Sunday, November 13, 2005

Well... he's a liberal, but...

A few years ago, back when I was a youth minister in need of retreat, I went on a Youth Ministers Retreat. It was a great idea which temporarily saved me from the inevitable burnout that comes from always giving and never taking.

At the retreat we often divided up into groups to discuss anything and everything that might come up. It was kind of like group therapy for people who wouldn't admit that they need therapy.

During one group meeting we were asked, toward the end of the meeting, to describe someone who had modeled the example of Christ to us, and in doing so, had inspired our ministry. Each person in the room described someone who had helped to form their experience of the faith. Most of us talked about people who had helped us during our tumultuous teenage years. I picked a man named Paul, and those of you who know him know why. Those of you who don't know him will never understand the impact that he had on my life, because I doubt I will ever be able to put it into words.

The retreat, as could be expected of a youth ministers retreat in the state of Kentucky, consisted entirely of people who identified themselves as evangelicals. As such, there was a certain set of assumptions that each person there could be expected to make. Those assumptions were apparently challenged by one person in the room, who, when asked the question, answered, "My person... well... he's a liberal, but..." and then went on to extol the spiritual virtues of the man and how he had modeled the example of Christ.

In that room this statement seemed exceedingly generous. An evangelical complimenting a liberal, and claiming that a liberal, at least in this one case, could model the example of Christ. It was unheard of. The response from the room was similarly generous, as each person agreed that, at least in this case, a liberal had done something beneficial to the cause of Christ.

The statement appeared to cut to the heart of a prejudice and then undermine that prejudice by presenting someone who had been colored by it with a more full description. But, as I am coming to claim the often misused title of liberal for myself, I am beginning to think that, rather than countering a prejudice, that statement, "Well... he's liberal, but..." actually reinforced the prejudice by providing the exception that confirms the rule.

After all, if you believed that, by and large, liberals could model the example of Christ, why would you have to mention that the person in question was a liberal? In what way is that relevant to their modeling the example of Christ? And, if you really believed that liberals could model the example of Christ, why would you have to, in saying "but" after declaring that the person in question is a liberal, make apologies for their liberalism before extolling their virtues?

The way in which the comment was phrased spoke to a couple of assumptions which were in the room. These assumptions were:

1. Liberals usually do not and probably cannot model the example of Christ.

2. There is an intimate connection between belief and faith, and, as such, those who disagree with us theologically must have some sort of problem with their faith.

The speaker, by providing us with a rare contradiction to these assumptions, actually helped to confirm their validity in the same way that someone who says "She hits pretty well, for a girl" confirms the assumption that girls, by and large, can't hit.

These two assumptions are related, and the ability to hold the first one depends on the second one. Christians have assumed an association between belief and faith from almost the beginning of their history. In 325 CE the Roman Emperor Constantine called together a council of all Christian bishops in the Roman Empire because he thought that Christianity could be a tool used to hold the Empire together. From this council, the Council of Nicea, we get the earliest formal Christian statement of belief, the Nicene Creed, which was designed to counter the influence of Gnosticism and to unite the Church under a single set of beliefs.

One of the effects of the Nicene Creed, and the mentality that led to it, was an emphasis in Christianity on orthodoxy (right belief) over and against orthopraxy (right practice, right conduct, or right action). Belief became the most important thing in Christianity, and it was most important for Christians to believe the right things. Faith became intimately associated with belief, and because of the centrality of belief in Christianity, a deviation in belief meant a failure of faith.

This mentality, however, blurs the distinction between faith and belief too much, and creates some serious problems in the lives of faithful believers in Christ. Last week I received a phone call from a friend of mine who was having a "crisis of faith." She said that she had been teaching the story of Jonah in a children's Sunday School class when a wicked thought entered her mind: "This could not have happened."

Having this thought creep in, and worse still, believing it after it popped up, meant to my friend that there must be some sort of serious problem with her faith. Why couldn't she accept the historical accuracy of a story from the inerrant Word of God, like her church teaches? That she wondered this demonstrates the extent to which she has been conditioned by her church to associate faith with belief. That a question of how the Bible should best be interpreted is rendered in her mind as a "crisis of faith" means that she has totally accepted her church's failure to distinguish between faith and belief.

Phrasing disputes over matters of belief as problems with one's faith is an excellent way for churches to make those who disagree with them on some points of doctrine go away frustrated without rocking the doctrinal boat. If my friend condemns herself as a heretic and walks away, or even better, repents of her shameful thought, then her church, and specifically her pastor, never has to deal with the challenge to the view of scripture presented in that congregation. If my friend assumes that the view of scripture which she no longer accepts is the way in which Christians must, by virtue of their faith, approach the holy scriptures, then her options are either to no longer claim the name of Christ or agree with her church.

But there is a third option which those who would monopolize the interpretation of the Bible do not allow. That option is to look at the scriptures both faithfully and critically, and remain faithfully within the body of Christ, claiming the name of Christian.

Neither my friend nor her church had considered that they were applying a modern standard to a decidedly premodern text when they assumed that stories such as the story of Jonah must represent literal historical events. The Modern West no longer has any use for mythology. Beginning in the appropriately titled Age of Reason we have assumed that reason (by which we usually mean a combination of logical and empiricism) is the only way to obtain truth. As such, we don't know what to do with or make of myths. Or, rather, we know just what to do with them: we discredit them and throw them away.

We make no distinction between "myth" and "lie," as evidenced by such programs as Mythbusters which contradict popular but false beliefs. We are forever "debunking the myths of" anything and everything about which one can hold a false belief. Because of this, when someone says that a story from the Bible is a myth, we think that they mean that the story is false. We think that, when they declare parts of the Bible to be primarily mythological in nature they are attempting to discredit the Bible and undermine its authority in the lives of Christians.

As such, to my friend, she had two options when dealing with the story of Jonah:

1. Accept it as an accurate representation of a historical event.
2. Reject it as an accurate representation of a historical event.

If it represents accurate history, it has value. If it does not, then serious problems are created. And, to her, it was pretty obvious that it could not represent accurate history. What, then, becomes of her faith?

I have not always identified myself as a liberal. In fact as a teenager I had a rather slow but radical conversion from a kind of practical atheism to a more fundamentalist brand of Christianity. Since then I have been undergoing just as slow and radical conversion from that brand of Christianity to a different one. How we are to interpret scripture has been at the heart of the transformation of my faith.

Myths are not lies. Myths are stories which communicate a very deep and meaningful truth. I have come to understand much of the Bible in this way. This does not mean that I do not accept the authority of scripture, nor does it mean that I think that parts of scripture are false. Stories are neither true nor false. Or, of they are true or false, their truth or falsehood depends not on whether or not they represent events which happened in history, but rather in whether or not the communicate something true.

Hamlet is both a work of fiction and a true story. It is a work of fiction because Shakespeare wrote it that way. His intention as an author was to create a story, a fictional story. But it is also a true story because it communicates a great many true things. This is why it has lasted these many years. This is why each new generation is drawn to it. Hamlet teaches us something important about ourselves.

Similarly, while much of the Bible may not represent literal historical events, it does contain true stories. These stories, these myths, are a great deal more true than the story of Hamlet, but their truth does not derive from the accuracy of their representation of history. Rather the truth of the Bible derives from God's ability to speak to us through the text, providing our lives with order and meaning. As we live out the principles we learn from the voice of God which we hear through the Biblical text we demonstrate in our own lives the truth of the Bible. We demonstrate in our own lives the power and authority of the Bible.

As we allow our encounter with the Biblical text to order our lives and provide us with meaning we demonstrate the value of the Biblical text. This value is not found in whether or not the text accurately represents historical events, as it was not the intention of the authors of the text to represent history. Our understanding of history did not come about until more than 2,000 years after the formulation of the earliest Biblical stories. How then can we apply that standard to a text which predates the standard? Would our view of history and historicity have had any value for the earliest interpreters of scripture?

Because of this understanding of scripture, and the way in which this understanding drives a wedge between me and the more conservative elements of the community of faith, I now, with some reservation, identify myself as a liberal. I say that I do this with some reservation not because I buy some of the vague criticisms leveled at liberals, but rather because I have some criticisms of my own.

Liberalism is a very vague term, and no one knows exactly what it means. This is a problem which liberals themselves contribute to. In the first part of the twentieth century to be a liberal was to be an optimist. To be theologically liberal was to deny original sin or human depravity, and to hold that human beings are basically good and getting better all the time. Liberalism was progressive in the sense that it saw history and humanity progressing toward a particular goal. The atrocities of the first and second World Wars made this position laughable.

Since then liberalism has been more about rejecting what it disagrees with than actually affirming anything. In politics this manifests itself in the willingness of the liberal caucus to criticize conservative policies and politics without proposing an alternative vision. In theology this manifests itself in the willingness of liberals to deny traditional Christian doctrines without affirming anything to take their place.

Liberalism is a broad, and broadly undefined phenomenon, and liberalism is often a negative phenomenon. Because of this conservatives can dominate the political and religious dialogue virtually unchallenged. It is incumbent upon liberals to cast a competing vision. As I now claim to be a liberal, it is incumbent upon me to cast a coherent vision. As you read the postings here you can judge for yourselves whether or not I am doing so.

33 comments:

Amy said...

As an unabashed liberal....

Do you feel your friend would struggle less with the historicity of stories like Jonah if we used terms like "parable" to describe them? When I was an undergraduate at a THOROUGHLY evangelical college (and, yes, you can be both liberal and evangelical), I took a class on the prophets, which interpreted Jonah as a parable on racism. My professor pointed out that language used at the beginning included some of the pointers we have now forgotten which connoted the bridge into story, their equivalent of "Once up on a Time." He also pointed out that Nineveh itself was landlocked, so saying that a giant fish spit Jonah up in Nineveh was like saying it was in Omaha, NE. As a society, we our losing our biblical literacy as choose to ignore these very decided stylistic choices pointing to a "parable," a story of truth, rather than a historical account.

I also don't necessarily think its fair to say that liberals don't stand up for anything. The democratic party may not have a clear vision to communicate, but they're really more centrist than liberal. When those of us on the Christian left choose to boycott Walmart, rally for peace, or advocated for better quality accessible housing in the West End, we do so because we have a vision of the Kingdom of God for which we have a duty to strive. We see a world of integrity, where the call of Micah to "do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God" has been made real in the way we interact with each other individually and communally. That's why I'm drawn to liberation theologies; they provide us with a strong emphasis on who we can be.
I've loved reading what you have to write, and I've bookmarked it. I mentioned you in our prayer requests at church this morning; I too have struggled with vocation because of the destructive nature of conflict in the church bodies I was serving. If you ever need to chat with someone who has been through it, let me know.

Brian Beech said...

Your question, ‘why would you have to mention that the person in question was a liberal’, is one that I believe is answered easily. The term liberal, whether you think this is an accurate depiction or not, is associated with abortion rights, taking God out of our nation, and a general acceptance of all lifestyles (yes, I mean Homosexuals). Now, these things are clearly not in line with the scriptures and this is why liberal is a four letter word to many ‘conservatives’.

Do I then think that, ‘Liberals usually do not and probably cannot model the example of Christ’? I would say that Liberals usually do not. I find it hard to believe that Jesus would have fought for the right to kill a baby. I would find it hard to believe that Jesus would want the words, “Under God”, taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance. I would also find it hard to believe that Jesus would tell a homosexual that his lifestyle is just fine. I do, however, believe that Jesus would love the homosexual, but I do not believe that he would excuse their lifestyle as ‘okay’ due to genetics or any other means of an excuse. We do not excuse thieves, and it may be linked to genetics.

There is an intimate connection between belief and faith. I don’t see how you can say otherwise. Let’s take a simple example of faith that we’ve all heard. When you go to sit in a chair, you have faith that the chair will hold you, otherwise you wouldn’t allow your weight to fall into the chair. How could you then say that you have faith that the chair will hold you, but at the same time say you don’t believe it will hold you? Is it just me, or does this seem like a contradiction in terms?

I don’t think that everyone that disagrees with me theologically must have a problem with faith. My brother-in-law believes in the speaking of tongues in modern day with no interpreter. I disagree with this view. We have a difference of theology, but I do not think that he has a problem with his faith, and he does not think that I have a problem with mine. As a matter of fact, I think that he may have more faith than I do. It is merely a difference of interpretation.

Your friend had a thought about Jonah not being able to happen. I do think this is a problem of faith. Why do I think this is a problem of faith and my brother-in-law’s is not? Because your friend applied a man-made premise, logic, to discount what God can do. Thinking, ‘This could not have happened’, begs the question; “why not”? The only “logical” answer is that this person does not think God has the power to make that happen. This would definitely be a problem of faith.

I don’t question her faith because her theology is different, I question it because of the question she asked and why she would have asked that question. ‘This could not have happened’ shows that she does not believe this is possible, and in the common everyday world we know she would be right, this can not happen. But, we have to remember that God is all powerful, he created the fish and he created Jonah. A question that could be posed without me questioning one’s faith would be, “how could this happen logically?” I do not know how God made that happen, but I believe that he could and did make it happen.

Armed with questions of logic one would question the entire scriptures. Ex. “how did all mankind come from Adam and Eve, what about inbreeding and disabilities and how was this done again with Noah?”, “how did Moses part the Red Sea, this is impossible?”, “how did the burning bush talk?”, “how did the walls fall down?”, “how was water turned to wine?”, “how is a blind man made to see with no surgery or medicine?”, “how does one rise from the dead?”, ”how is a child born of a virgin?”. All the answers to these questions rely on one thing, the power of God.

Not believing these things happened because they are “illogical” is a problem of faith, and I would say a very large problem of faith. How do you know what to believe if you accept this pick-and-choose theology? I urge you to seek God on this and pray and allow Him to show you the answers regarding this. Don’t lead others astray by questioning the power of God and by trying to dismiss scripture based on logic; I beg you. Logic is just like every other man-made invention; flawed. We can not unlock the mysteries of God by intellectualizing everything. No matter how intelligent we think we are, we still “see through a glass darkly”.

I do not think that your friend must reject calling herself a Christian, because as I read the Bible it says that one must believe in their heart that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for our sins. So, one can be saved, but I do question how they can believe in Jesus if they cannot believe in the rest of the Bible. I will pray for your friend.

Sandalstraps said...

I would like to thank Mr. Beech for providing such a wonderful example of fideism - the belief that reason and faith are incompatible. I trust that the dangers of fideism are obvious to most of my readers. But the danger of blurring the distinction between belief and faith is, particularly as it relates to our conduct, much greater.

Mr. Beech's definition of faith is, as best as I can tell from his comment, the willingness to believe that anything is possible. Failing to be willing to believe in impossible things, or even calling things impossible, is a failure to have faith.

But what is the value of a faith understood as believing in impossible things? It certainly doesn't help to inform our moral actions. It also doesn't obviously provide an otherwise meaningless life with any kind of meaning. It simply is the willingness to believe that anything is possible, a refusal to set parameters on what can happen.

This is not faith, it is self deception. Faith is totally depending on God, an existential condition with moral implications. It transcends belief, as one can have faith without belief (though it is difficult) and belief without faith.

I am impressed, however, that while Mr. Beech denies the value of logic, he attempts to use logic when presenting his argument. It is a credit to his intellectual honesty.

That said, the logic which he uses is suspect at best, particularly when it attempts to demonstrate that faith and belief are the same. It is quite possible to have faith in a chair's ability to hold you while simultaneously entertaining doubt about that chair's ability. You demonstrate faith in the chair by sitting in it, trusting it to hold, despite whatever doubts you may have about it.

It is clear that he and I are operating with a different set of definitions and assumptions. That said, I will not concede that homosexuality is obviously condemned by Scripture, nor that homosexuals can accurately be compared to thieves. I will also not conceed that one has to interpret every passage of scripture as being literally true to hold that scripture is, in the most important since, true and normative.

The story of Jonah is very obviously not describing a historical event, and not just because the event which it describes could not actually have happened. The languaged used in the story of Jonah is very stylized, as one might expect from a great "fish story."

But that Jonah is not historical does not mean that it is not true. In fact, it is true in the most important sense: it leads us to truths about ourselves and our relationship with God.

Limiting scripture to a literal interpretation imposes a modern understanding on a pre-modern text. It also deprives that text of any deeper meanings that it might hold. I eagerly await the day when the question we bring to a passage of scripture is not "did this, or could this happen?" and is instead, "what does this story have to say?"

Regretfully I will not accept Mr. Beech's kind invitation to silence myself on such matters, as I believe that the faulty logic and narrow views communicated by people who hold his theology must be countered. I will, however, accept his invitation to pray. He would do well to remember, however, that I do not need him to invite me to do so, as I can pray to God just fine without his intervention.

Brian Beech said...

I’m sorry that you became defensive as a result of my post. My intentions were not to attack you and I tried to stay away from that kind of language. I feel it is important to be able to have a dialogue without having to be offensive and defensive. I am certainly not trying to remove the splinter from your eye.

‘I am impressed, however, that while Mr. Beech denies the value of logic, he attempts to use logic when presenting his argument.’ Well, I honestly thought this would be read in a light, yet respectable manner and thought the irony would appeal to a sense of humor. But, if you were talking to a Japanese man, you would not speak to him in English, so in the same sense, I spoke using ‘logic’.

‘Faith is totally depending on God’ – I completely agree with this statement. However, to state that you can have faith without belief is a view that just seems to escape me.

‘It is quite possible to have faith in a chair's ability to hold you while simultaneously entertaining doubt about that chair's ability. You demonstrate faith in the chair by sitting in it, trusting it to hold, despite whatever doubts you may have about it.’ – If you had doubt in the chair’s ability to hold you, you would not sit in it like an everyday chair. You would ease into it and slowly shift all of your weight on it, not sit with “reckless abandon” (I know, sitting with reckless abandon is a strange phrase). If you had ‘faith’ (is totally depending on) in the ability of the chair, slowly sitting would not be needed.

‘He would do well to remember, however, that I do not need him to invite me to do so, as I can pray to God just fine without his intervention.’ – forgive me for insulting you. I was not insinuating that you couldn’t do just that. I’m not sure why you think I was attacking you or trying to judge your faith. Attacking and voicing dissenting views are two different things. I explained how I felt and then gave advice, but I will be sure not to do this in the future.

Sandalstraps said...

I have a friend who used to send out emails with semi-theological observations in them. He would send them to anyone who expressed an interest in them, whether or not he personally knew the recipient of the email.

I once recommended his emails to an acquintance of mine who seemed interested. I then had my friend place this aquintance on his email list.

Alas, the anonymity of that dialogue created a great many problems, and within a couple of weeks my friend had to remove this person from the list.

Dialogue on religious subjects is very difficult, because of the nature of dialogue and the intensity of the subject. Authentic dialogue requires a willingness from all parties to admit that they could be wrong, and that the other parties could have something to teach them. In person, on a trivial subject, this is still almost impossible. Anonymously, on a subject as deeply personal as religion, there is little chance that the conditions will ever be right for dialogue.

I say this not to cut off this discussion, but to provide some context for it; to state openly what the obstacles are. If the discussion remains just between Brian Beech and myself, then we will probably continue to trade barbs and speak past each other, showing little willingness to really listen or treat the other person as fully human.

I understand that Mr. Beech is both articulate and, most likely, compassionate. He clearly believes himself to be well intentioned, and honestly cannot see how any of his comments could have been recieved as insults. I can relate to that feeling. While I was pastoring an extremely conservative church I went out of my way to be charitable to people whose positions were other than my own, or so I thought. But I had far too many assumptions about the positions which they took, and each time they presented their positions my assumptions, which were not charitable in the least, showed on my face and in my tone of voice.

One day I let slip, in a Bible Study, what I honestly thought of one of their heros. I took a cheap shot at Jerry Falwell. Now, in my social circle cheap shots at Jerry Falwell are frowned upon not because they are in bad taste but because they are far too easy. Saying that Jerry Falwell is a little crazy is like saying that Hitler is a little evil. (And of course it is not fair to compare Falwell to Hitler, I'm just setting the context.) But in that small country church Falwell was the closest thing to God's representative on Earth that those people had. He certainly had a great deal more credibility with the congregation than I did. But, immersed as I was in only my perspective, I didn't understand how offensive I was to them.

To the point, when Mr. Beech, implied that liberals "fight for the right to kill babies" I was understandably offended. I, in fact, have a baby of my own, and certainly would not fight for the right to kill him, nor would any of my liberal peers. I understand that he considers abortion to be murder, and abortion is an act which I will rarely defend, but it is a great deal more complicated than that simple statement, "Abortion is murder," makes it sound. And the liberal position, as best as I can tell, is not that abortion is a good thing which must be encouraged, but is instead that abortion is one of many options for dealing with a difficult situation, and which must not be taken off the table by the government. I will not here get into an argument over the morality of abortion. I just bring it up as an example of inflammatory language which probably came out reflexivly from someone probably not used to talking to those who do not hold his assumption about the moral and/or legal value/status of abortion.

Communication, even under the best of circumstances, is fraught with misunderstandings. This is particularly true when the people doing the communicating are responding not only to the positions and statements of the other, but also to their assumptions about the positions and statements of the other. I probably assume that Mr. Beech is very much like the fundamentalists who drove me out of ministry, and for good reason. His statement encouraging me not to "lead others astray" is loaded with much of the ammunition that the fundamentalists in my congregation used against me. I cannot guess what Mr. Beech assumes about me, but I am sure that it is similarly unflattering. At the very least I know that he thinks me a heretic, a position that I am not unaccustomed to being in.

The irony of fundamentalism is that, while it is an attempt to recapture the past, it uses an entirely modern lens to view and interpret an ancient text. When I appeal to a non-literal reading of scripture I am actually engaged in the task that fundamentalists claim to be engaged in: recapturing the way that scripture used to be read. This is no heresy. It is not dangerous, and it does not lead to a loss of faith. Rather it redeems faith in a world that does not understand faith, and shows that faith and reason are not incompatible because they have totally different projects.

That said, I do not feel that Mr. Beech has done anything for which he ought to apologize, and it is for that reason alone that I will not accept his apology. However, I do accept the spirit with which I hope he offered the apology.

Tom said...

If we’re using sitting in a chair as a metaphor, then I'll offer this. I always sit tentatively. There are a few reasons for this. The first is that I have bad knees and I do almost everything tentatively. The second involves the fact that when I was younger, I used to lean back in chairs all the time.

My family had wooden chairs that we used in the kitchen and dining room. We had several extras that were in various states of stability. I would always have at my desk one of the chairs that was no longer approved for dining room use. When sitting at my desk to write, draw, do homework, think, or whatever else one might do at a desk, I would lean back often in my chair.

My mother would tell me that it wasn’t good for the chair, but I wouldn’t listen. Inevitable the chair would begin to fall apart under the strain of a growing boy constantly leaning back in it. On more than one occasion, my chair became such that it would no longer hold my weight. As I went to sit in it (sitting with “reckless abandon”) it would fall apart underneath me sending me painfully to the floor.

After a few times of having a chair fall apart while you sit in it, any act of sitting (even a “cautious” one) becomes an act of faith.

I leave it to you to figure out what this story means. But I hope that it serves as an example of the limited nature of anecdotal metaphors in arguments.

Sandalstraps said...

I like the chair metaphor, as far as it goes. But it does demonstrate the difficulty of using metaphors to describe our relationship with God. On the one hand we almost have to use metaphors, because common language totally fails to accurately describe God. On the other hand, God cannot really be compared to anything, as God is so unlike everything else. What is true of God, and how we relate to God, may not be similarly true of anything else, or any other relationship.

The chair metaphor was brought in to discuss whether or not one can (at least theoretically) have faith without belief. Brian Beech has done an excellent job demonstrating that, per his understanding of faith and belief, it is absurd to state that one can have faith without belief. Tom has provided a very interesting counterpoint, and one to which I am very sympathetic.

But we are not really discussing the relationship between faith and belief as it pertains to sitting in a chair. We are discussing the relationship between faith and belief as it concerns our relationship with God. It may or may not be possible to sit in a chair, having faith that the chair will hold you, without having a sufficient level of belief that the chair will hold. Either way, that still doesn't teach us whether or not it is possible to have faith in God without believing that there is a God, or a God of a particular description recognizable to Christians as God.

I have usually found myself arguing about the distinction between faith and belief from another angle: demonstrating to congregations through my sermons that belief is not enough, that faith transcends mere belief. I argue that belief is intellectual agreement with a statement or set of statements, while faith is a condition of total dependency. Then I tell a story roughly like this:

I believe, on the basis of good, solid evidence, that it is safer to fly in an airplane than it is to drive in a car. Every reputable study has confirmed this, and I am certain that it is the case. Do I, then, have faith in air travel? Not at all! You have to drag me through the airport kicking and screaming to get me on a plane.

This demonstrates that there is a distinction between faith and belief, and it demonstrates the truth of very uncontroversial statement that it is possible to have belief without faith. I assume that we all can agree on that. What it does not do is demonstrate my earlier (and unsupported) statement that it is possible to have faith without belief. That statement is much more difficult to argue for, and I suspect that there is no arguement that I can offer which will satisfy anyone who does not already accept the statement as more or less true.

That said, here's my best shot:

Someone close to me is an alcoholic, and so through this person I have learned a little bit about alcoholism, and recovery from it. I know that AA is a program which attempts to connect alcoholics with their Higher Power, by which they usually mean God.

Many alcoholics have serious issues with organized religion, issues which were brought about by possibly well meaning but mean spirited holier-than-thou religious types. Those issues with religion often project themselves onto the term "God." God is a very loaded term, representing a very loaded concept. The idea of God, and the ways in which we represent this idea, illicit a profound emotional responce in many people. Sometimes this is a positive response, sometimes it is a negative response.

Someone who has been ill treated by religious people, who are God's representatives in the world, may not be too terribly inclined to believe in God, at least in the way in which we would like them to. But when they hit rock bottom they have to turn to something. I propose that this turning to something, this submission to a Higher Power, this relinquishing of control which preceeds true recovery, is an act of faith. As such it is, since it is not yet accompanied by belief, an example of faith without belief.

Brian Beech said...

Chris...

Concerning your reply to me, I have decided that I will not reply directly to that one. I feel as if we have gotten to the point where talking about certain things in your post would do neither of us, or your readers, any good. And as Christians I think we should stay away from arguing. I do feel it is productive to talk about differences in beliefs in a good nature. Even if neither of us change our beliefs, I do feel it helps me. It definately makes me spend more of the day thinking about things of God, which I need to do more often!


Tom…

I would say that I disagree with you on the limitations of anecdotal metaphors in arguments, not completely, but in the case of the ‘faith-in-chairs’ metaphor. Overall I would say that many arguments can not be explained well enough by these metaphors as was shown by Chris’ statement “God cannot really be compared to anything, as God is so unlike everything else”. I would say then that we may only be able to explain attributes of God (as we know them by our limited knowledge) by these metaphors and not God as He is; complete and whole.

What I took from your post was that you had been let down in the past by chairs and that you were cautioned against chairs from an early age, all the way through adolescence (I’m assuming). Growing up in a home where the chairs could be suspect would, I think, condition a person to not fully believe that the chair would hold him/her. I would then state as my opinion that the person that grew up in that household has been taught/conditioned that a chair might fail to do its job at any time. I believe that said person would not fully believe that the chair would hold him/her and therefore those doubts would not allow them to have faith (a condition of total dependency  taken from Chris’ last post) in the chair.

Putting Tom’s response into action with God and faith, I would say that God has not let anyone down, ever, so there would be no reason to doubt Him at all; unlike the chairs that were suspected to fall to pieces. I say God has not let anyone down because of the following. I believe that even if we feel we have been let down it is our misunderstanding of what God’s will is. I can run through a thousand of scenarios for that, but they are all hypothetical, so I will spare you. Keeping in mind that God has not let anyone down, there would be no reason to doubt him intellectually and, in my mind/view, this would allow you to have faith if you so chose to.

Chris…

The only real question I have from your last post was brought up in my mind when I read the last section of your post. I wonder if you think that after the person hits rock bottom and turns toward God, it is done out of faith or desperation? If he/she is turning to God, I would argue that they then believe that there is a God. I say that because if they were at rock bottom and needed to turn to something, why not look to turn toward the Tooth Fairy? I think they wouldn’t look to that because they do not believe in the Tooth Fairy. This is why I think they must have belief before they can have faith.

Sandalstraps said...

The person who, in my example, turns to God, is unaware that it is to God that they are turning. They are turning to God because God, unlike the Tooth Fairy, is there to be turned to. But, for all I know, in their stupor they may (mistakenly) believe that they are turning to the Tooth Fairy. Of course, they aren't, because there is no Tooth Fairy to turn to, and even if there were, I wonder what exactly the Tooth Fairy would have to offer a drunk at Rock Bottom.

So they turn to God, not because they believe that there is a God to whom they can turn, but because there is, regardless of their beliefs, a God to whom they can turn. This God is that to which every act of devotion or faith is ultimately directed, because God is the only proper object of faith or devotion.

Tom said...

The chair never let anyone down. The chair did that which it was supposed to do. When it fell apart it was not the chair's but the sitter's fault. The sitter misused and abused the chair and the chair then responded in the way that the sitter was warned (by his mother) about.

The problem with metaphors is two-fold. One, they have to be interpereted correctly. Two, they are vaugue over-generalizations stated as absolutes. Does this mean that they cannot be effective in describing God (or anything else, for that matter)? No. But we often over simplify God and all complicated issues. Over reliance on anecdotal stories and metaphors only makes this worse.

Like Chris said, God is not reducible to a chair nor is faith reducible to the act of sitting.

I made up this story to illustrate that some peole can make great steps of faith that to some of us may seem small and possibly not even faith at all. The only judge of these steps is God. We would do well not to get into the judging business.

Sometimes we forget that our "hypothetical" arguments have real world casualties.

Chappy said...

Master's degree powers....activate!

On a humorous note, Chris, I believe that the Tooth Fairy could offer a drunk at Rock Bottom fresh breath and improved dental health. Unfortunately, fresh and minty breath is the last thing needed in such a situation. Alas, I digress.

Speaking for myself, faith and belief (in my mind, that is) are related, but in a curious way. I offer this not as a rebuttal to the previous posts, but as my own little adventure into the subject.

Faith, to me, is embracing that which cannot be fully understood by the human mind. Belief, once again in my opinion, is mere acknowledgement. One can believe that God exists and still not have faith or be a Christian. That being said, the interesting part comes up when one decides to believe that Christ is the Son of God and that He died for our sins to save us from death. At this point faith, by necessity, enters the picture because mere acknowledgement of such an idea doesn't really make much sense. I say this because believing such a claim at face value would be insane if not for faith. Without faith, Jesus is merely a carpenter with a complex; with it, He is our Savior and Redeemer. I have no parables or analogies for you, just my thoughts.

Regarding Jonah, there are several stories in the Old Testament that seem rather silly if taken at face value. As Chris mentioned earlier, the literal interpretation of a text (by “text” I am referring to the stories themselves and not the entire Old Testament) that was meant to be an allegorical teaching tool for a largely illiterate population warps the nature of the text. The story of Noah in Genesis is believed by many scholars to be based on the Epic of Gilgamesh, a Babylonian text dating from the 26th century BC. Even if Gilgamesh predated Noah, it has no effect on my interpretation of the story or my application of it to my Christian walk. The New Testament is also full of instances where Christ and the twelve disciples heal the sick, dead, and demon-possessed. Scholars have long discussed that the demon possessed persons in these accounts are actually dealing medical conditions such as epilepsy. While the scholars in question may have been seeking to discredit Scripture or de-deify Christ, I think that they missed the point because, even if Christ healed someone of epilepsy instead of demon-possession, that is more than modern medicine can do. Christ healed a disease that we can merely treat. Praise God for that!

As for the liberal vs. conservative debate, I must say that I am a liberal, but I have my conservative leanings. I know that Christ loves homosexuals, but I have a real problem wrapping my mind around the idea that a gay man could be a Christian. Luckily, I realize my failings in dealing with this issue and continue to be open-minded about matters that I don’t fully grasp. I am not here to judge others, that role is God’s alone. I have enough sin in my life as it is, thank you very much.

There you have it folks. I may not be able to frame things in a logically coherent argument or discuss politics or philosophy in any sort of depth, but I do know what I believe and try to step out in faith daily.

As my nursing clinical instructor would put it, “Any questions, comments, snide remarks?”

Sandalstraps said...

I'm glad to see that Chappy has taken time from his extraordinarily busy schedule to join the fray with his unique and whimsical contribution! Chappys are wise, powerful and wonderful creatures.

Having known a few scholars I doubt that the aim of most of them is anything like an attempt to de-deify Christ or discredit scripture, though alas that was true of many scholars at the turn of the twentieth century. Most of them are simply trying to arrive at something resembling the truth.

My favorite treatment of scripture, as I have mentioned before, comes from Johanna W.H. van Wijk-Bos, who teaches at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (and, as a point of disclosure, she was my advisor in my brief time there). While she is a scholar, she is also an ordained Presbyterian (USA) minister who views her scholarly work as being in the service of the church. Many conservatives, of course, would not see how her interpretaion of scripture and her method of studying scripture could possibly serve the church, as it so contrasts with their dogmatic system. But she sees scholarship as something which builds up faith.

Brian Beech said...

Chris…

(From two posts ago) I think that when the person, the drunk, turns to God without knowing it, he/she is not turning to God, but rather an idea. You mentioned that the person would be “relinquishing of control which preceeds true recovery, is an act of faith.”. Who/What does this person relinquish control to? It is my view that faith must be put into something. I think this person would be putting their faith in an idea and not God, who is more than just an idea (I’m sure we all agree). To be honest, I am not sure how a person would put faith into an idea (not saying this is impossible, just that I do not understand how this would be done).

Tom…

“I made up this story to illustrate that some peole can make great steps of faith that to some of us may seem small and possibly not even faith at all. “ I agree completely, well stated. But, the chair metaphor was used to show an intimate tie between faith and belief, not to judge whether someone was or was not being faithful. And to as you stated, “The only judge of these steps is God. “. I agree, so judging was not the intention of the metaphor.

Chappy…

The only comment I will make is; I think that a homosexual can be a Christian. I feel that homosexuality is a sin, but I also feel that it is a sin just like lust. If I lust, I have sinned. This does not mean that I am not forgiven of that sin if I repent and ask for forgiveness.

The difference, to me, is that I am not trying to lust or have a lifestyle of lust. Even if I feel that it is 'natural' for me to lust, I still would try to fight the urge to do so. I do not want the church to accept my lust as an acceptable lifestyle or make excuses for it.

But, in the same sense, I do not want the church to throw me out on my ear if I do lust. (it is a bit different because no one can see if I lust, whereas, it is visible to live a lifestyle of homosexuality). Either way, I think that if a homosexual comes to church and says he/she is trying to live for God then the church should support that person.

Tom said...

We often like to label something like homosexuality as a "lifestyle" sin. The fact of the matter is that we all live "lifestyles" that are sinful. Me are all by nature selfish and self absorbed.

All sin is rooted in considering yourself above all others (considering our own will above the will of God, for instance). To say that we do not sin in the way that homosexuals do because we do not engage in this "lifestyle" sin is really ignoring the extent of our own sinful nature.

I do not believe that we do anyone any justice when we label some sins "lifestyle" sins, and some just little goofs and errors in judgement. That is particularly the case when we label other people's sins as the "lifestyle" sins and our own as the little goofs.

Tom said...

"If you had doubt in the chair’s ability to hold you, you would not sit in it like an everyday chair. You would ease into it and slowly shift all of your weight on it, not sit with “reckless abandon” (I know, sitting with reckless abandon is a strange phrase). If you had ‘faith’ (is totally depending on) in the ability of the chair, slowly sitting would not be needed."

Brian,

My chair story/metaphor/whatever was not told to debunk your use of a chair as a metaphor for God. It was told to explain how one could have faith, yet sit "slowly", as well as to show that metaphors can (or should)only be taken so far.

As for the tie between faith and belief, that is for you and Chris to discuss. I believe you all are in more agreement than you realize. You are just opporating with different definitions of the terms. As always I could be wrong about this.

Tom said...

Yes, I am an idiot who cannot spell "operating". I offer no excuses for myself.

Brian Beech said...

Tom...

Just so we're clear:

When I spoke of a "lifestyle" I did not mean to insinuate that other sins were “just little goofs and errors in judgement”. My point was actually that if I struggle with the sin of lust, I am just as accountable as any other sin. I said “lifestyle” not to label homosexuality as a different sin categorically, rather that many homosexuals choose to live that lifestyle (in my opinion). If I attempt to stop lusting and try hard not to do it everyday; I believe that that is quite different than accepting it as my true nature. So, I wasn’t trying to say that I am any better than someone whom is homosexual, to the contrary, I imagine I sin every bit as much and to be quite honest, probably more.

Amy said...

Brian - You yourself admit that we all live in lifestyles of sin, and we each struggle to handle that sin in the best way we know how. You also say that if someone says they are genuinely striving to live that out, they should not be cut out from the churches. In fact, I'm sure you would say that all members, leaders, etc. of the church are struggling with their own habitual sins in this same way. You yourself mention lust as an example. However, one way in which straight people in the church handle their issues of lust is through marriage. Even though Paul says it is better not to; that marriage is for those who are too weak to remain celibate and devote themselves completely to God;we still welcome and affirm and ordain those who choose this path to handle their own personal struggles. Should we not also offer that same grace to those who are struggling with lust towards those of their same gender, and handling it through an equivalent relationship? If a faithful and monogamous homosexual relationship is the best that they can do, isn't it better for us to welcome them honestly into membership and leadership then to force them into silence or relegate them to only partial participation by saying "You're welcome to worship with us, but we can't allow you to use your gifts..." And if we choose to exclude those in homosexual relationships, don't we also need to exclude all married people, since Paul treats marriage as an accomodation to sin?

Now, I'm not suggesting we purge all married leaders from our congregations. As we saw in the Shakers, that's a sure way to make certain the extinction of Christianity ;) I do believe that whether or not homosexuality is sinful is completely irrelevant to the question of including the GLBT population in the life of the church. We are all sinful; we all fall short of the glory of God on a daily basis; none of us has all the answers and believes rightly. Why, then, to we place a larger emphasis on some potential aspects of this than others? It is simply our social pride, our desire for status and power as a community; if we can exclude people, then we can exert a certain power over them and indulge our own egotism. This is a social sin that the church is regularly falling prey to, and it is easiest to exclude through behaviors and traits that are visible, just as congregations have traditionally excluded people on the basis of race, class, and gender. The homosexuality issue is another aspect of our sinful desire for power in the church.

It's not a simple matter to proclaim whats biblical. You say that you have a hard time imagining Christ asking that we take "Under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance. I have a hard time imaging that Christ would sit quietly by while we pledge our allegiance to the flag, a modern day graven image, and devoted ourself to the unthinking, unflinching obedience to a government that is also inherently sinful because it is of our making. I think "Under God" has no place in the pledge of allegiance because it ascribes to God the oppressive power imbalances that are our own creation.
Thank you for listening to this voice of dissent.

Sandalstraps said...

I'd like to thank Amy for saying what I wish I had said better than I could have said it.

I also hope that more conservatives show up, because no one benefits when everyone (or, in this case, almost everyone) agrees. That creates an unhealthy, and uncritical, echo-chamber. I'm glad that at least one conservative has the guts to do what I used to do, which is to engage an environment that is stacked against them and provide a necessary counterpoint. I hope Brian Beech brings reinforcements, because we need a good, civil, debate.

Brian Beech said...

Amy…

I do not think I made clear what I meant by the word ‘lifestyle’. When I say that in this sense, I mean that the person who has a lifestyle of homosexuality has accepted their sin and made it a part of their daily life. I sin everyday. I do not accept that sin as part of my daily life and I try to model Christ more everyday, though I continually fail. It is this acceptance that I think other Christians should not forgive (I don’t mean forgive in the literal sense, but more as overlook).

If I accepted lust as my ‘acceptable’ sin and the church knew that I accepted that as a part of ‘me’, I believe that they should treat me the same as the practicing homosexual. They should love me but not make excuses for my sin and try to dismiss it. If a homosexual was in church and said they were trying to change, they should be treated like every other member of the church that struggles with any sin.

The reason that I believe ‘marriage is welcomed and affirmed by the church’ is because it says it in the Bible: “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;”. If the Bible spoke of two men being together and saying that it was okay for man to cleave to another man, I would have to say it is okay, but for this reason I think the church believes the way it does, not simply because we want to exclude certain groups. But, it does say the opposite: “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination. ”. Of course it is throughout the Bible that men should not “Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind…” So, I do not believe it is our “social pride” or desire to “exert a certain power over them”, I believe it is wrong Biblically. That being said, do not think that I feel this way about homosexuals only, rather every person that desires to bring sin into the church and make it acceptable.

As far as the “Under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, if it were being argued that it should be taken out for reasons that we do not respect God enough to have it in there, I would have more of an ear to listen, but not for the reason of ‘separation of Church and State’. Taking it out for that reason is more of a separation from Church, or rather a desire to remove God from the forefront (if we can even argue that He is there in America today), which I don’t think any of us should want. As far as our “obedience” to a government that is sinful, should we claim no church, nation, or religion? Surely all of these things have been touched by man and are, needless to say, plagued by sin? Removing God does not make the situation better, but only encourages more sin. Since reading/writing on this blog, I spend more of my day thinking of the things of God and I am sure it has helped me sin less. Putting God in the forefront would help all of us and remind us that we are here for a reason, not just a ride.

Chris…

I rather enjoy having the deck stacked against me. ;) And to be honest, I know a lot of people whom share my beliefs that will not listen to a conflicting view. Some get angry, upset, or just bewildered that people believe things differently. The last thing I want on here is a person who shares my beliefs to get angry and affirm what, I expect, the people on this board are waiting for. Judgement and anger. I’ll keep writing my beliefs/thoughts, but you have to give me some slack on the weekends, I’m usually quite busy. :)

Sandalstraps said...

The phrase "separation of church and state", it has often been pointed out by conservatives, appears nowhere in the U.S. Constitution. It is often argued that this phrase, and the idea which it represents, is a gross expansion of the non-establishment clause of the Constitution.

The origins of this phrase have always interested me. I find it ironic that, while most conservatives (particularly, for some reason, Baptists) assume that it was coined by someone like Thomas Jefferson, who sought to minimize the role that institutional religion would play in the new nation, it was actually coined by a collection of early American Baptists.

These Baptists rightly feared that if the government overlapped too much which organized religion, then the government might have the authority to regulate religious organizations. Baptists had long been the victims of such religious regulations by the government.

In England, for instance, all non-Aglican ministers had to register with the government and be liscenced by the government. If they said anything which displeased the governments regulators of religion then their liscences to preach could be revoked. As the Baptists taught a theology which so contradicted the prevailing theology in England they were subject to extreme regulation, and were often censored.

Yet now Baptist decry an idea which they formed, because they have reached the point where their theology is the dominant theology. This is another example of how religion is not immune to the corrosive affects of power.

The way in which the non-establishment clause has long been interpreted, which is the backbone of what we now call the separation of church and state, prevents the majority religion from imposing itself on the minority religions. It protects not only the irreligious, but also the religious. This is why the ACLU - a nemisis of the religious right but a protector of the freedoms of all Americans, including those on the religious right - is so keen to defend it.

The ACLU fights for the preservation of a barrier between the church and the state not because they desire to curtail private religious expression, but because they know that public religious expression (in this case not private parties expressing their religious beliefs publically, but public parties, such as the state, endorsing a religious idea or institution) infringes on the freedoms of all people.

When the state formally endorses a religious idea, such as by adding the words "under God" to the pledge of allegiance, that state is imposing that religious idea on its entire population. I for one, though I certainly believe in God, do not want the state to have that kind of power.

Princess Pinky said...

Brian Beech said...
It is this acceptance that I think other Christians should not forgive (I don’t mean forgive in the literal sense, but more as overlook).

I have never been a practicing homosexual, however I left my home and the church I grew up in to live with a guy 2,000 miles from home when I was sixteen. This,I think,is a lifestyle like what Brian is talking about.

Unfortunatly, when I returned, having "changed" I was not welcomed back. These people, who had changed my diapers and watched me grow up and who were instrumental in forming my view of God and my place in His kingdom, could not show me the grace they had taught me as a child.

We must be careful when we try to help save people from their sins for it not for us to do. A cold shoulder can not do what the Holy Spirit does.

Tom said...

Brian,

While you claim not to be doing so, you are still presenting an argument that appears to claim that homosexual sin is worse than your own sin. The argument that they have accepted their "sin" as a part of themselves that they wish not to change while you (and the rest of us, for that matter) wish to no longer go on sinning is that same "lifestyle sin" argument that you made originally, just dressed differently. I'm having trouble with the idea that you don't see that.

Your view on homosexuality reminds me (perhaps unfairly) of a former pastor of mine. I was leading worship at the church when he arrived as the pastor. Our first conversation was about his view of "appropriate" methods and instrumentation for the leading of worship. In his opinion, the guitar (my main instrument) is an inferior instrument and incapable of adequately leading worship and therefore an "inappropriate" instrument for worship. He was willing, however, to allow me to continue to lead the worship on guitar and would not allow his beliefs on instrumentation to hinder me.

This did not work. All of our encounters were tempered by the fact that I knew that he disapproved of the way I did my job in the church. He never really verbally expressed as much. It just radiated from him. He could not hide his belief that I was doing what he held sacred in a way that he believed was inferior. It did not take long for me to find a job elsewhere.

Maintaining the distiction you seem to need to maintain between homosexuality and your own sin does to the homosexual what this pastor did to me. No matter how hard you may try to be loving your views will most likely affect those relationships.

It also concerns me that your arguments against homosexuality seem to be backed only by proof-texting the Bible. If I were so inclined, I could use proof-texting to "prove" that my children should be put to death for disagreeing with their mother or me. Obviously I would be in error because there is no reasonable excuse for killing your own small children. There may be reasonable arguments for treating homosexuality as just blatant hedonism, but proof-texting is an irresponsible way to make those arguments. I will also put out here what I am sure you already suspect: I am not convinced that homosexuality is a sin in and of itself.

Brian Beech said...

Chris…

ACLU…as you can imagine, I would love to delve into this, but rather I know I do not have a good attitude about this and choose not to go down that road. Whether it was the Baptist that started the separation of Church and State is irrelevant to me. I do think the state should stay out of the church and I do think the church should not run the government, but God is not associated with one denomination/church over another. So, having God in the government is not ascribing to one denomination. Feel free to have the last word on the ACLU. :)

Princess Pinky…

I agree that we can not save people from their sins; that is a job that Jesus has taken care of. I’m sorry that you were not welcomed back into your church/community. You must remember than men aren’t perfect and we can not look toward men. They were, in my mind, obviously wrong for not showing you the love that you deserved and needed. The church should also remember that no man is perfect and welcome those that are trying to get their lives right with the Lord back into the church. Many churches are guilty of ‘shooting their wounded’ instead of nourishing them back to health. I think this is one of the largest failures of the church today.

Tom…

I was not attempting to change my stance on “lifestyle”, but instead, I was trying clarify what I meant by lifestyle. The acceptance of the sin is what I think is not welcome in the church. Hear me very clearly here, any person, I or anyone else, that tries to bring sin (any sin) into the church and make it acceptable should not be welcomed into the church as a member with all rights and privileges. This includes myself if I decide that I will lust (or any other sin) and just accept that as a part of my nature.

I was talking about homosexuality because a comment was made about that and I addressed it. It was not made to point out homosexuals and try to beat them down. I realize that this happens quite often by churches and Christians and I am not defending that. I’m as guilty as everyone else in this world of sinning and I hope you do not think I am trying to say otherwise.

As far as taking God’s word out of context, I don’t believe I did such a thing, although I can not copy a whole chapter into this blog. I took the verses because they are easily found in the Bible and I’m sure we all have a copy and can check them out, and I expect we all do. If you find where I have taken something out of context, tell me what I have done wrong; point out where I have gone wrong or misinterpreted what you believe It is saying. Don’t accuse me of taking them out of context as a generalization, please, tell me how I’ve taken them out of context.

It is probably partially my fault for not putting the Book, chapter, and verse numbers on there, so forgive my incomplete post. Those verses were Leviticus Chapter 18 Verse 22. This chapter is where God told Moses to tell the children of Israel the ordinances and statues they were to keep. The other verse is I Corinthians Chapter 6 Verse 9. Instructs Christians not to go to courts to handle their matters for they are brothers, then it lists some sins which, if one is not saved, will shut him/her out of the Kingdom. I took one from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament so we can see that it was a sin in the old days and in the new days.

Tom said...

Brian,

Don't get too defensive. I did not say you took anything out of context. The problem is not anything you specifically stated or quoted, but the method that you chose to employ.

To make a better argument, instead of just quoting a verse here and a verse there, why not quote the section you believe supports your argument, and then make an argument that acknowledges the historical context and background of the section and why you believe based on all of this that the section should be interperated such that it supports your argument? It seems like a lot more (unnecessary?) steps. But the end result is a much more sound argument that cannot be dismissed out of hand by people like me based soley on the method and not the message.

Tom said...

Brian,

Sorry for the dilapidatedness of my continuing this argument across two comments. I had to leave in the middle of the first to take my son to school.

I am wondering how you would deal with the pastoral issue of not allowing those who "accept" their sinfulness membership in the church. This seems to me to be a bigger issue for homosexuals than the rest of us because we all bring in and accept certain degrees of sin, their "sin" is just a little bit more obvious to us unless they are still in the closet.

The Bible mentions issues that could be constued reasonably as what we know of as homosexuality. It does not, however mention them nearly as often as social justice issues and issues of the heart.

About 80% of my church does not tithe. We are very clearly and specifically called to tithe (both Biblically and culturally; if this calling is not assumed or conceeded on your part then I will be more than happy to delve deeper into the matter at a later date) and our pastor has remined us of this on several occasions in my few years there. This is an act of sinfully withholding that which God has demanded from us. We have "accepted" this sin because year in and year out we continue to not tithe. Should all who do not tithe, or do not give as they should to the poor, or do not visit the sick and imprisoned, or do not adequately care for the needy, or turn their backs on injustice be denied membership in the church? We do these things constantly and habitually. We do them intentionally and through a lifestyle of selfishness and apathy to those in need.

Any look at poverty both here and in the rest of the world indicates that the church is not doing its job and that we seem to "accept" that. Should we then all be denied membership?

I don't know of any instance in which Jesus specifically condemned someone because of sexual immorality. I only know of a few instances in which condemnation is mentioned or alluded to. One is in Matthew (25:31-48) which I believe sheds some light on God's priorities and preferences for the way we are to behave.

Righteousness in this passage does not appear to be the absence of sin, but the presence of compassion and love. I'd take a gay man who gives selflessly and out of love and compassion over the rest of us "righteous" people any day.

Sandalstraps said...

The claim that there is a God is a religious claim. The claim that America, as a nation, is under and accountable to God is also a religious claim, and a claim that we would all do well to heed. I happen to believe these claims, but my belief does not make them less religious.

That the words "under God" are in the pledge of allegiance of this country means that, in order to pledge your allegiance to this country, you must believe the religious claims in the above paragraph.

The implication of that is that atheists cannot be good citizens of the United States, because they do not believe in a God. Buddhists cannot be good citizens of the United States because they, too, do not believe in a God. Hindus cannot be good citizens of the United States, because they believe in more than one God. People who practice Native American religions cannot be good citizens of the United States, because they believe in spirits rather than a God or gods.

When the official pledge of allegiance of the United States of America implies that each of these groups, and a whole host of other groups, cannot be good citizens of the United States for religious reasons, then we have, in my opinion, violated the non-establishment clause.

In endorsing a religious idea the pledge of allegiance establishes that religious idea as binding on all Americans who wish to be loyal to their country. That I happen to agree with the religious idea in question does not make me any less afraid.

Brian Beech said...

Tom...

I'm not saying they should not be members and welcomed in the church, I said with all rights and benefits. What I mean by that is; the people that decide to accept their sin and continue to live in it should not be in certain positions in the church. Yes, I think this does apply to people who do not tithe. How can a person be the chairman of the deacons or the pastor if he does not follow God's word?

So, I limit this not to homosexuals alone, but every sin that one decides to accept. Keep in mind, no man is perfect, so I do not think we should extend that to people who are trying to live according to the Bible, otherwise we would have no one worthy of work in the church. Simply the people who accept their sin as a lifestyle choice.

Chris...

Our country was founded because of religion, and Christianity of all things. So, to rip any reference to God out of the public eye is to forget our history and deny it based on less than 5% of the population. The protection of the church from the gov't was/is needed, but now it is being abused and they are trying to protect the gov't from the church, which is not why that was created. We have freedom of religion, but not freedom from religion.

Sorry to be so short today, quite busy.

Sandalstraps said...

Sorry, but our country wasn't founded because of religion. While religion was one of many influences acting on the founders of our country, it certainly wasn't the only, or even primary influence.

And removing the words "under God" from the pledge of allegiance does not in any way, shape or form prevent religious people from expressing their religious views in public. It simply keeps the government from imposing religious views on the population.

That 95% of the population (or so Mr. Beech claims, and I have no reason to doubt it) believes in God does not mean that they should be allowed to officially impose their beliefs of the 5% that doesn't. The reason why we have a constitutional government instead of a pure democracy is to prevent the majority from imposing tyrany on the minority. To impose religious views on another is a tyranical act.

Government imposition of religion of the population is also bad from the perspective of religion, because it creates weakly religious people whose conversions are shallow. I do not want my son claiming that there is a God simply because he is forced to in rote repetition drills every day before school starts (which is all the pledge of allegiance is). I want him claiming that there is a God because that claim provides his life with meaning.

Why do conservatives insist on imposing by the force of government the trappings of religion on an irreligious population? It certainly isn't because of the example of Christ.

Tom said...

Brian,

I don't guess that I buy your argument that we can accept people as members, but with qualifications; that we restrict what certain members can aspire to do within the church. Maybe I'm too black and white on the issue, but I say that we either accept them or we don't.

I also still do not believe that we do anyone any good to differentiate between "lifestyle" sins and other sins. My belief is that any sin that we engage in is "accepted" by us to a certain extent. Therefore, to me the logical conclusion to your belief system is that we are all unfit to command any leadership within the church unless we have obtained perfection.

This is because the sins that we commit are neither isolated incidents nor incidental mistakes. We all intentionally, calculatedly, and consistently sin by either doing what we know we ought not do, or by not doing what we know we ought to do. These are all by their nature "accepted" "lifestyle" choices we all make. Short of that intentional defiance of the known will of God, it is not sin.

One can not accidently sin, it is an intentional act. And to say that one performs actions that he or she does not "accept" on some level is to deny that person's personal accountability for his or her own actions.

It is for these reasons that I do not buy your distiction between the type of "lifestyle" sins you describe as engaged in by homosexuals (and others) and the type of sin that you or I or any other "good" church-going person who intends to follow Biblical examples may commit.

Brian Beech said...

Tom...

Since you think they are one in the same, would you condone me being promiscuous eventhough I have a wife? Should that keep me from being the leader of music in the church? Or should I stand up there and say I love God and Praise Jesus but at the same time continue to sleep with different women/men everyday?

Do you really think that is the same as struggling with sin? No man will know another's heart, but surely you could see if I accepted my promiscuity as natural and didn't apologize for it. If I wanted the church to accept that as just 'what I do', I am in the wrong. Do I then not deserve or need to be ministered to? I would say I need it quite a bit. So that is why I think we should welcome practicing homosexuals but not give them leadership roles or tell them their sin is okay.

If we take your stance, as I understand it, then we should all just do whatever we want and no one really struggles with sin, because we do it on purpose.

I will tell you that I do not sin intentionally. I fall, I stumble, and I am not perfect, but it is not because I desire to do that; it is because I am weak. Being weak and sorry is much different than doing wrong and standing by it and defending it. God knows the hearts of men, so He will know if we choose to sin or if we stumble and sin. He also knows if we are sorry or if we are just being willfully disobedient.

So, although you may not "buy" it, I believe there is a huge distinction between lifestyle and weakness.

Sandalstraps said...

I'm not sure that there is a difference between lifestyle and weakness; or, at least, I am not sure that either of those are very good terms for describing an important distinction.

If Tom is right in his argument for allowing gays to be in roles of leadership in the church (and this deals only with his argument, and not with the issues of gays having roles of leadership within the church, which I am in favor of) then there are no moral grounds for excluding anyone from leadership, which is a serious pastoral problem.

The community of faith ought to be able to determine when that invisible line between incidental occurance of sin and persistent immorality has been cross, and ought to be able to exclude from leadership those who cross that line and are persistently immoral.

That said, as homosexuality is not necessarily a sinful lifestyle (see my argument in the most recent post) gays, as gays, should not be excluded from leadership. That said, churches need to retain the freedom to determine for themselves what consitutes moral and immoral behavior, and ought not tolerate persistently immoral behavior from their leaders. I just wish that they would not continue the prejedice against homosexuals.

That said, this conversation has gone on for a very long time, and I hope that soon the topic will change, and the comments will find their way to another post on this blog.

Tom said...

Brian,

I do not suggest that we "accept" all sin, but that we are irresponsible when we continually label others' sins as worse than our own. I know that's not what you claim to be doing, but I just can't see your argument any other way.

I believe that we are all unfit to lead in certain ways. I acknowledge that my argued position has pastoral shortcomings. If we are all unfit to lead then either all of us should be able to lead or none of us should be able to lead. Neither of these is a tenable situation. My real problem here I guess is our seeming need to scapegoat homosexuals.

As I argued previously, homosexuals are the one group most affected by your "lifestyle" sin label. You honestly assessed that those who do not tithe should be withheld from positions of leadership. But what about those who do not give what they should to the poor, are of uncaring disposition, or are just plain selfish people? Those are all as much a "lifestyle" sin as the lack of tithing (which you seemingly accept in this "lifestyle" category). Should they not also be excluded?

This then leads down the same path as my argument. Who can lead and who can't? Where do we draw the line defining who is "struggling" and who is just plain (for lack of better word) evil? Too often it is we that are just struggling and those unlike us that are evil. (Evil may be an unfairly inflamatory word here, but I can't think of a more appropriate word at this time.)

I have been told (not by you, as you surely already know) that each church should then decide what they are willing to tolerate from their leaders and what they aren't. I'm afraid that that position enables each church to persecute some "sinners" (particularly homosexuals) based on their own prejudices.

I honestly don't know the pastoral solution for this problem. But I think that we do need to be more conscious of our own sins (particularly the sins we commit by failing to do what we know God wants us to do, rather than just by sleeping with the wrong people) in light of the passage in Matthew (25:31-48) I previously mentioned (as well as the comprehensive teachings of Jesus found in all the Gospels).

I also do not believe that the case for homosexuality being a sin in and of itself (for example- when practiced in monogomous relationships, as legal marriage is not currently an option) is as clear as you would like to believe. (See Chris' post on homosexuality for a more comprehensive argument than I can make in this format.) It seems to me that we exclude homosexuals from leadership (and yes, often even membership) because their "sin" is more apparant to us than our own.

I am not saying that you are unaware of your own sin. And I do acknowledge that you include more than just homosexuals as "lifestyle" sinners. I just believe that we have got to be careful when we start labeling some types of sins as worse than others, because I know no one that would honestly claim that his own sins are something that he does in direct, intentional defiance of God's will and therefore should exclude him from acceptance in the church. Yet that is what all of our sins are. (By the way, anyone who would claim that his own sinful nature should exclude him from leadership may be more qualified than you or me to lead.)

You argue that you sin out of weakness. That may be true. However I am fairly certain that when you do sin you know what you are doing at the time (I know I do). I have also noticed that my own sins follow an all too repetitive patern of selfishness and misplaced priorities. We may be weak, but we know when we sin, and we do it on purpose.

We have all sinned. We have all fallen short of that which God requires of us. That His grace redeems us does not make us any better than anyone else. That we feel badly afterward (or even during) does not make us better than anyone else. We're all sinful.

I understand that we need to hold the leaders of the church to a higher standard. But we also need to hold ourselves to a higher standard (particularly if we are the leaders of the church) and not excuse our own sinfulness as something we do not "accept" of ourselves or make those sins which we do not commit to be more "sinful" than the sins which we do commit.

I don't have a clear answer for the best way for handling this dilemma. That is because there are no clear or easy answers. I implore you to examine your beliefs about homosexuality in light of Chris' recent posting. I do not expect you to change your views, but I would hope that you can see that it is not nearly as simple an issue or as nearly cut and dried as most conservatives believe.

I understand that we just can't hand over the reigns of leadership in the church to just anyone. But I think that it is more important to follow the example of Christ (as far as caring for the needy, feeding the poor, taking up for the oppressed, loving our neighbor, etc.) than to sleep with the "appropriate" gender.

I believe that it's time to move on from this subject. I don't intend to comment any further about it. Feel free to respond to this comment if you so choose. I don't desire to have the last word in the matter. I just feel like you know my position well at this point, and I think I know yours, too. Anything much more that we could say would most likely just be bickering over the same points over and over again which is neither respectful nor constructive. I have enjoyed this conversation very much, and have a great deal of respect and admiration for you (though these comments may not show that). I hope to discuss other matters with you at some point. You are more than welcome to visit my website and comment on anything you like (click on my name to view my profile and find it, if you haven't already). I just feel like we have exausted this particular one.