Nicole Kidman & Conservative Readings of the Bible

I’m currently reading a biography on Nicole Kidman by a journalist who has never actually met Nicole Kidman. The best part of the book is the beginning where he explains some of the reasons we love celebrities: “…the most important thing in that vexed transaction is the way the actress and the spectator must remain strangers. That’s how the magic works…For their cannot be this pitch of irrational desire without that rigorous apartness.”

His point is that we desire what we do not have because we can recreate it in our own image. We love the idea of God because we can make God into our own image, making God into whatever we want or need God to be. So long as God remains “out there” as “that which fulfills all my desires,” we love God. This is I think what is so compelling about the conservative Evangelical view of God, the perfect, transcendent, one. We like our Bible to be perfect, mystical, magical, and incomprehensible because then it always remains desirous, just out of reach, full of surprises that tickle our fancy.

But once the Bible becomes human, all too human, and once God is revealed as “irascible” as Brueggemann recounts it, we lose that aloofness, that mystical apartness that we were so attracted to. And this is what the conservative Evangelical’s paradigm will not allow. So while incarnation is given lip service, it is the “transcendent One” who will always trump. While the Bible says that Jesus “grew in wisdom and knowledge,” which means he didn’t know everything and when Jesus cries out “Eloi, Eloi Lama Sabacthani, My God, My God, Why Have You Forsaken Me,” we must figure out a way to read those so Jesus doesn’t seem so . . . common, so human. We say we want a Jesus we can relate to but in those few instances where I feel I relate most to Jesus, in my ignorance and in my doubt, the conservative Evangelical paradigm becomes extremely uncomfortable.

When the Bible comes down off the silver screen and walks among us. When it says things we are embarrassed by, when it shows its age and sometimes inappropriate behavior, we get very uncomfortable with it. Thanks but no thanks. I prefer you on the screen where I can imagine you are something else, where you remain aloof and untouchable behind a veil of preconceived doctrines and guidlines, yes, but perfect and protected.

Thomson says it this way about Nicole Kidman in particular: “Anyway, the subject of this book is Nicole Kidman. And I should own up straightaway that, yes, I like Nicole Kidman very much. When I tell people that, sometimes they leer and ask, “Do you love her?” And my answer is clear: Yes, of course, I love her – so long as I do not have to meet her.”

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Are you a Christian, Ignorant, or Evil?*

Studies keep showing that non-Christians mainly associate Christians with being intolerant, judgmental, and arrogant. Ironically, though not surprisingly, Christians rarely see how they are being intolerant, judgmental, or arrogant. Often they just assume they are being unfairly persecuted against.

But that’s because we don’t often think about the implications of what we are saying. We aren’t intolerant, judgmental, or arrogant on purpose (for the most part, of course, there are some spectacular exceptions), we are generally just unaware of the implications of our words, phrases, systems, and approaches.

For instance, we talked before about the cliche “Love the Sinner but Hate the Sin” and how the message being heard is you love part of me, but not all of me. Your love for me is not unconditional but compartmentalized.” That’s not what we meant for them to hear but, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can do a lot of damage with a lot of good intentions and a lot of naivete.

There are many more examples that I could mention.

But this post is about the trend to make Christianity more attractive to people by making it sound like it’s the most reasonable thing in the world. The point of this post is to say: by telling people that believing a man named Jesus was raised from the dead and that the Bible is written by God “makes a lot of sense if you think about it” or that it’s even “common sense” means that if someone doesn’t believe it they must necessarily either be ignorant or evil.

That is to say, when we make the truth of the Christian story obvious, largely to make ourselves feel better about believing it, we must explain then, if it’s so obvious, why so many other people don’t believe.

And if someone doesn’t believe something that is obvious and common sense, after a while, we Christians have no choice but to say that they are either ignorant, in the sense that they aren’t even capable of grasping the most common sense truths, or they are evil, in the sense that they know its truth but the “hardness of their hearts” keep them from accepting it as their own. If Christianity is obviously true, I am not sure of other options we have.

For instance, if you tell a man to do something that is “obvious” and “common sense,” like “Go pour your coffee in the sink,” and he pours it in your fake flower pot instead, what will you think? Either that he is so, let’s put it gently, dim-witted that he didn’t even understand what the sink was, or more damning, he did it on purpose as a malicious deed. Either way, the guy who didn’t follow the “obvious” and “common sense” instruction isn’t looking good. He’s either evil or ignorant.

We do the same with the Christian story. Armed with the belief that Christianity is “obviously true” (or that evolution isn’t), when people just don’t buy it, we implicitly (and sometimes explicitly unfortunately) make them out to be evil or ignorant.

Now, what about this wouldn’t give people the impression that we are intolerant, judgmental, and arrogant.

The Christian Workarounds

In my work as a communications adviser, one of my primary tasks is to help people let go of their workarounds. Sure, it takes 10 extra steps, 3 more documents, and 1 sacrificed squirrel to get it done – but it’s what they know, it’s comfortable, and change is scary. I totally get it. I hate change too.

What I recognized early on as a pastor is that Christians have these workarounds too. At a “book study” one night at my house going through whatever popular Christian Living book we were using at the time, a new Christian asked: “Is it really this hard to be a good Christian?” She was referring to all the “simple steps” articulated in the book. Why does being a “good Christian” take reading all these books?

I had had enough. I looked at my group and said, in my overly brash/arrogant early 20s way, “No. It’s not that difficult to understand. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor. Defend the poor. Give up all you own.” But that’s terrifying. It requires actual sacrifice. So Christians in America have spent the last 50 years developing dozens of workarounds, ways to be “good Christians” without actually having to do the hard things Jesus talks about.”

Was I arrogant? yes. Was I wrong? I don’t think so.

As Kierkegaard says, “Being alone with God’s Word is a dangerous matter. Of course, you can always find ways to defend yourself against it: Take the Bible, lock your door – but then get out ten dictionaries and twenty-five commentaries. Then you can read it just as calmly and coolly as you read newspaper advertising. Can’t we be honest for once! It is only all too easy to understand the requirements contained in God’s Word. The most ignorant, poor creature cannot honestly deny being able to understand God’s requirements. But it is tough on the flesh to will to understand it and to then act accordingly. Herein lies the problem. It is not a question of interpretation, but action.” – For Self-Examination & Judge For Yourself 26–35

Some of us evangelicals have more of an academic bent, so we tend to create workarounds that involve defending esoteric doctrines that no one has ever heard of. Others of us evangelicals have more of a contemplative or pragmatic bent, so we tend to create workarounds that involve those aspects of our lives.

Are these bad practices in themselves? Probably not. As always, it’s about the heart.

Why do we defend doctrine rather than the poor? Why do we grow in learning to be kinder and more patient but not growing into solidarity with people who make us uncomfortable? Because the former increases our comfort and control while the latter decreases our comfort and control.

But to admit that we just don’t know how to love well would be devastating, our fragile egos often cannot handle it. So, we create a workaround. We create a new system where Jesus doesn’t really mean what he says and where defending doctrine is a wonderful substitute for defending the poor. All the reward without any of the sacrifice.

It’s like the Christian version of the diet pill, putting money in the manufacturers’ pockets & helping people find a solution for their dilemma of wanting to change without the pain that change causes. Sounds like a win-win. Is that bad? I am not interested in right or wrong, good or bad. I’m just saying that if we want to be like Jesus, increasing comfort and control doesn’t seem to be a good tactic. There is no Resurrection Sunday without the Death of Good Friday.

On Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Gay Marriage, and Jesus

Last year, there was a media kerfuffle when Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy said he supported “traditional marriage,” the codeword for being opposed same-sex marriage.

Well, believe it or not (<–sarcasm), there has been another media kerfuffle around a company’s stance on gay marriage. This time, it’s Starbucks, for being “committed to diversity,” the codeword for being supportive of same-sex marriage.

What I have witnessed around these two instances is just another affirmation that Christians have been drinking the Kool-Aid of American media polarizations. In response to the Chick-Fil-A stance, conservative Christians held “Support Chick-Fil-A Days,” where they would support a company’s stance on gay marriage by eating a lot of chicken nuggets (doesn’t that seem strange to anyone else?) and where progressive Christians boycotted Chick-Fil-A, protesting by not eating a lot of chicken nuggets.

The same cry has gone out this week. “Forgo your daily latte for the cause of traditional marriage!” “Learn your Starbucks-speak & order a tall, skinny, double latte for the cause of marriage equality!”

Leaving aside the fact that we live in a strange world where activism is reduced to whether or not we click a button a social media site, eat chicken nuggets, or drink lattes (#firstworldproblems), I am also troubled by how we are only presented with these two options, how polarized we are as a Christian community. Instead of the voice of conversation, dialogue, and a heart willing to listen and engage with people we disagree with, we just throw a tantrum, pick up our ball, and go home. Something tells me that’s not what Jesus meant when he said we should love our enemies.

Instead of engaging with the Other, we are told that the “righteous” thing to do is not to support people who disagree with us. Don’t give them our money. Don’t buy things from them. Forgive me if I am missing something really simple, and I mean that sincerely, but why not? I thought I was supposed to love my enemy, not try to hurt their business? Or, to put it another way: how is hurting the business of my enemy loving them? Why can’t I disagree with someone in a way that shows the world what it means to love our enemies? Why is the godly thing to do to give them the cold shoulder, economically and relationally?

I do not think that is the way of Jesus.

And so, I have decided, I will have my latte and eat my chicken nuggets too. Not for the cause of traditional marriage, gay marriage, or any type of marriage, but for the cause of Christ.

And yes, I do realize that might be the most bombastic, overly dramatic, two sentences I’ve ever written.

Gay Marriage & Our Young People

The numbers are in. The latest poll, conducted by the Washington Press/ABC News, says that 58% of Americans now believe we should legalize gay marriage in this country.

But there is another number.

“Among young adults age 18 to 29, support for gay marriage is overwhelming, hitting a record high of 81 percent  in the new poll,” says the Washington Post.

81%.

For many conservative Evangelicals this points to a failure on the part of the Church to educate our young. It points to biblical illiteracy and being too relaxed about the biblical moral code. It points, in essence, to a problem.

But for me, it points to possibilities. That perhaps God is up to something new and people too young and too idealistic to know any better, are following in God’s wake.

Sometimes God acts in ways that make us uncomfortable, as we see in Acts where it took literally an act of God for the Jewish Christians to see that maybe those unclean & pagan Gentiles could be the beloved of God. It took the Spirit of God working in the hearts of people who followed the letter of the Law to take a detour down the road of grace.

Maybe this is a moment for us to let go of our fear, our need for certainty, and see that there are people in the world who need good news. As I’ve said in the past, allowing gay people to get married doesn’t have to mean you “accept” their behavior, it just means we believe in equality, that we are made in the image of a God who “allows the rain to fall on the just & the unjust,” and that we follow Paul’s advice not to judge the behavior of others outside the church.

So for these 81% I say as Paul did to Timothy:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faithand in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12)

Lead on young people. Bring fresh eyes and open hearts to a nation with a history of oppression and privilege, a nation that claims to follow the God of the stranger, widow, orphan, and foreigner. Do not give up following a God who breaks the rules to create spaces of belonging by giving up his own power and privilege in the person and work of Jesus. Do not give up!

Dr. Mohler By Faith Alone

This week Dr. Al Mohler, the President of a Southern Baptist Seminary, reminds us that the Roman Catholic Church is a false church that teaches a false gospel.

His reason?

“First and foremost, evangelicals must affirm that the doctrine of justification by faith alone is an essential, because that is the very definition of the gospel itself, and there is nothing more core, central and essential than the gospel. The reformers were absolutely right in saying that any understanding of justification – even the understanding that justification is by faith and something else — is another gospel, is anathema to the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Mohler said. “The only way of understanding salvation by grace alone through faith alone is defining justification as the Scripture defines it, and that is justification by faith alone.”

Please tell me if I’m missing something here (I mean that sincerely) but the logic seems to be this:

The core of the gospel is justification by faith alone.
If you don’t believe that then you are believing a “false gospel.”

Is that what he’s saying? If so, I have a question about this logic. Isn’t the insistence that I must believe in the doctrine of “justification by faith alone” to be a faithful Christian a contradiction?

It sounds to me like Mohler is doing the exact thing he is accusing Catholics of doing. Isn’t he basically saying that “Justification is by faith alone AND your belief that justification is by faith alone”? In that case, neither the Catholics nor Mohler are saying that justification is by faith alone.

So, to sum up:

If the Catholic Church says the core of the gospel is faith + works, it’s heresy.

If Mohler says the core of the gospel is faith + correct beliefs about faith, it’s orthodoxy.

Got it.

We Should Be Against the Freedom of Religion

I have thought about this for a while, and this seems to be the conclusion we must come to if we are a Christian who is opposed to gay marriage: “We should be against the Freedom of Religion.”

When I ask Christians why they are against gay marriage, the reason most often cited is “because I believe it’s sinful. Why would I advocate for something I find wrong?”

This logic seems to be based on this principle:

“As a Christian, it is wrong to advocate for the government to allow for something I find sinful.”

Okay, so let’s take that principle and apply it to the freedom of religion.

Isn’t that advocating for the government to allow other people to worship other gods?

And isn’t that practice also sinful, what the Bible calls idolatry?

In fact, while homosexuality is a topic that comes up in the Bible a handful of times, idolatry is mentioned thousands of times, univocally pronouncing the worship of other gods a sin, a great wrongdoing to the one true God.

So, if your reason for being against gay marriage is that you do not want to government to allow others to practice something you find sinful, then it stands to reason that you should also be against the freedom of religion in our country.

If you are unwilling to follow your own logic then we might rightly call that mental inconsistency at best, hypocrisy at worst, but in any case, do not expect me to be convinced by it.