Monday, September 26, 2011

The Root of the Anti-Gay Church

The source of anti-gay homophobia in the church is the Christian worldview that buys into incoherent biblicisim. It's the view that the Bible is God's Word and the literal exclusive authority for Christian faith and practice. It claims the Bible is (1), inerrant, (2), self-sufficient, (3), self-evident in its meaning, (4), internally consistent, and (5), universally applicable. These are the root of a host of misguided theologies in mostly conservative churches, not the least of which is the anti-gay rhetoric and "ministries" that attempt, in the name of God, to de-gay GLBT people.

But as Christian Smith argues in his new book, The Bible Made Impossible, this worldview is indefensible. In light of logic, the Bible's own assertions, and the historical/cultural context of its writings, none of these five claims hold up to scrutiny. Therefore, the many theologies associated with this brand of biblicism (in addition to the attack on gays are the "end times," idolizing the institutional church, and making moralism superior to love) are false.

A more sensible way of looking at the Bible can still uphold much of it as inspired by God and holding a type of authority. However, this alternate way recognizes much of what it asserts was never meant to be universally applied as a set of behavior codes but is culturally or historically conditioned. Moreover, many of its proclamations are misinterpreted or mistranslated due to the misguided assumption that the divine word is always self evident.

In the case of religious conservatives, a handful of passages are used to condemn all homosexual behavior while ignoring the cultural evidence that biblical writers were addressing unique sexual sins, such as cultic prostitution, pederasty, and exploitation; also ignored is the New Testament powerful theme that all things are lawful as long as no harm is done to one's neighbor and love rules.

I trace my own personal evolution from evangelical narrow biblicist to progressive believer, and particularly my transformation from an anti-gay to a pro-gay position, in my forthcoming book Confessions of a Bible Thumper. As I was sincere and well meaning in my views, so are today's religious conservatives. The path to understanding is wrought with psychological and theological struggles. Activists should challenge prevailing narrow views on homosexuality, but should also be aware how entrenched this worldview root is.

I welcome your thoughts and comments!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Why Rick Perry Makes Me Nervous

I have to admit, Rick Perry's rise to prominence among Republican presidential candidates, shortly after he convened a prayer meeting (The Response patterned after The Call), makes me nervous. Why? It has to do with his close alliance with the theology, ministries, and at least one former pastor of mine on the evangelical Christian Right.

On the surface, Perry has remarkably diverse political positions. While maintaining conservative credentials, he has called for a quick exit out of Afghanistan and Iraq, college financial assistance for children of illegal immigrants in Texas, and once used an executive order to create a mandatory HPV vaccine program for schoolgirls to fight cervical cancer. These are some of the reasons he has been attacked by other Republicans at the debates. He's doesn't fit neatly into their box. That part is good.

On the other hand, in other ways, he does fit the conservative bill. He scoffs at global warming, claims there are holes in the theory of evolution, and has a disdain and distrust of big government. Yet, these aren't the reasons I'm nervous. You see, I'd agree there are problems with orthodox Darwinian evolution (but support other unorthodox evolutionary theories) and have no problem with the "concept" of limited government, albeit I disagree with most conservatives on where to draw the line.

No, the reason I'm nervous is Perry (and Michelle Bachman for that matter) still buys into the popular evangelical fairy-tale notion that America is a Christian nation the roots of which we must return, or else. His kick-off prayer meeting was part political ploy and part rallying cry for true believers. By quoting strategically selected scripture (Joel 2), he told the audience, and the whole conservative evangelical movement, that he's one of them--one who, in the context of the OT prophet Joel, is calling our nation to repent of our sins (think gay and abortion rights) and return to the Lord. At Falwell's Liberty University, Perry said "America is going to be guided by some set of values. The question is gonna be, whose values? It's those Christian values that this country was based upon." Never mind that's not exactly true. We're equally based on Enlightenment values and some of the "Christian" values of our early history were detestable.

But what makes me really nervous is how Perry and the religious right and my old pastor Lou Engle (of The Call) define "Christian values." It's an extremely narrow, black-and-white view of Christ that I am all too familiar with, having spent almost 25 years in this movement. It's a view that ignores huge swaths of Christ's teachings. One that promotes OT law over NT grace (think Perry's pride at the 200+ executions in his state), militaristic solutions over non-violent alternatives, criminalization of homosexuality, protection of the rich from equitable tax increases, literalistic biblicism, and control (influence at the very least and dominion at worst) of government and major sectors of society. Some very devoted Christians would say these aren't Jesus' values at all.

These evangelical pseudo "Christian" values consider anyone outside the conservative fold as part and parcel of the enemy in a world of "spiritual warfare." It can't recognize that God works outside the institutional evangelical church/parachurch, reveals himself to people of other religions, and our current President, although obviously not perfect, is a devoted follower of Christ and might actually have some Christian values of his own!

What makes me nervous is not the Christian values, but the inconsistency in claiming them--the narrow mindset--and how it negatively affects public policy.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Does Jesus Need Saving?

Yes, according to the Saving Jesus Redux DVD I recently purchased. "Kidnapped by the Christian Right, discarded by the Secular Left, Jesus needs saving." I'm enjoying the host of theologians that explore a more credible Christ for the 21st century and yes, I give a hearty "amen" to the program's premise.

In my experience within evangelicalism, the Christ of the scriptures (and of the original first century gatherings of followers), although honored as Lord in evangelical churches, was routinely used to espouse political, social, and "moral" positions that today I find are foreign to the gospel message. Pushing church hierarchy and programs, mandatory doctrines, acceptable behavior codes, and devotional rituals come to mind. As does condemning gays and lesbians, worshiping the Bible, preaching exclusive salvation, and twisting scripture to create a "last days" mentality that assumes we are on the cusp of the "end" with the world going to pot. These attitudes provoked an "us vs. them" approach to life and society that can be seen in religious right personalities today, including some of the leading Republican candidates (think Rick Perry and Michelle Bachman) and their supporters who come across like only their brand of Jesus is authentic.

On the other end, are secularists who mock all faith and ignore Jesus as an irrelevant religious teacher of a bygone era who has no claim on modern society. It appears they haven't twisted scripture, but have discounted Christ's teaching based on those who have.

This set of discussions on DVD is more evidence for the new trend that Harvey Cox explains as the Age of the Spirit--a movement where traditional Christianity is giving way to more grassroots and organic communities of faith (rather than institutions) who take Jesus seriously, respect biblical scholarship and historical evidence, and focus on the inclusive message of the good news, particularly that love, not religious law, is paramount. Yes, Jesus, and his teaching, need saving. Listen to Saving Jesus and see how you can help with the rescue.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Church on Tap!

I meet with a group of progressive Christians at a restaurant or pub from time to time to discuss spirituality. You never know who is going to show up! Last week, eight people came, representing a continuum from conservative evangelical to avowed atheist and everything in between. My friend Jonathan, said, "I live for this kind of discussion!"

These type of meet ups are critical to build bridges in the religious community. No one is trying to convert the other and everyone's perspective is respected, although also occasionally challenged in good faith. These meetings are foreign to my days in my evangelical enclave, where people were content to build an alternate moralistic universe (where everyone basically believes the same way) to protect themselves from the "world."

So during the conversation, a guy name James announces, "I go to a Foursquare church and wanted to get outside the walls, so started Church on Tap. Our group gets together at a different microbrewery every month to encourage each other and share our love for good brew."

If you know about my new book, you'll know both of these meetings sound familiar. At the end of each chapter, which deals with a hot-topic issue, friends and I discuss it over a couple of microbrews. I believe these types of organic groups are key to the future of Christianity and a way of building bridges with others of various spiritual stripes. Meeting at microbreweries is just one of a myriad of ideas. The important thing is to get outside (and in some cases, out from under) the church structure.

Our progressive Seattle Meetup and Church on Tap are good examples of an emerging trend. I'll drink to that! Will you join me?