Friday, June 24, 2016

Gays and the New Jerusalem

Disgustingly, some Christian pastors publicly celebrated the massacre at the Orlando gay nightclub in their sermons, on Youtube, and on their blogs. I will not provide links. Other conservative evangelical pastors were actually shaken enough to reconsider their approach to the Bible and the LGBTQ community.

The disgusting pastors love this verse. (Image from here.) So their understanding of god is good with  the slaughter of gay people and their friends who were not gay, because their god is totally offended with these versions of his creation. Even though their holy book says their god made humanity in his image, they think verses like these contradict other verses that say their god's creation of humanity was "very good." There is another verse in Leviticus that says God considers men having gay sex an abomination. Hence the follow up death penalty. The previous verse only said these guys needed to be kicked out of their community but two chapters later god doubles down and decides they should be kicked out by killing them. I've been informed on Facebook that God is disgusted with the gays because the Bible says so. Apparently, God also loves them, if they stop being gay. Otherwise, they are going to burn forever in hell. But my conservative friends do not think gays should be killed anymore, just deprived of their rights.

Why shouldn't Christians kill gays anymore? My answer used to be because that was part of the theocracy in ancient Israel.

My question now is, were those the good old days when those Levitical laws were in place? Then the other question is do you realize this book was not even composed until just before the exile or during the Persian exile? Do you realize this law may not have even existed in those old days? But if it did, was that really God's best idea? Killing people in violation of sexual mores?

How did God react to a similar situation?

John's gospel contains the wandering pericope of the woman caught in adultery. The Pharisees, a conservative religious sect in Israel, dragged a woman caught en flagrant adultery. Her partner however was not brought to trial. The religious dudes reminded Jesus that the law of Moses, e.g. Leviticus, condemns adulterers to death by stoning. Jesus told them to go ahead, that is anyone who has not sinned. They got the message, dropped their stones and left her and Jesus alone. Jesus tells her he does not condemn her and to not sin anymore. (I cannot imagine that worked out well for her though). Since I'm a trinitarian Christian, I consider Jesus fully God and fully human in some mysterious way. And Jesus did not condemn her. He overruled the law of Moses with love. The apostle Paul wrote something about that, 2 Corinthians 3:6 "He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." As I've written many times here, not everything biblical is Christian.

Adultery is a death penalty offense in the Bible, but it is not for Christians. The same is true for homosexuality. That massacre in Orlando was not approved by Jesus. The church, who is supposed to be Christ's representation on the earth, is supposed to stand between the oppressors and the oppressed, the judges and the judged, the violators and the violated, not cheer on the violent mob.

Nor does Jesus say to the woman "I do not support your lifestyle." If he did then he would be condemning her. He doesn't self-contradict. He loves and protects. He preserves her life, because that is what the Spirit of God does, brings life. That is how you know which parts of the Bible are Christian, which parts are, indeed, inspired/God-breathed and which parts are not. Without the living Spirit of God, dead letters kill. When doctrine is more important than relationship, death wins, not love.

So what will the new Jerusalem be like for the literalists who read John's Revelation the same way they read Leviticus?

Revelation 21:22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Image of the New Jerusalem from the wikipedia.

It will be a theocracy again, just like the good old days of Israel. Will the stoning of gays and adulteresses be re-instituted? The nations will still be there, verse 24. There will be shameful people to keep out, verse 27. Will the New Jerusalem be like an Orlando slaughter at a gay nightclub or a place for the weak to find refuge?

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Healthcare needs more than Jesus

In the last month, a Canadian family who let their son die of diabetes because they believed Jesus was enough to cure him were condemned in court for murder. Children's death by believers in the christian tradition of faith healing happen every year in the United States and Canada. It is obvious to those outside of their sects that they have read the Bible too literally.Yes, in the gospels Jesus does heal many people of illnesses. In the Acts of the Apostles, his disciples heal some people as well. There are indeed promises that some afflictions just need more prayer and that anything good asked of God will be granted. But experience has proven to be a regulator on how literally some promises should be taken. (Evidence photo found here.) Jesus is not always enough to keep people alive. Sometimes insulin is needed as well.

Most devout christians do not follow Paul's advice to Timothy when they have an upset stomach and drink a little wine to treat it. We understand Paul's advice was appropriate to the time he wrote and level of medical understanding in his time. We do not believe his instructions are for all generations of Christians. In fact, some teetotaling Christians in the early 20th century United States deliberately ignored such holy instructions.

If we are honest, Jesus and the Bible are not enough to treat our medical conditions. Medicine, surgery, and long term treatment are often required. The times have changes. Humanity has progressed. We have a better understanding of the cause of ulcers and their treatment. Smallpox has been exterminated. Polio is almost gone. Leprosy is now treatable. Heart disease does not kill so many so early as it used to; the same is true of cancer. People with diabetes can live long lives. A stronger faith in Jesus, or a deeper prayer life, or a more intense devotional life did not cure or prevent these diseases. None of that discredits the miracles that do happen in people's lives who are cured from these things by prayer and devotion. But they would not be miracles if they were routine. By definition, a miracle is an exception. Certainly Jesus can do it, but usually he doesn't.

Jesus tells his disciple what you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. We get to adjust as the occasion calls for it. As medicine improves we let it's proven track record step in where prayer has failed.

The early Jewish dominated church wanted to impose 4 rules on the Gentile churches that were springing up all over the Mediterranean because of the efforts of people like Paul. They were don't eat blood, or meat from strangled animals, or meat sacrificed to idols, and don't screw around. Paul was like "cool, cool. i'll tell everyone." He kept forgetting to ever again mention the blood or strangled animal issue. Those were very Jewish concerns and the church neglected those commands soon after. Paul goes back and forth about the meat sacrificed to idols issue. He seems to settle on, don't do it if it's going to freak a Jewish person out; basically, "keep it on the down low." However, his expansive definition of sexual immorality might be shrinking. Even the Catholic church under Pope Francis is recognizing the great harm it has caused by denying community to remarried divorcees.  It used to be a big deal in some Protestant churches as well. Didn't Jesus say remarriage is adultery unless the divorce was for an affair? But now people have allowed their compassion to even overrule Jesus and support divorces from abusive spouses, and abusive has a wide definition. But before this loosening, people remained trapped in terrible marriages for fear of the church's condemnation. Many protestant churches even allow divorced and remarried people to pastor churches, even though they do not meet Paul's requirement to be a person of one spouse.

The church has loosened in response to the terrible experiences of places where the church convinced societies to outlaw divorce. The church has loosened in compassion by choosing to not add extra pain of community rejection to the wreckage of a divorce. The church has loosened in compassion for the innocent children who were cast out of church because their parent's divorced.

The church matures when it lets charity guide what it loosens and what it binds. When love is it's guide, and God is love, and it acknowledges the advancement in understanding that comes from study, both of it's own scriptures and the world we inhabit, the church grows. When it denies medical science, people die too early. When it denies emotional care, people die spiritually.

The church is learning on medicine. The church is learning on minority experiences. The church is learning on science, from astronomical to genetic to evolution to psychological. The church does not need to have all the answers, but it can always be a sanctuary for those in need of love and a sanctuary for the vulnerable. Broken people want to be part of church but are often barred from it because they are not good enough. But all that's required is that Jesus loves them. The sexual minority community has been rejected by the church for centuries. It's time for the church to be the sanctuary of love and recognize that most gay people are not "healed" by Jesus. The church may not understand the LGBTQ experience, but their testimonies are remarkably similar. Like most of us, they seek love in companionship. Their lifestyle is a life like any other, in search of love. They are not sexually immoral when they marry someone of the same gender, or when they transition to their true gender. They are not the norm, which is why they are minorities. Jesus is not enough, unless Jesus includes his church embracing them and loving them as they are.

Some blogs worth reading.
Registered Runaway - Some thoughts on Orlando.
Samantha Field - yes, you hate me...
Eliel Cruz - My Pride Is Bulletproof: A Queer Puerto Rican on Life After Orlando
Kevin Garcia - Why “Welcoming, but Not Affirming” is Not Welcoming at All
Broderick Greer - Gay nightclubs and black churches are sanctuaries. Here's how to make them safer

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

a life of charity

Bible translation is not simply replacing a hebrew, aramaic, or greek word for an equivalent in the receiver language.

Take for example the greek New Testament word, "agape". In modern English translations it is translated to the word "love." In Jacobian England, the translators of the King James Bible chose "charity." I think we Americans might need to go back to the KJV word. As many evangelicals know, ancient Greek has at least 4 words  that could be translated into "love". Agape is the word given special emphasis by the New Testament writers. But when we Americans think "love" we water it down. But when we hear "charity" we are forced to think about personal expense, compassion for one in need, generosity, withheld judgment, as well as love. Charity can also remind us of being lied to, of turning the other cheek when slapped, of blessing those who are our enemies, and of taking risks that sometimes turn out poorly. The thing about charity is we more quickly disassociate it from a single feeling, whereas we generally associate love with good feelings.

I am not so optimistic as to think using the word "charity" will make the church more charitable. Plenty of white American christians, including clergy, have perpetuated horrific atrocities and slaughters - for example of native Americans, even though they used King James' Bible. They just used the part about Joshua's invasion to justify their slaughter of Pequot women and children in Mystic, Connecticut and Sand Creek, Colorado among many other places. For the cause of slavery, the devout general Stonewall Jackson ordered the defeat and death of thousands of fellow Americans. For the cause of peace, white pastors urged Martin Luther King Jr. to cease his protests in Birmingham because the christian whites were not yet ready to recognize the equality of black Americans.

When I plead for my fellow followers of Jesus to love their LGBTQ neighbors, some seem to think that means telling them they are sinful and dooming themselves to hell. But how does that change if I plead for my fellow followers of Jesus to be more charitable to their LGBTQ neighbors? Can they suffer long with them? Can they not look down on them? Can they seek the benefit of them? Can they think no evil of them? Can they rejoice in the truth of their identity with them? Can they bear all things with them? Can they hope with them? Can they endure with them? Can we mature?

Can we follow this wise man's idea?
“It is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict, God’s job to judge, and my job to love.”  Billy Graham

Can we hear our black neighbors who want us to recognize that black lives matter without callously replying "all lives matter"? Can we hear the parents of children murdered by men with assault weapons when they ask for those guns to be banned without demanding unrestricted 2nd amendment rights?

Charity hurts. That's how we know we are doing it right. Who is ready to follow Jesus in the way of agape?

1 Corinthians 13 (KJV) 1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 4 Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, 5 Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 6 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 7 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 11 When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 13 And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

America needs more than Jesus

In the wake of another mass shooting in the United States of America, some of us declare our country's need for Jesus. Yet, as this picture shows, Jesus is not enough.

Because people can be faithful born again church goers who are also racists or misogynists or rapists or murderers. Certainly Jesus can work on those issues in our hearts, but in the meantime, laws are useful in diminishing those abusive tendencies in all of us. In 1918 a law was proposed to oppose lynching. This law was passed because Jesus was not enough for the most Christian nation in the world. (A federal anti-lynching law has never been passed though.) The Supreme Court had to affirm the right of an inter-racial couple to be married contrary to state laws forbidding it, because Jesus was not enough. The Supreme Court told states that separate but equal was always separate but never equal and thus unconstitutional because Jesus' teaching on loving our neighbors and the least of these was not enough. The courts had to punish churches financially, and not just the Roman Catholic church, for covering up sexual abuse because Jesus was not enough. The courts have to overrule parental rights when they deprive their children of healthcare because Jesus is not enough to heal them. The Supreme Court told the states and the Congress that they cannot deprive gay citizens of the legal privileges of the marriage contract because Jesus was not enough. Some of Jesus' followers are publicly celebrating the slaughter of 50 "sodomites" as god's justice, because Jesus' teaching on loving their neighbors and blessing their enemies is not enough.  Some of Jesus' followers find Jesus' teaching on love is overruled by ancient rules from god about stoning homosexuals.

In my previous post I listed several examples of American christians doing awful things because it was not a problem in their current cultural milieu. Jesus was not enough for them to change their approach to their neighbors.

So what does America need? In addition to better laws, I think it needs love. Jimi Hendrix is not the first to express this idea, but he has summed it up pithily, "When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace."

The love of power expresses itself in the manipulation of laws to privilege one group over another. The power of love forsakes privilege so all can have equal rights. The love of power expresses itself in protecting the predators and ignoring the assaulted to maintain the aura of righteousness. The power of love cares for victims at the expense of reputation. The love of power expresses itself in the declaration that everyone should buy firearms for personal protection. The power of love lays down arms and turns the other cheek and removes deadly accidents and opportunities from the reach of the immature, the deranged, and the clueless. The love of power esteems one religion over others. The power of love sees all as family, all as neighbors, all as fellow children of God who bear his image and all on a path back to their Lover. The love of power is paranoid because it suspects all of wickedness, especially those who are different. The power of love recognizes the spark of love in everyone and seeks to fan it into a burning flame. The love of power is doctrinaire and unmoved by appeals to compassion. The power of love always chooses mercy. The love of power votes for more power even if it's racist, misogynist, and hateful. The power of love votes on behalf of those who would suffer the most.

We cannot all agree on Jesus. But we can certainly all agree on love. There is a favored metaphor among revivalist preachers that the biggest obstacle between us and Jesus is only 12 inches between our skull and our hearts. As Jesus said, we will be known for our love (heart) not for our doctrine (skull).

Friday, June 03, 2016

History is not hate speech

As the Guardian reports,
Turkey has recalled its ambassador from Berlin after German MPs approved a motion describing the massacre of Armenians by Ottoman forces a century ago as genocide – a decision that the Turkish president said would “seriously affect” relations between the two countries. 
Those whose families were traumatized by Turkey's actions are grateful for the acknowledgment of their suffering. Turkey's offense over this acknowledgment is so notorious there are even several wiki articles about it. Here is one.

Armenian embassy members hold posters reading ‘Recognition now – thank you’ during the meeting in Berlin. Photograph: Michael Sohn/AP

It's not like Germany doesn't know anything about committing and apologizing for genocide.

Atrocities are not unknown in the United States either. I have 87 posts here on the treatment of native Americans by the white government. The ongoing treatment of African Americans is no longer as bad as slavery but the current penal system is an ongoing human rights crime against the AA community. Please read Bryan Stevenson's book, Just Mercy: A story of justice and redemption or look at the success stories of the Innocence Project. Telling these stories indicts those who committed the wrongs. But hiding the stories out of some twisted version of Christian charity is to perpetuate the crime by denying the just expression of the oppressed.

However, this week is also the anniversary of the Tulsa race riot when white Oklahomans attacked a highly successful and thriving black community in Tulsa and burned it to the ground in 1921.
The younger Franklin says Tulsa has been in denial over the fact that people were cruel enough to bomb the black community from the air, in private planes, and that black people were machine-gunned down in the streets. The issue was economics. Franklin explains that Native Americans and African-Americans became wealthy thanks to the discovery of oil in the early 1900s on what had previously been seen as worthless land. 
This shameful history was often ignored in Tulsa's american history classes. In 2012 the Oklahoma Senate passed a law to ensure it was taught. As one of the sponsoring Senators said, "It teaches us about how far hatred can go." Author, attorney and historian Hannibal B. Johnson unpacks this brief statement in the opening to his essay, Curriculum counts.
We need to teach and learn about the Riot. We need to know what happened and why. We need to hold people accountable; assign moral responsibility for the gross depredations and injustices perpetrated on Tulsa soil. If, and only if, we teach and learn about the Riot will we begin the process of reconciliation in earnest, recapture a lost sense of shared humanity, and create for posterity a community more open, inclusive and loving than the one in which we live today. We must incorporate this potent, painful, poignant legacy into the classroom in deliberate, systematic ways.

When we sanitize our past, we stifle our ability to analyze it intensively and critically
See a photo of a page from his book on Twitter.

Just this year is the local paper celebrating the teaching of this taboo subject in Tulsa's schools. But the subject is touchy and embarrassing, as it should be. As the first commenter on this article says, "Enough about the race riot. Start back reporting the current news."

History can and should make us uncomfortable when it reveals how people have treated people. But the causing of discomfort is not hate speech, it's an opportunity to heal, reconcile and grow. Those are not the goals of hate speech, which seeks to demean, divide, and diminish. For example a KKK meeting in Tulsa can talk about the Tulsa race riot in celebration, same history, different intent. Books and verse, whether historical or fictional, about this riot recalling the terror and the damage, retelling the stories and the losses, to generate sympathy for the victims by humanizing them is not hate speech. It's history with an intent to warn us about the wickedness that lurks in all of us.

Yesterday, I shared a poem on Facebook by the poet, Emily Joy. She also has a theology degree from the conservative Chicago Bible college, Moody. However, the poem I shared is critical of the conservative mantra, Love the Sinner and Hate the sin, in particular towards the LGBTQ community. I was told by an old friend that this poem was hateful and as bad as the hate speech she was critiquing. Yet she is telling true anecdotes of many interactions queer people have with conservative christians and parents. She is sharing the pain so that christians might realize the pain they are causing.

Parents of gay children who do the things Emily Joy writes about sometimes have deep regrets. These two Christian parents learned from their son he was gay and told him all the things Emily refers too. They loved him but gave him unloving doctrine in response. He died of an overdose a few years later. They want parents to know that the response to a child who comes out is to love them. Not love them the sinner, but love them "Just because he breathes." Both Emily Joy and these parents are sharing their pain and the pain of others. They want the unnecessary infliction of pain because of doctrine to stop. That is not hate speech. "When you do this it hurts" is important communication, not hate speech. It is not a violation of the golden rule of Jesus. In fact it is the fulfillment of it.

Jesus loves sinners. Jesus loves Turks and Armenians, Germans and Jews, whites and blacks and amerindians, straights and gays, pharisees and sinners. But he does have a problem with bullies and seeks to defend the bullied and brutalized. Using words to defend the bullied and marginalized is not hate speech. It's an act of love.