What does it mean to be an Evangelical Christian?

ufcThe 2016 election was a doozy in terms of bringing strange bedfellows together into voting blocs for both presidential candidates. But one of the most confounding and in some aspects a disturbing conundrums was why a group of faith-oriented believers seemed so drawn to the likes of Donald Trump.

Here was a womanizing, money-worshipping television reality star who never met an insult he did not like. Yet Christian voters were flocking to support him.

What did the so-called “evangelical” community find so appealing about Donald Trump?

To answer that question, we can turn to a variety of sources. But one must first consider a definition of the term “Evangelical Christian” and where it comes from. So here’s a nice little description from a site titled GotAnswers.org, a Christian website.

Here’s how they answer the question: “What is an Evangelical Christian?”

Answer: To begin, let’s break down the two words. The term Christian essentially means “follower of Christ.” Christian is the term given to followers of Jesus Christ in the first century A.D. (Acts 11:26). The term evangelical comes from the Greek word that means “good news.” Evangelism is sharing the good news of the salvation that is available through Jesus Christ. An evangelical, then, is a person dedicated to promoting the good news about Jesus Christ. Combined, the description “evangelical Christian” is intended to indicate a believer in Jesus Christ who is faithful in sharing and promoting the good news.

In Western culture today, there are many caricatures of evangelical Christians. For some, the term evangelical Christian is equivalent to “right-wing, fundamentalist Republican.” For others, “evangelical Christian” is a title used to differentiate an individual from a Catholic Christian or an Orthodox Christian. Others use the term to indicate adherence to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. In this sense, an evangelical Christian is a believer who holds to the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and salvation by grace through faith alone. However, none of these definitions are inherent in the description “evangelical Christian.”

In reality, all Christians should be evangelical Christians. The Bible is consistently instructing us to be witnesses of the good news (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; 1 Corinthians 16:1-4; 1 Peter 3:15). There is no better news than Jesus! There is no higher calling than evangelist. There is no doubt that holding to the fundamentals of the Bible will result in a certain worldview and, yes, political belief. However, there is nothing about being an evangelical that demands a certain political party or affiliation. An evangelical Christian is called to share the good news, to preach God’s Word, and to set an example of purity and integrity. If these callings require political action, so be it. At the same time, evangelical Christians should not be sidetracked into abandoning our highest calling—sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Putting faith to work

There are several things I found fascinating about that description. For one thing, I am a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA.) Our particular congregation contains both highly liberal and highly conservative Christians whose issues of concern are often addressed from the pulpit. But the central goal of the church the last few years has been to encourage discipleship, which among other things, means putting faith to work through action.

This is a most effective way to distil issues of theology. When people are called together to work in service to others, as the bible calls us to do, fine points of theology do not matter that much.

Faith matters

Yet there are times when theology matters a whole bunch. Throughout the history of the Judeo-Christian religion, sorting out the meaning of scripture and the right relationship of God has taken on highly controversial tones. One could argue that the entire ministry of St. Paul, for example, was spent helping people confront misunderstanding of this new religion that would come to call itself Christianity.

But before that, a long series of *prophets stood on the outskirts of civilization calling people to repentance. When John the Baptist started dunking people in the Jordan river, the rumor mill about his activities got all the way back to the chief priests. John had no patience for their prurient curiosity.

And neither did Jesus. When it came down to it, the Son of God was a sonofabitch to the people in charge of religion. He set out to make them feel the wrath of God.

Unpopular voices

This proves that it is sometimes the unfortunate work of true evangelicals to say things and do things that are not popular with the proponents of mainstream religion. True to this tradition, Pope Francis has been acting like a prophet for the Catholic Church. His claim that “all scripture that does not lead to the love of Christ” is a highly evangelical statement.

He is not a popular man in conservative quarters because more conservative Christians, both Catholic and Evangelical, are accustomed to enforcing the rules of faith and driving a confessional brand of involvement. In order to belong, one must speak and choose to reflect the words of God in a certain way. In other words, “talk the talk,” or get out. You obviously don’t belong.

Dog-whistle religion

The sad thing is that this brand of faith can also come to constitute a certain “dog-whistle” cliqueishness. The confessional brand of religion is like joining a club. And when a club is formed, it can be leveraged to political as well as religious purposes. This is the exact form of social construct to which Jesus most objected. He branded those d0g-whistle priests a “brood of vipers” for huddling together and lashing out at anyone that stood up to their supposed religious authority.

But there is great comfort to many people in a religion where the rules are clearly mapped out. Not having to think about what you believe or explain it to anyone else is a simple form of existence. And if by convenience it also simplifies the voting process, well that’s just dandy, isn’t it?

And so many evangelicals look to their religious authorities for direction. If those authorities communicate that the “greater good” will be served by supporting even as flawed a candidate as Donald Trump, then evangelicals will support the man through thick and through thin. And sure enough, many evangelical leaders and conservative political voices called for evangelical Christians to vote for the man because promises were made that he would work to ban abortion, or gay marriage, or any number of theo-political issues bandied about during an election cycle.

Challenging authority

Anyone that challenges this central authoritarian call to loyalty can be branded an outsider and not worthy of attention. Traditionally, this is manifested in statements such as “you can only test scripture with scripture.” That is, the bible is the only source of truth.

The problem with this approach to authority is that it can fail miserably in the face of legitimate theological challenges. The preferred method is to simply deny the possibility that scripture could in any way be wrong. This is a convenient tautology.

It is also the practical method of those that used to stand on top of the walls or before the city gates shouting at the seemingly crazed prophets calling people to account for the true voice of God. So it is no coincidence that when a man such as Donald Trump puts forth a call to “build a wall,” the concept has great appeal to conservatives accustomed to blocking out that which they don’t want to consider. It is the perfect symbol for an insular faith.

A prophet in his home town

The problem with this approach to belief is that it is not biblical at all. It stung the Lord Jesus, for example, to be mocked and disavowed in his hometown. Mark 6:4: “Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”

Thus it is not unexpected that even today, any evangelical willing challenge the cliquish or dog-whistle signals of Christian faith should be similarly despised and mocked. People take great offense in being questioned about their faith, especially when they sense a vulnerability in themselves that they might not like to admit.

Interesting observations

As a writer who talks about religion quite a bit, and who is willing to challenge both the religion and politics of others based on what the Bible says, rather than what people say about it, I have bumped into plenty of anger and disappointment from friends, relatives and strangers. One confronted me with this interesting observation: “You make me feel shitty about things.”

And I suppose that is probably true. If one clings to beliefs that don’t stand up to rational or religious scrutiny, it surely can make you feel “shitty” about it.

Stiff-necked and hard-hearted

Being challenged on theological grounds can simply harden those beliefs even more. I can honestly attest to the fact that I have likely had that effect on more than one Christian believer. The risk of abandoning cherished beliefs is never easy. But neither does God appreciated stiff-necked or hard-hearted believers. Giving up the legalistic ways of hard-hearted faith has always frightened the shit out of people.

Some have accused me of having no heart at all, that I am more about the theoretical idea of faith than having  a trust in God. But they have not walked a single step in my shoes, or faced the same deaths in my family that I have faced. I have trust that God will play a role in how those lives will end, and what happens to the spirit of that person in the long run.

Thus I feel empowered to speak as honestly as I can about the deceptions created on foundations of biblical literalism and the relativism that evangelicals too readily accept in trading approval for political power. It’s disgusting, and it produces ugly and false compromises in support for leaders such as Donald Trump. There have been many other abusive figures in history that claimed to be a Christian and turned out only to be selfishly murderous bastards.

And so, to not challenge those trading in politicized religious beliefs… when the Bible clearly maps out the call to speak truth to power… is to abandon the heart of all Christian belief.

Pope Francis

That is what the Pope is talking about when he says that scripture that does not lead to the love of Christ is obsolete. That is the true and honest calling of all evangelicals. To trust that the love of God has meaning, significance and purpose in your life, and to feel the love of Christ and do your best to extend that grace and love to others. That is the mission of faith.

Yet the Evangelical Prophet must also suffer in the face of distrust when challenging others to consider how their authorities might be misleading them. Jesus set the example, it is for prophets of all levels and calling to follow that lead. His disciples did it, trusting that they would be greeted or else they dusted off their feet and left that town to the dog-whistle virtues it claimed for its own.

That’s what it means to be a Christian Evangelical.

*In religion, a prophet is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and to speak for them, serving as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people. The message that the prophet conveys is called a prophecy.

 

 

The miracle of convergent evolution and faith

convergence4There’s an interesting thing that happens in evolution called “convergence.” That is, through selective forces such as habitat or climate or competitive adaptation, different kinds of animals and plants can appear to look alike. One of the most familiar examples is the convergent evolution of functional wings in birds, bats and insects.

Playful evolution

It’s an interesting fact that evolution sometimes also works in “reverse” when it comes to evolved physical characteristics such as wings. That’s why we find flightless species of penguins and cormorants. These birds no longer needed to fly to survive and their wings have evolved to be used for different purposes, or practically no purpose at all.

Flightless cormorants are birds whose wings have "devolved" through lack of need to fly.

Flightless cormorants are birds whose wings have “devolved” through lack of need to fly.

Why would any bird cease to fly? There seems to be so much value in the ability to fly away from potential predators or to fly in pursuit of potential prey. The answer (in part) is that when you live in an environment where swimming for prey and escape is the more efficient manner of existence, then flying becomes an unnecessary use of energy.

By contrast, penguins use their wings to propel through water in pursuit of fish while flightless cormorants simply rely on their back feet to propel them through the water in pursuit of the fish they eat. And it works. So are penguins going “backwards” in terms of evolution? Not really. They’ve simply evolved in a different direction from other forms of flying or flightless birds.

Dumb choices? 

Penguins sometimes use their bellies to slide across the ice.

Penguins sometimes use their bellies to slide across the ice.

If you choose to think in anthropomorphic terms (projecting human characteristics on animals) you could criticize penguins for making poor evolutionary choices.“Look at you stupid penguins! Now you’re not like the rest of the birds! You made a dumb choice. Now you can no longer fly!”

There’s a problem with that line of thinking. The many species of penguins on this earth did not “choose” to become flightless. They became flightless in practical response to the environments where they live. Flying to capture food or escape predators was no longer useful.

Evolution at work

txblindsalamandersm807cu

A Texas blind salamander

There is no end to the odd number of ways evolution** works on living creatures. We also have blind salamanders that live in caves. They no longer need their eyesight to find food in an environment where there is no light. We also have mammals known as bats that have poor eyesight, yet navigate through the night sky using echolocation to avoid trees and zero in on flying insect prey.

Nature is thus a highly creative source of evolutionary invention. This includes convergence, where different types of animals or plants evolve the same characteristics such as limbs or wings or eyes. There is also divergence, where through genetic variation or interbreeding changes in physical structure become part of the selective forces at work in the survival of a species.

About sex

Of course evolution also works with physical and behavioral characteristics in seemingly confusing ways. In the animal and plant world it is quite common for all sorts of living species to have both male and female sexual characteristics. In such cases we use the general scientific term of  hermaphrodite to describe these multisexual life forms.

In nature hermaphroditic animals and plants are known to assume both sexual roles in the mating process. Some types of living things begin as a male and change into a female. Others work female into male within a single lifespan depending on their lifecycle. Still others are bidirectional in nature, switching sexual roles from one gender to another and back again.

There’s a difference, but it’s natural and normal

Among human beings the term used to describe people with both sexual identities or physical characteristics is intersex or transgender to describe people with both male and female body parts. 

Again, these are not people who have chosen to be both male and female, nor are they. Yet transgender people are often forced by culture and society to make choices people should never have to make. Society seems to demand that they choose one sex or the other or be forced to live in a dichotomous world where they are not accepted by either sex.

The same holds true for homosexual people as well. While the sexual characteristics of a homosexual person are not necessarily demonstrated in a physical sense, the sexual orientation of a homosexual person who is sexually attracted to those of the same sex is just as biologically expressive as being transgender.

Fears and actions

Of course these differences in human sexual characteristics and orientation have long been ostracized by societies that fear differences of any sort. In fact many societies fear even the common sexual expressions in women and men. Basic functions such as menstruation were once considered “unclean” by ancient cultures. This prejudice and fear against menstruating women was codified in the Bible with calls to isolate women from society for a period of days until they were judged to be “clean” again. The same rules applied for men who ejected semen onto their clothes.

Even in today’s society, sexual repression and control over a women’s body is carried out in ancient tribal traditions that mutilate the clitoris of young women to deny them sexual pleasure in intercourse. This brand of controlling behavior is the sign of a culture that has not evolved in its comprehension and understanding of individual equality and gender roles in society.

Canonized fears

Even supposedly advanced cultures embrace ancient taboos because they mask a brand of machismo based on ignorance and fear about the female gender. These male fears are canonized in the Genesis creation story where Eve tricks Adam into trying fruit from the “tree of knowledge.” Notice the interesting theme at work in that creation tradition? Right away it is knowledge that is the enemy. Remain ignorant and you’ll be safe from all temptation, says Genesis.

Samson and Delilah

Samson and Delilah

It carries through many other biblical stories as well. When Delilah secretly cuts the hair of Samson he loses his legendary strength. The power of such stories holds true to this day, as evidenced by this question and answer posted on Yahoo! Answers.

Q: Do you lose strength when you cut your hair?

A: Wow, are we bored today? No, you cannot lose your strength if/when you cut your hair. Samson was a biblical fable used to demonstrate that when you forget your faith, and rely on the wrong thing, you can and will lose everything you have. (Not that I’m really Christian or anything, just completing the train of thought, *grin*)

Of course the real meaning of the story focused on being dedicated to God in faith. Yet how interesting it is that this notion persists that a man could lose strength by having his hair cut.

There are many such perceptions that masculine traits are evidence of strength and personal valor. When people don’t follow these “norms” they immediately come into question by society. These prejudices against men who act feminine or engage other men in a homosexual relationship are also canonized in the Bible.

It is interesting to note that while the Bible calls homosexuality a sin in some cases, it is just as often used as a warning of symbol for fears about falling into other types of sins. Here is one such example:

Romans 1:26-32, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.”

wipe_out_homophobia_by_wipeout_homophobia-d4835i7This passage foremost condemns anything other than the “natural use of a woman,” which is rather a patriarchal manner in which to view women as a rule. And the fact of “men with men working that which is unseemly” actually reveals the entire lack of knowledge that in most of nature, such clear lines of demarcation and behavior do not always exist. Absent the knowledge of modern science, the Bible falls into a definition of “normalcy” that depends far too much on fear and not enough on understanding.

And for homosexuality to stand at the start of it all seems like a certain condemnation. But the real message of this passage is a condemnation of people acting out of control. That’s the real message of the Sodom and Gomorrah story in the Bible as well. When strangers wander into town, they take refuge with Lot. The townspeople call them out because town tradition states that strangers found after dark are fair sport for all sorts of abuse. God is disgusted not just with this tradition, but all sorts of abusive behavior in these towns. He blots them out for their transgressions, but homosexuality was not the sole cause for that wrath. Yet that story has been used to condemn homosexuals for “sodomy” based on a fear of sexual practices that do not supposedly fit the “normal” behavior of human beings.

Thought control

It’s all about thought control, plain and simple.

In 2015 this practice of imposing thought control based on ancient and ignorant prejudices is being called into question by none other than Pope Francis, head of the Catholic Church. He takes ancient bad habits to task by calling people to remember that Jesus himself came to turn the law over on its head. The Catholic News Service reports:

Jesus did “strange things,” like “walk with sinners, eat with tax collectors” — things the scholars of the law “did not like; doctrine was in danger, that doctrine of the law” that they and the “theologians had created over the centuries,” he said, according to Vatican Radio.

The scholars were safeguarding the law “out of love, to be faithful to God,” the pope said, but “they were closed up right there,” and forgot all the ways God has acted in history.

“They forgot that God is the God of the law, but is also the God of surprises,” he said.

“God is always new; he never denies himself, he never says that what he had said is wrong, but he always surprises us,” the pope said.

20130911cnsbr1564-1024x730But the Pope doesn’t stop there. He dispenses with ancient prejudices by taking his line of thought to conclusion in this way, as the CNS reports:

The scholars of the law also forgot that the people of God are a people on a journey, “and when you journey, you always find new things, things you never knew before,” he said. But the journey, like the law, is not an end in itself; they are a path, “a pedagogy,” toward “the ultimate manifestation of the Lord. Life is a journey toward the fullness of Jesus Christ, when he will come again.”

The law teaches the way to Christ, and “if the law does not lead to Jesus Christ,” he said, “and if it doesn’t get us closer to Jesus Christ, it is dead.”

Pope Francis is forced by tradition to make these statements as part of a transitional focus on change. The church cannot just flip its doctrine lest it come off as too flip for its position as an authority on faith. Yet the message is clear: We must dispense with ancient prejudices or find ourselves set apart from God and Christ.

And this is the convergent evolution between the church and the life of Christ. It has taken 2015 years for the church to come around to this understanding. In between there have been persecutions of millions of people based on ancient prejudices against Jews and Muslims despite Christ’s call to love our supposed enemies. There has been canonized and politicized prejudice exercised against homosexuals, lesbians and transgender people despite the fact that all these characteristics and orientations are manifested wholly in God’s own creations. It continues to this day. 

thYet perhaps we are finally evolving as a faith. The church can only find use of its true wings if it is allowed to embrace all the many forms of human beings. That is, we are homo sapiens.

The word “homo” means man. The word sapiens is based on the root Latin word “sapere” that means wise. Perhaps now the scientific term describing human beings––home sapiens––is at last converging on something approaching the truth. Sometimes it takes a long time for evolution to work in this world. 

* unprincipled (often used as a humorous or affectionate reproach)

**For a long time questions by those who doubt the theory of evolution focused on the idea there were no transitional forms in the fossil record to demonstrate links between ancient dinosaurs and modern creatures.

In the world of birds we have long had the skeletal imprint of the archaeopteryx, an apparently transitional form of dinosaur with feathers. Thanks to recent fossil discoveries from China we how have dozens more examples of feathered dinosaurs. These extinct life forms demonstrate structural progressions from feathered dinosaurs to modern birds. Some of these fossils exhibit such clear detail that scientists are even able to discern and analyze structures such as cones in the retinas that tell us these creatures could perceive color. These similarities demonstrate clear structural and functional relationships and serve as clear evidence of evolution at work throughout history. .

The false allegory in The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent

By Christopher Cudworth

For Christmas this year a dear and close friend offered me a gift of The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent by Erwin W. Lutzer with Steve Miller.

This friend of mine has been to Israel several times. She has converted to Judaism and back again to Christianity. She has searched her soul deeply and trusted God to make some of her most difficult life decisions for her.

Our relationship has included many theological discussions during more than 30 years of association. I know her heart and she knows mine. So I not take her gift of this book to me seriously.

So sat down to read it and this is how the book begins, with a chapter titled “The Day the Levees Broke.”

“The problem was not Katrina. 

The problem was that the levees broke. And, as a result, millions of tons of water inundated the City of New Orleans. When it was over, the city was practically destroyed and nearly 1000 people had died. If only the levees had been strong enough to hold back the water, New Orleans might have been able to survive the catastrophe.”

Perhaps to those unfamiliar with the history of resource abuse and strained attempts by the Army Corps of Engineers to provide safety for the City of New Orleans, those opening statements might seem sensible enough. Surely if the levees were strong enough, the logic goes, the water would not have gotten through.” 

katrina_maxsurgeBut here’s the rub. The strength of the levees was not the problem. The problem was instead manifold. For one thing, the storm surge caused by Katrina was the largest ever created by a tropical storm in the United States. A post on the site Weather Underground describes it this way.

Hurricane Katrina of 2005 produced the highest storm surge ever recorded on the U.S. coast–an astonishing 27.8 feet at Pass Christian, Mississippi. This bested the previous U.S. record of 22.8 feet, which also occurred at Pass Christian, during 1969’s Hurricane Camille. According to the NHC Katrina final report (PDF File), Hurricane Katrina brought a surge of 24 – 28 feet to a 20-mile stretch of Mississippi coast. Fully 90 miles of coast from eastern Louisiana to Alabama received a storm surge characteristic of a Category 3 hurricane. The colossal damage that resulted has been documented by blogger Margie Kieper during a series of blog posts that ran in the summer of 2006. The contents are reproduced here, and consist of an introduction explaining why the surge was so large, and 16 parts exploring the damage done to each stretch of the Gulf Coast ravaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

surge_smallSo it wasn’t the levees breaking that produced the flooding in New Orleans. It was the height of the storm surge from Katrina, which at some points was 18 feet higher than the tallest levee. A levee cannot stop water that overtops it that way.

Manmade problems

There were some cogent factors as to why the storm surge stayed so high once it reached shore. Over the past 70 years human engineering of the coastline has resulted in a drastic reduction of coastal wetland habitat and marshes that once served as a buffer for the region against coastal weather activity. Normally a large expanse of wetlands can absorb much of the energy of a storm surge and slow it down. That reduces the height of the water. No amount of levee building can replace these natural coastal systems. So again, it was not that the levees were not strong enough. It is the fact that human activity has undermined the natural balance of the coastal ecosystem.

The strength of the Katrina storm system might also be a product of human impact on the environment. For years climatologists have predicted a potential rise in the number of tropical storms and also a rise in their intensity. This would be a projected effect of global climate change and warming of the oceans. The heat exchange in warmer waters helps tropical storms intensify. The result can be larger storms and higher winds. That combination can produce higher storm surges.

Shallow assumptions = shallow conclusions

flemish-school-allegory-of-geometry-engraving-by-f-floris-16th-centurySo the assumptions Erwin W. Lutzer makes in beginning his book about worldviews and religious philosophy exhibit a shallowness in ideological framework. That is, he ignores too much reality in his opening allegory to have credence on the subjects he is about to address in his book. The flawed allegory demonstrates a brand of ideological thinking that ignores facts in favor of favored fictions.

This is a problem too seldom addressed in theological discussions. We all know that fundamental religious worldviews love to ignore science in favor of crediting everything on earth to the creative or destructive power of God. By using the paradigm of Katrina and blaming the flooding of New Orleans on the manmade levees, Mr. Lutzer exhibits the habitual credulity of so many conservative Christian thinkers. By focusing so strongly on the tenets of what he wants the levees to symbolize about the modern church and its so-called battle against the surge of Islamic foes in the world, he loses the ideological battle from the start.

Concerns for the church

It is bitterly ironic that Lutzer immediately goes on to complain that the Christian church is shrinking in America. “The church in the West has already felt the first stirrings of a storm directed against it, and without question the speed of the wind and the height of the waves will intensify as time moves on. The question is whether the church will have the strength and the courage to withstand the growing onslaught. The question is whether the levees will hold.”

Well Erwin, we’re glad you got your fears out there on the table. But your allegory does actually reveals the real problem with the shallowness of modern day fundamental Christianity.

A levee against a tidal wave of reason?

0708-06HanapepeLeveeHave you ever considered the real reasons why the church is weakening in America? Because the Moody Bible Institute (and Moody Radio) from which your views so proudly emanate is prone to promoting a version of Christianity that is both rigid and brittle. The inflexibly fundamental version of faith promoted by the Moody Bible Institute with its support for creationism as science and its intolerance of homosexuality and the Constitutional right to abortion in America are anachronistic at best and a warped and dismissive interpretation of scripture at its worst.

Modern day Pharisees and the Pope who calls them out

20130911cnsbr1564-1024x730Perhaps if conservative Christianity comes out of its doctrinal hole as Jesus warned the Pharisees to do during in his time on earth, then perhaps the faith would have an opportunity to actually breathe some spirit into society. At least Pope Francis of the Catholic Church seems to get this concept. His advocacy on behalf of science and social integration is thought leadership much overdue in this world.

Pope Francis nails the Moody Bible Institute to the wall with his statement that “laws that don’t lead to Jesus are obsolete.” And you can already hear the conservative instincts kicking in when modern day Pharisees hear such statements. “Well, you can’t lead a homosexual to Jesus if they won’t give up their lifestyle…” and such statements are right where the Moody-heads aim their sites when challenged to change their doctrine.

A tough read

And so it will be difficult indeed for me to read Erwin W. Lutzer’s book The Cross in the Shadow of the Crescent. if the introduction is any indication, its philosophy surely lurks beneath a cloud of fear and ostracism. These two methodologies seem to be held dear by conservative faith.

This is one Christian who prefers to breathe the clean air of progressive thought. Where science can be reconciled to faith. Where intolerance is not the first rule of order in the church. And where the bigger picture and natural events in this world are not consigned to doctrinal symbolism designed to scare believers into that weird zone of religious contrition and holy war.

The Genesis Fix.

The Genesis Fix.

Pope Francis and the Brand New Day

By Christopher Cudworth

vatican1381780031

Pope Francis seems to be saying to the world, “Hold on a moment. I’ve got something to say…”

With the advent of a new Pope, all of Catholicdom held its breath a few months ago. Now that Pope Francis is taking names and kicking ass on practical and theological issues, even people outside the Catholic faith are breathing a sigh of relief that it’s not just business as usual in the biggest Christian organization on earth.

Of course Catholicism makes some legitimate claims to the origins and sustenance of Christianity as a whole. The whole Roman Catholic history serves as one big pipeline back to the days when early Christians first struggled for survival in the face of political oppression, then duked it out over what the faith should really mean and finally got the stamp of approval from Constantine and a success line of rulers and kings all the way through to the modern age.

Cocky Catholics? 

But along the way, Catholicism got a little cocky and a little arch in its practices. Catholics persecuted a fair share of people over the ages, and got a few things wrong about the cosmos too. Remember Copernicus and Galileo? Neither were accepted as practical authorities on cosmological matters.

A few Crusades and an Inquisition or two later, Catholicism grew into a faith that tolerated little dissent. It took one of their own priests, Martin Luther, to bust open the bible and bring back the true meaning of faith through grace to the Christian world.

Open and shut cases

The gates of Catholicism have still slammed shut on some issues. Recent popes did little to get the rampant issue of priestly abuse of children under control.

Then along comes Pope Francis. What a surprise. He started off with an equivocal but intriguing statement about homosexuality (“Who am I to judge?) and proceeded to demand that his own hierarchy live the faith by dumping a higher-up in the faith for living high on the Christian hog.

The general message of Pope Francis has been something Jesus might have said. “Don’t be like the Pharisees.”

In other words, Pope Francis is calling all Catholics to consider what their faith is really all about. Caring for the poor. Looking out for the disadvantaged.

Hell, Pope Francis even has the guts to throw a gut-check to the primary religion in America, which is capitalism.

Here’s what he said:

Just as the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say “thou shalt not” to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

Slapdowns

It is somewhat stunning as well to see the term “survival of the fittest” daringly inserted into a religious argument for social justice. Do you get what that means? Pope Francis essentially acknowledges the practical truth of evolution with such a statement. In that regard his slap at the hindquarters of capitalism is also a slap in the face to evangelicals who can’t come to grips with the science that drives our understanding of the world.

The Pope just yanked the respective chains of economic and religious zealots. Do you get what’s going on here.

The time has come for a new Reformation. The time has come to question all the dogma and complacency driving our current religious dialogue. The Pope is using a mixed martial arts approach to theological discourse to challenge those who think they can get away with the same stupid shit they’ve been pulling for the last 30 years.

His real statement is this: “Your time is up. You’ve had your say. The world is ready for a brand new day. Get out of the way.”

Hurrah for Pope Francis. He may not be perfect, and he would be the first it seems to admit that. But he may be what Catholicism needs, and by proxy the rest of the world might take notice.