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.