Like The Woman At The Well?

Like the woman at the well, I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy.
And then I heard my Savior speaking—
“Draw from My well that never shall run dry.”
Fill my cup, Lord;
I lift it up Lord;
Come and quench this thirsting of my soul.
Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more.
Fill my cup, fill it up and make me whole.

The Samaritan Woman - John 4:1-42We are going to be singing the song “Fill My Cup,Lord” (the song above) in church on Sunday. It comes from the story in John 4 about the Woman at the Well. It happens to be one of my favorite stories in Scripture. When I went to China fifteen years ago, I got three wall hangings of the work of He Qi, the Chinese artist who depicts religious stories in paintings. The three I bought were based on stories I love, the Good Samaritan, the Road to Emmaus and the Woman at the Well.

I love this story because it is a story of Jesus breaking boundaries left and right. But I really love it because it is about grace and about Jesus being the friend of sinners.

I will be preaching on the text Sunday, but as this Sunday grew near I felt a bit of hesitation. You see, over the years it seems to get harder to preach this story. Over the years, I’ve heard people reflecting on the story and well, challenging one aspect of it: the role of the woman.

This woman (who is unnamed) comes to draw water in the middle of the day. In very warm climates, you would not be out when the sun is at its hightest. No, you would draw your water in the early morning or the evening when it is cooler. The fact that this woman comes at noon indicates that she is some sort of outcast. During the conversation with Jesus, he asks her to go and fetch her husband. When she says she has no husband, Jesus replies that she is correct. She has had five husbands and the man that she lives with now is not her husband. Now, traditionally people have thought that she might have been doing something that was considered sinful. However, another story has come forward in recent years that rejects seeing the woman as a sinner, but more as a victim of some sort. The Bible never really tells us what this woman has done, if anything. The passage raises question about this women and what has led her to be an outcast, but we are never told what happened.

What I loved about this story is that God can work through someone deemed a sinner. The kingdom of God is for this person as well. Friend of sinners indeed.

But that view is starting to fall out of favor at least in mainline circles for this newer viewpoint. There is no mention of sin. There is no repentance. They argue that the traditional understanding of the woman at the well is full of misogyny and moralism.  Here is what David Lose said in a Huffington Post article in 2011:

She is not a prostitute. She doesn’t have a shady past. Yet when millions of Christians listen to her story this coming Sunday in church, they are likely to hear their preachers describe her in just those terms.

Her story is told in the fourth chapter of the Gospel According to John. She is a Samaritan woman who Jesus encounters by a well. Jews and Samaritans don’t get along, and women and men in this culture generally keep a safe social distance from each other. So she is doubly surprised when Jesus asks her for a drink. When she makes a remark to that effect, he offers her living water. Confused, but intrigued, she asks about this miraculous water. He eventually invites her to call her husband, and when she replies that she has no husband, he agrees: “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (4:18).

And that’s it. That’s the sentence that has branded her a prostitute. Conservative preacher John Piper’s treatment is characteristic. In a sermon on this passage, he describes her as “a worldly, sensually-minded, unspiritual harlot from Samaria,” and at another point in the sermon calls her a “whore.”

I don’t think I’ve ever seen her as a prostitute, but I guess I could see people thinking that. So if this isn’t the correct interpretation, then why is it being used?  The continued oppression of women:

So if this seems at least as probable an interpretation as the more routine one, why do so many preachers assume the worst of her? I would suggest two reasons. First, there is a long history of misogyny in Christian theology that stands in sharp contrast to the important role women play in the gospels themselves. Women, the four evangelists testify, supported Jesus’ ministry. They were present at the tomb when their male companions fled. And they were the first witnesses to the resurrection. Yet from asserting that Eve was the one who succumbed to temptation (conveniently ignoring that the author of Genesis says Adam was right there with her — Gen. 3:6) to assuming this Samaritan woman must be a prostitute, there is the ugly taint of chauvinism present in too much Christian preaching, perhaps particularly so in those traditions that refuse to recognize the equality of women to preach and teach with the same authority as men.

A second reason preachers cast this woman in the role of prostitute is that it plays into the belief that Christianity, and religion generally, is chiefly about morality. Treating the Bible as one long, if peculiar, Goofus & Gallant cartoon, we read every story we find in terms of sin and forgiveness, moral depravity and repentance. But this story is not about immorality; it’s about identity. In the previous scene, Jesus was encountered by a male Jewish religious authority who could not comprehend who or what Jesus was. In this scene, he encounters the polar opposite, and perhaps precisely because she is at the other end of the power spectrum, she recognizes not just who Jesus is but what he offers — dignity. Jesus invites her to not be defined by her circumstances and offers her an identity that lifts her above her tragedy. And she accepts, playing a unique role in Jesus’ ministry as she is the first character in John’s gospel to seek out others to tell them about Jesus.

I can understand why the traditional view can be so unsettleing.  Christian leaders have used scripture to belittle women.  I definitely would not call the woman a whore with the certainty that John Piper seems show.  We really don’t know what she has done, if anything.  So , we need to be careful in thinking we know the woman’s “sin” if there even is one.  Plus as Lose and other Bible scholars have noted, she might have been involved in a Levirate marriage.

That said, Lose’s alternative understand of this story, one where the woman is offered an identity and dignity seems to be weak tea for me.  Don’t get me wrong, the fact that Jesus treats woman with dignity matters.  The gospels present a Jesus that felt women had a role in his kingdom and it was more than cleaning tables.

But there is something missing in Lose’s interpretation.  Maybe the problem is that this is the kind of stuff I would expect to hear from nice, tolerant liberals.  It has nice words to say about inclusion and about treating women with respect.  But do people need to go to church to hear this?  Inclusivity is important, but I can learn that from a Coke ad.  I don’t need the church for that.

I agree that the woman does get to be a missionary to her people, which is groundbreaking.  All of this is good, I just don’t know if it really says anything about the love of God or what this all means for the church.

As I said before, we don’t know if this woman had sinned.  What we do know is that she was viewed a sinner by the townsfolk- which is why we see her getting water at noon instead of the morning or evening.  Whatever happened, we know that she is an outcast and outcasts are normally made to feel like sinners even if they’ve done nothing wrong.

I think it matters if this woman appeared to be a sinner (note that I said appear.  I did not say she was a sinner.)  If that’s the case, then the story changes.  This is then not about offering dignity but it is about Jesus, the friend of sinners, the one who is willing to impugn his own reputation to love the sinner and the outcast.  THAT is what makes this story so amazing.  Regardless if this woman was a sinner or not, Jesus radically loves this woman, even to the point of causing people to talk.

We all love to talk about Jesus being a friend to sinners, but we get a little nervous when Jesus in the Bible or Christians today, actually try to be friends…to sinners.

Lutheran pastor Delmer Chilton recounts a story that place right after his ordination; one where the newly minted minister ends up in the midst of some “working girls:”

I was ordained many years ago in Fayetteville, North Carolina, in a church not far from Fort Bragg.  An old college friend drove several hours to be there.  After the service that evening, he gave me a ride to the house where I was staying with another friend during the clergy conference that was to begin the next day.  Our route took us through a part of town where “working girls” offered their services to GIs.  We came to a stoplight, and they spotted me sitting there in his open-bodied Jeep.  I was wearing a black suit and clergy shirt.  Several of them came over to the car and began talking while we waited for the light to change to green.  I said to my friend, “Get me out of here or this might be the shortest clerical career on record.”

He laughed as we drove away and then he said, “Well Delmer, I’m just a lowly English teacher, and you know I don’t go to church very much, but the way I read the Bible – aren’t those the very people you’re supposed to hanging out with?”  I’ve known the man a long time and I still hate it when he’s right.

The reason the Woman at the Well resonates with me is that Jesus was willing to be seen talking with someone that at the very least was an outcast and still loves her. Because of that radical love, this woman was able to witness to her neighbors and they too saw Jesus as the Messiah.

In the end, this story really isn’t about the Samaritan woman. She does factor in and is important to the story, but the story is really about a God that is willing to love someone, anyone so radically that one might think God is off God’s rocker. If God is a friend to outcasts and sinners, then God is surely a friend to me. We can rest in the hope that we have a God that passionately loves each one of us.

Hmmm…I think I might have written my sermon for this Sunday….

 

JESUS MAFA. Jesus and the Samaritan Woman, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=48282 [retrieved March 21, 2014].

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Repost: Love, Justice, Vengence and Grace

The following is a blog post from 2007.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
-Matthew 5:43-48

I decided to call my parents back home in Michigan tonight to find out how they were doing. Mom answered first, like she always does and we started chatting. At some point, she talked about a horrific crime just outside of Detroit. My mother expressed rage at the sheer savagery of the crime and saw this man as the perfect candidate for the death penalty.

dirty harryNow, you have to know something about Mom: she is dead set against the death penalty. She doesn’t approve of it on biblical grounds. So, for her to suggest this is somewhat shocking. Of course, she calmed down, but she explained the crime was terrible, that it was impossible to not simply react in this way towards one who would commit such an evil.

Later this evening, I ran into another blog where a pastor hoped the wrongdoer would get an ass-pounding in prison. He later regretted those remarks, somewhat.

The two incidents have me thinking about Jesus’ message to love everyone, including our enemies and how that smacks up against real life and real evil. Pastors and lay people hang on to the fact that Jesus seemed to love those that weren’t considered the proper people in society. On paper that seems wonderful. But how to does it hold up to child molesters? What about war criminals? Rapists? Not so easy to love them, huh?

My tamed cynical self tends to look at those who preach this easy love as fools somewhat-blind to the real evil that takes place in the world. The sad fact is that no matter how loving we are to our enemies, the enemies still rape and kill.

I think we are called to love everybody in the world. But I also know we live in the real world. We are also called to work for justice and part of my mother’s anger was the injustice of it all. We live in a world where there is evil and part of us wants to respond not in love, with vengence: to make them pay for their crimes. No forgiveness, no second chance, just blow the motherfucker away.

Psalm 137 is called the Cursing Psalm. It was written in a time of stress, probably as the Israelites were ripped from all they knew to a foreign land.

Read along:

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2On the willows* there
we hung up our harps.
3For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

4How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.

7Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
😯 daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

Hmmm, somehow I don’t think you hear this Psalm much in Sunday worship services.

The fact is, the psalmist was sad at all the destruction. His town was destroyed by vandals. He wasn’t interested in seeking understanding- he wanted his pound of flesh. He wanted to hurt them as much he was hurt. This passage reminds me of how many felt after September 11. In the devastation of the World Trade Center towers, there was a rage to strike back and kick some ass. Some chastised this feeling, but the fact is, it is natural-it is human.

We are called to love, but as Christians we have to also be aware of our own feelings . Yes, we can love evil people, but we are also called to do justice, so seeing the injustice of innocents dying in buildings, or a young child not being able to live out a full life gets us angry.

And yet we have to move beyond our anger and love these people anyway. We are called to love them and pray for them.

The thing is, when we think these thoughts of vengance, we also know that God understands and gives us grace. We are loved even when we find it hard to love.

Advent reminds us that the world is not okay, but that God has a plan. Please, Lord God, come to our aid.

How Do You Solve a Problem Like A Bigot?

punch a bigot

It was about 15 years ago that I saw firsthand how love of enemy and justice for the oppressed clashed with each other.  I was in seminary at the time and one Sunday afternoon, I went to a discussion held at a local Lutheran church.  The then-Bishop of the St. Paul Area Synod of the ELCA, Mark Hanson (who is now the denomination’s Presiding Bishop) was in attendance.  The topic was on LGBT inclusion.  Bishop Hanson was trying hard to stress the unity of the church amidst diversity.  He tried to talk about how churches that were opposed to having non-celibate gays as pastors and those who advocate for it are brought together and have a place at Christ’s table.

The audience gathered was having none of this happy talk.  A few in attendance talked about LGBT folk they knew who were no longer in the church.  More than once I heard this phrase which was accompanied with tears: “People are dying!”

I never knew what that phrase meant.  Was it literally or figurately?  I don’t know. What I did know is that the people wanted some sense of justice for LGBT folk right now-unity be damned.

In the ongoing debates on the role of LGBT persons in the life of the church, we normally see these two important aspects of our faith, love and justice, collide into each other.  What I’ve observed over time is that you can’t really bring these two concepts together or at least not perfectly.

This collision of two Christian values comes into focus for those us who favor LGBT inclusion.  Many of us tend to use an early struggle as our template-that struggle being the issue of race.  There was a time when I could see the parallels.  Actually, I still see the parallels, but part me wishes I couldn’t.

Why?  Because I can see where such thinking leads, I don’t know if I want to go down that road.

Let me explain.  Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton wrote an oped recently in the Washington Post expressing his changing opinion on homosexuality.  He likens some of the objections to objections made by those who supported slavery:

There are a handful of Scriptures (five or eight depending upon how one counts) that specifically speak of same-sex intimacy as unacceptable to God. Conservatives or traditionalists see these as reflecting God’s timeless will for human relationships. Progressives look at these same scriptures in much the same way that progressives in the nineteenth century looked at the Bible’s teaching on slavery. They believe that these verses capture the cultural understandings and practices of sexuality in biblical times, but do not reflect God’s will for gay and lesbian people…

For many Christians today, particularly young adults, the handful of Bible verses related to same sex intimacy seem more like the 100 plus verses on slavery than they do the teachings of Jesus and his great commandments to love God and neighbor. Their gay and lesbian friends are people, just like them, in need of love and community. I believe that in the years ahead an increasing number of Christians, not only progressives, but also conservatives, will read the Bible’s passages regarding homosexuality as all Christians today read the Bible’s passages on slavery. And the sermons preached from America’s pulpits decrying the rights of homosexuals today will sound to future generations much like the pro-slavery sermons sound to us today.

I understand where Hamilton is coming from and I tend to agree with him.  But I am also hesitant because what is being said in this article is that those who oppose homosexuality are bigots.  That may well be true, but we should stop what we mean when we say explicitly or implicitly that someone is a bigot for opposing homosexuality.  To paraphrase a Simpson’s line, the word bigot can be used so much that it loses all meaning.  But the term is not one that should be used lightly.

As Megan McArdle said recently, our society has rightly deemed that being a racist is something reprehesible.  I would add that bigot falls into the same category.  In a good post about crime, McArdle notes that there are consequences for calling someone a racist:

Some crimes should be viewed as so morally horrific that they cut one off from decent society.  But society also needs to be careful about who it cuts off.  It is very terrible to let a child molester keep working on new victims.  But it is also very terrible to destroy the life of an innocent adult–to brand him with a label that will probably keep him from ever associating with decent people again.

This does not, by the way, apply only to legal crimes.  We’ve stigmatized racists in much the same way: to be a racist is almost by definition to be a terrible person, or at least, a person who has very terrible thoughts.  But now liberals complain that they cannot have a discussion about race with conservatives without the conservatives taking horrible offense and acting as if the accusation of racism were worse than racism itself.

But this is the natural result of making racism into something so terrible that to utter an obviously racist remark is to brand yourself as an outcast.  You can’t have it both ways–say that racism is so terrible that even subtle manifestations deserve to be stigmatized by all right-thinking people, and then turn around and say that everyone’s a little bit racist and you’re just trying to have a conversation about how we can all pull together to build a more race-tolerant society.

That taboo is a good thing in many ways; I believe that social sanction keeps quite a bit of racism from being expressed, or acted upon.  But the flip side is that there is no such thing as an accusation of “mild” racism, any more than there are moderately bad child molesters.  If you call someone racist, you are invoking a huge social taboo.  (Something that, I must confess, I don’t think all the complaining liberals are entirely unaware of.)  But inherent to a taboo’s power is the fact that it’s only rarely invoked.

I’ve seen this when we talk about sexuality.  On the one hand people like to talk about how everyone is welcome at Christ’s table, even those who disagree.  But we also say that the church needs to repent of its homophobia.  We aren’t yet at the point where being a homophobe is equal to being a racist, but we are close.  If we call someone a homophobic bigot, aren’t we saying that they are on par with slaveholders or a segregationist?  Would we really welcome such a person in our congregation?

Social conservatives usually get a bit ruffled when someone calls them bigot or compares them to Bull Connor.  It’s easy to blow this off, but I think they understand stakes.  They know a racist is a horrible person and they don’t see themselves as the modern equivalent of George Wallace.

Rod Dreher, a social conservative that I read often, understands this as well.  Here he talks about how newspapers view folks like him:

I remember once speaking with a senior executive at another big newspaper about his paper’s agenda-driven reporting on homosexuality and the marriage issue. This wasn’t an accusation on my part; he admitted the bias, and was proud of it. I brought up the likelihood that his paper’s bias could alienate many socially conservative readers, at a time when all of us who worked at newspapers were hemorrhaging readers. The executive said, indignantly, “We don’t need bigots for readers.”

Well, he certainly has a lot fewer of them today than he did when we had that conversation. So does the Washington Post. I wouldn’t claim that newspapers have lost readers because of their bias on reporting the marriage issue, but to the extent readers have lost confidence in the ability of newspapers to report the news with as much fairness as is possible (knowing that total fairness isn’t possible), and are therefore unwilling to spend their money to be lied to and to have people like themselves defamed, then yes, it plays a role.

Over the years, talking to fellow conservatives about media bias, it has usually been my place, as one who worked in mainstream media, to tell conservatives that they’re wrong in some significant way about media bias — not its existence, but the way it works. Most reporters and editors, in my 20 years of experience, do not set out to slant stories, and in fact try to be fair. The bias that creeps into their coverage is typically the result of a newsroom monoculture, in which they don’t see the bias because everybody, or nearly everybody, within that culture agrees on so much. In the case of gay rights and the marriage debate, though, they don’t even make an effort to be fair. I have heard some version of the “error has no rights” claim for years now. They honestly believe they are morally absolved from having to treat the views of about half the country with basic fairness in reporting. And they are shocked — believe me, they really are — that these people view them and the work they do with suspicion, even contempt.

Dreher can be overly dramatic, but there is some truth in his bluster.  If we are equating folks like Dreher to racists, then frankly, I can’t talk to them or read their blogs.  I can’t do any of that because being a homophobe is taboo and people like Dreher has crossed the line.

Which is why I’m hesitant to paint those who might be against same sex marriage as bigots.  Because doing so is serious.  The Great Evangelist Charles Finney barred slaveholders from receiving communion because owning another human being was crossing a line.

Maybe this is the wrong choice.  Maybe I shouldn’t care what social conservatives think.  I just don’t know if I’m ready to tell people that they are no longer welcome because of their refusal to repent of their sin.  Because if I’m calling someone a bigot, that’s exactly what I’m doing.

QMTD*

This summer the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will gather for its biennial General Assembly in Orlando.  One of the items to be considered is a resolution proclaiming the denomination Open and Affirming to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

A resolution is for the most part a sense of the Assembly and carries no legislative power.  That said it does carry some importance in making some kind of a statement at a specific time and place.  I know some of the people who came up with the resolution and after much revision it looks good. It resolves that  “the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) declares itself to be a people of grace and welcome to all God’s children–inclusive of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability.”

Good words.  We want to strive to be welcoming to LGBT persons who have been told in the past that they aren’t welcome at church.  The explaination for the resolution points this out:

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and queer (LGBTIQ) people have suffered, often most egregiously at the hands of the church. This suffering has come as a result of outright violence in word and deed and, perhaps just as damaging, through silence in the face such injustice. As a denomination that proclaims itself “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world” the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) must accept a special responsibility in actively finding ways to bring wholeness and offer healing, in particular to those whom the church has had a hand in harming, as well as to those whom the church has failed to stand beside in the face of the harm perpetrated by others.

The primer continues explaining how Disciples have spoken prophetically in the past:

At the height of civil unrest in the wake of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when the country remained violently divided on the issue of race, Disciples stood up and spoke with a clear voice at the International Convention of Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ) in 1968 “to address the sin of racism through resolutions and direct action.” In 1973, when only 4% of the of professional church workers and 9% of seminarians were women, and congregations were divided over whether women should be allowed in ministry, the
General Assembly in Cincinnati, Ohio found its voice and passed resolutions urgently seeking to address the inequities of gender discrimination posed by excluding women from serving the church in the same capacity as men.
The important thing to note in these two examples is the extent to which Disciples made it a priority to help shape the church’s thinking on a General level, prior to any consensus on the Regional or congregational level. Knowing the potential fallout from taking controversial stands on race and gender, the General Church spoke to a better version of ourselves in which justice trumps inequity, in which hospitality surpasses exclusion, and in which holy courage eclipses fear. Despite the traditional theological understanding among some, underwritten by Scriptural interpretation—that races ought not to mix and that women ought to remain silent in the church— Disciples embraced a hermeneutic that opened itself up to God’s
ability to do a new thing among God’s people.
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is in need of such a voice today to speak courageously against the exclusion of LGBTIQ people from full participation in the life and ministry of the church.

And the thrust of this is to extend hospitality:

There are many Disciples who believe that we need to take positive action to communicate the need for a broader sense of the reach of hospitality, to acknowledge just how we can live out our identity as a people of welcome and grace. Therefore, it seems fitting to offer a resolution that would allow the General Assembly to speak a word to the church about what it means to welcome all to full participation in the life and ministry of the church.

All of this is good.  And yet, there is something missing.  It’s not something that is added to a resolution, but it has to be added to the life of many mainline churches.  I think it is good to extend the Table to LGBT folk.  I am all for hospitality.  But here’s a question that no one seems to care to answer:

What do we do once we’ve extended hospitality?  Where does discipleship fit into all of this?

In many ways, progressive Christians have adopted the tactics of the wider society in fighting for equality.  I think in some cases that’s important.  But as Christians, we don’t just follow the law; we are also called to follow Jesus and to take up our crosses as well.

Most progressive Christians will talk about how inclusive Jesus was.  That may be the case, we aren’t talking about some kind of glorified Benneton ad.  Jesus also called people to do hard things.  He called the Rich Young Ruler to see his possessions.  He called the Woman Caught in Adultery to leave her life of sin.  There is forgiveness and grace with Jesus, but there is also a call to follow which isn’t always easy.

Maybe this harder call to follow Christ is heard in our churches and odds are it is.  But more often than not, we are welcoming people something more akin to a social club than it is to the community of Christ. I know this because I’ve seen it in churches and among fellow Christians. Recently, blogger Rod Dreher had something  to say regarding what Christianity is about. Regarding a discussion on religion between Andrew Sullivan and the late Christopher Hitchens, Sullivan noted ““I don’t see Jesus trying to control anybody’s life.” Dreher responded:

Judging by the evidence in this dialogue, Sully seems to believe in a Jesus that doesn’t require anything of him, a Jesus that exists as a psychological comfort, but certainly not as Lord.

“I don’t see Jesus trying to control anybody’s life” — what could that possibly mean? Did Jesus not try to control the lives of the moneychangers in the Temple? Did Jesus turn away from the woman caught in adultery as she was about to be stoned by the Pharisees? It wasn’t his business, strictly speaking, to tell the Pharisees how to run their lives. In fact, he told the adulterous woman to “go and sin no more” — a pretty conclusive sign that he believed he had the right to tell an adulterer to stop doing that.

When the Rich Young Ruler came to Jesus and asked him what he must do to be saved, Jesus had an answer for him — an answer the rich kid didn’t want to hear. True, Jesus didn’t press the young man into his service, so in that narrow sense, Jesus didn’t try to control his life. But Jesus did tell the young man how he ought to live if he wanted to find eternal life. To say that Jesus never told anybody how they ought to live — which is what Sully means here — is not remotely tenable. Hitchens the atheist militant has a better understanding of what Christianity demands, I’m afraid.

Sullivan wrote a post last year about what Jesus meant to him that got a lot of play. (I wrote a post about it.) The thing is, the Jesus that he is talking about at times tends to be the Jesus that I might hear in a mainline church.  It’s the Jesus of Moral Therapeutic Deism a faith that looks like this:

  1. A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
  3. The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.
  5. Good people go to heaven when they die.

Sadly, when I hear people talk about the inclusion of LGBT persons in the church what I hear are numbers 2 and 3.  We are arguing less for the fact that all are welcomed to follow Christ than we are wanting to be good and fair people and making sure people are happy.

I would like to see mainline churches do more than offer Queer Moral Therapeutic Deism*, which is what I feel we offer at times to gays and lesbians.  I’m not advocating for a more conservative theology, but I am asking that mainliners offer a more robust and challenging Christianity than the weak tea we get at times.

 

Our Hope Is Built on Nothing Less…

A few thoughts on the election…

-My candidate for President didn’t win, but the constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Minnesota was defeated.  Three other states, Maine, Maryland and Washington all voted in favor of legalizing same sex marriage.  Personally, I think it’s a great move forward in gay rights.  That said, I think we need to be mindful of those in our neighborhood and moreso in our pews who faithfully disagree on this issue.  As much as I disagree with him, Rod Dreher’s blog post this morning should be read as how social conservatives feel about the changing climate.  They are fearful of having to give up what they believe is a moral belief.  It behooves those of us who favor same-sex marriage, especially those of us in the church, to reach out to these folks with openess and love and not just dismiss them. I think we have to do this for two reasons: one, because we are Christians and  two, because the most dangerous animal is one that is backed into a corner.

If Rod Dreher’s post is a good read of what social conservatives are feeling, the Tony Jones’ post is probably what a lot of progressive Christians are feeling this morning.  I’m all for calling a spade a spade, but I also think that there are times we need to be the “bigger man” and learn to be gracious in our victory.  How we win is just as important as how we lose.

I also think Jones’ rationale that putting same sex marriage on the ballot was cynical is a bit shortsighted.  I think the legislators and the religious groups that supported the amendment actually believe that gay marriage is wrong.  I don’t think they were trying to divide the electorate, whatever that means.

-Conservative political commentator Matt Lewis is spot on when he says the GOP needs modernization and not moderation.  One the things they need to modernize is their immigration policy.  I don’t think their stance was born of bigotry or racism, but I do think a lot of Latinos saw it that way.  Yes, we need to have tougher enforcement, but we also need to do something with the 12 million people who are in the country illegally.  We can’t send them all back, and we can’t hope they will “self-deport.”  We need to find some way to make them citizens of the United States.  This is one place where evangelical Christians could use their clout and push for a humane immigration policy.

-On Sunday, I preached about the fact that Jesus, not Obama and not Romney, is our Hope.  Christ is the final hope expressed in the closing chapters of Revelation, not a political agenda.  Scot McKnight talks about this in a blog post this morning.  Here’s a sample:

Somewhere overnight or this morning the eschatology of American Christians may become clear. If a Republican wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian has an eschatology of politics. Or, alternatively, if a Democrat wins and the Christian becomes delirious or confident that the Golden Days are about to arrive, that Christian too has an eschatology of politics. Or, we could turn each around, if a more Democrat oriented Christian becomes depressed and hopeless because a Repub wins, or if a Republican oriented Christian becomes depressed or hopeless because a Dem wins, those Christians are caught in an empire-shaped eschatology of politics…

Where is our hope? To be sure, I hope our country solves its international conflicts and I hope we resolve poverty and dissolve our educational problems and racism. And I hope we can create a better economy. But where does my hope turn when I think of war or poverty or education or racism? Does it focus on my political party? Does it gain its energy from thinking that if we get the right candidate elected our problems will be dissolved? If so, I submit that our eschatology has become empire-shaped, Constantinian, and political. And it doesn’t matter to me if it is a right-wing evangelical wringing her fingers in hope that a Republican wins, or a left-wing progressive wringing her fingers in hope that a Democrat wins. Each has a misguided eschatology…

We are tempted to divide the USA into the good and the bad and to forget that the gospel has folks on both sides of political lines. Even more: we are tempted to think that the winners of the election are those who are blessed by God when the blessing of God is on God’s people. God’s gospel-powered mission creates a new people, the church, where we are to see God’s mission at work. Therein lies our hope.

I think this is something to be aware of, if not repent of.  Christians of all political stripes are always tempted to place God in the seat of earthly power.  We confuse an earthly kingdom with God’s kingdom.  Our hope as Christians doesn’t lie in “Obamacare” or Social Security or tax cuts or defense spending.  It has to lie in the name of the One who has liberated all of creation through his life, death and resurrection.

Finally, blogger Michael Kruse touches on the whole rhetoric of “empire,” and how those Christians who used that term to describe the administration of George W. Bush seem okay with the empire when it provides health care and other social programs and especially when their guy is in office:

As I have watched this election, my mind has gone back just a few years ago to when left-leaning Christians were preaching about America and Empire. As I follow social media, how curious it is to see many of those same Christians who embraced that critique in delirious joy over the inauguration the latest “Emperor.” It confirms much of what I suspected all along. The critique was partisan, not prophetic.

Earlier this year, I blogged about what constitutes being prophetic (you can read the posts here and here).  I still think a lot of what passes for prophetic speech, especially in mainline Protestant churches, is nothing more than a liberal political agenda dressed up in religious garb.  I still would like to know what it means to be prophetic.

What are your thoughts?

Graphic: An image created by Minnesotans United for All Families, the main group working to the defeat the marriage amendment in Minnesota.