Friday, February 27, 2004

I hope this isn’t heresy, but I’ve got a question. The major debate surrounding the release of Mel Gibson’sThe Passion of the Christ” is who killed Jesus? My question is what does it matter who killed Jesus?

If you accept the premise of most Protestant Christians (maybe Catholics too, I have no idea) that God sent Jesus to die for our sins, does it matter who killed Jesus? If Jesus wasn’t murdered/crucified, what does that mean for our sin? It wouldn’t be quite the same if the Bible said, “Jesus of Nazareth quietly passed away yesterday at the age of 95 in the Galilee Assisted Living Facility. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in his name to Paul’s Legal Defense Fund.”

At the Easter service a couple of years ago, my pastor at the time said Christians are “Easter people.” Our faith is one of rebirth and redemption from sin. Without the death of Jesus, would there be an Easter? Much of what it means to be Christian is tied up in the resurrection and knowing that, why do we care who killed Jesus?

If you believe that it was God’s divine plan for Jesus to die on the cross (there are some who don’t believe that, and while it would be an interesting discussion, that’s for another day) is there anything anyone could have done to stop it? Shouldn’t we then focus on what his death and resurrection mean to us as Christians? I guess I just don’t understand why people get so worked up about something that seems completely irrelevant when you consider Christian theology and doctrine…


When I was an undergrad I took a seminar on the American Presidency. It was called “The Rhetorical President.” I’m not going to dig out my notes, but basically the premise was that starting in the late 19th century, the president went from being a pretty bland CEO-type to a leader of their respective party. This coincided with the decline of party politics and the rise of personality-based campaigns. Much of the course was based on the book by Jeffrey Tullis, “The Rhetorical President.” My professor was writing a book trying to prove that Tullis was a nitwit (more or less) and he needed 10 undergrads to do his research for him.

The point of all of this is that I find myself yearning for an early 19th century president. These days, depending on who you ask, George W. Bush is either single-handedly driving our nation to destruction or our savior whose greatness is unprecedented in our history. Bill Clinton may be Satan’s right hand man or a brilliant leader whose greatness is enhanced by his humanity (i.e. lying about sex).

However, last time I checked there were 535 fine (?) men and women whose job it is to actually write, debate, and pass laws. Unless of course Bush and Rumsfeld have locked them all up as enemy combatants under the Patriot Act…hmm…

It’s just ridiculous to me that we hold the president totally accountable for the policy direction (and successes and failures) of this country. Is Bill Clinton responsible for the economic boom of the 1990s? Is George Bush responsible for the stagnant economy? Our world is so incredibly complex that no one man (or woman, someday probably) can reasonably be expected to understand it, let alone control it.

For those that lampoon George Bush’s tax cuts, decision to go to war with Iraq, environmental policies, etc., remember that Congress passed the tax cuts and approved the resolution to go to war. Also remember that the Republicans do not have a majority in the Senate. Remember that when you’re blaming Clinton and the Democrats for everything that’s gone wrong in the country since he became president that the Republicans have had control of the House and Senate since 1994!

Let’s be realistic and forget about this ridiculous cult of personality. Policy is made by a complex interaction of elected officials (including the president), government employees, interest groups, and the public. I would argue that policy is strongly influenced by the network of interest groups, corporations, and lobbyists whose job it is to shape legislation. Of course the system is completely corrupted by a legal regime of barely concealed bribery (i.e. “campaign finance”), but that’s for another day.


Let me preface this by pointing out that I have not seen “The Passion of the Christ,” and having a 1-month old daughter, I’m not likely to see in the theater anytime soon. I think that several of the issues surrounding the movie are interesting though.

First is the suggestion by many evangelical Protestants to use the movie as an evangelization tool. I’ve read a couple of reviews that suggest that this might not be very effective. Judy Coode, writing in Sojourners magazine, notes that for those not familiar with Christianity the movie probably won’t make a lot of sense. She says that as a Catholic, the movie struck her as a two-hour Stations of the Cross. She described the movie as “an agonizing and thought-provoking piece of work.”

Jeffrey Overstreet writing in Christianity Today makes several similar comments. First, there isn’t much in the way of context for Jesus’ life. No mention of how he came to be in the world or his ministry prior to his last days. Also that it is interesting is Protestant endorsement of the film when it relies so heavily on Catholic iconography and doctrine. He points that it is possible “to understand and appreciate Christ's sacrifice without having to swallow a blow-by-blow account of the destruction of his body.”

I also thought I’d pass along a commentary written by my pastor, Beth Estock from Aloha United Methodist Church. She explains why she’s seeing “Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen” instead of “Passion.” She argues that the film exploits viewers through fear, and that “the root of sin is letting fear have its way in our lives.” If you like what you read, stop by for her sermon every Sunday at 11 am. Here are directions to church.

Well, as you can probably tell I have a tendency to get long winded. So I’m stopping.


Thursday, February 26, 2004

Today I visited the Christianity Today website. I don’t know why I do this, because it usually makes me a little crazy. I’m sure all the people that work there are wonderful, but sometimes their views on Christianity make me wonder. For instance, today they had a Q&A, that among other topics, had a woman asking whether or not she should get breast augmentation. She felt she would be happier with larger breasts. For the most part, the answer was pretty reasonable. They discussed whether it would actually make her happy, what potential consequences might be, etc. But the columnist also mentioned that they couldn’t find anything in the Bible that indicated whether getting breast implants was right or wrong.

I’m sorry, but give me a break! If I remember correctly, the Bible was written several thousands of years ago. I don’t think they were doing cosmetic surgery back then. Does the Bible really need to be the answer for every question? I didn’t realize that was the first place to look for any question I might have. Here are a couple of questions that I think I’ll check in the Bible for the answers:

- I seem to remember something in Leviticus about not shaving. Does that include nose hair? Will God be angry if I take care of my nose hair?
- My wife thinks that when I get holes in the crotch of my pants, I should throw them away. I think that as long as I’m not parading my crotch around in public, who cares?
- I think it is perfectly acceptable to not fold my clothes after I do the laundry. I’m content fishing underwear, socks, etc. out of the laundry basket as I need them. My wife, on the other hand, prefers her clothes in her dresser. What is the right Biblical practice? Laundry basket or dresser? The answer better be in the Bible – my marriage might depend on it!

It seems to me that by seeing the Bible as so inclusive we’re really making it smaller. Isn’t enough that it is the story of our faith as Christians and the guide for our spiritual lives? Why do some people try to stretch it to be more than it is? It seems to me that God expects us to make the occasional decision on our own. Can something that was written 2000+ years ago really provide detailed, specific advice to our 21st century lives? Or does it provide the spiritual and moral framework in which we live and let us figure out how to respond to the details? Guess what I think…

Here are some other Christian sites I like:

Sojourners Magazine
The Christian Century
The United Methodist Church


I’m intrigued by the idea that by allowing gays and lesbians to marry somehow the institution of heterosexual marriage will be weakened. Isn’t it funny that gay marriage is this terrible threat, but there hasn’t been a movement for a constitutional amendment banning divorce, adultery, pornography, televised sports, or any of the other things that contribute to marital problems? Anyway, back to the point I was going to make.

The idea that allowing gays to marry will weaken the institution of marriage is simply an extension of the victim mentality that is so pervasive in America today. If my marriage fails, it’s not my fault, it’s because of the faggots! Ultimately, the institution of marriage boils down to each couple. Marriages don’t fail because some mysterious combination of external forces rend the fabric of the relationship. Marriages end because one or both of the people involved in the relationship decide to end it. It is a choice. To argue that this choice is the fault of anyone else is silly. Sure, other factors influence a marriage. But ultimately the people involved in the relationship have to make the decision to end it. Janet Jackson’s breast, homosexuals, Sex in the City, Friends, nor Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky have the ability to end individual relationships.

Of course we do have a set of pervasive attitudes in this country that slowly chip at a person’s faith in their relationships. Parts of society encourage people who aren’t happy to walk out without trying to work it out, sex is promoted as easy and free, and work is valued over family. But these attitudes have existed long before the issue of gay marriage became a pressing issue.

But none of this changes the fact that we need to take responsibility for ourselves and our choices. Nurturing my marriage is my responsibility, not the Federal Government’s. Similarly, the Federal Government has no power to end my marriage. I am responsible for the choices I make, and it is shameful the extent to which people in our society try to dodge responsibility.

We should be honest. Opposition to gay marriage is less about preserving heterosexual marriages, and more about discrimination against homosexuals. The question then is, should the Federal Government be in the business of discriminating against a class of individuals based on religious intolerance? What’s next? Banning Jewish marriages? Muslim marriages? Atheist marriages? If the Federal Government is in the business sanctifying marriages (the Christian fundamentalist version only, of course) why should we allow these other heathens to marry?


Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Personally, I think the whole gay marriage debate is silly. Are you opposed to homosexual marriage? Don’t marry a homosexual then! The issue also helped me discover a solution to the federal budget deficit – allow gays and lesbians to marry and the resulting increase in income taxes received by the Federal Government because of the marriage penalty will help reduce the deficit!

Seriously, though, I think there are two important issues that aren’t being covered in the press. First, is the claim that “activist judges” are responsible this phenomenon. Read the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution. It states:

“Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (emphasis added)

Banning gay marriage seems, to me anyway, a clear violation of the equal protection clause of THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION. Imagine this headline: “Gay marriage banned in the US Constitution.” Now replace “Gay” with “Interracial.” It is the same type of discrimination, folks. We live in a secular society, deal with it. These are not activist judges – these are judges applying the (very clear and unambiguous) language in our Constitution.

Second issue – the “sanctity of marriage.” Religious conservatives are up in arms that gay marriage is destroying the “sanctity of marriage.” Think about the language being used here. Sanctity, from “to sanctify.” Here’s the entry from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

Main Entry: sanc·ti·fy
Pronunciation: -"fI
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -fied; -fy·ing
Etymology: Middle English sanctifien, from Middle French sanctifier, from Late Latin sanctificare, from Latin sanctus sacred -- more at SAINT
1 : to set apart to a sacred purpose or to religious use : CONSECRATE
2 : to free from sin : PURIFY
3 a : to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect to b : to give moral or social sanction to
4 : to make productive of holiness or piety

Look at definition 3a. To sanctify is “to impart or impute sacredness, inviolability, or respect.” Why are religious conservatives counting on government to sanctify marriage? Getting your marriage license at the county courthouse doesn’t impart sacredness, getting married in a church with a minister and committing your relationship to God does. Think about it this way – if government action or endorsement imparts sacredness on an institution (like marriage), does that mean that the fact that government allows divorce makes it sacred? Does the lack of any civil or criminal penalty make adultery sacred? Sanctity is imbued by God through our commitment. For Christians, civil marriage is just that – civil. It makes it easier to enter into certain legal contracts, changes tax status, and conveys other benefits and responsibilities. If you believe that gay marriage threatens the sanctity of your marriage, don’t go to a church that marries homosexuals.

Personally, I believe heterosexuals have done a fine job wrecking the institution of marriage. At a time when more than half of all marriages will end in divorce and celebrity marriages are measured in days and weeks rather than years, I think that the danger is from within. More on the institution of marriage tomorrow…