Time For a New Word

The word “evangelical” is quickly getting stretched into incoherence thanks in large part to lazy reporting about the Trump Presidential campaign.  This is an excellent argument about the need to imagine a new word.

So it’s time redefine—or better, reimagine—what “evangelical” means. If the very heart of the evangelical movement is actively living out the Bible’s message that the world can have hope in the person of Jesus Christ, then nothing could be further from the heart of a true evangelical then siloing off from the rest of the world in order to advance a political agenda. True evangelicalism is not about maintaining a particular earthly kingdom, but about calling people into the kingdom of God.
So what kind of word should we use to rename this blog?

What Mormons are like. . .

Jack inspired me to get off my butt and write some jokes about what Mormons are like:

Like Punks, Mormons are  lower-class people that don’t want to conform to traditions.

Like Rastafarians, Mormons are lower-class people that use religion as a way to get higher in life.

Like Catholics, Mormons are lower-class people that respect priesthood authority.

Like charismatics, Mormons are lower-class people that are not ashamed of whatever comes out of their mouths when they are feeling the spirit.

Like Democrats, Mormons are lower-class people that think that one can win in the world through will and intelligence.

Like Republicans, Mormons are lower-class people that think that charisma is more imporant than coherance.

Like Americans, Mormons are lower-class people that think that their holy documents are somehow superior to everything ever written.

Like Hindus, Mormons are lower-class people who believe that their pathetic lives fit in with some cosmic order of things.

Lke Muslims, Mormons are people who swear by prophets.

Like the Insane Clown Posse, Mormons are chaotically creative lower-class people who believe in God.

Like New Agers, Mormons are people who think they they are in constantly in touch with extra-terrestrials.

Like wrestlers, Mormons are lower-class people who torture themselves for an imagined glory only they can understand.

Like Christians, Mormons are lower-class people that condemn themselves under the law.

Like ranchers, Mormons are lower-class people who spend their time herding livestock stamped with their own brand.

Like police officers, Mormon are lower-class people who think that special rules apply to them because they enforce the law.

Like soldiers, Mormons are lower-class believe you receive more glory if you die in the line of duty.

 

 

Because I’m Tacky: Mormon / Ex-Mormon Style

tackyRecently, some short-sighted YSA leaders in Provo urged ward members to go to Amazon and post positive reviews of the Book of Mormon. When their suggestion got out, the ex-Mormon community exploded with class and rushed to Amazon to saturate the book with negative reviews instead.

Consider this my plea to both parties: don’t. Giving Amazon reviews to books of ancient Scripture (or even, you know, relatively modern, nineteenth-century Scripture) is tacky in the extreme. It’s like giving a Yelp review to your local McDonald’s.

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How do we answer the realists?

In my ongoing attempt to explain the Christian law to my children, and gain a clearer perspective on it as well, I thought I would try present an ancient view that I often shows up in public discourse and then compare it with a common Mormon view and a classic Christian response.

[The original writer’s name has been changed because I am not claiming to represent his views accurately.  (Yes, I am deliberately twisting an ancient view to fit the present conversation what can you expect, I’m Mormon.) ]

Here goes:

Cal the Realist: I am getting fed up with Christian moralizing. The truth is that you Christians who pretend to be engaged in the pursuit of truth, are – especially in your rejection of gay marriage and naturally driven sexuality- are appealing only to the popular and vulgar notions of right and wrong, which are not natural, but only conventional. Conventional law and nature’s law are generally at odds with one another and hence, and if a person is too conventional to say what he actually thinks, he winds up warring against himself and solidifying his own mental slavery to the conventional law.

Christians perpetuate slavery to convention by telling  people that they should reject sin and live in righteousness.  But most sane men understand that to endeavor to live according to the  “righteousness” described in the Christian law is patently unnatural.  This is because all men are naturally disinclined to obey the Christian conventions.  Thus, socially ostracizing those who have the courage to disregard the conventional rules – as the Christians do with gay people – is a recipe for stagnation of civilization.  This is because the Christian law is in a pathological war with the law of nature.

You may say that your Christian law is based on nature, but as the lives of your saints show us, nobody who carefully obeys the Christian law has any real power in this world. According to the Christians, everything your body tells you it wants is sin, and following the law is almost always the unnatural path: turning the other cheek, avoiding all litigation, proclaiming peace through forgiveness of enemies. Christians themselves are loathe to tolerate this sort of “righteousness” in their leaders.

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Kicking Against the Pricks

On the road to Damascus, Paul found Christ.  Seeing Paul lost in his sin and murderous self-righteousness Jesus pointed out: “It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” (Acts 9:5.)  In this metaphor, the “pricks” are the sin that dwells within us. The sin sprouts the thorns that goad us when we recognize that we cannot be what we demand ourselves to be.  Joseph Smith seemed to almost grasp the biblical meaning of the phrase in D&C 121:38 where he described those in church leadership that sought to hide their own sins with their authority as those “left to kick against the pricks.” The message of Paul’s ministry was that in Christ can we dissolve these thorns so they never bother us again.

Spencer W. Kimball — the beloved LDS Prophet — put a new spin on this phrase. Starting  in a conference talk in 1955, Kimball began to use the phrase as a description of the state of those who stand against the leadership of the LDS Church:

There is the man who, to satisfy his own egotism, took a stand against the Authorities of the Church. He followed the usual pattern, not apostasy at first, only superiority of knowledge and mild criticism. He loved the brethren, he said, but they failed to see and interpret as he would like. He would still love the Church, he maintained, but his criticism grew and developed into ever-widening circles. He was right, he assured himself; he could not yield in good conscience; he had his pride. His children did not accept his philosophy wholly, but their confidence was shaken. In their frustration, they married out of the Church, and he lost them. He later realized his folly and returned to humbleness, but so very late. He had lost his children. “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5).”

Here the “pricks” are not the thorns of sin but the psychological and political consequences of criticism of Church leadership. On an all-too-poignant level, this passage represents hard reality of the Church’s position. The church has determined that there are some sins the gospel does not reach, and the sin of participation in gay marriage is one of those. The latest of the Church’s responses to its critics gave me shivers because it’s tone reflects the same terrifying chant of: “thinking differently than the leadership will destroy your family”. It really sucks.

The problem with the way the LDS deal with same-sex attraction probably stems from the way Mormons ignore original sin. Mormons simply cannot believe that humans might be really screwed up from birth in a way that willpower won’t fix. The good news of the New Testament is that in Christ, God has both seen and forgotten these screwed-up ways and granted you freedom to do so as well. The biggest problem I see with the policy is that the message the Church is giving its membership is not  “our sins can be dissolved in Christ”, but that “our sins will keep us from God.”   This was Paul’s message before Damascus, not after it. Paul’s ministry was focused on the fact that, in Christ, our sins will not keep us from God.

Like the Pharisaic Jews, Mormons believe our path to the celestial is through obedience to the law. However, in siding with the pre-Damascus Paul, Mormons are actually mistaking the law with the gospel. The “gospel” according to the Latter-day Saint tradition is what Paul refers to as the “law” — i.e. the combined commandments of God. Mormons believe that “living the gospel” is obeying the law.

A New-Testament Christian would understand that the law was the source of the pricks that goaded Paul. It was the law that Paul was trying to enforce when he persecuted the Christians, and the law that he found safety from in Christ on the road to Damascus.

Because Church leadership cannot distinguish the law from the gospel they now are denying the gospel to those that may break their law.  As I said, this really sucks for those denied access to the Church after being told as children that the Church is the only source of the “gospel”.

But I think those of us who despair at the new policy do not need to rally against the Church, any more than Paul needed to rally against the Pharisees or Rome.  His message was simple, straight, and narrow and so is our path to peace.  Whether the pricks are our sins as Paul describes, or the church leadership, as President Kimball describes, we don’t need to kick against these pricks — in Christ we are made free from their control.

Explaining Why Rob Bell No Longer Attends Church

In a 2014 interview with Religion Dispatches it was reported that the post-Evangelical author Rob Bell and his family are not part of a local church:

Now resettled near Los Angeles, the couple no longer belongs to a traditional church.  “We have a little tribe of friends,” Bell said. “We have a group that we are journeying with. There’s no building. We’re churching all the time. It’s more of a verb for us.”

Based on other interviews it seemed the Bells felt called to move to Los Angeles to pursue opportunities in television. Meanwhile Bell has refashioned his message into a psuedo-spiritual, Self-Help, Moralistic, Therapeutic, Deism much more inline with the other prophets in Oprah’s spiritual stockade.

What’s strange to me about the Bells move is that they have not found a church home. Continue reading

“Show Us Your Leaders”

Three_White_ApostlesA black couple began attending my church a few years ago, one of them the provost of a local evangelical college. They said they had settled on my denomination (Evangelical Covenant Church) because the leaders truly seemed to have a heart for racial diversity. This couple did not want to attend a traditional black denomination nor be the only black couple in a predominantly white church. They wanted a church that could reflect the complexity and racial diversity of the kingdom of God.

Very few white denominations will deny that they would like to attract more members from minority groups. Most pastors enthusiastically told this couple that they would love to have them and were all about racial diversity. This couple would evaluate the sincerity of that claim with one simple challenge: “Show us your leaders.”

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