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November 13, 2006

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West Coast Arwen

I have always (as a non-Christian) considered the panapoly of Christianity to be in agreement that Christ is an individual's personal saviour. Does that seem a basic standard?

Mermade

Beautiful post, Hugo. It deeply saddens me to see Christians dividing themselves on basis of creed. My heart goes out to your kids. As a Catholic, I've been told by a few Protestants that I am not a Christian. Personally, that notion doesn't bother me as much as it used to. But I understand their pain, and I truly believe that such judgement is anything but what Christ wants for humanity - and especially within His community of followers.

In light of my renewed outlook on faith, I have recently broken ties with Focus on the Family and donated my "purity" books away, as I no longer adhere to that particular version of Christianity. Such organizations have defined Christian behavior for me for so long. Personally, I believe that it is how well I treat those I do not agree with and/or do not like is the measure of how Christ will judge me in the end. It is not about whether or not I waited for sex until marriage, whether or not I support gay marriage. It is less about what we diverse Christians believe, and more about how much love we put into what we do and say.

I agree with what Mother Theresa said on the matter:

"There is only one God and He is God to all; therefore it is important that everyone is seen as equal before God. I’ve always said we should help a Hindu become a better Hindu, a Muslim become a better Muslim, a Catholic become a better Catholic. We believe our work should be our example to people." -Mother Theresa

Hugo

Thanks, Mermade; well said.

Arwen, the "personal savior" definition would work for an American evangelical. But Catholics and Orthodox and Anabaptists rarely use that term. And even when Christians do use the word "savior", it's not clear what we're meaning -- what we're being saved for and what we're saved from is not something even those of us who (like me) use the phrase "personal savior" could ever agree on.

mythago

Anne Lamott's reply to such people is "You know the difference between you and God? God doesn't think He's you."

I suppose it might get under the taunters' skin more if your teens looked them straight in the eye and said "I forgive you, as Jesus would want me to."

Emma

Well said. As a Mormon, I have been told many, many times that I am not a Christian, and that my eternal soul is in danger, if not in fact lost already. The Mormon doctrines that differ from other Christian religions inspire a startling amount of vitriol.

When I was younger, being condemned (and I don't think condemned is too strong a word) in this way was very hurtful. Later it was infuriating, and now I just try to let it go with mild annoyance. I figure if people don't think that a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes in Christ, they're either wilfully ignorant or just dumb, and there's no use arguing. The idea of a "Christian litmus test" strikes me as almost comically arrogant - no matter how much I disagree with someone's theology, I just can't conceive of seriously telling them that they're not Christian.

Hugo

Emma, whenever the elders or the sisters come to my door (and they come two or three times a year), I try and always invite them in for something nice and cool to drink. I also make it clear to them that I am a happy Christian, and while I am not prepared to become a Mormon, I thank these young men and women for their commitment to Christ and to spreading the word. I also make it clear to them, even if it is unnecessary, that I see them as my fellow Christians. Generally, this goes over well.

Emma

I'm sure it goes over more than well - I'm at the age where many of my friends are serving missions, and man, have I heard some horror stories. Thank you for your kindness.

Russell Arben Fox

That is a great kindness you show there, Hugo; I thank you for it as well (especially since I was one of those missionaries once, and remember fondly the folks that would invite us in!)

I also like your simply but direct statement that true Christians are characterized by "a recognition that the person of Jesus of Nazareth is central to one's faith." That's a good standard to begin with. Personally, I don't mind getting into theological squabbles on occasion; they aren't my main area of interest, but sometimes I find them fun and informative. Since a lot of my Christian interlocutors are theologically conservative and orthodox, I've come to work my own mind around the idea that there are some fairly consistent "Christian traditions" out there, and that some Christians--that is, some people who have come to a faith in Christ, whether expressed ritually in a church or through their own private involvement with scripture--may well not be part of them. I don't think it is an earth-shattering thing to recognize that there are distinct forms of Christianity with their own hermeneutical self-understandings, and that if I, as a Mormon, try to insert myself into one of those understandings I may get rebuked. I can handle that. But the problem comes, as you note, when otherwise decent Christians (and some, unfortunately, not so decent) preach a dumbed-down and mean version of this argument, and encourage their kids to draw lines, attacking the faith of other youth. To them we should always preach: faith and love and charity, first, denominations, second. The latter may be needed for salvation, but you can't enter into one--or even distinguish between different ones--worthily if you don't have the former already down (or at least are working on it!).

Technocracygirl

When I was in college, my Hillel group was housed with three of the campus Christian groups, including the Catholics. We were doing some interfaith shindig one day during my first semester, and the Catholic lay minister said that there were some Christians who didn't think that Catholics were Christian. I was flabbergasted. As a good Jewish girl who had read a lot of history, but not a lot of theology, I figured that the Catholics were the first Christians, and well, duh, of course they were Christians. To this day, I still don't understand the idea that "Catholics aren't Christians."

But then, to me, if you believe in the divinity and/or salvation power of Jesus of Nazareth, you're a Christian, and the rest is all flavortext. Which is what comes of being on the outside looking in, I suppose.

Dave

Here's the thing, Hugo. I think that it comes down to authority and whether or not you believe in objective standards. Do we get to "ref our own game?" First and foremost, salvation is something that is worked out with "fear and trembling" in relationship with God. If you look at Torah there are clear statements about things that God finds abhorent. Pride, murder, eating too much food, and not taking care of the poor are just a few of these. It doesn't seem like he is too keen on homosexuality either. I've searched high and low for "age gap" relationships, but I just can't find a mention of them. The question is, who is the ultimate authority in Dave's life; is it Dave or is it God? Am I letting God ref? I would honestly love to see Hugo present a systematic theology. X=3? Ok. How did we arrive at that conclusion? You have to show the steps to get full credit. ;)

Hugo

Dave, my views on age-gap relationship are not rooted in Scripture. My views on homosexuality rest on the Wesleyan Quadrilateral of Reason, Experience, Scripture, and Tradition -- and they also rest on my own, personal experience of Jesus Himself. I've got a love for the charismatics, particularly those who are aware that the Holy Spirit is always, ala John 16:12-13, telling us new things.

Dave

Didn't Wesley hold scripture to be infallible and regard tradition, reason, and experience as comprising the means for interpreting scripture? If we consider reason, instead of scripture, to be infallible aren’t we playing the part of the ref? Maybe you could give us a step-by-step of how the Quad causes you to arrive at your perspective on homosexuality, whatever that might be. ( I don’t know your exact perspective on homosexuality and I’m not going assume that I do.)

Hugo

Indeed, Dave, and I use reason, tradition, and experience (and the Holy Spirit) to read Scripture. Infallibly written doesn't mean infallibly interpreted; I reject the notion of a teaching magisterium, so I am quite confident no one has a monopoly on the correct hermeneutic. I'll put together a good list of works that explain how I got where I got on sexuality, but I am not a theologian and have no desire to take the time to give a step-by-step explanation of how I arrived at my stance.

John

"Being a Christian is about being willing to be on a journey with Jesus", I said, "even if you aren't quite sure who exactly Jesus is and even if you are very unsure of where it is you are going."

Sigh. "Who do you say that I am?" is the question. And "Quo vadis" is kinda an important question as well. Both of these make sure that you are actually journeying with the real Jesus revealed in Scripture, and not the one made up out of our own heads, who will bless our prejudices, whatever they happen to be.

Dave

No disrespect intended, but I don’t think that a step-by-step would be that time consuming if you have a clear understanding of what you believe and why you believe it. In the tradition of Wesley, scripture is considered infallible. Simple statements, like those in the ten commandments, are pretty easy to understand. There are also some straightforward statements about homosexuality. (The whole “abomination” thing plus the teachings of Paul.) If you see it otherwise, I would love to see the why and how. The call on the field has been rendered. Can I please see the conclusive video evidence that overturns the call?

Stephen

Hugo:

I don't see a huge difference between the parameters of your grandmother's belief and what you propose. There is a difference between "therapeutic monotheism," to steal a phrase, and belief that Jesus is Lord with all attendant requiremens of worship and obedience. Do we believe we should hug Jesus or kneel before him?

More to the point, when the rector of All Saints denies the bodily resurrection of Christ, which you know he has done, how, how, how can this be in any way squared with the historic christian faith or current Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant teaching? I'm all for a very generous orthodoxy but . . .


Steve

ks

I remember growing up Catholic in a heavily evangelical area of the south--most of my neighbors and my dad's family were souther Baptists and/or some flavor of Pentecostal. It did hurt getting told my friends and such that I wasn't a 'real Christian.' Doesn't bother me so much now because I don't consider myself a Christian anymore (more athiest/agnostic) and I only go to church for family functions when I'm visiting home. However, I take the view of Technocracygirl in that Catholics were the first 'Christians' more or less and the rest are offshoots, and that's what I used to tell people back in the day when those arguments would come up.

Hugo

Dave, theology is not football, and Christians are not referees. Now, if you do some googling around, you'll see that faithful Christians can disagree as to what Paul means in Romans 1, or 1 Corinthians 6, or any of the other passages that are normally cited. (E.G., Paul describes "unnatural" sex in Romans 1, but the entire larger passage is about ritual temple sexuality, where people might indeed be forced to go against their nature as part of worship. There's no widespread consensus, even at evangelical seminaries like Fuller, as to what Paul actually means. But I'm not going to give the whole lecture about the various meanings of para physin and arsenokoites and all the other specific Greek terms Paul uses.

This is a blog, folks, not a courtroom where I am held accountable to all my readers for explaining what it is that they need explained. I write for my pleasure, and perhaps for your edification, but I'm not going to labor at what I find dull merely to satisfy curiosity on the part of a reader.

Stephen, not everyone at All Saints denies the resurrection. And though belief in the bodily resurrection is certainly a mainstream belief within the Christian world, it's a huge jump to assume that it is a "litmus-test position" for identifying as a believer.

Jendi

I think it's absolutely necessary for a church to have some creed or bottom-line definition or else "Christian" will become a meaningless term, but I also don't like the nastiness and invalidation that comes when X says to Y, "You are not a Christian". It would be better to depersonalize it, saying instead, "That particular belief of yours is not Christian" or "...is not compatible with Christianity". A conversation-starter rather than conversation-ender.

Stephen

Hugo,

With respect, it really isn't a jump.

Look, I get the ambiguity of belief, the functional gnosticism of most evangelicals, the tendency to become proud of my belief in Christ rather than thankful for what He has done, the value of All Saints in pushing to the forefront social justice issues, the "sin of presumption" that any of us can determe who are sheep and who are goats, that "God writes straight on crooked lines."

Nevertheless, it would be wrong to conflate the personal immaturity of the "conservative kids" with theological wrongheadedness. (And, no, the two are not inextricably linked.) If Jesus was not raised from the dead, if He is not in fact alive, our faith is in vain, to steal a phrase, it becomes nothing other than a sweet sounding pablum, a combination of policitcal activisim and Mitch Albom and, again, a therapeutic monotheism, of which we are all guilty, I suppose. Which is why a generous and robust orthodoxy, engaging the world in all its ambiguity, is necessary to define a church.

Steve

Hugo

Gosh, Steve, you and I are not only dear friends, we think almost the same way. Here's how I'd write your last sentence:

"Which is why a generous and robust orthodoxy, embracing the world in all its ambiguity, is necessary to define a church."

;-)

Stephen

Hugo:

I believe you are buying if we can find an open restaurant this week and I'll take your last sentence with the following emphasis. "Which is why a generous and robust ORTHODOXY, embracing the world in all its ambiguity, is necessary to define a church." :)))

Steve

edgar

Hugo,
Thanks for this post. I found myself very moved by it. My heart goes out to your kids, but I think they are very lucky to have a teacher and friend like you. I am always amazed by those who want to reduce Christianity to a series of litmus tests. I am one of those "liberal Episcopal priests", in part because of the intolerance I found as a teenager among some of my Christian friends who always wanted to define who was and who was not a Christian. Like you, Hugo, I know Jesus as a very real, intimate and loving presence, but as with every other person in my life, my understanding of him, and my relationship with him is not static. It has grown deeper over the years, in large part because of those who have known him in very different ways. To say that Jesus is my Savior is not to say that it is my understanding of him, or what I think about him that saves me. But that he saves me. And no, I don't know fully what that means or where he will lead me. That's part of the adventure of faith, it seems to me.
Dave, I don't think the ten commandments are all that easy to understand. Jesus warned about reducing them to simple "litmus test" statements when he talked about those who have not literally engaged in adultery, but who have done so in their hearts. I can on one hand say I have done no murder, but have I been complicit in the deaths of others through my consumpsion, or through war? Have I wished for the deaths of others through disdain or indifference? Following the commandments, and loving God and neighbor, take constant growth and learning and conversion. "Who do you say that I am?" is not a question that is settled once and for all for me, but one I hear Jesus ask me every day and one that I constantly try to answer through my life, words, relationships, prayer etc.

glendenb

You know, I miss a couple days blog reading and this topic comes up! I'm involved in a UCC congregation in Salt Lake City where not only our kids and youth but on occassion our adults are told by "well meaning" Mormons that we belong to the wrong church.

On a regular basis, our kids (8 years old!) are told by their Mormon schoolmates that they are wrong and going to hell because they're not Mormons.

I have taught the last three confirmation classes in my UCC congregation in Salt Lake City. More often than not, our teens have been told slightly more sophisticated versions of the same crap. When any church teaches that theirs is the only valid way to God they teach their kids it's acceptable to tell their peers that they're going to Hell.

Just this week, I learned in my Our Whole Lives class that non-Mormon girls have an automatic reputation for being sexually available with their Mormon peers. The Mormon church has convinced these kids that they're adherence to antiquated moral values is the same as virtue and that anyone who isn't one of them is morally suspect.

Our congregatonal response has been to do our best to be clear about our values, to instill those in our kids and youth and to affirm them within our community - to assure them that our vision of Christianity may not be universal, but that they can be sure that their church is a Christian church. But, I get angry at the stories I hear from "my" kids. I just let them know that they will always have a home in our congregation.

Stentor

I tend to take a deflationary/pragmatist view of the "who's a real Christian" question -- if I know enough about your beliefs to be able to apply any definition of Christianity, then knowing whether or not the label applies doesn't add anything to my understanding. I know what Hugo and his fellows at All Saints believe (and I know what I think about their beliefs' veracity), so it doesn't really matter whether they qualify as "real Christians." To me, "Christian" is a useful (albeit vague) summary term, not a "natural kind". So I'll happily reclassify Hugo's kids (or anyone else) as Christian or non-Christian depending on what elements of Christianity are relevant to the point I happen to be making at the time.

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