It’s not the gauntlet so much as how you throw it

Father Krysztof Charamsa caused quite a stir when he announced he was gay on the eve of the Synod of Bishops, which was scheduled to address Catholic family issues. His announcement came at the tail end of a whirlwind of bad publicity unleashed across the world after American Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò hijacked a papal reception, claiming Pope Francis met personally to support same sex marriage opponent Kim Davis.

If anyone expected Charamsa to survive his announcement unscathed, least of all Charamsa, they doubtless broke into the Vatican wine cellar and polished off most of the reserves.

I’m not saying Charamsa should never have come out, but I do question his timing, and I question the theater behind his announcement. Pope Francis was still recovering from an embarrassing broadside by the right wing of his administration. He didn’t need a bigger broadside from the left. Nor do I think Charamsa really considered the fallout from his announcement.

Charamsa announced three things to the world:

  1. He announced he is gay. This alone would be enough to bring the conference under the same sex radar just after the Pope’s visit to America did the same. Same sex advocates scored a moral victory when Davis and Viganò’s backhanded scheme blew up in their faces. My personal opinion is that waiting a few months to come out might have shown more grace and brought more momentum to the movement, but I certainly think I would have stopped with the outing. For Charamsa that wasn’t enough.
  2. He announced that he was sexually active with one of his parishioners while practicing his priesthood. This admission took the affair (pun intended) to a new dimension. Charamsa’s declaration abandoned any question of identity. Few church scholars would deny it bordered on impropriety if not outright immorality. Not for the sexual activity, but because a priest should not exercise such influence over a parishioner. Even worse, Charamsa shows no signs of penitence. Instead,
  3. He intends to surrender his vows and take up residence with his lover. No doubt, intending to migrate to America and marry (although this is unspoken). If that doesn’t provide the conservative wing of the Pope’s administration with the ammunition they need to dismantle any momentum same-sex advocates might have gained, I can’t imagine what would.

As an American, I welcome them to our country. I wish them all the happiness in the world. But as a Christian I feel that Charamsa crossed several moral boundaries his lack of remorse renders him unsuitable for the priesthood.

American Christians recognize this moral crossroad every day. As citizens we have liberties we don’t enjoy as Christians. The Christian Right believes our repsonsibility is to deny every American the right to make those choices. But that is the opposite of the exercise of faith. Our responsibility is to make choices that we allow others to make differently. In fact, we should rejoice that others can make different choices that we do.

As to the belief that God is against same sex marriage, well God changes is mind all the time. Read your Bibles. How many times does it say in the Bible that God repented of his decisions? You don’t know? Look it up.

It’s easy to say that God stopped writing the Bible so he obvioulsy has nothing new to say, but I find that answer facetious. I think the Bible stopped being written because we stopped listening.

I think Charamsa stopped listening too. I think he listened too much to his heart and too little to God. Not about being Gay. Not about loving this man he loves. But about choosing to orchestrate this particular moment to come into the light in so dramatic a way when God could have been better served in penitence and good faith.

Facing up to Facebook Jesus

I can’t spend more than ten minutes on Facebook without running past a post challenging me to share my faith by also sharing a heartwarming message about Jesus. Usually the post comes from a friend who is also

  • a Tea Party member
  • posts messages about how they rode in the back of pickups or in cars without seatbelts as children with no damage, and
  • a registered gun-owner and member of the NRA

How can any good Christian
resist reposting this image?

Quite of the post implies that I will be blessed in a very special way by reposting this picture of Jesus, or, on the other hand, will incur God’s wrath or disappointment. And, in spite of the tug on my heartstrings, because the post inevitably invokes the Baptist guilt it was intended to invoke, I skip right past.

Readers might ask why a faithful Christian wouldn’t share these posts and the blessings of God, but my feelings are that faithful Christians should avoid the endless proliferation of these shallow digital samplers, and they are fairly shallow. In the image above we are asked to share if Jesus spoke the truth to the verse “I am the way, the truth and the life….” In essence, to repeat our declaration of faith.

But such a declaration is essentially meaningless, lost in the hundreds of Facebook posts that scroll by evey five minutes. They become little more than white noise. In fact, they have far less impact on other readers than the political screeds ranting about the rights of gun owners and how Obama has betrayed the middle class, or conversely how WalMart has betrayed their employees and the Tea Party is selling American down the river.

The question believers have to ask themselves is whether they need to rise to the challenge of the Facebook faithful or they need to rise to the challenge of Jesus himself, which is to show their faith by giving to the poor and needy, by doing his work in public and not behind a keyboard. Jesus told his followers their tests would not be simple, but difficult. Sometimes, Facebook followers should pay attention to the more subtle messages.

 

 

Truce for now, the Christmas Police are Gone

In some ways it’s a relief that the holidays are over. I grew weary of the ceaseless Facebook posts reminding me that when people wished me seasons greeting and happy holidays it was an affront to Jesus. Yet another year of the war on Christmas. For eleven months I don’t have to listen to it.

It seems that any seasonal greeting has to include the name of Christ in it because Christmas is, after all, Christ’s birthday (it’s not, of course, Jesus was born in the spring, but that’s another topic). Anything less was an affront to God. No doubt you’re used to this; many of you probably insist on it. But it seems to me that while the Christian Right is complaining about the PC police, they’re turning into the Christmas police, determined to tell everyone in America—Christian, Jew, Muslim, or plain old freethinking couch potato on Sunday slob—how they have to celebrate their holidays.

And that’s about as unAmerican as it gets.

Now I grew up a Baptist Preacher’s Kid, so I was used to complaints about XMas (which I never understood because I thought that was putting the Cross in Christmas, even if it was a little lopsided). And nitpicking faith was a particular Baptist pasttime. If your sister wore her hair too long she was offending God, if you sneaked a peak at the Revised Standard you were recrucifying Christ, if you held hands with a girl you were committing adultery in your heart, and there wasn’t a well meaning sentence you could utter that couldn’t be challenged by some verse in the Bible.

But at Christmas, even Baptists would let stuff slide. Those feelings started at Thanksgiving, and ran until the last bowl game on New Year’s Day (that’s right, the bowls used to end with the Orange Bowl on New Year’s). That meant there was a whole season of God’s blessings to celebrate. So from my childhood on I remember people not just saying, “Merry Christmas,” but “Happy Holidays,” and “Seasons Greetings.”

And no one got mad. Not even Christians.

Image courtest of gatesfd.org

But then, a few years ago, someone on the Christian Right learned that the song “White Christmas” was written by Irving Berlin to be a purely secular Christmas song. Uh oh. And then the Christian Right learned that stores would post ”Happy Holidays” and “Seasons Greetings” to be inclusive seasonal banners for all of their customers, including those who weren’t Christians.

That’s right, “Happy Holidays” and ”Seasons Greetings” arent intended to piss Christians off, they’re meant to include Christians and non-Christians. It’s called sharing. They’re meant in the spirit of Christmas, which is to share the love and joy of family (Thanksgiving), New Years and Jesus.

For some reason, however, the Christian Right wants to play the Grinch and police how the rest of us celebrate (even when some of the rest of us are Christian). For some reason, when a festive celebrater says to a Christian, “Happy Holidays,” they say, “You’re stealing Christ from Christmas.”

What a way to deflate the joy of the season. You’d think they could at least turn the other cheek.

Here’s the bottom line: There are two Christmas celebrations in America. The Christmas Christians celebrate, and the Federal holiday created by law. Sorry, Christian Right, that holiday has nothing to do with Jesus. That holiday is for all Americans, Christian or not, and it’s theirs to celebrate as they please. It would not just be wrong for you to ruin their Christmas to be a buzzkill by telling them what they can and cannot say to you in their attempts to share the joy of celebration.

It would be unAmerican. And it would be a sin.

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PS. After a years hiatus, I’m back. I took time off because of health problems and to finish my novel Cigerets, Guns & Beer on iBooks, Kindle and Nook. I won’t be posting as regularly because I’m also working on a new novel, Seeing Jesus, and posting a blog on Goodreads.

 

If it’s textbook, it must be wrong

It used to be that people respected textbooks. We referred to “textbook examples” as the ones that were the most reliable. If someone was skeptical of something we said, we could tell them to look it up in the textbook.

But not in Texas. In Texas, the Textbook must be wrong, and we can thank Jesus for that. Or at least Texas Jesus.

Texas Jesus is a different breed of Jesus than the Jesus I read about in my Bible. Texas Jesus believes that if people don't do what you want, bully them into submission. Rick Perry preaches his message when he turned away federal health care dollars and vetoed an equal pay bill. The Texas Board of Education preaches this message when they use their purchasing clout to dictate science.

It's a familiar story, but in this round of textbook adoptions the Texas Board of Education assigned creationists to the textbook review process. If the books don't score high enough, schools don't adopt them in Texas. If they don't adopt them in Texas, they don't get adopted. So publishers are forced to concede to some dubious content changes, including:

  • No transitional fossils have ever been discovered (sure, we would always like more, but none?)
  • No evidence that the fossil record implies evolution occurred.
  • No evidence that climate change has affected the environment.

True Texas science (courtesy of allposters.com)

For all of their complaints about being abused and maligned, the religious right, especially those in my home state, are an especially arrogant lot. They suffer under the delusion that society must cater to them and they should dictate what others are taught to believe.

The Christian Right constantly whines that it isn't the government's responsibility to feed the poor, or regulate health care, but they seem to believe it's the government's responsibility to make sure children are taught the world according to Jesus. That is the world according to Texas Jesus.

There is an essential arrogance in the Christian Right that was lacking in the real Jesus or the original Christians. It never occurred to Christians that the government would be responsible for teaching the faith to their children. That was their responsibility. The government was the enemy and the world was hostile to them. It was only when they seized control of empire that their attitudes changed.

In Texas Christians control the empire, hence our lack of humility. But to lose our humility is to lose an essential element of our Christianity. The government isn't responsible for teaching our children or making our textbooks Jesus friendly. The Bible says God appoints government for the care of everyone. That includes those who don't believe. So get over it, and teach your kids the right way yourself.

 

Under siege or seeking attention?

In 2006, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council swore to Chris Matthews that eighty percent of evangelicals agree that religion in this country, in particular, Christianity, is under attack. He was citing a 2005 Defamation League poll, and, to be honest, these results are about the most skewed in that direction I recall seeing. But it's a sentiment I hear over and over again.

It goes hand in hand with the rabid anti-American rhetoric that accompanied the Tea Party coup that shut the government down for more than two weeks. And it was an anti-American coup. So let's be honest about the pictire being painted here: Christians in America, not all Christians, but a select handful, are a remnant of the faithful standing guard against a corrupt society hurling every possible abuse and temptation and they alone will be found worthy at the end of time.

This is, to be honest, a sentiment right out of the book of Revelations, a view that the righteous were a select few who earned their way to salvation by remaining pure through trials and tribulations that others are too weak to withstand. A view rejected by many Christians as running counter to the message of grace that dominates the Gospels and Paul's letters. A view that was one of the main reasons the Eastern Orthodox churches wanted Revelation to be kept out of the New Testament Canon.

It is also a view that persists in spite of the fact that Christians in America, even Evangelicals, have it better than Christians any where in the world. Considering the physical attacks on Christians in Egypt and Syria, I would think American Christians, especially evangelicals, would be publicly praising God for the liberty to worship, pray and preach in public.

Yet we still read outrageous claims such as: Christianity in America is coming under attack like never before. While Islam and other religions get a free pass, it’s open season on the Judeo-Christian faith, or Christianity is under attack by this administration. Not religion, but just a particular brand of religion. If you're Muslim you get special consideration. But not if you are Christian.

In the post Christians under siege Dr. James White made the more reasonable statement that, “The developing fear is that government will make people choose between obeying the law and following their faith.” Unfortunately, in almost every example I've ever explored, that choice has been a misunderstanding of what the government is asking, or, more often, a misunderstanding of what Jesus demands of believers.

Most often evangelicals assume religious liberty means their right to practice lazy faith. They believe they should never be asked to be required to deal with people who disagree with them, inconvenience their own beliefs, cater to the beliefs of others, or even practice the rigors of their own faith. Their concept of religious freedom is their right to practice Christianity in a vacuum in which their communities, schools, businesses and airwaves support their beliefs and never give them reason to be aware that others believe differently.

In other words, they want America to be like the one they think existed in a past that never was, when there were no Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists or free thinkers.

White offered four examples where Christians were asked by government to violate the principles of their faith (all having to do with same sex couples). He doesn’t explore them in detail, but I think we should:

  • Catholic Charities in Illinois shut down its adoption services rather than place children with same-sex couples (as the state required).
  • A Christian counselor was penalized for refusing to advise gay couples.
  • A court clerk in New York was told to issue same-sex marriage licenses, despite religious reservations.
  • A wedding photographer was sued for refusing to shoot a same-sex wedding.

Let’s start with a principle outlined in Matthew 20:1-6. I'm not going to cite it, you should know it (or you can look it up). Basically, A vineyard hires workers to work the fields for the afternoon for ten dollars (let’s say they're migrants). An hour later he hires more for ten dollars, an hour later still more for the same rate and with an hour to go still more for the same rate. The workers who work longer think they'll get a bump, but Jesus says they should be willing to accept the work they agreed to.

This isn't just a principle of Christianity, it's contract law. Speaking of contract law, in the sermon on the mount, Jesus says, if any man will sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well. So it sounds like Jesus expects you to fulfill your contracts as a given. So with this in mind let's look at White's examples.

If Catholic Charities contracted with the state to handle their adoption services, they knew in advance they would be expected to meet all requirements, including new requirements. Since the law changes all the time they had to know they would sooner or later be expected to adopt to same-sex couples. If they could no longer fulfill this requirement, this is not the government's fault. It can hardly be an attack on religion.

But I have to ask why they drew the line at same sex couples. Doesn’t the church disapprove equally of divorce and abortion? Does Catholic Charities adopt to couples who were previously divorced or mothers who had abortions?

Similarly, if a Christian is interviewing for a job as a counselor, he is responsible for finding out if his employer expects him to counsel gay couples not the other way around. The employer does not work for him. If the employer makes it a condition of employment, then he should turn down the job. And before you argue Christian persecution, homosexuality is just as abhorrent to Islam and Judaism, so counselors from those faiths face the same concerns. The same goes for court clerks.

If a wedding photographer is sued for not photographing a same-sex wedding, the Christian thing to do, according to Matthew is to pay. On the other hand, I don't see this as a religious freedom issue. I don't see the court siding with the plaintiff in this case. Unless the photographer took their money and then refused to take the photos. And then the issue has nothing to do with religious freedom. It's theft, pure and simple.

Let’s think this through. Can't have a Christmas tree in your town square? That's sad. In Austin, we can. But you know what, we can all have one in our homes. And we can carry our bibles any where we want, and read them in the open. And we can talk about them anywhere. I have never been thrown out of anyplace but a library for talking publicly about the bible with others (not preaching, but having a conversation). And no one has ever arrested me for praying silently in public, or saying, “Praise The Lord.”

Come to think about it, even non believers say, “Jesus Christ,” out loud in public and they have never been arrested.

You can drive around with bumpers stickers about Jesus on your car. Even really obnoxious ones. And I've seen plenty. You can tell people you're a Christian without going to jail. You can argue with your college professor about Jesus without consequence (even if you're convinced she'll fail you). You can petition your city council about public prayer without being sent to prison. You can march on Washington, you can challenge politicians, you can even call the President a tool of Satan without retaliation.

So if you are a Christian in America, and you get that feeling that you're being persecuted, try something with me. Say, “Thank you, Jesus, that I get to be in America, where we have more religious freedom than anywhere else.”

And quit your whining.

 

Release the hostages

So here's the bottom line. Paul, in the book of Romans, makes it clear that God appoints government to protect those who do good and punish those who do bad (Romans 13). If we are faithful, we have nothing to fear from government.

According to the Christian Right and their political wing, the Tea Party, government punishes good people and rewards the bad, which is why they have shut it down. And who are the bad? Those in need of health care, those in need of retirement benefits, and the poor.

This is the supreme irony, that the Tea Party would shut down health care and care to widows and poor in spite of scripture's injunctions to heal the sick, feed the poor and care for widows and orphans. But the Christian Right has shown no need to heed the injunctions of scripture, to show compassion, or even to show humility—all of the benchmarks of faith.

If they would take care of the poor and sick in the private sector they praise it might not matter, but, of course, they don't.

They are fortunate that God will forgive them, although I doubt they will ever feel the need.

The rest of us can only pray enough Republicans will come to their senses that the Tea Party block will cease to matter.

 

Health and government for none. Apocalypse for all.

The Tea Party success in shutting down the government is about as far from a victory for Christ as I can imagine.

They have been very good about not dragging Jesus into this debate the way they drag him into everything else, which is ironic. After all Jesus sent his disciples out into the world to heal (read Mark 6) and the Tea Party wants to take a bill away which was designed to provide the health care Jesus wanted people to have.

Do we see these Christians trying to get that health care to the people who would lose it? No more than Rick Perry and his ilk tried to find health care for all those who will be losing it when he closes down every clinic in Texas.

But they want more than that. They want to shut government down completely and this got them what they wanted. Michelle Bachmann even came out an admitted as much the day after the shut down.

The Tea Party is closely tied to the Christian Right who loves apocalypse. The Late Great Planet Earth is usually treated as the Third Testament. The shut down plays into their wildest fantasies. This could even trigger the Rapture. Their rapture over the shut down is undeniable.


Masada, a symbol of the devastation from an intransigent political party

Of course there is a distinct danger to playing out these end game scenarios, especially with so much brinksmanship at stake. The Jews learned this lesson when they took on Nero and his general Titus. The Radical Jews decided they had too much taxation too and decided to shut down the Imperial presence in Jerusalem.

And they brought the government crashing down too. Their own. The Romans ended any semblance of Israel’s home rule, destroyed the temple and the last illusion of Jewish autonomy. But they had their moral victory, and the Tea Party will have theirs.

Unfortunately, Jesus' kingdom is not about victories, moral or otherwise. It's about service. And healing. And the Tea Party is offering neither.