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?

 

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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.

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.