10 Reasons to Read "Jesus for President"

1. It’s our book club selection for the month of August!

2. The book’s design is unique and aesthetically pleasing - lots of color and art on every page. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

3. It will make you uncomfortable….It may even offend you.*

4. Jesus for President will inspire you to sell all of your belongings, run your car on vegetable oil, and live among the poor….at least for a few minutes. Long term, it will inspire you to more faithfully apply the teachings of Jesus Christ to your life in ways that you never thought about before. (I know it did for me.)

5. One of the authors actually went to Baghdad to hang out with civilians when the U.S. starting bombing the area as part of its “shock and awe” military campaign. He could have been charged with treason. You gotta wonder what’s going on in this guy’s head.

6. It serves as an excellent reminder that neither Barack Obama nor John McCain can achieve God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.

7. Jesus for President masterfully challenges the notion of America being “a Christian nation”

8. It will give you LOTS of interesting conversation starters for boring dinner parties! For example: “Do you think that war is ever God’s will?” Dan and I have had some long and heated discussions about that one!

9. Jesus for President includes some really neat anecdotes and quotes from the early church, most of which I’d never encountered before.

10. You find yourself questioning whether or not you really take Jesus seriously. 

* IMOPORTANT: I can almost guarantee that you won’t agree with everything the authors say in “Jesus for President.” In fact, you may strongly disagree with some of their positions on  pacifism.  But what fun is reading if you simply stick to books that confirm your previously held presuppositions? The best books are the ones that make you scratch your head and re-think your faith. This book does that on a whole lot of levels. 

“In regard to Christian politics, some might say, ‘Sure my citizenship is ultimately in heaven, but I have to live in the ‘real world ‘now.’ In other words, acting heavenly on earth is too risky; or, Jesus was the Son of God, but he was not realistic; or, following the Sermon on the Mount will not work on earth, so it will have to suffice in heaven. This interpretation basically comes to mean that my citizenship in heaven means nothing in the real world….

"To claim that one’s citizenship is in heaven is to say that you pledge allegiance not to any kingdom of the world but to Jesus and the body of those who take on his suffering, enemy-loving posture toward the world. This is what Peter meant when he called the church ‘a holy nation, a people set apart,’ a people who are supposed to live as ‘aliens and strangers in this land.’” 

- Jesus for President, page 106-107

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An Evangelical's Response to Homosexuality

My husband Dan walked into a local car shop the other day, inadvertently interrupting a serious conversation between the store’s manager and another customer. After an awkward pause, the manager looked at Dan, and in his thick East Tennessee accent asked, “Sir, would you be offended if we continued our conversation about homosexuals?” 

A little taken aback, Dan replied, “Well…I guess that depends on what you’re saying about them.”

(He expected the worst. A few years ago, the Rhea County Commission voted to support a resolution banning gays from the county. It was later repealed, but the community still carries the reputation of being extremely anti-gay.) 

“Well,” began the manager, “I’ve recently changed my view on things…” 

He went on to tell the story of a friend and coworker of his who had recently gone off to college. Unmistakably effeminate since his youth, the young man was disowned by his father when he came out of the closet and announced he was gay. 

“I knew this guy real well,” said the manager, “and I just don’t believe that he was puttin’ on some kind of an act. The way I see it, he just was the way he was. There’s not much a person can do to change that.” 

“Yeah,” said Dan, “It doesn’t really make sense that someone would choose to get picked on his whole life, or choose to get disowned by his father….Sure does change things when you actually know someone, huh?“ 

“Yep.”

“Yep.”

And then they talked about tires. 

****

I know that for some of my readers, this story will reflect great progress. Tolerance and understanding are making their way across the country, even to the hills of rural Tennessee! For others, it will reflect further deterioration in the moral fabric of society. Look how pervasive the acceptance of sin has become! For others, it will simply conjure images from an episode of King of the Hill. 

For me, it is yet another reminder that when we talk about homosexuality, we are talking about people. These days it is nearly impossible not to have a friend, coworker, or family member who is gay, and it’s getting harder and harder to believe that one’ sexuality is a choice. But having grown up in the conservative evangelical subculture, I’ve been taught my whole life that being gay is a sin…or at least that having gay sex is a sin. In fact, I’ve been taught that homosexuality is just about the worst kind of sin that there is, one we ought to protest against and make laws about. 

But the truth is, I have my own closet to come out of; I’ve got my own little secret that I’ve been carrying around for a few years now, and it’s this: I’m absolutely terrified that evangelicals have gotten this wrong. 

Just think of the implications. 

How will our children look back on us if science confirms that being gay is not a choice? Will today’s evangelicals be remembered in the same way as yesterday’s segregationists? What if one day we come to regard biblical teachings about homosexuality the same way we regard teachings about slavery, or dietary laws, or women covering their heads in church? Will we be ashamed at James Dobson’s efforts to “reform” gay people, encouraging them to marry and start conventional families? Will we have done irreparable damage to the relationship between the gay community and the Church? Will we have inadvertently ruined our testimony to the world? 

If we’ve got this wrong, the implications are absolutely staggering. 

Now, let me be clear. I’m not taking a stand on one side of the homosexuality issue or the other. I’m honestly undecided. I have great respect for the Bible and its authority, and have no intention of willfully disregarding any of its teachings. But I’ve also got a nagging feeling that something isn’t right, that even if homosexuality is a sin, Christians haven’t been handling it the way they should…and if it isn’t a sin, then we’ve forever damaged our ability to minister in the world as followers of Christ. 

I write about this, not to start an argument or make a point, but to share my struggle. This isn’t something I take lightly. I’ve wept and prayed over this for a while now, and I’ve tried to read and study as well. For the sake of my legacy to my children, I don’t want to get it wrong. 

Homosexuality as a Sin

This is the position taken by William Webb in our book club selection for the month, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals. Webb points to the oft-quoted passage in Leviticus 18 which condemns homosexuality as “an abomination,” and the highly negative references to homosexuality in the Pauline epistles.  Applying his (previously discussed) standards for determining whether verses are cultural or trans-cultural, Webb concludes that “the same canons of cultural analysis, which show a liberalizing or less restrictive tendency in the slavery and women texts relative to the original culture, demonstrate a more restrictive tendency in homosexuality texts relative to the original culture. Furthermore, the biblical texts not only hold an aversion to associative features (e.g., rape, pederasty), they appear to voice a concern about the more basic or core issue of same-gender sexual acts themselves (i.e., male with male; female with female).” (250) 

Webb has certainly done his homework, and is quite persuasive. It’s hard to ignore these passages of Scripture. However, I still have questions about the consistency with which we apply Levitical purity laws. (For example, by his own standards, Webb would have to admit that Hebrew dietary laws and economic laws were more restrictive than the surrounding culture. However, most evangelicals seem to believe that these no longer apply.) 

For the sake of argument, let’s say homosexuality is indeed a sin. Is the Church responding properly? 

I’m going to go out on a limb and say…absolutely not. First, there’s the glaring issue of hypocrisy. Everyone knows that the greatest threat to the “sanctity of marriage” isn’t gay marriage or civil unions; it’s divorce, which even among evangelicals hovers around 50 percent. But no one’s trying to introduce legislation forbidding divorcees from getting re-married or protesting in the streets with signs that say, “God hates divorce,” (even though that one’s actually a Bible verse.) The problem with divorce is that it hits too close to home. Christians can’t come out against it because so many are guilty of it themselves. 

We’ve isolated and condemned homosexuality as an especially egregious sin because 1) it’s a sexual thing (and we’re obsessed with sex), 2) it’s relatively easy to identify and name, (unlike gossip and materialism and greed, which are condemned more often in the Bible and are more pervasive in our culture), and 3) it is “other,” (when you’re straight, and in no danger of committing homosexual acts yourself, it’s easy to call it an abomination because it’s easier to remove specks from others people’s eyes.) Plus, I think that because homosexuality often offends our sensibilities, because it seems so unnatural, we are more prone to ostracizing those involved and making them outcasts. 

Of course, I guess if homosexuality is in fact a sin, Christians should still take a stand against it, despite our own hypocrisy and inconsistencies. My friends often remind me that perhaps the answer is not to stop condemning homosexuality, but to start condemning gossip and materialism in the same way. Another friend made a good point the other day, reminding me that sexual sins should be considered more serious because they cause more destruction. No one can look at the worldwide AIDS crisis and not acknowledge that sexual promiscuity has horrific ramifications. 

I think I’d have a lot more clarity on this issue if I knew what Jesus had to say about it. But unfortunately, if he did address the issue, we have no record of it. 

Sometimes I try to imagine how he would respond if he was asked what he thought about gay marriage. Sometimes I imagine him responding by saying, “Who are you to ask me about gay marriage, when you can’t even keep your heterosexual marriages together?” or even, “Why is it that you condemn promiscuity among gays in one breath and then condemn their attempts at monogamous, faithful relationships in the next?” Or perhaps he would simply say, “He who is without sexual sin may cast the first ballot against it.” 

I don’t assume to know what Jesus would actually say, but I have a feeling he would turn the tables in some way or another. He did that a lot, especially when people asked him about political issues, or about the sins of others. 

Homosexuality as a Genetic Disposition 

I’ve already addressed the devastating ramifications that evangelicals will face if it is discovered that homosexuality is not a choice. 

That being said, I know a lot of people who think that homosexuality is in fact an inherent disposition that a person cannot change, but that acting on those impulses is still a sin. I find this position to be a bit more believable than the position that people would consciously choose to be gay. However, it does little to alleviate the terrible shame and guilt that so many of our gay brothers and sisters must struggle with every day. A person’s sexuality is a pretty major part of his or her identity. It can’t possibly be as easy as we think it is to ignore. 

My greatest fear is that there are thousands of young people living in evangelical communities today who are afraid to openly discuss their sexuality because they’ve been told that being gay is a sin that will land them in hell. Can you imagine living with that kind of shame? Can you imaging living with that kind of secret? Suicide rates among gay teens are out the roof, and it’s easy to see why. I sometimes wonder if we are actually creating more damage by condemning homosexuality than we would be by embracing it…(or at least creating an atmosphere where gays can feel welcome and safe within the Church.) What if gays cannot be “reformed,” as James Dobson claims? What if we are encouraging people who are truly gay to enter into heterosexual commitments and start families? Are the long-term ramifications of that perhaps more destructive? 

***

As I said before, I’m unsure of my own opinion on this issue, and am open to your thoughts and ideas. I titled this post “An Evangelical’s Response to Homosexuality” because I get really tired of theologians and church leaders speaking at conferences on the topic of “The Evangelical Response to Homosexuality.” It seems to me that for every evangelical, there is a different response to this issue. This is simply my response…and it certainly isn’t definitive.

So what do you think? What is your response to homosexuality? How have your views on homosexuality changed over the years? Do you ever worry that you are wrong?

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Finish-The-Sentence-Friday: Finding God

This one is especially reflective. Finish the following sentence: “I feel closest to God when…”

I’ll start. I feel closest to God when I am among “the least of these.” When I went to India to work with my sister  at an orphanage for AIDS-affected children, I felt closer to God than ever. Somehow, the gospel just made sense there.

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What's your sola?

My friend Chris has raised some really interesting questions on his blog about the doctrine of sola scriptura. “When we proclaim the notion of sola scriptura,” he writes, “we neglect the original authority of Church leaders that put together that Scripture. In other words, sola scriptura is simply impossible. The very texts of Scripture were canonized by the authority of the Church."

I couldn’t agree more. God didn’t drop the Bible out of the sky. The Council of Trent put it together. So anyone who has faith in the authority of Scripture ultimately places his or her faith in the authority of the Council of Trent, trusting that the Holy Spirit was present among church leaders as they chose which writings would be canonized. 

The assertion that the Bible is self-authenticating doesn’t hold much water under close examination. When the Apostle Paul wrote that “all Scripture is inspired by God,” he was referring to the Hebrew Scripture, not the letter to Timothy he was in the process of writing. Paul’s letters were included in the Bible because the Church decided to include them in the Bible, not because the Bible itself called for it. 

My hope is that as evangelicals move beyond the modern paradigm of individual autonomy (particularly as it applies to biblical interpretation), we will begin to appreciate church tradition as an undeniable foundation for our faith. Too often we forget that for centuries, Christians relied on the Church for the communication and interpretation of the Bible, and that the presence of two or three versions of the Bible stacked together on our bookshelves for us to interpret as we will is a relatively new phenomenon. Perhaps respect for our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters will increase as a result. 

I suppose, at the end of the day, I’m a bit wary of declaring sola anything. 

Shout “by Scripture alone!” and I imply that the Bible exists in a vacuum, that it does not rely on tradition for its compilation and preservation, and that it is not subjected to reason or experience for its interpretation. Plus, I am confronted with uncomfortable question of “whose interpretation of Scripture is the right one?” Shout “by Church authority alone!” and I place all my faith in a group of fallible human beings who (as history shows) are not immune to the seduction of power and greed. Shout “by the prompting of the Holy Spirit alone!” and I have no framework for distinguishing between my personal feelings and the will of God. Shout “by reason alone!” and I’m in the uncomfortable position of trying to explain why I believe in a God whose presence cannot be proven empirically. 

This is one of the reasons why I find myself being more and more drawn to Anglicanism. The Anglican church stands squarely in the Reformed tradition, yet embraces Church tradition as that which connects all generations of believers together and gives us a starting point for our interpretation of Scripture. Anglicans do not recognize a single authority, like the Pope or the Bible, but instead recognize the complimentary roles of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience.

I certainly understand why it is important for Christians to perhaps recognize a primary authority in their lives, (for Roman Catholics, it is the Church; for evangelicals, it is the Bible), but it seems to me that if the ULTIMATE authority is God Himself, and God uses all of these things (Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience) to communicate to us, the least we could do is acknowledge our dependency on all of them.

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Facebook Quizzes: What Kind of Narcissist Are You?

Perhaps nothing speaks better to the self-absorbed temperament of young Americans than the rise of the introspective quiz. These cotton-candy versions of  Myers-Briggs and Taylor-Johnson first appeared in teen magazines, as demand for scientific approaches for  determining one’s fashion sense and flirting style surged.  As fellow Facebookers may have noticed, this 10-question approach for determining one’s place in the world has reached an all-time high with the advent of social networking sites, where a participant can now confidently proclaim to her 314 closest friends that if she were a fruit, she would be a kiwi. 

Every day, I get dozens of quiz requests. My inbox is cluttered with questions like “Which Disney princess are you?” “Who were you in a past life?” “What is your best quality?” “Are you a pirate, ninja, or cowboy?” 

(Note: Every quiz to which I refer in this post actually appears on Facebook. I’m not making these up…And if you’re interested, I think I’d be a ninja.) 

The quizzes really run the gamut. From the shameless marketing of “How much do you love Coca-Cola?” to the existential subtlety of “How evil are you?” to the ironic “Which common stereotype do you fit?” Facebook quizzes invite participants to spend countless hours pondering the intricate nature of themselves.

I mean, who would have thought to ever ask themselves, “which Disney song best reflects my life right now?” or “what weapon best suites my personality?” You never know when someone might need to know. It’s a whole new world out there these days…shining, shimmering, splendid…so you want to be prepared. 

Of course, a few of these quizzes leave me scratching my head. For example: “Are you a blonde or brunette?” It seems to me that if you have to take a quiz to figure that out, you’re probably a blonde. 

What’s fantastic about these quizzes is that after you’ve finished taking them, they congratulate you for your results. Answer a few short questions to determine “what kind of furniture are you,” and within minutes you get a joyous response: “Congratulations! You are a lamp! You're a warm and friendly person who's probably very sociable but probably doesn't go out at night.” Some quizzes will even tell you with whom you are compatible. I’m guessing for the lamp, it’s a night stand. 

Having already taken scientifically legitimate personality tests to pigeon-hole myself, I always thought these silly quizzes were beneath me…that is until the “Which Jane Austen Heroine are You?” quiz appeared in my inbox. 

It was just too tempting. 

You see, I love Jane Austen stories. I’ve read every book, seen every movie, and been known to name a stuffed animal or two after Mr. Darcy. As a student of literature, I’d like to say that it is Austen’s subtle satire, masterful character development, and nuanced prose that draws me to her romantic comedies…but at the end of the day, it’s probably just the girly thrill of seeing who ends up marrying whom. 

I just couldn’t resist the urge to confirm my already deeply-held belief that I am the physical incarnation of Austen’s all-time greatest heroine, Elizabeth Bennett. 

However, as I worked my way through the 10-question- quiz, I found myself manipulating the system a bit. For example, the quiz asked me to identify a quote that best reflects my attitude about life right now. If I were to be honest, I would probably check the box next to “life became a quick succession of busy nothings.” But I knew that was a quote from Fanny Price in Mansfield Park, and so instead I checked the box next to “I am determined that nothing but the deepest love could ever induce me into matrimony,” knowing it was a quote from Elizabeth. 

Sure enough, when I finished taking the quiz I got the answer I was looking for. 

“Congruatlations!” it said. “You are Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice! You are memorable, lovely and clever, the life of the party... you always have the perfect thing to say in every situation. Your honesty, virtue, and lively wit enable you to rise above the nonsense and bad behavior that pervade your money-seeking and often spiteful society. Nevertheless, your sharp tongue and tendency to make hasty judgments often lead you astray... if not careful, you can display qualities that you despise - pride and prejudice. But if you can get past negative first impressions, your life and love story will be epic!!!”

So true! How did it know?!

So, let’s hear it for stupid Facebook quizzes! Thanks to them, millions of people are spending countless hours congratulating themselves for having Agnelina Jolie’s worldview, Princess Jasmine’s personality, and Colonel Sanders’ fashion sense. Boy, are they narcissists! (Sorry. That’s just my Elizabeth-Bennett-style prejudice coming through.)

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