Five Reasons You Probably Shouldn’t Attend a Christian Seder

The Seder plate at Rabbi Joseph Edelheit’s home, including oranges, olives, and tomatoes.

It’s Passover until this evening, and lots of Christians — especially evangelicals — are attending Passover Seder dinners. But they’re not traditional Seder dinners, with Jews. No, they’re a co-opted rite, sometimes hosted by a “messianic” Jew, and sometimes just by Christians who’ve read a Wikipedia entry.

I’ve been to a Seder for the past couple years. My family and I have been hosted by Rabbi Joseph Edelheit, a sometime contributor to this blog, and a dear friend. In his role as director of the religious studies program at St. Cloud State University, Joseph has hosted Seder dinners for Christian students — at the Lutheran campus ministry for instance — but the difference is that he’s really Jewish. He’s a rabbi. He’s not playacting. This is really his thing.

Many Christians, particularly evangelicals, are drawn to primitive Christianity. They want to follow Jesus like those first Christians did, before Constantine and Charlemagne mucked everything up with Christendom. I personally think that’s a noble goal, and I’m not totally averse to it. However, having a Seder meal at your church or Christian college is not the way to do here. Here’s why:

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How’s Your Atonement?

Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion,” which hung on Jürgen Moltmann’s wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

As you may know, I’m completing a book on the atonement. It’s called Did God Kill Jesus?, and it will be released on March 17, 2015. The first draft of the book is off to the publisher and a few friends for reading. Edits will happen over the next couple months, as will decisions about subtitle, cover, interior design, endorsements, etc. All pretty exciting stuff.

I’m currently teaching a reading seminar, “Theologies of Atonement,” at United Theological Seminary, and still reading and thinking about atonement. And I’m not the only one.

My first foray into wring about the atonement came with my ebook, A Better Atonement, published a couple years ago. Now Jason Micheli has done me the great honor of publishing an accompanying ebook, Preaching A Better Atonement. Therein, Jason lays out some of the versions of atonement in church history and gives sermon illustrations for each. It’s a great resource for Lent and Holy Week, all the proceeds go to the Guatemala Toilet Project, and it can hold you over until next March.

And just think, you can get Jason’s book and my A Better Atonement for less than 5 bucks!

“Noah” is Darren Aronofsky’s Midrash

Darren Aronofsky has made an eminently biblical film.

That is, if you see the Bible as a living, complex text full of conflict and theological questions.

If you see the Bible as a wooden history book, you’ll probably dislike Noah. Or at least you’ll be confused.

We pick up the story 10 generations after Adam and Eve. Noah is a boy, descended from the line of Seth. Of his tribe, we only meet his family — if there are others from the line of Seth, they are not allied with Noah.

The rest of the populace comes from Cain, the original murderer. And, although Cain’s vegetable sacrifice was rejected by God, his people are now ravenous meat eaters  — almost zombie-like in their quest for blood. Sethites are the vegetarians, and this is only the first of many comments that the movie makes on our present situation.

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Let’s Talk about What Happened Yesterday at World Vision [UPDATED]

I’m not going to recount the facts. Others have done that. I’m going to tell you what I know from unnamed sources inside the World Vision headquarters and I’m going to opinionate about what this means for the state of Christianity in America, especially in regards to GLBT issues.

According to my sources, many staffers at WV headquarters in Seattle are very upset. This is a change that had been talked about and planned by the executive team for several years and was being rolled out department-by-department. It was a minor human resources change establishing non-discriminatory hiring policies in accordance with Washington State law (marriage equality became law in Washington on February 13, 2012 and was approved by voter referendum on November 6, 2012).

Someone on the WV staff leaked this change to Christianity Today magazine, CT informed WV that they were going to run a story with or without WV cooperation, and WV president gave CT an exclusive interview to explain the change.

My thought: Granting an exclusive to CT may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but it was like throwing red meat to hungry lions. A better PR strategy would have been to go to the mainstream media — probably the New York Times — rather than trying to explain this policy change to evangelical insiders. The fact is, the vast majority of people who have a sponsor child on their refrigerator door are not reading CT, nor are they particularly concerned about whether gays work at WV headquarters in Seattle.

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This Is an Important Moment for Progressive Christians

In the struggle for who gets to define the gospel in 21st century America — which I happen to think is a good struggle to have — this weekend looks to be important. As happens every year as Easter approached, mainstream media is tuning in to religion in general, and Christianity in particular. And some cultural items have come to the front of the American consciousness.

I won’t call this a “battle,” because it’s not that. It’s a conversation, taking place in the public square, about what kind of vision we have for the gospel. And, believe it or not, it involves more than just gay marriage.

1) Who Will Sponsor World Vision Children?

Tweets today are reporting that World Vision has lost 2,000 sponsors of children since announcing on Monday that they would no longer discriminate against married gay persons in their U.S. hiring policies. Progressive voices like Kristen Howerton are campaigning for others to fill the gap and pick up those children. Having been to Sri Lanka on a WV trip, I can attend to their great work. I sponsor Afra, and I encourage you to sponsor a child:

 

2) Who Will See Noah?

This morning, I’m going to a press screening of Darren Aronofsky’s movie, Noah. Conservatives have already turned on this movie — some, like Rick Warren, tweeting that he wouldn’t see the movie (then deleting that tweet) — and a wholesale ban on the movie in the Muslim Middle East for breaking the Koranic prohibition on depicting a prophet.

The major objections among conservative evangelicals seem to be that Noah adds to the biblical account (um, just like every biblical epic movie ever), and that Noah uses a biblical story to make commentary on contemporary issues like the environment, climate change, and overpopulation (um, just like every sermon ever).

Book publishers have long wondered if there is a strong enough market among progressive Christians to sell books at the numbers that conservative authors sell. This weekend, movie studio executives are going to be asking the very same question.

3) How Much Freedom Do Women Have Over Their Bodies?

That’s one way to frame the question of whether the federal government can force Hobby Lobby and other corporations to pay for their employees’ access to all forms of contraception. The other way to ask it is, Can corporations have religious freedom?

How a corporation can claim personhood and the rights ensured thereto is still an open question in our society, and one that confounds many of us. “Corporations are people, my friend.” This may seem a distant concern to religious folks, until a corporation says it has religious beliefs.

 

Surely more issues will bubble up in coming days. To whom the New York Times and your local newspapers turn for quotes and analysis will be interesting. Pay attention to that. And also, let your voice be heard on these issues — in a letter to the editor, on your blog, on Facebook and Twitter, and on the sideline of your kids’ soccer game.

Youth Workers Are Still My People

Above you can watch Jeff Chu deliver one of the two talks at last week’s Progressive Youth Ministry conference to receive a standing ovation. The other was given the next morning by H. Adam Ackley, a transgender theology professor who was dismissed from Azusa Pacific University last year. Each of them spoke out of their own experience of being queer in their youth, and each of them explained how they could have been better ministered to by their churches.

And we listened.

Other speakers addressed how women are portrayed in rap and hiphop music, what “death of god” theology could mean in a confirmation class, what kind of youth pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, and why process theology doesn’t suck. Otis Moss III preached us in, and Laura Truax preached us out. In other words, the content was amazing.

But something even more important happened last week at Fourth Presbyterian Church in downtown Chicago.

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World Vision to Hire Gays

Some might call this shocking. I just call it another domino falling:

World Vision’s American branch will no longer require its more than 1,100 employees to restrict their sexual activity to marriage between one man and one woman.

Abstinence outside of marriage remains a rule. But a policy change announced Monday [March 24] will now permit gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed at one of America’slargest Christian charities.

In an exclusive interview, World Vision U.S. president Richard Stearns explained to Christianity Today the rationale behind changing this “condition of employment,” whether financial or legal pressures were involved, and whether other Christian organizations with faith-based hiring rules should follow World Vision’s lead.

Stearns asserts that the “very narrow policy change” should be viewed by others as “symbolic not of compromise but of [Christian] unity.” He even hopes it will inspire unity elsewhere among Christians.

Read the full story.

Some Big News…

Thanks for your patience with my sporadic blogging as I write my book. But I did want you to know about a couple opportunities coming up…

Boundary Waters Theological Canoe Adventure

Join me for five days in the amazing Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northern Minnesota. We will canoe through some of the most beautiful, pristine wilderness in North America by day, and in the evenings we’ll discuss the doctrine of creation based on our readings and experience. The cost is $750 and includes all camping and canoeing gear and food.

The dates are May 29 – June 3 (you could fly into MSP on the morning of 5/29 and out on the evening of 6/3). The deadline to register is this Friday, and only 5 spots remain. REGISTER HERE. If you have any questions, please email me.

Christianity21 Phoenix: Rising from the Ashes

Following on the amazing success of Christianity21 Denver, we’re thrilled to announce the return of C21 — this time in the even warmer climes of Phoenix! The theme this time is “What needs to rise from the ashes of the church?” and we’ve already revealed some of the awesome speakers. See who they are and register here.

Dates: January 22-24, 2015. Cost $179 (Super Early Bird).

Progressive Youth Ministry

Last week was breathtaking — more on that tomorrow — so much so that we’re announcing the second annual Progressive Youth Ministry conference, taking place again in partnership with Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago. Register early, cuz it’s sure to sell out.

Dates: March 18-20, 2015. Cost: $179 (Super Early Bird).

Is There Such a Thing a Progressive Youth Ministry?

That’s the question we’re trying to answer this week in Chicago. In a partnership with Fourth Presbyterian Church, the JoPa Group is running a conference on this topic. If you want to follow along — and why wouldn’t you? — you should follow the Twitter hashtag.

A Very Important Question