Saturday, February 19, 2005

Sometimes the best compliments...

come from the enemies you keep. For example, Howard Dean has been collecting hit pieces from around the country. There's too many to mention, but let's lift up a few. There's this snide commentary on Howard Dean's election as Chair of the Democratic National Committee, and this typically sneering commentary from Albert Mohler. Seems that since Dean isn't manning the barricades for Operation Rescue, his statements that abortions are regrettable, yet legally necessary, can't be taken at face value.

(UPDATE: Forgot this link to a Forward article about the RNC trying to connect Dean to terrorists.)

Then there's this from Gary Bauer:
No progress yet in getting Professor Ward Churchill out of the classroom at the University of Colorado. You remember him – the America-hating fanatic who said the September 11th murderers of 3,000 of our fellow citizens made “gallant sacrifices” on that fateful day when they attacked us. In the same essay, written in 2002, Churchill described U.S. Air Force pilots as cowards and the Americans who died in the World Trade Center as “little Eichmanns” referring to Hitler’s henchman. As of this moment, he still draws his $90,000+ annual salary from the taxpayers of Colorado.

Conservative columnist Joel Mowbray just did some nifty investigative journalism on how far this hate America sickness has spread. He discovered that Churchill’s essay, which was adapted into a book, was actually given a human rights award from the Gustavus Myers Center in Boston. The Gustavus Myers Center is not on the fringe: on its website it lists “sponsors” including the United Church of Christ! And it receives money from the Ford Foundation and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Soros, of course, spent millions trying to defeat George Bush in the last election.

Someone should ask the Church of Christ, George Soros and the Ford Foundation why they are associated with a group that honors Ward Churchill – a man who celebrates the death of his fellow citizens.

The ultra-conservative Church of Christ will no doubt be interested to know that they've been lumped in with George Soros and Ward Churchill.

Bauer is passing on information from this report from FrontPage magazine, which tells us:
Churchill adapted his essay into a book, “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens,” which earned honorable mention for a human rights award from the Gustavus Myers Center in Boston—the third time the group had so honored the embattled professor.

Careful examination, however, reveals that the Myers Center is anything but fringe. Listed on its website as “sponsors” (a term that is not defined) are mainstream liberal organizations such as the NAACP, the Urban League, the Center for Democratic Renewal, and the United Church of Christ.

And the foundations that fund the Myers Center’s sponsors are key financial backers of the American left, such as George Soros’ Open Society Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Public Welfare Foundation (which contributed to the anti-Bush America’s Coming Together).

Mowbray's information is accurate, though decontextualized. The full name of the place in question is the Gustav Myers Center for the Study of Bigotry and Human Rights.

Presumably, they're interested in Churchill's work from that angle, and it seems from a quick examination of the books they've honored in the past that they like to showcase work that moves the conversation along. That is to say, pushes the envelope a little.

Setting aside the question of Churchill's work (and we certainly hold no brief for him) and that of the role of academic work and how it ought to provoke thought, there's still the question of the appropriate standard here. Are we to tar and feather groups and individuals who gave grants (no doubt for basic support) to an institution that almost gave an award to the work of a scholar who wrote a single outrageous article several years ago?

What's next? Are we going to burn down the houses of Churchill's neighbors for the radically left-wing act of living next door to the man?

When is enough enough?

[UPDATE II]: Bauer has a correction:
Correction: At one point in yesterday’s report, I inadvertently referenced the Church of Christ along with supporters of the Gustavus Myers Center. I meant to write the “United Church of Christ,” referred to earlier in the report, which is obviously a liberal denomination. The Church of Christ has no connection to the Gustavus Myers Center.


Friday, February 18, 2005

Treason, defined.

I'm not as big a fan of Fafblog! as some, but this is funny.


Pharisee Nation

I was going to blog on this, but musing85 beat me to it.

Go. Read. Papist speak truth.


Another one for the favorites

Ben Katchor. Hotel & Farm.

Click for a bigger picture.


Religious News Roundup--February 18, 2005

Today is the day of St. Leo the Great, at least on the Orthodox calendar. Which is a bit odd, considering that he was a Western pope. Ah, well.

Tomorrow is Ashura, a Shiite Muslim holiday commemorating the martyrdom of Husain in 680. And if you're looking for a little classical music, why not try "Four Johns and a Jieun"? It's an "organ gala" to be held at 2 p.m. Feb. 20, Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, Kansas City.

Today's categories:

The Israeli Bobsled team.


Church & State

  • The ACLU is objecting to a "faith-based" vocational program in Bradford County, PA. Apparently, it's the only option available. And why are we not surprised to read this paragraph?

    A BCAD report detailed the First Amendment violations and fiscal mismanagement committed by the Firm Foundation, as well as the lack of federally required fiduciary oversight by the County Commissioners and the Pennsylvania Council on Crime and Delinquency, which funneled federal monies to the program. BCAD published the report last July, and it is available at

  • The "Philadelphia 4" arrested for bigoting at a Gay Pride festival last fall have seen the charges against them dismissed. We have to confess that we're ambivalent about the decision. While it's probably the right legal decision, we're still annoyed that such an obnoxious group would get to skate without any consequences. On the third hand, we must admit we like Christianity Today's take:

    And now that the charges have been dismissed, this item moves from the "threats to freedom" file to "wacky news." Mr. Marcavage, your 15 minutes are up. The rest of us are going to go back to talking about the nature of sex and marriage like adults.

    Presumably, that adult discussion won't include raising any more funds through these "almost martyrs"?

  • A Federal judge in Utah has upheld that state's ban on polygamous marriage. "The judge emphasized his ruling was about marriage, not personal sexual conduct." That's because the appeal was based on the recent Supreme Court decision invalidating sodomy laws.

  • New York City has become the first city in the US to allow workers to wear turbans or hijab (veils) on city time.

  • Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granhom changed her mind on the subject of displaying a Ten Commandments monument at the State Capitol. She was in favor, but now says that's a personal opinion. A rare misstep for this ultra-popular governor.


Religion & Politics

  • Marvin Olasky has an answer to David Kuo's criticism of the Bush administration's subsidies to religious organizations: trust the magic of the marketplace. If Republican lawmakers would just get away from the inefficient guvmint, Olasky argues, we could implement more voucher-fueled social services, and everybody would be happy!

    Forgive us if we're a bit cynical on that score.

  • CT has an interesting stat from the Pew Center: "50%: Americans who believe the government should help more needy people, even if it means more national debt. 39%: 'Committed' evangelicals (those who attend church at least weekly) who say this."

  • Joan Chittister takes a baseball bat to the "moral values" argument.

  • Also from the National Catholic Reporter: Joe Feuerherd reports on the trouble the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops's 2004 voter's guide "Faithful Citizenship" ran into with more conservative elements in the church. Feuerherd's article reminds us of this post by Chuck Currie. There's no evidence of a IRD-style group trying to undermine Catholic polity for political ends. Not yet, anyway.

  • The Chicago Sun-Times looks at Chicago evangelicals and their relative lack of political muscle in the Windy City. Did you know that horrormeister Wes Craven graduated from Wheaton College the year before Dennis Hastert? Something to think about.

  • And one last one: Madman in the Marketplace has a post up at Liberal Street Fighter about fear, and how it's taken over American culture. It's pretty good, and you should go read it. We'll only add this: in the church, we often talk about fear being driven by a "theology of scarcity." Meaning there's not enough money, or security, or grace to go around. The trick for the faithful--and it sounds like for Americans in general--is to learn to live into God's plenty.


Speaking Out

  • Mode for Caleb, via Jesus Politics, has this to say about the death of Dorothy Stang, a American nun working for land reform in Brazil:

    If you asked me what I think Christian convictions entail, I would point you not to more propositions, but to people like Stang. Here's a Christian, I would say: A 73-year-old woman considered so dangerous that her death is required in order for the powers-that-be to continue business as usual. I'm aware that such an answer would immediately entitle you to doubt whether I am a Christian. But if Stang raises doubts about any claims I might make to be a Christian, that's precisely as it should be.

    A Christian does not exist apart from the practices that, over time, make a person more like people like Stang. To the extent that the practices in which I engage point me in any other direction, I'm not a Christian. To the extent that I engage in practices that do tend towards the possibility of a death like hers, I am. That doesn't mean that every Christian has to be shot in the Amazon to be a Christian, of course. But I think it means something terrifyingly close to that. For this is laying one's life down for friends -- not, as is usually thought, death suffered in the act of taking other lives, but the open-handed giving of one's own life.

    A person like Stang should at least act as a standing indictment against any of us who thinks that facing professional opprobrium or public ridicule for one's faith is anything like carrying a cross. A person like Stang should also be a standing indictment to American Christians who believe they are being persecuted by animated sponges, or Kwanza. Sometimes contemplating the number of things that democratic prosperity allows Christians to think of as crucifixion strikes me as an exercise in turning towards the absurd.

    And Movable Theoblogical chimes in:

    It reminds me of something Clarence Jordan used to say about "making a public profession of faith". He said, "It isn't when the organ is playing softly and you go up front and tell the preacher "I take Jesus as Lord". That isn't when you take him as Lord. It's when the crowd is shouting 'Kill him! Kill that damn Nig--r!', and you place your body between him and them and say "He's a man for whom Christ died!" that's when you're making a public profession of faith."

  • Maybe it's just us, but it seems like more people are starting to take seriously the idea that state and federal budgets reflect our society's moral priorities. There's an ecumenical group from Duluth weighing in on the Minnesota budget, the US Conference of Bishops is giving advice to Congress, and there's a bunch of statement's we're missing. Pretty radical concept, eh? Put your money where your mouth is.

  • They have peace groups too.

  • Apparently, the Board of Global Ministries, the missions group jointly operated by the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the UCC is  considering a recommendation to their respective denominations that the churches divest themselves strategically to put economic pressure on Israel to withdraw from the Gaza strip. You can read the proposal here:

    The move is similar to a similar, hotly contested, decision made last year by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Not surprisingly, American Jewish groups are concerned, not least because they have had traditionally strong relationships with mainline denominations. Forward looks at the issue, as does Jewish Week, in a longer and surprisingly mild assessment of the UCC's intentions.


This 'n' That

  • We're ashamed sometimes to find out just how good Bartholomew's coverage of American religion can be. We mean, the guy's a Brit living in Japan, for crying in the night. In any case, he serves up a real head-scratcher here: Eugene Genovese defending a proponent of the virtues of the "Old South"? What the...?

  • More academic inside baseball: "Huntington College, a United Brethren Church institution in Indiana, wants to get rid of John E. Sanders in the worst way," according to the Chronicle of Higher Education:

    The problem is that Mr. Sanders is a prominent proponent of Open Theism. That minority approach within evangelical theology maintains that the future, rather than being foreordained, unfolds through a continuous give-and-take between God and humans.

    Mr. Sanders, whose books include The God Who Risks (InterVarsity Press, 1998), narrowly escaped being expelled from the Evangelical Theological Society in 2003 following accusations that Open Theism was heretical.


    But don't blame the board. Mr. Sanders's dismissal may have been planned since before the beginning of time.

  • The World Council of Churches is holding an "ecumenical discussion" of human sexuality. Because, um, Christians ought to be able to talk about such things without shouting. Our question is: who's brave enough to stock the toy table?

  • Beth Stroud's appeal of her removal from UMC ministry will be heard April 28th. Looking at where the jury is from doesn't give us much confidence (Etters, Pennsylvania is hardly known as a hotbed of liberalism), but by then it will be the season of Easter. And who knows? Perhaps by Pentecost, a new spirit will be blowing across the church.

  • Last link: a problemmatic sculpture in Denver:


Tales of the Shut-Ins

Just so you don't go home for the weekend with no snark in hand, consider this: we used to visit a pair of brothers, both getting up there in years, both deaf as mules. They lived in the same house they'd grown up in, and which had literally not been redecorated since the 1940s or so.

It was always tough to go see them: you'd bang on the door until you practically broke a knuckle, and still they wouldn't hear you. And once you got in the house, you'd have to deal with stale cigar smoke, dust, and awful lighting (one brother was blind, too, and bright lights hurt his eyes). Still, you couldn't ask for a sweeter pair of guys.

Well, one time, we happened to catch one of the brothers standing by the front door. So he let us in, and asked us to have a seat while he called his brother upstairs.

Which he proceeded to do, at the top of his lungs: "HEY GODFREY!! C'MON DOWN!! THE PASTOR'S HERE!" "He'll be here in just a minute," he told us, and then thinking about it, he shouted up the stairs once more: "AND PUT SOME PANTS ON!!"


Because the suffering of millions is not just for breakfast anymore:

The "I'm Crazy For You" teddy bear.



A Kierkegaard quote taken completely out of its context:
"It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater. The clown came out to inform the public. They thought it was just a jest and applauded. He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder. So I think the world will come to an end amid general applause from all the wits, who believe that it is a joke."


More possible uses for "UCC"

  • University of Cape Coast (South Africa)
  • University College of the Caribbean
  • Uganda College of Commerce
  • Urban City Council
  • Universal Cookie Consumers


Thursday, February 17, 2005

"Ex-homosexuals" and grace

It's difficult to know what to say about these Christianity Today stories:
My Path to Lesbianism and Cheated by the Affirming Church. I'm not gay, I'm not these people, and I don't get to say what experiences are "authentic" and which are not.

Still, quotes like this raise an eyebrow:
My first encounter with a woman gave me the most intense sense of belonging and connection I have ever felt. It is hard to explain just how enveloped I felt during that first encounter. I felt a sense of relief I had never felt before. I felt like I had finally found that sense of home within my soul I had been missing.

What I really had fallen into was an emotionally dependent relationship that had nothing at all to do with love. I was trying to fill my need for connection on my own terms. If love means honoring people, then is it loving to have them participate in what the Bible says alienates them from God? I realized that if I truly loved a woman, I could not sleep with her.

The implied priority here is Word over relationship--or perhaps better, Word establishing right relationship. That's hardly a value a good Christian can argue with, right?

Well, yes, actually. To understand why, look at the conclusion of the second article, written by an anonymous "ex-gay" man:
My pastor likens affirming Christians to the doctor who examines her patient and discovers life-threatening, but treatable, cancer. However, knowing that the patient cannot bear the thought of the painful treatment, she sends the man home with the "good news" that there is nothing wrong with him. Instead, the good doctor tells her patient that the symptoms of cancer are something "quite natural" that he should "accept."

In the same way, I've had Christians tell me that homosexuality is "natural," that I was "born this way," and I should "accept" the way I am. They have said that my marriage was a mistake; I should divorce my wife and affirm my gay identity. But I have heard countless stories of men and women who came out from affirming churches because they realized that they were not being who God wants them to be.

Believers can act like the false physician, telling people tempted by homosexuality that same-sex orientation is part of their identity and that they should accept it. Or, we can act as judge, jury, and executioner, driving them away from the Savior who loves them. Either way, we risk the same result: spiritual death.

Or we can respond like Jesus would, with grace and truth: "Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Those words called to me, weary and heavy-laden with sin, several years ago. Shouldn't all Christians bear that message of freedom and hope?

Well, yes. God in Christ will give us rest, and freedom and hope are indeed God-given gifts. The hidden factor here is the assumption that homosexuality is always chosen, always a form of bondage, always destructive of relationships. But with all due respect to the authors, the wasteland of their lives seems to have been accomplished pretty well by means other than their sexual orientation, and nothing in these articles to demonstrate that the freedom and hope offered by God is anything other than to be who we are, gay, straight, or some difficult place in the middle.


This is why I read Body & Soul

Jeanne on what's more important: the Jeff Gannon story or John Negroponte being promoted to National Intelligence Director:
My sense of the intersection between ideals and practicality in politics was taken from Bobby Kennedy many decades ago: It isn't enough to be right and tell the truth. You have to find ways to break down all the barriers that stand in the way of people seeing the truth. You have to constantly ask yourself, how do you get people to see the face of poverty and racism? In our time, how do we get them to feel the pain of the tortured?

Let's stop them any way we can was never part of that.

As I write, I'm talking myself out of that long held idea. Does it really matter what cracks Bush's power, as long as something does?



The Christian Right, from an insider.

Reader Lawnranger sends me a link to his story of political transformation. It's worth checking out.


More on Buster and PBS

I suggested in this post yesterday that the Republican party is continuing its march to privatization through PBS. I based that on this post, a First Amendment Center consideration of the fallout from the Buster episode a few weeks back:
PBS claims it had already decided not to distribute the episode to its stations two hours before the letter arrived (a small number aired it anyway). But whatever the chronology, “Buster” and other children’s programs that receive federal grants are now on notice: Avoid including any family with two moms or dads, or risk losing your funding.

Just to make sure the message is heard loud and clear, last week the Department of Education disinvited Carol Greenwald, executive producer of “Buster,” from speaking at a conference on children’s TV. Since DOE is a major funder, this doesn’t bode well for the survival of the series.

The ripple effect may go beyond PBS. Broadcasting & Cable reports that DOE is now exploring ways to change the guidelines so that grants in the “Ready-To-Learn” program (which funds “Buster”) can go to commercial as well as noncommercial children’s programmers.

Today, we find some correlation for our claim. Pam cites a report from the NYT on PBS' struggles--and the resignation of its president, Pat Mitchell:
Conservatives have complained about Bill Moyers's news program (he has since retired from it) and about a recent children's program featuring a rabbit named Buster who visited a pair of lesbian parents.

After Education Secretary Margaret Spellings threatened to retract financing for that program - a controversy that some called Bustergate - Ms. Mitchell decided not to distribute it.

In an interview on Wednesday, Ms. Mitchell, 62, said she had felt no pressure, either from inside her board or outside of PBS, to step aside.

She also said she had not been personally pressured to change programming by Republicans at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides federal money to the system. But she said her programmers had worked with their counterparts at the corporation, which is led by White House appointees, in developing several new shows, including a talk show for the conservative commentator Tucker Carlson.

"They certainly want to make sure we are providing a balanced schedule," she said. "We believe we are. We check that with the people we report to - our member stations and the American public."

"Balanced schedule," my right nipple. That's this administration's code for ripping control away from liberals--or those they perceive as liberals.

The rest of the article is hardly reassuring:
Senator Christopher J. Dodd, a Connecticut Democrat sponsoring the legislation along with Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, has called for the trust fund to be administered by an independent agency following the sort of procedures used by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.

Some critics, like Tim Graham of the Media Research Center, a conservative watchdog group, are reluctant to give PBS any independent endowment.

"They want to create an empire that does not have to answer to the Congress or the people," Mr. Graham said. "Conservatives do not want to give more tax dollars to television stations that attack their ideas."

Meaning they want the stations to answer to political pressure.

Norman Orenstein, a committee member who also sits on the PBS board, said Republicans on the committee believed that a trust fund could pay for socially useful programming.

"We're focusing on education and children and making the case that public broadcasting can do valuable things in a digital age that no one else can or will do," said Mr. Orenstein, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative research group.

But he did not expect the money to come easily.

"You couldn't have a tougher budget environment," Mr. Orenstein said, "and you're going to have vicious scrambling over discretionary domestic spending."

Referring to the recent programming incident, he said, "The timing couldn't have been worse on the Buster thing. This is not a time you want to be in the cross hairs."

PBS is also being criticized by others, like Jeffrey Chester, the executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy and a longtime advocate of more money for public television.

"I'm concerned that PBS is so desperate for funding and support from the Republican-dominated Congress that they're willing to sell their legacy," Mr. Chester said. "They could forgo their historic mandate to do cutting-edge programming and replace it with Bush-administration-friendly educational content."

And that, I think, is the point of this exercise: the public airwaves largely sold off to the highest bidders, and the remainder stripped of its independence and made subservient to the administration's political goals.

Which leaves some questions: is there anything this bunch won't politicize? Is there no limit to their search for power?

Update: this piece from details a bit of how the privatization-moralization nexus works:
The sample in NCRP’s study also included many of the organizations that have been vociferously fighting against gay marriage rights, including Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council, the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood and Exodus International . These groups received approximately 10 percent of the total grant dollars in the report. Many of these organizations did their part to help mobilize voters to restrict gay marriage rights in a handful of states, as well as keep Bush in office. When amending the U.S. Constitution to prohibit gay marriage was not mentioned as one of the president’s priorities for his second term, these organizations were apoplectic. Their very public anger got Bush to pledge during the State of the Union Address last week his support for a constitutional amendment “to protect the institution of marriage.”

During the 1990s, groups like those in the NCRP study usually could only rely on foundations and private individuals for financial support. Their ability to catch the ear of the White House or Congress was weak, at best. But in George W. Bush’s America, these organizations are tapping public coffers and influencing policy decisions like never before.

As insidious as demonizing gay people is—as well as most of the other items on the evangelical agenda—the real victims in this game are the nation’s poorest citizens, who are increasingly facing a no-win situation. One brand of Republican slashes taxes for the wealthiest Americans, forcing massive cuts in social services that low-income Americans need to survive. Then the faith-based crowd steps in, forcing down a little bit of Jesus with every sip of soup at the local homeless shelter.


God, save me from your followers!

Ladies and gentlemen, I think we have a new rallying cry. From Gary Bauer's "End of Day Report":

While Howard Dean makes his much-publicized push to appeal to evangelical voters, he might want to take a hard look at the Democratic National Committee (DNC) members he now leads. According to the New York Post this morning, the "hot" lapel button at the DNC meeting this past week was one that read, "Dear Jesus, please protect us from your righteous followers."

So which is it? Do the Dean-led liberals want Christian votes or do they see Christians as a threat to democracy? And, by the way, in a country that witnesses newborn babies thrown in trash cans and an increasingly debased culture, we could use a few more "righteous followers" of Christ!

Where to begin with this? Well first off, Bauer simply assumes that Dean can't be sincere in his faith. His evidence of that? The actions of DNC members. No allegation of this coming from Dean, nothing to show that these were Dean supporters, nothing even to show that these folks weren't themselves Christians.

Second, where is the humility in this? Where is the room to--dare I say--laugh at yourself, or tease some of the, uh, more fervent of your fellow believers? Heck, I'm a Christian, and I want a little shelter. More to the point, I'm sure there are a few folks out there who'd like to keep the likes of me safe and far away.

So, Mr. Bauer, I'll be proud to add this prayer to the banner of this blog. And I'll be proud to keep asking God for protection from his righteous followers--including myself.


A saint you may not want to emulate

From the Greek Orthodox listserv:
Saint Theodore who was from Amasia of Pontus, contested during the reign of Maximian (286-305). He was called Tyro, from the Latin Tiro, because he was a newly enlisted recruit. When it was reported that he was a Christian, he boldly confessed Christ; the ruler, hoping that he would repent, gave him time to consider the matter more completely and then give answer. Theodore gave answer by setting fire to the temple of Cybele, the "mother of the gods," and for this he suffered a martyr's death by fire. See also the First Saturday of the Fast.


Wednesday, February 16, 2005

John Aravosis on Gannon, media hypocrisy, and more.

Cover your ears and go read. John's a good guy, and he's got good reason to be p***ed off by the whole Jeff Gannon affair.


Nicholas Kristof is a tool (remix)

...Because of this column from last Saturday. (I'd summarize it, but I'm still not sure what the point is.) But don't let me tell you why. Let the Revealer do the heavy lifting:

"Modern science," reports Nicholas Kristof (be ware of any claim that begins with "modern science") "is turning up a possible reason why the religious right is flourishing and secular liberals aren't: instinct. It turns out that our DNA may predispose humans toward religious faith." There's more, but we recommend instead this response from Adam H. Becker, an occasional Revealer contributor and assistant professor of religious studies here at NYU: "One should perhaps be wary of Dean Hamer's arguments about the 'God Gene.' They are reductionist and fail to take into account religion as an essentially social phenomenon. They define religion as a private, subjective experience, which then only plays itself out in the social sphere. It is not a coincidence that Hamer's privileging of the experiential corresponds to certain notions of religion that have been put forward since Friedrich Schleiermacher's Speeches on Religion of 1798. This internalization of the locus of religiosity was in part a direct response to the rise of science and the subsequent so-called disenchantment that occurred. Considering that many scholars of religion nowadays refuse even to define religion but rather see it as a term that is part of the intellectual and social history of the West with a very particular genealogy, I think Hamer's 'science' threatens to limit our perspective on an extremely complex phenomenon. Furthermore, he is also the author of Science of Desire: The Gay Gene and the Biology of Behavior (1995), another book with problematic assumptions about human nature -- especially since our notions of homosexuality and heterosexuality seem to be modern concepts developed from the late 19th century onwards. Hamer's work tends to naturalize the culturally specific and thus reduces all human beings to a Western model."


It looks bad...

and it finishes that way, too:
Two days after Christmas, a small Baptist church sends police to remove a grandmother from the apartment house the congregation proudly built a few years earlier, in effect banishing a village native from the one community she knows.

The explanation offered by leaders of Bethel Baptist Church for why 71-year-old Dorothy Peterson was kicked out of her Maple Street apartment Dec. 27 only highlights what critics call the ugliness of the eviction.


"I am not pleased with putting anybody out," said the Rev. John Hooks, the pastor, noting that the apartment house management committee is a separate entity from the church, although overseen by church leadership. "I also know that no court would put her out without just cause."


The pastor would not discuss specifics, saying the church took action in part for reasons that were "brought to me in confidence."

Look, I don't know the people and I don't know all the details. But isn't this how great evil gets done? Everything is done according to the rules, and the entities are nicely separated, and...a church winds up putting out one of its own.

The worst part about it? "Peterson's lawyer, said her efforts kept Peterson in her apartment long after the church wanted her out and 'there comes a time when the law is the law.'"

Jesus, forgive us.


Religious News Roundup--February 16, 2005

Not much is going on today, other than a Lenten Supper at Faith Lutheran Church in Chisholm, Minnesota. But apparently yesterday was Canada's National Flag Day, and on Sunday, we missed the motherlode: a "snowmobiler's breakfast" at the Assembly of God Church in Walhalla, N.D.

We here at RNR confess we're a little dubious about such an affair, seeing as how a snowmobiler's breakfast in our homestate of Wisconsin tends to peppermint schnapps.

Today's categories:


Religion & Politics

  • The biggest story going around the leftie faith blogs in the past couple of days has been the Beliefnet op-ed by David Kuo, the former director of the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. Heck, even Kos diaried on it yesterday.

    Essentially, the fuss is all about Kuo's assessment of the FBIs pork-barrel politics. Nobody gave a hang about helping the poor, Kuo discovered to his shock: Congressional Dems weren't interested in the program; the Republicans just saw it as another form of patronage, and the Bush White House refused to lift a finger to convince anyone of anything else. Beliefnet has the White House's less-than-convincing defense (from a Scott McClellan press briefing) here.

    The rest of the reaction is pretty much what you'd expect: Amy Sullivan stops self-promoting long enough to suggest once again that the Democratic Congressional leadership was asleep at the switch; Christianity Today thinks it's all just politics as usual. But at least they get off a good line:

    So it's politics as usual, Kuo concludes. "At the end of the day, both parties played to stereotype -- Republicans were indifferent to the poor and the Democrats were allergic to faith." And the theme of compassionate conservatism became more or less a farce

    But hey, at least evangelical leaders got to shake the President's hand, right?

  • While we're citing CT, let's take notice of a couple other pieces they have up: a snide, unfair review of Dean's performance at last weekend's Democratic National Committee convention; and this piece purporting to expose the idolatry of government:

    Many Americans are "practical atheists" who have long since forsaken a Creator and a theistic worldview--and in the process have seemingly transferred onto the government the divine qualities of omniscience and omnipotence. For centuries people have tended to blame God for not preventing everything bad that happens. In fact, Freud (and others) posited that God is merely a human invention created to explain and possibly to blame for those phenomena that cannot otherwise be rationally explained. Many now blame the government because they presume it should possess the divine foreknowledge and requisite power to protect citizens from all harm.

    Exactly how this transferal took place is a mystery, but it seems to reflect the erosion of the dominant theistic worldview and the growing acceptance of a naturalistic worldview. Perhaps it was Freud's influence. Perhaps the growing "victim mentality" in our culture (which some call "the Oprahfication of America") played a part.

    Yet, all the interpreters and advocates of the secular worldview have only managed to marginalize what they consider the outmoded theistic worldview. They offer no new insights to explain the anomalies of life. In place of God, government--a most imposing institution that also seems bigger than life--has assumed the default position.

    Any article that begins with mocking Richard Clarke's apology to the American people for the failure of their government to at least try to prevent 9/11 as replacing God with government can't be good. We'll return to eviscerate this one later.

  • Meanwhile, another Christian seems to think the workings of government are awfully important:

    Evangelist Pat Robertson indicated Tuesday that if Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist expects backing of religious conservatives for a possible 2008 presidential bid, he had better get President Bush (news - web sites)'s judicial nominees confirmed by the Senate, or at least voted on.

    "It is the ultimate test," Robertson said at the National Press Club. "He cannot be a leader and allow Democrats to do what they did in the last session."

    Robertson may have to wait for a true leader. The prevailing signs are that judicial nominations are being pushed down the congressional agenda, more than likely meaning that Republican leaders aren't ready for the fight they're sure to provoke.

  • Two ministers are running against one another to become mayor of Boca Raton, FL. The article's got some flaws--it repeats the tired lie that mainline denominations are eroding because of their politics, and it attempts to draw a distinction between two guys who are pretty similar--but it is worth a read.

  • The Philadelphia City Paper has a profile of Michael Marcavage that does absolutely nothing to improve our image of him as a fanatical opportunist along the lines of Fred Phelps. Martyr for Christianity, our butt.

  • Question: What do cartoon bunnies and candycanes have in common? Answer: new tactics from the conservative end of the political spectrum. Bunnies first, from the First Amendment Center, reporting on the funding issue that's arisen over Buster's infamous "Sugartime" episode:

    whatever the chronology, "Buster" and other children's programs that receive federal grants are now on notice: Avoid including any family with two moms or dads, or risk losing your funding.

    Just to make sure the message is heard loud and clear, last week the Department of Education disinvited Carol Greenwald, executive producer of "Buster," from speaking at a conference on children's TV. Since DOE is a major funder, this doesn't bode well for the survival of the series.

    The ripple effect may go beyond PBS. Broadcasting & Cable reports that DOE is now exploring ways to change the guidelines so that grants in the "Ready-To-Learn" program (which funds "Buster") can go to commercial as well as noncommercial children's programmers.

    Spellings, of course, can't directly prevent PBS from airing this or any show. But her letter contains an implicit warning of Education Department retaliation if children's programs receiving federal funds dare to include images of families with same-sex parents.

    We've bolded the key part of the quote above. This isn't about moral values at all; it's about using "moral values" as a vehicle for another form of crony-based privatization of government funding. Jim Towey must be proud.

    As for the candycanes: the Federal Department of Justice is intervening in a Michigan case concerning the right of a schoolboy to attach religious messages to candycanes he distributed to classmates. It is highly unusual for the DOJ to get involved in such a matter.  But it's nice to know they respect states' rights--when it suits their political agenda.

  • Another one from The Conservative Voice: global warming is apparently now a religion:

    Global Warming has become a religion that the faithful have vowed to follow no matter what the true facts may show. Global Warming is a theory, nothing more, and large numbers of scientists around the world are beginning to question its validity. There is no consensus of support.

    This, of course, is the same tactic used against Darwinian evolution. Declare it a religion, then complain about how "unreasonable" its proponents are. We're not buying it.


Religion & Homosexuality

  • Another big story: Norman Kansfield, president of the Reformed Church in America's New Brunswick School of Theology, has parted ways with the seminary. It's unclear whether or not he was ousted (he and the board deny it), but the fact is that he left after blessing the relationship of his daughter and her lesbian partner. Now, you wouldn't expect the ultra-conservative Chalcedon Foundation to run a thoughtful, even-handed report on the situation, but that's exactly what they've done. (Our guess is that Kansfield has been up a reservoir of goodwill at Chalcedon, which has helped him in this situation.) Christianity Today isn't so even-handed, but as usual, they've got the biggest collection of links on the story.

    But for our money, Newsday has the best take on the matter:

    Q: What's a liberal on homosexual rights?

    A: A conservative with a gay kid.

  • William Sloane Coffin is convinced that homophobia was behind the refusal of CBS and NBC to run the UCC's God Is Still Speaking ads.

  • The Episcopal Church in the USA is facing a major downturn in revenues from last year, presumably at least in part due to the Gene Robinson controversy. Meanwhile, the Church of England may pay pensions to gay clergy's same-sex partners.

  • DOMA pushes are on in Colorado, despite that state's current law banning same-sex marriage, and Florida. You don't suppose these things are, like, coordinated to hit potential swing states, do you?

    In any case, it'll be interesting to see if newly-elected Colorado Senator Ken Salazar uses any of his political capital to speak out against the constitutional amendment in his state. Given his track record so far, we're not holding our breath.

  • Our policy on the RNR is not to cover the doings of Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church, on the theory that it's the publicity Phelps wants--and he wants it to hurt people. But we've linked to this story because it seems to us that it would be incredibly easy to take some wind out of Phelps' sails by recasting the headline. Instead of "Baptist Church from Kansas brings anti-gay message to Helena," why not "Local Church Groups Stand Up For Tolerance"? We mean, when the protestors are outnumbered 8-200--as they almost always are--who's the story really about?

  • If you haven't already, toddle over to this diary and read our report on hearing Beth Stroud speak today in Lancaster. She's a class act.


Speaking Out

  • Speaking of protestors and homosexuality, an interfaith group in Washington state has been organizing a rally in favor of marriage equality at the state capitol in Olympia. And let's put it on the record: they're having a hard time competing with the advocates of inequality.

  • We swear, last cheesy transition: DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, should not be confused with MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art, which is holding an exhibit this month featuring the Garden of Forgiveness in Beirut. RNR's thanks to reader Claire S. who's hoping to help build a similar garden in New York.

  • Speaking out is easy when it's cheap. Sometimes, it's considerably more difficult. More here and here.


This 'n' That

  • Chuck Currie keeps tabs on the Scaife-front Institute for Religion and Democracy.

  • A Christian Cheerleading coach says she's fighting God's Battle after getting canned by the University of Georgia for her on-the-job proselytizing. Our thanks to the Revealer staff for the link.

  • Nicholas Kristof is an idiot.

  • Albert Mohler is a jackass.

  • The signs of the times lead us to believe that the end is near, at least according to this website. Personally, we're going to stick with this sign:

  • Another group of black pastors is coming together in Atlanta to attempt to chart the agenda for the black church. Given the sharp division of that church over questions of priorities, it could be a contentious meeting.

  • Beliefnet has an article on a subject dear to RNR's heart: Jewish robots. Well, comic strips about them, anyway:

    Free Image Hosting at

    That's going in the favorites list.

  • Last link, in more ways than one: Sister Lucia de Jesus dos Santos has died at the age of 97. She was the last of the three children to have seen the Virgin Mary at Fatima, Portgual in 1917, and the transcriber of the visions.


Just Heard Beth Stroud Speak

If you recall, Beth Stroud is the United Methodist minister defrocked in a church trial after coming out of the closet in a sermon last year, and a prominent part of the PBS documentary The Congregation.

Stroud came to speak before an audience of 150 people at a Lenten Luncheon in conservative Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Of all places.

The crowd squeezed in the basement of Grandview UMC was hardly any different than that attending any Lenten Lunch: mostly cottontops, a few seminarians here and there. Weirdo UCC pastor in the back.

Stroud positioned herself on a stool on the fellowship hall stage, and declared that she had brought her watch because she knew "many of you need to get back to work." A few minutes later, the mic she was using slipped down on its stand, and the pastor had to run up to adjust it. Stroud claimed to be too busy to notice.

She told the audience that unlike many people these days, she was a "cradle United Methodist," with roots in the church that go back to her grandparents.

She grew up in a congregation in surburban Philadelphia that felt to her like a "second home or extended family". In fact, she and her parents were there so often that the janitor joked with them that he ought to provide them a spare key so they could let themselves out.

When Stroud came to the realization that she was a lesbian, it became difficult for her to remain a Christian. She got the cold shoulder from the campus ministry group she attended in college. And when she returned to her home church, she was startled to notice the casually homophobic or racist comments made by fellow parishioners.

But when the First United Methodist Church of Germantown voted to become a "reconciling" church (one officially welcoming of gays and lesbians), she felt confident enough in her faith to join the congregation. FUMCOG nutured her, she said, and encouraged her to consider seminary. Eventually, she did go to Union Theological Seminary in New York where she experienced another "crisis of faith."

She dropped out of seminary and began working with an AIDS organization. She also took a job with a local paper, and in the course of interviewing four gay clergypeople, experienced a new call to ministry. She returned to seminary, was ordained, and eventually, with much "prayer and reflection" with members of FUMCOG, decided to come out of the closet. (She was very emphatic on this last point: the decision was made with the congregation, and over the course of time. It was not dropped like a bombshell on the Sunday morning captured by The Congregation.)

Perhaps the most illuminating part of the session, however, was the Q&A. Stroud answered one for herself: why, she said she'd been asked many times before, are you not more angry?

Her response: she'd been angry for a long time before the trial, which seemed to her the "logical conclusion" of her struggle. And yet, she remains hopeful that something positive can come of this, especially if she can help people to see the issue not as a matter of abstract principles, but as about a human being.

Other exchanges (paraphrasing much of this):
  • Is there any hope to change the Book of Discipline at the Methodist General Convention? Yes, and it's worth it to try. The church will still be divided no matter what we do, but trying to change the Book of Discipline is less divisive than a judicial outcome.

  • A woman commended Stroud for her courage. "This is what Christians do," she responded, recounting visitors to FUMCOG after her defrocking saying to her "there's something to this thing of loving your enemies".

  • Another woman observed that the church jury that decided Stroud's fate was biased; apparently, potential jurors were asked to sign a pledge stating that they could vote to uphold the Book of Discipline and punish Stroud. Several potential members answered that in honesty and conscience they could not, and were excluded from the jury. This will be a part of the Stroud's appeal of the case.

  • Someone asked how Stroud could have made it through the ordination process. Her response: "People have an amazing ability not to see what they don't want to see."

  • The same woman who commented on the jury spoke about the other clergy present at the trial who she knew to be gay, and who would have to then make some very difficult decisions about whether or not to come out of the closet in light of the jury's decision. Stroud acknowledged their difficulties, without demanding that they follow her example.

I spoke to Stroud briefly after her speech. She didn't know about dKos, but she promised to check us out. She seems almost painfully shy, so much so that I couldn't bring myself to ask her for a picture.

But when I asked her if she had anything she'd like to say to her online supporters, her eyes got moist, and she took my hands in hers and said, "Thanks for the prayers. Thanks for the prayers."


Hooray for local columnists!

Our local humor columnist Larry Alexander had this to say about a group in Lancaster protesting West Coast Video for renting adult videos:

Believe it or not, this country was founded on on the ideals of freedom and tolerance...

Overall the protest is pretty pointless; I'm sure it dissuades no one from going into the store who wasn't going in to start with. In fact, the protest could have a backlash and draw attention to the adult films inside the store: "Hey, honey! Grab the kids. We're going to Left Coast Video and rent some porn."

The video store protest is symptomatic of America's increasing love affair with minding other people's business...

I know I'm sticking my foot into it here, but being a Lancaster county native, I've spent a lifetime watching people try to foist off their beliefs on others. They tell people how to live, how to dress, how to vote--and that the only true interpretation of the Bible is their own.

In fact, Scripture is often invoked as justification for poking one's nose into the lives of others. In doing that, though, we conveniently overlook the verse in Matthew that cautions against pointing out the speck in someone else's eye while overlooking the log in our own.

It's God's way of saying, "Mind your own business."...

And if you still don't get this column, reread paragraph 1.

Need I say Larry is a member of a local UCC congregation?


Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Something I'd known for a while,

but it can never hurt to be reminded:

Scholars say the Old and New Testament are riddled with humorous references and aim to set the record straight at a three-day congress, "Laughter and Comedy in Ancient Christianity," that began Monday.

There's the tale from Luke's Gospel about Zaccheus, a diminutive and despised tax collector who, eager to see Jesus at a busy gathering, is forced into the attention-grabbing indignity of scrambling up a tree.

Or the patriarch Isaac, whose name comes from the Hebrew word for laughter because of the joy and disbelief his birth brought to his aging parents Abraham and Sarah.

These witticisms may not have modern readers rolling on the floor. But scholars of Christian literature and theology at the conference in Turin, Italy, insist the books of the Bible are riddled with humor and clever wordplay.


Dear Chairman Dean...

Our new Chairman of the DNC, Howard Dean, has recently sent a mass email asking for people's help in formulating a strategy based on the core values of the Democratic party.

I responded by sending him my list of top concerns, and so should you.

Here's the email from Governor Dean in its entirety:

You run this party.

On Saturday, I was honored when your representatives on the Democratic National Committee elected me Chairman. And I can't wait to get started. But when they voted, it wasn't about me -- they were voting for a plan for the future of our party.

That plan came from people like you -- from conversations I had with ordinary Democrats across the country. When those 447 people voted in Washington this weekend, they united around that plan.

Now I'm asking you to do the same. Those 447 people were a good start, but make no mistake -- I know that this is also your party. And our plan to reform the party can only become a reality with your endorsement.

Please read our plan -- and commit to making it a reality:

Your representatives in the DNC mandated bottom-up reform -- growing the Democratic Party in your neighborhood and every other community in America. They voted to compete in every state for every level of office. And they demanded a Democratic Party that stands up for itself and for an agenda that reflects our values.

They didn't elect me because they think I can accomplish these things. They elected me because I believe that only you can.

Every single one of us must take responsibility for building our party. It's not enough to simply vote for Democrats -- in order to win, every one of us must deliver our message and values into our own community.

That means changing the way we do business, and that's what this plan is about:

The Republicans' biggest victory has been to convince many Democrats that we can only win by abandoning our values and doing what they say.

It's one of their favorite tactics -- just watch how right-wing pundits talk endlessly about the internal politics of our party. They try to divide Democrats by ideology just as they divide all Americans by race or gender or faith.

But there is no crisis of ideology in the Democratic Party, only a crisis of confidence. Bill Clinton once described the Democratic Party's problems in the era of George W. Bush, saying that in uncertain times people would rather have a leader who is strong and wrong than weak and right.

He's exactly right. And we become both weak and wrong when we abandon our core values for short-term political gain. But when we Democrats talk straight and stand up for ourselves, we have a huge advantage: We are both strong and right.

We will only turn that advantage into victory if we make a concrete plan and work hard to execute it. Declare your support and offer feedback now on the plan to build an organization that will help us win everywhere, and win with pride:

Millions of Americans became Democrats last year. They sensed that they live in a society where ordinary people's problems and interests don't matter to our government. They chose the Democratic Party because we represent commonsense reform.

And millions more will become Democrats this year as we protect the Democratic Party's greatest achievement. We will not allow George Bush to phase out Social Security -- a Democratic policy that cured an epidemic of poverty among seniors and provides the guarantee of retirement with dignity.

Most importantly, millions of Democrats have become true stakeholders in our party. With grassroots action and small-dollar donations, you have taken our party's future into your own hands.

The stakes are too high to wait for others to lead. Every one of us has a personal responsibility for the future of our party -- and the future of our country.

This isn't my chairmanship -- it is ours. So let's get to work together.

Governor Howard Dean, M.D.

Chairman, Democratic National Committee

Well, that was just toooooo much of an invitation for a blogger to communicate with the Good Doctor, and I just had to respond. Of course after doing so I was so psyched about this new approach of the DNC listening to those of use who spend far too many hours in darkened rooms in front of illuminated screens that I just had to share my response with y'all here at faithforward:

Dear Governor Dean:

As you've asked for suggestions on where to take the Democratic Party, I think THE main core value of Democrats is caring for "the least of us" in our society: children; the poor; the sick and those parents and elderly people who are in need in our society.

I've been very concerned with the direction the Republican Party, under the leadership of George Bush, is taking our country. I don't believe that policies which remove healthcare and heating assistance from poor people in order to give rich people deeper tax cuts can be morally justified, either in the secular or religious world.

Here are a handful of legislative initiatives that I would fully support the Democratic Party taking the lead on:

1. Protecting Social Security by raising the salary cap so the program can continue fully funded. "Personal accounts", as proposed by Bill Clinton, should be pursued in addition to the regular benefit and only when the government is in a budgetary surplus.

2. Universal healthcare for all children under 16 years old and strengthening the WIC program through further funding and by encouraging women to breastfeed their children when possible.

3. Decreasing the amount of mercury in the environment through stricter pollution controls, and removing mercury from all flu vaccines. As mercury is a leading cause of brain development problems in fetuses and young children, this should be a vitally important issue to Democrats, Republicans and Independents.

4. Tighter oversight of funds spent on the "war on terror" and the war in Iraq. The Executive Branch should not be given a "blank check" from Congress for waging these wars, especially in light of recent scandals involving billions of dollars going missing under the Bremer administration.

Thank you for leading the charge and re-invigorating the grassroots of the Democratic Party.

We've got your back!

Contact Howard Dean and let him know that you have his back as well!


Who is Herman Utic, and what's he got to do with the Bible?

Herman's an old friend from seminary. He's going to help us solve a problem.

Oh? What problem is that?
Well, if you remember back to the beginning of this discussion, I said that the Bible essentially recorded a conversation about what it means to live with God. That's a very long conversation, with very many different voices represented. Then you've got issues with the texts themselves, translation problems, not to mention trying to understand the context these things were written in, their literary genre, and so on. Trying to make sense out of the Bible is hard work.

It's hard enough when you're trying to make heads or tails of a single piece, but when you try to make all those pieces fit together, it's something else. Making moral sense of it is harder still.

I noticed. You going to tell us how to do it?
Sort of. You will never find a “magic key” that suddenly makes it all fit together. And by magic key, I mean a single, objective, permanent standard for interpretation.

That's important, so let me say it again: you will never find a single, objective, permanent standard for interpretation.

Ever. Reading the Bible is an art, not a science.

So what do you do?
This is where our friend Herman comes in.

Traditionally, one of the first things you do in seminary is to identify and describe the “rules and suppositions” that you bring to scriptural interpretation. That's called a hermeneutic.

I get it. Herman Utic, hermeneutic. Ha ha ha. Moron.
Look, I didn't say that seminarians had a good sense of humor.

But in any case, figuring out your hermeneutic does a number of things. It brings out your assumptions, of course, so you can see if they need to be challenged. It gives you a way of being consistent in your approach. In the absence of an objective standard, having a hermeneutic gives you some kind of yardstick for comparing your interpretation to someone else's.

Okay, I think I understand.
Let's look at an example. If you read the story of the first Passover in Exodus, chapter 12, you'll see that one of God's instructions to the Israelites is to sacrifice a lamb and put its blood on a doorpost, so that God will know to spare that house from the final plague before the Jews are freed from slavery in Egypt.

Then flip forward, and look at the stories about the Last Supper in the gospels. Matthew ( 26:26-30), Mark (14:22-26), and Luke (22:15-20) tell pretty much the same story, as they often do: Jesus takes some bread, blesses it and breaks and gives it to the disciples, saying some variation of “this is my body.” He also takes some wine and gives it to them, telling them that it is his blood. Obviously, there's a parallel to the Passover story going on here. Jesus' blood replaces the blood of the lamb, and his body replaces the unleavened bread. But what does it all mean? What's the point of the story?

Well, if you believe that the Exodus story (of which Passover is a part) is about God freeing the Israelites from social and political oppression, you might then look at the Last Supper stories and say that they must be about the same thing. That's a fair argument, and it is consistent. Even better, if you look at I Corinthians 11:23-25, you see that Paul has almost exactly the same words that Jesus uses in these three gospels—and he uses them as part of a larger argument about social equality.

But a friend of yours might say, “I think the gospel stories and Exodus are about God freeing us from our sinful nature.” That's a fair argument too. After all, Jesus does say in Matthew that the wine is “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins,” and Exodus does spend a good bit of time on the Israelites' rather wanton behavior. As for Paul: isn't snobbery a sign of sinfulness?

So who's right?
It's not a question of being right or wrong. Both of those perspectives can be defended. If one of you had said, for example, that Exodus was only about sin, and the gospel stories only about social liberation, clearly that would be wrong. As it is, you're pretty evenly matched.

But the point is that you're talking. You read the Bible with an eye to liberation; your friend reads it with an eye to sin.Now you know where you both stand, and you can argue back and forth about whose interpretation better suits the case at hand. You may never agree with one another, and you may never establish who's “right,” but you're talking, and that's something.

There's no right and wrong way to read the Bible?
Depends on what you're asking. Are there some ways to read the Bible that just don't fit what we know about the texts? Sure. The creation story in the first two chapters of Genesis is plainly not about imprisonment to sin; Revelation is not about current events in the Middle East; Leviticus is not gay-friendly. None of it has anything to do with UFOs. You can claim those things all you want, but you won't find much support for them in the text.So you have to be a responsible reader.

But is there one way to read the Bible that is absolutely morally preferable to any other way? No, I don't believe so.

So whatever feels good, that's how you read?

No, I don't believe that either, and the reason I don't is pretty important.

Seminarians look at their hermeneutic for the sake of academic and intellectual consistency. But they also look at it for the sake of moral consistency—particularly because they're going to represent a moral vision to their parishioners. Forget hot-button issues like abortion or homosexuality; when a pastor is confronted with a member whose life is being cut short by ovarian cancer, they damn well better be able to talk coherently about what the Bible has to say about pain, suffering, and death—and what those things mean. If they don't know for themselves, they need to get it figured out—quickly.

In a more global sense, your hermeneutic is a way of connecting your story to the larger story of the faith. I, for example, have had many experiences of God's surprising grace, and I often read scripture with those experiences in mind. Again, other people might look at things a bit differently: through the lens of liberation, or the incarnation, or salvation from sin.

And again, none of those ways is exactly right or wrong; they're more like theories that you test as you read. Sometimes, the theory's confirmed, sometimes it needs to be refined; and sometimes it just needs to be thrown out and replaced with something new.

But the point is this: you makes your choices, and you takes your chances. There is no way to read the Bible that removes the obligation to make choices—about God, about Jesus Christ, about what is right and what is wrong. From the perspective of faith, right understanding of scripture only comes when you have come to understand the larger story, and where you stand in relation to it. (Many Christians would say that you can only understand the Bible through the acceptance of the faith—literalists believe that the Holy Spirit gives you the knowledge to interpret correctly—but I respectfully disagree.)

Again from the perspective of faith, that one must make decisions in reading scripture is a good thing. It reflects the nature of a God who chooses to operate through freedom, rather than force or compulsion, and who wants us to know the truth, that it might make us free.
From the perspective of progressive politics, it's even better, because what it means is that “all God's children got a place in the choir.” We are invited to take part in the ongoing conversation of faith, regardless of who we are or what we believe. (Yes, that includes atheists as well.) No one is entitled to shut us out of this conversation, because no one is entitled to abrogate the freedom given by God.

That doesn't mean that you won't be called upon to defend your choices, either here on earth or at the Pearly Gates, but what of it? We are responsible for our decisions; this is hardly news. I am confident of God's grace and mercy, and so should you be.

Okay, smartass, what are the decisions you've made?

I suppose I could blame them on Herman, but that would just be wrong, wouldn't it?

Seriously: I've sort of been arguing for them as we've gone along with these discussions. Let me make them explicit:
  1. The work of interpreting scripture belongs to the community, not just its scholars or religious leaders. Those individuals have important contributions to make, but they don't “own” the truth of the Bible.

  2. The Bible was written by humans in an attempt to understand their experiences of faith; though it may have been inspired, it was not dictated, nor is it infallible. While we ought to take biblical perspectives seriously, we ought not be bound by them uncritically. We are part of a larger community as we read the Bible together, one that includes its original authors, as well as those who have—or will—interpret it over time. Again, we are free to make decisions about the best interpretation of the texts, but we ought to remember at the same time of the need to be good citizens in the larger polity.

  3. The search for the historical, factual, propositional truth of the Bible is an exercise in frustration. Moreover, it is unfair to the texts themselves, which may or may not have been written with literal truth in mind.

  4. We must accept the Bible's critique of our own fallibility as much as we critique the failings of its writers. To claim to know the absolute truth is arrogant and presumptous, both morally and intellectually. Even if we read scripture with the presupposition that there is no God behind it, biblical texts present sometimes startling challenges to our notions of “the way things are.”

  5. “Preferable” readings of the Bible should include John's four dimensions of scripture:
    • Anthropological
    • Historical
    • Literary
    • Religious

  6. The way we read scripture should not diminish or remove human freedom, nor should they be used as the basis of oppression.

So that's the way you think we should read the Bible?
That's my hermeneutic, and I'm sticking to it.

I'm sorry, can you define “hermeneutic” one more time?
To quote a fellow seminarian: “the way I read the Bible is well-reasoned and insightful. The way you read it is a bunch of crap.”

Okay, that helps.
You ready to dive into what the Bible has to say about some issues?

Actually, I'd rather take a couple of weeks to goof off do some research.
We can do that. Be back in a few weeks with “What Does the Bible Say About Homosexuality,” folks. Say goodnight, Gracie.

Goodnight, Gracie.


Sunday, February 13, 2005

Brothers and Sisters,

Let us pray* for all people, for all nations, and for our community:

  • I ask your prayers for our community, all who lead it, for all who participate, giving thanks for all the faiths and beliefs represented here. Pray especially for Kid Oakland as he departs for new work elsewhere. Pray for our community.

  • I ask your prayers for the good earth, that all people may respect its resources, preserve its future, and its fruits in their season. Pray for the soil and the sea.

  • I ask your prayers for the leaders of the nations, that they may act deliberately and dispassionately, and for the good of all.  Pray for those who govern, and for those who would lead us.

  • I ask your prayers for peace, that the peoples of the world may live in safety and without fear. Pray for peace.

  • I ask your prayers for the wealthy and the free, and the healthy, that they may use their possessions to aid those in need. Pray for compassion among people.

  • I ask your prayers for the sick, the sorrowing, and those who are alone, especially the victims of senseless violence; for those who suffer from the scourge of addiction; for the city of Dresden; and for those facing new forms of the AIDS virus. Pray for those in any need or trouble.

  • I ask your prayers for the dead, that they may receive eternal rest. Pray for those who have died.

Source of all living, hear the prayers of your people, and grant our requests. Strengthen us for the tasks you give us, bring us to unity with diversity, and guide us in ways that affirm the gift of life.


Biblical lessons

From an email making the rounds on the Internets

Dear President Bush,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from you and understand why you would propose a constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. As you said "in the eyes of God marriage is based between a man a woman." I try to share your knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual relationships, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God's Laws and how to follow them.

1. Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?

3. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2. clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?

4. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this? Are there 'degrees' of abomination?

5. Lev.21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle-room here?

6. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev. 19:27. How should they die?

7. I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

8. My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev.19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.