A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Monday, September 26, 2005

I thought I'd repost a letter to the editor of Presbyweb in response to this column:

I can't share agreement with the letter's applauding Rev. Bruce Becker's column on his "wildly heterosexist God". He uses a number of standards, none of which seem to proceed from a form of moral reasoning.

The first standard is universability, but there's a number of practices which are deemed to have a worthy office in the church which cannot be universalized, one being celibacy. The eunuchs in the NT have a place in the kingdom even though the whole world could not be that. When Paul describes the gifts, it's clear that there are a wide range of callings which are unique, play a part, but could never be universal. A life of integrity is not uniformity, it's living out one's unique calling which may not necessarily look like someone else's calling.

The second standard is his use of nature, which can only tell us what is, not what ought to be. That is Bruce Becker commits the naturalistic fallacy; something supporters and opponents of this issue frequently fall into. His fine descriptions of the love, commitment, mutuality which he appreciates seeing in heterosexual couples has little relation to descriptions of body parts and procreation that nature arguments tend to devolve into.

The third standard is his use of the Bible, which is as fundamentalist as they come. Bruce Becker pretends as if the Bible's understanding is uniform and ignores the diverse sexual and relational situations we find in the text. Applauding Abraham may be fine, but ignoring his multiple wives, as if the Bible is a mirror image of his ideal vision of the heterosexual nuclear family is ahistorical, maybe even a form of eisegesis.

He seems to also treat heterosexuality and homosexuality as moral categories. Most of us who support glbt inclusion don't suggest that homosexuality is a virtue, always a good. Rather it's the particular relationships in question, whether they build up love, mutuality, commitment, the development of moral possibilities among those in the relationship. But Becker seems to treat heterosexuality as an unmitigated good, something that can't be reflective of his own pastoral experience

Focus on sexual orientation in the end evades the moral question, because finding out what gender one is attracted to, seems to give us little clues to whether we have a stable, loving, mutual, growth filled, committed relationship or not. One can find examples in both orientations where this was the case and sadly too many times we can find broken, destructive relationships as well. The church's business is to build up the prior.

It's nice to know that Becker has gay connections, though I don't know if he has informed them that his stomach "wrenches" when in thought of their sexuality. I hope the church can at some point be in a place to have a discussion about the moral life and how sexuality relates to that without personal ickness but with a seriousness and reflectivity that the moral life demands. It's the best way to be faithful to the God who is the God of the best and the highest in life.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sorry for my lapse in postings. I had everything from papers to do to lost internet service to a trip which has taken me away from this site. I was in St. Louis yesterday to see the Indigo Girls perform at some scuplture park. Their show, which was an acoustic perfomance was great as they engaged the audience with banter and as the audience sang along with the band in the rain.

I think they ought to be considered one of the best Christian bands, in the proper sense of the word, out there. That is their lyrics come out of what the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr would call a prophetic faith. One can find themes of love to social justice combined with a sense of our finitude and limits as humans and never far removed from the particulars of lived experience.

With the up and coming inquisition of catholic seminaries to root out gays and dissent, the lyrics from their song Philosophy of Loss seem rather pertinent: welcome to why the church has died in the heart of the exile and the kingdom of hate..modern scribes write in jesus christ everyone is free and the doors open wide to all straight men and women but they are not open to me..so who is teaching kids to be leaders..the philosophy of loss

Monday, September 19, 2005

A couple items caught my eye. Get Religion points out something few will, that much of our nation's debates, including over John Roberts, are not between secularists and the religious, but rather between different kinds of religiosity. While I don't share the perspective of the site they at least acknowledge that religious liberals exist and play a role in this country.

The coming inquisition of the catholic priesthood and seminaries becomes more disturbing with every news story. Celibate gay men, some who have been so for over a decade or more will likely be thrown out of seminaries and consideration for the priesthood. Also they will be looking to root out "influences of New Age and eclectic spirituality?" and dissent by students and professors of the church's teachings on sexuality.

The death of the priesthood and academic freedom in the seminaries will be made complete by Ratzinger. It's a sad day not just for Catholicism but for all of the church. And one other item. Over 300 churches of the American Baptists have split because the church has not condemned in strong enough terms gay and lesbians. If God is able to do something good with the church we can indeed believe in miracles.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I just purchased Paul McCartney's Chaos and Creation and it has to count as one of the best albums he's ever done in his solo career. The songs have evocative lyrics, the instruments are usually understatements, the songs themselves rather mellow, somber, but very moving. I usually don't plug things on this site but over the last few days it's been my constant source of music.

Terry Mattingly wants to know why the mainstream press has focused on Pat Robertson who has become a source of embarrassment to a number of evangelicals and republicans. Given the collapse of the Christian Coalition is he worthy of focus? I don't think he is irrelevant in either the religious or political world. Ashcroft teaches at Regent University which Robertson started up.

Regent and a number of similar colleges are training a new generation of religious and political activists. And if one looks at the FEMA site, his group Operation Blessing, has received a lot of exposure, help by this administration. Just because he's embarassing does not mean he doesn't have influence or ought to be ignored.

Blogopotamus has a post on the coming schism by the global south of the Anglican Communion. The global south, minus those churches which are more moderate to liberal will be meeting next month. The right denies that this meeting will formalize a break with Canterbury but the Nigerian Church's own bylaws have recently been modified in anticipation of a break.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The status of Iraqi Christians remain uncertain as the newly proposed constitution enshrines Islam as the official source of all law in the country. Such a provision could drastically reduce the free exercise of their faith. I'm not sure this was the goal evangelicals had when the vast majority of them became enthusiastic backers of the war in Iraq.
And a UN report focuses on the increasing gulf between the wealthy and poor, with some countries slipping behind on infant mortality, life expectancy, income, etc. from where they were in 1990. The UN's call is for a commitment by wealthier nations to reduce world wide poverty and to reverse the growing disparities. Not surprisingly the Bush administration has signaled their opposition to these goals.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Robert Funk, former head of the Society for Biblical Literature and founder of the Jesus Seminar, recently passed away. His work ended up being important in the development of my own religious thinking. Not because of the particular picture of Jesus he portrayed. But rather because his works impressed on me the importance of historicism, the methodologies of it and how this impacts the treatment of certain religious questions.

His book Honest to Jesus is a worthwhile read specifically because he spends over half of it on issues of methodology and the history of historical Jesus quests. Funk had a curmudgeonly and yet straightforward way of writing that makes his books a pleasure to read. Though it may have not been the goal of the seminar, they suggested to me the perils of trying to link christology only in terms of the first century galilean divorced from the work of God.

I have some sense of gratitude because in the early/mid 90s I was wrestling with certain religious ideas and wondering if I could remain in the church. It was the works of Jesus Seminar members such as Borg and Funk that gave me space to explore these questions without leaving my faith behind. Some Christians may be suprised to hear how the Jesus Seminar ended up opening up a religious journey within the church for a good number of folks.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

I don't think I've ever written about Cuba but two news stories have caught my attention. One is the offer of aid, including doctors, to help with the aftermath of Katrina. And the US rejection of such aid. If there was a policy that countries which are not democracies will not have their aid accepted, that would be one thing. But the US is gladly accepting the aid of Saudia Arabia, which can't be counted as a democracy either.

Given our own government's inability to deal with the situation in New Orleans is the US really in a position to turn down aid? And when some on the right says that we have no responsibilities in rebuilding New Orleans turning down free offers of help strikes me as a bit preverse. Instead congress is getting back in sesssion to cut social programs in the midst of this disaster. The priorities of Bush and the GOP congress is bewildering at times.

And the Bush administration has decided to deny some religious denominations the status of a religious group when it comes to travel to Cuba. This would include the United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Presbyterian Church USA, and the American Baptists. No word yet whether any evangelical group has been affected by this decision. But given the relationship of mainline churches with churches in Cuba, this strikes me as an attack on these churches.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The pope is considering a plan which would ban all celibate gay men from studying at Catholic seminaries to become priests. This should do some work in drying up the possibilities of new priests in the middle of a horrendous shortage in the US. What is more worrisome is the sort of ecclesiastical aparatus which would be needed to oversee schools in a manner which could enforce such an edict.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

From the Washington Post : They are the Other, these victims of Katrina. An often-invisible underclass, now front and center: Evacuees from New Orleans receive personal hygiene bags before resuming their long relocation trip to Dallas. And in this country, the Other is black. Poor. Desperate. Mainstream America too often demonizes the Other because, well, we've been conditioned to do so.

And because it's easier to put people in a box and then shove it in the corner, away from view. Then it becomes their problem, not ours. To talk about race, for those who are weary of it, is to invite glazed-over eyes and stifled yawns -- or even hostility. But Katrina blew open the box, putting the urban poor front and center, with images of once-invisible folks pleading from rooftops, wading through flooded streets, starving at the Superdome and requiring a massive federal outlay of resources.

Or dead, wheelchairs pushed up against the wall, a blanket thrown over still bodies. The Other is there, staring us in the face, exposing our issues on an international stage. It is at once an embarrassment -- how did we go from can-do to can't-do-for-our-own? -- and a challenge, critics charge: How do we stop ignoring the folks in the box, the inner-city destitute, and realize that their fate is ours as well? Poor black people, says Lani Guinier, a Harvard University law professor, are "the canary in the mine.

Poor black people are the throwaway people. And we pathologize them in order to justify our disregard." But, she says, "this is not just about poor black people in New Orleans. This is about a social movement, with an administration that is bent on weakening the capacity of the national government to act. . . . I hope this is a wake-up call to all of America. To see this as the tip of the iceberg, the thin edge of the wedge. We ignored the early warning signals. But this is another early warning that we are ill prepared to function as a society."

Just as the United States was embarrassed globally by its ugly tradition -- racism -- being exposed during the civil rights movement, it is now shamed again by "the spectacle of a Baghdad on the Mississippi River and our own people being so poor and so destitute and so helpless at a time when we are talking about trying to spread democracy and curb looting in Baghdad," says Jim Sleeper, a lecturer in political science at Yale University.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A quote from Plato's Republic:

"God, if he be good, is not the author of all things, as the many assert, but he is the cause of a few things only, and not of most things that occur to men; for few are the goods of human life, and many are the evils, and the good only is to be attributed to him; of the evil other causes have to be discovered."

Friday, September 02, 2005

Chuck Currie highlights an evangelical group who called the flooding of New Orleans God's judgment. This may seem extreme or even unheard of as a claim, but as I was tabling for our campus ministry at my school I had an evangelical pastor come up and tell me the same thing. It was one of the only things he's ever said which has left me stunned, tongue tied, as is...can you be a decent, not moral, just a decent human being?

Or has religion operated in one's life to twist the soul so as to not recognize tragedy and suffering when it happens? It's a situation like this that makes me think that more often than we'd like, various forms of Christianity can be destructive, soul destroying, a trap that takes you far away from God..not because of this or that doctrine, but because it disconnects you from other people and their lives and suffering.

A study shows that if you go to church you're far more likely to support the war in Iraq and Bush's foreign policy. The report notes "frequent attendance at religious services has become a proxy for support of U.S. foreign policy". Why? "The actively religious U.S. public tends to see the world in terms of good and evil, holds its own values in the highest moral esteem, and feels ready to make whatever sacrifices are required to combat what they perceive as evil"

A number of elements in this report are troubling. Manichaeism has replaced the claims of the western monotheistic tradition which says that the poor, the destitute, those outside of the range of our compassion, other nations are part of God's world. The trust in our own values replaces a recognition that God is calling, challenging us to have higher more inclusive values. Militarism replaces the call for the peacable kingdom. And religion becomes the justifier of our disconnectedness not a call to reconciliation and a wider community.