The Power of Fear in Politics

The other night, I went to a local candidate forum organized by the various Republican Party groups in the county where I live. It featured people running for offices from justice of the peace all the way up to U.S. senator.

Where I live in Central Texas, the Republican primary functions as the general election for local races. Even this year, in what seems to be shaping up as a big election for Democrats, the chances are minuscule that any of the small handful of Democrats running for county-level races will win any of them.

The ideological hegemony here is smothering. In November 2016, the least-supported Republican in any race on the ballot received 63 percent of the vote. Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton here by 50 points.

Meanwhile, the county sits within various districts that also are overwhelmingly Republican. In the Texas Legislature, it’s part of the 73rd House District, where no Democrats were on the ballot in 2016, and the 25th Senate District, where the incumbent, a hard-core Tea Party conservative, won re-election in 2014 with more than 76 percent of the vote. On the federal level, infamous climate-change denier Lamar Smith has represented the bulk of the county for three decades, defeating his Democratic challenger in the county by 60 points.

The point is: This is a conservative county in a conservative state. Republicans have nothing to fear here.

Which is pretty much the opposite of the message several hundred attendees heard at this forum.

Instead, they were told they should in fact be quite afraid.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Book Review: The Friendship of God

933721I finished 2017 by reading Metaphorical Theology: Models of God in Religious Language by Sallie McFague. That title is terrible; it obscures and deadens what is easily one of the most compelling and thought-provoking theological works I’ve read in a long time.

I probably used up most of a highlighter on this book’s 194 pages. Published in 1982, it feels as relevant as ever. Here are some highlights:

  • McFague starts by exploring the importance of metaphors for human learning. We tend to think of metaphors as poetic and rhetorical – “your eyes are deep pools” – when in fact they are essential building blocks in the creation of our respective worlds.
  • She uses the intentionally absurd example of a chair. How do you know a chair is a chair? Because it has the same characteristics as things you identify as chairs. That’s a metaphorical move. Just as you use “deep pools” as the reference for describing “eyes,” you use “chairs” as the reference for this new object you’ve never seen before. This new object is both like and unlike “chair.”
  • Thus metaphors are inherently relational: They forge connections and enhance learning by describing relationships between understood concepts and new ones.
  • Metaphors are also inherently uncertain and filled with tension: They are incomplete and even inaccurate to some degree. Eyes are not actually deep pools. This chair is not identical to previous chair examples. God is not actually our father.

Oops. I gave it away. McFague uses this argument about the essentiality of metaphors to build what she calls a metaphorical theology – a way of talking about God that understands and relies on the importance and tension inherent in metaphors. Continue reading

23 Verses that Should Have Been Included in the Unbiblical ‘Nashville Statement’

cbmw

It’s in the name, so it must be true!

So it’s been a few days years since I’ve blogged. I’ll talk more about that in a future post. But nothing gets the Disorientedblog-outrage juices flowing like an unexpected, vicious, evil assault on LGBT Christians.

 

And make no mistake, that’s what the “Nashville Statement” produced by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood this week is. Not only was it unexpected, but it comes at a time when LGBT people are feeling particularly vulnerable. It is certainly vicious.

And, yes, it is evil. I’ve discussed in this space before how the words of prominent Christians affect the lives of LGBT youth, who are at increased risk for homelessness, addiction, self-harm and suicide – almost all of it traceable to the shame and ostracism they feel from people who claim to love them.

Lots of people have said lots of things about the Nashville Statement (the condemnations have been refreshingly swift and fierce), but if I had to summarize the most interestingshockinghorrifying elements, it would be these:

  • Articles III and IV describe differences between men and women as “divinely ordained,” but does not attempt to describe what those differences are.
  • Article V says that genitals “are integral to God’s design for self-conception as male or female,” and posits a “God-appointed link” between a person’s genitalia and their self-conception.
  • Article VI acknowledges the existence of intersex people and affirms that they “have dignity and worth equal to all other” humans … but makes no effort to reconcile their existence with Article V’s emphasis on genitals being “integral to God’s design for self-conception.”
  • Article X is truly shocking, as it labels support of same-sex relationships and “transgenderism” (which isn’t a thing) “an essential departure from Christian faithfulness,” leading to the inescapable – and, to their credit, explicitly stated – conclusion that “faithful Christians” cannot “agree to disagree” on whether to affirm same-sex relationships and transgender people. This draws the line, and millions of baptized Christians who affirm the divinity and resurrection of Christ while also affirming same-sex marriages are on the wrong side.
  • Article XIII argues that the grace of God, rather than providing room to disagree on complex and sensitive issues like transgender identity, “enables sinners to forsake transgender self-conceptions … that are at odds with God’s revealed will.”
  • And, going out of order, because this is the crux of my post: Article VII says a person’s notion of their masculinity or femininity “should be defined by God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption as revealed in Scripture.”

But, um, where is the Scripture in the Nashville Statement? Article XIII discusses “God’s revealed will.” Article V mentions a “God-appointed link.” Articles III and IV mention “divinely ordained” sexual differences.

But where are the actual words of God?

Here, so far as I can tell is a complete rundown of all of the Bible verses directly or indirectly quoted in the 14 articles of the Nashville Statement:

  • Article VI quotes Matt 19:12 regarding intersex people: “… our Lord Jesus in his words about ‘eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb.'”

That’s it. One verse that likely was never intended to address the subject the CBMW rips it out of context to address. For a group with “Biblical” right in the name and 14 articles discussing what they allege are biblical views of gender and sexuality, that’s awfully skimpy.

Rather than go any more at length into the manifest wrongness of the Nashville Statement – and make no mistake, it is wrong on nearly every count, whether you’re looking at it morally, psychologically, scientifically or biblically – let me just respond with a few Bible verses the CBMW maybe could have used to create a statement more in keeping with the Jesus they claim to follow:

“And the Lord God said, ‘It is not good for a person to be alone.'” – Genesis 2:18

Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Leviticus 19:18

“Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. … Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.” – Song of Songs 8:6-7

“Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. … Stop doing wrong; learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. – Isaiah 1:13, 17

For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” – Hosea 6:6

“With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings? … He has shown you, oh human, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:6, 8

“So in everything do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 7:12

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11:28-30

“‘ Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” – Matthew 22:37-40/Mark 12:30-31

“‘Which of these do you think was the neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?’ The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise.’” – Luke 10:36-37

“Woe to you, Pharisees, because you [tithe] but you neglect justice and the love of God. … And you experts of the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” – Luke 11:42, 46

“This is my command: Love each other.” – John 15:17

“You therefore have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things.” – Romans 2:1

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God.” – Romans 8:37-39

“Each of us will give an account of themselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another.” – Romans 14:12-13

“Now to the unmarried I say: … If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” – 1 Corinthians 7:8-9

“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. The person who thinks they know something does not yet know as they ought to know. But the person who loves God is known by God.” – 1 Corinthians 8:1-3

If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames but have not love, I am nothing. … And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:3, 13

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

“Therefore, my dear friends … continue to work out your own salvation in fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and act according to his purpose.” – Philippians 7:12-13

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. … And over all these virtues, put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” – Colossians 3:12, 14

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” – 1 Peter 4:8

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. … God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. … 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. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates a brother or sister, that person is a liar.” – 1 John 4:7-8, 16, 18-20

“All Shall Be Well,” Chapter 6: James Relly

jamesrellyLast time, we talked about how universalism and Calvinism, seemingly opposites in their views of God, judgment and salvation, are actually two sides of the same coin, each believing in the sovereignty of a God saving whom he wants. Although Peter Sterry and Jeremiah White postulated their universalism in opposition to Calvinism, we now turn to James Relly, one of the most influential universalists ever to live, primarily because he converted John Murray, who is sometimes called the Father of Universalism. I guess that makes Relly the Grandfather of Universalism? Regardless, Relly came to universalism through Calvinism.

In his essay “Union with Christ: The Calvinist Universalism of James Relly (1722-1778),” Wayne K. Clymer says Relly’s “bizarre theology represents one of the most extreme modifications of Calvinism in either the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries.”

Relly was a disciple of the famed British evangelist George Whitefield, and began working with him about 1741 in Wales as a preacher doing missionary work there. As a good Calvinist, Relly believed fully in the “inherent and ineradicable sinfulness of man.” In a particularly telling passage, Clymer describes what modifying Calvinism to become a universalist must have cost Relly:

His debt to Whitefield is great. To make the break must have caused him much concern, for universalism was a common foe of both the Calvinists and the Arminians – and religious hatred knows no mercy. That he took the step reveals his honesty and conviction. (121)

How much did people hate universalists in the 18th century? Murray, who was of course a friend and follower of Relly, recalled later in his life the first time he heard one of Relly’s preachers. Referring to Relly himself, he would have been “highly favored to have been an instrument of the hand of God, for the taking the life of a man whom I had never seen; and in destroying him I should have nothing doubted, that I had rendered an essential service both to the Creator and the created” (122). Yikes!

Continue reading

“All Shall Be Well,” Chapter 5: Peter Sterry and Jeremiah White

2012-03-28_22-41-12_2621At first blush, it’s hard to think of two more opposite approaches to God, sin and judgment than Calvinism and universalism. Calvinism is all wrathful, while universalism is all cuddly. In universalism, God saves everyone from hell; in Calvinism he predestines most people to it.

Yet modern universalism – that is, universalism as expressed in the modernist era, as opposed to the previous three examples of universalism expressed in the ancient and medieval era – actually grew out of Calvinism. In fact, as expressed by the 17th century ministers Peter Sterry and Jeremiah White, universalism is simply the other side of Calvinism’s coin.

In the previous chapters of “All Shall Be Well,” we saw how Greek philosophy, Christian mysticism and meditation on the nature of God combined to produce a “minority report” of universal salvation rather than the more widely assumed doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell.

With the dominance of Augustine and Aquinas, however, universalism all but disappeared from the conversation until the Protestant Reformation, which democratized scripture reading and interpretation. Not surprising, it didn’t take much more than a century for universal restoration to return as an alternative to the dominant eschatological assumptions of the church.

Louise Hickman, in her essay “Love Is All and God Is Love: Universalism in Peter Sterry (1613-1672) and Jeremiah White (1630-1707),” also points to England’s move toward less censorship and freer discourse in the mid 1600s as a contributing factor to the dissemination of “many unorthodox and sometimes eccentric theological views” and “an atmosphere of increasing tolerance and debate.” As a result, universalism was more popular than ever by 1700.

Continue reading

“All Shall Be Well,” Chapter 4: Julian of Norwich

julian-of-norwich-and-her-cat“We know very little about her,” Robert Sweetman writes about Julian of Norwich in his entry, but we know quite a bit about the revelations she received – or, as she called them, her “showings.”

Julian of Norwich is not even the woman’s name – it’s the name of the church where she lived, St. Julian’s in Norwich, England. But in his essay – “Sin Has Its Place, but All Shall Be Well: The Universalism of Hope in Julian of Norwich (c. 1342-c. 1416),” Sweetman describes what we can discern from Julian’s thoughts about sin, soteriology and the nature of God. Although not ultimately a subscriber to universal salvation, Julian’s showings led her to get as close as she could to such a belief without crossing the consensus of the church she loved.

Continue reading

What If Julian of Eclanum Had Beaten Augustine?

safe_image.phpWe all know St. Augustine of Hippo, the theological genius of the fourth and fifth centuries who influenced the medieval church more than any other bishop and continues to have significant influence today – particularly thanks to what I would say is the toxic doctrine of original sin, which has warped our view of human nature and sexuality so that we think of these things negatively rather than positively.

We don’t know as much about the people who opposed Augustine’s beliefs, those ill-fated objectors who raised objections to the doctrines he formulated. One of those was Julian of Eclanum, a southern Italian bishop who was deposed and excommunicated because he refused to sign Pope Zosimus’ edict against Pelagius. Julian was a second-generation Pelagian, the group against whom Augustine fought often in his career. Pelagians held an exalted view of human nature and held strongly to the notion of free will, contra Augustine’s leanings toward predestination, but did so to such an extent that they thought humans capable of achieving perfection in this life.

So of course these battles, as they often do, came down to two sides advocating the extremes of an issue, the one with a decidedly pessimistic view of humanity and its sexual proclivities, the other a decidedly optimistic, if not naive, view of the same.

Yet when we look at what Julian wrote – such as we know it, mostly through Augustine’s rebuttals – it’s hard not to get the sense that he was quite well ahead of his time, by about 1,500 years or so.

Continue reading