Tag Archive: church


(I’m moving my blog over to www.christianpiatt.com. Visit there and grab the feed to follow future posts)

If there’s one thing emergent Christians can’t stand, it’s being categorized, or worse, stereotyped. It kinda goes against the whole idea that the emergent movement can’t be nailed down, quantified, etc. The funny thing is, most folks who are emergent would deny it if asked, not out of shame, but rather out of principle. It’s kind of like the old saying, “If you meet The Buddha along the road, kill him.” if it’s distilled down to a handful of component parts, it loses something…maybe everything.

Anyway, my wife, Amy, sent along the following clip which pretty much describes me with about ninety-percent accuracy, which is impressive. And given that it’s from a guy who is down on emergents, it does lend him a little bit of credibility to offer a critique.

The following comes from Kevin DeYoung, co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be). First, see for yourself if you’d qualify as emergent based on his criteria. Then I’ll follow up in a second post with a handful of his criticisms of emergents, coupled with my responses.

After reading nearly five thousand pages of emerging-church literature, I have no doubt that the emerging church, while loosely defined and far from uniform, can be described and critiqued as a diverse, but recognizable, movement. You might be an emergent Christian:

if you listen to U2, Moby, and Johnny Cash​’s Hurt (sometimes in church), use sermon illustrations from The Sopranos, drink lattes in the afternoon and Guinness in the evenings, and always use a Mac;
if your reading list consists primarily of Stanley Hauerwas​, Henri Nouwen​, N. T. Wright, Stan Grenz, Dallas Willard​, Brennan Manning, Jim Wallis​, Frederick Buechner​, David Bosch​, John Howard Yoder​, Wendell Berry​, Nancy Murphy, John Franke, Walter Winks and Lesslie Newbigin​ (not to mention McLaren, Pagitt, Bell, etc.) and;
your sparring partners include D. A. Carson, John Calvin​, Martyn Lloyd-Jones​, and Wayne Grudem​;
if your idea of quintessential Christian discipleship is Mother Teresa​, Martin Luther King Jr​., Nelson Mandela​, or Desmond Tutu​;
if you don’t like George W. Bush or institutions or big business or capitalism or Left Behind Christianity;
if your political concerns are poverty, AIDS, imperialism, war-mongering, CEO salaries, consumerism, global warming, racism, and oppression and not so much abortion and gay marriage;
if you are into bohemian, goth, rave, or indie;
if you talk about the myth of redemptive violence and the myth of certainty;
if you lie awake at night having nightmares about all the ways modernism has ruined your life;
if you love the Bible as a beautiful, inspiring collection of works that lead us into the mystery of God but is not inerrant;
if you search for truth but aren’t sure it can be found;
if you’ve ever been to a church with prayer labyrinths, candles, Play-Doh, chalk-drawings, couches, or beanbags (your youth group doesn’t count);
if you loathe words like linear, propositional, rational, machine, and hierarchy and use words like ancient-future, jazz, mosaic, matrix, missional, vintage, and dance;
if you grew up in a very conservative Christian home that in retrospect seems legalistic, naive, and rigid;
if you support women in all levels of ministry, prioritize urban over suburban, and like your theology narrative instead of systematic;
if you disbelieve in any sacred-secular divide;
if you want to be the church and not just go to church;
if you long for a community that is relational, tribal, and primal like a river or a garden;
if you believe doctrine gets in the way of an interactive relationship with Jesus;
if you believe who goes to hell is no one’s business and no one may be there anyway;
if you believe salvation has a little to do with atoning for guilt and a lot to do with bringing the whole creation back into shalom with its Maker;
if you believe following Jesus is not believing the right things but living the right way;
if it really bugs you when people talk about going to heaven instead of heaven coming to us;
if you disdain monological, didactic preaching;
if you use the word “story” in all your propositions about postmodernism—if all or most of this tortuously long sentence describes you…
then you might be an emergent Christian.

Yeah, color me busted. I’m a lot of that stuff. More soon…

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit http://www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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Here’s an interview I did recently with Zachary Bailes of the website, “Crazy Liberals…and Conservatives.” We talked about the State of the Christian Left and much that faces organized religion in a challenging century ahead.

Listen as I interview Christian Piatt author of Banned Questions About the Bible and forthcoming book Banned Questions About Jesus.We discuss the power of questions, progressive Christianity, and the need to share your narrative.
Listen. Enjoy. Engage. Respond.
Link to the original page and podcast:
**On another note you may purchase either volume at Chalice Press for 40% off through June 30, 2011. Use coupon code bannedqj. If this offer is extended you will be notified.

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A little more than twenty years ago, I walked out of a church for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. For a decade, I held to that assumption, but it turns out that God works, even among us heretics.

I’m not going to lean on the whole “everything happens for a reason” cliche because I don’t believe everything does happen for a reason. But the fact that I’m a presenter in Nashville at the New Evangelism Workshop (NEW) on Friday, July 8th and Saturday the 9th with my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt is enough to convince me that God can use nearly anything for good.

What’s most interesting to me is that my entire ministry has ended up being built upon those years I walked away from church. What once appeared to be my stumbling block is now the cornerstone. God is good, and God has a pretty sick sense of humor.

Anyway, if you’re going to be in or around Nashville, TN on July 8-9th, come check out what is sure to be an exciting two days of folks coming together in conversation to discuss and discern just how the church can be relevant in a 21st century world. We’ll be joined by folks like Bill Easum, Bill and Kris Tenny-Brittian, Heather Patriacca Tolleson, Geoffrey McClure Mitchell, Wayne Calhoun, Bill McConnell, Gary Straub, Dick Hamm and lots of others who will come together to share what they have learned about this common mission.

CLICK HERE FOR A FULL ROSTER OF PRESENTERS AND REGISTRATION INFO

As for Amy and me, we’re sticking to what we know best: teaching people how to learn from our mistakes. Seven years into a new church start, we’re alive, well and vibrant, but the road was rife with Strategic IEDs. If we can help others find a smoother path by sharing some from our host of screw-ups, far be it from us to let our egos interfere.

Also, if you’re part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and will be attending the General Assembly in Nashville following the NEW, come check out the groovy Missional Church learning track facilitated by Brian McLaren, Sharon Watkins, Amy, myself and others. We’ll talk about what “emerging church” or “missional church” actually mean, why they matter and what it means for our work as ministers. The setting will be dynamic, interactive and enriching, I’m sure.

CHECK OUT MORE ON THE MISSIONAL CHURCH LEARNING TRACK AT GENERAL ASSEMBLY HERE

Hope to see many of you there.
Peace,
Christian

By LORETTA SWORD | lroettas@chieftain.com

Local author and musical pastor Christian Piatt’s latest book delivers answers to questions many Christians likely have pondered but never asked anyone aloud.

“Banned Questions about the Bible” shares responses from more than a dozen contributors — a recovering consumer, a religious satirist and a seminary president among them — to questions Sunday school teachers are afraid to answer.

The respondents don’t tell readers what to believe about a book that many pastors have always insisted be taken as literal truth.
Instead, they encourage readers to give deeper thought to each topic and to draw their own conclusions.

Questions discussed include:
“Where did Adam and Eve’s kids find spouses?”
“Does God justify violence in scripture?”
“Does the Bible call for sexual purity? (and what qualifies as pure and impure?)”

Piatt says an experience he had when he was younger led him to create the Banned Questions series. The newly released book is the first.

“When I was a teenager, my youth minister threw a Bible at my head for asking questions. Too often, for various reasons, people don’t have the opportunity to ask the hard questions they have about faith, religion, salvation and the Bible. And when questions are left unanswered in communities of faith, people either seek answers elsewhere or lose interest all together,” Piatt said.

“The purpose of the series is to collect the most compelling and challenging questions from various theological areas and pose them to a panel of ‘experts’ who are challenged with responding in 200 words or less in plain English. This volume addresses challenging or controversial questions about scripture collected from people on Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and other social networking media.”

The book has been endorsed by several nationally known Christian authors and is getting positive reviews.

The second book in the Banned Questions series, “Banned Questions about Jesus,” will be released in July.

Piatt, a former Chieftain religion columnist, is the music minister at Milagro Christian Church, where his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, is founding pastor.

For more information or to order “Banned Questions about the Bible,” call 800-366-3383 or visit http://www.ChalicePress.com. The book is available at Amazon.com or direct through the author.

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

The following is a passage from the book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE. Visit Chalice Press, order the BANNED QUESTIONS books online or by phone and use the promotional code “BANNEDMAR” for a 40% discount.

Hell, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, and Tartarus are all labeled as “Hell.” By most Christians. Are they really the same? Are they all places of fiery torment? Are such things to be taken literally, metaphorically, or as myth?

David Lose:

These places aren’t all the same, but they’re similar enough that you can understand why people lump them together. In brief, Sheol and Hades represent the realm of the dead, the place where both good people and bad go after death. Gehenna and Tartarus, on the other hand, are reserved for wicked people and are places of punishment. Hell, a word that comes from Old English, has become a catch-all phrase for the others, but for the last two, especially.

On the whole, the Bible doesn’t talk a whole lot about any of these places, and so I’m a little leery of giving them much significance in our own theology. In fact, I get downright suspicious of folks that seem to like talking about eternal punishment, as that seems out of sync with Jesus’ emphasis on God’s love.

Too often in the Church’s history, hell has been used to scare people into doing what the church wants them to. For this reason, some people think we’ve outgrown the usefulness of concepts like hell and damnation. Others, however, would argue that we wouldn’t appreciate heaven without the threat of hell.

In so far as hell depicts ultimate separation from God, I tend to think that whether it’s an actual physical place or a metaphor, it’s a good place to avoid. On that score, I take hope from the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Sounds good to me.

Gary Peluso-Verdend:

No, the meaning of these words is not the same. Rather, we have different symbols from different symbol systems.

Sheol is a Hebrew word, found in the pre-6th century BCE portions of the Old Testament. Ancient Judaism did not conceive of human beings as part body and part soul. Rather, human beings were understood as flesh animated by the breath of God. Whatever existence a person has after death was thought to be in a place called Sheol, a place of shades, where there is no consciousness. Sheol contains neither pleasures nor torments.

During Israel’s captivity in Babylon, Jews were exposed to Zoroastrianism, a religion that includes a belief in resurrection and a two-place afterlife—the equivalent of heaven and hell. By New Testament times, belief in resurrection, heaven, and hell were widespread—albeit not universal—in Judaism.

Hell as a place of torment and stink became well developed many centuries after the Bible by the Christian writer Dante Alighieri, but sometimes the roots of a mythical or non-physical place are found in real places. Gehenna, as a place of torment for evil people, was associated with the Valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the city dumped its garbage.

Very important beliefs are associated with hell, such as sin, judgment, consequence, resurrection. Christianity—or any other religion—is like a language; one must understand each symbol within a greater grammar.

Jason Boyett:

No, they are not the same. Four words—the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek words hades, gehenna, and tartaroo—have been translated as the English word hell. We think of hell as a fiery place of torment for sinners, but only gehenna fits that description.

Sheol was an all-purpose term referring to the shadowy realm of the dead (“the grave”), and earlier Old Testament books seem to indicate that everyone goes there—not just the wicked. In the New Testament, the Greek word hades is used interchangeably with sheol—it’s the place of the dead. Tartaroo appears only once in the Bible, in 2 Peter 2:4. It refers to Tartarus, the dungeon-like netherworld in Greek mythology filled with suffering and torment. The context indicates it is where demons reside.

The hell-as-torture-chamber idea comes from gehenna, which Jesus described as a destination for sinners. This word originates with a Hebrew name, Ge-Hinnom, which refers to the Hinnom Valley, a garbage dump outside Jerusalem. Trash, animal carcasses, and the bodies of criminals were dumped there, and the valley burned continuously—an evocative image of hell.

Do we take the idea of a burning hell literally? Jesus certainly spoke as if it were a real place. But keep in mind that the idea of a dualistic afterlife—a hell for sinners and heaven for the righteous—was a relatively new idea to Judaism, possibly due to the influence of Zoroastrianism during the Babylonian Exile. It was a theological departure from the ancient faith of the Jewish patriarchs.

Craig Detweiler:

While death is a certain fact, it is also prompts an air of mystery. What happens when our hearts stop beating?   Is there something on the other side of life?  Descriptions of hell (and heaven) are all rather speculative, more poetic than precise.

The Hebrew word, “Sheol,” describes the grave that awaits us all.  It is a shadowy place, something we’ve all glimpsed at a funeral, but never experienced from the inside. Our bodies are all bound for Sheol, irrespective of our beliefs or practices.   None escape physical death.

When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into the Greek language, the word “Hades” was chosen to describe the ground or pit our bodies are bound for.  The Greek notion of Hades was more of a shady, mythological place than a physical grave.

Within Greek mythology, Tartarus, is a place of judgment and torment, a pit much farther down than the more benign Hades. Only once does the word Tartarus appear in scripture.  In 2 Peter 2:4, God punishes sinful angels by throwing them into Tarturus, a dark pit reserved for judgment.

When the Bible was translated into English, Hades and Sheol were translated as Hell. Unfortunately, such a reference comes across as much more loaded than “the grave.” It had eternal associations rather than tangible, temporal or physical meaning.

The associations of hell with a fire, torment, and eternal anonymity start coming into play with a term like “Gehenna.”  It is a destination we would all want to avoid.   It is a place where people who lack family, resources, and significance are discarded.   No one wants to feel so unloved, unacknowledged, or unnoticed.

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.

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