Tag Archives: Evangelical

Evangelicals and gays

Tony Perkins of the American Family Council, gay-basher in chief, not only doesn’t speak for all Christians, he doesn’t speak for all evangelicals.  Nor do Charles Colson, James Dobson, or Tim LaHaye.  It would seem there is a younger crowd, a new generation, that is raising questions about the traditional evangelical intolerance toward gays.  Yes, the move toward gay equality is advancing at all levels of religious and secular society, even within the quarter most associated with rigorous opposition.

A small but growing group which calls itself Evangelicals Concerned offers support for gays seeking reconciliation of their faith and their sexuality:

Organizations or churches with Evangelical roots have traditionally been the most condemning, exclusionary and antagonistic to Christians who identify as GLBT. This bias has produced untold levels of damage to many children of God and has caused many to abandon their faith traditions or commit suicide. Evangelical organizations are responsible for virtually every attempt to convert GLBT people. EC has challenged the conversion therapy notion for 25 years, standing in the gap and providing healing and safety to thousands of Christians.

The Gay Christian Network (GCN) also consists of mostly evangelical members.  Earlier this summer, I met one of their leaders when we both happened to be workshop presenters at the Lutherans Concerned Convention in Minneapolis.

The Gay Christian Network is a nonprofit ministry serving Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and those who care about them.

Like many Christian mothers, Sandy was completely unprepared to learn that her son was gay.

How could he be? Everything she had been taught in church had led her to one conclusion, that gay people were sinful, that they had turned from God, and that they were ultimately condemned to hell. Yet none of that fit the profile of her beloved son. He was a good son, and he loved God. How could he be gay?

For five months after learning of her son’s sexuality, Sandy was a wreck. She was sure that homosexuality was not of God. Yet she loved her son. She needed answers, but she didn’t know where to turn.

Then she found GCN.

FalsaniAn article in the Huffpost this week questioned, Is Evangelical Christianity having a Great Gay Awakening?  Author Cathleen Falsani suggests that she struggled to accommodate traditional evangelical Biblical ethics with the reality of the gay relationships in her circle of friends. 

That was my answer: Love them. Unconditionally, without caveats or exceptions.

I wasn’t sure whether homosexuality actually was a sin. But I was certain I was commanded to love.

For 20 years, that answer was workable, if incomplete. Lately, though, it’s been nagging at me. Some of my gay friends are married, have children and have been with their partners and spouses as long as I’ve been with my husband.

Loving them is easy. Finding clear theological answers to questions about homosexuality has been decidedly not so.

Falsani then discusses a book by none other than Jay Bakker, the son of the famous televangelists of a generation ago, Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, called Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society.

“The simple fact is that Old Testament references in Leviticus do treat homosexuality as a sin … a capital offense even,” Bakker writes. “But before you say, ‘I told you so,’ consider this: Eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law.

“The truth is that the Bible endorses all sorts of attitudes and behaviors that we find unacceptable (and illegal) today and decries others that we recognize as no big deal.”
Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers.

ScrollBakker’s exegesis is quite right, and he could have gone further.  When I have presented workshops interpreting the so-called “clobber passages” of the Bible, I point out that these ancient Hebrew regulations were religious rules and not universal ethics, loosely akin to the modern day ritual of meatless Fridays, formulated from a consistent pattern of Hebrew rituals of boundaries, markers, and insularity.  Don’t do as the Gentiles do.  Don’t mix with the Gentiles.  Don’t mix unlike things.  Don’t mix seeds in your field.  Don’t mix different fabrics in the same garment.  Don’t cavort with the temple prostitutes of the Gentiles (male and female).  Don’t follow the sexual practices of the Gentiles.  Don’t eat meat from animals that confuse their category.  A shellfish doesn’t have fins or swim like a fish; it is an abomination.  Don’t eat shellfish. 

Here is the preface to the chapter in Leviticus that contains the infamous clobber passage:

You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.

Leviticus 18:3

Ritual regulatory rules of behavior for the ancient Hebrews are complicated, which cannot be adequately addressed here, but perhaps that is the essential point; it’s not as simple or as black and white as the literalists would suggest.  When we understand the context of their ancient formulation, we recognize a ritualistic and symbolic system of separation of a besieged peoples, anxious to preserve their identity against the dangers of assimilation by the empires that dominated them militarily and politically.

Falsani also discussed Bakker’s interpretation of the New Testament, Pauline “clobber passages”, and Bakker again is accurate when he suggests:

Examining the original Greek words translated as “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in three New Testament passages, Bakker (and others) conclude that the original words have been translated inaccurately in modern English.

What we read as “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” actually refers to male prostitutes and the men who hire them. The passages address prostitution — sex as a commodity — and not same-sex, consensual relationships, he says.

Roman art depicting pederastyIn my workshops, I dig deeper.  Modern day Bible versions that include the word “homosexual” are anachronistic at best and political at worst.  Paul used two Greek words, arsenokotai and malakoi, which do not otherwise appear in the writings of the period; thus, it appears he may have coined them himself.  Bakker’s suggestion that the terms refer to prostitution may be correct, but I think the better interpretation is that the terms refer to the Greco-Roman practice of pederasty, involving an aristocrat and a young man or boy, which was fairly common in the period.  Again, attempting to make sense of Paul’s two-thousand year old writings is complicated, and there’s more to it than fits in this blog, but the essential point is that Paul’s writings were conditioned by a 1st century context.  The issues facing Paul were not the same issues we face today. 

Falsani’s experience—“Some of my gay friends are married, have children and have been with their partners and spouses as long as I’ve been with my husband”—persuaded her that the traditional application of the Biblical “clobber passages” didn’t fit for her and for a growing number of her evangelical friends.  She concludes:

Only time will tell whether more evangelical leaders — Emergent, emerging or otherwise — will add their voices to the chorus calling for full and unapologetic inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the church.

But I’m sensing a change in the wind (and the Spirit.)

Top posts of 2010: #2

The October 25th post entitled Conservative Christianity driving a generation away from religion finished in a virtual tie for first place with over 2,200 unique visitors.  The post was based in large part on conclusions suggested by a new book release entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which is proving to be a best seller.  The blog post is reprinted here:

A week ago, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Minnesota announced a reorganization plan that will eliminate twenty-one congregations in the metro, merging them into fourteen existing parishes.  Stated another way, thirty-five current congregations will be downsized into fourteen.  Some have suggested that if it wasn’t for the influx of Hispanic immigrants, the Roman Catholic church nationally would  be suffering even greater declines in membership.

Of course, the problem of declining religious participation is not confined to Catholicism.   Indeed, statistics suggest the decline in Americans who identify with religion is startling.

That shift is the decline in participation by all Americans, but particularly young adults, in churches. In 1990 only 7 percent of Americans indicated “none” as religious affiliation. By 2008 that number had grown to 17 percent. But among young adults, in their twenties, the percent of “nones” is reaching nearly 30%. The new “nones” are heavily concentrated among those who have come of age since 1990.

But wait, aren’t many conservative Christian denominations growing?  Many evangelical churches thrive but at the cost of theological depth—“a mile wide and an inch deep”.  Some are thinly veiled entertainment ministries.   Joel Osteen Ministries is merely the most blatant example of the appealing “prosperity gospel” that too often characterizes the mega-growth churches, and makes charismatic leaders such as Osteen very wealthy.

But it is the judgmental scapegoating that is turning off this generation of young adults according to an article out of Seattle last week.  Blaming the public perception of Christianity, as espoused by the religious right, for the stark decline in those identifying with religion, the article discusses a poll and a book entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

Twenty somethings are walking away from the church, the article concludes, because of a skewed “public perception of religion as largely socially conservative,” and the perception of religion as homophobic is especially responsible for the growing percentage of “nones.”

An unrelated poll out last week suggests similar conclusions, and correlates with this blog’s recent theme of suggesting that conservative Christian policies are part of the problem of gay bullying and critically low self esteem for many young gays.

Most Americans believe messages about homosexuality coming from religious institutions contribute to negative views of gays and lesbians, and higher rates of suicide among gay youths, a new poll reports … Americans are more than twice as likely to give houses of worship low marks on handling the issue of homosexuality, according to a PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll released Thursday (Oct. 21).

After a recent spate of teen suicides prompted by anti-gay harassment and bullying, the poll indicates a strong concern among Americans about how religious messages are impacting public discussions of homosexuality.

Once again, there is a significant gap between the attitudes of younger versus older adults which mirrors very closely the higher percentage of “nones” among young adults.

Nearly half of Americans age 18-34 say messages from places of worship are contributing “a lot” to negative views of gay and lesbian people, compared to just 30 percent of Americans age 65 and older.

I’ll close by repeating the words of a young woman spoken at the ELCA Church Wide Assembly in 2009 (CWA09),

“Give us honesty,” she said.  “My generation is turned off by what they see as hypocrisy in the church. ‘Love your neighbor’ is on the lips of the church, but a cold shoulder is what my generation sees.”

What do you know for sure?

Self doubt is the blossom of wisdom, self assurance its rot.  Socrates purportedly said the only true wisdom is that one knows nothing.  Vanity, vanity, all is vanity saith the teacher.  Jeremiah admonished the haughty, “do not let the wise boast in their wisdom.”  Paul added, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”  “Let go and let God” replies the 12th stepper. 

I happened on the blog today of Kathy Baldock that husked the kernel this way:

My know-it-all attitude was already being confronted  by having my Christian marriage ending over fidelity+ issues and I was open to considering that maybe I did not have all the answers, maybe I did not understand as much as I thought.  I was in that scary place of failure and being unsure. I was ripe for change.

To stretch in any area of growth and to shed the comfort of assurance is unsettling and intimidating. My comfort was broken just enough to allow challenge to some of my core beliefs about several things.  So, for me, it was crisis that opened me more to God’s Spirit. My own voice and opinions were becoming less loud in me; I was hurt and willing to listen.  This was a pivotal point in my own faith walk.  I moved out of the known and into the scary.

Kathy Baldock Kathy, a straight ally who blogs at Canyonwalker Connections, comes from an Evangelical background, and she confesses that she once bashed the gay community, “I felt compelled to tell ‘the truth in love’ and did so quite a few times.” [a favorite catch-phrase of self assured gay bashers]

But, in her own vulnerability, as she encountered ambiguity in her own life, her ingrained assumptions proved empty when she stumbled upon another hurting human on the dusty hiking paths of the nearby canyons.  After more than a year of a developing trust, her friend confided,

I am the absolute lowest on the totem pole.  I am a Native American.  I am a woman, and I am a lesbian.  Not even God loves me.

Perhaps a self-assured person would not have heard the pain in this lament, but Kathy’s own wounds allowed her to listen and to grow:

I was growing in my own relationship with God; it was less about rules and more about grace and mercy. Grace and mercy on me from Him. It flowed outward to those around me. I had to understand it before I could extend it. I often say, you cannot export what you do not have.  I can now see that the way believers treat the needy, the less powerful and those on the edge says more about their own relationship with God than just about any other indicator.  When I see grace come out of a person, that is what is in their reservoir. When I see anger and intolerance come out, then unresolved pain is in their reservoir. I was personally going through massive, miraculous, marvelous healing and grace was filling the newly available places in me. Grace was filling my reservoirs and it was coming out.

“Not even God loves me,” said the woman hiking the canyons. 

Kathy knew scripture; she knew the oft-quoted clobber passages, but their message of condemnation seemed dry as the canyon trail.  It was time for some good news.  You are “fearfully and wonderfully made”, sang the Psalmist.  To her hurting friend, Kathy became a wounded healer.  To the gay and lesbian community, Kathy became a grace-filled, evangelist of good news.  To the “hate the sin but love the sinner” church community, Kathy issued a challenge.

I made up my own story about gay and trans people according to my truth about them. Are you doing that?  When you humbly get outside your own understanding and story and engage another person that is nothing like you, it can be challenging and scary. What if you are wrong about them?

Equality for the GLBT community is coming and we, as Christians, both straight and GLBT, have a great opportunity in this to grow in grace and love as we challenge our judgments and fear. We can either do this the world-way of yelling and polarizing or the Jesus-way of engaging with hospitality.  Up until now, the church has been very guilty of conducting ourselves in the world-way.  We are not looking very Jesus-like to those outside the church.

What do you know for sure?

Are American evangelicals complicit in the Uganda anti-gay movement?

Much attention has been focused on the Ugandan parliamentary bill mandating Draconian treatment of gays, up to execution, that has been shelved for the moment.  Undoubtedly, the international outcry has been effective.  The relationship between several American evangelical groups and the Ugandan anti-gay movement has also come to light, raising serious questions about the influence and extremism of these American gay bashers in the name of their evangelical Christianity.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback mega-church in the US and the author of the popular The Purpose Driven Life, is perhaps the most visible of the evangelicals who had cavorted with the Ugandan leadership prior to the drafting of the hate-filled legislation.  Religion Dispatches blog has reported extensively on Warren and Uganda:

Yet last year, according to a press release from Warren’s public relations firm, he launched a “purpose-driven living” campaign in Uganda, organized by a former member of Parliament. While there — his fourth trip to the country — he met with the First Lady of Uganda, Janet Museveni. Warren’s statement today that he’s never met the president of Uganda or any members of parliament, then, seems hair-splitting. The press release, after all, did say, “This is the second East African country to invite Dr. Warren to bring the well- known Purpose Driven Life and Church leadership training to churches, businesses and government on a national scale.” At the time, Warren said, “my challenge to business and government leaders is to use their influence for the glory of God and partner with local churches in solving community problems.”

There is no evidence that Warren directly promoted the idea of the anti-gay legislation; yet, it is clear that his original foray into Uganda to instill his “Purpose Driven” plan was at the request of homophobe Anglican Archbishop, the Most Rev. Henry Luke Orombi.  According to a news release at the time appearing on Christian Post, it was Orombi who

recalled initially wanting to invite Warren to Uganda after seeing the Purpose Driven Living program implemented in Rwanda.

Uganda is the second east African country to invite Warren to bring the Purpose Driven Life and Church leadership training program to the country on a national scale. The first east African country to adopt the program nationwide was Rwanda in 2005.

It turns out that Orombi and first lady Janet Museveni, two of Warren’s principal contacts, have been among the most influential gay bashers in Uganda. 

After a month of waffling and suggesting it wasn’t his business to influence foreign nations internal policies, Warren finally bowed to pressure and issued a statement condemning the legislation, but his statement was also laden with self-serving denials:

There’s no doubt he has a strong relationship with government, business, and religious leaders in Uganda, according to his own statements. So it would seem logical for people at least to think he would have some sway to denounce the proposed law as a brutal violation of human rights and of Christian values. Instead of addressing the reasons why he waited to speak, though, Warren instead seeks to dispel “untruths” about his relationships with leaders there, and alleged misinterpretations of some of his statements. But that doesn’t tell us much about his relationships there, just which leaders and statements from which he’s now trying to distance himself. It would be more revealing to understand just what “purpose-driven living” is, how he has imparted that teaching to Ugandan leaders, and how they make use of it.

Exodus International is a well-known organization that promotes reparative therapy.  Reparative therapy is a discredited theory and practice of transforming gays to straight.  In August, 2009, the American Psychological Association issued a hard hitting condemnation of reparative therapy and its adherents.

The American Psychological Association concluded Wednesday that there is little evidence that efforts to change a person’s sexual orientation from gay or lesbian to heterosexual are effective.  The report looks at 87 studies conducted between 1960 and 2007.  In addition, the 138-page report — covering 87 peer-reviewed studies — said that such efforts may cause harm.

Of course, Exodus won’t allow the facts to inform their opinions, and they continue to inflict their “cure” on troubled gays who already doubt their human worth.

As an organization, Exodus was not directly involved in the rise of official Ugandan homophobia, but one of their board members was an early anti-gay spokesman in that country.  At a March, 2009 anti-gay conference in Kampala, Exodus Board member Don Schmierer was one of three presenters (Nazi revisionist Scott Lively was another).

Family Life Network has organized a training seminar to equip Ugandans with information and skills to fight what it calls spiraling promotion of homosexuality in the country.

[T]he seminar from March 5th to 7th will provide insight on the causes and treatment of homosexuality; provide practical tips on how to prevent homosexuality behavior in youth; expose the homosexual agenda … is intended for parents, guardians, teachers, government officials, policy makers, members of parliament, religious leaders, counselors and activists who need in-depth knowledge on the subject of homosexuality.

A blog called Box Turtle Bulletin has been on top of the Exodus-Uganda connection, with dozens of blog posts listed chronologically here.  A few pertinent items include the announcement of the anti-gay seminar on the floor of the Ugandan legislature, Exodus’ initial “applauding” of Schmierer’s participation, the Ugandan parliamentary foray into the anti-gay movement six weeks after the seminar, and finally the Nov 16th Exodus lukewarm rejection of the legislation only after the international outcry.

Written as it is by an organization which does not affirm the dignity and worth of LGBT people to live their lives responsibly in freedom and self-determination, there is certainly much in this letter that merits criticism. Furthermore, the letter makes no recommendations except to “consider the influence this law will have” on the work of those who believe that the only valid option for LGBT people is to self-deny their own existence. The “influence” this law will have on LGBT people themselves, well that’s apparently inconsequential and not worthy of discussion.

One final note regarding Exodus that will be of interest to regular followers of this blog.  Exodus International has a mutually supportive relationship with Lutheran CORE, the dissident ELCA group that resisted the pro-LGBT actions of the 2009 ELCA churchwide assembly and which continues as an ELCA irritant and schismatic movement.  At the ELCA church wide assembly, Lutheran CORE maintained a visible presence and a headquarters / hospitality room.  On Thursday evening of the assembly, they promoted a presentation by a representative of Outpost, an affiliate of Exodus International.  From the CORE newsletter of August 17th:

Thursday night will feature a presentation by Nate Oyloe, Youth and College Age Director for Outpost Ministries. “Outpost was formed to meet the needs of men and women who have made a decision to break away from the gay life,” its website
explains. Outpost is an affiliate ministry of Exodus International.

Oyloe, in turn, subsequently reported on his presentation in a post on the Exodus website:

Within the denomination is a group called The CORE – Coalition for Reform – that is committed to the upholding of God’s Word and the biblical understanding that homosexual behavior is sinful all the time, every time. The week before the convention Outpost was asked by The CORE to have a presence there. Outpost staff talked with delegates and shared their stories of transformation with individuals throughout the week. I was asked to speak to their group and share my personal testimony the night before the second vote passed. 

I also have private correspondence from an ELCA member in Florida whose pastor seeks to lead the congregation into CORE.  The pastor invited a CORE spokesperson, a Rebecca Heber, whose presentation to the congregation boasted of the CORE relationship with Exodus.

If we are known by the company we keep, then Lutheran CORE has some “splanin” to do about its affiliation with Exodus, its debunked reparative therapy theories, and its connection to the horrific anti-gay movement in Uganda. 

The International Transformation Network is the third evangelical organization that merits scrutiny for its Ugandan influence.  From their website:

The International Transformation Network (ITN) is a strategic alliance of Christians from the marketplace and the pulpit who are building prototypes for city and nation transformation that bring the presence and the power of God to meet the felt needs and the systemic challenges of our communities and countries.

As a result of a clear focus on five pivotal paradigms for transformation and the principles of prayer evangelism, real transformation is taking place in cities and nations around the world – in businesses, on campuses, in the halls of government, and within congregations.

Another web page lauds the program’s “prayer evangelism and marketplace redemption strategies to reach cities and transform nations for Christ.”  ITN promotes a full-blown and unapologetic prosperity theology, but with a governmental, theocratic twist–a three way partnership between government, business, and Christianity.

According to the Uganda State House website, in March, 2007 the Ugandan President and First Lady, Janet Museveni, (the same mentioned above as contact for Rick Warren) hosted a state dinner for the representatives of ITN.  A year later , in March 2008, the website reports the Museveni’s hosted ITN CEO Ed Silvoso, and Silvoso’s own website trumpets ITN’s relationship with “Mama Janet” and her role as a friendly First Lady in Uganda, “a nation completely ripe for transformation”.

These theocratic ideals, tinged with a prosperity gospel, are scary enough, but what about the the relationship of ITN and the anti-gay movement of Uganda?  The 18th ITN international conference of October, 2008 held in Argentina is revealing.  The speakers included exorcist Cindy Jacobs who offered a chilling, rabble-rousing, rant about “pornography’”, “homosexuals”, “bisexuals”, and “perversion” to a spell-bound, swaying audience.  Another speaker, a representative of ITN/Uganda praised “Mama Janet” for being “God’s key” to open not just Uganda but the whole African continent.  It also turns out that the daughter of “Mama Janet” is a pastor of a Ugandan church affiliated with the ITN, and it was one of her parishioners, a member of Parliament, who drafted the infamous anti-gay legislation. 

And then we come full circle back to the ELCA, back to Minnesota, back to Northfield, for it seems there are two Minnesota Lutheran congregations that have bought into the ITN prosperity gospel with its homophobic overtones. 

The first of these is Christ Lutheran Church of Otsego in the Elk River, Minnesota vicinity.  According to their website, they have a special congregational meeting called for January 31 to consider a resolution to secede from the ELCA.  The same web page has several links to anti-gay sermons of Pastor David Glesne of Redeemer Lutheran in Fridley, a Lutheran CORE and WordAlone Network congregation that has withdrawn from the ELCA. 

The second ITN Lutheran congregation is right here in Northfield; it is Rejoice Lutheran, and they claim inspiration from the Elk River example.

Rejoice! sees itself as a city leader in this prayer evangelism movement. We believe, through the power of community prayer, God is raising-up Christians in the city to bring others to the faith! Pastor Dan Clites says he is a pulpit minister, but our congregation is the marketplace ministers! Together, we are blurring the lines between the sacred and the secular!

Local speculation is that Rejoice will depart the ELCA, but a question remains about the significant mission financial support they previously received from the ELCA.  Will they keep it or give it back?  One wonders if Rejoice members know about the connection between ITN, their prosperity gospel mentor, and the anti-gay movement of Uganda; if so, are they ok with it?

Episcopal pastor, Elizabeth Keaton, has a lengthy post about ITN and their theocratic movement in her home city of Newark, and her post contains a video expose of ITN and their connections to the Uganda anti-gay movement.  Watch it!

Billy Graham’s small college is “Left Behind”

Over thirty-five years ago, my wife and I lived in the northern suburbs of St. Paul, Minnesota while I attended law school at the University.  We toured the greater neighborhood aboard our ten-speed bicycles.  We sometimes pedaled through the arched gate to Northwestern College in the wooded hills of Roseville, which we learned was a small evangelical Christian college.  I have since learned that evangelist Billy Graham served as the president of the college from 1947-53.

But there’s trouble afoot.  Are the end times near?

An article appearing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune recounts the internecine fight between the administration and a group led by 1997 graduate Dallas Jenkins, the son of Jerry B. Jenkins the author of the “Left Behind” series of novels that promote the idea of end times rapture.  From the Left Behind Website:

Are you ready for the moment of truth?

  • Political crisis
  • Economic crisis
  • Worldwide epidemics
  • Environmental catastrophe
  • Mass disappearances
  • Military apocalypse
    And that’s just the beginning . . . of the end of the world. It’s happening now.

Dr Alan Cureton Seems Jenkins and his cronies are claiming the college is tilting away from its conservative roots, allowing an undesirable secular influence to creep in.  College President Alan Cureton is their foil.  From the Strib article:

Several former trustees said in a letter that they had seen the college’s culture changing and hoped it “might, by God’s gracious intervention, be spared the fate of so many other institutions that have witnessed the dying of the light. …”

Last January, the student government sent a letter expressing a vote of “no confidence” in Cureton and asking for his resignation or removal. The letter said that Cureton had committed “grievous sin, lies, slander, and unethical actions” –including lying about his reasons for demoting two faculty members and falsely accused another employee of viewing pornography.

In response, the board of trustees appointed a three person task force (including the president of the Evangelical Free Church of America) to investigate whether the charges of doctrinal drift were warranted.  They concluded they were not, but the sniping continues even though the website of the dissidents has been closed to the public by requiring password entry.  The college website openly acknowledges the controversy and attempts to put it in the past.

For regular readers of this blog, a familiar character made a cameo appearance in the Strib article.  Dr. Robert Benne, a member of the Lutheran CORE advisory council and author of several CORE articles that have been critiqued here and here, was consulted by the Strib apparently because he wrote a book about secular drift in religious colleges.

Gay friendly evangelicals?

Is “conservative evangelical” a redundancy?  Aren’t all evangelicals conservative?  I recently cited a New Jersey poll that suggested that Roman Catholics, Jewish, and mainstream Protestants held similar, positive views on marriage equality (about 10-15% more favorable than unfavorable), but that evangelicals were overwhelmingly negative.

Rev Mark Tidd As a generalization, the perception holds– most evangelicals are conservative.  But, there are exceptions.  There is a major news story out of Denver about a startup mission church that is evangelical and openly affirming of gays and lesbians.  The Rev Mark Tidd is Pastor of Highlands Church in Denver, which is a new satellite congregation of Pathways Church.  Tidd was initially on the staff at Pathways.

Highlands didn’t begin with a gay affirming policy, but Tidd soon began the Sunday service welcome with the words, “queer or straight here, there’s no hate here.”  Many were upset and much of the original membership gains were lost.  Over two months, half the membership and 2/3 of the financial support departed Highlands.  The relationship with parent church Pathways was also strained but not broken, and they continue to work together on some things like an upcoming service project trip to New Orleans.

After these setbacks, attendance at Highlands is again on the upswing, and it will be interesting to follow the course of Highland’s development. 

David Dockery, president of Union University, a Southern Baptist school in Jackson, Tenn., believes Highlands is — and is likely to remain — outside of the mainstream of evangelical churches.

“I don’t think it can be taken for granted anymore that the traditional evangelical view will be adopted by the coming generations given the changes and shifts in our culture,” Dockery said.

That makes it all the more important, he says, for evangelical leaders to clearly teach the traditional views on homosexuality.

There is also a nationwide ministry called Evangelicals Concerned.  It would appear that the western region of that organization is the most active with a blog and a website , which offers the following mission statement:

Evangelicals Concerned (EC) is a nationwide ministry which encourages and affirms lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered Christians in their faith. We organize small groups, bible studies, social activities and other events in many North American cities, and we organize national and regional conferences every year.

EC holds that the love and Grace of God is available to all persons through Jesus Christ. We believe that human delineations such as race, gender or sexual orientation are not held relevant by our Creator.

NJ Poll reports religious attitudes toward marriage equality

Four decades ago, the gay rights movement burst onto the scene in the Stonewall riots of Greenwich Village.  As we near year’s end in 2009, we close the fourth decade of gay rights activism and the first decade of the twenty-first century.  You’ve come a long way, baby.

A handful of states now offer marriage equality, either through court decree or legislative fiat.  A handful more allow civil unions.  The Matthew Shepherd bill extended hate crimes protection to sexual orientation.  “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” in the military is likely to be phased out soon.

Several branches of Judaism and several of Christianity allow gay clergy and blessings of same-gender unions.  This summer, the Episcopal church opened the episcopate to gays, and a lesbian bishop was elected in California just a week ago.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) became the largest religious denomination anywhere in the world to allow gay clergy in committed relationships and to allow blessing of same-gender unions.  Their Swedish counterpart, the Lutheran Church of Sweden, also elected a lesbian bishop this year.

But the battles rage on.  The worldwide Anglican communion and its leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, are harshly critical of their American communion partner, the Episcopal church.  A dissident group of Lutherans called Lutheran Core is making a lot of noise and siphoning off members, congregations and especially funds from the ELCA.  Gay rights is both a secular and a religious issue, and religious organizations have played major roles in the outcomes of public ballot initiatives in California in 2008 (Mormon) and Maine in 2009 (Catholic), which narrowly rejected marriage equality.

As the year comes to a close, the focus shifts to New Jersey where a marriage equality bill is moving through the legislature.  A new public opinion poll in that state offers fascinating insight into the overlap of the religious and the secular (hat tip to Irish blogger Terence Weldon for first posting about this poll overnight).  The poll was conducted by Rutgers University, and is posted on the University’s media relations site.

Despite opposition from the Catholic Church, New Jersey Catholics generally support legalizing gay marriage, according to a Rutgers-Eagleton Poll released today. Among Catholics, 48 percent support gay marriage, while 40 percent oppose and 12 percent are undecided. Protestants hold the opposite view, with only 34 percent supporting and 55 percent opposing gay marriage; 11 percent are undecided. Jewish respondents support gay marriage, 56 percent to 40 percent, with 4 percent undecided, while those with no religion preference are the most supportive, at 85 percent to only 10 percent opposed (5 percent undecided).

The Protestant numbers are skewed a bit by lumping evangelicals and non-evangelicals together.  The evangelicals are strongly negative, but the main line Protestant numbers approximate the favorable figures for both Catholics and Jews (47% favorable, 37% unfavorable).  Equally interesting is the finding that none of the religious groups, including the evangelicals, consider this issue to be of major importance.

“While the issue matters to a very small but passionate group on both sides, by far, most New Jerseyans of all stripes think there are more critical issues that need to be addressed,” Redlawsk said. “This suggests that regardless how a legislator votes, at the next election, this vote will be far less important to potential re-election than most other issues the Legislature will deal with.

Bible too liberal? Then rewrite it.

Several months ago, I offered a blog post on the plan of conservative theologians to revisit and revise the New International Version of the Bible (NIV), the version published by Zondervan that is the favorite Bible for evangelicals.  Apparently, the most recent edition of the NIV, known as the Today’s New International Version (TNIV), offended many conservatives because it attempted gender neutral language.  Thus, the scholars behind the NIV are going to try again to come up with a current edition that does not offend its base of supporters.  Here is a portion of my earlier post:

What is ironic in the current debate over the revisions to the NIV is that this is a fight amongst conservatives and not a liberal/conservative split.  The NIV editors are an independent group of conservative scholars and translators formed in 1965 to create and revise the NIV, and the publisher is Zondervan, an Evangelical publishing house and a Rupert Murdoch company.

While the Zondervan/NIV revision is a serious effort by bona fide scholars, the latest news about a wiki like online project to purge the Bible of certain liberal leanings is laughable.  According to the AP,

The conservative online encyclopedia [conservapedia.com] is hosting a project of amateur conservative readers that are putting together their own interpretation of the Bible, to counter what they say is liberal bias by scholars.

The project’s authors argue that contemporary scholars have inserted liberal views and ahistorical passages into the Bible, turning Jesus into little more than a well-meaning social worker with a store of watered-down platitudes.

“Professors are the most liberal group of people in the world, and it’s professors who are doing the popular modern translations of the Bible,” said Andy Schlafly, founder of Conservapedia.com, the project’s online home.

A prime example of the cutting and pasting proposed by conservapedia is the statement attributed to Jesus on the cross, speaking about his persecutors, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”  Luke 23:34 (NRSV & NIV)  Apparently, such a forgiving attitude is too liberal for conservapedia.

But what of the scholarly merits of the suggestion that this passage is false, an insertion by liberal professors?  Silly, at best.

While it is true that certain ancient Greek texts do not include this passage (and so noted in the footnotes of both the NRSV and NIV), it is not modern liberal scholars who chose to include this statement of Jesus.  This verse appears in the Codex Sinaiticus, a fourth century manuscript and one of the oldest extant full versions of the Bible; it appears in the Latin Vulgate, translated by that flaming liberal, St. Jerome, circa 400 CE, which became the Roman Catholic bible for the next fifteen hundred years; and it appears in the King James version translated in 1611, the primary English version of the Bible until the twentieth century.

But don’t let honest scholarship stand in your way, Mr. Schlafly and the rest of the conservapedia know-nothings.


How the religious right stains all Christians

This is a reprint of a post in Street Prophets.

I won’t be silent – This is not CHRISTIAN!

by angeleyes
Mon Sep 07, 2009 at 03:48:18 PM PDT

I’ll begin by saying this.  I’m angry.  Righteously Angry!!

Just a little background on me. I’ve been a dedicated Charismatic, Evangelical Christian for almost 20 years.  I was raised in a Christian home. I’ve studied the bible – which I believe is the inspired Word of God. I’ve meditated on the teachings of Jesus Christ. I’ve ministered and represented His teachings publicly. 

I take a fair amount of heat, especially in Democratic circles for my Christian beliefs. It’s frustrating sometimes to be sure, but you know, with idiots representing my faith saying things like this:


I completely get it.

Part of the reason I believe Christianity today is so misunderstood is  because those of us who are passionate about our faith, and happen to be sane, rational creatures are overshadowed by maniacal kooks who “wear” the Christian label, but are far from followers of the faith.

I woke up this morning and was checking the morning news headlines on CNN.  There was the story of this Pastor (if I have to call him that) Steven Anderson of the Faithful Word (although I’m not sure what “word” that would be) Baptist church in Arizona who really has opened his mouth, as a supposed Minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and actually said that he hates President Obama and wants God to “break his teeth” (a veiled reference to Psalms 58:6 where David was asking God to go after the truly evil folks who were after him and were trying to slander him and take his life). HE SAID WHAT?!!

So I immediately started scouring the internet to see what the TRUE Christian response has been – crickets.  No one from the faith has denounced him publicly yet? How is this even possible!

Well, I won’t be silent!  This man does not represent the Jesus I know, love, and serve.  I won’t sit quietly by while this man grabs the spotlight and purports to speak for those of my faith. 

The Christian faith is built on the foundation of love. There are denominational and doctrinal differences for sue, but the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)which are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, humility and self control are fundamental to the faith, and the bible says against these things there is no law (or rule that anybody could come up with that would negate them). When Jesus said to “love your neighbor as you love yourself”, he meant it. It’s not up for debate.

By publicly voicing his desire that President Obama be killed, have his teeth broken, and whatever else looney things this man has uttered from his filthy mouth, he has violated the very principal precept of our faith. Now faith, hope, and love remain, but the GREATEST of these is love (1 Corinthians 13). 

I don’t have a pulpit to stand in and denounce this man.  None of the major news outlets are contacting me and asking me my opinion on Pastor (cough!) Anderson’s ravings. I just have this diary.

If there are any Pastors, Ministers, Church Elders, etc. who are reading this, please, IT’S TIME FOR US TO SPEAK UP! We’ve got the “harmless as a dove”, “meek and mild” thing perfected dang near to a fault. We MUST speak out when someone is misrepresenting our faith! Not later, but NOW. Use your voice wherever you are planted, but we have to push back. Let’s write Focus on the Family, CBN, Family Research Council (since they seem to want to be “on point” for all things Christian) and ask them to remain faithful to the Word of God that commands us to represent his teachings above our own selfish motives, and public denounce Pastor (cough!) Anderson and anyone else who, in the name of our Lord, says such things.

Do you really want to keep explaining away these clowns? Let’s marginalize them NOW!

Is the conservative’s Bible about to become more liberal?

Gutenberg Bible What is the Bible and how do we use it? 

This is a recurring thread in this blog.  See prior discussions here and here.  The question comes up again in light of the announcement that the editors and publishers of the most popular version of the Bible (NIV) plan to issue a new revision that has conservatives stirring.

The world’s most-popular Bible will undergo its first revision in 25 years, modernizing the language in some sections and promising to reopen a contentious debate about changing gender terms in the sacred text.

The New International Version, the Bible of choice for conservative evangelicals, will be revised to reflect changes in English usage and advances in Biblical scholarship, it was announced Tuesday. The revision is scheduled to be completed late next year and published in 2011.  MSNBC.com

The history of manuscript transmission and interpretation is fascinating and far beyond the scope of a blog post.  For a brief introduction, I suggest the Wikipedia article on Bible Translations.  Equally fascinating are the differing attitudes toward the Bible as blogger Cathy Lynn Grossman notes in her Faith and Reason blog on USAtoday.com:

How much this matters to you may well depend on how you see the Bible.

The number of people who say they believe the Bible is "the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word" has bumped downward from four in ten adults in 1984 to fewer than three in 10 (27%) in 2008, according to Gallup surveys of 1,000 U.S. adults.

Half of Americans say the Bible as "the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally." And one in five call the Bible "an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man."

In the recent debates at the ELCA convention over LGBT issues, the fundamental disagreements stemmed from differing attitudes toward scripture.  Questioning negative gay Bible passages is a rejection of the authority of scripture argued some conservatives.  No, there are “deeper streams” of interpretation that are more instructive than the “clobber” passages countered the progressives.  Both sides claimed Biblical warrant for their positions.

What is ironic in the current debate over the revisions to the NIV is that this is a fight amongst conservatives and not a liberal/conservative split.  The NIV editors are an independent group of conservative scholars and translators formed in 1965 to create and revise the NIV, and the publisher is Zondervan, an Evangelical publishing house and a Rupert Murdoch company.

It seems that honest scholarship that reveals nuanced shades of gray makes many evangelicals squirm even when the scholars are their own.