Monday, December 27, 2004

A New Command

The Christian Right is extremely adept at drawing on the Ten Commandments and the Leviticus codes to explain whom God abhors and detests. Politically, the Right is then able to align the Liberal agenda with all of those things that God hates in order to attract religious voters. Besides distorting Liberal values and the intent of, say, the Leviticus codes, they only tell half of the story of God's character. (I may try to pick up the Leviticus issue much, much later; I'm not sure I'm up for the hate mail just yet...)

One of the major problems is that the Right neglects to paint the picture of an amazing God who is jealously in love with us. I’m not making this up! There are many places in the Bible where the prophets use metaphors of loving human relationships to help us understand how passionately God loves us and how desperately he wants us to love him back. One of the most poignant examples is the book of Hosea.

Hosea is a prophet who was given a very tough job: God commanded him to take for himself an adulterous wife. The first few chapters of Hosea’s story read like a (depressing) romance novel: He loves her; she cheats on him and breaks his heart. He goes after her to win her back; she becomes a prostitute and begins sleeping with more and more men. But Hosea is in love -- even after she goes as far as to sell herself into slavery, Hosea pays her debt and brings her back home to live as his wife. Why does God put Hosea through all of this? God wanted Hosea to be able to explain to his audience exactly how passionately God loves us and to what lengths he will go to win us back, even when we have hurt him. God loves us the same way that young, jealous newlyweds crave the devotion of their spouses. That’s love!

Now let’s turn our attention to a commandment that you may not have heard much about from the Christian Right. In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
He commands us to love one another the same way that he loved us. That’s quite a calling! Moreover, Jesus says that it is in trying to emulate this type of love that people will recognize us as Christians. Imagine that: we are called to love others so passionately and desperately that we are willing to endure the pain, heartache, and humiliation that Hosea endured in an attempt to explain God’s love to us. It is clear that knowing that we are recipients of God’s love is no invitation to self-righteousness.

I know that none of us is perfect and that it is very difficult to love our enemies, but I think it is important to remind ourselves occasionally that Jesus didn't call us to hate anyone. He called us to be his disciples, and he asked us to respond immediately; but he did not call us to hate. Our job is to love as best we can and to share Christ's Good News as best we can. My experience is that both are easier when you try them together.

And this is one of the many places where the Christian Left must step up and find its voice: Every time we hear hate-mongering that the Right claims to have taken directly from the lips of God, we must stand up and yell just as loudly about a God who loves us passionately and expects us to love others the same way.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

John 1:17

"For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ."

Wishing you and yours our Savior's peace and grace this Christmas! Amen.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Why not simply require stores owned by Jews to put a gold star in their ads and on their storefronts?

That was the question asked in a letter to the editor by the Reverand Jim Melnyk (associate rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Raleigh, North Carolina) in response to an ad taken out by Pastor Patrick Wooden, Sr. of the Upper Room Church of God in Christ, also in Raleigh, North Carolina.

And I couldn't agree more with Melnyk's point! His quote sums up (and much more eloquently, I might add) all of my rambling thoughts from yesterday... The point of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of our Saviour, not to alienate non-Christians!

And just for the sake of argument, let's assume for a second that we Christians will assent to Wooden's call for a boycott. What is the point? That we lead totally insular lives, shopping & interacting only with other Christians? How then are we supposed to share the Good News?

I will continue to assert that alienating non-Christians while simultaneously battering them over the head with our beliefs will not create its intended effect of bringing them into the fold!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Mer... Meh... Merr... Merry...

So now the Christian Right (including the cartoonist I've linked above) would have you believe that Liberals can't wish their fellows a Merry Christmas.

As both a Liberal and a Christian, I will be celebrating the season and swapping season's greeting with my fellow Christians. And if you feel like wishing me a Merry Christmas, please do so! (Trust me, for those who know me, it's no secret that I'm a Christian and that I'll respond in kind.)

I don't understand why this year's battle is fighting to reclaim the season's greeting -- after all, it already belongs to us! There are many in this country who may prefer to offer (and receive) wishes for a Happy Holiday because they celebrate other faiths or none at all. And isn't it better that way? I mean, I'd prefer not to dilute the meaning of Merry Christmas to "Happy Time of the Year in which We Put Trees Indoors and Buy Presents" because we're trying to force those who don't believe to use the phrase.

I'd rather that Christians maintain the "Holy Time of Year We Celebrate the Birth of Our Saviour" meaning of Merry Christmas than batter others over the head with the phrase. After all, if we're not assaulting others with our holy days, people are more likely to ask what we're so happy about!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Not "those" Christians...

Maybe you think that abortion isn’t a decision for a woman and her doctor to make, because your faith tells you it’s wrong. Maybe you don’t think doctors ought to prescribe contraceptives, because your faith says all sex should be procreative.

The argument is that life is precious, and we ought to do everything in our power to preserve, protect, and promote life, even from its very beginning.

Well, what about
Christian Science? One of the tenants of that faith is that you ought to rely on prayer in lieu of treatment from a doctor in the first place. And many members of that church want the right to withhold medical treatment from their children as well. In the 80s and 90s, a handful of high-profile deaths of the children of Christian Science practitioners led to the publicity of dozens and dozens of faith-based exemptions to public policies designed to protect children from preventable diseases and death.

Regardless off what you think about that faith personally, I bet most of you would like to protect your personal right to seek medical care for yourselves and your families. Imagine a world in which the president and a majority in congress were Christian Scientists who wanted to outlaw medical care outright because their faith told them it was wrong…

Seems crazy, right? It’s not those Christians you think should be setting the moral agenda for this country!

Well, that’s how crazy it seems to half of this country that Christians want to outlaw reproductive rights because of what their faith tells them. People are going to fight just as hard for that right as you would fight for the right to obtain any other medical care to which you felt entitled. And we Christians are viewed as the folks that want to deny women reproductive rights and not as the folks who’ve heard the Good News about Christ’s love!

Similar to what I have said before, if you believe that the Bible says abortion and contraception are wrong, it is better (and likely more effective) to have these conversations with fellow believers who disagree with you than it is to use those issues as the starting point to share the Good News with non-believers. When you begin the conversation with issues that are ancillary, you are only going to alienate the very people you’re trying to reach.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Want to go to a movie with me?

Maybe a cup of coffee? Or we could check out a museum, if you like.


I didn't really start going to church until I was in high school. I had wanted to go for a long time, but I think I feared the same thing that most people fear about walking through the doors of a brand new church: you're fresh meat!

"Welcome, hon'! Are you saved??"

You're so very, very vulnerable. Everyone knows you're new, and everyone wants to check out the state of your salvation in the first five minutes. This can be intimidating even if you are pretty confidant in your faith; imagine how much more so if you're still exploring!

Now imagine that your invitation to this mind-numbingly-scary-for-most-people event is something like, "God hates you!" or, "You will burn in hell!" or, "You're unnatural!" Now that's an invitation! Why on earth would anyone take you up on that offer?

If someone invited me to a movie, a cup of coffee, or a museum by calling me names, demeaning me, alienating me, mocking me, and hating me, chances are really good that I would turn them down. And how mundane are these things compared to exploring your relationship with the Creator?

If one of our callings in the Christian faith is to bring folks into the fold, we really ought to consider our invitations. I can't think of a single place in the New Testament in which Christ opened the conversation with an unbeliever with such vitriol. He commanded us to love one another, and I suspect we'd get a lot further going that route.

Care for a cup of coffee?

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Your Church Can Do Whatever It Wants (or, Why We Don’t Need a Constitutional Amendment)

There are an estimated 1,200 different Christian faiths in North America today. These faiths differ on their beliefs about communion, the pope, women, confession, Joseph Smith, conversion, sexuality, salvation, marriage, homosexuality, the Sabbath, birth control, tithing, saints, Tribulation, baptism, Purgatory, the beginning of life, prayer, and the list goes on.

I want your church to be able to make whatever decision regarding these sensitive issues that it comes to in prayer, discussion, and thoughtful consideration, and I want mine to be able to do the same. Take, for example, the fairly recent fissure in the
Episcopalian Church over the ordainment of actively homosexual ministers or the ELCA’s Study on Sexuality (which explores blessing same-sex unions and ordaining homosexual ministers). Churches will continue to explore these issues and come to decisions, and their congregants will continue to make decisions about where they will worship moving forward.

And I think this is great: This is the essence of freedom of religion! I hope and pray that this issue will not rupture my church, but I much prefer making this decision in-house and in prayer with fellow believers than having the decision handed to me by the federal government. We must realize that these are two different things!!

We must realize that no one is talking about forcing your church (or my church) to adopt any theology. Just as the Lutheran Missouri Synod and the Roman Catholic Church (to name a couple) are free to restrict who may take communion in their churches, all of our churches are free to define what they believe is the rite of marriage.

What I ask you to consider is that this boils down to religious opportunism: our president and many in Congress are trying to pass
a federal constitution amendment banning same-sex marriages. This amendment is rooted almost entirely in the religious beliefs of several religious sects. If this view of marriage jibes with your religious views, it may be very tempting to support this amendment. One of the problems with this is that we are setting a dangerous precedent that it is acceptable for our government to create and pass laws based on religious beliefs – and you may not share the faith and/or beliefs of the next religious coalition formed by in our government!! It is very dangerous to begin passing laws (and constitutional amendments, no less!) based on religion and theology just because you happen to agree with the theology of the person in office right now.

The current obvious issues are same-sex marriage and abortion, but there is no reason why the next issues couldn’t be birth control, the Sabbath, or almost any other issue mentioned at the top. There are reasons why we all belong (or don’t belong) to the churches we attend, and it is much better for us Christians to settle these tough issues as brothers and sister in Christ rather than forcing the rest of the country to live as “symptomatic Christians” (see my previous post), especially when that will mean nothing towards their salvation anyhow.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Symptoms of Christianity

This is one of the major problems that I have with the current
blurring of the division of church and state:
Even if you were to
legislate all of the "symptoms" of Christianity, you haven't created
any Christians (read: you haven't "saved" anyone).

You can pass laws that forbid people to get abortions, marry their
same-sex partners, work on Sunday, obtain birth control, publish music
with explicit lyrics, and so on. But even assuming that the people
living under these rules actually live chaste, monogamous, straight,
and "proper" lives, there are two problems with trying to legislate
Christianity in this way. The first is that they haven't chosen to
live that way in thanks or reverence to or in fear of God.

The second problem is much bigger: You can't legislate people to
accept Jesus into their hearts. Forcing people to live lives that look
more like the Christian lives we imagine might help the congregants of
some churches sleep better at night, but we must remember that the
only way anyone becomes a Christian is by actually choosing to do so!
Christians recognize that they cannot overcome sin on their own and
that they need the forgiveness of Christ to be saved. Forcing people
to live the way you or I might live after having made that choice
doesn't help them at all spiritually.

Furthermore, when we Christians act this way, it only further
alienates us from the people we claim we're trying to save. It is one
thing to humbly approach a brother or sister in Christ and point out
what we see as contradictions in the life he or she has chosen to
live. It is something else entirely to approach folks outside the
church about the good news of God's redeeming love and start off with
how much God abhors them.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Where is the Christian Left?

So... It is the day after Thanksgiving, and I'm reflecting on how wonderful the last day and a half has been and how much I truly have to be grateful for: I'm recently and happily married; since moving last year, I've found a church and a pastor that feel like home; my mom and my sister are happier than I've ever seen them... There is so much going on in my life that is truly a source of joy for me, but that soft voice is still nagging at me. And no, this isn't just since the election. That didn't help, but this voice has been there for a long time.

I've known since I was very little that I believed in God, and I learned at a young age that Jesus loved me. As a Lutheran, I learned in confirmation classes during high school that Christians are saved by the grace of God alone. We humans are not perfect; we can't be. And because God loves us as much as he does, he sent his one and only Son here to die for us and to stand in our place on Judgment Day. Such love! And our response is to be one of thanksgiving, praise, and -- most importantly -- love!

Yet, when we look at how "Christianity" has manifested itself in politics, it's hard to think of a more oxymoronic image. I remember one evening when my then-fiancé and I were watching Larry King interview the president of Bob Jones University. I don't remember the exact content of what he said anymore, only that I was jaw-dropped at the hatred to which I was listening. What I didn't notice immediately was that my fiancé (who at that time was not a Christian) was turning redder and redder, until finally exploding: "How can you believe in all this hate-mongering vitriol??". I was further stunned...because I didn't, and I never have.

I have never understood why, when people learn that I'm a Liberal, they assume I lack "moral values", that I don't "support our troops", and that I want to undermine their churches. On the other hand, if people first learn that I'm Christian, they assume I think I'm better than they are, that I'm going to rub their noses in any shortcomings I might spot, that I hate gays, that I am in favor of the death and destruction going on in Iraq right now, and so on.

Okay, actually I do understand how people make all of those assumptions about me: it's at least in part because of the current blending of faith and politics in the Republican Right. It is hard to imagine more hate mongering than what we have today from those who present themselves as Christians. And I am still taken aback by all of this: some people really believe that if Jesus walked among us right now that he would support all of hatred, division, and claims to moral superiority coming from the Christian Right.

Well, I for one do not. I have read in the New Testament about a Jesus who reached out to poor and the outcast and who commanded the rich and the haughty to love and give to others until there was nothing else to give. What I see now is a lot of shortsighted, self-interested opportunism. I will get into that in a lot more detail on that later on, but for now, understand this: I do not understand how someone like W gets to be called a man of God. Once, the Pharisees walked around parading their faith in the same way, and Jesus had some pretty harsh words for them.

Please don't think that this is a "pass" for the Dems, either. I will expand on this theme later as well, but the Dems can plan on reminiscing about when they had the White House until they are comfortable with folks like me in their midst. Don't get me wrong -- I personally have never and probably won't ever vote Republican, but I once tried to volunteer for a couple of different Democratic candidates several years ago and gave up on the idea when I felt excluded because of my faith.

So I ask these questions for starters... Do you remember reading about and/or living through the Civil Rights Movement? That movement had a lot of its foundation in the Christian faith... Where is the Christian Left now? What can we do to remind our fellow Christians that we have been called to love one another? And to my fellow Liberals, can we be as tolerant as we claim we to be? Can we accept that faith has a place on our side of the aisle, as well?
I welcome your thoughts, but please keep them civil. I want you to enlighten and challenge me, but I won't engage here in the very hate mongering I have discussed above.