On the future of Christianity (and values, Rob Bell, and God)

I recently spoke at a rally for Michigan workers here in Battle Creek.  I said some political stuff (in a values and hypocrisy kind of way, not so much party-line kind of way.  You can see the video here).   One of those who attended the rally found me later on Facebook and thanked me for being a Christian leader who was willing to “address the issues that most skirt around.”  It got me thinking, and I responded that it saddens me that progressive people of faith have not been effective at articulating a faith-based vision of social justice and love; and that in this vacuum, much more extreme voices have dominated the public discourse. Consequently, “Christian” has practically become synonymous with “asshole” in recent years, and I am very eager to chip away at the walls my co-believers have erected, wherever and however I can.

But it is also true that for what it’s worth, things are actually changing rapidly among Christians. On the one hand, progressives are getting bolder and better at naming their values,  but there is also an emerging debate raging among evangelicals themselves these days as seen in the recent storm of controversy over Rob Bell‘s new book, Love Wins. On the surface, all the uproar is about whether and how to interpret the doctrine of hell, but in the wise words of my CPE director, “the issue is not the issue.” In this case, the underlying issue is ultimately about whether or not the Christian church can finally embrace a God who is capable of acting in ways that are beyond our imagination:  can we keep God in a box or not?  Because it is our precisely our declaration that we’ve got God figured out and you don’t, that allows Christians to adopt a posture of violence and exclusion toward the rest of the world.  But on the other hand, if we are finally ready, after 2,000 years and counting, to concede that people are in relationship with God in ways that are not ours, and that we need not necessarily embrace, understand, condone, nor condemn, just imagine how different  the world could be?  What if the majority of children grew up in a society (and faith tradition) that is both profoundly faithful yet acknowledges the reality of different beliefs and understandings?  What if the response to difference was not to try and establish that which is ‘true’ or ‘correct,’ but rather to get curious about it, and to get curious about the beliefs we ourselves hold true?

Anyway, I’m glad to be part of a changing world, in relationship with a God who is ever breathing new life into our dusty lungs.

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Thoughts on Christians and Muslims

Some thoughts on the recent controversies between Christians and Muslims:

– Those who oppose the building of a mosque near Ground Zero are unwilling or unable to distinguish between different groups of Muslims. These extremists who want to burn the Koran are simply following that same sentiment to it’s logical conclusion: all Muslims are indistinguishable AND evil. This is precisely why we need a center for dialogue near Ground Zero.

– These so-called “Christians” who want to burn the Koran on 9/11 are no more Christian than those so-called “Muslims” who attacked us on 9/11 were Muslim.

– Christians must unequivocally support religious freedom in America.  That includes the right of a group of Muslims to build a mosque wherever it is legally allowable, such as near Ground Zero in NYC.

– Remembering how our Lord hung out with those who were stigmatized and was himself hated, blamed, falsely accused, and put to death by those religious and patriotic folks who feared him, Christians must unequivocally condemn bigotry whenever it arises at the state or local level.  We should be the first to condemn the slippery slope of anti-Islamic scapegoating wherever it occurs.

On theological exclusivity

…truthfully, I find Roman Catholic exclusivity no more appealing — nor convincing — than that of Southern Baptists, Mormons, Muslims, or nondenominational Christian fundamentalists. With all due respect, y’all start to sound the same to me. Either just one of you is right about God’s exclusivity, or none of you are. Based on my own experience with God, I’m betting on the latter.

Read the rest here.

On Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck has a pretty sweet gig.  It must be nice not to be beholden to the truth.

This was going to be a post refuting some of the latest utter nonsense spewed forth by Glenn Beck, but writing that felt kind of like being sprayed in the face with seawater for an hour, then constructing an argument about how one particular mouthful tastes bad.  There’s just so much of it coming at you, all at once, that ducking out of the way might be a better form of resistance than deploying the tools of accuracy and logic.

My stepfather likes to say, “Never wrestle with a pig.  You both get dirty, but the pig likes it.”  Indeed.  I’d look like an idiot trying to fact-check Glenn Beck.  (Or, for that matter, a three year old.  Or a Golden Retriever.)

I’m not saying the man himself isn’t intelligent.  I have no idea whether he’s a fool or a liar, and I’m not sure it really matters.  What matters is that he commands an audience of millions of viewers, and he is beholden only to their viewership.  He is not beholden to truth, reason, or fairness, but rather to the numbers.  And truth, reason, and fairness are only useful insofar as captivate the masses and deliver the numbers, and can be dispensed with if they don’t.

It is lamentable that Glenn Beck’s viewers go along with his ride.  He bears the moral guilt for his careless and shameful information manipulation.  But what about the rest of us?  For those of us who understand that good theology is liberating, and who care about social justice because that is the work of God, we owe it to ourselves and our neighbors not to allow Glenn Beck to twist our faith into a tool to advance his conspiracy theories.

Glenn Beck is free to deny that Jesus cares about social justice if he wants to.  (I don’t know what Bible he’s reading, but hey, this is America.)  But Jesus is undeniably a liberator.  God always calls us to greater justice and mercy.  And not even a misty-eyed moron spewing seawater can overpower the reality of God.

Waiting on Rev. Warren…

I’m coming to this late, but my friend and fellow CTS seminarian Adam Yates took Rev. Rick Warren to task for his silence on the Ugandan parliament’s proposed legislation to make homosexuality a capital offense.  It’s a good read:

…So Rev. Warren, which will it be? Will you be either cold or hot and renounce your tepidity? A person cannot be a Christian and a coward; the conviction of our faith in Jesus Christ compels us to speak out and stand by our beliefs even when there are consequences for doing so. As Christians, we cannot stand by and keep silence while great evil is underfoot.

Rev. Warren, who has considerable influence with the backers of the “kill gay people” legislation, has finally felt compelled to break his silence, and to his credit, he unequivocally condemns the proposed legislation as “unchristian.”  Whaddya say, Adam, did Rev. Warren end up hot or cold?

What's wrong with this picture?

I get email from crazy right-wing organizations:

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Get that? Christmas is NOT about materialism. So buy our crap!

Neither your God nor your non-God are universal.

As usual, I leave some of my best efforts in other blogger’s comment sections.  What follows is adapted from a response to this post, in which the writer criticizes “progressive Christians” for cherry-picking from Christianity only that which we agree with. Ultimately, I take issue with her/his underlying assumptions.


…I don’t know if you read Christopher Hitchens or not, but you and he both seem to be under the same weird notion that in order to be authentically Christian, one must accept everything in the chosen holy books verbatim, and if one doesn’t, her beliefs don’t count. I defy anybody to subject himself to a similarly foolish standard in any other scientific or philosophical field: take all of Plato verbatim, or take none of Plato. Take all of Nietzsche, or none of him. Take all of Sartre, etc. This approach to anything – knowledge, belief, science, etc. – is clearly absurd.

Where did we get this idea that there is no validity to any body of work unless it is all literally true? From Christians? Maybe some of us, sure. But when others of us reject this paradigm, please don’t act as if religion is supposed to operate differently from any other human activity when it comes to how we form our beliefs.

As a progressive Christian, I am a pluralist, which means that one of my foundational beliefs is that God is too big to be fully understood by any humans. Ergo, to quote one of my professors, constructing theology means “groping toward the infinite with the tools of finitude.” Rather than provide a single, unified view of God, I think the Bible’s various narratives and themes instead reflect ongoing traditioning and theological changes and different emphases over a thousand years or more, and such traditioning and changes in interpretation have been ongoing ever since.

I don’t mind anybody calling into question any aspect of faith that is found to be problematic. But I do object to atheists or Christian fundamentalists alike who try to mandate universal definitions to what it means to be Christian, or who God is, or Christ, and so forth, whether for the purpose of rejecting or affirming such dogma. Neither camp is capable of defining the terms and forcing everyone else to adhere to them. So, militant atheists and frothing Christians alike, kindly knock it off already.