Monday, April 20, 2009

Sex, Politics, and Religion

Lately, this has been a kinder, gentler blog what with the poetry and pictures and feeble attempt at fiction and all. But just for a little bit, I'd like to return to it's original mandate and talk about sex, politics and religion for a little bit. I posted a quote from and a link to an article by Evangelical pastor and Liberal social activist Jim Wallis on my "Prophet, Priest, and Pirate" blog-

"The Religious Right was a Christian mistake. It was a movement that sought to implement a ' agenda' by tying the faithful to one political option -- the right wing of the Republican Party. The politicizing of faith in such a partisan way is always a theological mistake. But the rapid decline of the Religious Right now offers us a new opportunity to re-think the role of faith in American public life.

Personally, I am not offended or alarmed by the notion of a post-Christian America. Christianity was originally and, in my view, always meant to be a minority faith with a counter-cultural stance, as opposed to the dominant cultural and political force. Notions of a 'Christian America' quite frankly haven’t turned out very well." ~Jim Wallis

Read the entire article at

THAT blog as an RSS feed into my Facebook profile page and I tagged several friends (both Red and Blue) to share it with them. What wound up happening is that a former student who's very much a religious conservative commented on it and kept the discussion thread going for several days. Rather than post a full transcript of everything everyone said, I'm just presenting what I wrote here, so it may read a little choppy . You may want to imagine what other people wrote to me.

Recently right-wingers were attacking Sen. Chuck Grassley, an opponent of gay marriage for not being outspoken enough or moving quickly enough in response to Iowa's recent Supreme Court decision calling a ban on gay marriage unconstitutional. They're accusing him of drifting away from socially conservative values. I guarantee that if Jesus was traveling 21st century America as He did first century Palestine, Christian Conservatives would criticize Him for cavorting with sinners and tax collectors and for not fasting and not ceremonially washing His hands and gleaning grain from the edge of fields on the Sabbath and healing on the Sabbath etc. etc.

One of my biggest beefs with my fellow Christians is that we too often lean too heavily on the Law at the expense of the Gospel. We cannot and will not turn people's hearts toward God by legislation or judicial decision or constitutional amendment or for that matter by ranting and raving and protest and boycott. We can never save someone from their sin by coercively preventing them from sinning. It's as ridiculous as thinking that we can extract reliable intelligence from an enemy by torture.

People who genuinely want to follow Jesus and can't give up on their precious "culture war," should consider that we are not battling against flesh and blood and therefore conventional (and by that I mean political, practical, and especially Machiavellian , Tzu-ian and Rovian) tactics. The way to win the hearts and minds of unbelievers (and first of all, we can never do this, only God, with Holy Spirit can do it- perhaps using us as His tools) is with love, compassion, example, and prayer. And by addressing their needs, not what we perceive as their faults and errors.

I've always felt that Christianity should be leery of associating itself too closely with either party and that Christians need to keep Jesus and His cross central to our theology, and beware of letting our moralist agendas eclipse Him. Admittedly, I am often just as guilty of this as anyone who is passionate about conventional wedge issues or "values" issues (depending on whether you see them with red or blue glasses). Call me chief among sinners, but my point is, that the true kingdom will only advance AND American civil discourse will only thrive when we all stop using "religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon."

Don't we need to love our enemies and pray for those that persecute us? Even when our most treasured issues are at stake?

You'll all notice that I tried not to say anything about gay marriage or my opinion on it, I only meant to use Sen. Grassley's predicament to highlight how we go off the rails with our legalism sometimes. I'm not prepared to condone what God disapproves of- however, my don't see how my marriage needs defending from gay people and even if I'm uncomfortable with it, I don't think that the secular, Constitutional right to equal protection under the laws is not something that God, Scripture or the Church deny to non believers or any kind of sinners. These positions may confound many of my dearly loved brothers and sisters in Christ. It is interesting to consider that while the Catholic Church considers marriage a sacrament, the Lutheran Church does not. And, Moses and Paul both write about homosexuality but Jesus Himself didn't address it directly.

I've always been of the opinion that the state should license civil unions and the Church should offer marriages.

Be that as it may, my original intention with this post was never to get involved in a debate on gay marriage. It was to consider our balance on Law and Gospel. I was wondering if sometimes (and this may be as true for me and liberal issues as it is for anyone else with conservative issues) do our temporal, social, political, and moral concerns like meat offered to idols, all things are permitted, but not all things are helpful.

To look after orphans and widows in their distress, do not mistreat an alien or oppress, love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemy and pray for those that persecute you, judge not lest ye be judged, mercy triumphs over judgment... these are God's values as I read them. America, just like every single individual has always and daily failed to... Read More uphold these values- indeed may very well be incapable of upholding them. We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Sure, I was knit together in my mother's womb, but I was also conceived in sin. Sure, the United States may have been founded by people who called themselves Christian and modeled our laws after Judeo-Christian traditions, but don't kid yourself, they were business men, politicians, even pirates and privateers, ambitious, sinful mercenaries who killed and enslaved for selfish gain.

Be careful not to fall prey to the Hegelian notion that says that God blesses us more than other countries because we're somehow more Christian than they are. Remember who the Puritans were seeking religious freedom from? King James, as in the King James Bible- a very Christian monarch.

Calvinists, Thomists, Augustinians, and Lutherans (and for that matter in a secular vein- Hobbsians and Lockeans) all have drastically different concepts of human nature and I suppose sin itself, for that matter. As a Lutheran, I believe that on this side of death we all live in a perpetual and inescapable state of sin. Only Jesus' death and resurrection saves me. But during this life the best we can do is make allowances because, like Moses found, people have hard hearts. I agree, as Jesus, we shouldn't shy away from calling wrong wrong, but Jesus still loved and died for people who got divorces, or committed adultery by lusting after someone with their eyes and commit murder by hating people.

John Adams once warned that "power always thinks it has great soul, vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak, and that it is doing God's service when it might be violating all His laws. Our passions the powerful are assured... posses so much metaphysical subtlety and so much overpowering eloquence that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience of the weak and convert both to their party."

One American thinks that permitting gay marriage or teaching evolution are a betrayal of God and the values which America was founded on. Another American may think that employing torture or violating 4th and 5th and 14th Amendment rights, or fabricating intelligence reports to support unprovoked military action is just as much an unconscionable betrayal of those same values.

Sen. Charles Grassley is deliberative and thoughtful, not reactionary. Whatever ways I may disagree with him, I don't think he deserved to be attacked by people whom he agrees with because he isn't speaking as loudly and angrily as they as quickly as they have. It just seems to me, that we often fault on the side of Law because we are motivated by anger and fear, whereas the Gospel is always motivated by love- not weakness or trying to please everyone, but genuine love and concern. The goal is that all would come to Christ and salvation, not for me to defend God FROM them.

Like it or not however, for one person protecting and preserving how our society operates is damaging it and preventing it from operating how it how it ought to. Po-tate-o Po-tOt-o. One Christian says God instituted infant baptism, another says... Read More God wants young adults to decide to be baptized. One Christian says Christ is really present in the bread and wine, another says it's just symbolic. Likewise, one American loves the 1st and 4th and 8th Amendments, another loves the 2nd and 10th most. One American looks at the 2nd Amendment and focuses on the "well-regulated militia," another focuses on the individual's right to bear arms. One looks at the 1st Amendment and emphasizes that the right to practice one's religion should not be impeded, another emphasizes that the state should not establish, favor or promote any one religion above another one. Yet, E pluribus unum, from many, one.

If you really want to nit pick- sure, God created woman out of man when He saw that he should not be alone, and the Bible says, for this reason a man should leave his mother and father and the two shall become one, but there is no clear legal definition given for a marriage. Adam and Eve didn't get a license from the county clerk or have a ring or a ceremony. Abraham, Jacob, David, and most notoriously Solomon all practiced polygamy. Fundamentalist Mormons are convinced that that should be legalized. Less than fifty years ago many states prohibited Blacks and Whites from getting married. Most states now have a concept called "common-law" marriage in which it categorizes people who've been cohabiting without the blessing of the Church.

Pluralism sucks, and you may be scared that God will punish us for it, or that He'll withdraw His blessing for it, but would you prefer a theocracy? Who'd get to be the Mullah? Yours or mine? I'll take pluralism.

When is the culture that influences the church the worldly, unchurched culture that seems so relativistic and when is the seemingly pious and religious subculture of religiosity that is nevertheless human, but imagines itself from God?

Zwingly and Calvin and Wesley insisted on bending the world's culture into our Christian expectations, whereas Luther called us to influence and participate, but not get overly hung up on it because its more valuable to keep our eyes on the cross, and of course then there's Benedict who thought we should remove ourselves from the world. It's a little like Mary and Martha, the busy body (who, mind you, is working for God) or the open heart with eyes and ears focused on higher things. If you're focus is truly on Jesus, how can you have time to notice all the specks in other people's eyes?

Lutherans teach that we can never fulfill the Law, but thanks to Christ's work on the cross, we now live in the freedom and grace of the Gospel. Whereas Baptists believe that once one's saved, you are obligated to start following the Law, keep every thought captive etc. It seems to set up some unrealistic expectations on Christians to be perfect. Granted, we shouldn't abuse our freedom by thinking of grace as a license to sin. But my point is, one of the problems with the "Evangelical" or Conservative-Christian movement in America is that rather than having the Law precede and direct us toward the Gospel, we're starting to think that the Gospel precedes and directs us into Legalism.

THAT is the main point I hoped to communicate by posting the quote from and link to an article by Jim Wallis- not get into a heady debate about the so-called culture wars. One of my OTHER problems with extreme right wingers is that they seem to be constantly on the defensive, itching for conflict. I wanted civil, academic, abstract, discussion- not all out argument. I think that if the truth is truth it stands by itself, Share it, explain it, but why feel like you need to defend it? God is God and I am not. He can defend Himself.

I still think that right-wingers went to far when they came down on Senator Grassley -who is on their side!

One of my OTHER problems with extreme right wingers is that they seem to be constantly on the defensive, itching for conflict. I wanted civil, academic, abstract, discussion- not all out argument. I think that if the truth is truth it stands by itself, Share it, explain it, but why feel like you need to defend it? God is God and I am not. He can defend Himself.

I'm a compulsive teacher, I want people to think and discuss, even if it takes cognitive dissonance to start the process. Unfortunately it comes of as me being a muck-rucker because I upset the applecart by not simply marching in lock-step with everybody else on every single issue.

Writing, speaking, extrapolating, defending, try to cajole and convince and apply apologetics till we're blue in the face, someone will always disagree and worse, someone will always take offense. Obviously there were several times in there when Craig felt that I didn't hear him and a few when I did probably misread his points. There were also several times where I think he felt like I may have been attacking him when actually I was desperately trying to convince him.

8 All things are wearisome,
more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
nor the ear its fill of hearing.

9 What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.

Why be angry at the sun or chase after the wind? I still say, let the rain fall down on the just and the unjust. Jesus knows the weeds from the grain, let Him sort it all out in the end.

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