Category: belief


Can people of faith cheer for death?
Smells Like Sprit
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. Or something like that.

News spread like a Pueblo West brushfire that Osama Bin Laden, America’s longtime Public Enemy Number One, had been killed in a firefight with Delta Force and Navy SEAL soldiers earlier in May. I wrestled with mixed feelings as I heard President Obama break the news late that Sunday evening, relieved that the manhunt was finally over, but also disturbed by the fatal outcome.

Then I jumped online to chat it up with my fellow Facebookers to see what the pulse of my peers was. The feelings spanned the spectrum, from dismay that our government world embark on secret assassination missions in foreign territory to outright jubilation that the Bad Guy finally got his due.

The latter sentiment really bothered me, though, especially when it came from folks I knew considered themselves to be people of faith. To celebrate the killing of anyone – ever – seems contrary to the tenet that we see (or at least seek to see) God in all of creation. To cheer the killing of Osama Bin Laden seemed to me an effort to draw a line in the sand between the so-called “sheep” and “goats,” thus ensuring we’re on the side of the righteous.

Are we so sure, though? I’m not saying in any way that the horrendous acts of September 11th, 2001 are justified by any human or divine sense of justice: at least I hope not. But how sure are we that our hands are without similar blemish? And ultimately, how can there ever be peace when the transaction of justice is “blood for blood?”

I guess it raises the question of whether what we are seeking is peace, or our own sense of justice. And when we ascribe what we claim as right and wrong as divinely justified, well, how is that different from what Bin Laden did in the first place?

The whole thing causes me to think back to a story I once read in an August 8th, 2008 post on the Christianity Today website about theologian and author Dietrich Bonheoffer and his opposition to Adolf Hitler. The article says the following about Bonheoffer:

“To this point he had been a pacifist, and he had tried to oppose the Nazis through religious action and moral persuasion. Now he signed up with the German secret service (to serve as a double agent—while traveling to church conferences over Europe, he was supposed to be collecting information about the places he visited, but he was, instead, trying to help Jews escape Nazi oppression). Bonheoffer also became a part of a plot to overthrow, and later to assassinate, Hitler.”

Bonheoffer later was hanged along with other Jewish sympathizers before he could participate in any assassination attempt. But Bonheoffer himself acknowledges the hypocrisy of trying to kill another human being, no matter their evils, in the name of a faith that ultimately calls for peace and reconciliation.

It was in his humanity, not in his faith, that he found the compulsion to kill Hitler. All the while he recognized the discrepancy with what he claimed as his beliefs, yet felt helpless to resort to any, less violent, solution.

In the pop culture sphere, I think of the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker chops off Darth Vader’s hand with his light saber, only to look down and realize his own hand had become that of his enemy.

How, after all, do we respond like our enemy without becoming that which we hate? Is it even possible?

The answer to that, as I’ve said in columns past, is above my pay grade. But suffice it to say that Proverbs 24, Verse 17, sums up my feelings about how we’re called to react to such a killing;

Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls. Don’t let your heart be glad when he is overthrown.

Freedom not to be free?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

We’ve all watched history revealing itself in real time with the remarkable events in the Middle East. From Egypt and Libya to Yemen and Bahrain, individuals and small groups of protesters are challenging the iron grasps of decades-long dictatorships. It’s enough to give even the most cynical observer a moment of awe-filled pause.

For the most part, the protesters focus on wanting to bring democracy to their respective countries, a situation that would seem to be a natural for American support. The trouble is, we’ve had economically and strategically beneficial relationships with many of these dictators for a long time. By placing our allegiance with the people in the streets, we run the risk that the revolutions may fail, and that we may be left with a tarnished, if not irreparable, relationship with a former partner.

Does the United States support democracy? Sort of. When it’s in our best interests, to be sure. Yes, we’ve stuck our necks out in some cases where we seemed to have little vested interest, but suffice it to say we drag our feet when there an oil pipeline or American military base involved.

But there are other issues at play here, and I’m not sure any of them are discussed at the level where real decisions are made. One came to light for me when co-editing a recent book for Chalice Press called “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics.” In it, a pair of self-proclaimed Christian anarchists made the compelling claim that voting, in itself, is an act of violence.

What? The system we’ve come to hold near and practically worship is inherently violent? It took me a while to come around, and though I don’t entirely see eye to eye with them, they make a good point.

The essence of the argument is that, in a democracy, 50 percent of the people plus one more can subjugate the will and rights of the rest. By not making room for the minority’s interests to be heard and acted on in these instances, the minority is marginalized. This, the authors claim, falls within the definition of inflicting violence from the majority onto the minority.

Kinda like Churchill said, it’s a tragically flawed system, but it’s the best we have. But what about in a context where religious ideology is poised to use majority rule to impose potentially severe limits on many of its people? And what if these leaders, though democratically elected, might set out to impose a legal system that is inherently un-democratic?

Some protest groups seek to impose Sharia, an Islamic system of law based upon truths revealed in the Quran by Allah, and through practices embodied by the prophet Muhammad. Sharia, like many ideological systems, has been interpreted in a number of ways by different people, but in some cases it can seriously limit the rights of women. For example, under some understandings of Sharia, men can have up to four wives, women are told what they can and can’t wear in public, and in some cases, they may not be allowed to vote.

So, do we put our material and human resources at risk to support those seeking democracy in their country, all the while knowing that they fully intend to implement a legal system that many believe violates human and civil rights? Or do we keep propping up the dictators who, by fear and threat of violence, may keep a relative peace in the land where the oil runs freely?

Talk about a moral dilemma. Some might even say it’s a lose-lose scenario. Theologian Walter Wink suggests that any violent or oppressive system that is replaced by violent means run a great risk of becoming that which it despised, changing the rulers but not the rules.

Provided the dictators are overthrown, we can always offer to serve in an advisory role on how to effect safeguards that prevent laws that violate individual or collective rights. But if democracy is really just a means to another ideological end, the new powers that be may have no interest in what we have to say.

If we try to implement certain strictures by force, we run the risk of further solidifying our reputation as an imperial power, intent on taking over the region one country at a time. So do we support the uprisings, knowing that what may emerge is another system of governance with which we have fundamental differences? Or do we stand on the sidelines, convincing ourselves that tyrants like Gaddafi aren’t really so bad?

Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I still believe that the greatest change for the better comes from leading by example. For us, this begins with advocating for truly equal rights across the board in our own back yard, including those who love differently or look differently than we. Until that time, our calls for freedom and equality ring hollow in a world that sees the truth beneath the thin veneer.

How do we reconcile the Old Testament command for vengeance (eye for an eye) with Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek and love our enemies?

(Order BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE, now available at Chalice Press and other booksellers.)

Becky Garrison:

Our hatred of the “other” is nothing new. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Samaritans and the Jews had been at each other’s throats for literally hundreds of years. At the time when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), the concept of a Samaritan coming to the rescue of a Jew would have been considered just as incongruous as if, say, a Focus on the Family follower marched in the New York City LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Parade today.

But as the parable made clear, the Samaritan was considered the Jewish man’s “neighbor.” By implication, that means the definition of “neighbor” has to be expanded to include all of God’s children, including those of different social classes, races, creeds and political affiliations. When Jesus commanded His followers to “go and do likewise” by following the example of the Good Samaritan, he challenged the early church to look beyond its comfort zone. His disciples were required to obey the Greatest Commandment by showing His love and kindness to all people, because everyone was their “neighbor.”

The early Christian church cut across the various hierarchical lines that divided people. It did not seek to dominate the political establishment or maintain the status quo; rather its goal was to spread the universal love of Christ. In doing that, it transformed the world.

Jarrod McKenna:

I had just finished running a workshop for Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society and an anti-nuclear organization on the history and power of nonviolent direct action where I had explored and trained people in the transformative nonviolence of Gandhi, MLK and to the surprise of many gathered, Jesus. Afterwards a well-respected activist approached me away from others and asked with tears in their eyes, “Why was this Jesus not found in my experience of church?”

This question goes to the heart of the Gospel. To the heart of mission. To the heart of discipleship. Why is it that people can’t find the hope of the world in our churches? I think it’s directly connected to the lack of schooling in letting God’s love through us by “loving our enemies.” To be merciful as The Triune God is merciful. Fierce Calvary-shaped love is how God has saved us and its how we are to witness to our salvation. Grace is both how God has saved us and the pattern of kingdom living the Holy Spirit empowers us for.

“Eye for an eye” is not about vengeance but the limitation of retaliation. In Christ, violence is not only restrained but transformed. On the cross God does not overcome evil with evil but with good (Rom. 12:21). There is nothing passive about Jesus turning the other cheek in the face of injustice (John 18:23). To turn the other cheek is to practice the provocative peace that embodies the healing justice of the Kingdom that exposing injustice with the presence of Love (Col.2:15).

We don’t need to reconcile vengeance or violence with loving our enemies. Instead we need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to witness to God reconciling the world to Godself through the nonviolent Messiah, Jesus.

Rebecca Bowman Woods:

In Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn’t, Stephen Prothero shares the story of a 1995 Colorado murder trial. During deliberations, one juror pulled out his Bible and quoted Leviticus 24, the “eye for an eye” passage that concludes with “He that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.” After the juror instructed his fellow jurors to go home and prayerfully consider this passage, they voted unanimously for the death penalty.

The state Supreme Court ordered a new trial, ruling that jurors were not allowed to consult the Bible. Some Christians, led by Colorado-based Focus on the Family, protested the higher court’s ruling. Perhaps rightly so — can a court really prevent people of faith from including scripture in their decision-making?

But the real injustice, in Prothero’s opinion, was that the jurors failed to consider the rest of the Bible, particularly Jesus’ views on retaliation in Matthew 5:38-42.

“There are very few passages from the Hebrew Bible that are explicitly refuted in the New Testament, but Leviticus 24:20-21 (echoed in Exodus 21:23-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21) is one of them,” writes Prothero, a professor of religious studies at Boston University and a staunch advocate of religious literacy.

Christians should rarely fall back on the ‘New Testament supersedes the Old Testament’ argument. In Matthew 5, Jesus warns that he has not “come to abolish the law or the prophets” but to fulfill it. He teaches an ethic that “embraces and extends” the law in several instances, and refutes it in a few.

Amy Greenbaum, a friend who is in the process of becoming an ordained Reformed Jewish rabbi, says the ‘eye for an eye’ text in Leviticus 24 would not have been taken literally, even in ancient times.

Kathy Escobar:

I started seeking God on my own when I was a little girl, apart from my family who were not Christians.  I can’t explain it, really; I was always drawn to Jesus but couldn’t quite make sense of the Old Testament and a lot of the crazy things that were in there–whole communities being wiped out, God’s vengeance being poured out left and right.  I tried to skip over those parts and somehow erase them from my mind and just focus on Jesus because that was a lot more comforting.

Later, as I began to mature in my faith, I realized I needed to wrestle with this disparity.  I admit, I still do. I rest on the new order that Jesus created through the incarnation, turning the old ways upside down.  I think the contrast is important; the radical difference between vengeance in the Old and New Testament makes God’s point.  Jesus changes everything, teaching what the Kingdom now means.

The Sermon on the Mount clearly sets the stage for this new way that completely demolishes the idea of “an eye for an eye.” I don’t think I have to pick apart all the reasons why the Old Testament contains certain stories or examples that are utterly confusing and seemingly contrary to God’s heart for people. I try to rest on the reality that through the gospels, all that changed.   The commands shifted, the law got summed up, and the Kingdom principles Jesus taught were going to be much harder to apply than the old laws by a long shot.

Are some sins worse or better than others?

(From the book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE by Chalice Press, edited by Christian Piatt. Order either BANNED QUESTIONS book on the Chalice Press website during the month of March, enter the promotional code “BANNEDMAR” at checkout and receive a 40% discount.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber:

It’s important to recognize the difference between big S Sin and little s sins.  Big S sin is the human state of being “turned in on self” without a thought of God or neighbor.  Big S sin is putting ourselves on God’s throne and not allowing God to be God for us.  The fancy Latin that Martin Luther used was se encurvatus en se.  The self turned in on the self.  That is that state of big S sin in which every human being on the planet lives.

Little s sins are the result of big S sin.  But even if someone managed to pull off not committing little s sin they would still be plagued with big S Sin.  Yet a lot of Christianity tries to come off as a way to avoid little s sin so that you are progressively sanctified until – poof – you are without big S sin.

For the record, Lutherans such as myself do not think this is actually possible, even though it sounds real nice. This is why a lot of other Christians don’t like Lutherans, but that is another story entirely.

Now, back to the question.  Are some little s sins worse than others? Yes. Are some little s sins better that others? No. (Leave it to a Lutheran to make something a paradox). But here’s the thing: the sin of murder is more harmful than the sin of, say, stealing a salt-shaker from Denny’s. But the big S Sin of the sinner who stole the salt-shaker is no less than the big S Sin of the sinner who killed another sinner.

Being Christian does not mean that we follow a really great Sin Management Program. It means that we confess that the grace of God is sufficient.

…if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.[1]

-Martin Luther

Gary Peluso-Verdend:

Yes, but first let’s define sin. In the U.S., we tend to think of “sin” and “sex” together. That pairing is most unfortunate, both for a healthy understanding of sex as well as a healthy understanding of sin. This limitation of “sin” to “sex” and, secondarily, to some vices (e.g., gambling, drinking, smoking) leads us Christians to over-attend to sexual sin and under-attend to other areas of sin.

For example, in a recent national election, most Americans polled did not understand war as a moral issue.

Sin is a condition of broken relationship, the act of breaking a relationship, living in broken relationships, and acting in ways so as to perpetuate a broken relationship. By this definition, murder is sin, insulting a colleague is sin, and passing laws that perpetuate injustice is sin. I’ve heard some interpreters quote Paul to the effect that, since “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all sin is equal. Paul’s statement might be rightly used to argue all human beings are sinners but not that all sins are equally weighty. Catholic moral theology has long argued that some sins were more (mortal) or less (venial) severe.

Certainly, murder is a worse sin than stealing a piece of candy. Abusing a child is a worse sin than flipping off the driver who cut you off in traffic.

Consider this principle: the more people are affected, the more permanent are the negative consequences, the deeper and broader and more irreparable the broken relationships, the worse the sin.

Joshua Einsohn:

Well, some sins are a lot more fun than others!  (Rim shot, please!).

I’m not really one to worry about the afterlife. If there is one, I think everyone pretty much has it wrong. A favorable judgment isn’t going to come from specifically taking, say, Jesus into your heart. Taking love into your heart, sure. But all the exclusionary rules that fall under the category of “sin” are far too inconsistent to be what actually happens.

I have to believe that the sin of stealing your stapler from work isn’t going to compete with the sin of hypocrisy. I have to believe that the people who claim to do God’s work by making miserable the lives of those who are different from them aren’t really allowed a free pass when it comes to cleansing their conscience.

Even within the Ten Commandments, some are quite obviously good guidelines, but some are a little hazy. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t take shit that’s not yours. Don’t lie.  Stop checkin’ out your neighbor’s firm butt because you might try to do something about it.

Solid advice. Telling your buddy that the hideous item of clothing that they’ve fallen in love with looks good on them…well, yes that’s bearing false witness, but it comes from a good place, so that’s gotta be ok, right???

The whole “sin” thing seems to be on a sliding scale to me, but I’ve always operated under the idea that all sins are not created equally and that the best we can do is avoid the big ones and try to learn not to commit the smaller ones…often.


[1] Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, “Luther’s Works,” American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282

From the upcoming book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE. Order sets of five copies at Chalice Press, enter the promotional code “BANNEDQ5” at checkout and get 40% all five books.

What does the Bible really say about homosexuality?

Christian Piatt:
Perhaps nothing sparks more heated debate over scripture than the Biblical position on homosexuality. First off, it should be pointed out that there is no reference whatsoever in any Biblical scripture about homosexuality; rather, it refers in some instances to homosexual acts. And depending on your understanding of sexual orientation, there can be a big difference between the two.

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is perhaps the most famous – or infamous, based on where you’re coming from – but it’s important to understand how homosexual behavior was used in the town from which “sodomy” was coined. When a town was conquered, one way that the victorious army would demonstrate their dominance was to rape the women of the village. Sometimes, to add further insult to the defeat, they would even rape the men.

Rather than an intimate act, this behavior actually was a military strategy, though brutal and repulsive, to break the spirits of the defeated culture.

Other references, including those by the apostle Paul, condemn men for lying with men as if they are women. Again, some context helps us understand that certain non-Christian religions of the time conducted ritual orgies as a tribute to their god or gods, and though it can be argued either way, it’s possible that Paul was referring to what he considered heathenous religious practice rather than consensual gay couples.

As for Jesus, he never spoke about homosexuality or homosexual acts, so for those who look principally for him for guidance, we’re left with our own consciences to guide us.

Kathy Escobar:
The passages that are commonly used as an argument against homosexuality are Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13.

However, like all the translations of the Bible, there are all kinds of different meanings from the original words that people use to prove their divergent points. In the 1 Corinthians 6 passage, for example, which is often used, the word for “homosexual offenders”– arsenokoitai–has a wide range of interpretations. In fact, every passage does.

That is one of the crazy parts about being more honest about Bible interpretation; it is subjective and always open for scrutiny if we respect our human limitations and inability to be 100% certain that this what God means. Regarding this issue, it is interesting to me that Jesus was never recorded in the gospels as mentioning homosexuality, yet clearly this has become one of the most significantly “Christian” issues of our time.

I come from a conservative evangelical tradition and have made great shifts in what I believe over the years as I began to realize that I primarily believed certain things because that is what people in power told me. As I started to do my own biblical research (and cultivate close relationship with gay and lesbian friends) my heart began to feel far less certain about what I had been taught. Because my church, The Refuge, is an inclusive community, sometimes people of a more conservative persuasion will ask me, “What we do about the gay people who are part of our community? Don’t we tell them the truth about what the Bible says?”

My answer has become so clear and freeing; I tell them “I know that you see the scriptures that way, and I understand there are some passages in the Bible that point to homosexual behavior as a sin, but it would be a good idea for you to know some other people who see those passages differently, who read the same exact words as you and have solid convictions – as solid as yours – that are completely different from your viewpoint. Maybe you can learn from each other in true community instead of argue over the teaching of biblical truth.”

Over time, I have come to the conclusion that I don’t really know, but I don’t really need to know. I don’t have a simple way to reconcile these passages or dismiss created design and the differences between male and female anatomy. Regardless, I can say all of the unknowns, various interpretations and perspectives do force me to keep turning to and relying on the bigger story, and the bigger story is about Jesus alive and at work, restoring, rebuilding, healing, challenging, moving people of all shapes, sizes, colors and sexual orientations.

Joshua Einsohn:
The Bible says a lot of pretty mean things about homosexuality: “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman; that is an abomination” (Leviticus 18:22). (I know that the Lord was speaking with Moses here, but the subtle sexism should be noted…it overlooks woman-on-woman action.)

Leviticus goes back for more: “If a man has intercourse with a man as with a woman, they both commit an abomination. They shall be put to death; their blood shall be on their own heads” (Leviticus 20:13).

And lest we forget the New Testament, Romans 1:26-27 says that men and women who have homosexual relations are considered “unnatural” and pretty much have it comin’ for their “perversion.” Nice to see that women were acknowledged here, though. Progress of a sort, I suppose.

However, there are many laws that aren’t followed today because they are considered antiquated or irrelevant. In Leviticus 19:20, it says that it’s ok to doink a slave-girl as long as she hasn’t been freed and that you feel pretty crappy about it afterwards. And there’s also: “When any man reviles his father and his mother, he shall be put to death” (Leviticus 20:9). I’m sure that the parents of many teenagers are game for that one, but modern law prohibits it and that’s probably a good idea. We see very few stonings these days that aren’t frowned upon, but it was quite the fad back then.

Many ancient laws, from keeping Kosher to circumcision, are considered up for interpretation. Pro-gay rights advocates claim that there have been mistranslations and inconsistent enforcement of laws. Many conservatives argue that these passages should be adhered to strictly.

All I know is that when I hear these words hurled at me and people that I care about, they hurt. A lot.

Jason Boyett:
The Bible explicitly condemns homosexuality, but these few passages leave room for interpretation. For example, Genesis 19—the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—is traditionally thought to have been a punishment on the cities’ rampant homosexuality. After all, that’s were we got the term “sodomites.” But Ezekiel 16:49 says the sin of Sodom was arrogance, apathy, and neglect of the poor. So was God punishing Sodom for homosexuality in general? For something specific like rape or inhospitality? Or for something else?

Likewise, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 describe “[lying]with a man as one lies with a woman” as “detestable.” Seems pretty clear, right? But it also describes sex with a woman during her period as being detestable. These verses are part of a holiness code to separate the Israelites from neighboring cultures. Some scholars suggest it doesn’t condemn a homosexual lifestyle as much as it prohibits a specific pagan temple practice.

What about the New Testament? Romans 1:26-27 identifies homosexual activity as “indecent,” but the passage seems to address ritual behavior or pagan orgies. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 denies God’s kingdom to “homosexual offenders,” based on a confusing Greek word that probably refers to older customers of young male prostitutes (pederasty).

What’s the point? The Bible condemns specific homosexual acts, but doesn’t address what we typically think of as homosexuality today—homosexual orientation or loving, committed homosexual relationships. This doesn’t mean the Bible approves of it, but only that it is silent on the subject.

José F. Morales, Jr.:
What does the Bible say about homosexuality as we understand it today? Homosexuality as orientation, not simply as choice? Nothing. Well, maybe something.

In the Levitical Code (Leviticus 17-26), homosexuality is called abomination, but so is eating shrimp and wearing mixed fabric. But we somehow don’t get our cotton-blend panties in a bunch whenever we go to Red Lobster. We highlight one verse about “homosexuality” and ignore the rest, and have wrongfully used it to discriminate against homosexuals. Interestingly, most scholars admit that these verses are some of the hardest to translate and understand.

Then comes Paul. Paul reduces homosexuality to pederasty (men using boys) and cultic male prostitution. He had no concept of faithful, monogamous, same-sex relationships, or of sexual orientation. Therefore the Bible says nothing homosexuality as we under…

But wait! Christian biologist Joan Roughgarden argues that we’re looking in the wrong place. She says we need to see how the Bible treats eunuchs, for the term “eunuch” also referred to “effeminate” men, men with both sets of genitals, and men with same-sex attraction. This last one comes closest to contemporary understanding. “For some are eunuchs because they were born that way…” (Matthew 19:12).

In the Law, eunuchs are condemned. But in Acts 8, a eunuch is baptized by Philip and portrayed in the text, and in later Ethiopian Church tradition, as a righteous leader in the Church.

And most powerfully, in Isaiah 56:4-5,8—
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me…
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name…
I will give them an everlasting name…
I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered.”

God is gathering the gays…awesome!

Dig the video I made about my upcoming book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE:

I was psyched when Jarrod McKenna, one of the contributors to the forthcoming BANNED QUESTIONS book series, told me her had an interview of Rob Bell appearing on ABC Australia’s news site about Rob’s new book, LOVE WINS: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. My initial excitement had to do with Jarrod’s citation of a passage from BANNED QUESTIONS toward the end of the piece, but the central message of the interview, and apparently of the book, is far more significant than I expected.

Rather than paraphrase what Jarrod and Rob have already said so well, I’ll just quote Rob from his book:

Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith – the afterlife – arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic – eternal life doesn’t start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins.”

Did you hear that? It’s the sound of thousands of conservative evangelicals closing their mental doors on Rob Bell in unison.

For some within mainline Christian circles, the prospect of “universal salvation,” or the idea that God ultimately reconciles all of us into God’s presence, regardless of our worthiness of such grace, may not be a real shock. But even the suggestion of what I consider “Christian Universalism” within evangelical circles is sure to send seismic ripples throughout the church.

And his claim has done just that.

Neo-Calvinist John Piper led the charge, bidding farewell en masse to Bell and his message of non-exclusive salvation. What, after all, do many Christians have to offer the world if not the key to unlock the gates of hell from the inside?

While Jonathan Edwards showed us, with his “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” sermon, that fear can galvanize a congregation, Bell’s message is that love – and more specifically God’s love – is bigger than the sum total of our fears, sins, and other shortcomings is a call in a growing chorus. This, in the truest sense of the word, is Gospel: Good News!

Chalice Press is offering a special promotion through ABC Australia of 40% off pre-orders of BANNED QUESTIONS books. Order in March through the Chalice Press site and enter the code “BANNEDQ1” at checkout.

 

The flaws of biblically-based sex education

(Originally published in PULP)

It’s no shock that teen pregnancy and other related issues are a big problem in this community. It’s been that way for a long time. Various people have offered ideas about why this is and what to do about it, but little ever changes. Children keep having babies, generation after generation raise little ones in poverty, grandparents step in as parents to grandkids and the nuclear family suffers because of it all.

Everyone seems to be on the same page about one thing: Our kids need some kind of education about anatomy, sex and sexuality. But as for when that should happen, how it should be accomplished and what should be included or kept out is incredibly divisive.

One of the biggest problems is the pressure to teach abstinence-only sex education. First off, that’s not sex education. It’s propaganda for a narrow social agenda that is in denial about reality. Generally, this approach goes hand-in-hand with conveying an aura of shame about one’s body and sexual urges, and suggesting that if you act contrary to the “just say no” ethos, you are a failure, and maybe a sinful one to boot.

I agree that it would be just swell if all of our young people waited for that one lifetime monogamous relationship to come along to have sex, but this ignores some basic truths about how our culture treats sex. While a health teacher or pastor is telling you not to do it, the rest of the culture obsesses about how awesome sex is. Somebody’s not being honest here.

Oh, and did I mention that comprehensive scientific studies have shown, with little room for ambiguity, that abstinence-only sex education hasn’t worked and continues not to work?

Many people claim the moral authority of the Bible for the basis of their argument for abstinence-only sex education. But let’s consider this in a little bit of a broader context.

For one, although women of the biblical eras were not allowed to have sex outside of marriage, there were lots of cases in which men had extramarital relations. So is it just girls we’re telling to say no? Do the boys get a free pass?

Also, the whole idea of no sex until marriage presumed a different way of life back when the Scriptures were written. Most young people were married off soon after they reached the age when they could reproduce. So the time between when most folks got the urge to procreate and when they had a chance to within the bond of marriage was not that long.

Nowadays, kids are not only are entering puberty at increasingly younger ages, but we’re also waiting longer and longer to get married, if at all. So whereas a young girl might have been matched up with a suitor within a year or so of being fertile in days of yore, now we often wait 10, 20 or more years to settle down.

So maybe the solution, if we’re so hung up on literal adherence to biblical rule, is to marry all of our kids off at age 13. Yeah, I didn’t think so.

It seems to me that if leaders in faith communities focused much more on the “Greatest Commandment,” not just rhetorically, but also in modeling how to conduct our lives as individuals and as community, we’d be much better off. For those who are unfamiliar, Jesus is asked (in an effort to frame him for blasphemy, mind you) which of the Judaic laws is the most important. His response: love God with all you have and all you are, and love your neighbor as you love yourself.

What Jesus lays out in this relatively simple statement is a blueprint for an entire way of living. If we remain focused on love for ourselves and for others, as fellow creatures of God, this daily practice of doing so will inform all of our moral decisions. We don’t have to worry so much about checking off an exhaustive list of rules if we simply treat everyone else as if they were a precious gift from God.

Unfortunately this is not something we can simply drop on kids in a few hours when they hit seventh grade and hope it changes their worldview. They must be taught what it means to love their own bodies, and to love others’ bodies, hearts, minds and spirits, from the time they can speak, let alone have sex. We have to get over the shame and self-loathing for our bodies that many mistakenly seem to think equals piety.

The arguments about how to conduct sex education points to a deeper neurosis we have as a society about our lack of control over our children. Nothing – no matter what the message – can make kids not have sex. Ultimately it’s their bodies and their choices. Focusing on love, and on the responsibility that loving self and others carries with it, puts us at least in a healthier frame of mind for those heavy and important discussions.

Finally, if the Bible teaches us anything, it’s that people err. From Genesis on, we’re told one thing and then do another. But God’s response inevitably is to lean in favor of grace over condemnation. We’d be well served to follow such an example.

I’ve added a new podcast related to the BANNED QUESTIONS book series. This podcast deals with the following question:

Aren’t women treated poorly throughout the bible? Why would any intelligent modern woman today even want to read the bible?

(CLICK HERE): Christian Piatt Author Podcast

You can still get the 40% “author” discount on pre-orders of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS by visiting www.chalicepress.com, ordering before February 28th, 2011 and entering the promo code “BANNEDQB” at checkout.

Thanks much to everyone who has pre-ordered either/both of the BANNED QUESTIONS books. Sales are very good so far!

And just as a reminder, you can still get 40% off of unlimited copies of both books (same discount Chalice Press authors get) from now through February 28th. Just go to www.chalicepress.com, search for the BANNED QUESTIONS books, and at checkout, enter the promo code “BANNEDQB” for your discount.

Also, some other good news: We have received outstanding endorsements from Brian McLaren, Scot McKnight and bestselling author AJ Jacobs. McLaren called the project “brilliance” and AJ Jacobs said the following:

“This book isn’t just entertaining and fascinating. It’s inspiring and potentially life-changing. Here’s my own question: Can you be curious and thoughtful about religion and NOT read this book? My answer: No. ”

Please pass this along to others who might enjoy the discount. It would be awesome if we could sell out of the first printing even before the book is published!

Peace,
Christian Piatt
http://www.christianpiatt.com

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