Monday, July 17, 2006

Who owns Christianity?

Who owns Christianity?
by Deepak Chopra [from an article in]

Not many people of moderate persuasion have much sway in the church any more. I was reminded why recently when the Episcopal Church did two important things: It elected a woman bishop to head the denomination, and it backtracked on appointing gay bishops. The first move seems Christian. Women deserve to hold church office as much as political office (one diocese, however, was so incensed that it voted to leave the church, and worldwide there are still Anglican movements that do not permit women to be bishops or ordained priests).

The second move was an act of cowardice because it did not reflect the ideals of love in Christianity and was motivated by reactionaries in the Episcopal denomination. Countering a long tradition of laissez-faire tolerance, the reactionaries have gotten tough and threatened to form their own church if gays are promoted in the priesthood. The worldwide Anglicans are more intolerant, upholding that homosexuality is forbidden, unnatural, wrong or an outright sin, depending on who is doing the disapproving.

You'd think that someone would stand up and ask a simple question: Who are we to condemn gays if Christ didn't? In fact, who are we to condemn any sinner, since Christ didn't? Christianity is about forgiveness, and for the past two decades, as fundamentalism swept through every Protestant denomination, moderates and liberals have been driven out, and were roundly condemned as they left. Along with them went tolerance and forgiveness, not to mention love.

Did Christ teach love or is that just a liberal bias? In the current climate, it's hard to remember, but one thing is certain: Once a tight cabal of fundamentalists takes over any denomination, Christ's teachings go out the window. The reversal of Christianity from a religion of love to a religion of hate is the greatest religious tragedy of our time.

Those of us who haven't been swept up in worldwide fundamentalism, which has corrupted Islam, Hinduism and Judaism as well, have been caught in a double bind. We can't join any sect that preaches intolerance, yet we can't fight it, either, because by definition fighting is a form of intolerance. To escape this double bind, moderates have stayed silent and stayed home. But that tactic failed. As healthy as it is to nourish your own devotion and faith, it's disastrous to allow extremists to take over the church, because the statehouse, the board of education, the Congress,
and eventually the presidency are next.

Perhaps civil society will solve the problem of religious extremism. So far it hasn't. America finds itself in the sad plight of being the world's most prominent secular society hijacked by sectarians. One can only hope that the church comes to its senses and regains its moral center. If that doesn't occur, the core teachings of Christ will be lost, for all intents and purposes, to this generation.

Deepak Chopra is the author "Peace is the Way," which won the Quill Award in 2005 as well as 41 other books. He is also the founder and president of the Alliance for a New Humanity, an international network of people from all walks of life who are networking together tosee a positive change take place in the world.


Renee in Ohio said...

Did Christ teach love or is that just a liberal bias?

On our drive home from Chicago this past weekend, I was reading some old issues of Church and State, a publication put out by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. One of them had an in-depth article on Opus Dei, and its ties to the Republican party in the U.S. The article discussed how Rick Santorum had argued vociferously against the separation of church and state that was embraced by Kennedy, and called Bush our first "true Catholic president".

In the article, it was pretty clear that the social justice stances commonly associated with Catholicism were seen as somehow less important to this strain of conservative Catholics than the typical "culture war" issues. But that certainly doesn't represent the values I learned in 12 years of Catholic schooling.
By the way, I've transcribed another segment of Claiming the Blessing's Voices of Witness video here.

Anonymous said...

And Deepak is qualified to decide these things because . . .

T. More said...

"You'd think that someone would stand up and ask a simple question: Who are we to condemn gays if Christ didn't?"

Quite So! He never condemned child labor either--bring it back! He never condemned slave holders--commend them! He never condemned the death penalty--bring on the executioners!

Please. The Church does not "condemn homosexuals," it invites them to chastity. And while neither the Church nor Christ condemns sinners, both invite them to give up their sins. The adulterous woman was not stoned, of course. She was invited to go forward and sin no more. Forgiveness of wrongdoing is not the same as indifference to the wrong done.

Misplaced compassion and simpleminded moral theologizing of the "Jesus never said anything about it so I won't" variety will not bring progress, are not prophetic, and simply abdicate our own responsibility to use our brains AND our hearts as we try to discern the Lord's will for us.

GL+ said...

I'm not sure this guy is a member of a Christian church, is he? I thought he was some sort of New Age spiritualist.

Anonymous said...

Chopra said "Women deserve to hold church office..."
Unfortunately the Episcopal Church still uses the qualifier, as long as she is straight.

John Gibson said...

"The Church does not "condemn homosexuals," it invites them to chastity."

So you think chastity is some kind of penalty for being homosexual?

Toewalker said...

"The Church does not "condemn homosexuals," it invites them to chastity."

Its so easy to toss out invitations like that, isn't it? We're just "those homosexuals", we're not real people with real lives and real emotions, are we?

To one of the "invited", it feels more like the Church is condemning us to lives of lonliness rather than inviting us to anything.

If the proverbial shoe were on the other foot, are you confident that you could humbly and wholeheartedly accept such an "invitation"?

Anonymous said...

He's NOT a Christian. He's a newage (rhymes with "sewage") woo-woo guru.

And the idea of comparing fundamentalist Christians to radical or fundamentalist Muslims and Hindus is outrageous. There are no incidences of radical Baptists flying airliners into high rise buildings in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain. Gangs of militant Lutherans do not roam U.S. city streets in search of Hindu missionaries to assault and murder, as so tragically happens in India.

Deepak Chopra is no more equipped to comment on Biblical or contemporary Christianity than I am to comment on the Vedic Sutras.

Anonymous said...

The Church invites ALL Christians that are not called to enter into Holy Matrimony as stated by Scripture to a life of chastity- it is not only the homosexual. Chastity is a gift bestowed by Christ- as is marriage. All are not called to either role-but both represent eternity...

I highly reccommend reading "Real Sex- The Truth About Chastity" by Lauren Winner. An outstanding book. Incendently- she spoke to the young people that gathered at GC this year.

John Gibson said...

"There are no incidences of radical Baptists flying airliners into high rise buildings in Saudi Arabia or Bahrain."

But the record is rife with examples of them lynching Black people.

Dave said...

I thought that only God could call us to chastity. The church is not God, you might recall.

John Gibson said...

"Chastity is a gift bestowed by Christ- as is marriage."

Odd that Christ would bestow one gift, but not the other on gay people. And I must have been standing in the wrong line when He was passing out chastity.

T. More said...

Dear John Gibson & Toe...

The fact that the call to chastity is hard to give oneself over to wholeheartedly does not undermine the call. It makes of it the cross. You may choose to believe that heterosexuals have no crosses, or that their crosses are, by virtue of their orientation, lighter than those of homosexuals. I think the tradition does not support the objective weighing of other people's crosses--thus, I would not claim that homosexuals have it easy, but their having a cross that's hard does not itself argue against the teaching.

We all believe that some people's sexual drives orient them in ways they are not permitted to act on; you may choose to draw the line only at orientations you don't have, as to children, let's say. You may think THOSE people deserve the cross of chastity, as if their birth condition is more their "fault" or somehow more "fair" than yours, or as if chastity will be given to them more easily. Or perhaps even raising the issue will just have you say "are you saying gays are pedophiles,' a typical reply though it is manifestly not at all what I am saying.

What I am saying is that the Church's traditional teaching, while it can be argued against in good faith, cannot be argued against on the basis that it's hard--the gospel is quite clear that the cost of discipleship is high--nor on the basis that one cannot be born such that one cannot live an active sexual life in accord with one's desires.

That is why we are not meant to judge or condemn others as persons even if we can observe their outward sins--because we cannot observe their hearts or comment on their struggles. But it is never good moral theology, and never faithful to the gospel, to imagine that the scandal of the cross is a mistake, that God would never ask people to bear it, or that asking people to bear it is somehow sadistic rather than an invitation to life after death.

Are these things "easy for me to say?" Well, they are not easy for me to live, and nothing I have claimed here places me ahead of homosexuals or any other human beings struggling to take up the cross. They are meant to clarify that our Christian tradition is not heartless when it acknowledges the cross, and not judgmental as to people's souls, either.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Actually, I believe Paul calls straight people to chastity, if I recall the Epistle correctly.

And then he goes on to say that if straight people just can't stand it, then they should get married.

Now, I don't see anything in the Bible that says gay folks are called to a life of chastity. I do see stuff in the Bible that says we are an abomination, that we should be stoned, that we are awful, etc. I also see that Jesus says we should treat our slaves with compassion, that Paul says we should not let women participate in the leadership of the church, and, and, and.

I fail to see how the selectivity of the literalness of the interpretations presented here have any reason.

As Wilma Jacobsen says in the Voices of Witness video, if you agree that women are not doomed to a life of being cast out of leadership positions in the church (the Bible does not just say priests, but leadership in general), then you have done something with the text. You've gone on a journey.

Aparently, many straight people have gone on the same journey with Paul's call to remain chaste.

We have gone on the same journey with slavery.

We are called to go on the same journey with the texts regarding homosexuality being an abomination, requiring stoning, etc.

Incidentally, I would like to see the place where the "church" calls GLBT people to remain celibate. I am not aware of any canon, covenant, or other official teaching of TEC which requires such, particularly in light of the failed motions to ban same-sex unions.


Anonymous said...

Jeff- Paul did NOT say "straight people" as an adjective when whe wrote what he did about chastity. He called ALL CHRISTIANS to that state, and if you couldn't deal with the sexual desires of the flesh and not act on it, you should get married- in the way they viewed marriage. What you reference is almost like a gay vs. a straight version of the bible. You say you want equality, and then you say:
"Now, I don't see anything in the Bible that says gay folks are called to a life of chastity." But if we are all equal, and we are all christians, then we are all called to chastity, regardless of whether we are gay or straight.

And btw- chastity refers to more than just sexual purity, although it includes that. Even married christians are called to chastity.

Jeff Martinhauk said...

LG - You are correct. My point was not that gay folks should be called to any different standard. It is, however, difficult for us to hold ourselves to a standard from which most of us are legally forbidden (marriage).

I think you've ignored the rest of what I've written about taking a journey with the text. I'd be interested to have your opinion there.

No, I don't see a straight vs. gay version of the Bible. If you will re-read, I believe my point was intended to call out reference to the fact that most straight folks conveniently ignore Paul's quite plain reference not to get married and live in sexual chastity.

Interesting how easy it is to turn the words around when they are applied to one's own situation (i.e. definition of chastity). I don't discount them - I think they are accurate. It is just interesting how the "literal" reading changes when applied to oneself.


John Gibson said...

lg, I never heard such a lot of rubbish in my life! Paul specifically acknowledges that not all are called to celibacy and in recognition of that fact, may marry. Are you saying gay people may not?

Jeff Martinhauk said...

Speaking of differing interpretations of scripture, I put this list together a few days ago and didn't have time to publicize it much.

I think a lot goes into this kind of debate- gays and lesbians are called to celibacy, what did Paul mean, and so on, when really it all comes back to not even HOW we interpret scripture but WHAT scripture we emphasize.

That was the point of my earlier post today.


Anonymous said...

Friends, when it comes to John Gibsons, a disproportionate number of whom are Episcopalians, never assume. This JG for instance has no passion for chastity. But to each JG his own!

Cheers from steamy NYC!