Fools for Christ or just plain fools?

This week the Texas Senate struck the ultimate blow for Jesus. They banned tampons.

You can’t get more Christian than that. Except in my opinion, they didn't take it far enough.

For those of you who don't follow the defense of faith in Texas, you may need a little explanation. Texas wants to step to the forefront of the pro-life movement. As we all know, the newest commandment in the Bible is: “Thou shalt not have, or facilitate a woman's ability to have an abortion.” It is now at the top of the Eleven Commandments.1 With our governor Perry at the helm, Texas is declaring that all life is sacred, at least until it emerges from the womb. (In our defense, we have to execute someone.)

As a result, Texas has foregone federal health care funding to make sure women don't have access to family planning since that includes Planned Parenthood, an organization that supports abortion. But that wasn't enough. The Texas Legislature was so determined to ram through some of the most restrictive abortion legislation that they kicked aside their own legislative rules and even scheduled a second special session.

Jesus was the first issue on the agenda. They had to protect the unborn, and they railroaded through the legislation, squashing amendments and suppressing even the precious Republican filibuster. But somehow they feared one thing, protest. Not just protest, but protest by tampon. And so the senate banned the tampon.

As of Friday the tampon is banned in the Texas Senate.

That's right. Visitors can carry guns into the capitol, but not tampons. Women will be strip searched for tampons. I suppose they will erect tampon detectors at the entrances. They will have to remove tampon machines from the bathrooms. What next? Sanitary napkins? Will women will be allowed to bring their own rags?

Of course, if they really want to honor the scripture, the Senate didn't go far enough. The Law doesn't ban tampons, it doesn't even permit them. Women are supposed to quarantine themselves for seven days for the purposes of purification.

So I think the Senate should set up purification quarantines at the edge of town for menstruating women. Including legislators. They could call them cramp camps. I mean, who knows what a woman is likely to do when she gets it into her head to protest and she's menstruating. Do we really think relieving her of her tampon is enough? I'm trying to think like a fundamentalist Republican for Jesus here.

Oh, that's right. We wouldn't have women in the legislature because they should stay at home and obey their husbands. If they did, we wouldn't have these problems, like crazed pro-choice women running around throwing tampons in the Senate chambers. We wouldn't need to worry about abortions because all women would be at home and pregnant like they're supposed to be.

The issue may be moot. The Senate passed the abortion bill late Friday night, although I don't have news as to whether or not they repealed the tampon ban with the passage of the bill. I don't know why they should tie the ban to this one bill. I wouldn't be surprised if it remains in place, and if it doesn't, I'm sure someone will decide to reinstate it, It's just too good to lose.

Being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I know there's always at least one verse in scripture to justify ignoring the broad strokes of the Bible. It didn’t matter how dubious their point, my relatives could drag out one isolated dependent clause and slam it on the dinner table to prove their point only to be countered by a contrary dangling participle to prove the opposite.

And I can imagine even now the pro-life legislators defending their behavior with the verse in Corinthians about being “made a spectacle unto the world,” and “fools for Christ’s sake.” Of course Paul is referring to apostles and he juxtaposes the paradox of wisdom in Christ as well. I'm not sure even scripture gives a pass to making a total embarrassment of the faith. And this week, the Texas Senate came pretty close to doing just that.


1There had been an attempt to remove “Thou shalt not covet” from the list since the advertising industry depends on people coveting, including Christian advertisers such as Christian Mingle and all those religious music producers. The fact that eleven was more difficult to manage than ten made the covet removal lobby even stronger. But the fundamentalists toed the line and covet remained.back

 

Pharisees tinkering with time stamps

It's been quite a week for Republicans, both in nationally and in our own dear state of Texas. They waved the banner for the rule of law, which is very important to Republicans. The rule of law is essential to America and to Christianity itself. It’s at the heart of the Old Testament.

This is why the Republicans have been so keen to keep those indiscriminate, wanton fraudulent voters from the polls. You know, the poor blacks without drivers licenses who can't get off work and can't afford to pay for transportation to get to the polls anyway. And in Texas they were most incensed when Democrats skirted the rules of filibuster by trying to help Ft. Worth Senator Wendy Davis adjust her back brace during an abortion bill debate. They were so incensed that they started a ruckus that caused the session to run into overtime and cause their precious abortion bill to expire.

No problem. The Texas Republicans decided to pass the abortion bill and change the time stamp to show it was passed before midnight. Not illegal at all. Just a technicality. After all, they were Republicans and they could make the rules since they were the majority. Even after the game was over and they lost. So they changed the time stamp and declared victory.

It wasn't the first time they changed the rules during the game. The abortion bill had been defeated during the regular session because the Democrats managed to get enough Republicans to vote against the bill to keep it from coming to the floor. It seems the rule required a majority vote within the Senate. So the Republicans brought it up again during the special session, which isn't supposed to happen. The special session is supposed to be limited to bills the Governor calls for consideration. But they added it to the roster anyway.

Then the Republicans changed the rules of the Senate to allow the abortion bill to come to a vote if a majority of Republicans supported it. And it still went down in flames. Only to be resurrected by the miracle of a time stamp. Proving Jesus is on their side.

Except that those sneaky Democrats took photos of the bill with the original time stamp showing that it expired. So now the Republicans are relying on the miracle of Rick Perry who has called another special session, making sure the Republicans have an entire month to pass the abortion legislation that was tacked on as an afterthought and rammed through in violation of every procedural rule of the Texas Senate. And he rubbed it in at a pro-life rally by gleefully telling Senator Davis that she should be glad that her own mother, who struggled financially, didn’t abort her.

I can't help but feel a calculated heartlessness in these moves, no less calculated or cynical than the Roberts court, who cited the fact that the advances in minority access to the polls under the Voting Rights act prove it was never necessary and was unconstitutional. Even as the very states that the Civil Rights Act singled out are openly preparing to limit minority access to polls with voter i.d. challenges, redistricting, gerrymandering and probably changing polling locations, the Roberts court claims that the success of laws to stop these practices proves they will do no harm.

Clearly the Republicans believe the rule of law is for others and not for them. Should the rules prove an inconvenience for their agenda, they simply move them. Should the rules prove inadequate to stop behaviors they disapprove of, they move to make them harsher than ever.

They remind me of the Pharisees in Luke 11, who “make clean the outside of the cup and the platter; but (whose) inward part is full of ravening and wickedness,” (39) and the lawyers who “lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers” (41). No, they don’t remind me. They are no different. This is not acceptable, and whether they wrap themselves in the rhetoric of law or Jesus they should be called for their hypocrisy.

On the other hand, the Roberts Court upheld some of the rights of same sex couples in marriage, probably because those rights involve white men. It was a 5-4 decision. You have to ask, and if you don't, I do. Is someone on the Republican side of the bench just the tiniest bit bicurious?

 

Feturbation and the pro-life movement

I know a good many pro-life advocates and evangelicals are celebrating this week. It seems they have definive proof that fetuses are living conscious beings. According to recent in-womb videos fetuses masturbate bringing smiles to their little faces.

The phenomenon has even given rise to a new term, feturbartion. Okay, I made that up, although I wouldn’t be surprised if other enterprising writers haven't coined the term by now. I’m just too lazy to search the web.

The point is, Republican lawmakers claim fetuses can not only feel pain and pleasure, they can bring pleasure upon themselves. Ipso facto, it’s time to give it up, liberals and pro-choice secular humanist Christians. Stop killing babies in the womb.

Unfortunately, being raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK) I've got bad news for the pro-life movement. Now that we know about feturbation, it seems that the pro-life movement has just earned an official frowny face from the most high.

You see, we learned all about the sin of masturbation from Genesis 38:8-10. Masturbation is the sin of Onanism, or having sex without intending to reproduce. We heard sermon after sermon on Onan and lesson after lesson in church camp and Sunday school (always in segregated classes with boys and girls only, of course). And what did God do to that masturbating sinner Onan? He slew him dead.

The lesson of the Old Testament doesn't get much clearer than that. God wants us to kill masturbators.

So contrary to being a pro-life lesson, the new information is just the opposite. Now that we know those little fetuses are committing the sin of Onanism in the womb, then their mothers are doing God's will when they check in to those clinics.

So go home, protestors. Tea Party Republicans, leave NOW out of the debate. Christians, it's okay to vote Republican but abortion is off the table. Those unborn babies are committing the most mortal of sins and if you interfere with their mothers' life decisions, you're interfering with God's judgment.

 

Protecting the Public One Violation at a Time

God bless Rick Perry. He loves Jesus so much that he intends to protect the public from ethics violators by shutting down the ethics investigative unit for the state to stop one drunk driver.

This is the governor who holds regular rallies to hold the state and the nation accountable to Jesus. The governor who calls for prayer and fasting. The governor who finds it intolerable that Rosemary Lehmberg, who pled guilty to and served time for drunken driving, did not resign from her position as Travis County District Attorney.

Having been raised Baptist Preacher's Kid (BPK), I find his outrage surprising since Texas Politicians have been arrested for drunk driving as long as I can remember and nobody ever expected them to resign before. This includes Speakers of the House and legislators. I worked at the Capitol a few years back and remember watching legislators and governor's aides stumbling to the parking lot drunk during legislative sessions.

Of course, Lehmberg is a Democrat whose Public Integrity Unit has long raised Perry's ire, but this is irrelevent. This has to do with Jesus and morality. A drunk driver shouldn't hold elected office and it shouldn't be up to the voters to decide whether she stays.

So the day after vetoing equal pay for women and signing mandatory drug testing for the unemployed into law, not to mention a session in which he consistently cut back medical care for the poor, Perry decided that if Lehmberg didn't resign, he would veto funding for public integrity investigations altogether.

For a Christian, this is a classic example of pointing out the speck in someone's eye while ignoring the beam in his own. If we truly think the Christian agenda is served by enforcing public morality, we have to ask which is more important, forcing a district attorney to leave office or shutting down hundreds of investigations into insurance fraud, tax invasion and public corruption.

Speaking of public corruption, one of the investigations Perry's veto ended involved CPRIT and quite a few of Perry's cronies. Somehow I get the feeling that if Jesus wandered into the Governor's mansion, he might tell Perry he should be glad they weren't in His father's house or there would be a lot of furniture overturned.

 

Give me a J

Thank The Lord for elected judges in Texas, one of whom recently held that Christian cheerleaders can display Bible verses at school games because such displays don't violate the establishment clause of the US Constitution. It is especially comforting to know that state elected officials can rule on the US Constitution, otherwise our freedoms could be in jeopardy.

The school didn't ask for the right to display the banners. The Kountze High School cheerleaders did, thanks to the help of the Liberty Institute, who sues any institution who dares suggest that some Americans have the right to avoid Jesus' message of love and tolerance by not attending church. After all, just because you don't believe, it doesn't mean you don't have to listen. That's what free speech is about.

Judge Thomas agreed, buying the Liberty lawyer's argument that since the cheerleaders paid for their own equipment and signs, they didn't represent the school. It's not as though they were appearing at a school sponsored event, transported there by school financed buses driven by school employees. Free speech is free speech, and we can never ignore Jesus' injunction to do to others what we would want them to do to us. And we would certainly want others to spread the good news.

Technically, the cheerleaders claimed they weren't actually spreading the good news, they were just expressing their beliefs. This is, of course, an important distinction. Like asking people to bow their heads in silence while we pray isn't asking them to pray with us, even when we say, “Join us in prayer.”

Surely no Christian would object to Cheerleaders displaying a passage from the Bhagavad Gita

Nor can I imagine the cheerleaders, or any of the school's supporters, would be upset if one of the cheerleaders, or a football player, or even a fan displayed banners with passages from the Koran, Bhagavad Gita or Communist Manifesto. Just because someone says it doesn't mean we have to listen. That's what free speech is all about.

And if we want to do unto others as we would have them do, then doesn't asking others to listen to verses from the Bible mean we want to listen to passages from their scriptures as well?

 

Do unto others

It's hard to be Christian when discussing the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC). I keep wanting to say something and I find myself being reminded of how much it pisses me off when I hear other Christians justify their judgmental behavior with “We hate the sin, not the sinner.”

Think about it. If we decry WBC's behavior, we are judging them, and Jesus said not to judge lest we be judged ourselves. And to suggest that picketing family funerals because they represent the governments who support same sex marriage is unChristian is to, in essence, call them unChristian. After all, when we make such comments, we are, in essence, equating the believer with the behavior.

Nor did Jesus refrain from publicly calling hypocrites out, as he did with the money changers in the temple, and intransigent religious zealots. What could be more intransigent, or hypocritical than serving in the military for a country that doesn't execute homosexuals, or running in a marathon in a state that allows same sex marriage.

After all (as WBC pointed out) God did punish Massachusetts by sending two Chechen Muslims to bomb runners. And there's nothing more comforting than knowing that God will send Muslims so that decent Christians won't have blood on their hands.

This was the tweet announcing God's wrath on Massachusetts sinners.

So I pondered how to respond to WBC's ongoing open protests as families grieve their loved ones, and it dawned on me that Jesus pointed the way. Didn't he say that we should do unto others as they would have them do to us? 1

So if WBC protestors are Christian, then clearly they are doing to grieving families as they want grieving families to do to them. After all, they insist they are doing the will of Jesus. So I would suggest they want us to protest what we believe to be ungodly behavior.

So the next time you're in Topeka with friends, check and see if any WBC family members are having a funeral. If they are, take as many friends as you can and protest their shameful practice of protesting people for others' policies. Be loud and vocal. Be obnoxious. This is what they would want you to do to them. This is what Jesus would want you to do.


1The question is purely rhetorical. He did.back


 

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.