Monday, January 14, 2013

God's prodigal grace and mass murderers

"I wouldn't forgive someone who killed my kid." That statement changed the direction of our conversation at church. My response is to consider what Jesus taught on his sermon on the mount.

Jesus teachers his followers how to pray. The second half of the prayer is focused on evil and our culpability and responsibility in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 "...and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

We are indebted because of our wicked deeds.
Others are indebted to us because of their wicked deeds towards us.
We need to be forgiven by God. God's forgiveness of us is conditional on our forgiveness of others. We need to forgive those close to us who hurt us. We need to forgive those whose names we do not know, yet they cut us off in traffic and nearly killed us. We need to forgive those, a plural pronoun, who sin against us, another plural pronoun. As I've argued before, in this prayer, when I pray it, I am asking God to forgive the sins of others, who I don't even know, who did things against people I don't even know. It's a prayer by the church worldwide, for the church worldwide, to the God who forgives when asked.

But what if the sin is intentional, malicious, downright evil?

Jesus also addresses that. 21 "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, 'You fool!' will be liable to the hell of fire. Matthew 5 I'm convinced Jesus is boxing us into a no-win situation. Only Jesus can "win" when we deal with fools. The only way that doesn't lead to hell is the way of the cross, forgiveness. Forgiveness gives up the right to vengeance. It does not give up justice, but it removes the personal aspect of the crime. Jesus talks about this even more.

38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41 And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Matt. 5

This is worse/better than justice. It's grace. Reminds me of a story written by Victor Hugo. I think there's a movie or something out about it. It's where the rubber meets the road of the Golden Rule. When I sin, I have my excuses. If you are hurt by my actions or my words, I believe you are making too big a deal out of it. Give me a break. Jesus wants me to give everyone a break, even the guy, stealing my silver. I don't have silver, but I do have electronic devices.

In a sense, most crimes are against humanity, if not all of humanity, at least the part of society where the criminal acted. So we have set up courts which adjudicate on our behalf, even though hardly any crime in the courts is against us personally. Collectively, we are all hurt, even in the tiniest way when crimes are committed. When a thief takes from someone downtown, someone I don't know, and may never meet, our community's trust is weakened. But if that thief has taken from someone in the church, when I pray, forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, I am forgiving someone who hasn't done a thing to me personally, but has hurt a fellow believer.

Murder is so much worse than theft. What is a Christian to do when someone is trying to kill you? Jesus talks about our enemies as well.

43 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matt. 5

This gospel appeared in written form after the young church had already experienced official persecutions, lynch mobs, stonings, and other terrors.  The new believers, under attack were reminded of their Lord's instructions to love those who are killing them, their friends, and their family. If not being killed, they were being enslaved, ostracized, and disenfranchised. That still happens today. But Jesus' followers are told to not hate their enemies, but to love them, even the mass murderers.

As documented on this blog, a few years ago, most of my reading focused on genocide. From Joshua of the Bible, to Genghis Khan, to Columbus, to Native Americans, to Stalin, to Hitler, to Mao. In our modern parlance, genocide is classified as crimes against humanity. It is a good thing when mass murderers are stopped and incarcerated. Many do not ever get stopped and live out their deranged lives. (See The Great Big Book of Horrible Things, which used to be a great website, but now you have to get this book in your hands to see it all.)

Without forgiveness, there is only justice. If there is no Bishop Myriel, then the world only has Javert. Apart from the cross, a foolish, shameful, dishonorable, instrument of grace, there is only the justice of hell. The pain of the cross is short term, hell is forever. The humiliation of forgiveness, even for those who murder children, brings release through pain. Unforgiveness only brings crippling bitterness, a hell on earth.

Freedom is in forgiveness, even when applied to those diabolical evil doers in our world. It's not easy. But nothing worth doing is easy.

An important addendum:
When we are vicitimized, Christians do not need to stay in that situation, because of these verses. Jesus, repeatedly tells people to flee from persecution. So don't be stupid, pretending to be holy. Flee if you can, if you are in an abusive situation.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

book response: Red Letter Revolution by Campolo and Claiborne (2012)

Now that the holiday break is over, I don't have the time to read a book every couple days. This one was a gift, something I was happy to receive. These guys are politically progressive and see the words of Jesus, printed in red letters in some Bible editions, supportive of those left of center positions. I'm a regular reader of their blog, Red Letter Christians, and enjoy most of the posts there as well. I don't think there is anything heretical or upsetting to Christians who aren't fundamentalists. After a while, about midway through the book, I got bored. I enjoyed the conversational style between Campolo and Claiborne, in fact, according to the afterword, the book is mostly transcribed conversations. The tone in the book retains its conversational tone throughout. This book is a political platform, which makes it a reference book, not a narrative, no matter how hard it tries to do that. In that light, this book is a good reference for understanding how conservative evangelical Christians derive politically progressive positions from the gospels. However, I want, in the same book, a contrast with those believers, who derive conservative positions from the same material. That would be a great book for my enjoyment.

This book is a good witness to those who believe that American evangelicals have a monolithic political theory. It's also a challenge to those evangelicals who can't imagine supporting any party other than the Republicans. I do hope there are many who are willing to have their assumptions and prejudices questioned.
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Tuesday, January 01, 2013

book response: A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Evans (2012)

I cannot think of a better way for someone to argue a different way of viewing things than through narrative prose. I wish I had the skill and the stories that Rachel Held Evans does to explain my thoughts. Not that Evans thoughts on the full humanity of women, even in the church, is that revolutionary in modern culture, but it is in conservative and fundamentalist culture. A Year of Biblical Womanhood is an excellent introduction to the unnecessarily hot topic of egalitarianism in the church. But even if you are a guy who is egalitarian, or thinks he is, or is recovering from growing up a complementarian, Evans still manages to reveal blind spots.

I really don't understand why some complementarian sisters are so bothered by this book. This is Evans' story. She put herself in crazy situations, which some women whom she met and interviewed, practiced faithfully, and learned a great deal about Jesus, the church, and the Bible. Her husband, Dan, is included in the story, including some of his journal entries through the year. I'm glad Dan's voice is present. This book might be the best unintentional marriage book put out in 2012 by the Christian publishing industry. I recommend this for all Christian couples, especially for those in conservative and fundamentalist cultures. Evans gets very pointed when it comes to church beauty expectations, based on A.D. 100 expectations, and over zealous bible teaching.
Both husbands and wives bear the sweet responsibility of seeking beauty in one another at all stages of life. No one gets off the hook because the other is wearing sweatpants or going bald or carrying a child or battling cancer. Any pastor who claims the Bible says otherwise is lying. End of story. p.106
Yeah, there are some notorious pastors who focus on that in America. Evans calls b.s. on that. It's ironic that a 30 year old woman can make this correct observation, but men in spiritual authority, older than her seem to miss that. Perhaps they are spiritualizing their own issues from the pulpit.

The amount of dehumanizing doctrine that Evans finds and displays for her readers is revolting. Her wisdom in response to this garbage is like pearls set on piles of dog doo doos. It's an indication of the Christian subculture that she has to say things like this, but I'm glad she does.
As a Christian, my highest calling is not motherhood; my highest calling is to follow Christ. And following Christ is something a woman can do whether she is married, or single, rich or poor, sick or healthy, childless or Michelle Duggar. p. 180
The anti-woman garbage has been happening for centuries. In his letter to the Romans, Paul extols this person named Junia, as outstanding among the apostles. Romans 16:7. This woman's recognition among the apostles was not an issue in the early church, as Evans shows with a quote from the great church leader of the 4th century John Chrysostom.
The fourth-century bishop of Constantinople, John Chrysostom, said of Junia, “To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! . . . Indeed how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title of apostle.” p. 248
This did become an issue as male superiority became important to the institutional church, so, suddenly, the copyists started adding a masculine -s to her name. The name Junias is like a unicorn among Latin names in the first century. Shaking my head. There are plenty of modern examples Evans shares of this sort of buttressing to protect masculine leadership roles. She quotes plenty from the council of biblical manhood and womanhood. They really made me wince. The Bible does not give the data, these complementarians insist on. Women in the Bible, as today, do many different things, and have many different, yet important roles in the world. Evans' conclusion is brilliant.
Far too many church leaders have glossed over these stories and attempted to define womanhood by a list of rigid roles. But roles are not fixed. They are not static. Roles come and go; they shift and they change. They are relative to our culture and subject to changing circumstances. It’s not our roles that define us, but our character. p. 295
Yeah, that's an "Amen" line right there. Jesus tells us the primary command of God's for society is the Golden Rule, to treat others as we want to be treated. It's that rule that ended African slavery in the West in the 1800's. Perhaps it can end the segregation of women in our churches in the 21st century.
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