Why I oppose Indiana’s RFRA- Part 2: The theological reasoning

In my last post I discussed my opposition to Indiana’s recent RFRA, specifically focusing on how it differs from similar legislation in a legal/practical sense.

This post will be a completely different kind of boring, as I will talk about why I as a Christian oppose this bill and the motivations behind it.  To be honest, this was and still is my primary reason for opposing this bill- and it is the reason I have spent my time researching the legal side of this in the first place.

I’d like to note that I’m able to write and post this at all in part due to existing religious freedom legislation.  The government can’t silence me because of the first amendment; and wordpress and other avenues can’t refuse me access on account of my religion- as religion is a federally protected class (unlike sexual orientation.)  None of that is at stake here.

Jesus can even use stubborn asses.

Continue reading

Toeing the party line (a response to Derek Rishmawy)

The Party Line

One of my new favorite bloggers is Derek Rishmawy. He’s a young Calvinist, but not in the “cage-stage.” He’s an academic, but refreshingly relevant and reachable.  He’s conservative but he hasn’t blocked me on facebook.

As any of you who know me can imagine, he and I disagree on quite a few things. (We also agree on some things, particularly how to behave and disagree with one another on the internet.)
Anyway, yesterday he posted a blog on Mere Orthodoxy covering a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot recently- tribalism and group-think.  I’ve stopped blogging entirely and have mostly been able to keep my big mouth shut on facebook recently in an attempt to not be so combative, but Rishmawy’s newest article (found here) has got me thinking.  This seems like an opportunity to examine our beliefs and why we hold them, as well as looking at the culture we may or may not identify with.

To begin, I really think he is onto something here. Humans are an odd mix of social and stubborn; so it makes some sense that we would adopt the views that surround us, and then fiercely defend those ideas. It’s exhausting (and impossible) to be fully informed on every topic so we tend to find people who we trust on the topics we are educated and passionate about, and eventually trust them on other topics as well. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, provided we understand that we are doing it and are doing so responsibly.
For example, recently I have realized how unjust and ineffective our Justice system in the US really is. I didn’t discover this by going to prison, but by listening to those who have earned my trust and helped shape my faith in other areas, namely Shane Claiborne, Cornel West, and several members of my small group. I’d like to think I’m not just following the crowd here, but if I’m honest that’s exactly how it started at the very least.

Anyway, the article as a whole is solid and should be read by everybody as it can apply to any group.  However, I think that the part that focuses on seven topics that progressive evangelicals are “toeing the party line on” requires more scrutiny. His intent is not to refute any of these ideas, merely to point them out. (To show my hand, I think his phrasing betrays his intent, but we’ll get to that later.)  I’d like to avoid this turning into a debate on specifically which positions a Christian should hold, and focus instead on how we come to those positions.

I’m going to reproduce the seven points of what Derek has dubbed the “Progressive Evangelical Package”, each followed with my thoughts on it. My hope is that we can start a discussion about to what extent this is happening and how we are a part of it. Continue reading

Of swords and words

I love talking with friends about how to live like Jesus. This will not be a surprise to most of you, as I never really shut up. One of my favorite topics to discuss is the pacifism of Jesus. This is a complex topic, and like most topics, I have friends across the entire spectrum of beliefs. But most of these conversations inevitably turn to the topic of swords. Is this because swords are awesome? Probably.

Zen and the art of Xenophobia

(Image only slightly related, but I love it.)

Here are the three most common “sword passages” that I’ve seen used in this way:
Matthew 26:52– “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.
Luke 22:36– He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
Matthew 10:34– Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

If you are anything like me, you are likely to focus on one of these passages; because Bible verses about swords are kind of like actual swords- double-edged. Personally, as a pacifist, I grab onto the first of the three because it confirms my worldview. And I have traditionally flinched when somebody brings up the second one, and then I ignore it because Jesus telling his disciples to buy a sword makes me uncomfortable. But it finally got under my skin enough that I had to do more research.

Looking at Luke 22:36 in a vacuum seems to be a clear endorsement by Jesus of the awesomeness of swords. Let’s look at not just the surrounding verses, but the context of what was happening here. This is during the Last Supper, in Jerusalem, as tensions mount. The religious leaders are trying to trick him into betraying himself through His words and actions, and Jesus knows one of his own disciples is going to betray him. Their very next stop is Gethsemane and Judas has already left to search for the authorities. It makes sense to make preparations to defend yourself in these circumstances, right?

Here’s the whole passage:
He said to them, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” They said, “No, not a thing.”
He said to them, “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one.
For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.”
They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”
He replied, “It is enough.”
-Luke 22:35-38

First of all, what are two swords among 12 men “enough” for? Especially against the Roman legions? If Jesus wants to put up a fight He makes it abundantly clear that He can call on a legion of angels.

Jesus tells us exactly why the swords are needed in verse 37, but I had always skimmed over that. As I’m not a first-century jew, I had no idea what scripture He was referencing. For the record, it is Isaiah 53:12 (The whole chapter is a beautiful prophecy of Jesus.) The swords aren’t required for offense or defense, but to make Jesus and his disciples look like criminals or rebels.

This fits in with my (former) favorite sword verse, as within twenty four hours of this conversation Peter is slicing the ear off of a servant with one of those same swords. (Sidenote: I’ve heard some pacifists argue that Jesus never meant they should literally buy swords but I think that argument has no scriptural ground to stand on, largely because of this passage.) Jesus rebukes Peter, heals the servant, and He is arrested. The swords are not “enough” to defend Jesus from what comes next, because that was never the point of the swords. The swords served their purpose. Not to keep Him off the cross, but to get Him on the cross between two criminals.

Peter’s reactionary sword-swinging is the final example we have of any of the disciples engaging in what could be called self-defense. The apostles, like us, were a little slow sometimes- but this lesson appears to have sunk in. The majority of them met an ugly end, and I’m not aware of a single apostle who went out “guns blazing.”

To be honest, I still have no idea what to do with the final sword verse I listed: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

Any thoughts? Is this verse as scary as it sounds? Is there another verse I’m missing? (Does this mean we can stop singing “Prince of Peace”?)

The Bible clearly says…

We’ve all heard it. Most of us have probably said it. I’ve personally said it, then said it again about the opposite position ten years later. It feels good to be sure, to make a stand for our faith in confidence. But is this phrase more dangerous than it sounds?

glasses

This week has been…strange. I’ve had friends write blogs about wildly different hot topics in the church, from widely different perspectives. Church yesterday blew everyone’s mind to one degree or another (podcast available here for anybody interested). And then a popular blogger posted an article about millennials in the church that was posted on facebook by pretty much everyone I know. (Also I don’t think I’ve ever been labeled a millennial outside of these surveys and studies… It’s an odd word and spell-check agrees.)

All of these combined have prompted a flurry of conversations, both online and face-to-face, unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. And believe it or not, almost all of them have been… refreshing. A group of us at our house last night covered pretty much every “forbidden” topic of conversation within a couple of hours: war, pacifism, celibacy, charismatic churches, homosexuality, slavery, evolution, and even slavery in the bible. We touched on all of these in one way or another and we all parted ways as friends. I didn’t kick anybody out of my house for intolerance and nobody threatened to excommunicate me for heresy. We didn’t solve all the world’s problems. I don’t think we reached a consensus on a single topic (except slavery- it was our anti-human trafficking group after all) and I think that is okay.

But unfortunately, according to my experience, this is far from commonplace. One of the blogs mentioned above prompted a facebook discussion that displayed this all too well. By the time the dust cleared there had been personal attacks, CAPITAL LETTERS, bible verses about swords, claims of persecution, contrived hypothetical questions, and of course Hitler made an appearance.

What was the difference between these two conversations? They were both with mostly real-life friends who I know love Jesus. The people in both conversations care about each other and want people to agree with them. I believe the difference is the presence of the phrase, “The Bible clearly says…” I don’t remember anybody saying that last night, but it was present on both “sides” of the facebook debate.

Now don’t get me wrong- I think there are moral absolutes and some doctrines are essential to the Christian faith. Sometimes the bible does say things clearly. But normally when this phrase is brought up it is on a topic that is far from clear- thus the debate. The blog partially focused on the assertion that “Jesus is clearly this thing” (an assertion I personally agree with); while most of the comments centered on the argument that “Jesus is clearly not that thing” which I summarily do not agree with. If it was truly clear wouldn’t there be some level of agreement? What seems clear to me may not be clear to another christian, even if they are just as committed to and/or educated about following Jesus. (Oftentimes even more so.)

But the problem isn’t the truth of the phrase, it’s that it is a dismissal. It kills discussion instead of inviting it. (Bringing up Hitler doesn’t help either…) We have to be honest that while there are some things that are not negotiable, a lot of our most heated discussions focus on non-essentials and sometimes people we love will disagree with us. I’m more interested in disagreeing well than converting people to my “side.” Well, at least that’s what I tell myself…

But just because the non-essentials aren’t, well, essential- that doesn’t mean they are not important. As RHE’s article shows, these discussions are having an effect on the church and our witness. I would say that it is not so much the conclusions we reach that drive people away, but the way that we discuss these topics. When our conversations show a lack of humility and grace, and an overabundance of confidence and judgment- we are doing it wrong.

Consider cutting this phrase out of your vocabulary, if it seems right to the holy spirit and you.

So what if…?

When people hear I believe in Christian pacifism, the same question inevitably follows in one form or another.

What if?

I’ve been asked this question countless times in different permutations; sometimes it’s me in danger, sometimes my wife, sometimes an innocent child. But the core is always the same- some faceless sub-human aggressor wants to use violence against me or somebody else and I ostensibly only have two options: counter violence with violence or passively allow the aggressor to do whatever they want. Oh and this is routine crime, not to be confused with persecution specifically for my belief in Christ. As if that is somehow a completely different situation.

I find the concept that violence is ever “just” or “holy” hard to mesh with the scriptures about Jesus. That somehow the command to love your enemies carries the qualifier to only do so if it is comfortable and safe. Some people will say that pacifism is a nice idea, but it just isn’t possible in the real world. I think Jesus showed us he meant what he said and became the ultimate example of just how far it is possible to go when loving our enemies. Most of his disciples followed his example, yet we can’t handle somebody taking our big screen tv.

But don’t confuse pacifism with passivism. Pacifism isn’t laying down to be stepped upon, it is heaping burning coals on the head of one who would do harm to you. Jesus was very good at this. The context behind turning the other cheek, walking two miles, and giving your coat as well as your shirt were as far from passive as they are from violent. All three would bring shame upon the aggressor without becoming an aggressor yourself.

Just to show that I’m not completely dodging the question, here is my honest answer:
– Why would I live my entire life based on what would happen if somebody wanted to hurt me or my loved ones?
– In the extremely rare case that this theoretical predicament comes to pass, I’d do what Jesus did and try to find a third way- a way to resist evil with good instead of evil.
– Failing that, (as that is inevitably the next question) I would sin. I would respond to violence with violence and repent of it afterward without trying to justify my actions with a caricature of God, made in my image.

I grieve for this part of me. I have a heart full of violence. I crave vengeance for the smallest slights. But this isn’t of God, it’s a rejection of God.

smash-pacifism

Have you ever been asked this question? Have you ever asked it? Help me out here.

In a mirror, dimly.

HOMELESS-JESUS

Last night I went to a class at church focusing on serving and being in relationships with the poor. This was facilitated by Eric the Intern. For anybody who doesn’t know him, he is a tall weirdo who has traveled the country and lived in a homeless shelter. He has been hit by a barge, driven a school bus, been mugged in New Orleans, and given one of my favorite sermons I’ve ever heard. Unfortunately we only get the benefit of him and his experiences for two more weeks until he goes back to seminary. This makes me sad, but is not the point of this post.

I have always thought that serving the poor was important, but I always thought of it as me going out of my comfort zone to do them a giant favor. They need a meal and some socks, I need to feel like I’m helping someone; it’s a perfect solution! But does that really do anything?

We did some short experiments about how we see ourselves and how we define homelessness. Here are some differences we noticed: Most of the volunteers there primarily defined ourselves by what we do or who we are. Words such as tall, educated, christian, american, hardworking, husband, mother. The homeless people also had filled out the same survey, but their answers focused more on their emotional state with words such as depressed, lonely, hopeless, hopeful, tired. This same trend followed across our definitions of homelessness. Volunteers largely focused on the material and financial aspects of homelessness, while those who have experienced it had a much more (understandably) emotional view of it.

I’ve been helping at Breakfast Club for about 4 years now, and I would say approximately half of the people coming on sunday mornings have been there the whole time. And of that half I probably only know half of them by name. Yeah, they are wearing socks and haven’t starved to death, but are they any better off? Am I really involved in their lives? Jim, one of my favorite breakfast guests, went missing for the better part of a year- and while it concerned me, what did I do about it?

And how have I changed? Am I more like Jesus because I occasionally cook a bunch of eggs or drive a van? I’d say no. Is homelessness the problem, or is it a symptom of a problem? Obviously our mental health, education, and government systems are woefully inadequate to fix this problem and in need of reform. But that is a tall order, what can we do if we have no influence in those spheres?

Let’s start with looking somebody in the eye when you pass them on the street. Maybe instead of handing them $5 or a bag of greasy mcdonald’s food, I can have lunch with them and chat and learn their story. Maybe instead of playing Candy Crush on my phone I can give somebody a ride to a doctor’s appointment or a job interview. What ideas do you have?