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Current church debates are enough to make a pastor feel sad — and angry

I’m a pastor. But there are days when I wonder whether I belong in the Christian Church, whether I’m really a Christian. Ever wonder that about yourself? Or have you left the church as a matter of dissent, embarrassment, or protest?

Take the last two weeks.

President Barack Obama shares his faith at a National Prayer Breakfast. He declares that we are “our brother’s keeper.” I feel proud. The comments on CNN run heavily against him. Ayn Rand’s “the virtue of selfishness” – not the story of Cain and Abel or the teaching of Jesus – has won the hearts of the people.

'Some phony theology'

Rick Santorum tells an Ohio audience that Obama’s agenda is based on “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” I feel sad … and angry.

I read the story about the church court case of the Rev. Jane Spahr, a lesbian Presbyterian minister rebuked for officiating at same-gender marriages, one of them the wedding of Lisa Bove. Lisa was an ordained student elder at the church I served at The College of Wooster. She went on to seminary and was ordained a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I feel proud of Janie and Lisa, their tenacity, their courage, their strong and gentle spirits, their deep faith. I feel sad that the church still doesn’t get it.

I’m embarrassed by how ridiculous the church debate is and how absurd this church family feud looks to the world. I want to withdraw, pull the covers over my head, go to sleep, take a sedative maybe. But I’m also angry. I want to fight. I want to weigh in on the debate. Yet to do so will only continue the polarization, the disrespect for others, the tendency on all sides of a church argument to proclaim with Little Jack Horner, “What a good boy am I!”

Stay quiet, or speak out?

If I stick my thumb in the pie, I’ll just continue the ludicrous display of Christian arrogance. What to do? To keep silent feels like abdication of conscience. To speak adds my voice to the appearance of the church’s absurdity. But I’m a fan of the Theater of the Absurd and Albert Camus, as well as Jesus.

I decide to stick my thumb in the story. The comment I posted is the first thumb in a hot pie:

“I know Jane Spahr and Lisa Bove as colleagues and love them both. Lisa was a student leader at the Westminste­r Presbyteri­an Church at The College of Wooster where I served as Pastor. Jane is that rare minister of the gospel who has managed to remain gentle and bold, acting in conscience and ecclesiast­ical disobedien­ce without becoming hard or cynical. Lisa is the same. When you’ve been working for GLBT full inclusion as long as Jane and Lisa, that’s a testimony to their soulfulnes­s. For Jane, Lisa, and so many of us, the Bible calls disciples of Jesus to live in love and to be advocates for justice. The Presbyteri­an Church (USA) last year restored an older principle of church order that removes the restrictio­n against ordaining GLBT members. The issue of marriage remains contentiou­s in the church, as it is in the society as a whole. Some pastors have declared that until church and civil law permit them to officiate at same-sex marriages, they will not marry anyone as a witness to justice. Jane and Lisa are sweet, sweet spirits whose lives bear witness to justice, love and peace, working from that inner light of courage, conscience and consolation that keeps them sane and strong.”

'Good boy!' — and 'Bad boy!'

Three replies come quickly:

1) “You are a faithful and honest servant of God. It has taken a long time, but every year there are more like you” (i.e., “What a good boy am I. Good boy! Good boy!”); and

2) “Pastors should know and preach the truth of God’s word. Please read: 1 Tim: 3:1-7 and Titus 1: 5-9 When folks go against the truth of God’s word, then they are following deceit and you should know who the great deceiver is” (“Bad boy! Bad boy!”)

3) “Let’s hope this church sees the light and retracts the rebuke. And perhaps even apologizes­.”

An apology

Then this morning a classmate sends me this story about an apology: “Christian Group Shows Up to Chicago Gay Pride Holding Apologetic Signs”:

I'm Sorry campaign demonstratorsthemarinfoundation.org

I wish I’d been there to hold one of these signs.

I’ve experienced the forgiving hugs of gay and lesbian church members. And when I write comment or a commentary like this one, I hear a little voice inside myself: “Good boy! Good boy!” Then, as soon as I feel the relief, I know I’ve fallen into the very self-righteousness I despise in others. “Bad boy! Bad boy!” and I’m back where I started: “God help us ALL!”

The Rev. Gordon C. Stewart is pastor of the Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, and moderator of First Tuesday Dialogues: "examining critical public issues locally and globally." He blogs at  www.gordoncstewart.com.

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Comments (37)

Churches are HUMAN

Do not despair, Rev. Stewart. The church is, always has been, and always will be a human institution. To expect or believe otherwise, to put our ultimate faith and hope in "the church" is to set ourselves up for disappointment (at the least).

As a human institution, peopled by and led by humans, every church's understanding, on every subject is limited by the limitations of being human. In this life, our psyches are simply too small to understand the entirety of life, each other, the world, and God adequately.

Churches which insist on denying their human limitations come to worship their own ideas, ideals, policies, practices and dogma in place of God, whom they ALWAYS understand, despite their best efforts, even with the help of the scriptures, in very limited and inadequate ways.

Rather than giving in to despair we can, first and foremost, offer prayer for those who are worshiping their own perspectives, and those of their denominations and leaders, in place of God (including, at times, ourselves) and placing their trust in those institutions which will, inevitably, prove that they lack the transcendence they claim (and we believed them to possess), will generally prove themselves to have the limitations we humans all share, and will, far too often, lead their followers away from God in favor of protecting the institution and its resources,...

offer love, comfort and support to those who have been egregiously wronged "in God's name, and...

open ourselves to God's inspiration and guidance as to when and where we, ourselves, are called to take action, even when that causes others to designate us as "bad" boys and girls (which you have done in writing this article).

We, ourselves, are human, too, and thus, cannot likely fix the entire world, but we can have impact in the situations God brings to us and to our attention, and in the circumstances God calls us to enter (which are also likely to get some of us branded as "bad" boys and girls).

Do not despair

I find myself increasing disturbed by the sniper fire from religious guns. I wrote this piece because I've grown weary of shots taken at statements our society once took more or less for granted. "I am my brother's keeper" is a Judeo-Christian expression of a teaching that cuts across virtually all religous cultures and traditions. In essence, "I bear responsibility not only for myself, but also for my neighbor." Something is terribly wrong when rocks are thrown at a President who expressed the most simple ethical maxim of neighborliness.

I had hoped that by sharing this piece it might shed some light on the slippery trail of all kinds of righteousnesss: rigtht, left and center - the slippery banana of one's own tendency toward self-reightousness. "What a good boy am I!" My tradition (the Reformed Christian tradiition of Presbyterianism) reminds me daily of the shadow of self-reightousness that follows every rigtheous claim and act, even, and perhaps especially, when we are dead right on a particular issue. Sometimes to be morally "right" is spiriutally deadly. We repeat the slaying of Abel with our tongues.

I am a pastor. I study Scripture every day and preach from the Scriptures every Sunday, and I love the church. One of the greatest gift given to a pastor is the privilege of walking in others' shoes.I've been invited to walk in so many different shoes - the raggedy shoes of the homeless man who lives under the bridge, the highly polished Johnston & Murphy Cap Toed Oxford, the shoes of the desperate criminal and the desperate Judge, the shoes of a failing college student and the shoes of tenured professor who took his own life because he hated himself. I've never met a person in whom I have not experienced the light of human dignity and worth. It saddens me when any of us demeans the other in the name of the Lord and Giver of Life.

So for me, the challenge is how to speak my mind on the critical questions of our time without slipping on the banana of self-righteousness. Thanks you for sharing and for allowing me to respond. God bless!

"The Principles of Church Order" (adopted in 1789 by the organizational meeting of the Presbyterian Church (USA) declared eight operational principles. The first began "that God alone is Lord of the conscience...." and that "we consider the rights of private judgment, in all matters taht respect religion, as universal and unalienable. We do not eve wish to see any religious constitution aided by the civil power, further than may be necessary for protection and security, and at the same time, be equal and common to all others."

Why apologize for being human?

What struck me in reading your piece - as well as this response to Mr. Kappahn - was the sense that you seem somewhat aghast at your very human reaction to events. You despair when you sense the "What a good boy I am!" reaction within yourself, and seem to want to find a way to eradicate it.

But I would propose that the reaction "What a good boy I am!" (or its converse - "Bad boy! Bad boy!") is simply a normal human function, and you can no more eradicate it and remain a functioning human being than you can eradicate the respiration of your lungs or the pumping of your heart.

It's not the reaction that matters. It's what you do when it occurs.

Take anger, for example. Anger is a very human emotion. It occurs in all of us. The fact that certain situations might elicit anger in any one of us is not what makes us a "good person" or a "bad person".

However, if someone allows themselves to act badly as a consequence of their anger (beating a spouse, hitting an animal, killing someone, etc.) then THAT is a problem.

It's not the anger that's the issue. It's our actions when it arises in us.

Similarly, I don't see any point in you beating yourself up about noting your own reaction of "What a good boy I am!". It's an emotional response, and there's nothing either inherently good or inherently bad about it.

What you are doing - and what I think is wise, given your own concerns - is simply keeping yourself aware of when that emotion arises within you, and carefully monitoring what actions of yours may or may not be influenced by that emotion.

And frankly, if feeling that emotion and then continuing to do good (not self-righteous, but genuinely good) things is the result, then I have a hard time seeing any problem in that.

Here's to introspection!

Regarding that "apologetic" church at Chicago Pride

It's old news. I'm not sure why it's all of a sudden resurfaced on the web, but I heard about it—and saw the headline photo—back in 2010. More importantly, the folks involved aren't apologizing for telling gays and lesbians that we're wrong to love the people we love—they're just putting a gloss of politeness on the same old fundamentalist bigotry.

http://slog.thestranger.com/slog/archives/2010/07/01/re-christians-prote...

Not the same old news

Thank you, Jeremy. I hear you loud and clear, and, as the link to the article makes clear, the event took place in 2010. That being said, what happened there is not old news. It was good news that some follks took it upon themselves to identify with the people in the parade, and to apologize to them for the hurt the church has inflicted on GLBT brothers and sisters.

I chose to lift up that story not because it was any longer news-worthy, but because the signs say what I feel and think. We see what our experience leads us to see. Each of us does that. I can understand how and why someone would suspect, as you do, that the sign-holders were "putting a gloss of poiliteness on the same old fundamentalist bigotry" but to say one knows their motivation says more about the critic than the sign-holders. Fundamentalist bigotry is as ugly as it gets, but it doesn't exist under the skin of everyone who holds a sign of apology. I used the signs of apology because I saw in them genuine apologies, a kind of public repentance, for the church's bigotry and violence against gays and lesbians. There are many of us could hold those signs and mean just that: "We're sorry. and more than sorry. We're working to change it. We're with you." Jane and Lisa in the commentary know that to be true. I hope you do, too.

This isn't new

Good grief, I can't believe you're that naive. This isn't new. Why do you think there are so many denominations all under the banner of "Christianity?" When people lose faith in the men and women who are leading the worship services of their congregations, they leave. Some even set up their own church with different rules and ceremonies that reflect THEIR version of the truth.

Believe me, your frustration that there's a "religious right" in this country is matched by their frustration that there's a "religious left."

You just made my point

Hi, Dennis, There's nothing naive here. Religious history is replete with "I'm going to take my marbles and go home!" My Presbyterian tradition is one of them, dating to the French and Swiss reformation of the 16th century. And the Presbyterian Church (USA) is once again experiencing an exodus of congregations and church member who cannot agree that congregations should have the right to examine candidates for church office without restriction. I AM frustrated by the religious right. I'm also frustrated with the religious left, where my sentiments primarily lie. I believe in a gospel of reconciliation, not division or self-serving self-righteousness. I often feel like Rodney King in the wake of the riots in LA who cried out in dismay: "Can't we all just get along?" If you have a moment, take a look at my reply to Greg re: conscience and forbearance. Again, thanks for your thoughts. If you care to continue the conversation, we can do that by email or on my blog, www.gordoncstewart.com.

You were bound to be dissapointed Rev.

....when you decided the alternative sexual practice du jour was a pre-eminent feature of your theology.

Personally, I've found dogma that preaches an everlasting, and unchanging morality provides much comfort. I sincerely hope your search finds you stumbling across something to your liking.

Love you, too, Tom

Dear Tom,

"Alternative sexual practice" is not what we're talking about here. We're talking about reality, the natural primary affection of five to ten percent of the human species for others who share the same gender. You can argue with that statistic, if you like, but you can only make that argument based on evidence. Most parents of gay children will tell you that they recognized very early in their children's lives that they were "special" So we're not talking about an alternative that can be chosen like chosing between two brands of spaghetii at the super market. Secondly, this is not a "sexual practice du jour." No one has mentioned any practice. Furthermore, it's curious to me that you would conclude that the alternativfe sexual practice du jour is "a pre-eminent feature of my theology." It's not. The love of God in Jesus Christ - the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus - is the center of my theology. All else is secondary.

As for searching, Tom, I'm not searching for something "to my liking." I'm trying to walk the walk that's not to my liking - the walk in the way of Micah and Jesus: "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?" I'm not tiching after something new. I'm trying, however frail my attempt, to follow Jesus ,who, according to the Gospels of the New Testament, was characteristically incensed by the spiritual darkness of moral self-righteousness. As for "an everlasting and unchanging morality," the morality that once considered itself everlasting and unchangeable is the one that fought against civil rights and women's sufferage, all based on a literalist reading of the Bible, and that argued that if people were poor, it was because God was punishing them.

The times I find it hardest to follow Jesus are times when comments like this appear. I confess, Tom. I confess. My response to your comment also, oddly, proves the point of the commentary. I'm part of that human condition of spiritual pride which my Lord found so offensive. I suggest I'm not alone. That's the point of the piece. "God help us all." Some day, perhaps, we can meet over coffee. I do it all the time at the Dunn Brothers in downtown Chaska. Let me know. I'll buy.

The morality mambo....

That was some pretty fancy dancing Rev. I guess you'd have to be light on your feet though, when you let secular pop-culture name the tune.

Thanks for the offer of coffee, but I don't think either of us have anything to offer the other.

I'm so sorry

Tom, I'm sorry. The coffee offer was made in good faith, but the more you write comments like this, the more I lean toward your conclusion. I have better things to do than spend time with someone who thinks neither he nor I have anything to offer the other. It's really a shame, Tom. No fancy dancing here. Your cynicism and dismissals of different views requires a direct a response as this one. A mean spirit is just plain ugly. I hope you find some peace and good will toward others...and perhaps toward yourself. And...in the off chance that you muster to courage to have coffee instead of ranting on the internet, I'll be there.

A direct response?

While I limited my direct responses to the body of your commentary, Rev., you've quite unexpectedly made it personal. In my experience, that doesn't speak well to one's confidence in one's argument.

It's not courage I lack, Rev., nor self-esteem nor any other dyspeptic malaise you might care to ascribe to me. No, it's the belief that you have anything of value to teach me. In matters of faith, I've found the Catholic church to be more than sufficiently capable of advising me.

What you choose to call mean spiritedness, I've describe as being forthright. There are certainly areas of faith where I'm out of my depth discussing, and you’d find my approach much less direct, but the truth of God's intent for men and women isn't one of them.

Indeed, His operating instructions are contained right into our DNA. Couldn't be much clearer than that.

Best wishes for a successful return to the truth.

Little to offer

'Let secular pop-culture name the tune' -- ??? Ah yes, "If the Church makes herself the bride of Today, she will be a widow to-morrow." So we never should have dared to outlaw slavery. And as for the inerrant, unchanging Word of God, please forgive me for resurrecting this dear chestnut, which you have evidently missed up to this point:

Dear Dr. Laura,

Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God's Law. I have learned a great deal from your show, and I try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind him that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination. End of debate.

I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some of the specific laws and how to best follow them.

When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odour for the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is, how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?
I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself?
A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11:10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?
Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.19:27. How should they die?
I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? (Lev.24:10-16) Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.20:14)

I know you have studied these things extensively, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God's word is eternal and unchanging.

Your devoted disciple and adoring fan,

J. Kent Ashcraft

Matthew 22:36-4036 “Teacher,

Matthew 22:36-40

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Luke 6:27-42

27“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

37“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

39He also told them this parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? 40A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.

41“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

===========

It is not easy to be a Christian. The parable of the Samaritan makes it clear that the ideal is not formulaic.

Thank you

Thank you, Neal. Thank you so much.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God...

...and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16,17)

The Scriptures are pretty clear on issues of sexual choice and behavior, therefore they are useful for teaching, rebuking and training in regard to the subject you have chosen to bemoan.

Christ Jesus is the head of the church, he is God, he has instructed us from Genesis to Revelation regarding his expectations in righteousness. When the church is not in obedience with God's word it is in need of rebuking, correcting and training.

Rev. Stewart, you seem to want to run from teaching, rebuke and training whenever the Scriptures run contrary to your own opinions. In that regard this article reads like a man who wishes to rebuke God regarding His Holy Word. In so doing you put yourself in a dangerous position before the throne of grace.

It is not my position to condemn you, but I am called to pray on your behalf. May you and I both learn to submit our self to be crucified with Christ (Gal 2:20) and to follow in humble obedience so that we can stand before the throne of grace knowing we allowed God to rebuke, correct and train us in righteousness.

As I and All Us Liberal Protestants

(you know, the ones who seek to allow God to communicate to us what God has in mind for humanity now, which might be quite different from what God was trying to bring into the societies of our ancestors),...

will continue to pray for all of you who believe God STOPPED communicating with humanity and trying to bring NEWER, deeper, broader awareness into human society two thousand years ago,...

and are thereby hiding behind your church denominations, your interpretations of scripture (human and limited though they be), all of which, as are our own, "phony" in that they are human and limited by our human limitations,...

and thus hiding from God.

We don't really need to hide, of course. God means us no harm (although God will, if we have the courage to open ourselves to God's presence and guidance, stretch and challenge us to move outside your apparently very limited circle of comfort, then stretch us beyond that, and beyond that). God only means you (and all of us) blessing.

I hope that doesn't disappoint you too much. I hope, as well, that you don't fall into the trap of believing that when God inspires you to change and growth, it must surely be the work of Satan seeking to tempt you away from your true(ly human) faith.

Such attitudes have been used to keep the things that God desires and is, therefore, inspiring in humanity from entering our world for eons - countless people believing that in being faithful ONLY to the past, they are preserving what God wants and, thereby, blocking God out of the world in what they believe to be "God's name."

Repentance

Nate, I'll take your final sentences as the tone you wish to convey. It may strike you that I am running from the Scriptures. I suggest that you think twice before using 2 Timothy. The Scriptures referred to in 2 Timothy were Hebrew Scriptures which were read quite differently by Jesus and the rest of his Jewish compatriots. There was no NT when Paul was writing. There was only Torah and the other writings. Jesus himself, as well the Pharisees and Saduccees, interpreted these Scriptures, elevating some of the texts to set aside other texts, and so must we. Without responsible interpretation - if every word were of equal weight and value, and if every word were a direct instruction from God, you and I would not mix two kinds of fabric, would stone disobedient children and wives, keep the purity laws of the holiness code, and observe the Sabbath (Friday sundown through Saturday sundown) exactly as the Scriptures instruct us. But we don't. Authentic Jewish life and authentic Christian living is a continual repentance - ie. a continuing "turning", turning to face God. Today, Ash Wednesday, we surrender again every presumption of faith into the arms of God: "dust to dust, ashes to ashes." Some of the ashes are the dead things that become substitutes for the Spirit of the Living God. Bless you. And Peace. And, I have to ask, are the you the retired NBA player? Or another Nate?

Speak out!

I'm an atheist, but I've been watching the Religious Right capture the mantel of Christianity with dismay for decades. Somewhere along the line guys like Lou Dobs, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson because the voices of American Christians as if no Christian can believe in saving the environment, social justice, or peace. I've always said "give me a nation full of good Christians, but where have all the good Christians gone?" It's not to late speak up, but you shoulda spoke sooner. Don't let these jerks pretend to be your voice, you have a voice, use it. Isn't that what Jesus would want?

You're an atheist?

As long as you believe you are qualified - as an atheist - to comment on Christian theology, you can explain something that an atheist has to finally explain: the slaughter, disappearance, imprisonment, and displacement of tens of millions of human beings because of murderous regimes in the 20th Century that believed that religion was the opiate of the masses.

If the shoe fits

Dear Neal, If the shoe fits, wear it. If it doesn't don't. But please don't assume the size of the shoes that someone else wears. The shoe you're placing on Paul's foot is also on the Church's feet. "The salughter, disappearance, imprisonment, and displacement of tens of millions of human beings" was done in many names. To ask an honest atheist who is scratching his head because of how dissonant the behavior and thinking of Jesus' followers is from Jesus himself is, it seems to me, reaching for something that may not be in Paul's eye at all. Not even a speck of it, perphaps. Atheists make no claim to do what they do in the name of God. Christians do. How do we explain to Paul how it was that the Church in the German Third Reich silently endorsed the "slaughter, disappearnce, imprisonment, and displacement" of their own fellow-citizens, or, closer to home, how the disciples of Jesus endorse the slaughter of innocents in "pre-emptive wars" that violate every historical ethical teaching, let alone the Sermon of the Mount. When the shoe fits on Christian feet - the feet that claim to walk on "holy ground" and in the footsteps of Jesus - an onlooker "from the outside of Christian theology has every right - one might even say, "a duty" - to object.

Atheism, the Church, and responsibility

Just as the Church and European Christianity have had to take responsibility for the oppression and slaughter of Jews, so must the left and the atheists take responsibility for the oppression and slaughter of the tens of millions of people by the atheist regimes in the 20th Century.

Atheists have done in it the name of their own gods, in the name of their own true beliefs.

Yes, Reverend. If the shoe fits.

Re: You're an atheist?

No, the Left has no obligation to explain Stalin & Mao, any more than you have an obligation to explain the Christian terrorists Eric Rudolf, Anders Behring Breivik, Scott Roeder or the KKK.

Once you have 1 or more objects of worship and a theology, you have religion. So while some communists and fascists may explicitly deny the existence of G-d, they so resemble religions they may as well be religions.

Honest Atheism

Paul, thank you. The opening lines of my piece "...there are days when I wonder whether I belong in the Christian Church, whether I’m really a Christian" is serious. And the reason I "wonder" is the same reason the Ghandi said prevented him from being a Christian - the unloving behavior of thsoe who claimed to be Jesus' disciples. I often find myself more alive and whole among the scoffers and the skeptics, the Pauls of this world, than I do in churches where the mind is placed on the hat rack at the church door. The Jesus of the New Testament was not a Christian! He was a faithful Jew whose understanding of God and the Scriptures placed him arm-in-arm with the very people whom those who were most religious dismissed as "sinners". The dismissal of others as "sinners" was, in fact, the greastest of sins. The sin of what my tradition calls "self-justification" instead of justification by grace (already given and irrevocable) welcomed by faith. My Christian faith was de-constructed by serious encounter with the writings of Albert Camus (agnostic) and Jean-Paul Sartre (atheist), and was re-constructed by encounters with courageous men and women of faith who had no simple answers for the holocaust or other human suffering - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Paul Tillich, Karl Barth, Martin Buber.

The earliest Christians were called "atheists" because they did not bow the knee to Caesar. In that sense, I hope it can be said of me that I, like Jesus and his followers, am an atheist worshiper of the God beyond 'god'. It is this God beyond the gods of our imagination whose Spirit leads us to listen and speak on behalf of all the "sinners," the pelikans, the crabs, the herons, and the oceans themselves. In my view, wherever that spirit manifests itself in the sense of respect, a sense of 'sacredness', I see the Divine Spirit. Again, thank you, Paul, for honest sharing. And, as you say, keep using your voice!

Views of God.

There are those who believe in a loving God, and those who believe in an angry God, and there are others in between. I know I have a loving and forgiving God and I trust in Him.

Even in the prayer Jesus gave his disciples, part of it reads, "forgive us our trespasses (or debts) AS we forgive those who trespass against us (or debtors).

Also, there is much to learn about how the Bible was put together, the parts of it, and the different types of literature that are encompassed by it.

Do we love our neighbors or do we think it our duty to condemn them?

And, Paul, thanks for calling us to action.

Yes!

Beautiful Karin. The line from "the Lord's Prayer" aka "The Jesus Prayer" is central to the Christian life. The real sense of it is "forgive us our sins WHILE we are forgiving others who have sinned against us." It's a way of living, the daily process that recognizes our own complicity - "the sins of commission and of omission" - in "the evils we deplore" while, at the same time, we release the grudges and desire for retribution agains those who have done us harm.

And, yes, as Karin knows, the Bible is not a book. It's a collection of writings in different literary genres through which Christians believe God still speaks, as we read the texts prayerfully, praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our reading. The literary genre of The Book of Revelation, for example, is "apocalyptic' - a thought form and literary form unique to the inter-testamental and NT periods that poetically expresses religious, political, and economic resistance to the imperial powers that occupied a people. Readers who want it to say what it means and mean what it says will be thoroughly confused. Even worse, they will use this letter from a poltiical prisoner on the Isle of Patmos as an excuse for shouting on the street corners about the end of the world and the god who's out to get you.

A rational voice

Thank you, Rev. Stewart, for being a voice of reason, well heard above the babble.

Faith and Reason

Thank you, Rolf. Faith that does not reason is also unexamined faith. "The unexamined life is not worth living" - attributable to Socrates - applies also to faith. Otherwise it's all babble. I do my best, and thank you for the encouragement to continue to examine and reflect.

Hello, Pastor!

Pastor Stewart, you were instrumental in my conversion to Christianity from atheism back in the 90s when you were at Westminster. Just wanted to say hello.

I think the (classical) Baptists, and nowadays the Jehovah's Witnesses, were/are really onto something when they insisted on the absolute separateness of the kingdom of heaven (the church as body of Christ - although I'm not sure the Witnesses would put it that way) and the kingdom of this world (the civil authorities, whomever and of whatever form). As another Christian who I admire says, when politics and religion mix, politics wins, every time.

We follow One who insisted His Kingdom is not of this Earth. He was betrayed to the Roman crucifix, in part, for refusing to be a political figure! We re-crucify Him when we try to drag Him into our petty affairs.

And now I sound like a pompous blowhard. Forgive me.

Thanks for sharing your views

I hadn't heard about Obama getting flack for actually expressing a tenet of Christian discipleship. I wonder what part of Obama's agenda Rick Santorum is talking about? Maybe it's continuing the War in Afghanistan, though I doubt that. It can't be about his policies toward the financial services industries because Obama has always turned the other cheek to the robber barons at Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan. It must be because Obama condones insurance coverage for contraception, which we all know is the main teaching of the Bible.

Wow!

Hello, Tony! So surprised to hear from you. I hope you're going well and thank you for the comment. The question of "the two kingdoms" is complicated.. In the crucifixion, the two kingdoms were colliding, as they are every day. If you have the time and interest look "Religion and Politics" - which I just now re-posted on my blog- www.gordoncstewart.com. The essence of the piece is that religion and politics both address the question of how we should live together. The separation of Church and State and the question of the role of religion/faith in public life (politics) are different questions. I look forward to your further reflections, and, again, SO glad to hear from you, Tony. Grace and Peace to you.

Opiat of the masses?

Neal,

Neal, I didn't comment on Christian theology, I commented on Christian conduct. Your theology is your business and I have no interest in discussing it with you. Your conduct on the other hand is a public matter, and well within my purview to comment on.

As for the Soviet Union, there are several well written histories that document the Russian revolution and rise of the totalitarian Soviet, I don't now why you expect any special expertise from an atheist, suffice it to say that the question you raise has been asked and answered repeatedly by historians.

The fact that atheism was component of soviet ideology simply demonstrates that any idea taken to an extreme can be perverted into instrument of oppression. I assume you've heard of the Inquisition?

I think it's important to remember the difference between secularism and atheism. Secularism simply requires that our public policy and laws emerge from our democratic process, not scripture. Secularism does not require atheism, it simply requires respect for the democratic process and prohibits religious oppression. The US constitution establishes a liberal democracy, not a theocracy. Some religious people feel threatened by secularism because they misinterpret is as an attack on religion, when in fact it simply takes a neutral position on religion. Granted, the notion of religious neutrality is nearly incomprehensible to the fundamentalist mind and in and of itself appears to be an attack.

Thank you for kind words Mr. Stewart, I'm glad you appreciate my comments. I wrote a blog a while back about Bachmann and her "faith" you might find interesting: http://pudstrand.fatcow.com/blog/?p=193

Using your logic

Mr. Udstrand wrote that he was

"watching the Religious Right capture the mantel of Christianity with dismay for decades."

You disagree with the "religious right" and I suspect you are in agreement with a Christianity that agrees with your atheism. Or views on marriage. Or abortion. It doesn't matter - you are commenting on their theology.

Mr. Udstrand wrote:

"The fact that atheism was component of soviet ideology simply demonstrates that any idea taken to an extreme can be perverted into instrument of oppression. I assume you've heard of the Inquisition?"

Let's change the wording and see how you do.

The fact that national socialism was a component of Nazi ideology simply demonstrates that any idea taken to an extreme can be perverted into instrument of oppression. I assume you've heard of the gulag?"

It's all yours, Mr. Udstrand.

Logic?

"You disagree with the "religious right" and I suspect you are in agreement with a Christianity that agrees with your atheism. Or views on marriage. Or abortion. It doesn't matter - you are commenting on their theology."

I don't think we can have very productive discussion here Neal. You don't seem to know the difference between a Christian who disagrees with your politics and an atheist. The concept of a Christianity that agrees with atheism is theologically incoherent, it's beginning to look like you're a little confused about what theology actually is.

By the way, atheist or not, I could/can comment on Christian theology if chose to. I don't need permission, consent or special recognition to do so.

Yep, National Socialism when taken to the extreme became an instrument of oppression. You seem to think I would disagree with that for some reason? Yes I've heard of Gulags, your point?

Logic, continued.

"Yep, National Socialism when taken to the extreme became an instrument of oppression. You seem to think I would disagree with that for some reason? Yes I've heard of Gulags, your point?"

Are you implying that national socialism not taken to an extreme would be acceptable?

"you don't seem to know the difference between a Christian who disagrees with your politics and an atheist."

Agreement with your "enlightened" views what is required for Christianity to be acceptable to you - less on the "religious right" and more like what exists on your side of that line in the sand.

"Yes I've heard of Gulags, your point?"

And I've heard of the Inquisition. *Your* point? You asked first.

Logic continued?

Well Neil, let's look at the definition of National Socialism from Wikipedia:

"Parties in various contexts have referred to themselves as National Socialist parties. Because there is no clear definition of national socialism, the term has been used to mean very different things. Since the rise of German Nazism, which called itself "National Socialism", the term has been used in Europe and North America almost exclusively by political parties with combined authoritarian, racial and nationalist views.

However, in other parts of the world, which had little contact with German Nazism, the term "National Socialism" is sometimes used by parties that define themselves as socialist and patriotic, without being racist. In addition, the term was also used by non-racist groups in Europe before the rise of Nazism."

Obviously the Nazis took the European notion of NS to an extreme and added racism to the mix. No, I don't necessarily have a problem with patriotic socialists, although I can't imagine Nazi's I could get along with.

As for Gulags and Inquisitions, the point is you are ignoring the atrocities committed under the banner of religion.

Yes, logic continued.

You will improve your credibility when you don't cite Wikipedia as a single source to support an argument.

Because you cited Wikipedia - a notoriously unreliable single source - I will wait until you use a legitimate, credible source.

Mr. Ustrand wrote:

"As for Gulags and Inquisitions, the point is you are ignoring the atrocities committed under the banner of religion."

Atheists and the left will have to eventually face their responsibility in the mass slaughter of human beings in the 20th Century. Atheism is just another religion, with its belief systems, morals, and punishments for heresy.