Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Was Jesus "Anti Slut-Shaming"?

As I go through the list of supposed teaching or positions which Jesus had, this one is such a bizarre statement, I wasn't really sure how to respond. Since the list did not include much in the way of verse references, I am assuming this refers to the woman caught in adultery brought before Jesus in John 8. This is where Jesus utters the now famous words, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (verse 8), and people usually like to draw attention to His words to the woman, "Neither do I condemn you" (verse 11).
Typically, I have heard or read this used as a don't-be-judgmental argument. Usually it is accompanied by a statement like, "You're not perfect either. Who are you to judge?"
Given the wording of the statement, "anti slut-shaming," I am assuming this implies that Christians are engaged in shaming the more freely sexually active members of society.
Just as a personal observation, this is usually pointed out by people who see no distinction between actual hypocritical judgmental-ism and someone simply voicing a belief or warning a friend/loved-one of what they see as harmful behavior.
I have even had friends who are well aware of the gory details of my past say something like, "Who are you to tell me not to do X? I've seen your misdeeds first-hand." Yes, and I have the scars from it as well, which is why I give the warning.
It is entirely in the realm of possibility for someone, out of a heart of love and caring, not judgmental-ism and hypocrisy, to say, "Hey, what you're doing is unwise, wrong, or even a sin." This absurd idea permeating our culture about being "tolerant" is completely ridiculous. It's not hateful, judgmental, or intolerant to simply tell someone you think they are wrong or their behavior is wrong.
If that skewed idea of tolerance is a person's starting point, then no serious discussion or conversation is possible. We all have to put up with and get along with people who believe and do things differently than we do. Sometimes even on deeply moral issues. It is entirely possible to disagree on these issues without thinking the other person is a vile human being. Thinking otherwise derails any sense of relation or discourse people can have and is utterly useless as a worldview.
Hope I wasn't unclear.
Now, as for the teaching of Jesus on "slut-shaming". Anyone who calls themselves a follower of Christ certainly has no business engaging in hateful or shaming behavior. I am convinced that most of the "judgmental-ism" or shaming behavior that conservative Christians get labelled with is based on the ridiculous idea of "tolerance" mentioned above, not because they are "casting stones".
In the case of the adulteress, amusing the charges weren't bogus, she was actually guilty. At no point is her guilt denied or is her behavior dismissed as being OK. Jesus may not have slapped a scarlet A on her chest, but His lack of condemnation was not acceptance or approval of her actions. In fact, after He says, "Neither do I condemn you," His very next words are "go and sin no more." Jesus is acknowledging that what she was doing was indeed a sinful act and that her life needed to change.
This is not a passage about judging. We all make all sorts of judgments about all kinds of things all the time. You couldn't go through life without making judgments. This is not even a passage about judgmental-ism. There are other passages you can go to about that. As stated above, Christians are called to love and not to condemn based on our own opinions or traditions, but on God's standard.
This passage is about the hypocrisy of the religious elite who were trying to set a trap for the purpose of discrediting Jesus in order to protect their own positions of power. If hypocritical judgmental-ism is indeed the activity a Christian is engaged in, then that would be wrong. 
Jesus does not judge or shame the woman. However, He also does not give her a free pass on her sin. He extends her grace and mercy, but those things presuppose wrong-doing or being deserving of judgment in the first place. Then He urges her to go and change her ways. 
The important thing here is the attitude of graciousness exhibited by Christ against the backdrop of self-righteous judgmental-ism by the ones bringing the charge. As followers of Christ we are to exhibit the same gracious attitude that Christ had for sinners. If we do not, then we are not following our Lord. But that does not mean we have a permissive attitude regarding sin. We should speak the truth, but do so out of love, not judgment (Ephesians 4:15).

Monday, April 28, 2014

What Did Jesus Teach?

OK, so I am responding to a post I saw on Facebook that included a list of supposed positions that Jesus held on a variety of issues. Almost the entire list is the exact opposite positions held by most conservative Christians in America. The point, it seemed, was to say, "Here is what Jesus REALLY taught." As if to say Christians are really just a bunch of hypocrites. Well hypocrites we may be, but you'd be hard pressed to find any person on the planet who can't carry that label for something. However, the issue of what Jesus meant and what He taught is an interesting claim.
For the benefit of skeptical friends, to give a bit of perspective, to maybe show conservative Christian positions are not simply the product of closed-minded, anti-progressive bigotry, and to at least spur some conversation on these issues, I am walking down the list and trying to address where I see Jesus' teaching or words being misinterpreted or outright twisted to mean something else.
Here are the points on the list which seemed to me to be loaded and most likely to be based on faulty understanding of what Jesus taught.
Anti-Death Penalty
Anti-Public Prayer
Never Anti-Gay
Never Anti-Abortion or Birth Control
Never called the Poor "Lazy"
Never Justified Torture
Never pro tax cuts for wealthy
Never asked a Leper for a co-pay
Community Organizer
I dealt with Christ's teaching on violence in a previous article, and will just walk up the list answering these issues in articles to come.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Did Jesus Teach Non-Violence?

In sense, yes He did. We, as individuals are not to be people who attain our goals or spread our beliefs by force. However, I think it is a stretch to extend that idea into total pacifism. Can a Christian use force, even deadly force, to defend him/her self? Is a Christian still consistent in their beliefs if they support a particular war?

A few things need to be considered. What was Jesus' overall purpose, and what was the context of his teachings that bear some weight to the issue at hand?

Overall, Jesus' purpose was to not teach mere moral behavior or a particular philosophical system. It was the transformation of hearts, the forgiveness of sins, and foremost, the reconciliation of sinners to the God who they rebel against. The central problem being the rebellion of man against God. Christ came to expose the sin of pride in all mankind and to call us to abandon that pride and trust in God. This call was in general to all people, but the response to it is intensely individual. Christ's teachings are rarely a blanket statement to society, but a call to individuals to exhibit a certain righteousness in their own life. Every saying, deed, parable, and teaching of Christ must be viewed in that purpose or it will be wrongly understood.

Also, there are things which are shaded by our own cultural and societal idioms which would have meant something completely different, or at least more specific, to a 1st century Jew in Palestine. We have to try and not read our own feelings into the words of Jesus, but find out what message His words were conveying to those people at that time.

With that in mind, there are a handful of verses people go to when claiming that Jesus was anti-violence. We will take a look at each in turn.

Matthew 5:39 - "But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

Turning the other cheek has become synonymous with not fighting back at all in any situation. But is that what Jesus meant? In a right-handed world, to be struck on the right cheek is a backhanded slap. This is not speaking of an instance of mistreatment or assault in general. This is a specific act of humiliation. This verse is also grouped in with teachings to "go the extra mile" (Roman soldiers could force you to carry their pack for up to a mile) and if someone sues you for your cloak to "give them your tunic also" (in a world without climate control, taking a man's cloak would leave him exposed to the elements). These are all instances that would be dehumanizing and humiliating to the individual. Times where our arrogance and pride would seek retribution, not justice but vengeance. The point here is not pacifism because violence is evil, but swallowing our pride. It's our pride that leads us to sin, rebel against God, and choose our own way.

Matthew 26:51-52, "And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword."

What is Jesus saying here? Is He saying to not ever use a sword in any instance? I think a good argument could be made in the negative. Rather that putting the emphasis on the sword, put the emphasis on the "live by". If this passage is saying anything about violence, it is simply saying that violence is not the means to accomplish the goal. Genuine repentence and love for God cannot be forced. Faith cannot be conjured at the point of a sword. While there is certainly truth in the idea that a life characterized by violence (live by the sword) will most likely lead to a bad end (die by the sword), I am not sure that can be extrended as a blanket statement to embrace total pacifism.

However, use of violence or lack of is not the point of this passage. Jesus is being arrested. A brash disciple pulls a sword and tries to defend Jesus. But Jesus had been telling them for years that this moment would eventually come. His arrest and crucifiction are all part of the plan. Jesus' rebuke to the disciple is not anti-violence but due to lack of understanding what is going on. In the very next verse Jesus continues, "Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" (Matthew 26:53-54)

John 18:36 - "Jesus answered, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world."

This is Jesus before Pilate being grilled about being the "King of the Jews". Pilate is thinking in terms of an actual rebellion against Rome. Any insight this might have on the non-violence issue I think is pretty clear that Jesus' words here make the point that the power of His Kingdom is not to be exercised or spread in this world by violent means. Again, faith cannot be conjured with a sword. Repentence and faith must be genuine.

So, is it ever ok for a Christian to use or support the use of violence?

We see Jesus on at least one occasion overturning tables in the temple and driving men out with a whip. (Matt 21, Mark 11, Luke 19, John 2) That seems a bit violent to me.

One thing that is consistent is Jesus' commands to love others. I do not think it is a stretch to include in that love any actions necessary to protect and defend innocents. An evil person intent on harm sometimes can only be stopped with violent means. I do not see an inconsistency in Christ's teachings for that taking place.

As for war, aside from if you take His words to Pilate in John 18 to mean Christianity is not spread by war (which is not a stretch at all), Jesus never really addresses the issue of war. Other places in Bible talk about roles and purposes of government. There is a whole other, detailed issue on whether or not there is "just war". But I do not see Jesus Himself specifically addressing that issue. He had a specific focus to His ministry and teachings before dying on the cross: preach the Gospel, prepare the Apostles, and expose the religious hypocrisy of His day which stood in the way.

Can a nation wage war to protect it's people? Perhaps each specific war is to be judged on an individual basis, but I think based on Christ's focus of individual-holiness, the general idea is not inconsistent with Christianity.