Relational Depth

The ditch between complementarian and egalitarian theologies runs deep enough to cause debate at pretty much any level. But only if someone’s in the mood for a debate.

When I came across a recent article in Relevant Magazine about dating, I was at first glance more interested in exposing a logistical flaw in presupposing that asking someone out meant “initiating.” Clearly if someone is asking another person out, that second person has initiated something, if nothing more than a friendly interest or curiosity in some time together. After all, folks: Jesus knocks…he doesn’t open the door and invite himself in. But divulging into that kind of question might best be left for another day, because while I was yet pointing out that logical mishap, it suddenly dawned on me that I had fallen prey to a ridiculously clandestine temptation in modern Christianity: a proclivity towards debating things that shouldn’t be major issues. In reality, any “major issue” is far more serious than an initial desire lets us see. 

What I mean more precisely is this: why aren’t we, as Christians, more concerned with decisions that are clearly ethical, rather than who’s more (counter-)culturally agreeable?

In the case of the above article’s topic, why are we more concerned about who should take what particular action in a relationship, instead of how to discern the potential efficacy and worth of that relationship? Even at a foundational level, what is the point of being in a relationship, from a Christian point of view, if that relationship isn’t propelling more godly behavior or activity? “How is your relationship fostering God’s Grace Kingdom?” is a more worthy question of debate than, “Who started it?” The first question is likely to challenge, empower, and preserve us, with answers not exactly easily discerned. The second question is more likely to evoke a response of “tee-hee” within the first three seconds of asking it than a response of any kind of legitimate spiritual merit. And frankly, no matter how we answer the second question, if we don’t ask the first question, the second one becomes meaningless at-best and self-destructive, at-worst.

At the moment, I have to wonder if the crux of our lack of depth and challenge has more to do with our ability to only discuss what we can handle. More directly, many of us seem more at ease with what we can control—how we can seem more in line with our peers, how we can ensure what we want—rather than how we ought to live. Perhaps we fear judgment in order to increase our likelihood of acceptance (“As long as I follow such-and-such more culturally acceptable practice, I won’t be a failure”). But if we do, wouldn’t that belie our greater fear of judgment for failing to behave ethically, since that is clearly more important to God and thus would be addressed more regularly if we were concerned? And yet Jesus continually encourages us, either way, not to be afraid, not to fear judgment, and at the same time to do things that are clearly ethical practices, behaviors centered on bettering our interpersonal relationships. Talk about a turning of the tables!

Perhaps we are afraid of judgment, in other words, because we shy away from that which could cure our fear of judgment: our own relationship with God.

 

+MSH

#NotInMyName

A while back, I posted in response to a rather brazen, irrational, and unjust characterization of “all Muslims” by a supposed leader within our own Christian faith.* The main thrusts behind such a post included a deep conviction that a lack of understanding of others’ belief systems tends to create more hatred than Christian character. As such, I made the argument against Mr. Cass’ position based on the reality that not all Muslims either see Christianity as a threat or view ISIS as anything other than complete heresy.

Some have wondered what my evidence for that reality is, and since this is technically a “Q&A Friday,” I’d like to answer that. One piece of evidence is the fact that Muslim scholars and religious leaders have completely and publicly annihilated the logic and validity of terrorists who claim to be Islamic. Another piece of evidence is Muslim people who AREN’T leaders doing the exact same thing with Twitter hashtag sarcasm.

But wait! There’s more!

Here’s a new piece of that evidence, a video in which Muslims deliberately, publicly and confidently denounce ISIS for claiming to be “Islamic” in any form at all; I urge you to watch it, for the sake of our faith and for the sake of human beings in general: 

I’m not sure what other conclusions to draw from these kinds of demonstrations, except to agree that we ought to “judge not.”  

+MSH

*To wit, this supposed leader has yet to publicly recant anything regarding such a position.

Please Stop Telling Us Why We’re Leaving the Church

churchedunchurched:

I.LOVE.THIS.

Originally posted on Swinging From Grapevines:

OK, we get it. Millennials are leaving the church in droves! Sound the alarms! Circle the wagons!

Not much makes me angrier than seeing those articles that make the rounds on Facebook every few months. You know the ones: a pastor claims to know why Millennials are really walking away from church. This particular article has proven especially resilient; it pops up in my Newsfeed every few months, to much acclaim. This one, the one that really pushed my buttons and prompted me to finally start the blog we’ve been talking about for a month now, calls these articles to task, purporting to know “how the church really lost the millennials.” (Cliff notes: it says the exact same thing as all the other articles.) This one innovatively shifts the focus to Sunday School rather than youth group, but the conclusion is the same.

View original 1,923 more words

How Far Is Too Far?

Don’t worry, I’m not getting immoral. I’m just getting political.

Why I’m getting political would be a good question to ask…of myself. Most of the time when I do, I’m not entirely sure I want to be, and yet I’ve no idea how not to be.

That last point is one of the reasons I’m writing about “it.” “It” being that rather large caveat in United States social policy established by the First Amendment: namely, freedom of religion, or…*duh-duh-DUHHHHHHHHHHH*…“The Separation of Church and State.”

Now, before you go off the deep end, hear me openly claim that I am not, nor have I ever been, for the establishment of any particular religion as the sole religion enforceable, protected and practiced under American law. For one thing, that position would be clearly anti-Constitution; for another, in my view, that position would be clearly anti-Christian.

Say what?

Truth. Establishing any single religion as indistinguishable from the state is dangerous. It’s dangerous for those who don’t belong to that single religion, and it’s dangerous for those who DO belong to that single religion.

“Why is that, Mike?” Glad you asked.

All someone who professes Christ has to do, in order to measure their agreement with the establishment of a single religion, is imagine two scenarios:

  • The established, single religion is such an amalgamation of all religions that someone practicing any other religion before the establishment doesn’t even recognize their own religion anymore.
  • Alternatively, and perhaps worse, the established religion is not Christian.

 

Cut and dry, right? Not entirely.

In a new poll, even researchers are shocked to find out how many American citizens want religion to be a part of politics and government. The shocker happens to be how drastic the increase in demand has become; over just the last two years alone, the amount of people in favor of religion-backed political action has gone from a one-third minority to a hairline majority. That’s a rather large gap to make up so quickly.

While I won’t even attempt to speculate as to why this increase has occurred, I find myself torn by it. On the one hand, activities like those of ISIS and the recent upsurge of religiously-based anti-Semitism should make us abhor almost at once the very notion of a religiously-driven political structure.

And yet, on the other hand, a logistical question needs response: how in the world can we hold a faith authentically and completely, a faith dear to us interwoven in ideally every aspect of our lives, and yet not somehow think that politics and governance shouldn’t or wouldn’t be affected by that faith? Do we as Christians not hold in our heritage an historical tie to Israel, with its eras of prophets, kings and judges an unequivocal exemplar of faith-based statehood? Why would we expect to inherit such a history through our faith in Christ and yet not imitate that in at least some regard?

And here is where the crux of such a question bops me right in the nose. The key at this point, I believe, is not that religion should be established by the government or that politics should be bifurcated from the faith community, but rather that an honorable and authentic faith is the very catalyst for ensuring a safe and sustainable common good. In other words, it is not an either/or question, but (surprise, surprise) a practice of complete compatibility. Following Christ transforms our attitudes and desires such that, considering our neighbors as ourselves, instead of forcing our own beliefs on all others, we end up guaranteeing freedom of conscience, religion and expression; instead of threatening others by our dogma, we ensure their safety and well-being by our unbiased treatment of everyone as equals; instead of legislating our personal morality and expecting everyone to be at the same place as us in faith, we legislate protection for failure and growth as full human beings.

So when asked whether or not I desire religion to engage politics more, I would say thus:

Yes, but only if it is true religion, defined as caring for everyone according to their physical needs, not coercing any kind of behavior or conviction. And it seems the writer of the epistle of James agrees.

+MSH

The Danger of “Prooftexting”

We’ve all been there: a friendly question turns into a pointed question; a well-meaning discussion turns into a heated argument. Words flow like a dam-burst, and the damage might as well be subject to an agency for interpersonal disaster relief. But what if we could prevent the cracks in the dam in the first place?

Those cracks in the dam have a familiar name in Christianity, especially more conservative forms; that name is “prooftexting.” This word refers to the practice of providing “proof” for one’s theological position by pointing to specific verses of “texts.”

The first danger in doing this is in presupposing a harmless guise for the practice in the first place. Do you not understand a core concept that could help you? Please look at such-and-such verse. Do you need help in a time of trouble? Save yourself at lot of time and unnecessary stress by looking at this other verse. It may be that offering help is one’s true motive in guiding to specific verses of the biblical writings, and in many cases it may in fact help positively, if only for a moment. For better or worse, however, the line that too often becomes crossed is one of motive.

Too many damaging sects, heresies and abuse occur because often times this practice of picking single verses without including their contexts achieves the intended ends. The latest one to be acquiring quite a bit of interplay lately is one surrounding (not surprisingly) the issue of abuse in supposed Christian families. Termed the Quiverfull Movement, the spirit tends to be one of unchecked control and power, while those who buy into its greatly exaggerated takes on biblical notions of social norms fall victim to oppression, violence, lack of real spiritual identity and, unfortunately as was the case with one victim in particular, Vyckie Garrison, a proclivity to repeat the same methods to argue against the Christian faith entirely.

To take her example, which is a necessary one for many people to prayerfully consider and digest, Garrison fell into a system that turned what ought to have been a meaningful marriage into a power relationship. Every aspect of her life was dictated, controlled, manipulated, and measured by her willingness to acquiesce to such expressions. While it’s true that abuse can and does happen in any culture and/or any relationship dynamic, a relevant point of address for us as the Christian community needs to be the potential for using the bible as a means to an end, and in fact a selfish means to a selfish end, rather than allowing the entirety of Scripture to form our basis for life and doctrine. If any of you do look at Garrison’s article (and to be fair, one should be forewarned that it can seem a little heavy on propagandist techniques itself—but this is further evidence of the damage suffered), please take special note of how often the problems are backed by single verses, taken out of context, and stacked so as to look coherent, when in truth the verses have nothing to do with either the issue they are used to support or even the other verses with which they are paired.

 

This calls for serious consideration as to how we interact with the bible, how we interact with others, and how we interact with both together at the same time. Seeking confirmation from the Lord about our positions won’t rest on something that can be taken as shaky. One may argue that Jesus often used single verses in address, and if one were to look strictly at the biblical text (again, something wildly akin to prooftexting in the first place), one would seem to be correct: during both the temptation in the desert with Satan, and while hanging from the cross, Jesus seems to utter single, isolated verses to communicate unalterable truth. What would be the problem in our own use of such a tactic?

  • We’re not Jesus; imitating the exact same external behavior does not reveal the true, complete and internal truth of being at one with him.
  • When Jesus used it, there had been established at the time a serious cultural understanding of biblical context; in other words, for example, when Jesus cried out “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (Mt. 27:46), those who would hear both these gospel texts read aloud, and him directly at the time, would have been mentally immersed in the entirety of Psalm 22. If someone weren’t particularly able to remember all of Psalm 22, first of all they would have been a rare form of Jew, and second of all they would miss tons of information pointing to the crucifixion of Jesus as prophetic fulfillment, thereby evidencing Jesus’ own prior claims.

 

The concept here, and perhaps the irony in its foundations for the Quiverfull Movement, is that prooftexting is a form of abuse itself: spiritual abuse. It either forces people called to be free in Christ into a situation they cannot freely live out, or it softens them up to accept such force when and if another person chooses to use it. In order to avoid prooftexting, a few different conditions need to coexist:

(a) We need to keep ourselves and our hearers aware of everything that surrounds the verses to which we’re drawn, whether that’s in speaking with someone else, or in speaking to ourselves through times of devotion.

(b) We need to be open to being mistaken, which would be nothing more than honest humility, and require the same attitude of others as a prerequisite for consideration.

(c) We need to require full and reasonable explanation for anything we propose, and anything that is proposed to us.

(d) We need to respect the convictions of others after our interactions.

Am I guilty of prooftexting? Probably more often than I’m allowing myself to remember, yes. I’d be surprised to find anyone other than Jesus and the Apostles who hasn’t been. But I am just as serious now, if not more than I used to be, about living an earnest faith, and ensuring, by God’s gracious prompting and sustaining alone, that anyone can experience the freedom to do the same. If we are serious about Christ being God incarnate, serious about love being the rational answer to all evils and ills, serious about the hope that faith in Christ brings to any and all who might possess it, we are also by-definition serious about the honesty, liberty and respectability our faith commands.

+MSH

Faith itself coming to faith.

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