Archive for category Church

The common lectionary: antisemitism in John’s Gospel. Surprise? Not really.


Like most Christians who went to church last Sunday,  I found myself listening to the  familiar story of Jesus healing the blind man in John 9,  But for the first time this jarring line leaped out at me:

“His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.”  (John 9:22) NRSV

Now, in Protestantland most people are probably reading out of the NIV, which has politically sanitized this verse to say “Jewish leaders” rather than just the “Jews”.   But in the ever popular King James bible it is even worse than my NRSV:

“These words spake his parents, because they feared the Jews: for the Jews had agreed already, that if any man did confess that he was Christ, he should be put out of the synagogue.”

Just in case anyone missed it, the Early English authors used the words “the Jews” twice,  to ensure that we all understand who the bad guys were.  You could almost forget that the blind man and his parents were Jewish too.  Or that everyone in this particular passage were Jewish, last but not least, Jesus himself.

Am I nitpicking here?  Is this just a bit of trivia?  Well, not when you consider that throughout the centuries this is how Jesus, his disciples and his adversaries have been depicted, I don’t think you can deny that this Johannine depiction of  “the Jews”  has shaped much of the Christian world view. Even to this day, as seen in Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” or the Millinialist’s championing of Israel for the purpose of advancing Armageddon,  antisemitism is thread throughout the fabric of the church.  To the detriment of all Christian and, of course, to the detriment of our Jewish neighbors. And to the detriment of world peace.

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Found Jesus? Try looking in Hell


“Hell is the absence of God”.  This is a pithy definition that many Christians find attractive. It shoves under the rug any suggestion that God might have created Hell as a place of eternal torment and punishment for human disobedience.  Since God will not force us to love ‘him’, we must make the choice ourselves, or so it goes.  And what Christian would not choose  the presence of God in Heaven?  If God is omnipresent, if “he” is everywhere, then his absence is ‘no where’.  Hell is the last death, annihilation.   This makes the bitter pill of damnation a bit easier to swallow.

But Jesus is suggesting something else, that God is not in Heaven but may actually spend a lot of time in Hell.  Many of his followers readily choose to spend time in Hell, living with and helping those who cannot escape, at least not on their own.  Classic examples are Father Damien,  Dorothy Day, Albert Schweitzer, Corrie ten Boom, Nelson Mandela and Mother Theresa.  Thousands, if not millions, of others, have forfeited comfortable Sunday church meetings, choir practice and Bible study to devote their time and energy in the service of the sick, the poor and the imprisoned.  This is where they find God.  This is where they lead others to God. Not through pseudo-evangelical proselytizing about Hell and Heaven.  Not through fear and intimidation, but through self-sacrifice and love.

The other day I suggested that,  to many Evangelicals, both progressive and fundamentalist, if you took away Hell you would take away their vision of Jesus.  Hell may even be a more important tenet of the Christian faith than Jesus, because without Hell what is there for Jesus to save us from?

But maybe there’s another way to look at Hell, a way that is not so doctrinaire but more holistic.  Maybe the closest we can get to God is in Hell, though not by reflecting on our own pain but through focusing on the pain of others.  No gains or rewards, no divine pats on the back.  Just encountering the beauty and presence of God in some of the vilest and most horrifying cesspits of the world.  Why else would anyone willingly live their lives with those people, in those places? A love of God that I can only imagine.

Perhaps this points us to what Heaven ( or more accurately, the Kingdom of God ) might look like.  It’s not a place where we go when we die and it’s not a return of the mythical Garden of Eden.  It’s not something God gives to us for being good, but a world that we must earn by working towards eliminating our man-made Hells.  Of course, the chances of this happening does not look  good, but some amazing people are busy making it happen, one piece at a time.

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How Jesus came to preach on Hell (a parable)


At that time Jesus and his disciples entered a prosperous land.  Hearing of his arrival, many of the people came to hear him speak.  Thousands gathered around him.

” I bring you good news.  God loves you, all of you.  You have no need to fear or worry. Eternal life is yours.  Peace and happiness are at hand. ”

The crowd began to murmur. They didn’t understand what he was saying.

“How is this possible? How do we get this eternal life you speak of ?” they asked.

Smiling, Jesus spread his arms wide. “Just follow me. I am living this life right now.  I have come to share with you  the Way of eternal life  and how to be in tune with God. You may hear all kinds of people on television pitching their self-help programs,  but there is good reason there are so many of them. They don’t work. Not for long. But follow me and I can assure you of eternal life.

” OK, so what’s the catch? How much does this cost? What kind of sacrifices do I have to make?” a man asked.

“There is no catch” said Jesus. “This life is free. No fees. No purchase necessary. No sacrifice.”

“Alright”,  another shouted.  “Tell us. What is this secret?”

“Simple” said Jesus. “Love each other as much as you love yourself and love God with all your heart.  The only way to love God is to love others.”

“How do we do that?” someone asked

“Always put the needs of others before your own” Jesus said. ” Visit the sick and  imprisoned. Feed the hungry. Clothe the naked.  Take in the homeless.  And -very importantly – forgive everyone, especially your enemies.”

“That’s crazy!” someone shouted.  “We don’t live in some sort of dream world. We have families to take care of – we can’t just bring bums and vagrants into our homes!”

“I have to worry about my kid’s college tuition!” another shouted “I can’t buy clothes for a bunch of slackers. Let ’em get jobs and buy their own.”

A woman stood up, shaking her fist. “What kind of fuzzy-wuzzy crap is this? Love your enemies?! I guess you expect us to love all those elitist god-haters that want to destroy this great nation?  You just want us to open our arms to foreign heathens as they pour into our country, taking our jobs, speaking their own languages, praying to the wrong gods and plotting violent revolution?  You’re just a sissy wing-nut that hates his own country!”

The angry crowd turned their backs and began to leave, grumbling and shaking their heads.  Nervously, Jesus glanced  around. Looking up,  he smiled and suddenly  jumped on a nearby boulder, waving his arms frantically.

“Wait! Wait!” he cried. “There is another way! A better way! Come back. Give me another chance.”

Most ignored him but some turned back.  “This better be good”, they said. They sat down on the grass and waited.

Jesus  sat down in the middle of them. ” OK, the other stuff was good, but that was only half the story. This is the real deal. You see, there are these two places called Heaven and Hell….

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No Hell = No Jesus


As long as I can remember  my mother has said, “As a Christian you have to believe in Hell but you don’t have to believe anyone is  there.”  This is her gracious understanding of an essential Christian doctrine.  Though she didn’t know it,  this understanding is a Christian “heresy” called Universalism, a heresy  that says all of us,  even non-Christians, will go to Heaven. And it was expressly against Catholic, and most Christian doctrine. But wasn’t she right about one thing:  Don’t you have to believe in Hell to be a Christian? This must be the case, if Universalism is a heresy.

Not long ago Rob Bell was  in the hot seat with many Evangelicals (and some Catholics)  because his recent book, “Love Wins”,  suggested that no one goes to Hell.  He set the conservative Christian bogs on fire and most of them essentially condemned Bell to hell for not believing in Hell.

The ensuing progressive  Christian defense of Bell was great.  Many Emerging Church and progressive Christian bloggers  busted the chops of people like the Three Johns ( Piper, MacArthur and Hagee) for accusing Bell of  Universalism . They rightly criticized the conservative Christian tendency to make Hell such a big part of their theology, to the point where this doctrine  obscures a lot of the Gospel message.  But, unfortunately, few of them go far enough.

Because in their defense of Bell they made it quite clear that they also believed in the doctrine of Hell, they just adapted it to make it more palatable.  Most seemed to accept the conventional orthodoxy  of a Final Judgment and the potential prospect of Hell (even with little or no scriptural support for it) coupled with the salvic solution of Jesus dying for our sins on the cross, as God’s blood sacrifice, to free us from eternal damnation.  Which, to me, flies in the face of what Jesus spends a lot of time telling us about God.  As I heard a pastor once say, God is either merciful or God is just, but God cannot be both.

I think one reason why so many Christians are unyielding about Hell, and why the progressives still can’t shake the doctrine off, is that, in reality,  Hell is the cornerstone of the Church, not Jesus.  Because without Hell, what is there for Jesus to do? What does he save us from?

No Hell = no Jesus. Or at least the Jesus that many Christians claim to believe in, have faith in.  Without Hell he loses his job description. He loses his purpose along with the primary meaning he may have for millions of Christians. So the idea that there is no Hell is just too damn frightening to consider.

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

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Let’s be honest: the proposed Quran burning is no longer about free speech, if it ever was.


I think that most people, most of the time, are pretty reasonable. That’s why they tend not to get all excited about what those other people, the unreasonable ones, are saying. Because these kooks are usually just doing a lot of talking and not much walking. A lot of posing but no closing.

Most of history’s political tragedies started out as a lot of hot air blowing in from the fringe. The tendency of the majority is to wait and see; things will just blow over. The crackpots will come to their senses when they realize they are being ignored.

But the current pack of crackpots aren’t dispersing in the wind, they are growing larger and stronger. And their rhetoric is about as bigoted and hateful as one ever hears. Not from their leaders per se – they are much too politically astute to really speak their minds. But their followers are not compelled towards any such moderation, and yet their leaders never chastise them or redirect them towards a more polite line of debate. Where, for instance, is the Christian Right Wing’s voice condemning this planned book burning in Florida? They may not be openly lauding them, but their followers certainly are. The tip of the iceberg merely hints at the danger below.

I normally don’t like to give these folks too much attention, but If you haven’t had the pleasure of the uncensored vitriol of today’s Islamophobes, then I suggest you check out the comments thread on this article posted on Atlas Shrugs. The author, Pamela Geller, takes the President to task for restricting the speech of the gun-toting pastor and his little church down in Florida.

Of course, all Obama did was strongly urge the ‘church’ to change their plans, as it will likely spark a powder keg of violence. It’s not like he ordered them to cease and desist, or threaten any of the church members with prosecution. But he might.

Taking lead of past chief executives, from Adams to the last Bush, if the president is convinced that someone’s actions pose a significant risk to the security of Americans then he could, and most likely should, take action. The broad, open-ended mandate given the president by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 may even make it easier for him.

But whatever your opinion on this is, it is impossible to justify the kind of rhetoric found on websites like Atlas Shrugs. It is not reasoned. It is not thoughtful. It’s not even, strictly speaking, political. It is no different than the types of words that bigots have used for years. Though I am hesitant to say it; it is nothing more than ‘hate speech’. As repugnant as these words are, I do believe that they have every right to use them. They are protected by the Constitution.

But this is a right that the vast majority of the world’s population does not enjoy. Most of the Muslims who are visibly angry over the proposed book burning do not understand why it is that our government, if it is serious about forging friendships with them, won’t just order the Dove Outreach Center to cancel their plans. They certainly don’t understand why our leaders can’t do this.

So then the burning question is this: is this ‘church’, by destroying these Qurans, attempting to engage in free political speech (the speech the nation’s founders were thinking of) or are they now deliberately inciting people to riot?

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Most Americans do not think Glenn Beck is a Christian


Because he is a Mormon.

Which is interesting, when you consider all the ruckus Beck is making over Obama’s faith and how the President’s ‘version’ of Christianity is unrecognizable to most Christians.   And then there’s Beck’s passion for wanting to lead America back to the allegedly Christian ideals of the founders.  By belonging to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints, Beck is not regarded a Christian by the Roman Catholic Church, most mainstream Protestant denominations and just about all conservative Evangelicals.  Many, if not most, think Mormonism is “clearly”a cult. This is exactly what James Dobson and Focus on the Family believes:

“While Glenn’s social views are compatible with many Christian views, his beliefs in Mormonism are not. Clearly, Mormonism is a cult. The CitizenLink story does not mention Beck’s Mormon faith, however, the story makes it look as if Beck is a Christian who believes in the essential doctrines of the faith.

“Through the years, Focus on the Family has done great things to help the family and has brought attention to the many social ills that are attacking the family.

“However, to promote a Mormon as a Christian is not helpful to the cause of Jesus Christ. For Christians to influence society, Christians should be promoting the central issues of the faith properly without opening the door to false religions.

Yet conservative Evangelical leaders stand shoulder to shoulder with Beck as he rallies his Christian soldiers on to a new American Dominionism.  ( Where  does Sarah Palin’s church stands on the “is a Mormoan a Christian” issue?)   Anyway, strange bedfellows.  I wonder if  Glenn ever considered the possibility that, if he and Sarah are successful, Mormon’s might find themselves in the same boat with Muslims and other threats to “Christian” authority?

The irony is that most Muslims  would probably give Beck the benefit of the doubt and accept his Christian bona fides. Which is not necessarily a very good thing for anyone, including Mormons.

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Signs of Christian Evolution? A not so straight and narrow Church


As reported on today’s CNN another Christian music artist, Jennifer Knapp, has come out of the closet and announced that she is homosexual.

After selling about a million records and winning at Christian music’s prestigious Dove Awards in 1999, the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter simply vanished in 2003 — leaving fans wondering where she had gone. There were countless theories as to why Knapp checked out, including the possibility of illness.

But the one that raised the most ruckus among her die-hard fans was the one which proved to be true: Jennifer Knapp is gay.

So, far I haven’t seen too much ruckus, but give it time. It’s a comin’. Yet a breaking article on the Christian Broadcasting Network’s website was surprisingly even-handed. Could this be a sign that a new, broader Evangelical mindset is evolving?

CNN was able to find some typical neo-Evangelical criticism, but when you consider the name of this fellow’s organization, what would you expect?

Rev. DL Foster is the founder of the Gay Christian Movement Watch Web site and said he believes as society has become more accepting of homosexuality, Knapp and other artists are finding it easier to go public.

“For a person to try and combine [being gay and being a Christian music artist] is not biblically correct, and I would hope that the church would reject such music because it does not represent us,” he said. “To me, it doesn’t matter if you are openly gay or closeted gay, sin is still sin.”

I find it interesting that what made her so endearing to her fans before, her music and her lyrics, have now apparently become unworthy for holy ears. It’s not like she wasn’t gay when she wrote them. But Knapp isn’t surprised.

Knapp said she realizes that some fans will now view her earlier work with lyrics about inner turmoil as evidence of the struggle between her beliefs and her sexuality. But she says she has always struggled as a person of faith to be the person she wants to be, and her sexuality was only a part of that, she said.

God has always known she would walk this path, Knapp said.

“I would rather be judged before God as being an honest human being,” she said. “If I am in any way unpleasing in his sight, I can only hope and pray that he gives me the opportunity to find who I am supposed to be.”

As already noted, Knapp isn’t the first Christian music artist brave enough to declare their sexual orientation is outside of the neo-Evangelical mainstream:

In 2008, Christian singer/songwriter Ray Boltz came out as a gay man after a 20-year career in the industry. In 2009, gospel star Tonex went public with his homosexuality as a guest on “The Lexi Show,” a popular program on the Christian channel The Word Network.

Lexi, who is also a gospel music artist, said that while many in the Christian music industry are aware of who is gay, “we don’t talk about it, because that’s the unspoken rule.”

Lexi said she doubts most fans will ever fully embrace an openly gay artist, but she points to other artists who have been able to straddle the line between secular music and songs of faith.

“I think some Christians will totally avoid [Knapp] and say that she is the devil and all that, but there are some that are more open who will embrace her new material,” Lexi said. “Then she will find a new audience.”

Undoubtedly she already has. But I think what we are seeing are more signs that the traditional Evangelical (and Roman Catholic) churches are going to have to find new audiences.

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