Jesus loves the death penalty

Special edition:

I'm posting a few days early this week because tonight Austin's First Baptist Church is putting Jesus on Trial under Texas death penalty laws. The program, developed around Mark Osler's book “Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment” is designed to challenge Christians to think about the death penalty. Osler proposed the trial after the church's pastor Roger Paynter delivered a sermon on Sandy Hook that proposed gun control and better awareness of mental health.

Surprisingly for many Texans, Painter is still pastor of the church. But we should remember it is the First Baptist Church of Austin, which isn't really Texas but a mecca for liberalism and sin in a state where our bibles are almost as big as our belt buckles.

The trial will be free to attendees, and I'm all for it. I've always thought it odd that Texas and our esteemed Governor Perry rushed to kill health care to women to stop abortions but can't wait to shuffle us off to lethal injection once we emerge from the womb. We have dispatched more former fetuses than any other state.

On the other hand, I'm not sure what the trial will add to our thinking about capital punishment, especially in Texas, where our hat brims are bigger than our brains. I'm pretty sure we're for it, because Jesus was for it. You can ask any Texan, at least outside of Austin, and we can give you three reasons why we love our death penalty:

  • Without the death penalty we couldn't preserve our second amendment rights. Don't ask me to explain this. If you lived here you would understand.
  • Without the death penalty, we couldn't be saved. You don't have to be from Texas to understand this, you just need to read your Bible. If the Romans didn't have the death penalty, Jesus would have died of old age in prison and God would make us pay for our sins.
  • If it was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for the lowlifes who deserve it.

That being said, if you have a chance to attend, I encourage you to do so, and not just because it will probably be more entertaining than hoops or listening to MacWhiney complain about her life on Gray's Anatomy. Jesus encouraged believers to open their minds. It's not his fault that so many of us aren't listening.

Strong Drink and Papal Privilege

We have a new pope, and with him a mixed message. The Catholic Church may or may not change direction on significant social issues, especially the use of contraceptives to prevent sexually transmitted disease. Not too mixed, however. The consensus is probably not. Let's face it, if you're at risk of catching STDs, you probably not having sex with your lawfully married reproductive partner, so I can't see the Pope or the moral majority expressing much sympathy for you.

I was thinking how the entire papacy is based on a single verse in the Gospels, Matthew 16:18, “You are Peter (literally rock) and upon this rock I will build my church.” Even though there are no examples of a single human church leader in the entire New Testament (rather elders and deacons), even though Jesus has become our priest in the scripture and even though God warned the Old Testament Jews of the dangers of transferring power from a group of judges (e.g. elders) to one man, this verse has become the cornerstone of the justification for an absolute dictator ruling church policy.

A dictator whose power is so absolute that only a succeeding dictator can amend his policy.

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), the idea of a church dictator was about as far from divinity or democracy as you could get without being a Godless Commie. That idea remained paramount in our assessment of the Catholic Church until Roe v. Wade convinced good evangelicals and fundamentalist that politics trumped theology.

But it still remains a single verse, one of thousands that say nothing of the sort, that has created a situation in which change within the Church is next to impossible because one man dictates the beliefs of Catholics worldwide. Disagree too publicly and you're out of there. Even Vatican II, which many considered a cornerstone for possible reform, was significantly undone by Pope Benedict during his short tenure.

As I mentioned earlier, in the New Testament, decisions regarding belief in the early church were made collectively, by apostles and (locally) elders and even then open dissent did not lead to excommunication. In fact, most of our New Testament theology was written by an Apostle, Paul, who openly challenged the man whom Catholics believe to be the original Pope.

Selective theology, the practice of building an entire doctrine around a snippet, can lead believers to read scripture with blinders, and even ignore the true intent of the authors (or, as my Baptist family would insist, God). Many families were convinced to give away their life savings to charlatans with Prosperity doctrines derived from the verse “out of the words of your mouth you will be condemned,” which, in context, was a reference to judicial proceedings.

Generations of Baptists were told to avoid liquor because “strong drink is not for kings,” neglecting the remainder of the passage which said strong drink is for the dying and wine for those in misery so they can forget their poverty. Poverty and injustice brought about, according to that passage, by those very kings who chose to party rather than administer justice.

I don't see the church getting rid of the Pope anytime in the next millennium, so it may seem like a moot point. But I think we should hold the example of the entrenched doctrines of a single religious ruler to mind before we take a single verse as a guidepost for our lives.

So help me

There was a story flying about the Internet about a Republican sponsored bill in the Arizona House that would require high school students to take an oath of education to graduate. Students would swear to support and defend the Constitution with “true faith and allegiance…so help me God.”

When I started tracking this story down the sources seemed to exclusively be progressive (which Republicans consider to be a code word for “liberal, left wing”) sites. For a while I was beginning to suspect the story was the same kind of unverifiable detritus that haunts Republican blogs and websites. But I did finally track down the link I shared, which was to the text of the bill itself. The bill reads:

BEGINNING IN THE 2013‑2014 SCHOOL YEAR, IN ADDITION TO FULFILLING THE COURSE OF STUDY AND ASSESSMENT REQUIREMENTS PRESCRIBED IN THIS CHAPTER, BEFORE A PUPIL IS ALLOWED TO GRADUATE FROM A PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOL IN THIS STATE, THE PRINCIPAL OR HEAD TEACHER OF THE SCHOOL SHALL VERIFY IN WRITING THAT THE PUPIL HAS RECITED THE FOLLOWING OATH:I, _________, DO SOLEMNLY SWEAR THAT I WILL SUPPORT AND DEFEND THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES AGAINST ALL ENEMIES, FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC, THAT I WILL BEAR TRUE FAITH AND ALLEGIANCE TO THE SAME; THAT I TAKE THIS OBLIGATION FREELY, WITHOUT ANY MENTAL RESERVATION OR PURPOSE OF EVASION; AND THAT I WILL WELL AND FAITHFULLY DISCHARGE THESE DUTIES; SO HELP ME GOD.

I don't know why it's all caps. Maybe legislation in Arizona is more officious than elsewhere. It's certainly harder to read.

The notion that a high school diploma requires a test of patriotism is bizarre enough. But that would be a Constitutional question. Requiring a student to bundle their support of the Constitution with an affirmation of belief in God goes against the spirit of the Constitution and certainly against Christianity. Jesus believed that faith should be freely given. In fact, all gifts should be freely given.

It also seems to attempt an end run around the Constitution in the name of the Constitution. A pledge of allegiance should not be coerced, but to require it as a condition of receiving a diploma is nothing more than coercion. It is to demand that the sate of Arizona require an affirmation in defiance of the First Amendment.

No doubt the bill's sponsors justify this to stop the erosion of religious and family values they perceive to be endemic in our society. How ironic that their actions threaten the Constitution and Christianity more than those who deny the existence of God altogether.

Tebow Teberty

If you missed last week's post, that's because it wasn't published even though it appeared to be published on my computer. I apologize.

Tim Tebow, never one to shy away from controversy for the Lord, is back in the headlines again for his scheduled appearance at the notorious (or beacon of righteousness) Liberty University. The name is somewhat disingenuous because it was more recognizable under its former name, Liberty Bible College. So what's the problem, some might ask. Isn't he the kind of guy who would appear at a Bible college?

The problem is, according to many progressive watchdogs, LU is run by the Falwell family who have historically attacked gay people, gay couples and the rights of gay couples to marry (among other right wing views). This appearance comes not long after he cancelled on Dallas First Baptist and pastor Robert Jefress for espousing similar views.

To many this speaks of hypocrisy, to others it means Tebow is willing to join a right wing, anti-gay agenda. To the young Christians gathering at LU's national convocation, Tebow is a hero who scores for Jesus and the Jets.

I think it's pretty clear that Tebow has taken a stand against the far-right Christian gay bashing of Christians like Jefress and the Falwells. The question is whether or not his decision to appear at a convocation of young people who consider him a role model is appropriate. Or, more importantly, does Tebow have the right to chose the people with whom he associates?

Jesus ran into the same problems, as I recall. He liked to hang out with hookers and drunks. And he was accised of hypocrisy as well, not to mention giving prostitution and drunkenness his seal of approval. And the more I think about it, he continued to choose his associates, including low life fishermen (the Jewish version of trailer trash) and political activists.

Every once in a while Carol and I let my family drag us to their mega church. It doesn't mean with give them our seal of approval. Christians are not Scientologists. We aren't forbidden to associate with those who disagree with us, in fact, it's a sign of our love that we're willing to do so.

So until Tim says, “You know, I agree with Jefress and the Falwells. I'm so down on gay people and other suspicious leftists and sinners,” I say we let him choose his associates and not hold him accountable for their hatred.