A former Lutheran pastor sharing thoughts on faith and life. Please join the conversation! I love your comments!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

False Assumptions with Lethal Consequences

There are false assumptions related to American Christianity which I believe have weighty consequences.

The first assumption is this: literal interpretation of the bible is the one and only historical and true way of reading scripture. Some research, and understanding of history reveals this not to be the case.  It can be argued literalism, as it is thought of today, is a phenomenon of the last few hundred years.   At minimum, one can find examples of important theologians throughout history who did not take a literal view of scripture.  Looking to Judaism, which is part of the Christian heritage, is eye opening as well.

Why is this important?  Because many good, faithful people believe the only way to be a “true Christian”  is to believe in the literal interpretation of scripture. The particular point of view which is claimed as the literal interpretation of scripture includes things such as anti-homosexual attitudes and negative attitudes toward women.  Thus, loving people are led to behave in unloving ways, because they believe being a Christian requires it of them. 

When politics are added to the mix things get even messier.  Another assumption often made of Christianity in the United States is Christian faith requires conservative political views.  This assumption leads to people of Christian faith passionately supporting ideals  such as seeing money as free speech.   Money as free speech is really the same as “might makes right.”   If I have the money to do something I should be able to do so.  The practical consequence of this is effectively silencing the poor.  This is traditional Christian values?

Conservative politics combine with supposedly traditional Christianity also means I more frequently hear church people talk about lazy welfare recipients than talk about how we can help the poor.  How does that jibe with any interpretation of scripture?  (BTW, “God helps those who help themselves” is not in the bible.)

There are devastating consequences to these two false assumptions which go far beyond my own political frustration.  If the church is no longer a voice for the poor, if we allow money to be the only voice, the consequences to those living in poverty can be lethal. Without the support of religious justification provided by “biblical literalism”  discrimination against women and homosexual people could only be seen as the bullying oppression it is.  Discrimination against women around the world leads to violence, rape, neglect of female children, and economic disempowerment all with deadly results. Discrimination against homosexual people leads to violence and suicide.

So called “literalism” and its accompanying politics is literally killing people.  And it is doing so with the assent of good people trying to be “true Christians.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

What Bible Based Really Means

Please, indulge me in a brief rant. 

Many times over the years I have heard comments about a certain church “preaching the word of God”  “is bible based” or “based on the word of God” or the like.  I have been to many different Christian churches in my lifetime: Lutheran, Episcopal, Catholic, Baptist, Evangelical, Charismatic, Methodist, Mennonite, UCC, and probably several I have forgotten.  I don’t think any of them would say they do not base their preaching and their worship on the bible.  They might not use those exact words but scriptures are read and discussed and inform what they do.  So, when someone says their church is “bible based” or “ I preach what the bible actually says” what they are really saying is, “my interpretation of the bible is right and if anyone disagrees with me then they are wrong and not bible based.” 

It could be the bible is not the book they should be reading but rather the dictionary.  Under “H” for humility. 

Thank you for indulging my rant.  Go Royals!  (Thus making this a rant followed by a random non-sequitur.   Didn’t want it to be nothing more than a rant.)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

The Voice of Progressive Christianity

As a progressive Christian (for lack of a better term) it is difficult to know what to say sometimes.  When those who criticize Christianity address such things as anti-homosexual sentiments, I agree with the criticisms.  Yet I am stymied whether to say anything more or not.  If I speak to say “not all of us believe such things” then I am being defensive.  If I do not speak I am being silent in the face of prejudice within my own religious tradition.  In addition, being silent encourages the impression judgmental voices are by far the most prevalent and progressive voices are nothing more than rare outliers.

I am also concerned many of my neighbors think conservative fundamentalist Christianity (again, for lack of a better term) is the only option in order to be a “real Christian.” 

Therefore, today I share a few examples which illustrate that while the conservative evangelical voice is loud, the progressive voice of Christianity is not as rare as one might think. 

There are many voices within protestant mainline Christianity which speak out strongly for the rights of homosexual people.  One example is the Lutheran group Reconciling Works,(http://www.reconcilingworks.org/).   Their facebook page says,
 “Working at the intersection of oppressions, ReconcilingWorks embodies, inspires, advocates and organizes for the acceptance and full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities within the Lutheran communion and its ecumenical and global partners.”  They list their members as numbering over 550 seminaries, congregations, and other organizations.  This is a small percentage but also represents groups where nearly the entire community agrees about this issue.  This does not include the many others who believe in inclusion but are members of communities which have not reached an agreement on this issue.  

A similar Methodist group has this on their site (http://www.rmnetwork.org/):
“Reconciling Ministries Network is committed to policy change and the creation of long-term solutions and practices that create full inclusion in The United Methodist Church and our broader society. RMN works for full equality in membership, ordination, and marriage for God’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children.” (632 churches communities and campus ministries)

There are similar groups within the Episcopal, American Baptist, UCC and Mennonite denominations, at least and some of these groups have been around for decades. 

Abortion is another issue about which there is much more diversity of opinion than one would be led to believe when listening to the news.  This website gives what seems to be a good overview of the opinions of several different faith communities. 
Opinions range from abortion being totally wrong in nearly all circumstances to firm commitment to just access to abortion and many positions somewhere in between. 

Not only do progressive Christians exist, they also have a sense of humor. 
Unvirtuous Abbey is a great place to find irreverent holy humor such as, “Lord, you who told Lazarus to “Come out!”, we pray for Christians who say that it’s wrong to do that. Amen.” (and many other much less reverent and hilariously funny quotes and pictures.)  https://www.facebook.com/pages/Unvirtuous-Abbey/

If we all followed conservative Christianity there wouldn’t be such things as Christian Universalists, Unitarians, Process Theologians, and great authors like Bishop John Shelby Spong, Robin Meyers, Brian McClaren, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Edward Hays and countless others. Indeed many of the controversies we hear about within the Christian church could not take place if there were no dissenting voices.  One sided conversations do not make for controversy.  Several denominations have begun to take a new stance on homosexuality, for example.  Why would this happen if all Christians believe homosexuality is a sin? 

I realize those who speak against Christianity will continue to address conservative Christianity, and rightfully so, as long as it continues to appear as the default religion in America.  As long as folks in this country have a tendency to assume a person’s religion is conservative Christianity until proven otherwise (unless the person is gay, tattooed, of a different skin color, etc.  Sigh.  I know it is horrible,) then it only makes sense for this form of religion to be the primary target of criticism.  I also don’t intend to imply Christianity should pat itself on the back for these members who are working for justice.  Really, this is so sadly close to literally the least we could do.

I only wish to say there are other voices, there are other options, and progressive Christians need to find a way to speak up more clearly.  This won’t be easy.  After all we don’t make nearly as interesting news as someone railing against evolution or foaming at the mouth with hatred.  We need to find ways to speak our love anyway.