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I’ve decided to post my favorite posts from my Facebook wall during the preceding week each Friday.  Here’s Last week on Facebook.

From Monday, September 26:
“We have long suffered in silence when life happens, not wanting to question God’s almighty will or ability to know what is best for us. But the Bible is full of individuals who were messes – David, Saul who became Paul, the woman at the well – individuals whom God used in spite of their messy lives. We are all messes in some way. We fail miserably. But God still sees us as beautiful.”
Valda, the head nurse at the assisted living unit where Betty D. King lived her final weeks, speaking to Betty’s son, Michael A. King, quoted in his article “Naming the shadows,” The Christian Century, 8 February 2011, page 12-13.

During the week I shared a host of pictures snagged from other Facebook friends (most of whom shared them from other Facebook friends, etc.).  Here they are:

I’ve decided to post my three favorite posts from my Facebook wall during the preceding week each Friday.  Here’s Last week on Facebook.

From Sunday, September 18:
“When Fred Rogers received a Lifetime Achievement Emmy award in 1998, he asked the celebrity audience to take ten seconds of silence to think about people who had loved them into being and helped them become who they are. Within seconds weeping and sobs could be heard throughout the audience. Then Rogers said, ‘May God be with you,’ and sat down.  Eliot Daley, a Presbyterian minister who had worked with Rogers, says it is significant that Rogers didn’t say, ‘God bless you.’ Rogers knew that the people were already blessed by God. He wanted the people in the audience to be aware that God was with them.”
(Huffington Post, 30 June 2011, quoted in “Century Marks” in “The Christian Century,” 26 June 2011)

From Thursday, September 22:
I posted a picture of Elizabeth Warren with this quote:

“There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Here’s the quote in video format:

From today, Friday, September 23:
I posted this wonderful protest picture that “Americans Against the Tea Party” had posted on Facebook.

This Sunday, my church (Niles Discovery Church) will be presenting our fourth graders with new Bibles.  It’s a long tradition of giving kids a Bible of their own, one that they can read and, as we say in the bookplate we put in it, “when you wear it out, return it for a new one.”

As a pastor and a progressive Christian, I want to give the kids a Bible that is both a translation that the kids can read (that’s written at a level they can comprehend) and that is accurate.  This poses a particular challenge when it comes to two letters in the Bible that have been used to condemn lgbt people (especially gay men).

I know it’s a problem because when I was an adolescent, trying to come to terms with my own sexuality, I went to my Bible to see what it said about being gay, and I found 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  Right there, in the Bible my church had given me, I read, “Surely you know that the wicked will not possess God’s Kingdom. Do not fool yourselves; people who are immoral or who worship idols or are adulterers or homosexual perverts or who steal or are greedy or are drunkards or who slander others or are thieves – none of these will possess God’s Kingdom.” (Good News Translation)

Sure, there are other passages that are used to clobber lgbt people.  There’s the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, in Genesis 19:1-11, but the issue here isn’t so much one of translation as it is of interpretation.  The rape the men of Sodom wanted to commit has been confused with the consensual sex between adult men.  I’m glad God condemned rape.

Leviticus 18:22 & Leviticus 20:13 (those “abomination” passages from the Holiness Code) are pretty clear, but there’s so much else in the Holiness Code that we reject that even my teenaged mind was able to reject these passages, too.  Though, this does raise interesting questions about how we should treat the holiness code (do we ignore it, pick and choose from it, accept all of it, try to find an ethic underneath it rather than the specifics of it?).

There’s Romans 1:26-27, where “unnatural” sex – defined as same-gender relations – is condemned.  But I knew that behaving heterosexually is unnatural for me, so even this passage didn’t clobber me like the others.

No, it was 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that clobbered me.

So as we’ve prepared to present Bibles to our fourth graders, I’ve been looking at various translations to see how they deal with 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (and a similar passage, 1 Timothy 1:9-10).

With the understanding that the New Revised Standard Version is one of the more accurate English translations available, I started there, looking at how it dealt with the Greek.  The NRSV translates 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, “… fornicators (pornos), idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes (malakos), sodomites (arsenokoites), thieves, …”

Malakos literally means soft or fancy (see Matthew 11:8).  For Paul, probably meant “effeminate,” which would have been a problem because it would be breaking gender roles that were such a part of the social hierarchy; or “vanity,” obsessed with his looks, which has nothing to do with sexual orientation or behavior.

Arsenokoites is a Greek word play: male + bed + [make it a verb] = malebedder.  What’s the best way to understand this word?  A common translation understanding is the adult male in a man/adolescent relationship that could happen in Greek and Roman cultures.  Others think “men who use sex as a means of violence; men who commit rape” is a better understanding of this term.

The NRSV translation is pretty accurate, but it leaves open the question of how to interpret the English word “sodomite.”  Besides, the English used is at least high school level, so it’s not a good translation to give to fourth graders.

The English Standard Version doesn’t do a good job:  “Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”  Their footnote says, “The two Greek terms translated by this phrase [men who practice homosexuality] refer to the passive and active partners in consensual homosexual acts.”  The NIV, which translates the Greek word in question as “men who have sex with men,” has a similarly bad footnote.

Turning to translations that are supposed to be accessible for elementary schoolers, the Contemporary English Version is a bad translation:  “No one who … behaves like a homosexual.”  The new Common English Bible is even worse:  “both participants in same-sex intercourse” as the translation and “submissive and dominant male sexual partners” as a footnote, which is just a stereotyped understanding of gay sexuality.

Of the English translations that are supposed to be accessible to kids, only The Message translates these verses in a way that I find acceptable (though is does border on being a paraphrase):  “Don’t you realize that this is not the way to live? Unjust people who don’t care about God will not be joining in his kingdom. Those who use and abuse each other, use and abuse sex, use and abuse the earth and everything in it, don’t qualify as citizens in God’s kingdom.”

I mentioned earlier that 1 Timothy 1:9-10 is similar to 1 Corinthians 6:9-10.  The Timothy passage also has the word arsenokoites in it – with similar translation problems.  For instance, the NRSV translates these verses, “This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching …”  However, the Message translates them, “It’s obvious, isn’t it, that the law code isn’t primarily for people who live responsibly, but for the irresponsible, who defy all authority, riding roughshod over God, life, sex, truth, whatever!”

So, tomorrow, we give our fourth graders Bibles.  We’re giving them Contemporary English Version Bibles because it’s the version we have copies of in a closet at the church.  I hope we spring for The Message next year!

By the way, I’ll be teaching a Confirmation Class this year – junior and senior high youth.  They’ll be getting the NRSV New Interpreters Study Bible.  And we’ll spend some time going over these difficult passages as a way to learn about the challenges of biblical interpretation and to address head-on these clobber passages from a progressive Christian point of view.

Fundamentalist Christian darling Rob Bell made a bit of a splash when his book Love Wins came out this past spring – and fundamentalist Christians were none too pleased with him.  The center the controversy was the contention held by many Christians (fundamentalist and not) that only Christians escape Hell when this life is over – that and the question, is Bell espousing Universalism (the belief that all humans are saved through Jesus Christ)?

I haven’t read the book, so I don’t know how to answer the question (though the Mars Hill website contends Bell is not espousing Universalism).  However, the whole issue of fundamentalism and hell got me thinking.

The whole notion that there is an eternal divide between those who are saved and those who are not, leads to “us/them” thinking.  As long as any religion argues (rightly or wrongly) that some (read: “we”) are saved and some (read: “they”) are condemned, the supposed eternal dividing line is going to be imported to this world.  And when people embrace dividing lines, they subconsciously embrace the emotional foundation to self-justifying violence.

I am a Universalist.  I focus much more on John 3:17 than on John 3:16.  I focus on God sending Jesus into the world, not to condemn the world, but that whole world would be saved.  I realize, too, that embracing this belief I am embracing an emotional foundation that makes violence harder.

Three posts on the web were all brought to my attention yesterday, all relating to attitudes toward sexual minority people.

First, the Southern Poverty Law Center, probably the most important organization monitoring hate and hate groups in the United States, released their winter Intelligence Report in late 2010.  In the article, “Gays Remain Minority Most Targeted by Hate Crimes,” reminds us that the Christian Right actually blamed the victims of anti-gay bullying and the organizations that seek to protect them for the bullying gay kids receive and for the suicides that much to frequently follow:

Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association said gay rights activists “pressure these students to declare a disordered sexual preference when they’re too young to know better, [so] they share some culpability.” Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, a key critic of anti-bullying programs, said gay activists were “exploiting these tragedies to push their agenda.” He said that gay kids may know “intuitively” that their desires are “abnormal” and that the claim, pushed by gay activists, that they can’t change “may create a sense of despair that can lead to suicide.” Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel said those activists want “to use the tragedies to increase pressure on the real victims: Christians.”

However, the Report concludes that, in fact, lgbt people and people perceived to be lgbt “are by far the group most targeted in American for violent hate crimes.”

The bottom line: Gay people are more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or blacks; more than four times as likely as Muslims; and 14 times as likely as Latinos.

The second posting is an essay by Mark D. Jordan on Religion Dispatches (posted on March 22), “Who Wins When Bible is Blamed for Gay Bashing?”  The thrust of Jordan’s essay is not what concerns me today (you can read it if you’re curious).  Instead, I was shocked to learn about the news story that sparked his writing.  Quoting from the essay:

[A] young man is accused of killing an older man for making sexual advances. The weapon was a sock filled with stones; the young man told police that he had been instructed in prayer to apply the Old Testament punishment of stoning.

Combined with the article from the Southern Poverty Law Center, this news is depressing – both for lgbt people and for progressive Christians.

And then, I came upon a third posting on The Christian Science Monitor website.  The opinion piece by Jonathan Merritt posted on March 24, “Evangelical shift on gays: Why ‘clobber scriptures’ are losing ground” brings some good news.

Merritt notes, “The truth is that the vast majority of evangelicals – approximately 7 in 10 – still say they believe homosexual behavior is ‘morally wrong.’”  Nonetheless, he (and I) see a shift coming.  The shift is coming from the younger generation.  Jay Bakker (son of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, yes that Jim and Tammy Faye) is calling for a re-evaluation of the Christian right’s stand on lgbt people.  Merritt writes:

Brian McLaren, bestselling author and founder of the emerging church movement, moved toward affirmation of gays and lesbians in his 2010 book “A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.” He condemns Christians’ obsession with sexuality and urges them to construct “a more honest and robust Christian anthropology.” Christian music icons Jennifer Knapp and Ray Boltz came out of the closet this past year and asked their fans to reconsider their views.

Apparently the sociological data support this conclusion:

Robert Jones, president of Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), says the data he’s collected bears this shift out. For example, PRRI’s research found that a majority of young evangelicals (ages 18 to 34) now support recognition for some sort of same-sex union. While PRRI’s president Robert Jones is hesitant to predict the future, he notes that the trends among evangelicals on same-sex issues all point in one direction and the group can expect “sea change within a generation.”

The news for lgbt people (and for progressive Christians) isn’t always good.  Lgbt folk are still the primary targets of hate crimes.  People still use the Bible to justify murder.  But things are changing.  Even conservative Christianity may be catching up with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

On July 28, Anne Rice, the famous author, announced on her Facebook fan page that she “quit being a Christian.”

Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

Still committed to Christ, but no longer a Christian.  I have a little problem with that language.  To me, a Christian is someone who is committed to Christ.  As I read Ms. Rice’s comments, I understand her to be saying that she’s a Christian who doesn’t want to be part of an institutional church.  No doubt she’d disagree with me; for her, being a Christian is about being part of a (the) church.

As I said … I quit being a Christian. I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

It seems to me that it’s the dogma of the Roman Catholic Church that Ms. Rice is objecting to.  I belong to the United Church of Christ, and if Ms. Rice has said this to me directly, I would have said to her, “Hey Anne, I’m part of a Christian denomination that is for gender and sexual orientation equality, that remains pro-choice as a matter of personal conscience, that is pro-humanity, and that is the very basis of the American form of democracy (okay, the Presbyterians helped out, too).”

I wasn’t surprised when, two days after her announcement, staff in the national settings of the UCC started a Facebook page, “You’d like the UCC, Anne Rice.”  Apparently some 3.400 people “Liked” this page within 48 hours.

All of this noise got me thinking, so I posted on my Facebook page this comment:

“Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car,” the saying goes. But I gotta tell you, I don’t know how to be a Christian [read: being committed to Christ] without being part of a Christian community!

What I was getting at was how being part of a faith community is an important part of my growing in faith and being accountable for my faith journey.   But then faith is much more about a journey than a destination for me.  It seems to me that a commitment to Christ is relational and relationships aren’t static.

My thought generated some comments of its own.  Here are some of them:

  • Very true, Jeff. I appreciate Anne Rice’s wit, wordsmithing, and desire to follow Christ, but I am flummoxed about how one does that without the community of believers. We have to live together, eat together, argue things together, but the point is that we who claim the name have to be together.
  • Yes, to both Jeff & Michael. I am reminded that, in the Catholic monastic tradition, only a nun / monk with the most mature faith, spirituality, discipline, and groundedness in the life of her / his monastic community is given permission to become a hermit and live alone. As fallible people, we need the community in which to grow, learn, be tested, in which to worship, share the Bread & Wine of Eucharist, work, support one another, in which to do the works of mercy, justice, and peace.
  • Ditto. I grieve her decision, and wonder about the public “news conference” approach to it. But there’s no question that the flaws (flagrant and otherwise) of church people do a number on the credibility of the body created by the Spirit.
  • Thanks, Jeff, for making a critical point about this brouhaha that no one else seems to be making!
  • Does this UCC campaign seem a bit exploitative to anyone besides me – if we really wanted to invite her to the UCC wouldn’t it have been nicer over a cup of tea? I’m not talking about the theological dialogue, but using her photo and name …
  • I agree, just a phone call from a local UCC pastor would seem more appropriate … does Ms Rice live anywhere near Northern California?
  • She commits the “Hitchkins” fallacy (named after Hitchens and Dawkins) of confusing the whole of Christianity with a particularly public version of Christianity…. if you haven’t yet, check out Terry Eagleton’s wonderful Reason, Faith and Revolution for how he eviscerates this wrongheaded confusion. But hey, she IS the thinking person’s Stephanie Meyer after all, and worth attending to … ? As far as the church thing, I remain ambivalent. For it on Sundays, mixed feelings by Mondays…

Would you care to add a comment?

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