Disturbing thoughts about christians and politics

Have you ever wondered how christians, who believe more or less the same things about Jesus and God, believe widely divergent things about politics and public morality?

Specifically, if you are more conservative politically, do you wonder how more liberal christians can possibly think and vote as they do? And if you are more liberal in your politics, are you amazed at the way conservative christians vote?

A 2011 paper (which I have just come across) has examined these issues and come up with some disturbing conclusions.

In this post, unless specifically stated otherwise, conservative and liberal refer to political views, not necessarily religious views (though there is strong correlation).

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The Death Penalty on Trial

Guest post by Shane Claiborne (taken from his Facebook page – see note below)

claiborne

Last month, I was arrested, along with 17 other people, as we held a banner on the steps of the Supreme Court that said: “STOP EXECUTIONS.”

We were not blocking doors or disturbing the peace. We were not unruly or disruptive. We were respectful, prayerful, nonviolent. We sang freedom songs. We carried roses in remembrance of those who have been murdered and those who have been executed. It was a solemn, holy procession. We tolled a bell 40 times signifying the forty years of executions in this modern era, and we held 40 posters with the names of the 1443 people killed by our government.

“Parading and Assemblage” – that’s the official charge, an obscure one that until now I didn’t even know existed. I remember hearing someone joke: “I guess The First Amendment ends on the steps of the Supreme Court.”

So that’s our crime: we held a banner outside the Supreme Court… at the very moment the state of Virginia was preparing to kill yet another person, Ricky Gray, execution #1444 since 1977.

We were shackled with chains on our hands, waist, and feet, and held in jail for over 30 hours. While we were in the DC jail, the same government that imprisoned us for holding a banner executed Ricky Gray. It does raise the question of what is right and what is wrong, doesn’t it?

When I got home from jail, I told some of our kids back in Philadelphia: “You can go to jail for doing something wrong. You can also go to jail for doing something right. We went to jail for doing something right. And lots of folks throughout history have gone to jail for doing something right.”

Dr. King once said that initially he was troubled about going to jail, but then he looked at history and found that he was in good company.

This past week the 18 of us had our first appearance in court.

I am proud to stand next to the people I went to jail with, these holy troublemakers who are now my co-defendants. The group includes clergy and faith leaders, an exoneree who was wrongfully-convicted and sentenced to death, and families of both the murdered and of the executed.

Twelve of the 18 of us made a decision to take our case to trial, rather than accepting a plea bargain offered by the government. If found guilty, we could face jail time, fines, and community service… all of which pale in comparison to the twenty years my co-defendant Derrick Jamison spent on death row, staring down 6 execution dates, watching over 50 of his peers killed by the state… before he proved his innocence, and was released with no apology or compensation.

That’s why we went to jail — to expose the system of death. Our prayer is for an end to all killing, both legal and illegal. Our message is that violence is the disease, not the cure. It is time to stop trying to kill those who kill to show that killing is wrong.

We know that we are on the right side of history, and that our grandchildren will look back at the death penalty 50 years from now the same way we look back at slavery — with shame, bewilderment, and remorse.

Someone asked if I had any regrets. I said: “Only one… that I didn’t do this sooner.” I am proud of what we did. Not only would I do it again, but I will do it again. We will not stop protesting until the government stops killing.

We have a great attorney – one of the best — and we have every intention of defending the legality of what we did. But our hope is to take the focus off of us and put the death penalty on the stand. While I believe we are innocent of any crime… I am convinced that our country’s criminal justice system, and our Supreme Court’s validation of the death penalty, is a crime… and a moral failure.

As fate would have it, or as some of us might contend “by Divine appointment”– our trial is the week of June 28. That means our trial will coincide with one of the most important weeks in history when it comes to the death penalty. June 29 is the anniversary of the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision in which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the death penalty, finding its application to be arbitrary and capricious, halting all executions. Four days later, July 2, is the anniversary of the 1976 Gregg v. Georgia decision, which allowed executions to resume. These four days between these two historic anniversaries invite us all to question whether or not the death penalty has a future in America. During the week of our trial, the annual Fast and Vigil to end the death penalty will happen in front of the Supreme Court. I hope you will join us in DC– June 28-July 2, 2017… as we put the death penalty on trial.

Shane Claiborne is an American christian activist, writer and leader who I admire deeply. This text and photo were taken from Shane’s Facebook post, and he says the photo “is thanks to Supreme Court Police and Federal Marshals, who apparently took some of the best images”.

Seven facts about climate change that all christians should know

temp16

Last year was the hottest year globally since records began more than a century ago. For the third year in a row, the annual temperature records were exceeded.

Yet so many people are sceptical and opposed to action on climate change. They seem to fear how climate change action may affect them, by costing them money or taking away some of their freedoms. Some christians apparently believe God will end the world before climate change becomes too much of a problem.

How should christians respond?

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Should christians accept everything in the Old Testament as truly from God?

otbattle

I was intending getting onto some more positive topics, but I decided I needed to have one more look at this matter.

My previous post, Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?, examined an incident where Jehu became king of Israel by killing the former king, Joram. In discussion on that post, a reader suggested there were ways to interpret these difficult Old Testament passages that didn’t discredit the accuracy of the revelation of God’s character as they believed I was doing.

So let’s have a look in more detail.

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Did God command killings in the Old Testament or was that a misunderstanding?

chariot

Arguments rage about the Bible and how we should interpret it, especially about the Old Testament. Conservative christians are often critical of those who take a “liberal” view, which conservatives see as destructive and unfaithful, while sceptics tend to see the conservatives as not following the evidence.

Is there any way to break through on this question? Are there any clues in the Bible itself?

It turns out that there is much food for thought.

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Quick reads for busy people

quick-reads

I’m all the time trying to make this website relevant and useful to christians looking to extend their understand and resolve difficult issues. (Whether I succeed is another matter!)

I recently became aware that some people, mostly younger, tend to find some of the pages a little long, perhaps in part because they are reading on a smart phone’s small screen. So I decided to take some of the important questions that I’ve covered in long pages, and summarise them in shorter pages that give an overview of the question and a link to a longer treatment.

I’ve called this new section Quick reads, and it is specially written and set out to be read quickly and easily on a smaller screen.

So far I’ve written three pages for the new section:

I hope to add several more pages over the next few weeks. If you have any thoughts about this – possible topics or ways to make it better – please let me know.

Photo Credit: barnimages.com Flickr via Compfight, modified by unkleE.

A wave of the Spirit we should be catching?

surfer

I came across a blog post today that summed up what I think has become a significant movement within christianity.

Learning from a “hippie heretic”

The post was This Nameless Movement of God on Chuck McKnight’s blog Hippie Heretic, and it was based on just one premise (taken from fellow blogger Brian Zahnd):

“God is like Jesus. God has always been like Jesus. There has never been a time when God was not like Jesus. We have not always known what God is like—but now we do.”

The unstated, but clear, corollary of this statement of belief is that if there is any portrayal of God that is less than the character of Jesus, then it must be a misunderstanding.

This leads Chuck to 5 statements he rejects.

1. God had to punish Jesus for our sins (penal substitutionary atonement)

Jesus’ death was about more than just punishment, so penal substitutionary atonement is an incomplete (Chuck would say “wrong”) understanding. I have discussed this further in Why did Jesus have to die?.

2. God will punish sinners forever in hell (eternal conscious torment)

Close study indicates this is not what Jesus taught – see Three views on hell and judgment. A more detailed study is at Hell, what does the Bible say?

3. God meticulously plans all events (theological determinism)

This is the view of some Calvinists, but instead of glorifying God as Reformed doctrine tries to do, it seems to diminish God.

4. God has ever sanctioned or participated in violence (just war theory)

Did God really command his Old Testament people to kill and annihilate? Did Jesus command us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek if attacked? How can these ideas be reconciled? Should we be pacifists and peace-makers today?

5. God’s inspiration of scripture entails a text that is free from human mistakes (inerrancy)

It doesn’t look like this is the case, and there are good reasons for believing it isn’t true (see In what way is the Bible a special book?). And rejecting this teaching doesn’t necessarily lead to anarchy and loss of faith – in fact it may increase faith.

Spirit or heresy?

Most of these are “hot button” issues, dearly loved by many christians.

But there seems to be a new wave of thinking that Chuck has summed up well in these 5 rejections.

(I think this new wave also includes the rediscovery of the Kingdom of God and of the importance of christians to be caring for the poor, the marginalised and the hurting as part of our living in the Kingdom.)

Forty years ago, I came to the conclusion that the church was entering a time of change that would prove as important as the reformation. Already we have seen charismatic gifts going mainstream, the breakdown of denominationalism, the growth of simple or house churches and an increased emphasis on social justice, community welfare and the environment.

I believe the matters Chuck has raised are a next step, and I see more and more people, good faithful christians, rejecting these teachings in favour of the picture of God given to us in Jesus.

I believe this is a new wave of the Holy Spirit, and I think it will lead to much contention, but eventually much good.

Watch and see.

And join in!

Photo: MorgueFile

Three views on hell and judgment

reading-bible

So far I have looked at two doctrinal issues in this series – Three different views of the Bible and three different ways to read it and Three different views of social justice and the gospel – and each time I have concluded that the truth lies between the two more polarised views.

It probably won’t surprise you, then, to find that I think it is the same with the vexed subject of hell and judgment.

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Faith vs works?

Difficult issues series

Arm wrestle

Last post I considered the apparent differences between the teachings and emphasis of Jesus and Paul. I concluded that the differences are sometimes exaggerated, sometimes understated, but we should avoid trying to make them say the same things, and instead try to learn from both.

The issue of faith vs works is a good example of how the desire for neat theology and harmonisation of biblical teaching can lead us away from what the Bible is saying.

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