Tuesday, May 30, 2006

So Much Irony

Church Leader Says He Was Lured into Abramoff Web

(Don't miss the response from DeLay's PR guy. It's guaranteed to make you chuckle.)

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Engaging the Text: Stuff about God

Well, I think Scoots gave a good answer to our first question: How do Paul's comments about homosexuality fit into his argument in Romans? I'll reproduce his answer here:

As I understand Romans, Paul uses 1:18 thru 3:20 to establish that all of humanity – both Jew and Gentile – stands sinful and helpless before God. The idea is that humans are simply unable to be righteous on their own, which sets up Paul's proclamation of justification of both Jew and Gentile through faith (3:30).

Roughly speaking, the section consists of three moves.

The first move (which Matt has quoted) describes the thorough sinfulness of Gentiles. The idea is probably to catch the Jews in the audience thinking, "Yeah, those Gentiles really are awful."

But Paul goes on, in his second move (2:1ff), to say that those standing in judgment (perhaps Jews) are sinful as well. Finally, in a third move, (3:9ff) Paul throws out a litany of verses claiming that all of humanity is helplessly sinful.

Scoots' summary, up to this point, jives with every commentary I've ever read.

Consequently, one reaction to the passage in question could be to dismiss it out of hand, as something particularly Pauline, or at least Jewish, perhaps purely rhetorical, and in any case, incidental to Paul's real point: Jew and Gentile are both justified through faith.

However, this passage is a bit different than the vice lists we looked at earlier, because in Romans, Paul is doing some heavy-duty theological work. Rather than simply giving a list of do's and don'ts to particular congregations in Asia Minor, Paul claims to actually be telling us something about God. And this, of course, is the question that most of us care about – we may not trust Paul's patriarchal proclamations about sex and gender, but it sure would be nice to know what God thinks about the whole business.

Now it may be that we can still short-circuit this whole discussion, and I'll provide a couple of ways that we might do so.

First, it may be that Paul's statements about homosexuality here are universally applicable and universally understandable. Regardless of our worldview, the translation that we're reading, the connotation we might apply to different words, and the ineffable nature of God, it may be that these few verses represent a capsule of real live Truth, and that once we read them, we immediately have the option of receiving God's clear truth, or rejecting it.

The nice thing about this answer is that it's simple: Paul means I understand him to say and says what I understand him to mean. The nature of God is inherently simple, there are no mysteries, there are simply the things we ought to do, and the things we ought to avoid. The bad thing about this answer is that it's ... well ... too simple. It makes no allowance for the complexities of God, much less the complexities of human existence.

Second, it may be that Paul's statements about homosexuality conflict with our experience of the world, and must simply be judged inaccurate. This is a good approach for those who don't accept scripture as normative, or who mistrust Paul in particular, or who can't accept traditional interpretations of these parts of Romans.

The benefit of this approach is that we can be honest about our experience of the world without abandoning our faith in God. Problematic scriptures can be discarded, and edifying scriptures can be accepted on the basis of their self-evident truthfulness. But the problems with this second approach mirror the problems of the first. It becomes more difficult to allow scripture to convict us and teach us new ways to behave, plus it becomes very hard to explain how Paul's other theological statements – and likewise, any biblical statements about the nature and preferences of God – can be understood to be true.

But if we expect that Paul's statements about God are true in some general sense, we should probably spend a bit of time trying to figure out the sense in which his statements are true. Here are some possibilities.

    The gentile culture worshiped other gods, so God allowed the introduction of homoeroticism.

    In general, when cultures worship other gods, God allows the introduction of homoeroticism.

    In general, when individuals worship other gods, God allows them to become homosexual.

    In general, when individuals are rebellious, God allows them to corrupt their own bodies.

    In general, rebellion against God tends to lead to the corruption of one's own body.

    God disapproves of homoerotic behavior.

    God disapproves of homoerotic lust.

    God views heterosexuality as "natural", and homosexuality as "unnatural".

    God approves of anything "natural", and disapproves of anything "unnatural".

Feel free to mix and match, or add your own.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Several blogs I frequent have been hosting heated discussions about charity. Seeing as how I'm going to spend entirely too much time writing comments for these discussions, I figured I may as well cross-post to my own blog. This is something I've been meaning to address, anyway.

One fellow said:
American and European consumption is part of what will gradually help end poverty.

While capitalistic nations have historically provided a higher standard of living to their citizens, this outcome is by no means guaranteed with capitalism on a global scale. One of the nasty side effects of capitalism is a gradual trend toward a wealth gap, where the rich get richer because they have the resources to do so, and the poor get poorer because they don't. Nobody really seems to know where this trend stops ... whether, for example, a global capitalism would produce food and shelter for everyone, or simply preserve current standards of living, and funnel more resources to the extremely rich.

We should keep in mind that we are talking about economic models here, not well-established scientific facts. And in light of that uncertainty, Christians are absolutely justified in trusting the simplicity of Jesus over the claims of capitalism, and rejecting the seductively convenient theory that we can best help the poor by buying whatever it is we want. Faith that capitalism will solve all our problems is kind of like "pie in the sky by and by" theology ... it sounds nice, but it does little to help the people who are starving today.

Another fellow said:
Jesus tells the rich young ruler, after he kept all the commandments, to sell all that he had, give it to the poor, and follow Jesus. Are we doing the same as we read these meaningless posts on our high dollar computers, wasting our valuble time at our overpaid jobs? I would say no!

Speaking of waste, this is a huge waste of the story of the rich young ruler. Obviously, none of us live up to what Jesus asks from this pitiful rich kid. None of us ever live up to the absurd ideals that Jesus presents. But in my opinion, that's what makes the point.

The rich young ruler is out to negotiate his salvation. He's playing the game of "how much do I have to do before you'll love me?" And in response, Jesus smacks the crap out of him. Jesus shows us that he can never give enough -- that we can never give enough -- that the lexus guy is doing the wrong thing, and so is the go-out-to-eat guy, and so is the two-pairs-of-pants guy. We all hold something back, so we're all sinners. Thanks for the info, Jesus. We'll just go on our way feeling guilty.

But I think we can do better than that. Because if Jesus' absurd demand teaches us anything, it teaches us that we're pretty stupid to suppose that God is concerned with what percentage of our income goes into a collection plate. That we're kind of crass to suppose that -- in this situation -- God is terribly concerned with "the condition of our hearts". God is concerned with people. And people are starving to death. So many people are starving that even the wealth of a rich young ruler won't feed them.

So instead of feeling guilty, or worrying about whether God approves, I expect we'd be better off giving as much as we can possibly make ourselves give. And next week, maybe we'll be able to give a little more. Because giving a little today is better than giving nothing as we tie ourselves in knots trying to figure out how much we have to give before God loves us.

So get after it. People are starving, remember?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hooray for OC!

Just thought it was amusing to look at Wikipedia's list of Most Vandalized Pages and find dear old Oklahoma Christian right up at the top.

The summary is particularly amusing:

Vandalized a lot given nondescript nature of the school. Students there vandalize page, employees there revert it.

Call for Papers

Confession: About a month ago, I put a hidden statcounter on this blog to see how many of you were visiting but not leaving comments. I was a little surprised by the results:

Over the last 30 days, statcounter.com has counted:

1,046 page loads
751 unique visitors
331 returning visitors

Frankly, this makes me a little embarassed. You folks keep visiting, and I'm only posting once every couple of weeks, and I still haven't finished the "engaging the text" series.


In light of this new information, I'm going do do two things. First, I'm going to hustle up and finish this series of posts on the biblical texts about homosexuality.

Second, I'm going to request that you give me a hand. Every once in a while, I get busy or lazy, and it would be nice to have some guest posts saved up for those occasions. So if you have some interesting thoughts or questions that fit with the subject matter of Liberal Jesus, please let me know. And just to clarify, you don't have to be theologically or economically or socially liberal: opposing viewpoints are welcome as well.

To submit a guest post, please send email to this address: diablog.pop@gmail.com

Friday, May 05, 2006

Song Leader Revolution

If you're looking for yet another reason to love Shane, look no further: he's linked us to this *excellent* XBOX game.

I wish I knew the people responsible for this, because I want to kiss them.

Visit the site, or watch the commerical in Windows Media format. (Other formats are available on the Song Leader Revolution site.)