to work in the State Penitentiary, but as I watched it again yesterday, I was struck by just how profound the message was for today as it was 45 years ago.

The film tells the story of schoolteacher from Iowa, Jane Elliot, who in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King, wanted to teach her class about discrimination in a way that would impact them more then a simple lecture.  Jane divided the class into two groups based on their eye color, “brown eyes” and “blue eyes”.  The first day of the exercise she starts by telling the class how blue eye people were superior to brown eye people.   Jane then had the brown eye kids wear scarves so that they could be easily identified as a minority.  Blue eye kids were given special privileges throughout the day, such as extra lunch and extra time at recess, whereas brown eye kids were told they couldn’t use the water fountain, couldn’t play on the new playground equipment, and had to sit at the back of the class.  Blue eye children were told not to play with brown eye children.  Throughout the day, Jane would often praise the blue eye children for their work, while chastising the brown eye student for their mistakes or for not following the rules.  She would single out a brown eye child and use him or her as an example of the shortcoming of brown eye people.

The results were startling.  As Jane explains, “I watched what had been marvelous, cooperative, wonderful, thoughtful children turn into nasty, viscous, discriminating little third graders.”  The “superior” children became arrogant, bossy and cruel to their “inferior” classmates, many of whom they were good friends with prior to the exercise.  The brown eyed children’s moral was crushed.  As one kid explained, “The way they treated you, you felt like you didn’t even want to try and do anything.”  Jane also found that when given a very basic test, the “superior” kids scored much higher than the “inferior” children.  After a few days, the roles were reversed and much of the same behavior was displayed.  A few days later the kids were told they could throw away their scarves and things returned to normal. 

I was struck by just how quick and easy it had been to take a group of kids, and within a matter of minutes, program them to feel superior to another group of peers and treat them with such maliciousness.  I thought, “If a strong role model can teach these kids to discriminate in a day, what does a lifetime of this teaching result in?”  I then thought of the current discrimination of lesbians, gays, and transgenders in our society.

Today, kids and young people are being taught by their parents, their pastors, and their churches that homosexuals are inferior to heterosexuals, and the results seen in that Iowa classroom 45 years ago are being played out by adults today, but on a much grander scale.  Despite what history has taught us about discrimination, it would seem that we are destined to repeat our mistakes.

From the home and from the pulpit, kids are told that homosexuality is sin and that it goes against God’s will.  They are shown scripture which calls it an abomination and says it was punishable by death.  As with the children in Iowa being told false assertion about their “inferior” classmates, kids are taught that gay people can never be right with God and can never be truly happy.  Some are told that homosexuality is a disease or a mental disorder, that it is a spiritual sickness or even demon possession.  They hear homosexuality compared to pedophilia and bestiality.   They are told about the “deviant lifestyles” of homosexuals that leads to drugs, alcoholism, and promiscuity.  They hear about that how gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage in our country, and that same-sex couples raising kids is akin to child abuse.  Like the fear mongering drummed up by white conservatives during the civil rights movement, so it is today with pastors and politicians making absurd claims about gay people trying to recruit children, homosexuality being  a public health risk, being responsible for Nazi Germany and the collapse of whole civilizations.  They are told about the “gay agenda” and its fight against the values of our culture and society.

It should come as little surprise then, that after a lifetime of hearing this kind of misinformation, so many kind, loving, and Godly people can be so arrogant, cruel, and intolerant of LGBTs.

They tell gays and lesbian that they don’t have the right to marry, don’t have the right to adopt or raise children, don’t have the right to be protected from bullying,  and don’t have the right to anti-discrimination laws.  In churches they are told that they will only be accepted by God if they become straight through prayer and counseling, and if that doesn’t work then they must remain celibate and alone the rest of their lives.

This kind of intolerance of our gay, lesbian, and transgender neighbors needs to stop.

Like the kids in Iowa whose spirits could be crushed in only a matter of hours by the constant onslaught of prejudice doled out against them, so too, are we seeing the effects on LGBT youth.  Young LGBTs are 8 times more likely to attempt suicide and 6 times more likely to suffer from depression then their heterosexual counterparts.  I’ve heard countless stories of kids being rejected by their parents, family, friends, and church when they came out or were found out.  Hate crimes against LGBTs are on the rise and in many parts of the country someone can be fired from their job or evicted from their homes because of their sexuality.   All because of something they have no control over.

It’s time to end this bullshit “culture war”.  It’s time for straight, white, conservatives to stop thinking themselves superior to others and start loving their neighbors as equals and as fellow children of God, whether or not their life looks like yours.  Many will say they are only acting in accordance to Scripture.  I say that when I read in Philippians to “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves,” I see no room for prejudice or discrimination.  We don’t get to choose who is “in” and who is “out”.  When Jesus came to bring “good news to the poor,” I don’t see marginalizing people as part of that plan, in fact it goes against everything Jesus taught about love and tolerance.  Any interpretation of scripture that causing others to be harmed, marginalized, or oppressed is the wrong interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetical it may be.  

My kids are 9 and 12, and it’s my sincere hope that it will be their generation that turns the tide of prejudice against LGBTs.  I look forward to the day when ones sexual orientation no longer determines ones worth and when their inclusion in church will no longer be questioned.

 

 

Abstinence Is Not a Solution to ‘Rape Culture’

Recently, blogger Matt Walsh wrote an article about the epidemic of sexual assaults on college campuses, sometime called “rape culture” by the media.  Matt talks about the problems with the hook-up culture that is portrayed in entertainment and is prevalent on many college campuses today and points out the inadequacies of educating people about “consent”.  His solution to this so-called “rape-culture” is seemingly simple: tell people that sex should only happen in marriage, also know as “abstinence only” education.

Now before I delve into this, I just want to say that I’ve been following Matt’s blog for a while and greatly respect him.  He is a good writer who tackles some tough topics and isn’t afraid of a little controversy.  I’ve read posts by Matt that had me throwing a fist up in the air and yelling, “Preach it, brother!”, while others have made me shake my head and wonder,  “Why do I even follow this guy?”  While I may disagree with him on some issues, he’s always provided sound, reasonable arguments for his stances.  His latest post, however, falls woefully short.

First of all, Matt seem to lack a basic understanding of the psychology of rape.  Rape is not about sex, at least not in the sense of being motivated by sexual attraction or an uncontrollable sexual urges.  Rape is a violent act that is about power and control.  Abstinence does nothing to address this.  Telling people to wait tell they’re married (or at least in a committed relationship) to have sex in no way combats the sadistic urges of those who think they have power over another.

Many religious institutions have long claimed that abstinence-only education was the solution to many of societies problems, such as abortion, STDs, and teen pregnancy.  But, abstinence-only education has completely failed to produce the results that it strives for and has proven to be a danger to public health.   States that endorse abstinence-only education actually have higher rates teen-pregnancy then those that have proper sex-education, and show no reduction in the rates of abortion or STDs.  I would deduce that abstinence-only education being taught in schools would in no way reduce the number of rapes.

There are those who would agree that proper sex education should be taught in schools, but the church still has an obligation to teach the “Biblical” view of sex and marriage.  I understand this mindset and the reasons behind it, but studies have shown that Christians are engaging in pre-marital sex nearly as often as their non-religious counterparts.  So, if preaching a legalistic theology regarding pre-marital sex isn’t working at actually keeping people in  church from having sex, what logic is there in trying to use it to tackle something as complex as rape?

Matt and I are in agreement that sex should never be sought out using alcohol, coercion, manipulation, or false pretenses.  I do think many people have false illusions and expectations regarding sex.  But, Matt seems to take a very simplistic view of the word “consent” and feels that talking about consent isn’t enough.  Maybe it’s not enough by itself, but it’s a damn good place to start, and is a message that resonates with everyone, not just conservative Christians.  For a better understanding of what consent is regarding sex, you can watch this video by Laci Green:

I know that it’s really popular for Christians to believe that if everyone just started do what the Bible says we could put an end tragic things like rape, war, and poverty.  But this idealistic, Utopia-like world never existed and it never will.  The religious leaders at the time of Jesus thought the same thing.  The Pharisees blamed the occupation by the Romans on all the “sinners” who weren’t following the Torah.  They believed that if the Jewish nation started obeying the Laws better, that God would deliver them from the Romans.  Then along came Jesus, who had little interest in upholding religious dogmas, but instead taught a message of love, acceptance, and inclusion.  If Jesus was here today, he would no doubt be deeply saddened by the way women are exploited and taken advantage of in our world, but I really can’t see him getting on some legalistic kick about pre-marital sex.

Since I’ve taken all this time to talk about what isn’t a solution to the problem of rape in out culture, I feel I should weigh in on what we should do.

Let’s start by working on our inefficient legal system that has a poor track record of prosecuting rape cases.  Let’s demand something be done about college administrations that fail to take proper action against rape allegations and even cover up or dismiss these charges to protect their reputation.   Let’s fight the “rape culture” by getting rid of the misogynistic culture we live in (that includes you Church).   And yes, let’s starting telling our young people about what “consent” means and how to respect one another.  

 

 

God Seeks Justice and Mercy, Not Theology or Worship.

I recently read an excellent post by Chuck Queen; Faithfulness Is More Important Than Veneration (Back to the Future with the Jewish Jesus). At first I was a little bummed because I was working on a similar post and Queen’s version was way better then mine.  But, with Queen’s permission, I decided to spin off of what he wrote and expand on it, so I’d encourage you to read his post before continuing on with mine.

In my previous post, I stated that any interpretation of scripture that causing others to be harmed, marginalized, or oppressed is the wrong interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetical it may be.  I want to clarify that statement here, by saying that God is far more concerned about how we treat others then in what theology of doctrine about Him we subscribe to.  As Queen puts it, Jesus is far more interested in our faithfulness to the way of Jesus than our worship of Jesus or veneration of his deity. Having the faith of Jesus is more important than what we believe about Jesus.”

Current church culture often dictates that what you believe is what defines you as a “true Christian”.   It’s my opinion that one’s beliefs are simply a compass that points one in the right direction in life.  Queen echoes this by saying that, Our beliefs are mere pointers; our human way of trying to grasp and explain what is beyond our comprehension. Whereas beliefs tend to divide us, a living faith unites us.”  This is not to say that one’s beliefs aren’t important.  Queen states, What we truly believe in the core of our being impacts how we live, or at least how we want to live.”   It would seem that for many however, rather than beliefs simply pointing one in the right direction, they have become the journey itself; the goal and the emphasis of what defines faith.  It has also been my experience that most people of faith hold and defend their belief system with such vigor that it’s hard not to see them as idols.  These “idols” very often can lead to wrong and destructive positions in regards to such topics as LGBTs, women, immigrants, poverty, other religions, capital punishment, violence, and so on.

There is a perpetual fear amongst many Christians that if they don’t follow what the Bible says to do (or more accurately, what the church/religious leaders say to do), then they will incur the wrath of God and/or lose their salvation.  Without diving into the error of this sort of fear-based faith system, I hope to show scripturally that God’s primary concern is with our actions towards others, not with how closely we follow religious dogma.

When asked what the underlining theme of the Old Testament prophets’ message to Israel was, most would say that it was to stop worshiping idols- and they would be correct.  But the other common message found throughout the prophetic books is God’s anger at Israel for its neglect of the poor and marginalized.

In Isaiah 1, God tells Israel that he is tired of their offerings and their feasts, and He will no longer hear their worship or listen to their prayers until they get themselves right with Him.  What must they do to get right?

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. (Isaiah 1:16-17)

Again, in Isaiah 58, we see that despite seeking God daily and delighting to know his ways, and be a righteous nation, it’s not enough.  What does God want from them?

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? (Isaiah 58:6-7)

Amos continues in the theme of Isaiah with God once again being displeased with Israel’s feasts, offerings, and songs.  In a verse made famous by MLK, God demands:

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)

In my ESV Bible, the heading above verse 6 of Micah 6 is titled: What Does the Lord Require?  We find the answer in verse 8:

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8)

Go ahead and read the verses that proceed this one.  What does God require?  Not offerings or sacrifices, but justice, kindness, and humility.

You see this word “justice” come up a lot.  Justice usually evokes images or ideas regarding a courtroom or the law, but in broader   terms, justice is the quality of being fair, just, or impartial.  It is “a principle or ideal of just dealing or right actions” according to Webster.  Frank Schaeffer makes the point that “tribalism and excluding classes of people is the enemy of justice.”

The writers of the New Testament were equally concerned about matter of social justice.   James writes that:

Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27)

James goes on to show that faith and kind sentiments are meaningless unless they lead to actions which help others:

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:14-17)

John echos this sentiment by saying:

But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:17-18)

Peter tells us:

Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8)

I find it ironic that the apostle Paul, whose words are all-too-often used as justification for the oppression and marginalizing of others, was so outspoken of the fact that religious traditions accounting for little in God’s eyes; only love.  In his letter to the church of Galatia, he writes:

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

Again, in his famous passage on love, Paul writes:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

If you’re wondering why I skipped over the Gospels, rest assured; I saved the best for last.  Jesus, more then anyone else in the Bible, taught and demonstrated that caring for others is more important then devotion to scriptural law of religious traditions.

Despite the assertion by most that Jesus was “without sin”, I would argue that this is a relative claim.  In whose eyes are we talking about?  Because certainly in the eyes of the dominant religion and it’s leaders of the time, Jesus “sinned” frequently and unashamedly.  In modern language, he would be accused of “living in sin”.

Jesus broke purity laws by touching lepers, dead people, a women on her period, handicapped, and the demon possessed.  He hung out with prostitutes.  He broke the Sabbath.  He associated with Samaritans.  He dined with “sinners”.  He disregarding fasting laws.  He pardoned people of their sins.   He was irreverent when speaking about God and taught his disciples to do the same.

Jesus seemed to have little regard for the “inerrancy” of the Torah, either.  In fact, Jesus frequently undercut scripture, stating the, “The Law says this, but I say…”  Can you imagine if an Evangelical pastor got up some Sunday and said to the congregation, “The Bible says this, but I say forget all that, listen to what I’m saying now!”  He would be fired before he even finished his sermon.

And what about the parable of the Good Samaritan?  Who was considered the good neighbor towards the beaten man?  Not the priest or the Levite, but the Samaritan bandaged him, cared for him, and offered to pay for all his medical expenses.

Finally, in the most telling example of love trumping law,  in Matthew 25 we read about the final judgement and how people what people will be judged on:

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:31-40)

No mention of correct theology.  No word about sound doctrine.  Nothing about standing up for “Christian values”.  Not a thing about defending “truth”.  Just caring for the “least of these”.  That is what living as a follower of Christ is all about.

Are ones beliefs important?  Yes, but only in so far as they are used to love and care for others.  If certain beliefs cause others harm, it’s time to drop them, or at the very least reevaluate them.

Who someone is and what they do is all that matters” says Frank Schaeffer

In closing I would like to offer a modern interpretation of Paul’s words to the church of Corinth.  We’ll call it “Rob’s Letter to the Church of America”:

If you have vibrant, Spirit-filled worship services, but exclude outsiders from joining in, it’s all just a bunch of noise.  If you have the most exegetical and theologically-sound teachings, but use them to harm or marginalize others, it is all just useless words.  If your own beliefs are more important then serving your neighbor, then your faith is meaningless.  If you give all that you have to help build your own church, but ignore the poor and the hungry, you are throwing your money away. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hypocrisy of Conservative’s “Pro-Life” Stance

March For Life Marks 40th Anniversary Of Roe v. Wade

Whenever polls are done asking people to give one word that describes Christians,  inevitably the word “hypocrite” will be one of the top three contenders.  This seems to a major perception of Christians, even amongst fellow church-goers.  While the idea of hypocrisy usually involves one contradicting themselves and doing the very things they preach against, I believe that where people get the perception of hypocrisy amongst Christians is is mainly due to the fact that they seem to put a tremendous amount of weight on one particular issue while ignoring, or even being in opposition of, other equally important issues.

Nowhere is this more apparent then in Christians’ so-called “pro-life” stance.  The term “pro-life” is synonymous with the anti-abortion movement and denotes those who want to put an end to abortion through legal measures.  The issue of abortion has become one of the most divisive issues in our culture.  Pro-life advocacy groups spend millions of dollars every year lobbying for tougher laws against abortion.  For many Christians, a politician’s stance on abortion (and same-sex marriage) is the deciding factor on who they vote for.

Yet, when one takes a look at the support (or lack of) that many conservatives give to other widely contended political and social topics, it would seem that what we’re really talking about is not pro-life, but only pro-birth.  Conservatives only real concern seems to be for unborn children, and seem indifferent, if not hostile,  to the welfare of the population at large.

After a botched execution last week in Oklahoma, Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was on CNN calling for Christians to support the death penalty and using scripture to back his claims.  Supporters of capital punishment always have to stick to the Old Testament though, as it goes against everything Jesus taught about mercy, forgiveness, loving your enemy, and turning the other cheek.  If conservatives are so concerned about life, than why are they so eager to execute our own citizens?

Conservatives have a history of being strong supporters of war efforts.  It was evangelicals that elected and supported a “Christian” president that initiated an illegal, immoral, and unjust war with Iraq that has led to the deaths of a half million of its citizens, most of whom were civilians.  Are children’s lives in Iraq any less important than unborn children’s lives in America?

If I had to make a list of the top-ten idols of the American Church, one of them would be its obsession with guns.  Despite the every-increasing death toll of Americans due to gun violence (the highest in the world)*, many conservatives still feel that protecting their “God-given right to bear arms!” is more important than trying  to keep them out of the wrong hands.  Is a child killed in a school shooting less important than your right to not have a background check?

One of the main reasons that women in America get abortions is due to economic hardship, yet many conservatives are part of the political system that continues to wage war on America’s poor.  This past year has seen cuts in food stamps and other welfare programs as well as opposition to raising the minimum wage.  Is the well being of poor children any less important than unborn children?

Despite being the richest nation on the planet we are also the only industrial nation that does not provide universal health care for its citizens.  Obamacare is a step in the right direction, yet because of political divisiveness, the vast majority of conservatives are strongly against it.  I’m not saying Obamacare is the answer, but the battle cry should be to improve the system, not eliminate it.  If access to free or even affordable health care isn’t a “pro-life” issue, than I don’t know what is.  (It is also worth noting that affordable health care insures easy access to contraceptives, which has proven to be the most effective way of reducing abortion rates)

gop+hypocrisy

All the statements above only reflect human life.  I could just as easily devote a separate, lengthy post about conservatives’ apathy to the life and well being of creation.  Most seem indifferent to issues regarding pollution, deforestation, global warming, and the GMOs, and talk of the ethical treatment of animals is met with callous dismissal.

Shane Claiborne likes to say that to be truly “pro-life” one needs to be be pro-life from womb to tomb.  If Christians want to be concerned about life, they should be concerned with all life, not just a select few that happen to make a good political platform.  Cardinal Joseph Bernardin called this a “seamless robe,” and argued that abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, and unjust war are all related, and all wrong.  He said that being pro-life has to be a seamless statement of life that goes all the way from abortion to war to caring for the poor.

I would also argue that if people are truly concerned about abortion, they should consider being more proactive about the issue.  Many people of faith seem perfectly content simply casting their vote for anti-abortion politicians and patting themselves on the back for being a “good Christian” and fighting against abortion.  In reality, they have done absolutely nothing to alleviate the problem.  How about instead of wasting energy and resources trying to fight a Kingdom issue using worldly means, Christians start getting their hands dirty and involving themselves in people’s lives?  Rather then lobby politicians to fight their battles for them, why don’t people take on some responsibility of their own?  Why not help carry our neighbor’s burden?   I’ll end with a quote by Shane Claiborne, who sums up this idea brilliantly:

Our ideologies come with responsibilities.  In my neighborhood, to be against abortion means we have to figure out what to do when a fourteen-year-old girl gets pregnant.  If we are really pro-life, we had better have some foster kids and teen moms living with us to prove it.  I don’t want to just be anti-abortion or anti-death.  I want to be pro-life.  For far too long, we Christians have been known more by what we are against then by what we are for.  I am ready for a Christianity that is consistently committed to life and all about interrupting death everywhere it shows it’s ugly face.

Amen, brother.      

 

*NOTE:  I need to clarify that the US has the highest number of gun-related deaths of developed countries.  There are countries that, either because of war or unstable governments, do have higher deaths over all.

 

 

Redifining Sin

Every month a group I started, The Armistice Project, holds a meeting at the local library where people from all backgrounds, faiths, and sexual orientation come together and discuss the divisive topic of faith and homosexuality.  At one of our last meetings I posed the question, “Using non-religious language, how would you define sin?”  This proved harder to do then one would think.  Anyone who has ever spent any amount of time in a church or around religion instinctively links the word “sin” with God and/or the Bible.  In fact, even the dictionary states that sin is defined as “an immoral act considered to be a transgression against divine law.”

While parts of the Bible, such as the Ten Commandments, may be universally excepted as a golden standard of moral behavior, very often a sin is considered anything that a particular church, pastor, or person doesn’t agree with.  Growing up, everything from drums in church to people mowing their yards on Sunday were considered sin.   Talk of sin, whether from the pulpit or from your parents, is usually wrapped up in language of guilt and shame and seems more intent on controlling or repressing peoples’ behaviors, as apposed to being simple moral guidelines.  Yet, when one takes a close look at the statistics of divorce rates, domestic violence, and teenage pregnancy amongst people who go to church, it becomes obvious that all this sin-talk does little to make religious people any more moral than the rest of the world.

When I was about 13, my mom finally decided it was time to talk to me about sex.  (Little did she know, I already knew a great deal about sex thanks to the Glamour magazines she kept hidden under her bed)  Her talk went something like this, “It’s a sin to have sex before you’re married, so don’t do it.”  That’s it.  No explanations,  no rational dialogue, just a blunt, black-and-white statement with a little Bible talk thrown in.  How well did it work?  I started having sex in high school and had gotten a girl pregnant by the time I was 20.  I’m not trying to blaming my parents for my actions, but their riveting speech gave me no motivation to abstain from sex.  Current studies would suggest that my story is not an isolated one as 9 out 10 church-goers have sex before they’re married.  Yet, churches still keep pushing the same mantra of premarital sex being a sin against God, a sin against your future spouse, “true love waits”, etc.  What’s that old saying about insanity?   It’s repeating the same actions over and over again and expecting different results?

Another issue the church is trying to tackle is pornography.  I’ve heard this addressed more times then I can count, but the speech is always the same; pornography is a sin against God, against your spouse, against your future spouse, etc.  From my experience, this does nothing but pile on the guilt and shame that people who struggle with pornography already deal with, and shaming is never an effective deterrent for negative behavior.

I think what’s missing is proper explanations as to why some things are immoral or unhealthy behaviors.  When asked what constitutes a sin, most will open up their Bible and point to a verse or two, but how effective is that today?   How effective is ancient Bible text in a world that has information at it’s fingertips?  Is the Biblical language of sin, which people thought of as being the cause of natural disasters and mental illness, still applicable in our post-science worldview?  I think a new understanding of what constitutes a “sin” is needed if people of faith hope to remain relevant in our modern world .  We need to search for more rational, universally excepted reasoning when engaging in dialogues regarding peoples behaviors.

Maybe if my parents would have explained to me what a huge responsibility sex was, I might have listened.  Maybe if my mom had explained to me how emotionally attached a women gets when she is intimate with someone, I might have reconsidered who I slept with.  Maybe if my dad had explained to me how sex makes you willing to overlook negative qualities in someone that your with, I would have gotten out of bad relationships sooner.  I’m not saying any of this would have stopped me from having sex, but it would have been much more useful information to have in making decisions then any of the Bible-talk that I received.

If I had an atheist buddy who was really into pornography, what good would telling him it’s a sin do?  But, what if I explained to him the addictive nature of porn and how it affects the brain the same way as drugs do?   What if I told him that constant exposure to porn could alter how aroused he got when around the real thing?  I could explain to him that, more then likely, his significant other felt disrespected when he looked at porn and might even feel like she’s being cheated on.  He would be far more likely to hear me out then if I started preaching at him.

While looking at immoral behavior from a rational standpoint, it’s important that we also see the flip-side of the coin.  What about some of the long-standing stances the Church has taken on certain “sinful” behaviors?  Could they still be proved beyond a reasonable doubt in light of our current world-view?

Today, women are CEOs, doctors, lawyers, scientists, serve in government, and serve in the military, yet are still barred from serving in positions of ministry in many churches.  Is there any rational reason why women can’t be in ministry?  If your only explanation is a couple Biblical verses written in a time where women were considered nothing more then the property of men, then it’s time to dismiss this case and move on.  Thankfully, many denominations have moved past archaic ideas of women needing to “remain silent” in church and have appointed women to all offices of ministry, but I think there is still progress to be made.

The Church is also in desperate need of a more rational discussion about homosexuality.  The stance of most Evangelical churches is that all homosexuality is a sin and LGBTs have no choice but to remain celibate and hope that God will make them straight.  This stance is based on an ignorant view of human biology and a misunderstanding of a handful of verses written at a time and culture that had a very different world view of gender and sexuality then we do.  Yet, I’ve never heard a rational explanation as to why two people of the same sex can’t be in a relationship.  To expect gay people to remain celibate is not only cruel and unrealistic, but it’s an ugly representation of the Church’s obsession with trying to control people’s behaviors.  No where in the Bible does God call anyone to celibacy or a life of loneliness.  To make such demands of our LGBT neighbors is reminiscent of the religious leaders of Jesus’s time who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.”  

The use of the word “sin” has for too long been used  to control people through guilt and shame.  Maybe it’s time we start looking for language that builds up rather then tears down.  Maybe we should start focusing on people’s good qualities instead of focusing on where they fall short.  Or, maybe we should just leave this whole business of judging sin up to God and get on with the task of loving people.

 

(NOTE:  I realize that there is a lot more to the arguments regarding faith and homosexuality, far too much to put into one post.  Rest assured, I will be addressing some of these arguments in future posts.)

 

 

Haven’t Met Jesus?

I didn’t write this blog post, but I wish I would have.  It articulates so well the kind of response one typically gets when they choose to have a faith that doesn’t follow the status-quo.  I’ll have a new blog up sometime this week.  In the meantime, please enjoy this well written post by Chris Attaway:

http://thediscerningchristian.wordpress.com/2014/04/29/what-i-think-when-you-say-i-havent-really-met-jesus/

Beyond a Reasonable Doubt

For anyone who has ever served on a jury or watched a lot of Law & Order, you know how important the burden of proof is for the prosecution.  They must prove to the jury using evidence and testimony that the facts being presented could not have happened any other way.  The defense’s job to present conflicting evidence and instill doubt the jury’s mind.  It’s not a perfect institution, but I do think it’s a good one.  Being someone who is pretty logical and is skeptical by nature, it definitely resonates with me.

I use this same system in dealing with matters of faith and theology.  I spoke in my last post about deconstructing all of my previously help beliefs and looking at them anew.   When deciding what things should stay, go, or be changed, I put them through a sort of “trial” in my head.  I’d go searching for evidence and ask myself:  How do these ideas stack up against modern thinking?  Can they be proven using science, history, or reason?  Is this helpful or harmful to myself or others?  If the evidence didn’t mount up, if there was sufficient doubt as to the authenticity or authority of any claim; out it does.  The litmus test for any religious claim should be: could I explain this idea or concept to a non-religious person in a way that would makes rational sense?  

This is not to say that things must be proven to be absolute, only that you can be reasonably sure that it is true.  I heard a lawyer explain reasonable doubt as doubt that you act on.  For example, if I leave my house and have a reasonable doubt that I forgot to lock the doors, I will turn around, go back and check.  An unreasonable  doubt would be doubting that Japan really exists just because I haven’t been there personally.

While most would probably agree with my overall assessment, when one takes a look at the long-list of “truths” that are claimed as irrefutable facts by many people of faith, you will quickly see that the burden of proof is not met.  Christians have a whole laundry list of claims that would never hold up in a modern trial.

Creationism is perfect example.  Creationism is the belief, based on a literal interpretation of Genesis, that the earth is only 6,000 years old, was created in 7 days, and Adam and Eve were two historical figures who birthed all of humanity.  I simply cannot get behind any claim that this story is anything but a mythological story told by an ancient civilization that predates modern science by at least 3,000 years.  There is zero scientific evidence to support Creationism.  Evolution, on the other hand, is a nearly undisputed fact in all science fields across the globe, and has decades worth of scientific research to support it.  On the logical side, the idea of talking snakes, angels with fiery swords, and all of civilization being decedents of two people (incest, anyone?) is just too much to be taken as fact.

Another long-held assertion of the Christian faith is virgin birth of Jesus.  The Apostles Creed states it as Jesus being “conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.”  The idea of a virgin conception contradicts everything we now know about biology, genetics, and human reproduction.  The Bible doesn’t present a solid case for the stories validity either.  The miraculous birth is not recorded in the earliest gospel, Mark, nor does Paul ever mention it.  In fact, Paul refers to Jesus as being “born of a women” (Gal 4:4) and as a “descendant from David according to the flesh”  (Rom 1:3).  The virgin birth narrative first appears in the book of Matthew, where the author quotes Isaiah 7:14,  “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).   Many scholars believe the word “virgin” is a mistranslation of the Hebrew word meaning “young women”.  It is also important to note that the verse in Isaiah is taken from a narrative in which God promises a sign to the king of Judah, pledging that his nation would not fall to the enemies(Syria and Judah) that were surrounding Jerusalem in the eighth century BC.  It is not a prophecy about the coming of Jesus some 800 years in the future.  The Gospel of John also makes no reference to the virgin birth story, but refers to Jesus as the son of Joseph (1:45, 6:42).  Does all of this evidence conclusively proof  that the virgin birth of Jesus never happened?  No.  But it certainly casts a reasonable doubt on the authenticity of the story.

Faced with these arguments, people are quick to say, “But what about what it says in the Bible?  Don’t you believe in the Bible?”  My issue is not with what the Bible says, but with how people understand and interpret it.   When the Bible is used as a scientific text book, it’s going to get misconstrued.  When parts of the Bible that were meant to be read allegorically or metaphorically are read literally, you’re going to run into problems.  When instructions for churches written 2,000 years ago are treated as a rule book for modern day living, things get ugly.

“You just need to have faith!” I can here people crying.  This seems to be the go-to declaration anytime Christians run into question that can’t be answered logically.   What some would call faith, I would call blind obedience.  Many long-standing traditions are still around, not because they have proven to be true, but because of people’s blind devotion to upholding them.  Faith should never be absent of reason.   Hebrews 11:1 say that “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”  Notice that it says “not seen,” but doesn’t say “not known.”  Just because I haven’t seen Japan doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s there.

A better way to understand faith is in the context of a marriage.  I have total faith in my wife.  I have never doubted my wife’s devotion or loyalty to me and our marriage.  But, my faith in her is not something I simply chose to believe or excepted without warrant.  My faith in her is based on her character, her integrity, and her moral convictions.  It is based on the trust that we developed over the seven years we’ve been together.  Does this mean that I can be 100% certain that she will never be unfaithful to me?  No.  We are all human and make mistakes.  But I have no reasonable doubt as to her devotion.  What doubts I may have because of my own insecurities do not warrant being acted on.

What I don’t doubt, though, is Jesus.  Historically speaking, along with the four gospels in the Bible, there are some 20 gospels that account the life of Jesus.  Historical writers from the 1st century, such as Josephus, also make mention of Jesus.  The movement that was started by Jesus is well documented.  This movement didn’t start from nothing, someone had to influence these people in such a way that they were willing to face hardships and persecution in order to follow his ways.  Jesus is represented in nearly every major religion on earth and is well respected even among unbelievers.  While some have argued over Jesus’s earthly existence, his teachings have stood the test of time.  Men such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. have made revolutionary changes in their countries by following the philosophies of Jesus on non-violent resistance.  Jesus and his teachings have a good track record and I haven’t found a better example of how to life a meaningful, fulfilling life.

I encourage everyone to take stock of their faith and their belief system.  Unpack it all, run it through a trial, and see how it stack up against logic and facts of our modern world view.  See if it’s worth hanging on to, and don’t be afraid to let it go if it’s found faulty.   I can tell you from personal experience that shedding all the baggage of my earlier faith life has given me so much freedom and peace.  No longer do faith and reason have to be disconnected.

 

 

Why I Write

I used to see friends and acquaintances posting their latest blog entries on Facebook and think to myself, “Do these people really think anyone gives a shit about their life?”  Ironic, that here I am now, starting my blog.  Truthfully, I never considered starting a blog because I didn’t feel like I had anything to say.  I’m too private about my family to blog about my kids, none of my hobbies I deem worthy of a literary narrative, and while the greatness of beer is truly worthy of proclamation from the rooftops, there are far too many already doing so.

Over the last couple years I have found myself on what Brennan Manning refers to as a “second journey;”  a spiritual and intellectual journey of rediscovering ones faith.  This journey has been a time of taking every  idea or belief I’ve ever had regarding God, faith, the Bible, Jesus, and how to live in this world, deconstructing it all, and starting over from scratch.  It has been on this journey that I have found my “voice” and have ideas I feel are worth expressing.   So, why bother taking these ideas into the public realm?

1) It’s cheaper then therapy

Writing is therapeutic.  I’ve got a lot of shit rolling around in my brain and I need a place to dump it all out from time to time.  It’s not uncommon for my thoughts on faith to be the thing that keeps me up late at night and be the first thing I’m dwelling on when I wake up in the morning.   This journey of mine has been the source of much anxiety and stress in my life.  Perhaps journaling will help alleviate some of that.  And hopefully my poor wife will be spared from long tirades about how F. Graham is an antichrist or how the Baha’i faith is tempting except for the whole “no alcohol” policy.

2) This will be me “coming out” about my faith

My pastor often says that when dealing with doubt it’s best to face it head on and do what’s necessary to find the answers.  I’ve done that myself, but many of the answers I’ve found aren’t the ones that fit into the dogmas of Evangelical Christianity.  Living in the midwest is not conducive to free thought or expression.  There is unspoken expectation withing the religious community of upholding the status-quo, towing the party line,  and defending the man-made belief system that defines conservative, right-wing Christianity.  These beliefs are the line-in-the-sand that Evangelicals draw to determine who’s in and who’s out, who’s “saved” and who’s not.

Over the last few years I’ve been finding myself increasingly falling  on the wrong side of the line.  Being one who has always marched to the beat of my own drum, I’m comfortable with being on the path less traveled, but it’s not in my nature to pretend to be someone I’m not.  So, this blog will be me coming clean on who I really am and what I believe.  It’s time to stop pretending, to stop going along just to get along.  It’s time to start speaking out a little more, regardless of what others may say or think.

3) Practice makes perfect

I have aspirations of writing a book someday about everything I’ve learned regarding the whole debate of homosexuality and the Bible.  I figure a blog will help me sharpen up my writing skills a bit before I set off on that endeavor.

4) That others might feel alone

There was a time when I felt that I was going crazy and that I must be the only one out there who feels the way I do.  I used to wonder, “Am I the only one who sees how f***ed up the Church has become?”  Christianity was leaving a bad taste in my mouth and I was wanting nothing to do with it.    If what I was seeing was the mark of a “True Christian”, then count me out.  But then I started coming across people on the internet who were writing these awesome blogs that spoke to me.   I found a small, underground group of revolutionaries who were asking all the same questions I was and who had all the same doubts I did.   Suddenly, I no longer felt alone or crazy.  For the first time, I felt hope.  Hope that things can be different,  that there’s a better way out there.  These bloggers were on the same journey I was, and suddenly the path didn’t seem so small.  If it wasn’t for these bloggers on the internet, I would have walked away from my faith a long time ago.

I make no pretense that I write this blog for for anything but selfish reasons, but if it can help someone out there not feel alone, not feel like they’re going crazy; all the better.  I have no intentions of trying to change peoples’ minds, but hopefully it will give people something to think about, maybe expand their horizons a little.

So, there you have it.  Hope some of you will want to come along for the ride.  I have no doubt that I’ll ruffle some feathers and kick a few sacred cows along the way, but just maybe a few of you out there will who will say, “This guy is saying all the things I’ve been to scared to!”

Reflections along the journey from faith to reason.

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