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Brian's Blog

  • October 1, 2014

    Summer Camp

    I'm a huge fan of summer camp, especially camps with a goal of spiritual formation and enrichment. I gained so much from camp experiences in my childhood and youth, and it breaks my heart to think that too few kids get to enjoy the beauty of creation that camps often provide. I plan to write further in coming months about some of the reasons I am such a firm believer in summer camps, but first, I wanted to share (with permission) this story that friend shared with me:

    When I was 11 years old, I went away to church camp in the mountains. To this day, it stands out in my memory as one of the most meaningful weeks of my childhood. It was an "evangelical" church camp, so there was memorization of Bible verses, praise songs around the campfire, and an emphasis on building community. It wasn't like the "Jesus Camp" movie, but it had an agenda of getting the kids to "ask Jesus into their hearts" by the end of the week. The most impactful moment for me was when we slept outside under the stars one night. As a city girl, this was my first experience of sleeping under the night sky and it pierced me to the core. I felt so vulnerable and so very connected to God in a way that has never left me.

    And so it makes sense that 30 years later, I made the choice to send my own daughter to a similar camp. I was excited for her to experience the same connection to God in nature and in community that I had experienced at her age. I knew that I'd be exposing her to theology I didn't believe in anymore, but I trusted that she would meet God in a new way and I hoped that that would trump the more conservative theology. After all, that had been my experience. Or had it? Perhaps my memory is selective and I am just not aware of the ways messages have stuck with me for better or for worse.

    This summer, we were driving home after camp. My daughter was radiant. I sensed a groundedness and joy I hadn't seen recently in her "tween" self. She told me that she had never felt so close go God; that she felt close to herself. I asked her what it was that had made her feel that way, and she spoke of the music and the beauty of the nature. Yes. But when I probed a bit more, she told me about the last night of camp. Candles were lit outdoors and small groups gathered for a long night of sharing and storytelling. The camp counselors were talking to the kids about hearing and following God's call. Wonderful! Then my daughter told me that her counselor shared a personal example of following God's call in her own life. She had gone [overseas] earlier in the summer on a mission trip, but she felt sad because she had failed. My curiosity was now piqued. "What did she fail at?" I asked my daughter. "She said that she failed because she couldn't get the the Muslim teenagers to convert to Christianity. They didn't believe in Jesus." "And why is that a failure?" I continued to probe. "Because they are going to go to hell."

    I was stunned. And yet, why should I have been shocked? I should have known that this focus on "saving souls" for the afterlife would be present. Why was I so upset upon hearing these words from my daughter?

    Then my mind raced. WHY was I intentionally sending my daughter to a camp where she'd learn theology she'd have to unlearn later? Why was I spending quite a bit of money for my child to inherit a belief system that promotes the idea of other religions being less-than and hell-bound?

    And yet, it did create this opportunity to have an amazing conversation. I was able to share with my daughter (hopefully humbly) why I didn't agree with this. I was able to ask her if she thought those Muslim teenagers believed in God and how they were trying to live their lives. And we talked about Jesus and whether his emphasis was on where we go when we die or who we are becoming in this life on earth. None of these words would have flowed between us if she hadn't gone to this camp.

    And let's be honest. Evangelicals do terrific summer camps for kids. They've got it down. It's a great mix of a ton of fun and great relationships that really open kids' hearts.

    But at what cost? And is it fair to send an 11 year-old to be opened up to powerful messages about the nature of God and Christianity, only to be told by her mother on the drive home that those messages are wrong? That's a kind of ambiguity that isn't really fair to impose on an 11 year-old. Are there ways for me to open my child to this connection to God in other ways? Of course. Does she desperately hope she can go back next summer? Of course. Am I still torn even after this heart-wrenching conversation? Yes. I just can't shake how formative those summers were in my own life. They charted a life-long course of seeking and finding a deep relationship with God. Yes, I've had to "unlearn" some stuff, but isn't that a wonderful journey, too? Even if I didn't send her to this place, she'd still have to unlearn stuff. She's going to have to unlearn a lot of stuff just having me as her mom! Like we all have to.

    So I am in a quandary. What is harmful (or at least unhelpful) perpetuation of a theology that teaches that the "other" must be changed into "us?" A theology that teaches that God picks favorites and requires us to ask Jesus-into-our-heart or else. And that is only one issue I had. There is also the way they spoke to the kids about sexuality and purity, not to mention the authority of scripture and its interpretation. I am someone who is able to see the gifts in all the different "flavors" of this thing we call Christianity. It is my hope that the healthy aspects of this particular flavor are the ones that will stick with my daughter. But I can't control that and I'm just not sure...

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  • September 30, 2014

    Peter Enns interview, Part 3

    Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) and I (http://www.brianmclaren.net) both released important books about the Bible this year. Peter's book is called The Bible Tells Me So (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/books/), and mine is called We Make the Road by Walking (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html) We decided to interview each other about our books and what they say about the Bible. This is Part 3 of 3.

    +++++
    Brian: What is your biggest hope for the book? What would success look like?

    Peter: Besides getting me interviewed by Brian McLaren and the book having a bright canary yellow cover I can use as a night-light, my biggest hope for the book is to help people see that their faith does not rest in “holding on” to the kind of Bible that they know deep down they simply can’t hold on to.

    I want to give them permission to decouple the viability of their faith from the perceived need to base that faith on a problem-free Bible. I hope my book offers a different set of expectations about what the Bible is and what it is there to do for us that makes sense to them on their own Christian pilgrimage.

    I hope those who read the book will be challenged and/or encouraged to feel the freedom to think about God and their lives in communion with God in ways they might not have expected. I can’t define what that is, of course.

    For those for whom the Bible has become an obstacle to faith rather than a source of faith, I hope they will be able to take a deep breath and know there is no need to keep staring over the cliff’s edge and consider jumping. Get back on the path and keep walking.

    I hope for those who have left the faith to see that maybe the faith they left was a false faith, a parody, a form of Christianity where the Bible was loaded with false expectations of scientific or historical accuracy and absolute moral mandates, and they walked away from the faith because they rightly couldn’t reconcile that non-negotiable expectation with their own reason and experience.

    I want people to honor and respect Scripture as a God-sanctioned companion on their faith journey, but without thinking of the Bible as an owner’s manual or complete how-to book. I want them to see that honoring and loving the Bible does not mean living with the constant pressure of having to “get the Bible right” or suffer the consequences of a touchy, nit-picky God if they don’t.

    Rather, I want them to look on their faith in God as source of joy, love, contentment, comfort, and hope, and the Bible as book that, in its own ancient and sometimes odd ways, informs and models that faith for them.


    Peter: With three 20-something offspring, I have had all sorts of occasions to reflect on how “dominant evangelical culture” has not supplied them with a compelling story, one that connects with and helps them make sense of the world they live in. In a word, the almost exclusive focus on maintaining orthodoxies ("being faithful to the past") has come at the expense of delivering a viable faith for them on their life journey ("being faithful to the future"). In your traveling and speaking, I'm sure you engage a lot of people with similar perceptions. I'd love to hear you comment a bit on what you think it means for the church to take responsibility to be "faithful to the future" and not just the past.

    Brian: Wow. That is a truly important question. I often tell the story about a conversation with a parent whose son had come out as gay shortly after one of my adult kids came out. "If I accept my son as a gay man," he said with tears, "I feel I am rejecting my father, who will never be willing to accept my son. If I accept my son as a gay man, I feel I am rejecting my father." In being faithful to our ancestors, we can betray our descendants.

    That's one reason I love Jesus so much. As I try to explain in WMTRBW, his statement, "I have not come to abolish the Law and Prophets, but fulfill them," addresses this problem powerfully. The ancient tradition was a path, a way of dealing with realities in the time and place where it arose. It set people on a trajectory whose intent their descendants had to discern. Jesus understood that sometimes overturning the tradition was necessary to fulfill its intent.

    So, focusing on food taboos might have been essential at one point in their history. But now, he said, it's time to realize that what goes into a person isn't what matters; it's what comes out of a person that matters. Similarly, sacrifice and a temple to house it had their social and spiritual function in the past, but the time had come to realize that neither temple nor sacrifice really mattered. What God desired was compassion, not sacrifice … and the Spirit was available everywhere, not just on this or that temple on this or that mountain.

    Religions and people that don't understand and fulfill the intent of tradition become brittle and reactionary, backward-looking and fearful of the present and future. Religions and people that understand what Jesus meant by fulfilling the tradition become creative and wise guides into the future. I think that's what people like you and I are trying to do, Peter - understand our tradition, understand its highest and best intent, and seek to live out and extend that intent into our own present and future.

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  • September 29, 2014

    A reader writes: not alone

    A reader writes:

    I am a lifetime believer, with a constantly evolving relationship with God. I picked up your book [Secret Message of Jesus] nearly by accident in the public library. I was shocked to read your interpretation of Jesus, His message, and the church, since it mirrors my beliefs so perfectly. I constantly struggle with what I have come to believe and what I see being preached and practiced in many churches. Thank you so much sharing your journey. It's nice to know I am not alone.

    I'm always grateful for encouraging words like these. And glad to hear the book was available in your library too! So many people feel alone … if we all found each other, we'd be surprised!

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  • September 28, 2014

    Art.

    “Who among us has not suddenly looked into his child's face, in the midst of the toils and troubles of everyday life, and at that moment "seen" that everything which is good, is loved and lovable, loved by God! Such certainties all mean, at bottom, one and the same thing: that the world is plumb and sound; that everything comes to its appointed goal; that in spite of all appearances, underlying all things is - peace, salvation, gloria; that nothing and no one is lost; that "God holds in his hand the beginning, middle, and end of all that is." Such nonrational, intuitive certainties of the divine base of all that is can be vouchsafed to our gaze even when it is turned toward the most insignificant-looking things, if only it is a gaze inspired by love. That, in the precise sense, is contemplation...

    Out of this kind of contemplation of the created world arise in never-ending wealth all true poetry and all real art, for it is the nature of poetry and art to be paean and praise heard above all the wails of lamentation. No one who is not capable of such contemplation can grasp poetry in a poetic fashion, that is to say, in the only meaningful fashion. The indispensability, the vital function of the arts in man's life, consists above all in this: that through them contemplation of the created world is kept alive and active.”
    ― Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation

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  • September 27, 2014

    Absolutely amazing study in how religious scholars can make a difference ...

    A diverse group of Sunni Muslim scholars sent this message to the self-proclaimed leader of ISIS/ISIL:

    Executive Summary
    1- It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements. Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts. It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter. In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry- pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.
    2- It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.
    3- It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.
    4- It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.
    5- It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.
    6- It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.
    7- It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to
    kill journalists and aid workers.
    8- Jihad in Islam is defensive war. It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose
    and without the right rules of conduct.
    9- It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares
    disbelief.
    10- It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the
    Scripture’.
    11- It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.
    12- The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.
    13- It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.
    14- It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.
    15- It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.
    16- It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct
    procedures that ensure justice and mercy.
    17- It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.
    18- It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.
    19- It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God .
    20- It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.
    21- Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler
    and not allowing people to pray.
    22- It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.
    23- Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.
    24- After the death of the Prophet , Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.

    Learn more here:
    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2014/07/muslim-leaders-reject-baghdadi-caliphate-20147744058773906.html
    And here:
    http://lettertobaghdadi.com

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  • September 25, 2014

    Stimuli.

    “... the greatest menace to our capacity for contemplation is the incessant fabrication of tawdry empty stimuli which kill the receptivity of the soul.”
    ― Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation

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  • September 24, 2014

    Gift.

    “The inmost significance of the exaggerated value which is set upon hard work appears to be this: man seems to mistrust everything that is effortless; he can only enjoy, with a good conscience, what he has acquired with toil and trouble; he refused to have anything as a gift.”
    ― Josef Pieper, Leisure: The Basis Of Culture

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  • September 23, 2014

    Peter Enns interview, Part 2

    Peter Enns (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/) and I (http://www.brianmclaren.net) both released important books about the Bible this year. Peter's book is called The Bible Tells Me So (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/books/), and mine is called We Make the Road by Walking (http://brianmclaren.net/archives/books/brians-books/we-make-the-road-by-walking-2.html) We decided to interview each other about our books and what they say about the Bible. This is Part 2 of 3.

    +++++
    Brian: I often say that for 500 years Protestants have been trying to prove to Catholics that a religion can exist with an infallible book rather than an infallible pope. But now the question remains - can a religion exist without an infallible book? How do you think Christians will answer the authority question 25 years from now - those, I mean, who are no longer appealing to an infallible pope or book?

    Peter: I think that’s a good way of presenting part of the Protestant predicament. It’s certainly the case that biblical authority, however conceived in the early Protestant reaction to Roman Catholicism, has taken on a life of its own—a “paper pope,” as it were. I have knowledgeable friends who would call that a bit of a low blow, because the role of the Bible—including in Roman Catholicism—has always been central to faith and life. Still, particularly in America, I can’t help but think that what conservative Protestantism expects the Bible to do for them—an inerrant guide to all matters of faith and life--is not what the Bible is meant to do (which is one of the central themes of The Bible Tells Me So).

    I know, Brian, that you’ve written about how the Bible functions uniquely in America as a “constitution”—authorities interpreting the sacred, binding text to define law for the rest of us, and which correlates to the rejection of monarchy by the colonists. I agree with this comparison and I have found it a helpful way of explaining how Protestant expectations of the Bible have a significant cultural dimension.

    The Bible, however, is a problem—and I’m sure you agree. All Christians should want to engage knowledgably and humbly the Bible as we walk the path of Christian faith. But the problem that you’re touching on is one of faulty expectations about what the Bible can actually do.

    Seeing the Bible as a source of binding information for all matters touching on our faith and accessible by exegesis runs into well known recurring problems—namely Christians rarely agree on a lot of things about how the Bible is to be understood and listened too, which bring us back to the “paper pope” or “constitution” metaphor. The Bible is too diverse to function that way. What sounds like a good idea in the abstract becomes a problem when you actually start going to the Bible to provide answers to all our questions.

    In a word, you find that the Bible has to be interpreted. And if the history of Christians and Jewish interpretation of the Bible has shown us anything, it is that interpretation and the interpreter’s context can never be severed. We read Scripture from our own cultural vantage point, much of which is below the level of the surface of the conscious mind.

    What happened in the wake of the Protestant Reformation, where Scripture’s plain and authoritative voice was called upon to settle all sorts of issues? Interpretive diversity. Do you baptize infants or adults? Do you sprinkle or immerse? What does it mean when Jesus says, “This is my body?” Is Jesus really “there” in the Eucharist? In what sense is Jesus “present” in the bread and wine?

    There’s a reason thousands of Christian denominations and sub-denominations exist, especially in Protestantism: the Bible requires interpretation in order to be the final court of theological appeal. But the Bible itself is notoriously difficult to nail down on many matters. There’s enough flexibility there to allow for multiple legitimate interpretations. Related to this is the concept of “inerrancy.” It’s not a helpful term for guiding our use of the Bible. Functionally, what the Bible is inerrant about and how it is inerrant varies among Christians.

    Anyway, despite all this, and now finally getting to your question, I’m not sure “can a religion exist without an infallible book?” is the best question to ask. I suppose religions can in general. Whether Christianity can is another question, and I suppose we’ll never be able to test the hypothesis, because the Bible is never going to leave the life of the church. The Christian faith is too biblically engaged and defined to contemplate a life without the Bible.

    Scripture—in all its diversity, complexity, and messiness—presents the Christian story. It always has, it always will. It’s not going anywhere, and we shouldn’t wish it to. So the more pressing question, as I seed it, is: what kind of “Bible” is the church going to engage in faith and life in the coming decades, generations, etc.? A “paper pope” or constitution?” Or something else?

    In other words, what expectations of the Bible will we have as we try to follow Jesus here and now. What is the Bible there for? How will that question be answered differently today and tomorrow than how it’s been answered over the last century or so in conservative contexts?

    Again, I‘ve tried to make very clear in The Bible Tells Me So that the Bible isn't the problem. The problems begin when we place our own expectations for the Bible onto the Bible and that the Bible simply can’t bear without a lot of fudging. In that respect, not only can but I think Christianity must learn to exist without an “infallible book” as it has been operating for at least western conservative Christians. The question needs to be asked more deliberately, “infallible for what?” That, I think, is a very important question to keep asking ourselves.

    My brief answer to that question is that the Bible models for the faithful and humble our own diverse spiritual journey of faith in God and Christ, moving us toward greater love of God and love of others. “Knowing Scripture” is not the end goal. Knowing God in Christ is. The Bible doesn’t say “Look at me!” but “Look at me so you can look through me, past me, to God.” Rather than being the “center” of our faith, the Bible decenters itself and puts Christ in the center where he belongs.

    Peter: When I was in graduate school, a question--actually, a two-part question--began to surface for me: "What is the Bible, really, and what do we do with it?" Realizing that I had never asked myself these questions before was a moment of profound self-awareness, but having my preconceptions challenged through a serious academic study of the Bible raised them and they have stuck with me ever since. So, I know this is totally unfair, but how would you answer a curious person who knows little to no Christianese and really wants to know what you think? What is your elevator pitch answer to those questions?

    Brian: So I'd say the Bible is a library - a collection of literary artifacts. The first and larger part of it is from the Jewish people, spanning several centuries of their history. It includes poetry, a bit of philosophy, a fascinating genre called prophecy (which is something like ethical social commentary today), and a whole lot of storytelling.

    The second part collects literature from the early years of a movement that arose within Judaism, centered in the life and teaching of Jesus. This collection begins with four gospels - another unique genre, not to be confused with simple biography or historical account. It is followed by a kind of gospel-appendix or sequel called Acts of the Apostles.

    Then there are a series of epistles or formal letters that circulated among early centers of this movement. Finally there is an enigmatic text called Revelation or Apocalypse, which is an example of a genre called Jewish Apocalyptic literature.

    Together these documents are tremendously important, because they help us reconstruct a vital conversation over many centuries about God and life. In that conversation, millions of people have found meaning and purpose for their lives; in fact, by entering that conversation, they have experienced an encounter and engagement with God. (Final installment next week …)

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  • September 22, 2014

    Patience.

    “Patience is not the indiscriminate acceptance of any sort of evil: "It is not the one who does not flee from evil who is patient but rather the one who does not let himself thereby be drawn into disordered sadness." To be patient means not to allow the serenity and discernmet of one's soul to be taken away. Patience, then, is not the tear-streaked mirror of a "broken" life (as one might almost think, to judge from what is frequently shown and praised under this term) but rather is the radiant essence of final freedom from harm. Patience is, as Hildegard of Bingen states, "the pillar that is weakened by nothing.”
    ― Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart

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  • September 21, 2014

    Grateful.

    “No one can obtain felicity by pursuit. This explains why one of the elements of being happy is the feeling that a debt of gratitude is owed, a debt impossible to pay. Now, we do not owe gratitude to ourselves. To be conscious of gratitude is to acknowledge a gift.”
    ― Josef Pieper, Happiness and Contemplation

    Years ago, a friend introduced me to the writings of Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper. One of Pieper's themes was the relationship between happiness, gratitude, and contemplation. This week I'd like to share some of my favorite quotes from Pieper on these and related subjects.

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  • September 20, 2014

    A good conversation gains momentum ...

    I wrote a note recently to Andrew Walker, the Director of Policy Studies for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was gracious enough to reply. Here are a few thoughts in response to his letter:

    First, Andrew, I know you're very busy and I appreciate you taking the time to reply. A few things you said invite a response from me. I'm sorry this isn't more brief, and I don't expect you to respond.

    You said:

    Unfortunately, though, “conversation” as you often construe it, is simply a pretext and power play designed for endless speculation that never reaches an answer—unless it’s an answer that you find acceptable on your terms (which, more often than not, is an answer that rejects historic Christianity).

    Hmmm. No, I am not for endless speculation that never reaches an answer. But I am for re-opening questions that deserve to be re-opened. I believe making room for gay marriage is one of those questions. You still do not. I explained, very briefly, why I think it deserves to be re-opened. You were not convinced. We have achieved disagreement.

    No, I do not reject history Christianity. I embrace it and hope to learn all I can from it. I do probably define historic Christianity somewhat differently from you. In my view, Christian history is full of passionate disagreement. It is a history of ongoing learning, heroic successes, tragic failures, and repentance. In my view, it is less of a static position and more of an evolving quest to faithfully follow Jesus in changing times and circumstances. Sadly, too much of our history has been violent and hateful, and I hope we can do better than that in the future!

    You said:

    To be entirely candid in the spirit of “human to human conversation,” I’m not convinced that you’re actually writing as an evangelical on matters such as these. You may think that you are, but the evidence you’ve provided in your many writings over the years lead me to believe that you have rejected what history has long considered orthodox Christianity. Now, I don’t say that joyfully; and I know you’ll reply in such a manner that subjects all aspects of “orthodoxy” to the unending regression of perspectivalism. You’re a terrific writer, but a writer whose views I couldn’t more strongly reject. So, admittedly, I’m reluctant to accept the scriptural presuppositions that you would use to make your argument.

    If I understand you clearly, you would prefer to be in conversation with people who a) share your presuppositions about Scripture, and b) will not question anything "history has long considered to be orthodox Christianity." Since you don't think I share those presuppositions, and since you think I reject what you see as historic Christianity, then clearly I am not a trustworthy or appropriate conversation partner in your mind. I could try to argue with you based on your presuppositions, since I am familiar with them and once agreed with them fully, but I think others would be better conversation partners for you than I am. More on that in a minute.

    I would only point out that for the church's first 1500+ years, it was unthinkable to the vast majority of Christians that historic orthodox Christianity could exist without authoritative leaders who held the role of apostle or bishop, established through apostolic succession. Baptists came along and had the audacity to question that previously unquestioned characteristic of orthodoxy. To Baptists today, of course, apostolic succession seems like a misguided minor tradition of the past, but not so to Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Anglicans, and others, and not so to "history" before 1500.

    To their credit, Baptists and Catholics today treat one another, by and large, with civility, in spite of their disagreement on this very important matter, and I hope Christians like you and me can do the same even though we disagree on other matters.

    You said:

    Laws make distinctions. What matters, however, is that they not make arbitrary distinctions.

    An arbitrary distinction, for example, were [sic] the awful and racist anti-miscegenation laws that prevented different races from marrying one another marry [sic]. That debate was about who could marry, not what marriage is.

    I'm a bit older than you, and I remember hearing "awful and racist anti-miscengenation laws" defended as biblical truth in my Plymouth Brethren assembly when I was a boy, just as I know they were passionately defended in many Southern Baptist churches in my lifetime as well. So our ancestors had a vigorous argument about whether distinctions based on race were arbitrary or not. Many of our white ancestors believed they were not at all arbitrary, but were rooted in creation, in biblical curses, and in clear biblical teaching. You and I now agree our ancestors were wrong in their understanding and application of the Bible on these matters.

    The question today is whether distinctions based on sexual orientation are arbitrary. Everyone, including me, used to agree with you that they are not arbitrary. But now many of us are coming to believe that gay and straight are differences within the realm of normal human characteristics - like skin color, left-handedness, or personality type. As such, they should not be reasons for discrimination. We believe that just as we have dared to differ from our ancestors on interracial marriage - which was considered unbiblical as recently as our grandparents' generation, we must now dare to differ on gay marriage.

    You're right: that's no small thing, and no change of conviction should occur without sober, prayerful, and intense thought and conversation, which is why EME is trying to encourage that conversation: not for "endless speculation that never reaches an answer," but for careful consideration so that wrong answers are, to the greatest degree possible, left behind.

    You said:

    When we protect “traditional marriage” or “biblical marriage,” we’re simply being deferential to the undeniable reality that children need mothers and fathers. Marriage connects men, women, and children. All of human history has recognized this truth, until it became politically unpopular in the West less than two decades ago. (For decrying Western colonization as you do, it seems odd that you’d kowtow to a position promoted and mainstreamed exclusively by Western countries.) When government and society decide to redefine marriage, it doesn’t just expand who can marry, it alters, fundamentally, what marriage is.

    There's a lot I could say about your line of thinking here, but will only respond to two things. First, regarding the word "kowtow," I don't find it odd to appreciate some things about Western culture and disapprove of other things. You do the same, I'm sure. And I should add that many non-Western cultures showed respect for gay people long before civil rights for gay people became an issue in the West. Where I live, for example, the Calusa Indians had a respected role for gay men.

    Second, when you say, "When government and society decide to redefine marriage … it alters, fundamentally, what marriage is" - well, yes. To redefine marriage is indeed to redefine marriage. But to return to your earlier example, traditional American marriage outlawed interracial marriage. Redefining marriage to include interracial marriage, in the minds of the defenders of miscegenation laws, would alter marriage from what God intended. (They used the "after their kind" clause from Genesis 1 to prove their point.)

    To outlaw polygamy, which certainly has a long history in the Bible and was, in fact, a requirement of biblical law, also altered marriage in significant ways, as did extending equal property and voting rights to women, as did allowing young people to choose their partners instead of the more traditional way of having parents arrange their children's weddings. Allowing wives to call their husbands by their first name (rather than "Mr. Jones," which was traditional in many societies in the past) altered marriage. So did talking openly about woman's sexual satisfaction, something a Southern Baptist couple, Tim and Beverly LaHaye, played a big role in through their then ground-breaking book The Act of Marriage.

    To have churches without a pope or governments without a king certainly redefined church and government in a way as well. All changes are not equal, and to advocate for one change is not to advocate for any and all changes. That's why EME has a very limited message. EME is not advocating that Southern Baptist churches should marry gay couples. Instead, EME is not trying to redefine marriage between a man and a goat or between six people or anything like that. EME is simply making a case for Evangelical Christians to be able to affirm civil marriage for gay couples. We hope Evangelicals can speak freely and openly about that possibility.

    You said:

    When we make marriage fungible, we make it unintelligible. We render its persuasiveness null and void, since any relationship can supposedly exhibit marital qualities.

    To say that marriage should be extended to two LGBT adults who make a lifelong commitment of fidelity and mutual care is not to say that "any relationship can exhibit marital qualities." Adults, commitment, lifelong, two, mutual care,, and fidelity are significant qualifiers. Again, you may not agree they are sufficient qualifiers, but it would be good not to misrepresent EME's position as meaningless fungibility. As I said, EME isn't even arguing for churches to recognize gay marriage; EME's position is that even if Evangelical Christians refuse gay marriage in their churches, Evangelical Christians can support civil marriage in society for two LGBT adults who make a lifelong commitment of fidelity and mutual care.

    By the way - nobody should assume that EME agrees with all of my views, or that all of its advisors agree with one another on every detail. I know there is diversity of opinion on the Board of Advisors on many matters. We are on the Board of Advisors because we agree with this primary message of EME:

    Given the diversity of thought among evangelicals, disagreements on the finer points of this issue are inevitable. What we should be able to agree on is this: You can be a faithful evangelical Christian and at the same time support civil marriage equality for same-sex couples.

    You said:

    Because of this, I think it’s disingenuous when you write “If such a dialogue is warranted, people should not be silenced, excluded, condemned, or excommunicated simply for opening up this discussion.” I agree! The problem here, though, is that you cannot, in the same statement, ask for a conversation where no one is condemned, but also place a biblical view of marriage alongside practices like slavery. This “guilt by association” argument is merely subtle condemnation.

    First, it's good to know you agree with my statement!

    Second, I sincerely didn't intend bringing up slavery to create "guilt by association." I could have used anti-miscegination laws (as you did) or support for segregation and apartheid or anti-Semitism to make the same point. I know people forget, but it wasn't that long ago that "orthodox Christians" - including many, many Baptists, well into the 20th century - supported these things and did not consider them minor matters. They weren't ashamed of them; in fact, they stood proudly for these things. I don't say these people weren't Christians, weren't Evangelicals, weren't Baptists, or should be condemned. I do say I think they were mistaken and we should distance ourselves from both their views and the faulty logic that made those views so important to them.

    Putting guilt by association aside, the issue of slavery can't simply be disqualified from polite discourse. We both know that that our white 19th century ancestors held their faulty logic (which they called "the biblical [or Scriptural] view" on slavery) so passionately that they were willing to divide their denominations (and nation!) over the issue - and today on the issue of LGBT equality, similar logic can lead to similar choices. Whether or not LGBT equality is legitimate, we should at least have a public discussion on how our ancestors in the 18th and 19th centuries, people who held the "highest" view of Scripture possible, could be so wrong. Where was their logic faulty? How can we avoid making the same mistakes today and in the future? (I address this question in some detail in my book A New Kind of Christianity.)


    You said:

    Moving forward, I’d suggest that Evangelicals for Marriage Equality make actual arguments, because principle is the fruit of honest debate and right now, the principles of EME are quite non-existent.

    You have tweeted this and repeated it, so I realize this is important - you want to actually hear and understand EME's principles and arguments. Whether or not you statement was an overstatement (the principles of EME are non-existent?), I hope EME will take it as an invitation to make their principles and arguments clear and understandable. I will not try to take the lead in this since I already seem to be disqualified from being an acceptable conversation partner, which I understand and accept. Thankfully, there are others who can more fully meet your criteria, and I hope they will speak up in the coming days, for your benefit and for the benefit of others.

    Thanks again for the candid, civil, and respectful tone of your response. I hope you feel nothing less in what I've written here.

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  • September 19, 2014

    Q & R: insiders and outsiders in 1 Thessalonians

    Here's the Q:

    I recently read A New Kind of Christianity, and was quite impressed. God has been gradually changing my understanding of much of the Christian message, and it's been exciting for someone brought up as a fairly traditional Wesleyan. I had already moved somewhat away from my roots when I became part of the Charismatic stream of things. For several years we have been attending an Assembly of God church and I have been teaching the adult Sunday School class. Because of my Wesleyan background and the more adventurous ways God is leading me in recent years with regards to salvation and who God is (let's face it... I'm not really a true dyed in the wool Pentecostal), I have sometimes found it difficult to teach the standard lessons that come from the denominational headquarters. Still, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I have always managed to find something positive to teach, even in the lessons I'm not altogether sure I agree with. I have made it a practice to try to only say things I really believe and not just parrot the party line. I could do that since I know it very well. I'm 67 and I've been a Christian all of my life, pretty much.

    I do have a question about this week's lesson. The scripture is 1 Thessalonians 4, and in this scripture, it sounds to me like there are some who are included and some who are not. I've been trying to get away from that idea, but there it is... v. 13 "...the rest of mankind who have no hope" and v. 16 "the dead in Christ will rise first." That sounds like a clear distinction is being made. I'm okay with not being totally literal when it comes to end times events, but this scripture sounds like it refers to actual events that will happen. What do you think about eschatology and end time events? It's always been an area I don't enjoy studying, mainly because I think there's too much speculation about events, and most people seem to think that they are correct, even if they disagree with other good people who also think themselves correct.

    Anyway, I appreciate the fact that you continue to love Jesus and the Bible even as you speak for a "new kind of Christianity."

    Here's the R:
    Thanks for your encouraging words. As for your question, I've just spent some time re-reading 1 Thessalonians 4. One of the sources I go to for help on difficult texts is the Girardian Lectionary (here). The language might seem technical, but it's worth the effort. There's a helpful quote included from James Alison:

    If we take the notion of the 'end' understood as vengeance, just as it is found in 1 Thessalonians, it is a vengeful end which depends exactly on there being insiders and outsiders, so that the afflicted are vindicated, and the persecutors punished. But in the degree to which the perception of God changes, becoming, as we have seen, shorn of violence, two realities are altered simultaneously: the separation between goodies and baddies, insiders and outsiders, enters into a process of continuous collapse and subversion, and at the same time the 'end' cannot remain as a vengeance if there is no longer any clarity about who's an insider and who an outsider, and under these circumstances the notion of the end itself changes towards what we see in 2 Peter: it becomes a principle of revelation of what had really been going on during the time that has been left for the changing of hearts... In this way the End, rather than being a vengeful conclusion to time, comes to be a principle, operative in time, by means of which we may live out the arrival of the Son of Man, the being alert for the thief in the night, the whole time. (p. 127)

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  • September 18, 2014

  • Brilliance from Katharine Hayhoe ...

    I love this:

    I mean, imagine a world where, you know, the highways are made of solar panels that charge our cars as we drive. Where every house is just made out of shingles of solar panels with a little wind turbine in the corner. Where we have no air pollution anymore, you know, killing children with asthma and people with respiratory disease. I mean, I know this sounds like utopia.

    BILL MOYERS: Sounds to me like it could be a new gospel.

    KATHARINE HAYHOE: It may be. A gospel that builds on the resources that God has given us. We have more than enough abundant energy to power our society from wind, from solar, from tides. All the things that we believe, as Christians, God created and has given to us as a free gift. So I think that there is the ability to have a better future, one that is built on the goodness that God has given us here in this world.


    More here:
    http://billmoyers.com/episode/full-show-climate-change-faith-and-fact/?utm_source=sidebar&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=climatechangereligion

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