Gays, Women, and How to Stop Reading the Bible Immorally

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Today I'd like to discuss how I arrived at my position on gender roles and LGBT rights. Specifically, I am a feminist, and I am gay affirming. So how did I arrive at those conclusions biblically?

To answer that I need to discuss my three core sources of theology, which are the Bible in conversation with science and ethics.

Ethics as the Lens for Biblical Interpretation

Ethics is the art of thinking morally. Ethics is inseparable from biblical interpretation because if we are not reading and interpreting and applying the Bible in a way that is moral and good and loving, then we are simply reading it wrong. That premise is the baseline for how Jesus read Scripture, and for how we should read it, too. When people do the opposite, taking things that are obviously immoral, and reasoning that if the Bible says it, it must be moral, they are calling evil good, and thus get the Bible and life dead wrong. It's worth noting that this is something that Isaiah, the biblical prophet most quoted by Jesus, specifically criticized, "Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil" (Isa 5:20). So if we think that doing so is a faithful reading of Scripture, we are kidding ourselves. It is a misreading because it is immoral.

We need to interpret Scripture through the lens of love, we need to ask as we read "is this interpretation good and loving?" Biblical interpretation must be done through the lens of ethical evaluation, and to fail to do this is to fail to do the central most important task of biblical interpretation. To fail to do this is to read in a way that promotes evil in God's name. 

This all may sound self-evident. Of course we should read the Bible morally, and this requires that we learn to think ethically as we read. But an ethical evaluation of the biblical text goes against the grain of how one learns to do biblical exegesis in seminary, where students are taught to not ask ethical questions in the name of scholarly objectivity, and where the compartmentalized nature of specialization keeps ethics detached from exegesis. To the extent that this is true, seminaries are failing to train future pastors, professors, and theologians properly.

Because of this deficit, I have had to go out of my way to bring ethics into conversation with theology and biblical interpretation. I'm so glad I did. My theology, as well as how I interpret Scripture, has been profoundly deepened and enriched by learning from good ethicists. Two contemporary ethicists who were formative for me as a young evangelical were Ron Sider and Glen Strassen. More recently I have learned a lot from David Gushee and Russell Moore. 

What's critical is that the main focus of the ethicist is not interpreting the Bible, but addressing the moral questions of our day, critically asking how we can live in a way that is good. Like the prophet, the ethicist must be independent from the tradition. This focus is crucial because otherwise the ethicist becomes an apologist for status quo interpretations (and I can unfortunately think of a few ethicists who fit this description). Doing ethics in this sell-out way is of course... ahem... unethical, and it also means we lose the very thing that makes ethics valuable: helping us to think morally. 

Again, this is precisely how we should be reading the Bible -- not with the aim of maintaining the status quo of the power tradition, but with the aim of letting the Bible lead us into loving practice. Scripture is not an end, it is a vehicle, and ethics is the key.

Science and the Importance of Having a Theology Based in Reality

Practically applying this is where psychology comes in, and more broadly where science comes in. Science is the study of how reality works. Social science is the study of how humans work in that reality. The way this functions is that science comes about by trying stuff in the real world and seeing what happens. It's about experimentation, observation, practice, evidence-based.

I don't think it can be stated enough how important it is that our interpretation of the Bible coincides with reality. The trouble is, Christianity has often seen science as a threat. When one thinks of this conflict between faith and science what comes to mind is often questions of natural science, evolution vs creationism for example. But social science poses a far more substantial threat to stuck-in-the-past theology because it speaks to what is moral and good. Social science, for example, tells us that beating children is bad for them, which challenges the traditional view, found in the Bible, that it is good for children to beat them. Social scientists know this because they observe what happens to children who are beaten, and observe that this harms them.

Again, this really should be a no-brainer. We should be able to look at the effects of what we do, and observe whether we are causing harm or promoting good. Science provides us with tools for doing this as objectively as humanly possible, and puts us on a path of continually seeking deeper and better understandings of how we humans function based on observing us in our lives. It's not perfect of course (nothing we humans do ever is), but science helps us get to places way beyond where we could go without it. Again this is not only true for how natural science helps us with things like medicine and technology, but also for how social science can help us to be... social.

Again, my theology has been deeply influenced by learning from psychology. The fact that I'm married to a psychotherapist is of course why I know much more about the practical world of contemporary psychology than I got from college text books. We've learned an awful lot in the century since Freud, including lots of insights from the neurosciences, and psychology is not just about lying on a couch and talking about your mom.

The bottom line here is that when I approach theology and biblical interpretation, I am always looking for how this will work in practice. I observe that Jesus was, too. Of course science did not exist at the time, but reality did. Science is simply a tool to help us to measure that reality better, and I'm deeply grateful for it. 

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

So let's bring all of this together in relation to gender roles (both impacting women's roles as well as LGBT issues). I recently read this in the "what we believe" part of a church's website in the city where I live. I'm sure you can find a similar statement from a church in your town,

"Adam and Eve were made to complement each other in a one-flesh union that establishes the only normative pattern of sexual relations for men and women, such that marriage ultimately serves as a type of the union between Christ and his church. In God’s wise purposes, men and women are not simply interchangeable, but rather they complement each other in mutually enriching ways.

God ordains that they assume distinctive roles which reflect the loving relationship between Christ and the church, the husband exercising headship in a way that displays the caring, sacrificial love of Christ, and the wife submitting to her husband in a way that models the love of the church for her Lord. In the ministry of the church, both men and women are encouraged to serve Christ and to be developed to their full potential in the manifold ministries of the people of God.

The distinctive leadership role within the church given to qualified men is grounded in creation, fall, and redemption and must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments." (emphasis added)
So to sum up, as you can see in what I highlighted in bold, they not only are not gay-affirming, but they also think that women should assume a lesser role, submitting to their husbands. That submissive role is the ceiling for a woman's "full potential" in life. Only men can be leaders in the church.

Here's the kicker: All of this "must not be sidelined by appeals to cultural developments" which translates to, we will hold this view despite what we can observe about how people work and how reality works (science), and we will hold to this view despite what we learn from asking whether this stance restricts and harms people, treating them as if there were less than they can be (ethics).

This is an example of reading the Bible detached from science and ethics, and thereby detached from reality and morality.

Typically, when discussing what the Bible has to say about a topic such as gender roles, the conversation is restricted to the sphere of biblical arguments. This is true whether one is making an argument for or against women's equality. They might bring in cultural context, they might look into the Greek, they might question the authorship (implying for example that if Paul didn't write 1 Timothy it's okay for us to discount its rather sexist perspective).

That's all fine and good, but what is left out of this is bringing the Bible into conversation with science and ethics, that is, connecting the Bible with reality and morality. Let's try this out with women's roles:

It is easy to observe that women are perfectly capable of assuming roles that have been traditionally reserved for men. We have women who are CEOs of major corporations, women who are chief of surgery, women professors, women Presidents, and plenty of women pastors who are all doing just as good of a job as their male counterparts. So to claim that they cannot lead is demonstrably false.

So the way I arrive at the conclusion that women should be able to assume leadership roles is simply that they obviously can and are, and so any interpretation of the Bible denying this strikes me as one that is detached from reality. Indeed, as we read in the above statement of belief, it is intentionally so. 

Imagine going to this church as a woman. Let's further imagine that you are the female dean of a seminary, and are responsible for equipping scores of future pastors. But suddenly when you enter the doors of this church you are not allowed to be on the board of elders or even to lead a Bible study. This is of course completely absurd. It's like walking through the doors of this church is equivalent to walking into a time machine, teleporting you into the patriarchal past, undoing the progress of centuries. The church has made itself into an irrelevant island, clinging to the past, not because it is good or true, but just because this is their frozen tradition.

So allow me to sum up in a single word my reasoning for why women should be seen as fully equal to men: Duh.

My reasoning for being gay-affirming is similar. It is essentially the same reasoning taken by those in the mental health field. A major part of what they do is help promote human flourishing. Because of this, the question they have asked, and indeed the question they ask with everything, is this: What is best for people? What leads to harm, and what leads to flourishing? How can we best help people to live well?

What they found is that while there is simply no evidence that same-sex relationships are themselves harmful, there is a considerable amount of evidence that the condemnation and rejection the LGBT community faces is profoundly harmful. Further, attempts at changing a person's sexual orientation have proven to be deeply harmful.

So if we ask, "how can we help someone to find life?" If we ask the moral question "what does a person need most?" The answer I am led to is that they need to know they are loved, just as they are, and for who they are. That's true of everyone. 

Further, I can see nothing at all that is harmful about two adults in a mutually loving relationship. This is not like having an affair which does harm another person. It is also not like being a sexual predator who harms others. These are issues of harming others, via betrayal and dominance. When people try to make parallels between LGBT people and sexual predators it is a false parallel. I wish I didn't have to spell that out, but based on the current discussions on bathrooms and the T part of LGBT, apparently I do. Harming others has nothing to do with one's sexual orientation or identity.

So again, I attempt to look at the reality of life (science), and ask tough ethical questions. The conclusion I come to is that there's nothing wrong with being gay, and there is something very wrong with the way that gay people have been made to feel condemned and rejected by fellow Christians. That's where repentance needs to happen.

I maintain that it is vital that we employ the tools of both ethics and science as we engage these and other questions of biblical interpretation, and that to fail to do so will lead us to an immoral reading detached from reality. 

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Muslims, Peacemaking, Progress, and Reform

Sunday, April 17, 2016

As someone who writes about the problem of violence and religion, I've often been asked to share my thoughts on Muslims and Islam, which is often in our culture associated with violence in the name of religion. 

I've been reluctant to do this since it is outside of my area of expertise. I did not study Islam in seminary, have never read the Koran, and am not a Muslim. So, I understandably don't really feel qualified to say much about it, since I am not an expert in the field, nor am I someone intimately familiar with Muslim faith and life.

What I can say is that I would hope that those within the Muslim faith learn to interact with their own sacred texts in the same way that I propose we Christians should interact with ours. That is, I propose that we need to learn to read the Bible in a way that leads us to compassion, rather than justifying harm. I propose further that this way of reading is not some progressive aberration away from the faith, but is completely in line with faithfulness to how Jesus read and applied Scripture.

I would hope that those in the Muslim faith would be encouraging their fellow Muslims to likewise learn a way of reading the Koran that leads to compassion and away from justifying harm, and hopefully show how this is a valid expression of their faith, rather than a move away from it. 

That's why I wanted to share the work of Irshad Manji, of the Moral Courage project. I don't know much about Irshad Manji, but what I have seen, I found very encouraging and refreshing. As I understand it, her aim is to show how values such as compassion, human rights, and... this is a really big one for me... questioning in the name of compassion (what I refer to as "faithful questioning" in Disarming Scripture, and she refers to as "critical thinking") are core parts of a faithful reading of the sacred texts of her faith,
"The reason I can embrace the Koran is that three times as many verses in the Koran call on Muslims to think, and re-think, and analyze... rather than submit blindly."
At the same time, while she argues that this tradition of faithful questioning -- as opposed to the way of unquestioning obedience and submission -- should be normative for her faith, she does not deny that there are many who would say the opposite, nor does she deny that there are those within her faith who advocate violence and oppression in the name of her religion.

All religions have a history of seeking to justify violence and oppression in the name of the good. My own Christian faith is certainly no exception. It takes a lot of courage and reflection to be able to face the dark parts in ourselves, and in our community and traditions.  It's hard to face that honestly, seeking reform, rather than deflecting and denying problems. So I really admire that Irshad is seeking to walk that tightrope.

Because of this focus, she stresses the need to be a "Muslim reformist," rather than just a moderate Muslim. That is, she is critical of those moderate Muslims who insist that "Islam is a religion of peace" and that acts of violence committed in the name of Islam "have nothing to do with Islam." I very appreciate her willingness to take a hard look at her own faith, including the dark parts of it, and to seek to reform it, rather than denying the problem. This is also something that I hope to do within my own faith.

I'm sure there are many on both sides of the fence who disagree with her, but I really was inspired by her moral courage, and wanted to share it with you in the hope that you'll be inspired too. So with that as a brief intro, I'll let her speak for herself. Take a look and I hope you find it as encouraging and inspiring as I did.

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How Moral Immaturity is Taking Over Evangelicalism

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Authoritarianism has become a major characteristic of white American evangelicalism. We hear story after story of how leadership in major evangelical institutions has shifted to be more conservative, bullying professors and pastors to leave their jobs if they do not agree to the conservative views of the leadership – a stance that is stridently anti-gay, anti-women, anti-science, pro-gun, pro-war, and pro-torture. Let’s pause on that last one. Evangelicals are more likely than any other religious group to support torture.

That makes me ashamed to be an evangelical. I am not alone in this. There are a great many evangelicals who feel that this type of “evangelicalism” represents the very opposite of what they believe in, the very opposite of the values of Jesus. Many of us have felt compelled to leave the church, out of moral protest, and what we feel we are leaving is a toxic and abusive environment. That’s why when a church gets a fog machine and lights we still don’t want to come back. What’s needed is a moral overhaul, not a better entertainment system.

While the rest of society is moving forward, evangelicals are behind on pretty much every moral issue of our day. Not in a passive way, but actively opposing that moral progress. We are seeing major movements in our society towards reducing violence, towards civil liberties for all people, towards caring for the needs of the disadvantaged, towards human rights, and the largest group who is actively engaged in fighting to stop this moral progress on every front is evangelicalism.

So we basically have two evangelicalisms. One is the evangelicalism that I grew to love. It was an evangelicalism focused on cultivating a relationship with a loving God, on knowing “the father heart of God.” It was where I learned about grace, and how being unconditionally loved opens your heart to love others with that same kind of open hearted grace and compassion. It as an evangelicalism where you sang with all your heart, with hands stretched high to the heavens out of gratitude for that love. An evangelicalism where you wanted to share this good news with the whole world. It was an evangelicalism that I associated with joy, deep friendships, and abundant life. Maybe that’s an evangelicalism you knew, too.

Then there is the evangelicalism that people associate with being intolerant, judgmental, angry, sexist, homophobic, and Islamophobic. It is an evangelicalism characterized by fear and hostility, which then responds with authoritarian violence and coercion. That’s why it supports police brutality, pushes for laws with harsh criminal punishment as well as laws that restrict civil rights, endorses torture, and cheers when politicians promise to indiscriminately carpet bomb their enemies. As much as I wish I could bury my head in the sand and insist that this ugly and immoral evangelicalism is not the “real” evangelicalism, it is very real, and very much a major force in our world with great political and economic influence, not to mention popular support – not a majority thankfully, but a significant and very vocal and engaged minority.

Why do people support it? Because of fear. Feeling threatened leads to hostility. This is characteristic of low level moral development. A child, when it does not get what it wants, will go to whining, hitting, and screaming. That child will justify their actions saying things like “that’s not fair!” This all comes naturally to children, it comes “pre-installed” so to speak. It’s cooperating, being social, and resolving conflict that they need to learn. When a person does not learn this, and retains the simplistic black-and-white, us-vs-them-thinking characteristic of a child, this is moral immaturity. It is a low-level morality that has been stagnated or retarded. Unlike children, morally immature adults are not cute. They can also do a lot more damage than a little child can, especially when they are in positions of power – morally immature pastors, politicians, and CEOs.

Being a morally immature adult is of course not exclusive to evangelicalism, to Christianity or even to religion. There are lots of morally immature angry black-and-white-thinking atheists, just as there are loving, thoughtful, compassionate, morally mature atheists. There are also thoughtful, compassionate, morally mature evangelicals. I hope I can count myself in their number. But as a morally mature evangelical, I do think it is important to recognize that my beloved evangelical faith can and does act to give religious cover, providing justification and sanctification to morally immature people.

Indeed, morally immature evangelicalism typically wraps itself in scriptural justifications, and claims to represent orthodoxy and tradition. It claims to represent the good, and genuinely believes that it does. That’s why Hollywood’s negative portrayals of religious conservatives miss the mark when they paint them as just plain mean “bad guy” characters. Moral immaturity is sincerely trying to be good, but does so in a way that hurts others. That’s what immaturity looks like. The key difference between maturity and immaturity is that maturity is complex and social. Children therefore need to learn to develop into social beings, learning empathy and the skills to maintain relationships – as do morally immature adults.

Likewise, a morally immature evangelical is not always angry and judgmental. The complex reality is that they can be deeply loving in certain situations, while being angry and hostile in others. Just like a child can be wonderfully loving... right before they throw a fit. As any parent knows well, children can be little angels, and little monsters. They are both. That is, again, characteristic of immaturity.

It’s understandable why immature evangelicals react as they do with hostility, but we do them a disservice when we let their aggressive and hurtful behavior take cover, saying their hurtful actions are due to being “passionate” or having “zeal.” The Apostle Paul knew about that kind of “zeal” first hand, but came to regard that very zeal as his greatest sin. When Paul repented, he was not repenting of breaking a commandment. He boldly claimed, in this regard, that he was “faultless” (Philippians 3:6). Yet he nevertheless came to regard himself as “the greatest of all sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) precisely because of the harm resulting from his religious zeal.

Those of us who are morally mature evangelicals need to know how to articulate what a morally mature faith looks like in action, drawing from those same scriptures and traditions, in order to demonstrate that one does not have to choose between a morally immature faith or rejecting one’s faith altogether.

Moral immaturity is not focused on the self, but on the in-group. It is not me-focused, but rather it is us-focused. It is us-versus-them, whoever that perceived “other” is. In contrast, Jesus continually taught people to expand that circle, saying that the way we treat those who we regard as “the least” is how we treat our Lord, teaching us to care for the beggar, the outsider, the stranger... even going so far as to tell us to love our enemies. This is the very height of moral maturity, which is focused on growing ever more social, focused on the ministry of reconciliation, the mending of broken relationships.

It is only when you begin to practice this that you learn that the tools of moral immaturity – the tools of yelling and hitting, of coercion and force, building higher walls and dropping more bombs – are simply ineffective when our goal is to make for peace and work to reconcile. Those who are immature cannot see this. To the morally immature, true strength, the strength to compromise, forgive, and work together is regarded as weakness. They gravitate towards authoritarian leaders who they see as strong and bold. But those who are mature can see that this “strength” in fact reflects an utter ineptitude in regards to solving problems, working with others, and resolving conflicts. We have a word to describe a morally immature person who has grown big: They are a bully. Being a bully is not strong or admirable or brave or moral.

The more we become versed in the way of reconciliation, the more we see how ill-equipped the means of moral immaturity is at achieving this. It only knows how to build walls, not how to build bridges. That’s why it’s so important that those of us Christians who support nonviolence do not simply regard it as a statement about what we won’t do, about where we draw the line, about what is forbidden. This is often where the conversation stops. But it needs to go beyond what we won’t do. Nonviolence also needs to be about how we actively work to make things right, how we act to resolve conflict and mend relationships. For example, it’s one thing to say you are against adultery. Big deal, pretty much everyone is. It’s quite another thing, however, to be able to provide a couple with the relational tools to walk the difficult path beyond betrayal, and towards re-building trust together. Forgiveness is not simply about overlooking a wrong, it is about learning how to reconcile. Learning how to do that is what moral maturity is all about.

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Trump and the Dangerous Rise of American Authoritarianism

Saturday, April 02, 2016

There is no shortage of outrageous comments made by Donald Trump. His recent comments about punishing women who have abortions is only the latest in an endless stream of deeply disturbing extremist rhetoric that is frankly alarming coming from a Presidential candidate.

Add to this the fact that Trump’s events have increasingly been marked by mob violence – violence which Trump has actively supported and encouraged, even promising to pay their legal fees – and it’s understandable why so many are asking,

“What is wrong with this country? What has happened to us?”

While we may be appalled at the hateful comments and calls for violence, there is clearly a large group of people that this appeals to. For them, these are not embarrassing slips, rather they appeal to the core values and aspirations of Trump’s base.

So while much media attention has focused on the phenomenon of Trump himself, an equally important question to ask is who his supporters are. How is it that someone as outrageous and dangerously amoral as Trump can garner so much popular support?

This has been a question that has captivated political scientists since the rise of the Third Reich. What causes a people to shift – rapidly and in large numbers – towards extremist political views characterized by fear of minorities and the desire for a strongman leader?

A recently released study of Trump supporters, conducted by PhD student Matthew MacWilliams,  found that one common denominator far surpassed the usual suspects of education, income, gender, age, ideology, and religion. 

The factor most likely to predict support for Trump was a belief in authoritarianism.

To determine this, MacWilliams employed a set of questions, developed by Stanley Feldman in the 1990s, to determine a person's inclination towards authoritarianism, questions on the seemingly innocuous subject of child-rearing:
  1. Which one is more important for a child to have: independence or respect for elders?
  2. Which one is more important for a child to have: self-reliance or obedience?
  3. Which one is more important for a child to have: to be considerate or to be well-behaved?
  4. Which one is more important for a child to have: curiosity or good manners?
Authoritarianism, Feldman notes, is not so much an ideology as it is a personality profile. While its causes are debated, says MacWilliams, the political behavior of authoritarians is not. Authoritarians gravitate towards strongman leaders, and feel threatened by and respond aggressively to outsiders.

In fact, it is this tendency towards punitive action -- a desire to use government power to eliminate threats -- that sets authoritarians and Trump's supporters apart from the establishment GOP.

While specific policies, such as limiting immigration or protecting national security, may line up with the rest of the GOP, what sets him apart is how extreme he is willing to be. As Amanda Taub writes in Vox,
"That's why it's a benefit rather than a liability for Trump when he says Mexicans are rapists or speaks gleefully of massacring Muslims with pig-blood-tainted bullets: He is sending a signal to his authoritarian supporters that he won't let 'political correctness' hold him back from attacking the outgroups they fear.
This, Feldman explained to me, is 'classic authoritarian leadership style: simple, powerful, and punitive.' "

Again, the issue is not simply the danger of Donald Trump as a leader, but the authoritarian base which he has "activated" (a term used by Karen Stenner in her 2005 work The Authoritarian Dynamic).  The larger issue is the growing constituency of authoritarianism that exists independently of Trump.  As Taub writes, "If Trump loses the election, that will not remove the threats and social changes that trigger the "action side" of authoritarianism. The authoritarians will still be there. They will still look for candidates who will give them the strong, punitive leadership they desire.

Authoritarianism goes beyond political or religious affiliation. Not all Republicans are authoritarians, nor are all authoritarians Republican. However, as Marc Hetherington and Jonathan Weiler argue in their 2009 book Authoritarianism and Polarization in American Politics, the GOP's billing of itself as the "traditional values and law and order party" had the effect of directly appealing to authoritarian values. However, rather than representing the establishment orthodoxy of the Republican Party, the rise of authoritarians within the GOP represents a major split between establishment Republicans and authoritarian Republicans, which threatens to tear to party in two.

A similar divide can be seen within Evangelical Christianity, which has likewise seen a rise in authoritarianism gaining influence in its ranks. This has also led to a split within Evangelicalism between authoritarians and those increasingly identifying with the "Evangelical left" and progressive Evangelicalism, which is focused on retaining core values such as compassion, grace, and relationship over what they perceive as an angry and reactionary "defending of the fort."

The critical point here is that it is not a particular religious or political set of values or ideology that is the heart of the problem here, so much as it is a growing movement towards authoritarianism within these groups. It is vital for those who identify with these groups to recognize this, and further to recognize the very real danger that this poses, given authoritarianism's penchant for enforcing its will through the means of coercion and force, at the expense of religious and civil liberties. 

It is not enough for progressive Evangelicals and political liberals or even moderates to speak out. Conservative politicians and religious leaders alike need to recognize the very real danger of authoritarianism, and find the moral courage to speak out against it. We can see the warning signs of the danger of authoritarian movements throughout history. That history teaches us a lesson, if we have the wisdom to listen. We should not be so naive as to think that we are somehow immune, that it "couldn't happen here."

Many conservative politicians have begun to speak out -- although it has been far too few and too timid. Conservative religious leaders -- and in particular conservative Evangelical Christians -- need to likewise find their moral backbone and unreservedly call out the dangers of authoritarianism in its own ranks. They need to call it out for what it is. As much as it may attempt to present itself as righteousness, as moral, it represents the very worst of human nature. It is, quite simply, sin. Conservative religious leaders need to wake up to that.

This is a theme that we see Jesus himself address repeatedly, throughout the Gospels, in his repeated confrontations with the Pharisees and religious leaders of his day. As I argue in Disarming Scripture, it’s imperative to stress that the conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees is not about pitting one religion against another. Rather it represents an inner-Jewish dispute between two diametrically opposed understandings of what faithfulness to the same Scriptures looks like.

As a show in Disarming Scripture, this debate has a long tradition within Judaism and can be found throughout the Hebrew Scripture. Jesus takes up one side of this debate, characterized by faithful questioning, and focused on compassion towards those considered outsiders. On the other side there is a way of religion characterized by unquestioning obedience, leading to using religion to justify acts of authoritarian violence.

When I wrote about the dangers of religiously justified violence, calling people to move away from  the hurtful authoritarian tendencies within Evangelicalism back in 2014, I wish I had been writing of something only in the distant past, something that we are now beyond today. But unfortunately, the low-level moral development which characterizes authoritarianism will always be with us, because there will always be immature and morally under-developed people in the world. What we can and must do, however, is learn to call out that moral immaturity for what it is, and help people to grow away from fear and towards thinking socially and empathetically.

Those of us who are followers of Jesus can hear how he warns, over and over again, of how authoritarianism pretends to represent the good, when in fact it promotes the very opposite of what Jesus stood for. "Ravenous wolves in sheep's clothing" Jesus called them, "but you can recognize them by their fruits" (Matthew 7:15-16). Those fruits of fear, hate, and violence are plain to see. It's time for conservative religious leaders to recognize this, and heed the sober words of pastor Martin Niemöller, speaking now while they are still able to speak.
When Trump attacked Mexicans, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Mexican;
Then he attacked
Muslims, and I did not speak out - because I was not a Muslim;
Then he attacked the disabled, and I did not speak out - because I was not disabled;
Then he attacked women, and I did not speak out - because I was not a woman;
Then he came for me - and there was no one left to speak out for me. 
 Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Wake up America.

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