Saturday, December 21, 2013

Let's put the "Christ" back in Christian ...

"Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair it is a shame unto him?" I Corinthians 11:14.

... and other dispatches from the holy war, Christmas edition.

In the interests of fair disclosure, until earlier this week I'd never heard of Duck Dynasty, the Robertsons and their bearded patriarch, Phil. 

And cultural Christians like myself hardly are conventional believers.

But it's been an interesting week, thanks in part to Phil, as the culture war heated up --- just in time for Christmas --- and apparently our first major snowstorm. Too good an opportunity to pass up.

I doubt you missed it --- the Robertson patriarch landed in hot water after saying, based upon what he implied were Godly convictions, several rude things about LGBT people during an interview published in GQ, a magazine once known as Gentlemen's Quarterly and focused on fashion, style and culture for men.

He also alleged that black folks in the old South were so happy working the fields for white masters when he was kid that they spent their Jim Crow years singing "Dixie" rather than the blues. The implied racism grabbed less attention.

In the days since, material has surfaced demonstrating that views expressed in the GQ interview were not isolated and, when compared to a sermon delivered during 2010 at Berean Bible Church in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, rather mild.

In response, the A&E network suspended Phil from at least some future episodes of what reportedly is a popular television series.

Fundamentalist and Evangelical Christians are up in arms about the suspension, a mild slap on the wrist by a company that most likely has been falling to its collective knees regularly heretofore, praying that Phil would just shut up and stop granting interviews.

Most likely, Phil isn't that distressed. It'll do wonders for the Duck Dynasty brand as the faithful launch petitions and flock to Wal-Mart in a show of solidarity to buy Dynasty products --- apparently there are quite a few of them.

If you're Southern Baptist (Phil is Church of Christ), you may hear more about Phil from the pulpit Sunday than the baby Jesus.

What a wonderful classically American kerfluffle.


Now Phil had every right to say what he said about gay people, black people and practically anything else, but in this day and age there will be consequences.

Back when I was a pup, that wasn't the case. Folks could say vile things about us anywhere and at any time they wanted to --- including during prime-time in the media --- and hearty "amens," or yawns, would have been the most likely responses.

But times have changed. Bile spat at gay people now comes principally from the conservative wing of the Christian church. And  GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation), the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations and LGBT individuals and their allies are listening, watching and calling to account.


I'm not a huge fan of the Bible --- too many begats and too many gory myths related to primitive cultures. But I do read the Gospels and appreciate some, but not all, of the writings attributed to Paul.

Since I read the old book selectively, as does everyone else, my version of Christianity reduces its principal directives regarding interpersonal relationships to words attributed to Jesus and reported this way in the Gospel according to Matthew (Chapter 22): "When the Pharisees heard that he (Jesus) had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 'Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?' He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.'”

And quite frankly, I don't see much of this these days in fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christianity, that place where Phil Robertson is coming from. These guys love hell, consigning people to it and talking about sex, but love God? Love your neighbor? Not so much.

So I say it's time to get to work on putting the "Christ" back in Christian. The fields are white already to harvest.

THE UNITED METHODISTS shot themselves in the foot again this week by defrocking the Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor of a small congregation in central Pennsylvania who officiated at the marriage of his gay son back in 2007 in Massachusetts, where same-sex marriage was perfectly legal. Schaefer had been tried earlier by a denominational jury, found guilty and suspended --- offered the opportunity to repent. He didn't.

Something similar happened closer to home back in 1999 when Jimmy Creech, one of my favorite (former) United Methodist pastors, was defrocked for similar reasons in Nebraska.

Although gay people may join United Methodist congregations, providing they sit in the back pew, the denomination's Book of Discipline declares homosexuality "incompatible with Christian teaching," "Self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" may not be ordained, however, nor may United Methodist Churches host, or its preachers bless, same-sex unions.

United Methodists are caught between a rock and a hard place on this one. There are many welcoming and affirming United Methodist congregations. On the other hand, there are many that aren't. And somewhere in the middle rests the majority, where preachers and church councils cower in corners praying that no one brings the subject up.

On the one hand, you can't really blame church officials for upholding the law of the denomination. On the other, you can fault the denomination as a whole for ignoring the Gospel in pursuance of the law.

Although many United Methodists, perhaps a majority in the United States, would like to see the Book of Discipline defanged, Methodists worldwide, many from conservative developing nations, vote at General Conference, too. And when their votes are combined with those of conservative U.S. Methodists revision becomes unlikely.

And if the Book of Discipline were revised, chances are splits far more dramatic than those that already have occurred in the Episcopal, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Presbyterian Church U.S.A. would occur.

Good luck on this one.

HOW ABOUT THAT POPE FRANCIS? You've got to like the guy for toning down the rhetoric from the Vatican and shifting the spoken emphasis to areas like feeding the hungry and comforting the afflicted.

There was, however, considerable debate in the gay community when one of our influential magazines, The Advocate, canonized him "Person of the Year."

That seems overly optimistic to me, more aspirational than factual. Nothing has changed, after all, within the Roman church. Gay people sit in the back pew there, too, along with women. It remains to be seen if there will be changes in substance to reflect the shift in rhetoric.

If I were shopping for a religious type to declare "person of the year," I'd have opted for that Methodist guy, Frank Schaefer, who chose family rather than denominational values when supporting his son, then stood firmly on his principles.


Anonymous said...

According to the study notes in my NIV Bible, in the era of I Corinthians 11:14 many cultures considered long hair appropriate and masculine for men. In the culture of Corinth it was considered a sign of male prostitution or pagan temples and women with short hair were considered prostitutes. I'm not sure just how your quoting this verse, and your less than complimentary remarks about the Bible, Christianity in general and more specifically the Methodist Church puts "Christ back in Christian."

Katherine Bertram said...

Back in the early 90s, right after Philadelphia came out, the Methodist Minister in Thornton gave a sermon on being welcoming and accepting of homosexuals. He barely stepped away from the pulpit before they transferred him toa different church. It was one of my first steps toward becoming an atheist.