J.R. Daniel Kirk, author of Jesus Have I Loved, but Paul? responds to the many questions he has received regarding the chapter of the book that addresses homosexuality:
There have been times in the history of the church when God decided that what was unequivocally required earlier was no longer needful. Indeed, Paul depicts as enemies of the gospel those who would require gentiles to comply with the eternal, covenantal sign of circumcision. Repeatedly in the New Testament the presence of the Spirit comes in to demonstrate to the church that the old stipulation has been overturned.
I suggested that we should be aware of the possibility that the Spirit might make such a demonstration today.
Evangelicals tend to be uncomfortable with this kind of thinking because we like to consider ourselves “people of the book”—meaning that the Bible is the ultimate authority for our faith—and we perceive appeals to the Holy Spirit or new revelation to the Church as thinly-veiled attempts to just ignore the Bible and believe whatever we want. But that isn’t actually very biblical.
Sarah Moon analyzes how purity culture perpetuates a power imbalance between whites and non-whites:
Some women are seen as impure just because of who they “are.”
Jessica Valenti points out in The Purity Myth, “we rarely see women who aren’t conventionally beautiful idolized for their abstinence… The desirable virgin is…young, white, and skinny. She’s never a woman of color…”
I think it’s a fascinating (and infuriating) contradiction, the way the American Church is able to simultaneously essentialize sexual behavior and—in practical terms—deny sexuality as a fundamental component of humanity.
On this, the first long post of 2013, I’ll get right to the point:
Christians need to stop talking.
We need to stop talking publicly, evangelistically, interpersonally—pretty much in any way at all. We need to stop volunteering our opinions on politics, social issues, matters of faith, and nearly everything else, particularly if those opinions are based on the Bible or Christian tradition.
Anyone who wants to have an opinion has to earn respect first; why should anyone listen to or care what you have to say unless they respect you for some reason? You can earn that respect in several ways: position, track record, or character. For example, you could be a well-educated biology professor. That’s Position; people will believe what you say (about biology). Or you may be a political analyst who has made a number of accurate predictions. Track record. People will listen when you make further predictions. Finally, you could be well-loved for your philanthropy. Character. Most people will care about what you have to say, maybe even on topics other than giving away money. (This, by the way, could indicate that being well-respected for your character bestows the highest level of influence.)
Christians (and I am here—as throughout—talking about American Christians) used to be respected because of our position as the dominant religion of our culture. While still dominant by the numbers, our mind share has steadily decreased over time, eroding the dominance of our worldview. We’ve lost our Position.
We’ve also lost our Track Record. No one (except for ourselves) thinks Christians are correct about most things on a regular basis. To be fair, no one thinks that about anyone; we live in a pluralistic society.
Most importantly, though, we’ve lost our Character. No one loves or respects us for the good things we do; in fact, we’ve legitimately earned much of the disrespect now aimed at us. As a group, we’ve become self-righteous, abusive, and power-hungry, and we regularly try to force others to live by our own moral code without offering any evidence of its value or efficacy. Small wonder that we’ve steadily lost cultural relevance.
Despite this loss of relevance and respect, though, we’ve made opinion-giving our business, defining ourselves by how much and how often we can be right in opposition to the wrongness of the mainstream. But rightness is not our business or calling—love is. Jesus never said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have the correct opinion about everything.”
What if we decided to stick to our calling for a while? We might be able to earn back some of the respect we’ve lost and do work of lasting value with all the energy and time we don’t spend telling everyone what we think about everything.
So I propose a collective silence of five years’ length. That’s right: for five years, we the community of believers will not say anything. We’ll spend that time practicing a much truer kind of religion: helping literal and metaphorical orphans and widows and practicing institutional purity. My prediction is that we’d not only develop a taste for dispensing social justice but find that our approval ratings had soared by the end of the five years. We might even re-earn the reputation for good character that could give us back our platform.
Here are my rules for our self-imposed vow of silence:
- No volunteering opinions or advice on politics, social issues, or morality.
- If your job—your actual, for-pay way of putting a roof over your head—is dispensing advice on these subjects, you may continue to do so but may not:
- Publicly identify as Christian unless asked directly.
- Volunteer additional information about how your faith relates to the issue in question.
- Use the Bible or Christian tradition or dogma as the basis for your opinions unless specifically asked to do so.
- Pastors are exempted from rule #2, but only in the context of speaking directly to their own congregations, either from the pulpit or one-on-one.
- If invited to give an opinion on anything, whether publicly or privately, you must:
- Clarify that it is only your opinion.
- Qualify any statement based on the Bible by acknowledging that non-Christians should not be expected to follow the Bible’s teachings.
- Refrain from adding information beyond answers to questions directly asked of you.
- No evangelism/proselytizing.
- If evangelism is your job, switch gears to silently doing good instead. Social justice is your new evangelism.
- If asked specific questions about the faith, you may respond but may not:
- Answer any question not directly asked or use questions as launching points for giving your opinion on other matters.
- Present your answers as absolute truth; instead, say “The Bible says….” or “I believe….”
- No publications of any kind that reference Christianity explicitly or implicitly: books (even fiction), blogs, journalism (magazines, newspapers, etc.), movies, etc. If your job (again, your actual job) is writing, write something else that doesn’t require you to talk about your faith.
- Literature whose purpose is to teach theology or biblical interpretation specifically to Christians is exempted from rule #6, but Christian self-help or “spirituality” books are not. Mind your own spirituality instead.
I know it’s easy for me to propose this because I don’t make my living doing any of the above things, but trust me when I tell you that I’ve been thinking about this for almost a decade now, since long before I had any notion of trying to be a feminist writer. I am completely serious when I propose these measures, though. If everyone else will do this, I will.
By “everyone”, I really do mean almost everyone, because this will only work if we do it unanimously. I know it can’t be literally everyone, though, so let me tell you how I will know that we are really doing this. All of the following people and groups must be on board:
- Focus on the Family
- Family Research Council
- Mark Driscoll
- Donald Miller
- Francis Chan
- Rachel Held Evans
- Joyce Meyer
- Glenn Beck
- All the Christian bloggers I follow
I know this list isn’t exhaustive or necessarily representative of all the various demographics of American Christianity, but it’s largely symbolic. I know that if all of the above joined in we’d have a greatly increased chance of making the whole venture work. But none of them represent institutionalized Christianity, so in addition, at least one of the following must also agree to my terms:
- The Vatican
- The Southern Baptist Convention
- The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
- The Assemblies of God
I will also accept the disbanding of the National Organization for Marriage, if done for the purposes of this experiment.
Look, I know this won’t actually happen. The very inclusion of Glenn Beck almost guarantees that; if he was susceptible to any argument that his platform was damaging the cause of Jesus he’d have been off the air long ago. So why am I bringing it up? Two reasons:
- I wish it would happen.
- I want us to at least think before we speak.
Those of you who are actually reading this and do care what I have to say, think about this: Christians don’t deserve to have a voice in Western society any longer. If you want a more extensive rationale for this assertion, I’ll be happy to oblige you. Leave a comment or contact me. For the moment, though, let’s at least try to be humble about the loss of our platform and consider our words with care, questioning their necessity and efficacy and remaining open to the possibility that we could make our point much better with such actions as befit the Church.
Trust me, I wish I could make it 10. ↩
An Italian priest has provoked outrage after putting up an article that said women were partly to blame for encouraging domestic violence by failing to clean their houses and cook properly and for wearing tight and provocative clothing.
The priest, Piero Corsi, later apologized, and his bishop ordered the article taken down, but he does not appear to have been punished in any way. This is unacceptable, particularly for an organization with as many PR problems as the Roman Catholic Church. If they want us to believe they are not indifferent to oppression—or, worse, actively engaged in perpetuating it—they need to develop a much lower tolerance for this sort of thing.
Sometimes building projects are just needed. Pews fill up. Roofs leak. And, you know, sometimes that 70s shag carpeting in the teen room just needs to go. But the idea that a building proejct is going to shake the foundations of the earth is usually a lie that pastors hype up in order to get in your wallet. That new building isn’t going to single-handedly bring about the kingdom of God.
Sarah Moon tells the story of a sticker. I’ll let you read it for yourself, but I’ll also tell you my response: the best church advertising lets people know what that church is all about—when that church is all about the right things.
N.T. Wright rejects the argument from “progress” in favor of female bishops:
It won’t do to say, then, as David Cameron did, that the Church of England should “get with the programme” over women bishops. And Parliament must not try to force the Church’s hand, on this or anything else. That threat of political interference, of naked Erastianism in which the State rules supreme in Church matters, would be angrily resisted if it attempted to block reform; it is shameful for “liberals” in the Church to invite it in their own cause.
I love that “liberals” is in scare quotes, and lest you think that Wright opposes female bishops:
The other lie to nail is that people who “believe in the Bible” or who “take it literally” will oppose women’s ordination. Rubbish.
Exactly right. The scriptures themselves provide the strongest argument in favor of ordaining women, and to base our arguments on cultural norms is to cede the hermeneutical high ground to the patriarchy.
Here’s the thing that makes someone like Rachel important for the church today: she’s putting into words the very questions and issues that many women (and men) have been asking and thinking about for years but haven’t been able to discuss openly.
- What does it look like to be a biblical woman?
- How much should a Christian marriage imitate the stories found in the Bible?
- When are the Bible’s teachings about women culturally limited?
- Why do we apply certain parts of the Bible literally and not others?
These questions tie into some of the most heated debates in the church today. And even if these questions aren’t always being asked out in the open, they are simmering beneath the surface in just about every church.
Springboarding from the recent discovery of an ancient text referring to Jesus’ “wife”, John Ortberg proposes that we (including we in the Church) have still not caught up to Jesus with regard to his progressive stance toward women.
Via Rachel Held Evans.
Or a wife-to-be, at any rate. Eleanor Barkhorn reminds us why the discovery of an ancient Coptic document that quotes Jesus talking about his wife doesn’t tell us anything:
If Christ is the groom, then who is his bride? The Gospels don’t really answer that question, but the rest of the New Testament does. And the answer probably doesn’t offer much help to people hoping Jesus’ marital status could shift the debates over women in ministry or the definition of marriage.