When Albert Mohler and Other Church Leaders Resort to Lies and Manipulation

So, yes, I know that is a harsh title. I chose the words carefully, because there are times when we all lie or manipulate to get our way. I don’t want to label anyone a “liar” just because they tell a lie, or a “manipulator” just because they manipulate at times. That would be condemning myself. But when a Christian publishes something that is so full of lies and manipulative statements that it nearly makes me hurl, I have to say something. Not to accuse one of being a liar or manipulator, but calling them out for resorting to lies and manipulation in a given situation.

Such is the case with the recent article entitled “Same-Sex Marriage as a Civil Right: Are Wrongs Rights?” by Albert Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Very interesting language in this article… to say the least. But I will let Mr. Mohler’s words speak for themselves and add my commentary.

(As a side note, I am not trying to convince anyone what to think on this issue or to change minds, but just to point out where bad logic, inconsistent theology, and efforts to manipulate followers is occurring  I leave it up to you the reader to decide for yourself the character of the man making these statements.)

The article starts off as a nice way of viewing civil rights, a little heavy on the bleeding heart side…which leaves you bracing for the big “but”. It comes right after the big bold heading “When Rights Are Wrong” (Mr. Mohler words in italics, my commentary following)

At this point Christians have to think very carefully.

The manipulation starts. Because clearly Christians would never think clearly unless our leaders tell us how to before stating their point. Remember that all you clones-in-training.

But is same-sex marriage such a right? The answer to that question must be no.

Telling everyone the answer they must have is not only considered manipulative in leadership, but also a bad educational method (or incorrect pedagogy for those in the field). But obviously the answer has to come first before the explanation lest you think too much and see through his points.

Christians cannot accept the argument that homosexuality is an immutable characteristic.

Why not? The scripture does not say so either way. The Bible does describe a few things as sin that we now know is biological (in the mental health field, especially). Even the Southern Baptists accept some of those concepts (for the most part – some still label them as sin).

On that basis, why not grant theft or other sinful behavior the same civil rights protection?

Because that is failed logic based on a misunderstanding of law. Theft would still be illegal because it infringes on the basic rights of others. Same sex marriage does not infringe on the rights of people outside of the same sex marriage itself. We do not make things illegal because they are sin. We make them illegal because they infringe on the rights of others (please forgive that over simplification my lawyer friends out there).

Christians understand that marriage was instituted by the Creator, who designed marriage and the family as the foundational social unit of human society.

The scripture is not really clear on who created marriage – Adam or God. But you can see my previous post on this issue. There is nowhere in scripture that you find God saying that marriage and family are the foundation of society. We just assume that because it came first that it was supposed to be that way. What about “on Earth as it is in heaven” and “people will neither marry or be given in marriage” in heaven? Or how about the fact that God is not married? Did He really create it so that society had to be based on something that is not even part of His character?

Every human society has recognized this meaning of marriage, and all successful civil societies have honored, protected, and defended heterosexual marriage as the union that should govern human sexuality, reproduction, intimacy, and rearing of children.

The problem with this is that it is not true. I explored this again in a previous post, but the basic idea is that many human societies have had different meanings for marriage, and the “success” of a civil society has never been tied to its definition of marriage. Many societies that have upheld Mohler’s definition of marriage have failed, and many that have not upheld that view have lasted for hundreds if not thousands of years. And many times when they failed… well, when civil tribal societies were actually wiped out by disease brought from outsiders, or annihilated by superior weapons – you really can’t blame that on marriage.

But I guess one could technically say they were not civil if they were tribal, but that would be incredibly ethnocentric and ignorant to do so.

Those pushing for the legalization of same-sex marriage have been tremendously successful in convincing many people

Because people can’t possibly think for themselves? They are only “convinced” (brainwashed?) if they agree?

But this is a confusion of categories that Christians cannot accept.

Because apparently you are equal with Jesus and can tell us what we can and can not accept? Or are you trying to say that people just aren’t really a Christian if they disagree with you?

The argument for the legalization of same-sex marriage fails in terms of any constitutional logic that our nation’s founders would have conceived.

You mean like the logic that one group can’t force another group to follow their religious beliefs?

The Bible is clear in terms of its teachings on both sexuality and marriage.

Its not really that clear at all, but I have already pointed that out. (yes, after a while it does get a little tiring to point out the same blog post again and again for multiple points)

As Jesus Christ declared, God intended marriage as the union of one man and one woman “from the beginning” (Matthew 19:4–6).

Nice distortion of scripture. Jesus just says that we were created as male and female and that is a reason why a male and female would get married. He doesn’t speak to the definition of marriage. Oh, and way to leave out the complete scriptural story on this. Who needs pesky context when interpreting scriptures? Who cares about Matthew 19:3 where the Bible records the question that was asked of Jesus? I mean, it may completely change the way people read this scripture to see that Jesus was asked if it is lawful for an already married man to divorce his female wife. People might realize that Jesus’ response was to a question about a previously existing heterosexual marriage… but that’s not really important, right? Not when you have already told us what to think?

The legalization of same-sex marriage would confuse and greatly weaken the single institution that is most central to human society and most essential to human flourishing.

So… monasteries are weakened and confused and are not helping to flourish humans? I know Baptists don’t like Catholics in general, but way to be harsh on their leaders (who never marry).

Christians responding to demands for the legalization of same-sex marriage cannot accept the argument that the right to marry a person of the same gender is a civil right.

Since you haven’t made a logic case yet, why get demanding now? Oh… that’s right. You like to tell us how to think.

Christians must remember that our ultimate authority is the Word of God.

Seeing that you have already butchered the Bible…. but I guess denial is not just a river in Egypt. Or should I just say, check out the plank in your own eye dude!

At the end of the day, the argument over same-sex marriage is never just about same-sex marriage, and debates about civil rights are never just about civil rights. Deeper truths and worldview implications are always at stake, and it is our responsibility to make certain that we know what those are and stand humbly and compassionately for those truths, regardless of the cost.

metamodern-faith-avatarAnd the ultimate manipulation hammer comes down. Yes, deeper truths and worldview implications are at stake, but the constitution was written to ensure that no one can force their deeper truths and worldviews on another group that does not believe in them. That is also core to Baptist belief, but I guess Mr. Moher has forgotten his heritage. But, I ultimately love the implication that those that don’t agree with Mohler are deceived, arrogant, and giving in to the world around them. Or that there is a greater cost for standing up against same sex marriage than standing for it. Oh, you poor things – someone might mock you in the media or even person. So sorry that has happened…. but when is the last time a Christian committed suicide for the way they were treated by the pro-same-sex marriage crowd? Do you know how many LGBT people will commit suicide this week alone from the persecution they face, mostly at the hands of Christians?

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What I Wish Church Websites Were Really Like

So, another move and another new season in life means finding another church in another town. So like most people my generation, I turn to the all-knowing, all-powerful Google to see what is out there. I look through several websites of several churches, and after a few minutes I wake up from dosing off to come to a startling realization:

Most church websites suck. Big time.

Oh, they look great and contain a lot of vital information. But for a new person trying to find out if we are really going to fit in at these places… nothing useful. Nada. Zip.

Sure, there is always a good, long description in the ubiquitous “what we believe” or “who we are” sections. We believe that Jesus is the coolest, the Bible is Truth, we are loved, etc. They all pretty much sound the same, and before too long I feel like I am listening to one of the adults from Peanuts talk to me.

Sometimes I just want to email them and say “you believe in Jesus? So THAT is why you aren’t call a mosque or a temple or a coven or whatever. Thanks for spending an entire page explaining it to me on your website!”

Kidding aside, experience has taught me that behind all of these generic and cool declarations of what a church believes, there is the “real story.” All of these churches try to say the right things, but they all have vastly different ways of implementing these beliefs.

Then there is all the stuff they don’t talk about on their websites.

Are they egalitarian or complementarian? Are they anti-Science? Do they ignore the ambiguity of certain Biblical passages or embrace them despite that? Do they make non-extreme right-wing Tea Party people feel welcome or weird? Do they truly embrace cultural diversity or are they still patting themselves on the back for that one black family that stumbled through their doors 10 years ago and for some reason never left? Do they look at your injured back that still hurts despite prayer and then rank your spiritual maturity as “low” based on that fact alone?

And for goodness sake, what are their people like? Are they so addicted to coffee that you will be forced to suck it down or feel like a social pariah? Do they think that Mumford & Sons counts as “good music”? Do they think that families of 10 or more are normal? Do they equate your political leanings with spiritual maturity, all the while believing the lies being fostered on them by Mike Huckabee and Sarah Palin and Hillary Clinton and Ron Paul? If one of your sons ends up being effeminate, are they going to stand by him if he gets bullied, or “just stay out of it because we don’t want to look like we are supporting the gay agenda”? Do they even believe in weird concepts like “gay agendas”, “Obama becoming a dictator”, or “Jesus wants me to own a military-grade fire arm to blow your head off in love”?

Of course, most bad churches don’t have a huge expensive neon sign pointing to the coffee shop right inside the door to tip you off that you need to “run away as fast as you can” like some do. Many will look good at first and then go downhill quickly once you finish the membership class. So you obviously have to look at the website first, because there seems to be no UrbanSpoon for Churches. But there is often nothing there to tell you where any of these churches stand on any issue other than the Trinity. And we all know that churches will just fall apart if they don’t all get a clear vision of what it means to believe in a word that doesn’t even appear in the Bible.

So what I want to see on Church websites is a list of where the Church stands on current issues, even hot button topics. What about an active blog by the church leaders where they discuss these issues? Or a Facebook page where the members come together to discuss? Give me a place that I can freely access to see what people are like at your church. And why not a resources page of popular bloggers or writers or thinkers that influence your church? If you follow the teachings of John Piper, let me know. If you follow the teachings of Rachel Held Evans, let me know.

metamodern-faith-avatarIn other words, quit being so wimpy about where you stand on issues when it comes to what you put on your website in an effort to trick people to come visit. Grow a spine and let people know where you stand on issues from the get-go. Even if you aren’t sure – sometimes it is refreshing to see a church admit to not knowing everything. Open learning is all the rage in educational circles. I am ready for some open churching.

Clarity, Uncertainty, and the Truth

The Truth Is Out There

I have always believed this statement, long before the X-Files put it into our shared cultural lexicon. There is Truth out there. Philosophers debate whether it is empirical, constructed, relative, pragmatic, or a hundred combinations and variations of any or all of those.

The biggest problem problem with truth is that we can’t proclaim something the Truth because we feel it is, or because we think something else implies it, or just because we want to. We have to have reasoning and proof to back it up.

Faith comes into the picture when we take the plunge to throw our lot in with the reasoning and proof that we believe points to the Truth. But at the end of the day, it is only by Faith that we can believe anything to be true. Even if you believe in Science, you have to have faith that what you see in the results of your experiment is true and not just some colossal coincidence or even a practical joke by some advanced alien race.

But even though there is always an aspect of faith that goes along with any belief in truth, at the end of the day, if you call something “true” it had better not be false.

Let’s say you work at a certain store that sells self-assembled furniture packages. One day you see your manager putting together a shelving unit for display. He makes it look easy – putting it together in no time without even looking at the directions.

Later that day, a couple comes in to the store and is interested in buying the shelving unit. They are concerned that it looks complex and they wonder if they will be able to handle the installation. You assure them that the instructions are clear and that they can easily handle  it themselves, because if your manager can handle it, anyone can.

When they get home, however, they run into instructions like this:

unsexy

No real directions and all the words are in a foreign language. And on top if that, there are several steps where they basically have to choose what they want to do out of several options. There is no clear path on how to make the shelves even if they could read them.

The problem is that you did not know that the manager can read the language in the instructions. You also did not know that the manager just winged it through the different options and basically created his own version of the shelves based on personal preferences. You just told a lie to the people that asked because you did not know or care to recognize the true complexities of the product. You said it was clear, but that is actually a lie.

You see, the Bible is not a clear set of instructions originally written in English. It is a set of ancient writings in various ancient languages that don’t always translate into English that well (and aren’t always that clear even in the original languages). Many translators have come along and decided to translate certain passages into English in a  way that makes them seem easy and clear, but what you don’t realize is that they may have just picked their translation because it was easiest… or maybe even because it fits their personal feelings on the subject.

This is why understanding the latest research on the translation of Biblical words is so vital and important. You may be believing something that is a lie and not know it. But I hear Christians all the time saying “I will never listen to all these crazy arguments about how words are supposed to be translated. We already know most of what we need to know.”

What this basically means is: “I may be believing a complete lie based on a bad translation, but I don’t care. I like what I believe and I’m going to stick with it no matter what.”

So many of the issues that we see churches fighting over seem to revolve around parts of the Bible that are – to be completely honest – very unclear in the original text. The role of women, the definition of marriage, the age of the earth, and the role of politics are all very vague concepts as written in the Bible. Anyone that says these are “clear” is believing a lie. An honest way of explaining our beliefs on some of these issues would be more like this: “No one is totally sure exactly what the Bible is saying on these issues, but what makes the most sense to me as being the possible truth is ____. But if you disagree, I see where your side could be just as possibly valid, and I respect your right to have a differing conclusion on these issues.”

But I am pretty sure hell will freeze over before we see that become the main way to disagree on Facebook.

metamodern-faith-avatarI get that many people are uncomfortable with the ambiguity that comes with knowing the truth about translation difficulties. But to remain in the dark about these issues is to run the risk of believing a lie about something.

Is that really a risk any of us should take?

Marriage By The Book

Yet another culture war has erupted on Facebook over marriage equality. Or the gay agenda, depending on how you view it. Proponents of Biblical marriage have been posting their quips and quotes meant to prove that God intended for marriage to be between a man and a woman all the way back in Genesis, and argue that we must follow this model in order to survive as a nation.

My own views on this issue are pretty complicated, mainly because I did not grow up in the church. In fact, my first time to read through the entire Bible (a weird habit of mine I do every year with a different translation) was before I started really attending Church. When I did start going to Church, I was a bit surprised by how some people interpreted various scriptures. But not because I was learning something new about the scriptures, unfortunately.

My surprise came from seeing how many ideas people added to their interpretation of scriptures that were based mostly on their person feelings and not what the scriptures actually said.

Coming at the scriptures with a fresh mind with no one to tell me what they “really” said gave me a different picture of what I was reading. One that I am thankful for to this day.

Genesis 2:23-24 is probably one of the most often quoted verses in defense of “Biblical Marriage.” It is also a very odd choice in that it makes one of the worst scriptures to use in defending “what God intended for marriage.” Let’s take a look at it:

The man said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.” That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Of course, this is also the first mention of marriage in the Bible, so I can understand why many quote it. But what is missing here? What really important statement does it need to have to indicate that God had a plan for marriage?

How about something like “thus saith the LORD“?

That is the problem with this passage – verse 23 is Adam talking and verse 24 is the writer of Genesis (whether you think it is Moses or a Babylonian Exile or whoever) talking. In fact, going by this verse alone (as some do) only proves that marriage is a social condition that was created by humans. Verse 23 is giving a reason why Adam felt connected to Eve (which begs the question of if it still applies today, since none of us had our wives yanked from our side), but not a command from God for who should marry who. Verse 24 is giving a reason why someone would marry, but still no command from God declaring His intentions for anything. Or even a statement from God where He defines anything.

Of course, many will then skip back to Genesis 1:27-28:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

So what is missing here? How about anything pertaining to hard and fast rules for marriage? Or any mention of marriage itself for that matter? Verse 27 is basically telling why God created two genders (He needed to replicate His image in a created being, but had to have two genders in order to do it). Verse 28 is basically a command to have kids and rule the Earth – but nothing about marriage, love, commitment, or anything we associate with marriage other than having offspring. Let’s face it – if you are creating the first humans on Earth, do you start with the “correct definition of marriage” or the “birds and the bees”?

Well, whatever your feelings are – God started with the birds and the bees.

Of course, then some point to Genesis 2:20-22 as proof that God wants marriage between a man and a woman, because woman was created to be man’s helper. The problem is that the word translated here as “helper” (ezer) has its roots in two words that mean to rescue, to save”, and ”strength”; while the word for suitable (kenegdo) does not indicate any kind of subordination of the woman or marriage relationship of any kind. A Mother, Aunt, Neighbor, Teacher, or any other strong female helper in your life could fit into this scripture and there would be nothing weird about it. If Genesis 2:20-22 was intended to be about marriage… there would be some weirdness. Especially in later verses that use ezer to refer to non-marriage relationships.

Then, of course, we come to Matthew 19:3-9, where Jesus clearly said that marriage must be between a man and a woman every time. Or did He?

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Again – what is explicitly missing here? No one is asking Jesus who can or should get married. They are asking Him about a situation where a man that was already married to a woman wants to get a divorce, and Jesus gives them a reason why that situation is not acceptable. Jesus is just answering what was asked of Him, nothing more. To say otherwise would be comparable to me walking up to a pizza buffet and asking if there were any healthy pizza options on the buffet and then then going back to my table and telling my eating companions that they told me that I can never eat cheese again. You can’t just inject an answer into a situation when re-telling it later just because you think it is related.

“Now wait a minute” you might say “Jesus clearly said ‘what God has put together’ – so it is what God defines because it says He put it together that way!” That is mostly correct – God holds people to the vows that they take before him… even if those vows had nothing to do with what God commanded them to do. Remember good ‘ole Saul from the OT? He was always taking oaths before God that had no connection to any commandments from God, but then getting punished by God for not following through with them. Why is that? Did God ever make a commandment about killing your children for eating honey? No. The problem was that he made a vow to God to kill anyone that ate food and then broke it. This is how God views vows that we take before Him – no matter how good or crazy. Once we make those vows before Him, it is as if He put them together. So Jesus is saying that because you took the vow before God, it is as if He put it together and therefore you can’t break it.

But that still doesn’t change the fact that Jesus was referring to divorce as it pertains to a married heterosexual couple. The question of the definition of marriage was not asked of Him, nor did He say anything that directly impacts it. You have to take an implication out of that scripture to make it about the definition of marriage. How many cults have been created based on implications in scripture? A slippery slope to step out on.

So what we really see in the Bible at best is that humans decided to define marriage in Genesis. Maybe later on Jesus confirmed that God said part of that (Matthew 19:5), but it was still just a reason for getting married and not a definition of what it should look like. You can read implications of what God wanted into that, but I would caution you to do so with humility as you don’t want to get in the business of assuming you know everything about the mind of God.

Add to this the etymology of the word “marriage” itself. The first appearance of the word was around 1250 A.D. – well after Genesis was written. It is based on older words of other languages that ultimately trace back to the Latin word marītāre. This would place the timeline at about 800-700 B.C. as the beginnings of the word that we are saying originated in Genesis. So our dates are off if we say that there has been an unchangeable definition of the word “marriage” since the beginning of time (or the time the Bible was written if you do not subscribe to Young Earth Creationism). Of course the concept of what we now call marriage has been around for as long as there have been humans, but concepts are different that words.

The point I am getting at is that the term “marriage” is our current English word for a socially-constructed concept that is defined by the culture we currently live in. Another important concept to consider is that not all cultures define this concept the same. And I am not just talking polygyny or even polyandry. In some cultures it is common for two or more males and two or more females to be married in group marriage (and not all of the relationships within these groups are heterosexual or one-sidedly monogamous). Many people like to talk like the concept of “marriage” is an absolute idea that can not be changed. But that is just not so when you take a global perspective on the issue. Of course, you might not care about all of this because these are not Christians practicing these marriage arrangements, or you could even say that they have no bearing on how a Christian should view marriage – and I would agree. But there are some out there that claim that marriage has always been between a man and at least one woman in every culture everywhere and because it is universal worldwide we can not change that definition. This is not a logically correct argument.

Even when you look at the history of the term just here in the United States – we used to not let biracial couples marry. At a certain point in history, we redefined marriage… and there is nothing saying that it is incorrect to do it again. Or for that matter that we have to redefine it again if we don’t want to. We have redefined marriage when needed and not redefined it when needed also. But to say that we never did therefore we never can is historically inaccurate.

It is also important to note that many of the cultures that practice group marriage never fell apart because of it, and many cultures that practiced strict adherence to monogamous heterosexual marriage still fell apart despite it. The notion that a nation will stand or fall based on it’s definition of marriage is not supported by historical cultural study.

metamodern-faith-avatarNone of this is meant to change your mind on marriage equality issues nor should it. But it should make you realize that you might have to change your reasoning for why you are against it. You can’t claim it is what God wants unless you also point out that your claim is based on an implication from several scriptures that is not directly there, and therefore you want to base societal norms on your interpretations of implications. It sounds scary to say it that way, and I doubt few will be that honest, but that is basically what it is. Sorry for the blunt card.