Better to Marry Than to Burn

I posted the concluding thought on Facebook a few weeks ago and family members were a little miffed that I “misused” scripture, so I decided to misuse it for a larger audience. After all, misuse of scripture is one of our proudest Protestant traditions, and one which I have discussed many times before. Martin Luther believed the scripture was accessible to all and should be the responsibility of Christians to interpret.

Like many of my own evangelical family (although he would not have considered himself evangelical) Luther thought the scriptures were transparent and not open to interpretation. Open reading of the scripture was preferable to the Catholic practice of reading scriptures in Latin and telling the laity (or idiota) what they meant. Unfortunately, the meaning of scripture is far from obvious, as is made obvious by the constant fracturing of Christian ideology.

For example, many fundamentalist Christians choose to exclude same sex couples from the rites of marriage based on a single passage in Genesis (2:24) repeated in Matthew 19:5, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one.” This is the only verse that really can be used to address marriage since other verses addressing homosexuality condemn them to death and eternal damnation. The latter is out of our jurisdiction and just about everyone, except for a few ultra-right crazies, prefers to ignore the former.

The problem is, Jesus is pretty specific that the verse applies to divorce, not same-sex marriage. Nor, unfortunately, does the word “marriage” actually show up in either passage. Jesus uses the verse as an analogy to the lifetime commitment entailed in marriage, telling us it is wrong to set aside our wives for anything but adultery. Husbands, by a literal interpretation, are off the hook, but we would be loathe to restrict the literal meaning of the verse to a wive's adultery. In other words, we don't even apply the same standards of interpretation to a single verse.

So let's try the same approach to other scriptures to see what we can come up with:

In Romans 1 Paul does not label homosexuality a sin but he merely says they “burn with lust” for each other. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul says the best way to stop couples from extramarital sex is for them to marry, because “it is better to marry than to burn.”

So I don't see any way around it. By using the same principles of interpretation used by opponents of same sex marriage, it turns out that God actually wants gay couples to marry so they will no longer engage in promiscuous extramarital sex. Gay marriage has the scriptural seal of approval after all.

Love is not “not hating”

A couple of weeks ago, CNN commentator Don Lemon did a day of hot topics, filled with so many guests I couldn't keep track of them, and, to be truthful I was only watching because Carol loves CNN, and I hate college hoops. I use the word “hate” for a reason.

The topic turned to gay marriage, most likely because Lemon is openly gay, and the most vocal opponent to same-sex marriage kept insisting he didn't hate, or even discriminate, against gays. Gay marriage isn't marriage because (we all know the line) marriage is between a man and a woman.

Let's be up front. Marriage as an institution between two sexes is a Christian concept, not a Constitutional one. When called upon to justify the claim, opponents of same-sex marriage, inevitably invoke the Christian scriptures, most frequently Matthew 5:31-32. Granted the Jewish and Moslem scriptures condemn homosexual behavior, but they don't say that same-sex can't marry any more than witches, adulterers and infidels. The Matthew verse seems to seal the deal for marriage. This makes the opposition to gay marriage uniquely Christian.

It's important to make this distinction because that makes laws preventing same-sex marriage uniquely discriminatory. They deny couples a civil right (and civil marriage is a civil right) based on the views of a religious minority. It would be okay for churches to decline to marry gay couples on religious grounds, but couples would still be able to seek civil approval. So to argue against same-sex marriage based on the Bible is to sidestep the issue. The New Testament holds no authority over the Congress or the Constitution.

So much for not discriminating. How about the not hating part?

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I know from long experience that “hate” is a code word for denying responsibility. I've heard it since childhood. “We don't hate the sinner, we just hate the sin.” It's as if “not hating” excuses a multitude of sins.

It also misses the point. Jesus does not command his followers to “not hate,” he commands us to love. In fact those are really the only two commandments. So when Christians try to let themselves off the hook for discriminatory and hateful behavior by saying they don't hate personally, they're not off the hook.

If we truly love someone we want what is in their best interest, not our own. We do not hold them subject to the standards we hold ourselves to, should they choose a different path. And we do not use the government to impose a Christian morality on those who aren't Christians. Rather, we embrace them, invite them into the light and give them time to grow in the love of God.

If they choose not to follow, it is not our job to punish them, or even judge them. And if you haven't figured that out by now, you need to reread the New Testament. Not one verse or six. All of it.

Sidebar:

Did Jesus affirm a gay couple?

I ran across an interesting article on the web. Evidently the original Aramaic lends room to suggest that Jesus held a gay Centurion and his lover to be an example of faith. Since, I'm no Aramaic scholar, I can't attest to this validity of the conclusion, but the original Greek was used to justify so much bad theology when I was growing up, I thought it would be fun to give you the link.

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.

Jesus loves a thrifty tipper

One of the great stories of the internet a few weeks ago involved a preacher, a waitress and a meal receipt.

A St. Louis minister dined at an Applebee's restaurant with 19 parishioners and when presented with his check refused to to honor the mandatory 18 percent tip. He wrote that he gives God ten percent so why should he give her 18? Then, instead of giving ten percent, he gave her nothing. She posted a copy of the slip to the Internet, the post got thousands of hits and she was fired for her efforts. Finally, the pastor apologized.

There is a lesson here on Christian charity. Not just because Jesus admonished his followers to “Give to every man that asketh of thee.” (Luke 6:30) There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of generosity and service.

When I was in college and working at the Morningstar Coffeehouse in San Marcos, my fellow worshippers and I would often go out in large groups and at the end of the meal they would tip the waitress with Bible tracts. Their rationale? The waitress needed Jesus more than she needed money. It never dawned on them that Jesus may have sent us to meet the waitress' financial needs.

Nor should we forget that Jesus holds those who serve in higher esteem than those who are served.

There are other realities that we overlook should we refused to tip our severs. When we tip, we don't just tip the server. She has to share with the host, bartender and bus staff. The server isn't provided by the restaurant as a courtesy. We are his employers. When we place an order we are contracting with the service staff. They are not serving us for free because they have nothing else to do. This is how they earn their keep, and to fail to tip is to steal from them. We are now entering into the territory of Old Testament, ten commandment transgressions.

To refuse to tip is to be more than simply ungrateful. It is to be a thief. We are robbing them of time and money they could have earned serving someone that would have tipped them.

The ten percent rationale is also faulty math. Wait staff used to get ten percent too. But tips have been adjusted for the cost of inflation. First to 15 percent and now to 20 percent. And servers do more than serve the food we pay for. They lay down plates and utensils, clean up our messes and even continually offer free bread, condiments, water and drink refills. So it is far from unreasonable to give a waitress 18 percent when God only demands a tithe.

We should count ourselves fortunate. If God adjusted our tithes for the cost of inflation over the three thousand years since the Torah was passed down, we would be giving 600 percent or more of what we earned. Compared to that, 18 percent is a pittance.

 

Government is not the enemy of charity

Consider the following passage from Mark 10:

And when he was gone forth into the way, there came one running, and kneeled to him, and asked him, Good Master, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life? And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. Thou knowest the commandments, Do not commit adultery, Do not kill, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Defraud not, Honour thy father and mother.

And he answered and said unto him, Master, all these have I observed from my youth. Then Jesus beholding him loved him, and said unto him, One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross, and follow me. And he was sad at that saying, and went away grieved: for he had great possessions.

And Jesus looked round about, and saith unto his disciples, How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!

And the disciples were astonished at his words. But Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

And they were astonished out of measure, saying among themselves, Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

We are currently in the middle of a debate about the best way to make government solvent. According to many in the Christian Right, the best way is by sacrifice. Not self-sacrifice, in which, we pay more taxes, but the sacrifice of others we don't care about who receive benefits from government.

I'm including the sacrifice of money to educate other people's children, money to take care of veterans, money to support the families of soldiers, money to insure the health care of those most in need. The message of the Republican Right, and that includes the Christian Right, is of the preservation of wealth. And those who are willing to pay more in taxes to make sure that the needs of others are more adequately met are considered to be anti-Christian and even anti-American.

I find this message ironic coming from the mouths of those who profess that America was founded as a Christian nation.

Nowhere do we hear the rich and powerful consider sacrificing their wealth. Not even offering the sacrifice in the manner of Isaac and his son. They are not even willing to put their wealth on the altar with faith that God will return it to them.

No, they insist wealth is their god given right. Which it may be, but according to Jesus that wealth was given in order to take care of the poor.

It is easy to claim that care of the poor should come at the hands of private charities, not bloated government bureaucracies. Yet private charities are also bureaucratically top heavy (I know, having worked for them) and often depend on government funding as much as private support.

I am all for a balanced budget, but I am willing to pay my fair share rather than carve it out of the backs of the poor. And I think I am following the path set out in the Gospels to suggest as much.

Jesus in the classroom

A recent Texas Freedom Network report indicated that Texas public school Bible courses frequently ignore state standards for rigor and objectivity. The classes least in compliance tend to promote the views of the Christian Right. Even instructional materials are often taken from the teacher's churches and not academic publishers.

This should hardly be surprising. In Texas, teachers answer to a higher call than the Legislature. Far be it from a few laws to stand in the way of truth. Our children could be corrupted by false ideologies. Like evolution.

Ironically for Catholics who have thrown their lot in with the Christian Right, the classes that are least in compliance promote a distinctly Protestant flavor of the Bible. Catholics aligning themselves with the Right probably don't care, but more traditional Catholics might.

The state guidelines were written to ensure the religious freedoms of all students, but the Christian Right and the Corporate Christian Complex (CCC) who backs them believe the only people who deserve religious freedom are themselves.

I will grant that the courses are elective, but I also want to stress that the courses are offered as English or Social Studies courses, not religion courses. The intent was to allow students to become familiar with or to understand the influence of the Bible on culture and society, not to convert them to the faith.

Ironically, it is the Christian Right that uses objectivity as the standard for including creationism in science classes. The truth is that the Christian Right only wants what serves their interests.

Texas colleges used to offer elective Bible courses at a college level. But these were a sop to Christian lobbyists. They were always taught by the Baptist Student Union or other campus Christian groups and promoted a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible. Baptist kids like me took them for free credits, even though Catholics, Muslims, Jews and Atheists weren't allowed to take courses of their own. Other kids took them because they were easy to pass even when hungover.

For Jesus, his Jewish predecessors and the apostles who followed, teaching scripture was not the function of public institutions. Children were raised with the faith in their homes and synagogues. Children were expected to encounter a hostile and foreign world outside even in Jerusalem, for it was inhabited by foreign powers.

Children of the Christian Right are still taught the Bible in their churches and homes, so they don't need Bible classes. Nor should they get them for a free credit. But if they don't really need them, why do they want them?

Only one answer comes to mind. The Christian Right wants to use public school as a forum for evangelizing, and let the rest of us pay for their efforts. Of course, they would scream if the Legislature forced them to finance Episcopal, Catholic or even Koran study classes in their Sunday Schools.

Wasn't it Jesus who said the second commandment requires of the rest of us to do for them what they refuse to do for anyone else?

The Gospel according to the NRA

For my 2013 return I thought it would be appropriate to include some passages from the newly discovered Gospel of the NRA. I was tempted to comment, but since the Bible is literal, it should need no explication:

From the Sermon on the Mount

And ye did Jesus say unto them, “Blessed are the owners of guns for they can take matters into their own hands.” And he spoke unto them a parable: “A poor man had a home, a wife, a small measure of land and a semi-automatic rifle. One day a black man came to his house and said, 'Give aid to the homeless.'

And that poor man, having nothing but his house and semi-automatic did shoot that black man immediately because of threat of the homeless overtaking his home. The next day, therein, the law came to his house and said 'Thou arest justified in this righteous shooting because the homeless could have made thy home their home and what right does a man have in this world but his right to worship as he chooses and to bear arms.'

Later that day the banker came to foreclose on his home because he was one day late on his mortgage for the first time in the twenty-nine years of his thirty year mortgage. The poor man shot the banker in the defense of his home. The law came the next day and imprisoned him. Wherein do you think it is just that the poor man could defend his home from the black man and not from the banker?

And his disciples said, “How can it not be just that he defend his home against one and not the other, for it is his second amendment right to bear arms?”

And Jesus said, “See you not the difference? He shot the black man in defense of his home, but the banker was truly the homeowner until the mortgage was paid. Wherefore the banker, being the true owner of the home, should have taken his concealed weapon and killed the man and his entire family but for the laws of his district which forbid concealed weapons even though it was his second amendment right.

Had the banker chosen to exercise his right he would have been forgiven for defending his home as true owner and the courts would have been allowed to overturn the concealed weapons ban. But because the true owner failed to exercise his rights, the poor man was convicted of murder only and the courts were never given the opportunity to repeal the true injustice, the infringement upon the banker's second amendment rights, and, verily the poor man's as well. So the poor man was condemned to die justly, but with an infringement upon his legal rights intact.”

And the disciples were amazed by the wisdom of his words.

The Last Supper:

While the disciples were arguing who among them was the greatest marksman, Jesus took up Peter's AR-17 and said. “This is my semi-automatic. Take, share and use responsibly for my sake. For unless thou art prepared for the great day with training and target practice you may be found wanting.

Then he said, “These are my bullets. Take load and use them in defense of your homes. For the meek are takers and you create rights for all.” And the disciples did finish their dinner in silence and awe.

The Garden of Gethsemane

And Jesus prayed, “Lord pass the cup and the gun to me for I fear no man when I am armed with thy righteousness and my second amendment rights. And my HK sp89.” And when he was finished praying the temple guards came to arrest him.

When Jesus' followers saw what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear.

But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he grabbed his sp89 and shot the high priest in the forehead as was his right to self defense spelled out in the second amendment. Seeing that all the disciples were armed, the temple guard fled in dismay.

And Jesus was not crucified on the passover for yea the second amendment implies that with an armed militia there need be no other redemption. The liberals did flee the temple and peace was restored to Israel. Nor did they fear the Palestinians because they were able to stockpile weapons for two millennia before the United Nations sold the Israelites down the river.