Jesus said, “Give Me a Break”

The Christian Right has once again brought a new level of love and acceptance to shine their light upon the world. Homosexuals are no longer lumped with fornicators and adulterers as the axis of sexual evil in God's eyes. They now stand on a pedestal all their own; homosexuals have now been upgraded to a new genus, Aberrosexuals. We can thank this new categorization to the scholarly publication of world renowned scholar Judy Meissner.

The eye of the beholder

Her article, which is a rant against lesbian economic columnist Suze Orman, has been quoted around the internet, although, for the life of me I have been unable to track down the original publication other than a shout out by Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH), on the AFTAH website. Or maybe the shout out was his introduction to article itself.

Her academic credentials are staggering. She lives in LA and contributes to AFTAH, although I couldn’t find anything else she contributed on the web.

But it sure sounds bad, doesn't it? Aberrosexuals. I sure wouldn't want to be caught around one of them.

Here's what I don't get about the aberrophobia of the Christian Right. How do gays get set aside as the most horrific of sexual deviants? I find this categorization baffling considering that Meissner came up with the label just as Ariel Castro was going on trial for the serial abduction and rape of three women in Cleveland. On the scale of sexual aberration, I would have to link that above being gay.

At least gay couples are trying to promote the kinds of family values the Christian Right claims to venerate—marriage, home life, families. They want to settle down when Christians are filing for divorce in record numbers.

I'm not clear why Meissner is upset about homosexuals and not dominance sexuality. I can’t imagine clean cut Christians not going nuts over men and women in leather and chains whipping each other to a frenzy.

Why doesn’t Meissner target the producers of movies like Hostel, which promote the kidnapping, torture and sexual brutalization of women? For that matter, why doesn’t Meissner target the men who kidnap, torture and sexually brutalize women?

Personally, I think they miss the point, as always. Jesus actually enjoyed the company of the very people Meissner and LaBarbera hate with such a passion. Whenever Christians rush to label I find myself remembering, not the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery, but of Jesus partyIng with the publicans (not Republicans):

And Levi made him a great feast in his own house: and there was a great company of publicans and of others that sat down with them. But their scribes and Pharisees murmured against his disciples, saying, Why do ye eat and drink with publicans and sinners? And Jesus answering said unto them, They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. (Luke 5: 29-32)

What the verse probably doesn't mention is that Levi hired several gay decorators and caterers because they do such fabulous jobs with with food and decor. You can't tell me that a party that fabulous didn't have at least one brightly dressed aberrosexual to entertain the audience and liven up the conversation. And, at least by Meissner and LaBarbera's standards, no one needed a call to repentance more than Levi's gay friends.

In short, Jesus told those self-righteous posers, “Give me a break. I came for those who want my help.” And who needs his help? Those who aren't so arrogant, so self-righteous, so convinced they're already good enough to pass judgment on others, that they might actually recognize they need his help.

 

The subversion of Christmas

Why is it that no one wants to talk about the subversion of Christmas? We're so focused on the war that we forget the real danger is the Fifth Column, a subtle and insidious element at work to erode the foundations of our faith.

What is that Fifth Column? We are. Every time we drop a dime on a Christmas gift. Nor do I mean Santa Socks, Angry Bird Ring Toss, Star Wars 7 Pre-release Action Figures with Working Prototype Weapons, or the Ultimate iPad Christmas App and its Android knock-off. Or shopping at Wal-Mart where your dollars are recycled to China and Union-busting anti-labor initiatives instead of paying the workers a living wage.

I'm talking about buying things from Christian vendors as well, many of well-meaning, and others out to make nothing but a buck and all geared for the cash crop that is Fifth Column Christmas. I browsed the lists of recommended Christian gifts and most of them boiled down to Bibles (you can never have too many of those, even though you need only one and early Christians managed to get along without one at all), CDs, DVDs and Christian books, most of which have more to do with promoting agendas (even agendas I approve of) than Jesus.

Here are a couple of suggested Christian gifts:

Perhaps my favorite recommended gift would be the Christian Weekend Retreatfor $150.

It doesn't matter where you turn, Christmas is about spending money. As much and as often as possible. Christians can fool themselves into believing that a genuine leather Scofield Reference Bible with Concordance, Maps and authentic photographs of the crucifixion and resurrection is a Christian act and not an act of consumerism, or that a red and green sweater with wreaths and Christian cross patterns is a gift Jesus would give, but the Gospels suggest differently.

To Jesus, the act of giving requires a sacrifice. And it was something you do year-round. The Christmas holiday we celebrate was actually campaigned for by businesses to boost sales, much like Thanksgiving, Easter, Valentines Day and parent days. This may sound cynical, but you can't imagine any of those holidays without their connections to commerce. Each, in fact, has its own commercial symbol whether it be bunnies, cupids, turkeys or men in red suits.

This doesn't mean that charity isn't associated with Christmas. It's just that charity is an afterthought. For Jesus charity was first and foremost.

There are charitable gifts available. Oxfam allows you to give sustainable gifts to people in developing countries in the names of your friends and family members.

Redefining Christmas allows you to donate to friends' and family's favorite charities.

There's no guarantee the money will be spent completely as you want. For instance, giving to Samaritan's Purse for their sustainable as well as evangelical projects. But they also donate monies raised to undermining gay marriage rights. Would I give a present to my evangelical family through them even though I wouldn't even buy a chocolate peppermint Christmas shake from Chic-Fil-A? In a heartbeat. They still do good work. I can give an equal amount in support of same-sex marriage to another organization, and my evangelical family members would appreciate it far more than they would a gift through Oxfam.

Unfortunately, even special charitable gifts miss the point. Spending money you would have spent anyway requires no sacrifice, even if it is to a good cause.

I would like to be positive about this. The real truth, however, is that the Fifth Column forces of consumerism, sponsored in part by the Corporate Christian Complex, have too strong a grip. Our kids don't understand the gift of sacrifice. If they haven't received every disposable, breakable junk item on their list, they feel they were sacrificed to a higher principle. And too many friends do as well.

I would never tell you what you should do at Christmas. It is your holiday to celebrate as you choose. Even if you choose not to celebrate at all. But before we continue to escalate the war on Christmas, perhaps we should ask ourselves if the holiday has anything to do with Jesus at all.

So the real question, I suppose, is WWJD? And the surprising answer is probably that he wouldn't celebrate Christmas. His birthday, after all, was most likely in the spring and, as far as I can tell from the Gospels, he never celebrated when he was with us.

Bishops behaving badly

The Catholic Church decided allowing a parish priest to campaign for Romney's election wasn't provocative enough. Those crazy guys had to suggest, first that gay Catholics shouldn't be allowed to take communion, and then that Catholics shouldn't take communion if they support same-sex marriage.

Is this a sign of the Catholic Church stepping openly into the political arena? The Newark archbishop claimed that marriage is a “prepolitical” issue, but that hasn't stopped a number of archbishops from enlisting their parishioners in political campaigns against same sex marriage.

I do find it slightly disturbing, however, that Bishops would tell Catholics they shouldn't take communion for being wrong thinking, when they still allow priests to take communion for wrong-doing. Nor do I think I need to elaborate on the irony (especially since molestation was often same sex as well).

The Church's open political maneuvering has led to renewed calls to remove their tax-exempt status. I think this is what they intended all along. I think the Corporate Christian Complex (CCC) wants the Obama administration to move to challenge the Church's tax exempt status.

What better way to prove that Obama has declared a war on faith? Can you imagine the screaming? No matter that the Church has violated the terms of their tax-exempt status by openly promoting a political campaign, or that they violate separation of church and state in the process.

My advice? Be patient. Sooner or later the Republicans will be back in power. They always convince enough people that Jesus loves them more that sooner or later they have to win. Then they will take away the status of a Unitarian church whose minister unwittingly offends them.

Or, even more likely, the Republicans will overstep their bounds and piss off the Pope, who will decide even they are too liberal for Jesus. The Pope will then learn that once you question the Republicans, they will find a way to make you pay.

Contraception, no; Viagra, si

And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” (Gen. 1:22)

This is one of those verses that has been abused many times over to promote the agenda of the Corporate Christian Complex. The Corporate Christian Complex was abusing this verse long before it had evolved into the Corporate Christian Complex. Often cited as God’s command to Adam and Eve, the verse has been used at various times to justify:

  • Greed
  • Overexpansion
  • Overpopulation
  • Any reason to mow down the less privileged in the name of progress.

At the hands of Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and their puppet master Pope Benedict, who singlehandedly wants to return the Catholic Church to pre-Vatican II (if not the Middle Ages), this verse has been used to make sure women get pregnant whenever possible.

You see, God hates birth control. How do we know? Genesis 1:22. So any health providers that include birth control are bad, and any government who makes health care providers provide birth control are in league with Lucifer himself.

Lucifer, secular humanists, and Democrats.

Women rights advocates (including my wife Carol) complain that health care shouldn’t cover Viagra if they deny birth control. They forget that Viagra is as Christian as communion wine and tithing. How do we know this? Genesis 1:22. God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply.

I was thinking about this during the most recent round of Republican moves to force women to undergo invasive ultrasound treatments and publicize the names of women who have abortions. I realized that the Bible does have an unwritten exception clause. Time.

Let me explain. As a Baptist Preacher’s Kid (BPK) I learned early on that drinking wine (or anything alcoholic) is a sin. We couldn’t even have wine at the Lord’s supper, which is the BPK form of holy communion. We had to drink grape juice from a glass too tiny for espresso.

But the Bible clearly says Jesus and all of the apostles drank wine. So I asked my Baptist Preacher Dad (BPD) what gives. The answer? Time.

You see, when Jesus was alive they didn’t have grape juice. It always fermented. It wasn’t until Welch invented grape juice that we could enjoy the fruit of the vine without also imbibing alcohol.

Why couldn’t they just drink water, I asked.

The same answer: Time. You see, water was dirty and full of germs. People who drank it got sick. So they were forced to drink wine.

Unfortunately for BPD, I was one of those inquisitive kids who couldn’t let go off a bug once it flew up his ass (which, in my case, was all the time). Why didn’t they boil it like we did in Cub Scouts before they kicked me out because I got the entire den to spray our sodas on our scout master?

It took a moment, but BPD’s are clever. That’s how they justify splitting churches so often. People could boil water at home, but it was too difficult to carry pots and firewood when they traveled. So they carried wine skins instead.

I could have pressed it but there were too many other, more important issues to press, like the Holy Trinity, free will and why David got to marry Bathsheba after they committed adultery and had her husband killed. A marriage without which, I might add, we wouldn’t have had Jesus. (Look it up). These produced far more satisfactory flusters than water and wine.

I was thinking about the Time answer when I was thinking about birth control and I realized it works just as well here. Think about it. When God told us to multiply we didn’t have math. The only way we could multiply was with sex.

In the 21st Century we not only have math, we have calculators on our iPhones. It’s so much easier, and so much less messy, to multiply without sex. So we can now obey God without getting women pregnant.

Get off your high horses, Rick and Newt and Tea Party members. Give women birth control if they want it. Just make sure they download calculator apps to their smart phones. I know that this also undermines the rationale for Viagra, but when have men ever really needed the Bible to rationalize having sex? They can find twenty-seven other perfectly reasonable rationalizations between heart beats.

Besides, now that women have smart phones, they can multiply perfectly well without getting men involved.

Women of America, claim your freedom earned with time. Brandish your calculators and demand birth control if you want it. You can be Christian without babies.

Ironically, when I looked up Genesis 1:22 before writing this blog I realized God never commanded Adam and Eve to multiply. He issues the command to “the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind.” (1:21).

You see, God hadn’t even thought of people yet. That doesn’t happen until Day Six. Now, you might try to argue that people are animals as well. But that would make you an evolutionist. People are special.

Remember, babies came after they got kicked out of the garden of Eden.

Keeping the Bible Honest

After years of complaining about the Jesus Seminar and their ruthless dismantling of Jesus’ message, conservatives are fighting back. They will be replacing all the verses the Seminar kicked out and cutting out all the verses the Seminar kept in. Their rationale? We have to keep those liberals out of the Bible business.

Maybe I’m exaggerating slightly, but not much. The Conservative Bible Project has decided to embrace the enterprise of the Jesus Seminar by engaging in a worldwide online collaborative effort “to render God’s word into modern English without liberal translation distortions.” This means, among other things, eliminating gender inclusive language, replacing outdated words such as “peace” and “miracle” with modern conservative words (presumably words like “preemptive strike” and “the invisible hand of the free market”), eliminating questionable liberal passages such as the injunction to be sinless before you cast the first stone,1 and rephrasing economic parables with modern free market language.

Some history: The Jesus Seminar is a long established symposium of international scholars who gave themselves the mission of trying to decide which passages in the Gospels include the authentic words of Jesus and which came later. They are among the movers behind the increasing public awareness of the Q manuscript (a proto-gospel of sayings attributed to Jesus) and have at last count successfully reduced the number of historically authentic words of Jesus to about three.

Okay, all of the words of Jesus are probably authentic, the question is whether he used them in the specific order recounted in specific passages. And there is some merit to the enterprise if we insist every word in the Gospel is the literal word of God and yet the Gospels record them differently.

By contrast, the Conservative Bible Project is a spin off of Conservapedia.com, which claims to be the “trustworthy encyclopedia.” This week’s highlights include an article about God’s sense of humor, “a simple mystery the lamestream media and public schools ignore,” the “Question Evolution campaign” which poses 15 questions that allegedly continue to baffle atheists and scientists2 and a “humorous” article comparing Joseph Stalin and atheist Richard Dawkins. On the surface I would say the credentials of the open-source contributors to the Conservative Bible Project clearly trump those of the Jesus Seminar.

Ironically, the Conservative Bible Project is precisely the kind of post-modernist enterprise that conservatives hate. Deconstructing biblical texts brings to mind the work of Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jaques Derrida, French liberal scholars who question the stability of texts as they undergo translation and the passage of time. The postmodernist impulse to suggest meaning is, in part, a matter of commercial and cultural viability. Or, to put it more simply, any crazy idea gains merit if you can sell it to enough people.

But why not have a Conservative Bible Project? It isn’t too different from the Fundamentalist Papers circulated early in the twentieth century (and to which I am far more sympathetic). As former President Bush used to say, you have the right to your own belief even if it’s wrong and I intend to ignore it.

We could speculate that the Project is little more than an attempt by the Corporate Christian Complex to hijack the scriptures and the moral ground. After all, it’s a small step from saying Jesus was a capitalist to saying Jesus wants us to vote for Romney to saying Jesus wants corporations to pollute our rivers, poison our kids and lay us off by the millions because the love of money is the root of all progress.

To me it the Project sounds like a strategy often suggested by Baptist leaders when I was younger: Fight the devil with the devil’s tools. If the Jesus Seminar wants to rewrite the Bible for the devil, we should rewrite the Bible even better. Because that’s what Jesus would do. And that, I can assure you, is a direct literal quote from the honest-to-God Bible. I just don’t remember where it is.


1Admittedly the passage about the adulteress snuck into the Bible rather late appearing in some, but not all the early manuscripts. back
2Mainly because they don’t accept the answers posed by atheists and scientists, they just hold their fingers in their ears and shout, “La la la.” Example: how did sex originate? The answer: The same way every other adaptation originated. No, I don’t want that answer, I want a better one that accounts specifically for sex and nothing else. This is kind of like the athiest’s old dilemma, “Can God move an immovable rock?” (Think, “can God create a round square?”)
Okay, many are worth discussing, because scientists ask them as well, but they hardly demolish evolution any more than the problem of evil demolishes the possibility of God. It’s kind of like asking how you could possibly drive the direct route from Austin to Detroit since no highway connects them. You can’t, but you can still get there. back

Charity begins with generosity

A couple of weeks ago CNN ran a feature on education in America. One of the main premises was that corporations only ship jobs overseas because Americans aren’t educated enough.Even Bill Maher has criticized American students for preferring liberal arts degrees over degrees in science and engineering. The question he never asked is why students would choose an art degree over a degree in a lucrative field like engineering. The pressure on American students is not to rise to a challenge but to improve their GPA.Students aren’t dumb. They will find the best strategies for achieving the grades that will keep their parents and scholarship boards happy. This includes negotiating with teachers, wearing them down, and selecting the classes most likely to earn them the highest grades.I find it ironic that we pressure students to come home with the highest grades possible, and then complain about grade inflation.Of course, we also complain about paying the taxes the education system needs. The same corporate tycoons who claim they must go overseas because students aren’t educated are the first to undercut American education by dodging their tax responsibilities.Who do they think pays for the education systems for the high tech work forces in India and China? The people who pay taxes. Sure, wealthy families will always find good educations for their kids, but, as with the families of privilege in America, families of privilege anywhere want their kids to go into management and influence peddling.Should these same corporations move overseas, they would be the first to demand cuts to taxes to fund the education systems there.Rather than acknowledging their responsibility for the problem, they lay out every red herring possible to distract us from their ploy. They blame teachers unions, and the lack of quality coursework, and the grade inflation caused by demands that students have good resumes with good GPAs rather than sound educations.Are teachers unions the reason teachers are so bad? Partly, but why do they protect incompetent teachers? Because the pay we offer is so crappy the schools can’t attract the top performers. Of course, the unions protect mediocre teachers. They understand that if we let the mediocre teachers go, the odds are they will have to pick up the slack themselves, and they are already facing a workload with more class hours and more students.The demand for standardized tests to “prove” students learned what they needed handcuffs the best and most innovative teachers. Why do we need those tests? To prove the few tax dollars we begrudge education are doing their job. It’s kind of like telling auto manufacturers to make cars for half the price with half the resources, and then demanding each car pass more rigorous inspections than before to prove they’re still reliable and safe.The real joke is the lack of high level classes, such as engineering and advanced calculus, especially in high schools. Here’s the reality of offering high level classes. You need to hire teachers qualified to teach them. But those guys are working for six times as much in the private sector. The few teachers who might be qualified are overburdened with five other more mundane classes with thirty-five students. This hardly leaves them time to prepare.The same thing has happened in our universities and community colleges. Administrations, looking to maximize every educational dollar in terms of numbers, no longer hire as many full-time professors with a reduced class load that gives them time to research and prepare. They hire adjunct professors who have to carry six classes at several different schools to earn anything close to a decent living.In addition, you have to offer smaller classes because you can’t teach advanced calculus to a class of thirty-five students. Even if you could attract them, which you probably couldn’t. Usually the advanced classes attract twelve to fifteen students, and high schools can’t justify classes that small on their budgets. So they either don’t offer the classes, or pack them with students who don’t want to take them, and that creates an unmanageable situation for teachers.Even community colleges and universities have stopped teaching the smaller classes, because they don’t justify the teachers’ salaries. Even if students have an interest in and talent for these specialized fields, they may have to stick around another year or two just to find the class on the schedule and hope it doesn’t compete with another class required for graduation.Corporations love to create endowments, but endowments come with strings attached. Sadly, so do the few tax dollars that trickle down to the schools. If corporate America really wanted a highly motivated and educated class of students they would support more education, demand higher salaries from teachers, give their own top-level employees teaching sabbaticals, and make sure that the advanced classes we need are taught. Best of all, they would kick in the tax dollars to make sure important classes are limited to ten or twelve students so that teachers can give students the time and attention they need.In the meantime, the Christian right wants to decimate education, because it doesn’t teach children to be Christian enough. Home schooling and school voucher programs diminish schools further, and create an entire class of children who see no value in the education corporations need to keep jobs at home.Jesus made it clear that when we share gladly God gives back abundantly. Not necessarily in direct payment with interest. If we meet other’s financial needs when we’re financially well off, he will meet other needs—usually through other Christians. If we aren’t financially well off, we still share and others will return with what we need.The riches in God’s kingdoms are trickle up. God blesses us as we bless others, and we don’t have to restrict those blessings to those who share our beliefs. In fact, the parable of the Good Samaritan stresses that we shower our own blessings on those who don’t believe as we do.Corporate leaders may think they’re protecting the bottom line by refusing to pay taxes to support education (not to mention defense and infrastructure), but they’re only hurting themselves. Christians should remember this as well. God commands us to give more, not less, and to give with a glad heart as well.

Corporate Christian Complex: Eisenhower never saw it coming

Before he left office in 1961, President Eisenhower warned Americans of the rising influence of the Military Industrial Complex. Little did he know that the Military Industrial Complex was only a precursor to the much more insidious Corporate Christian Complex, an unholy alliance between corporate interests and Christian marketing designed to seduce true believers into the unholy heresy that Jesus wants big business to be even bigger.

The Corporate Christian Complex grew out of televangelism and telemarketing, thanks to the well meaning hippies and stoners who dropped out and tuned into Jesus in the seventies, and I count myself one of them. Until the Jesus movement, evangelical Christianity kept itself separate from popular culture. In fact, evangelicals prided themselves on being in the world but not part of it.

Sure, televangelists sold Bibles, blessings and prayer squares over broadcast television, but evangelism was decidedly unhip and determined to remain that way. Christians (at least white bread Christians like my family) didn’t listen to rock and roll, they listened to gospel or Ralph Carmichael, who was to Christian music at the time what Robert Goulet was to pop culture.

Christians didn’t have the New Christy Minstrels, we had Up With People. Sure, they sold a few albums, but it was for inspiration and to keep the work of the Lord going. But when the fans of The Beatles and the Rolling Stones realized that Ralph Carmichael made Neal Diamond sound like Roger Daltry, they did what they always did. Started their own bands.

Those bands made money. Much bigger money than the backup singers for Billy Graham. It went further than that. Jesus Freaks bought Jesus Freak translations of the Bible with leather fringe covers, and even leather belt pouches for their pocket editions. They bought Jesus jewelry and Jesus beads, and in a few short years Big Business discovered a huge market for modern day relics as well.

Hippies and Jesus Freaks were political, too, and that scared the evangelical and charismatic sponsors looking to adopt them. Many of us intended to cast our first eighteen-year-old votes for George McGovern. Our evangelical foster parents tried to convince us that Christians avoided politics, but we marched against the war and went to Woodstock.

The new era of rock festivals for Jesus proved to the evangelical old guard that we could be co-opted, and so the evangelicals harvested the energy to march to form the religious right. They might not convince us to give up politics, but they could convince us to change political alliances. If we could give up pot for coffee and scripture, we could give up McGovern for Reagan.

And the dollars rolled in. And in, and then began to flood. You see, the Corporate Christian Complex wasn’t new, it had been lying dormant since the Renaissance and Reformation. Shrewd businessmen cashed in on Christians with relics, pilgrimages and even mass crusades. If you couldn’t bring your husband to Christ, you could buy his way into heaven once he died. If you wanted to be pure and keep on drinking and whoring, you could buy an indulgence.

Today we have Christian Broadcasting Networks, and more commercials for Christian music CDs than the commercials that used to sell Slim Whitman tapes. Even the BBC will sell air time to songs of praise CDs. Churches sell coffee, and their pastors sell books and tapes. Good Christians can now own (and probably do) at least six different translations of the Bible and two more paraphrased editions.

You can find home-based Christian businesses on the internet. You can worship Jesus with t-shirts, mugs, coozies and coolers. You can sit through worship with your Starbucks coffee and power bars. Michael Jackson may have appalled people with his Jesus Juice, but only because he thought of it first. In a few years we can expect to see Jesus Juice, Jesus Jolt and cans of Red Gospel.

Go online and you can order Nativity stickers, Jesus gliders, birthday stickers for Jesus, and bouncing Jesus balls. Headingtoheaven.com promotes itself as a “Christian superstore” with shirts, jewelry, books, games and even home communion kits. Sounds a lot like Walmart. How about c28 or Christiangear.com?

Nor is it surprising that corporate and Christian interests pour millions of dollars into Republican and Tea Party politics. After all, when you’re raking in cash hand over fist from the rubes, you don’t want to pay taxes to fund a government that might regulate your enterprise.

If you read the Gospels, you know that Jesus forgave a lot. He forgave drunks, adulterers, pagans, hookers, and adulterers. He rarely got mad, but one thing really pissed him off. He lost his cool when he saw the entrepreneurs cashing in on God. He got so pissed off he kicked their tables over and drove them out of the temple.

The businessmen and religious hypocrites he challenged got even. They got in bed with the Roman government and had him killed. In other words, they formed their own version of the Corporate Christian Complex, and there was nothing Christian about it. These were the Bible’s bad guys.

So how did they become the heroes now?