Rounding Up a Wife for Jesus

I would like to offer some gentle push-back on the recent talk concerning “Jesus’ wife” that I have come across. In many of the circles I frequent, there are a lot of friends and other voices who have been quick to accept the idea of a wife for Jesus. Given the arguments I have heard in favor of this (so far), I think jumping on this bandwagon is premature. Please let me begin with a full disclosure: I cannot pretend to know if Jesus did or did not ever partake of marriage. Nevertheless, I find assertions that he did to be highly dubious, so I’ve put together just a few counter perspectives on arguments that seem to be trending in favor of the notion. Whether you find this helpful or think I have made some mistakes, I invite constructive feedback. Thanks in advance.  -CL

Making Jesus in Our Image? Our cultures, religious and otherwise, seem to have an obsession with insider information about Jesus. Whatever our motivations may be, we all want more, and when we run out of the sparse, early, credible evidence, it seems to be in our nature to fabricate more or latch on to any new tidbit or hearsay we come across (at least when we like it). If any here have read Bart Ehrman’s recent work “Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics,” then you know what I am talking about and can see that fabricating new narratives about biblical characters (or alleged biblical characters) is not new. At all.

Even in the past few centuries, conspiracy theories have exploded about the Roman Catholic Church and its (alleged) rewriting of early Christian history. This has given rise to everything from Joseph Smith and his Mormons to Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code and all points in between (ossuaries with mysterious inscriptions, fabricated “gospels,” hallucinated Jesus-ghosts along with clandestine children and wives, etc). It all makes for great entertainment (and marketing), and inspires the “Ah-ha, I knew it!” moment that feeds so many inner conspiracy theorists, but the truth is often far less juicy than our imaginations. We may want more (I do), but that doesn’t give us license to unhinge our understandings of Jesus from history and legitimate evidence.

But, on with the show:

Argument 1: Rabbis (and other Jews like Jesus) were commonly married, therefore, Jesus was probably married.

Criticism: This is a classic inductive argument, and with all such arguments, it hinges on probability. Clearly the largest sample-set will indicate that the majority of people (rabbis or otherwise) have been married in their lives. Nevertheless, it does not follow that all people are married/ have been married. I don’t think I need to beleaguer the point to make it. The question, therefore, is not about whether most people or rabbis were married in general, but rather, “Was Jesus married in particular?” To answer that question, we have to look beyond large-scale probability and sociological trends. And to do that, we have to consider evidence that directly relates to Jesus.

So, is there evidence for Jesus having been married?

Argument 2: The archaeological evidence recently promoted by media outlets claims “authentic” evidence that Jesus was married.

Jesus Wife FragmentCriticism: The Jesus-Wife hypothesis is a sensationalized and unsubstantiated claim at best. At least so far. What we actually have is a fragment of a text that dates (at the very earliest) to the mid 7th century, at least 600 years after the ministry of Jesus. The scrap of papyrus features a Jesus character who refers to his “wife.” The author of the text is unknown. It is written in Coptic (not Jesus’ lingua franca) and is commonly held to have originated somewhere in Egypt. That’s all we’ve got, and scholars who are familiar with the extra-biblical writings, hagiography and tertiary “gospels” about Jesus that proliferated in the centuries after his life (especially in the deserts of Egypt) know better than just to presume they contain early, authentic details about Jesus of Nazareth.

As far as textual evidence for Jesus of Nazareth goes, this papyrus shred is late o the party, in the wrong language and from a location far removed from Jesus’ provenance. In fact, it is as distant in time and proximity from the Jesus of history as is the Qur’an’s account of the crucifixion (Sura 4:157, circa 632 AD/CE).*

Is it reasonable to presume that the Qu’ran (600 years and hundreds of miles removed and with its own agenda) offers a more accurate portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion than does the Bible? If the answer is “no,” then why are we so quick to presume that a fragment of papyrus, suffering from even greater authoritative deficiencies, offers some new and authentic details about the life of Jesus?

I believe that is a fair question, but if that doesn’t grab our attention, I would think that a quote from the much earlier (mid-2nd century) Gospel of Thomas just might:

“Simon Peter said to them, ‘Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus replied, ‘I myself shall lead her in order to make her a male, so that she too may become a living spirit resembling you males. For every woman who will make herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.’” (Thomas saying 114).

How many of us, especially those of us who consider ourselves Christian feminists, are apt to believe that this purported “saying of Jesus” truly connects with the Jesus of history as revealed in the pages of Christian canon? I am personally very skeptical that this saying, indeed the entire Gospel of Thomas, is anything more than an intentional re-casting or fabrication of a Jesus figure to meet certain Gnostic presuppositions and needs. Given the plethora of late, conflicting, and often obviously forged documents purporting to reveal “truth” about Jesus, I think it best to focus on what we know from the earliest and best documents about Jesus of Nazareth (the Bible), while treating lesser quality documents and fragments with a heavy dose of suspicion and incredulity.

Even Karen King, Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard Divinity School and one of the researchers of the Jesus-wife textual fragment, says the script does not mean that Jesus had a wife, but rather affirms, “that women who are mothers and wives can be disciples of Jesus — a topic that was hotly debated in early Christianity as celibate virginity increasingly became highly valued.

In summation, we have no biblical evidence for Jesus’ wife at all and next to nothing from extra-biblical sources. Even the latter is subject to understandings and interpretations that do not require a literal wife for Jesus.

 

Argument 3: The editors, compilers and redactors of the biblical material are likely to have either purposefully excluded or eliminated the evidence and references pertaining to Jesus’ wife as part of their patriarchal biases or cultural limitations and sensitivities. As such, the Bible is not an authoritative source regarding Jesus’ marital status.

Criticism: This argument has several significant problems, and chief among them is that it seems to make the evidence fit the conclusion rather than the other way around. Stated another way, it starts with a presupposition (that Jesus had a wife) and then rejects the earliest and best evidence (the Bible) because that evidence does not reinforce the presupposition. This is not how historians go about their work.

The edited-Bible argument also fails to consider the numerous, potentially problematic details that were left within biblical narratives and letters, especially those that give primacy to women and their unmistakeable importance in the early church. For example, it is women who first tell / teach the 11 remaining apostles that Jesus is risen. Women in the NT are also called “Apostles” (Junia), “Disciples” (Dorcas/ Tabitha), “Deacons” (Phoebe), Pastor of a church community (Prisca or Priscilla), and “Prophets” (Anna). If we are asked to believe that Jesus’ “wife” was edited out due to patriarchal or anti-women sentiments, then it begs the question regarding why these other women were allowed to remain with their positions of honor and authority intact. It should also be pointed out that at least some of the disciples were married and that the Bible apparently made no effort whatsoever to erase mention of these relationships or make them of special significance. If Jesus had a wife, it is reasonable to assume that the Bible would have mentioned of this, at least somewhere. It doesn’t.

So it seems to me that we should not presume that Jesus had a wife just because the Bible never said that he did not. To do so is to construct an argument from silence, and if that is the door we open, it can make room for some wonky ideas (like The Life of Brian or that Jesus had a shaggy dog named “Biff” that he confided in). That is a hyperbolic argument, and of course contemplating a wife for Jesus is not as far-fetched as The Life of Brian, but I hope you take my meaning.

 

Argument 4: We need a Jesus who is more human, not less, and marriage does that.

Criticism: Asserting that Jesus took a wife might seem to make the man more human, at least initially. I understand the impetus for the sentiment since marriage is so prevalent among us bipeds and thus more of us can relate to a married character rather than one who chooses to be single and celibate. Nevertheless, the inverse and not-so-subtle implication of this is that folks who choose to be single and celibate are less human or that Jesus would be less human if he remained single his whole life. I have a problem with that, and I think the rest of us should as well. Jesus does not need to be married to be fully alive or fully human any more than any of the rest of us do. Marriage is not the end-all be-all of life, and I am confident that this was not lost on Jesus. We don’t need to corral a wife for Jesus to make Jesus Jesus.

Furthermore, it is inherently problematic to let our comfort levels, desires or projections dictate the “facts” about Jesus (or any other historical figure). Of course I wish we had a biography of Christ, replete with lengthy splurges of detail and a clear timeline from cradle to ascension with multiple attestations, but the absence of such material does not give us permission to create our own. That is the territory of fiction writers like Dan Brown but not scholars, historians, or serious students of the Bible.

What if the tables were turned? Finally, I ask that we consider a scenario wherein a historical heroine had inspired millions of people to believe in her and consider themselves to be her students. Imagine with me that among her followers, a cadre of folks got together, and based on questionable, very late evidence, decided that to have been complete and fully representative of her cultural position and role, their matron saint must have had a man in her life, in a sexual, married relationship. After all, there is nothing in the historical record that rules this out, it would have been normal for such a woman to have been married, and it helps these people relate to their heroine better anyway. So from that point on, they just assumed that she had a husband and wrote him into the story.

As a Christian feminist, I suspect my co-feminists would not be impressed with such efforts to force a husband on the hypothetical matron saint. Among the reasons outlined above, this is why I think it is a mistake for us to merely assume that Jesus had a wife. Until we discover some early, authentic, and substantive evidence that Jesus was married, I see no reason to think that he was. And please believe me, this isn’t because I want to see women or other underrepresented groups excluded from the Christian play.

Thanks for reading me,

-Corbin

 

*Qur’anSura 4:157 And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.

Posted in Sexuality, Theology, Feminism | 1 Comment

Is God Male?

Recently during our church’s “Enrichment Hour” (codename for adult Sunday school), I had the privilege of offering a perspective on how Christians need not be troubled by some of our more conservative believers’ insistence that the Earth is only a few thousand years old or that science and Scripture are arch enemies. I am passionate about the sciences as part of a dual-thread of revelation from God, but unfortunately, that is beyond the scope of the present entry. Nevertheless, I mention my presenation because as I got into it, a woman (with whom I am friends) raised her hand and informed me that she was uncomfortable with my use of masculine personal pronouns (he/his/him) for God.

I knew this issue could derail the entire presentation, and that personal pronouns for God were well beyond the scope of the morning, so I apologized and said that I was merely using the terms out of convenience because using the pronoun “it” didn’t quite seem appropriate. I also acknowledged that I did not intend to reinforce the idea that God was technically male, so my female friend agreed to tolerate my choice in words, at least for the moment.

So… IS God Male?

Many people have problems with using masculine words in reference to the God of the Jews and Christians. They think the practice is sexist and reflects humanity’s prejudices and male domination far more than it reflects a divine personality. They might well be right, but if they are, I suggest it is likely because we men have screwed over our calling to be image-bearers of our Creator and failed to be good representatives of what it means to be masculine. However, it must also be pointed out that, as per Genesis 1.27,  women are every bit as much created in God’s image as men, and therefore male-ness has never been the full expression of God’s character or personality, and that is true even if human maleness could live up to its full potential or be perfectly expressed. Given that fact, maybe we should all be a little uncomfortable with using masculine personal pronouns for God.

Even so, throughout Christian Scripture, the core, divine character is consistently depicted with masculine terms (Father, Son, Son of Man, etc., as well as masculine personal pronouns “he, his, him”). Even the term, “god,” is itself masculine (consider its feminine counterpart: goddess). I believe that the Bible’s various authors were responding to the pronouns, names and titles that God used for himself and thus perpetuated the use of those referents because they were useful to human understandings, cultures and limitations. I believe that God used masculine terms to communicate something about himself in a way that his gender-saturated humans could relate to and understand. This also played upon structures of power and strength that were reflected (even if to a pathetic degree) amongst those humans. It is precisely because the various authors of the Bible used these terms that I have no personal problem using them myself. This very paragraph is a testimony to my own use of male pronouns and nouns concerning the core, divine personality within Christianity.

HOWEVER, it must surely be said that, as with any analogical language, there are limits to the usefulness and accuracy of the analogy. As such, it is a mistake to presume that God is defined by human understandings of gender and physicality.  God is NOT a man. He  is NOT the “Man in the Sky,” or “The Man Upstairs.” He does not have the physical, sexual equipment that human males are created with, and our human languages’ inclusion of gender-specific referents to talk about God fail to fully encompass who our Creator is and what “he” is like  in “his” essence. Christians must acknowledge this if we ever hope to move past the failings of ourselves and our language.

Since our own language can only speak or write of characters and things in terms of he/she/it, perhaps “he” is the best personal pronoun we have for God. Well, at least perhaps it was the best we could do for God in some previous contexts. As I said before, it certainly wouldn’t do to use the pronoun “it” to describe our creator, especially since that particular moniker indicates an inanimate object or lower life-form (like a mosquito).

Alternatively, he/him/his/Father is likely not always the best Christians can do in all contexts at all times everywhere when it comes to describing the central divine character in the biblical text. Consider a woman who has been abused by various men, be they a father, brother, uncle, son, teacher, law-enforcement official or yes, a male clergy member, etc. Is the church’s insistence on using male terms for God really going to be the best analogical language for such a woman to be forced into hearing and using? I suggest that the answer is “no,” and that our choice of pronouns for God ought to be aware of (and sensitive to) the needs of individual humans and their individual stories, especially when those stories involve broken, misguided and frankly embarrassing manifestations of perverted, violent and destructive masculinity. I would rather an infinite number of women hear of and refer to YHWH as “she/her” or “Goddess” if it meant removing a roadblock in understanding who YHWH is and/or if this freed them from the burden of associating YHWH with the abusive, bigoted and generally loathsome men that they have come to fear or hate. If that’s what people hear when we say “he” in reference to God, then maybe I/we should think twice before we make a presentation to a diverse constituency merely using masculine terms for God “out of convenience.”

Thanks for reading me.

-Corbin Lambeth

Posted in Questions for Christians, Sexuality, Theology | 5 Comments

Aslan’s Jesus: Dressing Up Fiction as Fact

I apologize for the apparent deceit. This post has nothing to do with the amazing allegories found in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. Those stories, which feature a Jesus-character who has taken on the shape of a mighty, good-but-not-safe lion named “Aslan” are awesome and I highly recommend them, not because they contain factual information about Jesus, but rather because they function as a set of parables intended to excite the imagination of how Jesus might interact with us in the midst of our own life’s struggles and dreams. This post is not about THAT Aslan, but rather a formerly Christian author turned Muslim, Reza Aslan, who wrote a book about the reaImagel Jesus called, “Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.”

Aslan’s book is a classic example of letting a pre-formulated conclusion guide the selection and interpretation of evidence and assembling it in a just-so fashion that purports to have discovered “the real Jesus.” Such efforts are not new. Ever since the Jesus Seminar first began publishing its opinions on what Jesus actually did and said (with the mere presumption that he was not God) there has been a growing list of piggyback authors who ran with their theses and even started branching out in novel directions. This has ranged from Dan Brown’s, “The Davinci Code,” to this latest entry from Reza Aslan. In the latter case, Aslan has decided that Jesus was little more than a religious fanatic, not unlike his contemporary Jewish zealots and Roman-haters, intent on attacking the Roman establishment and any sell-out Jews (like the Pharisees) that happened to cross his path. Aslan’s key thesis is that Jesus was not crucified because he claimed to be God (which Aslan denies), but rather because of Jesus’ actions at the temple, when he overturned the money changers’ tables in Mark 11.15-18. Aslan claims this would have been perceived by the Romans as a direct attack on Rome itself. Yes, you heard that right. Aslan attempts to instruct readers that Jesus was just another rebel leader whose only moment of anger and action in the Jewish Temple was understood as an attack on the Roman Empire and this culminated with his trial, conviction and execution.

How does Aslan come to this conclusion? By only fixating on extra-biblical sources and the Gospel of Mark at the expense of other New Testament documents and by selectively interpreting the Temple cleansing moment in Mark with little corroborating evidence. In the meantime, Aslan produces all kinds of faulty assumptions and indeed, bogus counter narratives that give his theory an air of plausibility.

There are several things that must be considered about Aslan’s thesis, not the least of which is that the Romans most assuredly did NOT view the Israelite cult as being synonymous with the Roman Empire. Granted, the Jewish religion was recognized as an established, ancient tradition, and was permitted to continue with its beliefs and practices so long as they did not interfere with Roman business and governance. This is also why, later on, it was such a dangerous and contentious thing for the new Christians to distinguish themselves from Judaism, for it meant that they were NOT an ancient, well-established religion and were thus NOT afforded any recognition under Roman law. Keep in mind however, that the tolerance of Judaism was only tolerance and not celebration, and certainly it was never considered to be representative of Rome itself. The Roman Empire and its official pantheon, with Caesar as God incarnate at the middle, viewed the parochial deities of its conquered peoles as backwards and almost totally irrelevant. Not only is this why we hear the names Mars, Jupiter and Venus, but not Yahweh when we consider Roman gods, it is also why the Romans occasionally took it upon themselves to go to their outlying provinces and beat up on the local rabble-rousers whenever they deemed it necessary.

Indeed, as the intertestamental era proved (from both Jewish and Roman sources), the only times Rome bothered to deal with the Jews was when Israelites revolted against the empire, best highlighted under the leadership of the Maccabees and their wilderness raids on empire holdings before the birth of Jesus. The second, and perhaps better known event involving a Roman campaign against the Jews happened in A.D. 70 when, in the aftermath of another Jewish revolt, a Roman force captured Jerusalem and leveled all but one wall of the Jewish Temple. Again, no one disputes this, but according to Aslan’s theory, Rome held that the Jewish Temple was integral to Rome itself and simply could not tolerate any attack on it. Does anyone else see the problem with Aslan’s claim? Are we simultaneously to believe that Rome destroyed the very temple that it held so dear and was integral to its own identity, but could not tolerate a relatively unknown Jesus turning over some tables and releasing some domesticated animals in the outermost court on the Temple grounds? Something is wrong with this thesis.

Finally, we ought to consider the Roman prefect in charge of Jerusalem and his reaction to the charge the Jewish leaders brought against Jesus. Under Roman governance, the Jewish Sanhedrin was stripped of its formal ability to execute its own criminals. The Jewish court HAD to have Roman involvement to bring about capital cases, and this is precisely why they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate. But what does Pilate say when the Jews bring Jesus before him? According to John 18:35 (which Aslan ignores), when Jesus asks why he is being brought to trial, Pilate responds with the following: Am I a Jew? Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”  It’s pretty clear that Pilate has no idea what is going on with this odd Jewish, non-Roman religion. He can’t pretend to understand the complexities of this ancient sect or its regulations. The best sources we have for the affair, indeed, the only sources we have of Jesus’ trial indicate that it was not an offense  that started in the Jewish Temple with moneychangers and pigeons (ok, “doves”), but rather because Jesus had claimed that he was a king, and not just any king, but THE King, like God. Because the Jews rightly perceived Jesus’ claims, they could not tolerate it, so they told Mom and Dad Rome who, given a history of Jewish revolts, essentially had to prosecute any additional backwoods subjects who threatened (real or imagined) the sovereign authority of the Roman Empire. So they executed Jesus in the Roman fashion reserved for rebels and Roman dissidents. Of course I would argue that when it comes to Jesus, you can’t keep a good man down, but I suppose that is another topic.

The bottom line is that people familiar with the New Testament can see where Reza Aslan gets his ideas. When push comes to shove, Jesus was executed as a rebel leader by the Roman Empire, and his disruption in the Jewish Temple could be perceived as acting against a religion that Rome officially recognized and tolerated. While these are necessary components for Aslan’s thesis, they are not sufficient to establish it as fact. To fabricate a counter-narrative about Jesus like Aslan did requires a lot of creative license, not to mention cherry-picking parts of the Bible that lend credence to his musings while ignoring evidence that calls them into question. His book is a classic example of stacking the deck to fabricate a picture of Jesus that casts aspersions on Christianity and does so with a whiff of plausibility. Just like the so-called “Gnostic texts” that tried their best to reinterpret Jesus and issue their own rendition of him (and were accepted by folks ignorant or uncomfortable with the Jesus offered by the oldest and best sources), the revisionist tradition continues today and has found new authors and credulous readers to carry forth the banner.

That being said, perhaps the most damning assessment of Alsan’s book can be found on its own back cover:

Aslan rips Jesus out of all the contexts we thought he belonged in and holds him forth as someone entirely new. This is Jesus as a passionate Jew, a violent revolutionary, a fanatical ideologue, an odd and scary and extraordinarily interesting man.—Judith Shulevitz

Well, what are we to say about a 21st century author who invents an “entirely new” Jesus almost completely unhinged from what the oldest and best sources say about him?
I’ve got a suggestion: Bullshit.

Thanks for reading me,

-CL

Posted in Atheism / Secular Humanism, Questions for Christians, Theology | 30 Comments

Trayvon Martin and the Insanity of Gun Culture

I’ve waited to think for awhile before spouting off yet another internet opinion on this case, but the time has come. In case you’ve been living in a cave, the verdict was returned this past week: George Zimmerman was found not guilty in the murder or manslaughter of teenager, Trayvon Martin. I hope to God that this was a just verdict. I suspect that it was not, but I have to admit that I simply do not know. I was not there, I have not seen or heard all the evidence, and I would be remiss to make judgments about the goodness or badness of the verdict on its own merits. The only living human who really knows what went down is the neighborhood watchman and shooter, George Zimmerman, and we all know the story he is telling: self defense. I don’t buy it, but I don’t know.

Here’s what we do know: An armed, self-appointed neighborhood patroller (George) picked a fight with an unarmed teenager (Trayvon) who was walking in his own neighborhood and committing no crimes. Trayvon responded to the aggressor and was shot and killed for it. The killer walks away without consequence. There is no dispute about these facts whatsoever.

This scares the hell out of me because I can see myself in Trayvon Martin’s situation. If you come and pick a fight with me in my own neighborhood, I may fight back. I’d like to think that I would turn the other cheek or at least run away, but who knows? If my wife or kids are with me, I will fight. What this business with Zimmerman proves is that if I defend myself against an aggressor, he or she can shoot and kill me, claim “self defense” and walk. Regardless of the alleged guilt or innocence of George Zimmerman, all gun-toting, trigger happy, self-styled vigilantes everywhere just learned a titillating message and have been blessed with justification for picking fights and gunning down anyone who resists. This is a dangerous and stupid message for our cities, states and nation to communicate to its citizenry.

Contrary to what many voices are saying, I don’t believe that race/ ethnicity is the core issue here. Clearly George Zimmerman has some hate in his heart, but there is no reason to believe that Trayvon Martin was a saint either. As it seems to me, the real issue here is our insane obsession with guns and the gun/ violence culture that it engenders. What would have happened if George Zimmerman had not possessed a gun? I think it is safe to say that teenaged Trayvon Martin would not have been shot in the chest or died from the wounds. Perhaps someone would reply with conjecture that, if this were the case, perhaps it would be George Zimmerman who had died, beaten to death by Martin. I admit that this must be a legitimate possibility. However, perhaps the better question is: “Would Zimmerman have approached Martin at all (or at least in the way that he did) if he had not felt empowered and cock-sure by having a gun in his vest?” We will never “know” but I am willing to venture a guess, and that is that “No, Zimmerman would not have picked a fight with Martin (or anyone else) if he didn’t have a gun and/ or think he could use it.” Furthermore, if Zimmerman did not have a gun, picked a fight anyway and lost that fight, we could hardly call Trayvon Martin the aggressor. That would be a true case of self-defense. It was not Martin’s presence in his own neighborhood that was the problem. Neither was the problem with a neighborhood allowing a resident to patrol the grounds. The problem was with the gun and its owner’s willingness to let it lead him into a situation where he could use it against an unarmed individual. Somehow I get the feeling that this sort of business is not what the framers of the U.S. Constitution had in mind.

Picking a fight you know you can win is classic bully territory. There is no question that guns make some people feel empowered and willing to be more aggressive, take bigger “chances” and inspire false bravado. Stand-your-ground laws like those germane to this case in Florida only further stiffen such misguided attitudes. Not just for the sake of future victims like Trayvon Martin, but also for the sake of future killers like George Zimmerman, we as a people in a representative democracy must do our best to repeal stand-your-ground laws and prevent new ones from being written. We must also disallow gun-toters to pick fights with people who are unarmed and minding their own business. We must impose strict penalties for those who violate such laws and certainly disallow claims of “self-defense” in such instances. Carrying a sidearm, if allowed at all, MUST come with strict and serious regulations and consequences. As it “stands,” it seems that we have lost our minds and let the insanity of  gun culture win the day yet again.

Thanks for reading me,

-Corbin Lambeth

Posted in Other Topics, Politics | Tagged , | 8 Comments

An Argument that Christians Ought Not Make Against Same-Sex Marriage

Given recent cases before the United States Supreme Court (USSC), I have experienced a resurgence of arguments from well meaning Christians who reason that same-sex marriage is ridiculous because we do not allow (at least not legally) sex with minors or sex with animals. I understand why some Christians make this parallel. They start with the presupposition that each of these types of behaviors (homosexuality, statutory rape and bestiality) are wrong / immoral and that, as such, our legal system ought not recognize any of them as valid, much less grant legal status to any of them.

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This argument suffers from several problems and is little more than a confusion on the issues being considered by the USSC. For starters, the Court is not talking about sex at all. It is talking about the constitutionality of bans against same-sex marriage. Yes, we may accurately presume that sex is part of marriage, but that issue is completely secondary to the legal status of marriage itself. In most states there is nothing illegal about sex between consenting adults, be they heterosexual or homosexual, and this is not what the USSC is talking about in the least. This also highlights the hurt and offensive nature of painting homosexuals with the same brush as rapists and those who purposefully abuse animals.

To put statutory rape and bestiality issues on the same page as current discussions on same-sex marriage would require that sex with minors and sex with animals were made legal for some people but not others. Nobody is arguing for this. Sex with animals and minors is illegal for everyone in all times and all places. This is not an issue of equality because no one is granted special rights and privileges to engage in these types of behavior while others cannot. Unfortunately, this is not the case with marriage. Presently, states are allowed to declare marriage acceptable for some consenting, monogamous adults while simultaneously denying it to others. THIS is an issue of equality (violated) and thus has nothing in common with laws against statutory rape and bestiality.

So please, as a person who is passionate about his faith in Jesus and who deeply values equality and mutual respect among people who may have irreconcilable beliefs and doctrines, I beg my fellow Christians to stop making this hurtful and plainly ignorant argument against same-sex marriage. I recognize that we live in a representative democracy which entails the right to free speech, and I would not revoke that privilege from anyone, but this is simply an argument that Christians ought not make for the sake of their own credibility. Not only does it fail to connect with the issues; it also fails to promote genuine dialog between heterosexual Christians and just about everybody else. If we really think that people will care about our all-loving Jesus when we start by claiming they’re just like rapists and abusers of animals, then God have mercy on us (because no one else will).

Thanks for reading me,

-Corbin

Posted in Sexuality | 8 Comments

What the Heck is an “Evangelical” and Should We Care?

If anyone in the general public is familiar with the word “evangelical,” at the minimum it will evoke some sort of Christiany association. But what is the difference between an “Evangelical Christian” and a *regular* Christian? How many people would be able to distinguish one from the other or even know what factors to consider? Is it a major Christian branch like Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican or Protestant? Is it a denomination like Methodist, Baptist or Presbyterian? Can most evangelicals even define it? Most importantly, should we care?

I grew up in a Restoration Movement Christian Church also identified as the “Disciples of Christ,” and one whose members and management would surely self define as “Evangelical.” Interestingly enough, it was only after my childhood ended that I discovered what denominational labels applied to my church of origin in southwestern Missouri. Glendale Christian Church always tried to present itself as a non-denominational or “independent” church, but it clearly associated with the denominational labels I used above (even though the average congregational member had no idea). That’s not necessarily a condemnation (that church is where Jesus found me after all), but it is to highlight the fact that many Christians don’t know what particular Christian labels and associations apply to them. And that begs the question: Does it matter?

For theology geeks and self-styled ecclesiological nerds (like me), it does matter… or at least we often pretend like it does. There are certainly some labels that evoke a strong reaction from me. “Calvinism” for example, makes me choke back my own vomit (a god who predetermines who goes to Hell before the dawn of time does not comport with Jesus’ message -or so it seems to me-), but there are a few other brandings that I do identify with and feel passionately about (Protestant, free-will, open theism, etc.). But what about Evangelical?

Is it a major Christian division? Not really, at least not like “Roman Catholic” or “Protestant.” Is it a denomination? No. What is it? If pressed, I might be able to muddle my way through it. As I recall, “a clear, singular, emotional conversion experience” is one of the components that Evangelicals try to enlist within the definition, never mind that many non-Christian religions claim the same thing. Of course there are several other features that committed and articulate Evangelicals would likely include, but I don’t have a running list or definition rattling around  in my head. Why not? Because I don’t care. Any definition that I have to work at memorizing indicates that it’s either not connected to my daily experience or so bland and inconsequential to my experience that I simply have no reason to memorize its precise nuances.

Furthermore, it seems that right or wrong, the word “evangelical” often gets Christians painted with a cultural brush that we don’t want: (up-tight, Right-Wing, Conservative, anti-intellectual, anti-gay, dogmatic, biblical inerrantists, literalists, capitalists and on and on). In fact, some Christians prefer these modifiers to be associated with the tag. I certainly don’t, and a historical survey of the term reveals that such unbiblical infusions are largely inappropriate. Nevertheless, sorting out these miscues and defending an accurate understanding of “evangelical” is completely uninteresting to me. In short, it is a largely irrelevant branding and misunderstood descriptor that I have left behind with surprising ease (at least in my consciousness).

In fact, I hadn’t ever devoted much thought to the topic until recently when a Christian author whom I respect, Rachel Held Evans, was invited by my alma mater (George Fox Evangelical Seminary) to co-host the latest installment in the seminary’s ever-popular “Ministry in Contemporary Culture Series.” She is co-hosting a discussion on the future of evangelicalism with another author, theologian and professor whom I have immense respect for, Roger Olson of Truett-Baylor Seminary.

In Rachel’s recent blog post, she asked for readers to comment on what “Evangelical” means and its future, etc. In fact here are the first two questions she posted:

1.     Do you identify yourself as an evangelical? Why or why not? How do you feel about religious labels in general?

2.     How would you define evangelicalism?

Having graduated from a Master’s program at a school that has the word “Evangelical” in its name, I thought I might have something of value to say in response to these questions (such is the usual hubris of people who go to seminary). But the more I thought about it, the more I had to admit that I feel no connection to the word “Evangelical” whatsoever. Frankly, I never understood why George Fox Seminary wanted to bear that label in the first place. Please don’t get me wrong, other than one particularly useless spiritual formation class called “spiritual leadership,” I would be hard-pressed to say anything negative about George Fox Seminary itself, but I don’t think the Evangelical label is helpful for its mission. Most people simply don’t understand the term and/or they have the completely wrong set of associations attached to it.

To highlight my point, I’d like to ask my fellow Christians of their impression of the Islamic designation and subculture of “Sufi.” How many of us readily understand the difference this makes for a Muslim believer? Do our eyes just glaze over, or do we ever transcend connecting it with Islam in general? Do we just presume “religious fundamentalist” or “mystic”? It might make a big difference to a Muslim who identifies with the label (or doesn’t), but the rest of us usually fail to understand the nuances within. I suspect the same can be said of certain Christians’ use of the label “Evangelical.” It might make a difference to them, but most people don’t understand it and don’t care, and rather than trying to educate or defend the tag, I would prefer to spend my time elsewhere. It simply makes no difference to me at all.

Please feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences with the term “evangelical.” Start with Rachel Evans’ questions above (in bold) if you would prefer.

Thanks for reading me,

-CL

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The Way I Should Have Answered that Interview Question on Diversity

I’ve recently been on the hunt for meaningful, gainful employment. I am passionate about a few things, and helping higher-ed students continually rises to the top, whether it’s career counseling, financial counseling, spiritual counseling or even regular ol’ counseling-counseling. While the majority of my academic and recent employment history has focused on the spiritual side of student life and development, I am open to wherever the path may lead. I just want to be the right person in the right place at the right time to make a positive difference in another person’s life. “When a body meets a body coming through the rye,” and all that (thanks, Holden Caulfield). But I digress.

I had an interview today with a school and a department that I would really like to be a part of. In that interview they asked me a variation of the standard diversity question: “How would you relate to a person who held different philosophical and religious views from yourself?” Here’s the basics of what I said: “Tolerance isn’t a problem for me. I don’t even like the word because it indicates that we are merely ‘putting up’ with something that we don’t really like or agree with. I appreciate others’ perspectives, and I’ve found that labeling doesn’t work that well anyway. As I recently found out in Texas, and depending on the context, I’ve found myself to be the most “liberal” guy in the room at one moment, and then the most “conservative” guy in the next. My personal philosophy is to find ways to agree and make new friends rather than looking for ways to disagree and create enemies. When it comes to coworkers and students who see things differently, it just isn’t a problem. I am easy to get along with.”

This is a fair and true answer, but I feel like I muddled through it. Here’s what I wish I had said (with gusto, of course): “I learn so much from people who think and believe differently than I do. I can’t even imagine how boring it would be if everyone thought and believed like me. I would never learn anything from anyone, because I would already know it all. Life would stagnate and fester. Use whatever mental imagery seems appropriate there. Would I engage others on where we differed? You bet, but not to argue. It doesn’t make any sense to disagree when you don’t yet understand, so my goal is always to understand others (at least in my better moments) and discover how my own thinking can change and grow from the exchange. I might offer my own thoughts and feelings on an issue, but it won’t be a line in the sand. It will be a ‘Here’s what I think and why, now it’s your turn; tell me what you want me to know.”

Oh, if only I had been that quick the first time.

C’est la vie.

-Corbin

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