The AP makes a point of noting the religious activity of the counter-demonstrators (prayed, clutched crosses, sang hymns, the usual stuff), but why do they not mention the religious activity of the demonstrators? For example, what about those who were chanting, “Hail Satan”?
Mr. Carter assumes that a few protestors chanting "Hail, Satan," is religious activity. I suppose that if the journalists present could demonstrate that these were living, breathing Satanists, Carter would have a point. (And he is right that a journalist could and probably should have talked to them.) However, what is happening at the protest has nothing to do with the Prince of Darkness, the views of fundamentalists vis-a-vis abortion notwithstanding. This would only be religious activity if the chanters actually were hailing Satan. What they are doing is mocking the pro-lifers who are busily singing Amazing Grace. Seriously.
The only person caught on video saying "Hail, Satan," looks to be a teenage girl. Yes, there were others saying it, but it was clearly meant as mockery, and I'm going to have to side with the mockers. As I don't believe in Satan, Mr. Carter will need to admit that my siding with the faux Satanists is not religious activity. If I picked up a Bible and read a random passage aloud, would that be religious activity? Doesn't the intent with which I use words indicate the nature of the utterance, or does Mr. Carter believe in magic?
The pro-lifers in this instance deserve to be mocked, not because of their pro-life stance, though. I readily admit that this is an issue about which reasonable people may disagree. I have my own opinions, but I usually don't share them online. The skewering from both sides is too tedious and reactionary.
Singing Amazing Grace at a protest that is ostensibly about abortion shows a shocking lack of understanding about the context and how religious language functions. Why are the protesters singing a song about the individualistic nature of salvation—as if that concept isn't dubious enough—at an event where they hope to see legislation passed that makes it more difficult for a woman to get an abortion in the not-so-great state of Texas? Honestly, read over the lyrics if you need to and figure out which apply in that situation. The truth is probably something like this: it was the only song all the protestors knew in common.
The utterly anemic intellectual life of fundangelicals, even including familiarity with their Bible and hymnody, absolutely deserves to be mocked. You are standing at an event at which you believe God needs to move to stop a great evil and you choose to sing about how awesome it is that God saved you? What the hell? Perhaps those pro-lifers present also believe, with Mr. Carter, that words are magic. It doesn't matter the content or the intent, only that they are using them—religious language functioning as some sort of desperate summons for the Holy Spirit to move, mimicking the Apostle's frustration that he doesn't often know what to pray so the Spirit prays for him. To do so, of course, they must affirm their own importance in the cosmic soteriological dance, and because they are so completely devoid of meaningful religious language, they consistently revert to that most trite and self-centered of affirmations: Jesus died for me.
Mock away, fake Satanists.
The Daily Oklahoman announced today that Lifechurch.tv, the hydra-headed megachurch based in Edmond, Okla., will be adding another campus to its mini-empire of 16 campuses in five states. I have long since stopped caring about the theological content of what Craig Groeschel does via video screen every week. As a former believer, I simply don't care all that much about in-house disputes over ecclesiology unless they impact the larger culture. This is Oklahoma City, so virtually (ha!) everything LCTV does impacts the larger culture. The source of my irritation today is the ham-handed way The Oklahoman handled an obviously important religion story.
Full disclosure: I used to write a weekly Faith and Culture column for that paper when Bobby Ross was doing a fine job as religion editor. He moved on. His successor and I didn't see eye to eye. It did not end well. Since then, I have regularly accused the paper of running PR for Jesus instead of actual journalism.
Let's juxtapose two things from the story and then I'll break down what I really think is happening. Lori Bailey is the communications director for LCTV. She is quoted as saying: "“We've been looking at this particular area for some time since many people who attend our other campuses can easily access this new location.” The writer, Richard Mize, follows that quote immediately with this piece of purple prose:
It's a gritty part of north Oklahoma City, an area of socioeconomic extremes. Neighborhoods have high unemployment, low homeownership, high crime and gang activity among other social ills, as well as TV and radio stations, prominent office buildings and other business development.
Bailey then makes an innocuous comment about "making a difference in the lives of people" in surrounding neighborhoods. This is not what LCTV does, by the way, but more on that later. Now for some background for our out of Oklahoma readers.
The corridor chosen by LCTV for this new venture is the primary artery between Edmond, our most affluent suburb, and downtown Oklahoma City, which is still the hub of business and culture in this sprawling metroplex. Every day, tens of thousands of cars make the approximately 10-mile drive between Edmond and downtown using this corridor. The new campus will sit about one mile east of Nichols Hills, one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the city. It will be surrounded by a smattering of industrial parks, medical businesses, and damn few neighborhoods. The area is sparsely populated both in terms of businesses and residences.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is about to complete work on a $24 million series of improvements to that traffic corridor. Unless you haven't been paying attention to the I40 crosstown improvement, infrastructure upgrades always precede economic development. That corridor is next in line for gentrification. A massive amount of vacant acreage sits on both sides of the corridor, making it a perfect location for apartments and condos and businesses midway between Edmond and downtown. The improvements make access to the area far more convenient than they have ever been. It's a good move for Oklahoma City, and I suspect LCTV's leadership team is well aware of this. Craig was a finance major before he went to seminary, after all.
In no particular order, here's what I don't like about the new campus moving there:
It's never safe to speculate about motive, but it's also never reasonable to be too much of a Pollyanna. This will be an interesting couple of year's in LCTV's branding strategy.
First, the podcast. Sean and Joey wanted to discuss Exodus International, Chambers's apology, and reparative therapy. We also deal with ecclesiology, hermeneutics, and politics. Hard to avoid in this discussion.
Second, credit where credit is due. Many of my remarks came after reading the incredibly insightful analysis by John Shore. I think he nails it, so I just want him to get credit for being brilliant. Time will definitely tell whether Exodus (Chambers) actually apologized. I'm leaning toward rebrand and new tactic with the same old, tired ideas about sexuality and marriage.
This is my piece for RNS/WaPo about the Bethany, Okla., Methodist minister who is suing the state of Oklahoma over the Native American sculpture featured on the license plate. I'm writing another piece for the Gazette locally, so I'll have more to say after that piece runs.
I left Christianity begrudgingly. I fought for every remaining tenet of the faith, strove to keep some faint object of faith alive, and ultimately succumbed to the myriad questions that traditional theism couldn't answer without resorting to tautologies, circular reasoning, or incoherent wish fulfillment. It was a difficult period, made worse by the fact that I worked in professional ministry. Many times I replayed the hose and push-up scene from An Officer and a Gentelman, wherein Lou Gosset, Jr. (Foley), demands of Richard Gere that he (Mayo) quit. Mayo continues to do push-ups while Foley wonders aloud why he doesn't quit. "I got nowhere else to go!" Mayo sputters. It was a poignant moment in the film, and I felt Mayo's confusion and fear as I faced my exit from the faith. What the fuck would I do if I didn't do ministry?
One of the last things I read that actually made an impact on me as I lost my faith was Paul Holmer's The Grammar of Faith. Holmer was a professor of theology at Yale (of course he was) and an expert on Wittgenstein, my philosophical idol. Holmer's thesis in the book was very simple: theology, rather than making us smart, ought to make us holy. It was a revolutionary concept in a grad school full of people who were painfully smart, people who ended up bruised and broken by the Church because they asked difficult questions or didn't settle for the same banal answers that passed for apologetics in church circles. My mentor, Dr. Steve Green, offered us Holmer because, I think, he thought Holmer could help heal us, and for a time, he did. But Holmer's ideas were viral in the best and worst way; the more you thought about them, the more they infected your thinking, and the more they infected your thinking, the more you applied them to church-thought like a template. How does this particular instantiation of church-thought measure up to Holmer's thesis?
Here's a random truth about me: I hurt when I see suffering. Really hurt. In most of my classes we begin the period with story time. Students are required to tell stories, but they must be about sadness or tragedy or arrests or unplanned pregnancies. I want to hear their stories about suffering because the sharing of suffering brings a class together. I'm not sure they ever figure that out, by the way. They just love story time without knowing why. One rule is no stories of animal suffering. I can't abide stories about tragedies that befall animals. This seems strange to my students, but the explanation is simple. Humans are rational creatures, and so we attempt to make sense of our suffering. Animals don't share that quality, and so their suffering, at least by my reckoning, is a moment of unredeemed pain. It's just shitty, inexplicable pain foisted on a creature that deserves better. It's why I change the channel when Sarah McLaughlin and abused pets appear. I hurt for the animals that have been wounded by people who are too stupid and barbaric to have a basic level of empathy for non-rational creatures.
If theology should make us holy, it should absolutely make us empathetic. Alas, that seems not to be the case. As Holmer says in The Grammar of Faith, "Theology is, then, an interpretation" (9). This, I'm sure, is a Barthian assessment. God revealed in Jesus is primary revelation. The testimony of the disciples is secondary revelation, including the Bible. Theology is tertiary revelation, at best. If all theology is interpretation, and it is, then theology is not "Word of God." Yeah, Barth, again. However, secondary revelation is not "Word of God," either. This is the theological problem with the discussions about same-sex marriage. Too many Christians treat a handful of verses as the "Word of God," but they understand the phrase as a description of the text, not an event, ala Barth and Tillich.
I'm not even going to discuss the Constitutional issues around which this conversation should actually be formed, as I'm almost certain there is no credible response from a non-religious perspective that could militate against gay marriage in a republic or democracy. Equal protection seems to need very little parsing, as equal is a zero-tolerance designator when it comes to rights afforded to citizens who are both of age and have legal standing.
Christianity has failed to make Christians holy, and it has clearly failed to make them empathetic. This should be a catastrophic failure of what they believe, but they have insulated themselves against reality shattering their theologies by insisting that God makes them holy by virtue of killing Jesus. No work is necessary. No attempt to understand a suffering world. No reason to reach out to "the other" with compassion. No actual laboring for a genuinely holy life. No. Only a triumphalist assertion of holiness that the recipient of grace has done nothing to earn. Indeed, this dependence is seen as a virtue. This redefinition of holiness is disastrous for those who are viewed as enemies of the tribe.
For gays and lesbians, who according to a narrow theological reading of an ancient text are "others," the redefinition of holiness allows for a subset of Christians to view them as "abominations" even as that same subset views themselves as "saved by grace," even as they work to ensure the suffering and marginalizaton of their "brothers and sisters" who are also "created in the image of God." The law, which the Apostle Paul clearly says must be accepted in totality if one is to follow it, is directed against these "others," even as the legalists, by practice if not self-definition, excuse themselves from the penalty of the law by appeals to a slaughtered Savior's death. It's a theology that is self-justifying even as it condemns the marginalized to injustice, said injustice being excused by appeals to an ancient law. The whole thing is so painfully bizarre, self-refuting, and hypocritical, that I'm befuddled that Christians don't repent of their own hypocrisy and beg their gay and lesbian neighbors for forgiveness. Instead, though, they will justify their beliefs by appeals to a holy God while they excuse themselves from the hard work of holiness.
I need to apologize to some of my Christian friends for what they are about to read. I seldom work with binaries, as I find them less than useful, and more often than not, I find them to be false dichotomies. However, I think the tenor of a certain debate has reached a point that I'm weary of not saying something directly. This post started as a response to an article (or yet another damn article) in the NYT about the (insert ominous all-cap font) decline of evangelical America. John S. Dickerson, legitimate award-winning journalist, author, and evangelical pastor, wrote the piece as a thubmnail assessment of the paralysis currently suffered by American evangelicalism. His assessment about the symptoms is very accurate. He is, after all, an investigative journalist, and like many of his kind, he is able to look at information without flinching.
In short paragraphs he chronicles the shrinking political influence, the shrinking donations, the loss of young evangelicals, and the inability of evangelicals to "adapt to rapid shifts in the culture," especially same-sex marriage. After talking about a couple healthy signs, including inexplicably megachurches in most large cities (that is surely a sign of cancer, sir), he moves to his main concern:
But all this machinery distracts from the historical vital signs of evangelicalism: to make converts and point to Jesus Christ. By those measures this former juggernaut is coasting, at best, if not stalled or in reverse.
What is unexpected is Dickerson's lack of concern about this malaise. He thinks it a good thing. That is the subject of a future post, and one that I will probably not write until I read his forthcoming book. Dickerson then makes three statements that I want to combine before I get to the main point here.
We evangelicals must accept that our beliefs are now in conflict with the mainstream culture. We cannot change ancient doctrines to adapt to the currents of the day. But we can, and must, adapt the way we hold our beliefs — with grace and humility instead of superior hostility...I believe the cultural backlash against evangelical Christianity has less to do with our views — many observant Muslims and Jews, for example, also view homosexual sex as wrong, while Catholics have been at the vanguard of the movement to protect the lives of the unborn — and more to do with our posture...This does not mean we whitewash unpopular doctrines like the belief that we are all sinners but that we re-emphasize the free forgiveness available to all who believe in Jesus Christ.
Notice that he never says explicitly that gay marriage is wrong. That has to be inferred from the entire piece. What he says is that even if you do think it's wrong, you have to hold that belief with grace and humility. Sigh. I'm so weary of this diagnosis. I will happily grant that encouraging fellow evangelicals to avoid being truculent assholes festooned with douchebag awards is a noble cause and even a good idea. It misses the entire point, though. You can be nice and still support injustice. You can be kind and still be painfully wrong. You can be polite and still be a bigot.
This will sound crazy to some people, but the Bible gets some stuff wrong. Way wrong. I won't trot out the list of silliness from Leviticus here. Most of you familiar with this debate are familiar with the list. Let's apply Dickerson's thinking to just one historical example: slavery. Imagine a pastor in 1850 saying, "We can't whitewash unpopular doctrines. Slavery is mandated by Scripture. It is God's natural order. What we must do is hold that belief with grace and humility." That's reductio ad absurdum, folks. The method is nonsensical. What matters here is that evangelicals come to the point where they can say they are wrong. Many have. Many try for a middle ground of tolerance and outward love, but believe that it is grievous sin. Many believe they must "speak the truth in love," and how much damage has been done under that fuckin' banner?
Marcus Borg once offered a sensible rationale for assessing what is and isn't a moral law, especially when wanting to import ostensibly moral laws from the Tanakh. He said that trangression of the law would need to cause obvious harm to individuals or the community in order for it to be considered a moral law (excepting those that are direct offenses against the invisible Being, like blasphemy, I suppose). Those opposed to homosexuality and same-sex marriage are incapable of showing what actual harm would derive from the acceptance of homsexuality as normative within a framework that doesn't see sexuality as a simple binary. If the Bible is treated as a document that requires justification for its claims, and it should be, what is the justification for prohibiting same-sex marriage or homosexual sex? Even if you believe in an invisible being who dispenses divine laws, you must at least ask yourself the rationale for prohibitions. This one seems to have none. Absent a tenable answer for that question, please just admit you're wrong. It's way better than holding outdated, discriminatory beliefs with "grace and humility." Admitting you're wrong is a sign of true humility, in fact.
Anthony Spenser, the protagonist of Cross Roads, in addition to being one of the worst two-dimensional caricatures of a pre-redemption Gordon Gecko ever penned, is also in a coma in chapter 4. Spenser was in the coma when he met C.S. Lewis, a fact I forgot to mention last post, not that anything is helped by mentioning it. Now he has met the creepy Jesus who holds him through the night (ewwww), but Jesus is now cutting wood and running a rundown farm or ranch, thus lumberjack/ranch foreman Jesus (can't you just see the Brawny guy?). This is supposed to be a novel, but I assure you, it reads like a sermon with colorful illustrations. I had just gotten used to Young referring to a certain rundown house in Spenser's coma-world as a "habitation" (If you're not a Christian, google Ephesians 2:22. Make sure to read the King James version.) when I happened upon this torturous bit of nonsense. It's lumberjack/ranch foreman Jesus talking:
"We are only able," Jesus continued, "to move at the speed and in the direction the land itself allows. One must relate to it with honor and reverence and let the land speak its own heart. Then, out of respect we must choose to submit to its idea of 'real' and still remain ones who love it toward the true, without faltering, regardless of the cost. To not live for the land in this way is to join all its aggressors, ravagers, users, and benefactors, and then all hope for its healing would be lost." --pg. 60
What we have here is a series of metaphors, right? Even Spencer notices, because he tells Jesus that he's losing the thread of the conversation in trying to keep up with the metaphors. At this point, lumberjack/ranch foreman Jesus utters this howler: "I have not used a metaphor once, while you have done so many times. Because you continue to inhabit and believe your metaphors, you cannot see what is true."
This has to be the worst application of Plato's Allegory of the Cave I have ever come across. First, lumberjack Jesus is wrong. Calling a human a habitation is certainly a metaphor. You might think it's an accurate one, and you'd be left to "prove" it based on Bible verses, but you have to admit it's a metaphor. Referring to humans as land that must be worked? Definitely a metaphor. And that list of naughty people at the end? Metaphors. Clearly ranchhand/lumberjack Jesus slept through English and literature classes. (Or Young did.) What makes it worse, in addition to making Jesus look ignorant of basic definitions, is the way Young once again makes those who doubt his thesis appear to be at fault, or at least blind and stupid.
May I ask who doesn't inhabit metaphors? Everyone does. It's the nature of language. Much of what we discuss can only be done so metaphorically or analogously. The entire field of religion is based on extended metaphors. That Young misses this is either a function of dishonesty, arrogance, ignorance, or misunderstanding. He believes he is conveying truths about things that can't be known, proven, or seen without the use of metaphors. This is a remarkable feat. Even the authors of the Bible couldn't quite pull that off. Even God, when speaking to the authors of the Bible, couldn't pull that off. It's amazing what a runaway bestseller does to your confidence as a writer.
Young surely means that Spenser inhabits the wrong set of metaphors. That is the most charitable way to see this section. Even allowing that this is a distinct possibility (and I believe it is), we are left to discern which set of metaphors is superior. Plato talked of the light outside the cave that would reveal the world as it is, and there is a metaphorical application to Plato's allegory as well that transcends the merely physical; however, Young would have us leave behind a set of metaphors for an undefined set, and to do so, he asks us to believe the voice of God, but what we seem to have at work here is the voice of Young, and it's terribly confused, even about basic definitions.
Next time. Young knows things are true because he experiences them. Sigh.