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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3 Christian Arguments Against Gay Marriage & Why They’re Inconsistent

In full disclosure, I am a Christian who supports gay marriage. An evangelical even. I’m also a professor of philosophy & ethics. That means, at least in part, I’d like to think I think pretty logically. So when I hear some of the arguments from Christians as to why they are against gay marriage, I often scratch my head. These are 3 arguments that, if taken to their logical conclusion, end in inconsistency, at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. At least, in my opinion.

1. The “It’s a Sin” Argument

This is probably the most popular. The argument is this:

I believe gay sex/marriage is morally wrong because the Bible is against it.
I do not think the government should allow what I believe to be morally wrong.
Therefore, I do not think the government should allow gay sex/marriage.

The problem with this argument is that it’s hypocritical. How so?

According to this argument, if I am going to be against gay marriage, I should also be against the freedom of religion.

Why? Because the freedom of religion says that anyone can worship any god they choose in this country. And what does the Bible have to say about worshiping other gods? Well, let’s put it this way, there are 11 instances (if we’re really generous) against gay sex and over 250 instances where idolatry is condemned. Oh yeah, and pretty much all of Israel is destroyed because of it. So, you’re okay with allowing our country to endorse something condemned over 250 times in our Bible but not something condemned 11 times? Of course, the main difference is that the former affects you & benefits you while the latter doesn’t. Sounds like textbook hypocrisy.

2. The “The Bible is Clear that Marriage is Between A Man & A Woman” Argument

Many people like to start in Genesis, as though God creating Adam & Eve and telling them they’re perfect for each other, now go have sex (which, interestingly, we aren’t told they do until after they are kicked out of the Garden), is somehow the beginning of the institution of marriage. But if the Old Testament counts as what God had in mind for marriage, gay marriage might be more at home there than in our culture. After all, the most common pictures of marriage we have are

One Husband + Many Wives (Polygamous Marriage) – This list includes Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Elkanah, Ashur, Abijah and Jehoiada. There are a lot more but they were the “bad guys” so I’m assuming they don’t count as much.

One (Dead) Husband + One Widowed Wife + One Brother-In-Law (Levirate Marriage) – the brother-in-law of a deceased husband should impregnate (Ruth & Gen. 38:6–10) the widow so that she has an heir.

One Husband + One Wife + One Slave – Abraham, the Father of our Faith (Gen. 16:1-6) & Jacob, his grandson (Gen. 30:4-5).

One Husband + One (or more) Wife + Some (or hundreds) of Concubines – Nahor (Gen 22:4), Abraham (Gen. 25:5-7), Jacob (Gen. 35:22

Do you notice how many of these are from the same book as Adam & Eve? What gives? Why don’t these count as “foundations for modern marriage”? After all, the Fathers of our Faith practiced almost all of them, with not a word of condemnation from Genesis.

But that’s not all. If we follow the law, which, after all says that gay sex/marriage is an “abomination to God,” then we should also adhere to the following laws regarding marriage.

One Husband + One Prisoner of War – Deuteronomy 21:11-14

One Rapist Husband + One Victim Wife – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker.

Of course, there is also monogamous, heterosexual marriage in the Bible, especially if you like arranged marriages.

3. The “Procreation Argument”

This argument is as follows:

Marriage was intended for procreation (making babies)
Gay sex/marriage can’t produce babies
Therefore, gay marriage is wrong.

Welp, okay then, time to condemn those poor couples who can’t or won’t have children.

What’s my point? I guess it’s that unless we are willing to be an opponent of the freedom of religion, to account for which examples of marriage in Genesis we should still hold to today, or deem illegitimate the couples who cannot have kids, we shouldn’t use these arguments.

Why I Stand for Gay Marriage as a Christian

It’s been a year since I first wrote why I was an Evangelical in support of gay marriage. This week seemed like a good time to reiterate my reasons.

So many Christians will use this time as an opportunity to “stand up for their faith,” while I will use it as an opportunity to stand up for people without rights. We will both have our arguments and our proof-texts. We will likely never agree. And that’s okay. We’re still family. But here are a few reasons why my faith in Jesus compels me to support gay marriage.

Number One: To Love is to Empty Ourselves of Power. We cannot legislate people into the Kingdom of God, we cannot politically strong-arm people into becoming Christians. To think we can is to misunderstand the emptying of God in Jesus Christ, the most powerful one who shows his power in powerlessness, the one who was God in his very nature but didn’t take advantage of that power but instead emptied himself and became a servant (Phil 2), even to his betrayer, even to the point of dying as a traitor to his state. Does love mean legislating a person’s morality according to a worldview they do not share? That does not sound like love, that sounds like a paternalistic power trip.

I would rather show people the love of Jesus by supporting them in their fight for equality, to stand with them, even if they are gay, hell, even if they are my enemies. My main goal as an evangelical Christian is to reflect the resurrected Christ and his Kingdom, not put it into law. It is to invite people in, not force them in against their will.

And while many Christians believe the “Christian” thing to do is to keep Christianity in power, I believe the “Christian” thing to do is empty ourselves of power, to give up our legislating and to take up our cross. I believe Jesus is on the side of those without power and his kingdom is one of equality, where no one is a second-class citizen, whether that be conservative Christian, drug addict, GLBT, atheist, or politician. We all bear God’s image in this story.

Number Two: When in Doubt, Go with Equality. Not many Christians realize that we were, for the most part, on the wrong side of the slave issue and, to a much lesser extent, the civil rights movement. The Bible was used regularly during the Civil War to support slavery as morally acceptable. It was so “obvious” that the Bible supported slavery. . .

And, lest we forget, it was a Christian culture that kept women from being able to vote until only 100 years ago. I am ashamed that a “Christian” culture didn’t support or even acknowledge the equality of women until . . . well, in some Christian circles, they still don’t. By the way, in many circles, the same oppressive structure presents itself with women as with gays. We love you emotionally and even personally, but not enough to actually give up my privileged position as the man/straight in power.

Number Three A: My Bible Compels Me. The way I see the text of the prophets, the life of Jesus, and the trajectory of the New Testament, I would much rather be held accountable to God for fighting for someone to have the same rights I enjoy (sorry God, I assumed I should fight for the rights of those who didn’t have them) than to be held accountable to God for excluding rights from people for the sake of religious rules (sorry God, I thought I was supposed to tell the world how sinful they are and that my government should privilege Christian culture at the expense of other people). For those who are thinking, “Yeah, but the Bible is against gay sex,” keep reading.

Number Three B: Supporting Gay Marriage is not Supporting Sin. I know it is hard to grasp, but this matter has nothing to do with whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If it did, then I still have to question your reasoning since you are very likely being prejudiced and inconsistent considering the fact that there are lots of things that Christians consider “sinful” that they do not legislate against. For instance, if God wants us as a nation to live by his laws, why are we okay supporting the freedom of religion? Shouldn’t we be out trying to ban other religions? If we are okay with freedom of religion,which is a law that basically mandates that our country allow for idolatry (according to the Christian), aren’t we being hypocritical?

Now, if this were about gay folks in church leadership or even church membership, we would have to address whether or not gay sex is a sin (which is another issue entirely on its own). But Paul seems to make it very clear that Christians have absolutely no place to judge the behavior of non-Christians:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . . In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sisterbut is sexually immoral . . . 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. . . .” -1 Corinthians 5:9-13a

Instead of focusing on “judging those inside” and creating a “city on a hill,” evangelicals are very good at making sure people who are not Christians know that they are “breaking the rules” of Christianity. And as such, we have gained the reputation for being judgmental, a moniker well-deserved for the most part. It is God’s place to judge the world, it is our place to love it. And just like the story we find in Adam & Eve, when we put ourselves in God’s place, we make a mess of things.

I might be wrong. We all might be. I am well aware of that and take responsibility for it. But for now that’s a risk I am willing to take for the sake of people knowing that there are Christians who stand with them in their struggle to be seen as equals in the eyes of their government.

If the Church wants to keep marriage between a man and a woman because of their religious convictions, so be it. But I will not support using the government’s power to coerce powerless non-Christians into behaving like Christians. That, to me, seems thoroughly un-Christian. It is the Spirit of God who transforms the heart, not the laws of the powerful.

As always, I welcome all critiques and dissenters. I do ask that you present actual arguments rather than just emotional rants about how wrong I am, but I will read those as well if you feel you must.

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.

 

On Brainwashing Our Kids with Religion*

How do you teach your kids about Jesus but also teach them to think for themselves?

Christians are often accused of brainwashing their kids by atheists. Yet atheists seem to think they have escaped this indictment. But that’s an illusion.

I read an article a few years ago about a summer camp for atheists, an alternative to the religious camps that Christians go to every summer. They interviewed the woman who lectures the campers daily on religious history and she said, “I feel really strongly these kids shouldn’t be indoctrinated.” Many of the campers, who range in age from 8 to 17, “don’t know what they are” yet when it comes to beliefs.”

So what exactly is she doing in her lectures every day? Isn’t teaching the doctrine of “think for yourself,” with its often anti-religious tone, indoctrinating the campers? I am not here to judge. Just say that se can’t help it. “Brainwashing” is inherent in every act of communication from every system of authority.

We will all “brainwash” our kids in some sense. As humans, we are mimetic; we imitate. There is no way around it.

And lately, I have a growing number of friends who feel tricked by Christianity, feeling they were duped into believing that things are black and white when they are often various shades of gray. They still love Jesus but they don’t want to do that to their children. They don’t want to brainwash. A very noble goal.

But in their attempt to protect their children from the deceit of the religious system, they often swing the pendulum the other way by “not indoctrinating” their children. They want their kids to “think for themselves,” and so do not teach them about their own values.

But that’s the nature of kids. They do not have their own values, so they imitate. So “not indocrinating your kids” really means either allowing someone or something else to indoctrinate them (peers, family, or culture in the form of television and advertising) or indoctrinating them with a doctrine of “no doctrine.”

Recognizing this, we have decided to indocrinate our kids with a religion that involves critical thinking and a love of diversity.

Maybe we are making a mistake, but for our family, we have decided that we are Christians and that we will raise our children as Christians. But along with our personal beliefs and the Christian tradition, we will indoctrinate them with a Christian faith that (1) respects religious diversity, (2) respects Christian diversity, and (3) humbly accepts they might be wrong.

First, we teach our children that not all people are Christians. I am not sure why Christians parents don’t often teach their children about other religions. Perhaps it’s out of fear that Christianity won’t be as attractive or perhaps it’s just out of ignorance of other religions. But we want to make it clear to our children that there are religions out there besides Christianity. And we should respect and learn from every belief system. We are Christians because we choose to be and because we believe it’s the truest story, not because everyone who is not a Christian is evil. That is, we want to teach our kids a Christianity that has respect for religious diversity built into it.

Secondly, we teach our children that not all Christians believe the same thing. We want to expose our kids to the beauty of Methodism, Presbyterianism, Evangelicalism and Catholicism. We want to them to learn to appreciate the tradition of the Eastern Orthodox and the innovation of the non-denominational. Most importantly, we want them to love all of their family members in Christ, no matter how different their practices or beliefs may look.  We all worship the same Christ.

Thirdly, we teach our children that our beliefs are always changing. We don’t have all the answers, which is why we need wise people, the Scriptures, and our own relationship with the Spirit of God in our lives to constantly be challenging us, changing us, humbling us. We want to teach them the beauty of reading the Bible carefully, not being afraid either of questions or of the “I don’t know.”

How else do you try to raise critically thinking and respectful Christians who are both firmly rooted in the Christian tradition and yet freely challenge that tradition?

5Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got!  6-9 Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your homes and on your city gates.
-Deut 6:5–9, Msg