I’m about to start on a real post, I promise, but I did want to really quickly apologize for how awful we’ve been about updating lately. Things have been incredibly hectic over here because (if you haven’t heard through Facebook or Twitter already!) Jeremiah is starting a PhD program in New Testament at Baylor University this summer! That means we are moving to Waco, TX in less than a month. Additionally, Jeremiah just turned in his ThM thesis yesterday and still has several days to finish his last paper for Duke, so things have been pretty academically intense, as well. I’ve been taking care of most of the move logistics, as well as doing extra Ambrose duty so Jeremiah can meet his deadlines. We’re hoping to start blogging more regularly as soon as things calm down, but in the meantime, thanks for bearing with us!
Fred Clark from Slacktivist just quoted my recent post, “InterVarsity, Lawsuits, and Leadership,” and extended the discussion with his own post: “Don’t treat people as symbols for a tribal loyalty quiz.”
I liked some of what he said enough to also want to quote him back here, as well:
The argument about sexuality beneath the surface of the pretense of an argument about religious liberty isn’t really even an argument about sexuality. That argument, in turn, is really just a proxy for yet another underlying argument — an argument about the meaning of the Bible.
I wholeheartedly agree. Ultimately this ends up being about hermeneutics and about whether or not Christians can differ in how they interpret the Bible. Interestingly, the way this is playing out for gay Christians has been encouraging me to slowly consider truly embracing the Baptist tradition, which emphasizes freedom of conscience. I think it’s a shame many Christians will not allow more freedom of opinion on this and other controversial matters, but that seems unlikely to happen as long as they refuse to believe anyone might legitimately interpret the Bible differently than they do. It is true that certain interpretations may eventually prove to be untenable, but allowing someone to make their case and still be recognized as a Christian who values what Scripture says is a very important thing.
Evangelical groups are prodigious producers of elaborate “statements of faith” that seem to spell out their core sectarian identity in extensive, lawyerly detail. But those statements of faith don’t include the tribal markers that provide the short-hand litmus tests for all of the theological-sounding mumbo-jumbo they enumerate in detail.
My, haven’t we seen this lately with all the firings at evangelical academic institutions? And really, to me, this is what’s most unfair. The fact is, at least some Christians will always hold to more conservative positions about certain issues. We can disagree with them all we want, but they will exist, and we should recognize that they’re trying even when we think they’re utterly failing. We can try to persuade them God is leading all of us in a different direction, but we should respect the fact that they, too, are desiring to listen to the Holy Spirit. However, I think it’s completely legitimate, appropriate, and perhaps even a moral obligation for us to ask them to be polite by sharing their convictions openly—not necessarily forcefully and rudely but honestly and in broad daylight—so that we don’t have to have Christian professors losing tenure because they don’t believe in the historical Adam or 20-year-old college ministry leaders being pushed out of their spiritual community because they interpret Romans 1 differently than someone else.
I know exactly what it feels like to have your position made invisible as a Christian option. I have experienced it a great deal as a Christian who is also a feminist, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone. We all need to learn to acknowledge someone’s good-faith attempt to read the Bible rightly, even when we disagree with their conclusions. While some organizations may want to organize themselves more narrowly according to their particular theological stances, they must remain ecumenically engaged with those on the “other side.” If there is any, “You can’t be with us anymore,” it needs to be followed immediately with, “But we have friends over here who think a bit more like you, and we are excited to see your ministry with them. We recognize that we are all still Christians trying to live out the gospel as best we know how.” It still may not be a solution that satisfies everyone, but it’s a step towards unity in the midst of diversity. I will always feel sad when Christians don’t support gender equality because it feels personal, but it does dampen the blow a bit when I know my position is considered “incorrect” in more of the sense that Calvinists and Arminians see each other as “wrong” rather than in the sense that deserves excommunication from Christian circles entirely.
Ultimately, Clark sees using LGBT people as an orthodoxy test is dehumanizing, a sentiment with which I heartily agree.
So here’s my plea to the tribal trustees and the evangelical gatekeepers: You’re free, in good faith, to not find my hermeneutic acceptable or persuasive. You’re free, in good faith, to believe that the clobber verses require you to condemn same-sex attraction. And you’re even free, in good faith, to believe that every other possible interpretation of those clobber verses is tantamount to a rejection of “the authority of the Bible.”
But stop treating people — flesh-and-blood children of God — as nothing more than symbols for your tribal loyalty quizzes. That’s evil. Knock it off.
I think Clark is right what when we take a deeply personal issue like this and make it into our litmus test for who’s in and who’s out, we completely disregard the seriousness of how this debate in the church impacts their lives. We’re all free to our own opinions, whether or not others like them. But mere compassion and sensitivity to the pain of our brothers and sisters in Christ should change the tone of this conversation.
Anyway, you ought to go read all of the post for yourself!
A few days ago I watched a viral video which has been going around about the ridiculous income gap in the United States, and since then, I’ve been continuing to ponder something I’ve been considering for the last few years: the issue of generosity and justice. I’ve been slow to speak out publicly about this because I don’t want to swing too far in the opposite direction of my previous leanings, but I’m starting to think that the way I thought about wealth, justice, and giving during my college years was out of balance.
I started caring about social justice circa 2005, just before Shane Claiborne was mega-cool, and right around the time justice issues were just starting to build a bit of momentum in evangelical circles. I felt I was part of the vanguard, drawing on the wisdom of an older generation of leaders like John Perkins, telling my peers they needed to care more and leave their safe middle-class neighborhoods. I put a lot of pressure on myself to give generously, not only monetarily but also by doing things like summer urban projects while other college students were getting internships to build their resumes or jobs to build up savings. For example, I gave up a really great summer job with my orthodontist—making more money per hour than I have ever made in the nearly ten years since—to do a service-learning experience in the inner city. This was a valuable experience and I wouldn’t say I regret it, but it was definitely a sacrifice.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I realized until long after college just what a sacrifice some of these things were. I thought of myself as being part of an upper-middle class elite and needing to divest myself of my privilege. In some sense this was very valid for the daughter of a doctor who attended a private prep school. What I failed to realize, however, and what I feel other justice-minded Christians (many of them only known to me through the books they wrote) neglected to mention was that things would change when I wasn’t a college student supported by my parents. It is easy to give up a summer of earning money or gaining experience when you don’t have any real financial obligations. And while it was possible and valuable in the short-term, I sometimes find myself questioning its value in the long-term.
It’s not that I don’t want people to be committed to social justice. But I was already convinced justice was important. I just felt that because I was committed to justice that I owed God this sort of sacrifice. And that’s the part I now question. I question it, in particular, with the knowledge that the economy in the United States has been increasingly harsh towards those with college degrees, so that having grown up well-off and having an education no longer means you can avoid unemployment or underemployment. I also question it with that viral video in mind. As the income and wealth disparities in the United States continue to grow, I wonder if pressuring the bulk of Americans to divest themselves of significant amounts money is really ethical or wise.
As I write this, my past self screams at me that I’m an evil rich American who doesn’t understand anything about the gospel… but I have enough questions about this currently that I think it would be worth exploring in a blog series. I’d love to get some of your initial thoughts on this!
I was a bit puzzled by InterVarsity’s latest blog post, “Selecting the Right Leader,” by Gordon Govier. The post insinuates that InterVarsity chapters around the country are being pressured by universities to let non-Christians lead chapters. I am not as informed about the situation as some people on InterVarsity staff, I’m sure, but my understanding is that this is what is happening at a handful of campuses… but at an equal number of campuses, the issue is InterVarsity’s objection to “practicing” gay Christian leaders. In fact, from what I’ve read, at many of these campuses these issues are really the same. The conversation goes something like this:
IV: “Susie, you are gay and think that’s ok, so you can’t be a leader anymore.”
Univ.: “That’s discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation!”
IV: “No, it’s not! It’s ok with us that Susie is gay. She just shouldn’t think that’s ok.”
Univ: “Oh. Well that’s discrimination on the basis of religion!”
IV: “So, we’re a Christian group?”
Then instead of objecting and saying something like, “Well, not all Christians agree with you” (which to me is a logical response), many universities are saying, “Well, maybe we shouldn’t let you discriminate on the basis of religion at all then.” Which then, of course gets presented as, “They want us to put Wiccan and Muslim students in charge of our Christian group!” Perhaps some universities would really push for that, but that’s not exactly where the conversation got started in the first place at many of these schools. At many of them this is starting as a conflict about sexuality.
Sidenote: I put “practicing” in quotes because InterVarsity, like many Christian organizations which come down most conservatively on the issue of homosexuality in the church doesn’t clearly define what “practicing” means. Does it mean having sex? Does that mean it’s ok to be in a relationship where you’re not having sex? I would think they’d have a problem with that, too, but where precisely is the line drawn and why? I have some thoughts on this topic from my time at Fuller, but that is a discussion for another day…
Back to the main point here: I’m not certain why this was left out of the article. InterVarsity students, parents, and financial supporters should know what is actually going on. If InterVarsity feels confident about its position on homosexuality, this shouldn’t be a problem. Quite honestly, I think it will gain them more donors than it will cost them. Problems tend to come to organizations moving in the opposite direction.
So why not be honest? I’m not certain this post was meant to be deceitful—really I rather doubt it—but it doesn’t tell the whole story. I wonder if this is because historically InterVarsity hasn’t seemed to want to push this issue and highlight it the way many evangelical organizations do. There’s something honorable about that: not wanting to make a fuss and draw too much attention to what is seen as a more peripheral issue, especially one that most evangelicals engage with rather poorly whenever attention is drawn to it. At the same time, it would be good to be upfront about their position.
I agree that student groups should be allowed to “discriminate” based on beliefs, but I question the wisdom of InterVarsity’s making their stance on homosexuality an orthodoxy test while leaving similarly controversial issues such as women in ministry open for disagreement. Is this really a line-in-the-sand sort of issue? Are the ancient ecumenical creeds not enough? Is a profession of Christian faith not enough? Is a heartfelt desire to follow Jesus not enough? Why is this the only issue on which many “interdenominational” organizations can have no diversity? Some InterVarsity alumni and friends will disagree with this move, and they should have the information they need to make decisions about their financial support.
Only a handful of other donors may feel this way, but even so, I wish this article had been more thorough. If nothing else, doesn’t journalism demand a higher standard? Doesn’t a Christian love of truth? Let’s be clear about what is going on here.
I admit I was not cool enough to find this link on my own, but since Pete Enns mentioned it, I wanted to also highlight it for our readers. The Atlantic just did a piece about evangelical homeschoolers who teach evolution, which both surprised and encouraged me. I sometimes feel rather cynical about the state of evangelicalism, but articles like this give me glimmers of hope for the future!
Yes, I tried to make the title of this post provocative. But the quotation I’m sharing really is unique. I came upon it in Water from a Deep Well by Gerald Sittser, a book about spirituality through the lens of various eras of church history, which I’m reading with my Bible study group.
This is what Luther apparently wrote to a friend who was getting married (p. 205):
When you sleep with your Catherine and embrace her, think this—’This is a human being, the best little creature of God, and Christ has given her to me. Praise and glory to him.’ On the evening of the day when I calculate you will receive this letter, I will love my wife in the same way and have you in my memory and so we shall be together.
Sittser took it from Owen Chadwick’s book The Early Reformation on the Continent (pp. 140-141), but since less of that book is available for preview, I can’t see his citation for the quote. Wherever it is from, Jeremiah and I thought it was funny… and creepy.
I recently read a delightful dissertation, which I really recommend to you called, “Bapto-Catholocism: Recovering Tradition and Reconsidering the Baptist Identity,” available in full-text as a PDF from Baylor.
The author, Cameron Jorgenson—a fellow Fuller alum who is now a professor Campbell’s div school—discusses the document “Re-envisioning Baptist Identity: A Manifesto for Baptist Communities in North America,” which was composed by Curtis Freeman of Duke Divinity, the late James Wm. McClendon of Fuller Seminary (and husband of the incredible Nancey Murphy, also of Fuller), Barry Harvey of Baylor University, Elizabeth Newman of the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, Mikael Broadway of Shaw Divinity, and Philip Thompson of Sioux Falls Seminary. The document was later signed by other cool people such as Stanley Grenz, Roger Olson, Glen Stassen, etc.
The document was apparently instrumental in the development of a disorganized but significant movement of Baptists with a new approach to Baptist identity, which some have termed “Bapto-Catholicism.” Jorgenson says (see pp. 123-125) the main points of Bapto-Catholicism were described by Steve Harmon in his book Towards Baptist Catholicity (part of the Paternoster Studies in Baptist History & Thought series) as follows:
- “First, Harmon argues that Bapto-Catholics see tradition as a source of authority.”
- “Second, according to Harmon, Bapto-Catholics believe that there is a place for creeds in liturgy and catechesis.”
- “Third, Bapto-Catholics approach liturgy as the context for formation by tradition.”
- “Fourth, Bapto-Catholics see community as the locus of authority.”
- “Fifth, Harmon observes that Bapto-Catholics have a sacramental emphasis in their theology.”
- “Sixth, Harmon claims that Bapto-Catholics approach their task as a constructive retrieval of theology.”
- “Seventh, according to Harmon, Bapto-Catholics engage in “thick” ecumenism.”
Jorgenson’s own list differs slightly (pp. 126-127):
“1) theological in its methodological orientation,
2) postmodern in its philosophical assumptions,
3) congregationally centered in its hermeneutics and practices,
4) catholic in its approach to tradition, especially with respect to sacraments and liturgy, and
5) ecumenical in its aim.”
As someone drawn to both Baptist and Anglican ways of doing church, I was instantly drawn in and excited to learn more. I now have a giant reading list to attend to.
But what I found equally fascinating was Jorgenson’s suggestion that Bapto-Catholicism is an attempt to resolve a “crisis” in the Baptist “tradition” (in a McIntyrian sense), since the two sides of the SBC/CBF split—the “conservatives” (“fundamentalists!”) and “moderates” (“liberals!)—were both part of the modern era. As Baptist move into postmodernity, identity must be conceived of in new ways, and the Bapto-Catholic approach is one such attempt which is specifically more postmodern, non-foundationalist, etc.
I’m sure many of you are familiar with the silly song about lying sung in jest by many Christians to the tune of “Where is Thumbkin”: “Revelation… Revelation! 21:8… 21:8! Liars go to hell… Liars go to hell! Burn, burn, burn… Burn, burn, burn!” I am not certain if it started as a joke or anyone’s genuine belief, but thankfully I’ve only heard it as the former. In any case, the duty to be truthful is a serious one for Christians, and it is for this reason that I am calling for conservative evangelicals to reevaluate their rhetoric about homosexuality.
I think I often appear cynical to others. Nevertheless, I am often extremely naive, particularly when it comes to expecting people to be kind, sensible, etc. For example, today I found myself genuinely surprised when I saw “Read about her unexpected journey from being a lesbian professor to a pastor’s wife” pop up on my newsfeed, as posted by Her.meneutics. Then below it I saw an extended description from Christianity Today‘s Facebook account: “This feminist lesbian didn’t want Jesus. She didn’t ask for him. But somehow she went from gay pride parades to church pews, and her heart changed. What a testimony!”
I replied to the latter, “Way to go using “feminist” as a scare word meant to denote, ‘heathen.’ We feminist evangelicals always appreciate it!” I was frustrated by the entire post’s use of “feminist” and “lesbian” (and the article’s use of “leftist”) as code for “evil.” I was surprised Christianity Today would stoop that low, especially as they have often tried to appeal to both egalitarian and complementarian evangelicals, including some egalitarians who self-identify as feminists.
But while deplorable, fright-based headlines really are not really the big issue here.
What I’m really, really tired of is conservative evangelicals continuing to speak as if LGBT individuals, or any of us, chose our gender identity or sexual orientation and can change it on a whim—or through agonizing years of prayer and therapy, for that matter. That simply isn’t what anyone thinks besides you. It’s not what research supports. Let it go. Fess up that this is not really how sexuality works. If this woman “changed,” she was likely bisexual to begin with. Or is in denial now. Or originally chose to be with a woman for reasons other than sexual attraction. Or something else bizarre. But she did not magically go from being a lesbian to not. That is a lie. Quit perpetuating lies.
As difficult as saying, “Gay people should be celibate” sounds, at least it’s honest. So be honest like a few good evangelicals and honest like the Catholic Church and at least admit that gay people can’t really change and, thus, that when you ask them to refrain from acting on their sexuality, you are asking a very, very, very big thing. Maybe you still think it’s right to ask it. But stop telling yourself and others that what you’re asking isn’t so bad because gay people can become un-gay anyway if they only trust Jesus enough. They can’t, and the real-life pain caused by your condemnation of their relationships is why you either need to really believe what you’re saying about celibacy or back down entirely.
And for the rest of us: Take lying serious. Write Christianity Today and tell them how offensive this article is to you as a Christian who loves truth.
The good old Religious Right, RR for short, has been getting on my nerves a lot lately. Politically, I am not a leftist in the slightest, but my politics are based on pragmatic views which I willingly allow to be subverted by the Bible. That means that I might think a given economic system works the best, but the ethical demands placed upon me by God supersede the pragmatic foundations of my economic theory. In other words, a just economic system has a higher moral value than say having the smoothest or most stable economy. This puts me in a weird place where the injustice of our current system makes me look–I believe under the guidance of Scripture–much more “liberal” than I probably really am. This half-way an outsider perspective has helped me look closely at the Religious Right/Evangelical Conservatives in a way that I feel was impossible a few years ago. What follows is simply an unorganized list at the most galling hypocrisies that I have noticed.
RR on Guns: Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Inanimate objects can’t cause people to do things, it is the sin in their heart.
RR on Contraception in Schools: ZOMG, the condoms and birth control will make all the children instantly break out in orgies. Save the children! Abstinence education only.
Conclusion: Inanimate objects can only make people have sex.
RR on women: God really wants a woman to stay home and take care of the kids. That’s her highest calling.
RR on poor women: Why should I pay anyone to sit on their butts? Those lazy whores need to get to work.
Conclusion: If white women stay home, they are doing God’s work. If black women stay home, they are lazy (and probably promiscuous).
RR on tiny humans: Life begins at the moment of fertilization. Every embryo is a gift from God. God loves life and demands we protect it.
RR on big humans: Incarcerate everyone and load the system with mandatory minimums. Execute as many criminals as possible. Preserve American hegemony through armed conflict on the thinnest of pretexts.
Conclusion: God loves babies. Screw everybody else.
RR on regulations: The government needs to stop intruding in the lives of its citizens. It just needs to leave me alone.
RR on gay marriage: Marriage is a religious institution that the government needs to regulate to save it from all the queers.
Conclusion: Government intrusion in the lives of sinners is always acceptable
RR on evolution: Teach the controversy!
RR on homeschooling/private schools: Don’t teach the controversy! Evolution-free zones!
Conclusion: Darwin is the Schroedinger’s Cat of RR education policy
RR on Israel: God gave them that land! Those Arabs and Terrorists, but I repeat myself, need to GTFO.
RR on Tattoos/Pork/Mixed-fiber clothing: That’s OT stuff and purely ceremonial.
Conclusion: All that stuff God said about foreigners and strangers was ceremonial.
RR on Ford: You are covered in gay cooties and we won’t buy your cars until you’ve had a shower and said you are sorry for offending us.
RR on Chick-Fil-A: Freedom of Speech! Saint Cathy of the Chicken Sandwich has been persecuted and is being led to Fowl Golgotha!
Conclusion: Freedom of Speech means agreeing with the RR.
I have more, but you get the idea. These shenanigans are tiresome, and I don’t feel like holding back my mockery any longer.
I’ve known for a while that I like liturgy. I like having more consistent structure to worship (not just within one church but between churches), mostly because I think this is how we make certain important elements are included in most services. I like having a prayer of confession, the Lord’s Prayer, a creed, communion, etc. I also like observing the liturgical calendar’s most basic holidays and seasons, if not additional observances, and I like using a lectionary to determine the readings for the day.
And I believe liturgy is the way out of the well-intentioned mess of salesperson ministers. There is no longer a need to reinvent the wheel by picking visions and themes for every semester or year: the liturgical calendar and lectionary pick what you will focus on. There is less of a cult of personality around ministers, as well, because there is so much less which depends on them. The church service is going to be largely the same regardless of who is leading it. Yes, they bring their personal touch and, of course, their preaching. Image and presentation, however, become less, while one’s thoughtfulness, humor, and compassion—one’s genuine humanity—have a chance to shine through. The minister is no longer the magical person who knows exactly what faux-unique sermon series or program is going to revolutionize their church, but rather is the person with the appropriate training who tries to faithfully go through the motions.
“Going through the motions” may normally be a negative turn of phrase, but it makes sense for Christian worship to be repetitive. You lead similar (if not the same) prayers, you read the same Bible, you speak to the same universal human needs which have existed throughout history, you serve the same bread and wine with the same words. There is only so much room for creativity within Christianity. There will always be new venues for application, but there is a limited amount to say that has not been said before. Thus, there is something healthier, I think, about expecting a minister to bring himself or herself but not to sell brilliant plans. After all, how many churches have nearly identical mission statements written as if they were the first church to write it? Currently, we spend a lot of energy on pretending to do something new and getting people excited about this supposedly unique vision.
So the things that should be common, let’s make common by using the traditions handed down to us. Let’s allow our ministers to focus their relational skills on providing pastoral care rather than charming people from the pulpit. Let’s allow their intellects to focus on well-researched sermons and continuing education rather than plans for pushing their churches’ brands. Let’s allow their creativity to attend to tasks like community outreach or ecumenical and interfaith dialogue instead of deciding which passage of Scripture deserves our attention this Sunday and how to couch it under the cutesy theme for the year they picked last month. Let’s stop evaluating our potential pastors by their extroverted smiles, snazzy clothes, and seductively arrogant dreams for our extra-special congregation. Let us take comfort in the fact that following Jesus in our time in place is not so different from following Jesus in any other context and everything we need to remember ourselves and everything we want to teach our children and catechumens can be found in our seasons and feast days, our assigned Scripture texts, and the rhythm of our services.
By keeping these ancient practices and serving the poor, we already have so much right as to make any additional visionary contributions of our ministers a small added bonus but little more. The need for salesperson ministers, then, is obsolete, and many of the major problems associated with evangelicalism are solved… if evangelicals can accept the corrective of liturgy to begin with.