LE Blog General

APOSTASY! Could it be for you?

There are peculiar stories/myths about the great philosopher Baruch Spinoza leaving Judaism. Instead of simply drifting away, he respected the tradition enough to participate in a ceremony that removed him from the community. Members of his synagogue ritually stepped over him as he lay prone, thus removing him from the community. There aren’t a lot of religious rituals designed for helping people to transition out of a group. For every million Bar Mitzvahs, Baptisms and Upanayanas there might be only one or two excommunications. This imbalance may stem from the simple fact that most people who no longer want to belong to a tradition, do not find that tradition compelling enough to feel the need to participate in a ceremony that formally severs ties. (Violent breakups only occur when we still feel something toward the person we’re dumping, or the person dumping us!)

quebec flagThis past week an article in Canada’s National Post caught my eye and got me thinking about the ways in which so many of us leave churches. The article calls attention to a recent up tick in official apostasy requests being submitted to the Bishops’ offices in Montreal and Quebec City. It seems that the pope’s recent comments on condoms contributing to the AIDS problem in Africa havVatican Flage so infuriated many Quebec Catholics that they are filing formal letters of renunciation. In other words, they are asking to be declared apostates in the eyes of Rome. Gone are the days when being declared an apostate in Quebec or Europe was almost a death sentence, so the requests are largely formalities. But even so, I can’t help but wonder whether non-Catholic Evangelicals might not learn something here. 

A Moment of Recognition

The Wrights of Bend, ORSeveral weeks ago I caught the tail end of a discussion with Kevin Wright on The Story, a nationally syndicated talk show that usually airs on public radio stations. As with so many events that later seem significant, it didn’t cause me to pause. I was late for picking up my son, had to buy stamps, and needed to get the recycling out of my trunk. So my hands were full, and I didn’t even listen to the end of the interview before turning off the car and running into the post office.  

But that night some of what I heard came back to me, and the next morning I found the podcast of the episode with Wright. I’ve now listened to it several times through, hoping that I’d find a way of responding intelligently, hoping that his words would help me find some of my own. Well after all of that stewing and listening, the most profound thing I’ve come up with yet is this…this guy gets it! He's one of us. He’s a Liberal-Evangelical!

150 Years and Still Evolving

We cannot allow this profound anniversary to pass without comment.

This month marks the150th anniversary of the publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, a book that simultaneously thrilled and scandalized the Christian world even as it failed to deliver on the promise its title made. (The text did many things, but explain the phenomenon of distinct and separate species it did not.)

This past week was also Darwin’s 200th birthday. We don’t need to play out the same old arguments and debates here. The positions are well marked and each side is so fully entrenched that no significant movement seems possible in the near future. I only want to comment on the phenomenon of the debate itself, to call attention to the somewhat odd fact that here rather than somewhere else Biblical literalists have chosen to stake out a position. The more you know about the history of this fight, the more arbitrary it seems. So let’s back up for a moment and think about the costs that we Evangelicals pay for this war. Let’s look at the collateral damage.

Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, Warren..!

This year for Christmas we decided to leave the less than cozy confines of Montreal in order to packed carhead south to visit family in Kentucky and Texas. Given the ease of flying with a small child and the famous courtesy of airport security we opted to rent a car and drive. This meant driving through the night 12 hours to Kentucky, then 16 hours to Texas...and then back again. Well, at least we kept our dignity and were able to snack on regular sized bags of pretzels and not the tiny ones the airlines use.

Our travel plans are relevant only because they meant that in our satellite radio equipped rental car I was able to flip back and forth between CNN, BBC, Fox News, and NPR, in addition to all of the other talk radio news stations available throughout the South and Midwest of the USA. What did I learn from 56 hours of talk radio?

On November 4, 2008 America elected its first Mega-church minister to the highest office in the land. Prepare yourselves for Rick Warren’s inauguration!

Dinosaurs in the Nativity!

Is there anything new to be said about Christmas?

I’m not the only one asking this question this week. Trust me; your ministers are desperately seeking an answer to this question themselves as they prepare Advent sermons, Christmas eve sermons, Christmas eve early service children’s talks, Christmas day sermons and, in some cases, homilies for the late night Christmas eve carol sing.  Think about all of the words that they have to generate; what makes matters worse they are intimately aware of what they said last year (even if most of us aren’t). Tlego nativityhey are panicked about saying something new—something even more profound than last Christmas.

But for roughly 2000 years they had to preach the same story with the same cast of characters; so the chances of coming up with something new, or of seeing some nuance that will yield profound insights, is pretty slim.  The good news for these harried servants of God is that for once it doesn’t much matter what they say so long as they stick to the general script. The story can do the work for them. A couple of shepherds and kings from central casting, a baby doll, a couple of bales of hay and some of the kids in paper wings and you have all you need for a successful Christmas story.

Post-Election Lessons for Liberal Evangelicals

I walk down my front stairs, do some quick stretches, and then start my warm-up walk. Over the last few months this has been my opportunity to scroll through my podcast options and pick a few that I’ll listen to while I run—an admittedly generous interpretation of what I do as I climb the Royal Mount that gives Montreal its name. But today I’m a bit disappointed. Mathews’ Hardball, Olbermann’s Countdown, KCRW’s Left, Right, and Center, and even my favorite, NPR’s It’s All Politics—none of them have quite the same appeal. The election is over, and while I don’t have buyer’s remorse, I do feel something of a letdown. So what now? What did we learn?

Well, one thing we learned is that the “Religious Left” is a growing force in electoral politics. The Pew Forum is doing a good job of documenting that. We saw again that the enthusiasm of supporters is as important as their mere numbers. We also learned that we are a nation eager to pat ourselves on the back. As a young Canadian I spoke with this week sardonically put it, “It’s good to know that there are no more racists in America.” I won’t add to the chorus of self-congratulatory voices, but I do think we can learn some things as Christian moderates from this election that might help us think about the ways in which we interact in congregations.

Evangelicals, Palin and Politics

With the 2008 election just around the corner Evangelicals are wrestling with many issues, but the very fact that we are wrestling with issues and thinking seriously about candidates is a sign of growing complexity among Evangelical voters. This week at Le Blog we offer a short bit of commentary from two Liberal Evangelical thinkers, Robin Rogers and Peter Goodwin Heltzel. Read, Reflect, and VOTE!

Bill Maher’s Religulous—I can’t get over it.

Just saw Religulous…ok, I admit that I laughed. To say otherwise would be likereligulous Clinton claiming to have smoked it but not inhaled. I laughed a bunch because frankly we religious people are a funny lot and do many things that are worthy of ridicule and laughter. One of the things that differentiates much contemporary Evangelicalism and especially Liberal Evangelicalism from our traditionalist and Conservative forbearers, who opted for Fundamentalism, is that we are not as woodenly earnest about our religious lives.

The movie is worth seeing if only because all Liberal Evangelicals need to know about these sorts of cultural pieces on religion. I think I can predict the reaction among conservative Christians, Jews, and Muslims. Each group will be offended by what Bill Maher says about them, but they’ll simultaneously revel in the fact that he socks it to the other two groups. Take what you will from that observation.

Horse Manure, Ice Creme, and Pulpit Endorsements

Matthew 7: 9-11

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

Several weeks ago LiberalEvangelical.org reported on the Alliance Defense Fund and their decision to play chicken with the IRS by endorsing candidates from church pulpits and daring the tax guys to yank their status.

Theses folks aren’t nuts. Because we are never able to predict with complete accuracy the kinds of things that people will do in the future, we never know for sure whether a particular behavior will be interpreted as breaking a law or not until we actually do it and see. So if we want to discover the limits of a particular law or regulation, we have no choice but to engage in behavior that might push those limits and risk legal sanction. The courts do not hear hypothetical cases, so occasionally political groups will intentionally engage in actions previously assumed to be illegal in order to force law enforcement’s hand. Once the courts become involved, then the process of legal argumentation can begin and Constitutional issues can be raised. In essence, what these groups are seeking is clarity through confrontation—the only way that we can know for sure whether a specific action counts as a case of a general rule is to make the courts decide the case, interpret the law, and clarify its boundaries. That, in essence, is what the Alliance Defense Fund did on Sunday, September 28 when they sponsored Pulpit Freedom Sunday. They broke the law, in word if not in spirit, and asked the courts to clarify the legality of the IRS rules that forbid the endorsement of candidates from non-profit religious organizations.

Oddity of the Month: Conservative Evangelicals Want Catholic Politicians to be More Catholic

Senator and current VP nominee Joseph Biden is supposed to be helping Senator and Presidential nominee Barak Obama with the Catholic vote, except Biden has a Catholic problem. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the woman who is only two heartbeats away from the Presidency, occupies the highest post ever held by a woman in the United States’ Government. She’s Catholic, but she has a Catholic problem. Oddly enough, Biden and Pelosi have a different problem than the one that JFK faced when he ran for President. In 1960 Protestant voters worried that Kennedy might pay too much attention to the Pope if he were President. Now, 48 years later, Conservative Evangelical Protestants worry that Pelosi and Biden aren’t paying enough attention. This situation is more than odd, it’s downright confusing.

“Energize the Base?” Why not call it what it is...appeasment.

When the original Peter, Paul and Mary and the rest of the gang gathered in Jerusalem sometime in the decades immediately following the ministry of Jesus Christ we know that there was tension. We know that there were different factions within the Jesus movement advocating for either the inclusion or exclusion of the gentiles from the community of Jesus’ followers. We know there were social, political and perhaps even economic pressures placed on the leaders of the movement. But most importantly, we know that the moderates won! We know that Paul and his colleagues who stood for the position of tolerance and moderation refused to capitulate to the extremists among those gathered at the “First Church Council.” Paul refused to “energize the base,” he refused to give the conservatives, who sought to hold the line against the influx of gentiles, a victory in order to curry favor, and thus he helped the early church to win the empire and secure its future. Thank God for Paul, the first Christian maverick!