Are You Saying the Entire Christian Faith Has Been Wrong?

Are You Saying the Entire Christian Faith Has Been Wrong? November 21, 2014

Quite often when I’m speaking to conservative Christian groups, whether the subject is evolution, the meaning of John 14:6, equality for women or LGBT people, the doctrine of inerrancy (papal or biblical), or related topics, people will say it is arrogant of me to suggest that the mainstream of the Christian church has been so wrong for so long.

Certainly that could be the case. I wish I were a greater stranger to arrogance than I am.

But to refuse to acknowledge the possibility that a tradition has been seriously, consistently, and tragically wrong can also reflect another kind of arrogance, as a recent speech by David Gushee makes clear.

The unchristlike teaching of contempt for Jews has been discredited. No mainstream Christian leader that I know of teaches it anymore, at least not here in this country. The Bible didn’t change. What the Bible was understood to mean changed a great deal.The unchristlike teaching of contempt for LGBT people is, in my view, in the process of being discredited, of breaking down, even as we speak. Every year elements of it lose ground. I am now confident that Christianity is undergoing the same repudiation of an unchristlike body of tradition today, in regards to LGBT people, as happened 50 years ago in regards to antisemitism.

So this is the point of my comparison—I am comparing two different unchristlike bodies of Christian teaching tradition, one of which has been discredited and abandoned, the other of which needs to be and is in the process of being discredited and abandoned. We must celebrate the progress being made in repudiating the teaching of contempt against that 1/20th of the human family who are LGBT. And we must finish the job as soon as we can.

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  • Y. A. Warren

    How about the hakf of people who are female and still seen as submissive and suffering in order to gain sakvation?

  • Janice Prindle

    I applaud such “arrogance.” The more I learn about the earliest forms of Christianity, pre-Augustine, pre-Constantine, the more it is clear to me how the original message of Jesus has been corrupted and distorted by the patriarchs of the Roman Empire, still active through the Catholic church and its Calvinistic.offshoots. For anyone interested, look into Celtic Christianity (where the Romans did not initially extend their full reach); J. Phillip Newell is a good place to start. You will find an orientation to Jesus, scripture, creation, human nature and justice that is fully in harmony with Progressive Christianity, Liberation Theology, Process Theology, or Emerging Christianty today. (Interesting that there’s evidence to suggest Celtic Christianity, never quite suppressed by the Roman church– though not for lack of trying– influenced St. Francis, who in ironic turn now inspires Pope Francis.) And read John Shelby Spong on the origins of the gospels in Jesus-following Jewish synagogues, especially the gospel of John. Yes, indeed, the mainstream Christian tradition has departed from its roots, but fortunately, not even that can keep us from finding the loving, healing, universal God “in whom we live and move and have our being.”

  • 1PeterW

    “Biblical” justifications of anti-Semitism, slavery, hatred of LBGTQ people–gone
    or going. What about Christendom–the accommodation of the Church to the
    State. Or Christendom’s dismissal of Jesus’ words and actions toward
    war and violence in general? When will we admit that big mistake that’s lasted for centuries? The Anabaptists and even John Wesley saw the “conversion” of Constantine as the downfall of the faithful Church.

  • Steve

    think you’re absolutely right. Over two millennia, as the Christian faith
    has moved from being a Jewish messianic sect to become a universal
    religion of salvation, it has been changed by the Greek, Latin,
    Germanic, Celtic, and other cultures, and moved, step by step, away from
    its origins and taken on many characteristics contrary to the original
    teaching and movement–dogmas and doctrines and large institutions to
    name a few.

  • Yonah

    There is a rhetorical and communal problem here. Sometimes, as here, progressive Chistians use the topic of anti-Judaism as a segue into the real topic of their concern (i.e. LGBT), but in other places exhibit no concern whatsoever concerning anti-Judaism…specicially the oft repeated occurance of anti-Israelism which so easily slides into (or emnates from) anti-Judaism. There is often a homiletical problem…as when progressive Christian preachers go into anti-Jewish riff vis a vis “the Pharisees” in order to attack present day “legalists” who are on the opposite side of the social concern they’re concerned about. When I was in the UCC candidacy process, I heard many Gay transferring clergy give sermons of this type. They were angry about what the UMC or other non-affiirming denominations did to them, but in the pulpit they attacked “the Pharisees” and “the Jews” or “Judaizers”…when no Jews actually hurt them. Maybe the UMC hurt them, but no flock of Jews flew out of their shuls to land a rabbi on a Gay man’s porch to give him hell or to send him to hell.

    • WilmRoget

      Your unsubstantiated accusations come across as the same rhetorical and communal problem, with a bit of very obvious homophobia as well.

      • Yonah

        No homophobia. I have been a member of the UCC and the URJ which both are open and affirming. I have Gay Jewish friends who have the double prejudice…add the women Gay Jews, then you have the triple. In this blog, the problem I’m concerned with exists for all to see. The topic of anti-Judaism is simply used for something else, and not addressed as to its own. That is usally the case these days. With respect to Gay transferring clergy employing anti-Jewish riffs, this is not due to being Gay, but from coming from religious backgrounds where anti-Judaism is a staple. The thing that is missing here is that Progressive Christians are not checking that anti-Judaism when it comes through the doors at progressive seminaries or candidacy committees. Why? It is because of the current anti-Judaism in Progressive Christian culture which ostensibly is tied to angst over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The claim of Progressive Christians is that there is a hard line among them between anti-Judaism and protest of the State of Israel…when there is simply not such a hard line. So, much of the archaic anti-Jewish riffs…i.e. “the Pharisees”….or “the Temple” is left intact by Progressive Christians.

        • WilmRoget

          “No homophobia.”

          Oh, its there.

          “With respect to Gay transferring clergy employing anti-Jewish riffs,”

          It is an unsubstantiated accusation, and parallels the new way people revile gay men while attempting to avoid being seen as a homophobe – level an accusation without evidence at gay men specifically, something that all kinds of people do, to create a negative, false impression.

          • Yonah

            I will continue to fail to substantiate personal observation and experience on all manner of things. But, how does my unsubtantiation pertain to Gay men? Huh? There are gay women clergy…probably more than men, as ministry, especially in mainline is becoming increasingly female.

            But, a challenge to you and the blog author: Won’t you give us some paragraphs of direct concern for turning back current expanding anti-Judaism? December is always a time when Jewish parents have the challenge of counseling their children on handling the holiday season. Many Jews call it “the December Dilemma”.

          • WilmRoget

            “I will continue to fail to substantiate personal observation and experience on all manner of things.”

            Which means that your “observations” are merely your own prejudices written down.

            “Won’t you give us”

            You won’t substantiate your accusations, but you ask for material from others. That shows a serious lack of integrity on your part.”

          • Yonah

            I imagine that you find much on the internet to frustrate your need of substantiation.

  • Nicholas Kr.

    “What would our ancestors say to this, sir?.. If this measure be right, would it have escaped the wisdom of those Saxon progenitors to whom we are indebted for so many of our best political institutions? Would the Dane have passed it over? Would the Norman have rejected it? Would such a notable discovery have been
    reserved for these modern and degenerate thins?”

  • WilmRoget

    ” What I have observed is a lot of gay clergy coming from fundamentalist backgrounds to the UCC.”

    So basically, you are making rather sweeping statements based on a tiny number of people.

    “I would add that a lot of Progressive Christians often do the same on all manner of other liberal-conservative conflictual issues.”

    Is this claim also based on a handful of people you’ve “observed”?

    ” It happens on Progressive Christian Patheos blogs all the time where a
    blogger simply calls a conservative position that he/she is attacking as

    No. But by your reasoning – i.e., criticism of a sect of Judaism equals anti-semitism, your criticism of progressive Christians is anti-humanism.

    • Yonah

      All Rabbinic Judaism of today has come from the Pharisees. The Sadducees and Essenes did not survive. When “Pharisees” are attacked, Jews are attacked. The only exception to this might be those pre-Rabbinic Jews from Ethiopia, and perhaps Northern India…but it’s my impression they are being assimilated into mainstream rabbinic (Pharisaic) Judaism. I do not know of any Jews who do not consider themselves humanists.

      • WilmRoget

        By your argument, an attack on any human is an attack on all, then.

        • Yonah

          I don’t understand the sense of your statement. Anyway, Brian’s allusion to a mainline academic theological consensus that anti-Judaism is to be rejected is based entirely on the point I’ve already made. The scholarship has revealed that anti-Jewish elements in the NT are reflective of the tragic early Church-Synagogue fights, and that history of animosity only expanded to the Holocaust over against the reality that Jesus was of the Pharisaic theological orientation himself. So, the current tragedy is that while the mainline academic theological consensus that Brian alludes to is correct..has been massively validated…it has been written up, down, and all around…still, bad habits persist. Still…both conservative and progressive Christians often accuse Jews/Judaism/Pharisaism of fascist legalism…when the truth is right in your political face that Jews never had the culture, infrastructure, or power to maintain a legalism they are always accused of. There has NEVER been ANY central Jewish theological authority capable of enforcing a central legal edict or set of edicts. THAT NOTION was never Jewish…it was Roman/gentile/western. “Law” does not mean the same thing in Jewish culture as it does in western gentile culture. So. If a Progressive would want to accurately assail a fascist position, he/she ought to tie such a position to actual fascists…not to Jews and their rabbinic/Pharisaic heritage. In truth, Jewish law is evolutionary. It is not mere accident that Jewish Supreme Court justices are accused by conservatives of “judicial activism”….they are of course guilty, because their Judaism informs such a evolutionary mindset overagainst the “judicial constructivists” who are inheritors NOT of the Jewish legal tradition, but the Greco-Roman which assumes central control over a one-size fits all for all time paradigm.

          As for assuming that criticism of “progressives” is anti-humanism….that assertion is laugable when confronted, in this case, with the fact that the criticism here is coming from the left of “progressivism”….as in…”progressives are running their mouths, but not getting anything really done.” Obama does not want to hear from “the far left”…people who are ankle biters to him on the matter of the fact that nothing has changed and no hope has come for people on the economic bottom…the people Elizabeth Warren should represent in a run at Hillary in a primary. It’s amazing that mainstream “progressives” will call people like Warren “far left” when in reality, Warren simply represents what used to be conventional political morality.

  • Mick

    Strange I see the secularized liberal theologies as being more anti gay then the conservative understanding of the Bible , as in the OT also . Why would anyone deny the whole Gospel to someone in the disguise of helping them ? Seems it is more because we may love our friend or believe we have the better even though short term knowledge required to understand how families are designed to function better . But from my perspective you are loving your friends and the world more then you are loving our God , the world , friends , and we all lose .
    . In fact notice more anti Christian rhetoric from the religious left then I do in the mainstream media . If your comfortable with that so be it . Ignoring the truths of the Bible because you don’t like how you understand it or agree with it perhaps is closer to the reality here . Seems Brian you have more of a problem from how you learned to read the Bible personally . I don’t see Jesus having contempt for those who had or even promoted sex out of the confines of marriage , He showed Love , He showed compassion and empathy . He showed He would stand up to protect them , He also showed in His statement to sin no more . In fact if a homosexual was the only person on earth , Christ would still take His place on the cross . Because people have portrayed the truths of the Bible harshly and not as Christ would have , does not make the truth any less.

    Having a propensity to have sex is normal for all of us . Obviously propensity for same sex is different , but you chose not only to leave the church teachings , you have turned around and rebuked and sinned against those who remain convinced and portrayed them as arrogant , hateful , anti women , and worse , wanting to only be living for the Bible instead of having Christ be living through us . Having a propensity to do out own thing , especially things that seem natural to us is nothing new for any of us . Christ did not trade places with us because we were willing to only change the things that were easy in any of us . Trying to make a conservative theology of being anti gay from Biblical truth is a stretch . Politics of course have caused a worsening , but the worlds hatred and condemnation of anything that promotes One Truth , One God , has always caused a back lash . The pluralism and so called multi cultural beliefs where all gods are equal , all cultural are equal , collectivism being a theology of equal returns instead the understanding that we are required each to be responsible for our Love of God and our Love for neighbor . The liberalism of today attempts to promote this as rugged individualism , actually its God molding each and everyone of us into the person he wants us to be .

    When say a Bill Clinton who used his position of power to abuse a few women gets requests to speak to women organizations because he is pro women I would suggest a culture is having a problem dealing with issues ? Must be a Baptist thing ?
    I always read the OT as a Love story and just a coming attractions and hints of the coming of Our Lord among us , those laws are written most in what we call case law today , from a different perspective in a different time .

    The major institutions of today , academia , government , media , and the social media we see a dominate culture are mocking the things of God , as you have here. Nothing is new under the Sun . And you have your book deals and approval .