Archive for Christianity

Same-Sex Marriage, and Why the Church Should Just Drop It

Posted in current events, opinion, politics, religion with tags , , , , , , on May 11, 2012 by Kyle Fleming

In the past week, two vastly important events occurred regarding the LGBT community. First, North Carolinians make their voices heard in the voting booth on Tuesday, passing a state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage by defining it as between one man and one woman.

Two days later, President Obama, in an interview with ABC News, came out personally in favor of same-sex marriage, becoming the first sitting US President to do so.

It’s been an absolutely bipolar week of achievements and heartaches, and it’s something that almost everyone has touched on, which is why I was hesitant to write this article. However, a Facebook friend of mine recently posted an article entitled Why Same-Sex Marriage Perverts the Relationship Between Christ and His Church. In it, the author argues that Christian marriage is defined in the Bible as between one man and one woman, because it is representative of the Church. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians:

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. — Ephesians 5:22-27

Personally, I thought it was a very enlightening article. That is, if you believe that marriage is defined by the church, and don’t completely understand why the LGBT community is fighting for marriage equality.

Any church denomination would be hard-pressed to redefine their definition of marriage because there is so much biblical backing for the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage, as evidenced by the citing of Scripture in this article. Everyone in the LGBT community understands this. It would be pointless to make the Church do anything, since they are an entity all of their own, exempt from taxes and protected to their own freedoms by the Constitution.

What the LGBT community is fighting for is LEGAL marriage equality, as defined by the government. Legal marriage gives couples over 1000 rights as married couples, such as being able to visit your significant other in the emergency room, government assistance benefits, and tax breaks, among other things.

The problem with this fight is that same-sex marriage opponents often conflate the two, thinking that what the LGBT community is fighting is some kind of “war” on traditional marriage. That’s not even close to the truth. Individual churches may choose whether or not couples can be married in the church, but even when same-sex couples are denied, they should still be able to go to the court house and find a Justice of the Peace, just like any other couple who doesn’t want a church wedding can do.

Having a “Christian” definition of marriage, to me, raises up a bunch of other questions. Like, if marriage is a Christian institution, why are people not as angry when straight Muslim, Jewish, or atheist couples get married? What is it about same-sex couples, some of whom have been together for upwards of 30 years, destroying the “sanctity” of an institution that has a 60% divorce rate?

Someone in the comments thread on Facebook pointed out that the crux of the argument in the article is that, in a same-sex marriage, there is no one to submit to the other. Two men can’t submit to each other because the man is the ruler of the household. Two rulers means no one is submissive. Which would be correct, if people still valued traditional gender roles and were as two-dimensional as some would believe.

As far as I’m aware, two people getting married has little to no effect on a massive organization like Christianity. I really don’t see what the big deal is.

New Pew Study: Upsetting, But Not Surprising

Posted in current events, religion with tags , , , on September 29, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

In a study released by the Pew Research Poll yesterday, it was discovered that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than those who subscribe to a faith. Out of 32 questions, atheists and agnostics answered an average of 20.9 questions correctly. An average score across all of those polled was 16 out of 32 questions correct.

While these answers may enrage some people, it shouldn’t be entirely shocking. In the realm of modern society, it is often the atheists that are seen as well rounded and intelligent, while Christians are often seen as ignorant and unintelligent. The fact that atheists and agnostics are more knowledgeable about other religions can appear to play into that mindset, as the questions in the survey included all religions, from Christianity to Buddhism to Islam.

These results also aren’t shocking because there are countless videos online of atheists proving that Christians are stupid and the Bible is flawed. When asked about the Bible or Christianity, Christians are continually shown to be unknowledgable about their own beliefs.

Looking at these results logically, they seem to have a straightforward explanation. Atheists and agnostics, in an effort to find a belief system to subscribe to, explore the many different religions and beliefs that the world has to offer. They study and explore these faiths, and only when they have examined all avenues do they decide. This wide exposure to religion allows them to be well-versed in everything, which may be the cause of such high scores.

While the results do seem disappointing, I feel that this should be a call for people of all faith to do the same. Explore your religion deeper (as the majority of people could not name Martin Luther as the initiator of the Protestant movement), and don’t be afraid to learn more about other religions, too. The biggest problem with religious debates, as I’m sure I’ve stated before, is that people are unknowledgeable about other points of view.

People see Americans, especially American Christians, as ignorant because they refuse to see a different point of view. And the survey seems to prove that statement true. However, this doesn’t mean that it has to stay this way. As with everything in this world, things change. We can use this information to instigate some change.

This study should be a call for people of all faiths and non-faiths to take the time to learn more about the religions of our world. I don’t know how to say it any clearer. Take the time to go beyond stereotypes and learn about the world around us. Improve your mind. Improve yourself.

The Stigma of Christianity

Posted in religion with tags , , , on August 4, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Shocking news broke last week in the world of literature: author Anne Rice has quit Christianity. The status updates on her Facebook page spell out exactly how she feels:

For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being “Christian” or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to “belong” to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.

… I’m out. In the name of Christ, I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of …Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.

It’s a decision that doesn’t come lightly. The day before, Rice posted several links of unChristian-like behavior in the world, including the punk rock ministry group You Can Run But You Cannot Hide stating that Muslims that kill homosexuals are more moral than American Christians, and children of Westboro Baptist Church members firmly believing that all Americans are going to Hell.

Anne Rice’s decision to quit Christianity but still remain in Christ is an interesting, and all too common, decision. And in one status update, she poses and interesting question: “When does a word become unusable? When does it become so burdened with history and horror that it cannot be evoked without destructive controversy?”

The history of Christianity is one that is mired with controversy. From the Crusades in the 13th Century, in which European Christians slaughtered Muslims and Jews in an attempt to win back the Holy Land, to the hate-filled preachers and actions of today, Christianity is a label that many people try to avoid. In fact, the difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Christ is so profound, that many people have written about it. It’s such a big topic of discussion that one church has outlined the difference in a series of video parodies.

It’s a topic that I’ve turned in my mind many times, and still do to this day. Being a Christian has a certain stigma to it. As an outsider looking in, it seems that being a Christian means to hate groups that are not like yours, to live the opposite of what is preached, and to vote straight-ticket Republican.

That kind of stigma could explain why so many people are turning away from organized religion, and instead searching for their own religious affiliation. Ghandi once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” For many, this is a wake-up call to find something better.

And it should be a wake-up call. When Christians are called to love but instead go out and spread hate, they are acting completely against the narrative. There needs to be a major paradigm shift, and it needs to happen now.

I wish Anne Rice the best of luck. I hope she realizes she has a massive support group of like-minded people, and that she is not alone in trying to confront the hypocrisy.

Children’s Bible Misses the Point

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , , , on July 7, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

A couple of weeks ago, I was wandering around a Waldenbooks book store that was in the mall, and for fun, I decided to check out the children’s Bibles. I remember getting one when I was a kid, and I was more enthralled by the drawings of the people and the animals with huge eyes than the actual stories. Really, I was curious as to how simplified the stories would be, and if there was any improvement in the illustrations.

But one of the Bibles I found made my jaw drop. It had all of the traditional stories of the Bible–Creation, Noah’s Ark, Jonah and the Big Fish, Jericho, Birth of Jesus and all of his Miracles–except for one important and crucial story: the Death and Resurrection.

Anyone who has ever been a Christian in their entire lives knows that those two events in the life of Jesus are the whole reason there is such thing as Christianity in the world today. It’s one of those things that can be boiled down to an “If you only learn one thing today” statement: If you only learn one thing, it’s that Jesus died and rose again to save us from our sins.

Simple. Easy. It’s in the Apostle’s Creed even: I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord… was crucified, died, and was buried. On the third day, he rose again, and ascended into Heaven.

So why is it missing from this childrens’ Bible?

I’ll admit, sometimes it’s hard to talk about the death of Jesus. We have to deal with it for 40 days of Lent. It’s a tough topic to preach on, and many people have to actually force themselves to go to church during Lent. And I’ll also admit that trying to explain something as complicated as death and resurrection to small children will take a lot of creativity.

But imagine what that kid is going to think the first time he or she hears about the crucifixion of Jesus. He or she will probably turn to the parents and say, “What are they doing to Jesus?”

“Oh, they’re crucifying him. It’s part of the life of Jesus in the Bible.”

“No it isn’t.” And out comes the children’s Bible, which ends with Jesus performing a lot of miracles and living a happy life.

Hopefully this child is taught about the Crucifixion before they see Passion of the Christ for the first time. It could be disastrous going into that blind.

How can such an important aspect of a religion just be left out of a Bible? It’s a question I’ve been tossing around in my head every so often since I saw that Bible. It’s like Scientology without Xenu. It’s like Buddhism without the enlightenment. It’s like Harry Potter without wizardry.

A s’more without chocolate is just a sticky, burnt marshmallow between graham crackers, just like a Bible without Jesus’ death and resurrection is just a story about a nice guy that did a lot of cool things for different people.

When you leave out the most important part of the story, you take out the entire reason the story existed in the first place. For those with or expecting children, check your children’s Bibles. Make sure you’re giving them the full message.

Is The Bible Infallible?

Posted in religion with tags , , , , on June 30, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

Of all of the differences between denominations in the Christian faith, one of the biggest and most important to many is whether or not the Bible should be treated as the infallible Word of God, or whether the Bible should be treated as partly historical, and partly allegorical.

In this article from Religious Tolerance, interpretation of the Bible falls into three categories: the complete Word of God, completely infallible and always relevant to the user; contains the Word of God, but also contains items that we should reject because they go against the Word of God; and a wide-ranging human document, written by humans with agendas, containing folklore and myths, and was compiled and edited by other humans.

Different denominations in Christianity have different ways of interpreting the Scripture. Fundamentalist Christians, like Baptists, tend to view the Bible in the first interpretation, being the infallible Word of God. They believe that the Holy Spirit intervened in the minds of the authors and editors of the Bible, making it divinely inspired. This sort of believe means that the creation stories and the stories of Noah, Jonah, and the rest of the cast of characters is undeniably true.

Meanwhile, the “religiously liberal” believe that the Bible, being written, compiled and edited by humans, is bound to have some errors. I believe that Wartburg College can be part of this “religiously liberal” sect, as I remember learning in my religion class that several stories in the Bible–including the stories of Job, Noah, Jonah, the Tower of Babel, the Battle of Jericho, the Creation, and several others–are merely folktales, and did not actually happen.

Personally, I’m of the camp that says that while the Bible may contain the Word of God, it was also handled by humans, so there will be human biases in some of the writings. Some of the Bible is not relevant in today’s world, such as the directions on how to treat your slaves, and not allowing midgets or cripples to take communion. Of course, I also believe that this sort of thing also permeates into the New Testament as well, because although the Apostle Paul wrote most of the Epistles, a lot of the Epistles don’t follow the same voice and ideals as the others. The same guy who wrote that we should not conform to this world cannot be the same person who wrote that women are inferior to men.

But the question also arises: how do we determine where the biases lie? If we believe in a Loving and Caring God, obviously, the biases lie in anything that does against that narrative; any sort of Scripture that goes against loving other people unconditionally is obviously against the will of God, and must be rejected. However, because God is also a Jealous God, maybe some of those biases really don’t exist.

It’s an interesting thing to consider, because many times the issue of Scriptural interpretation makes or breaks relationships between denominations. This is one of those topics where I’m curious as to what you believe: is the Bible infallible, or can it be up for interpretation?

There is No High Score for Christians

Posted in opinion, religion with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

There are many perks to being a Christian: a huge support group, opportunities to personally grow in one’s faith, and a whole genre of music/literature/television/movies, just as in any religion.

Unfortunately, just as with any religion, with all of those positives come quite a few negatives. Christianity has its fair share of extremists and whack-jobs, people who claim to be preaching the love of Christ and practice hatred instead. The biggest offender is probably Fred Phelps, of Westboro Baptist Church fame, though occasionally we will see appearances by Pat Robertson, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and nearly every politician (mostly Republican) lobbying for legislation that oppresses a group of people.

But despite all of that, the thing that most disturbs me is the fact that many Christians feel that, in the quest for eternal life, we must rack up a high score of sorts. Good works + converted souls = Eternity with Christ.

Unfortunately, that is not the case. I’ve not read anywhere in the Bible where it says that God favors those who turn the most people to Christianity. But for some reason, people are all about converting the masses rather than living like Christ.

I see this most often in retreats or conferences I attend. Out of the multitude of speakers with a variety of hit or miss messages, there is always one preacher or presenter that gets up and talks about how the world is on a slippery slope into damnation, and it is up to us Christians to win the world back for God. I’ve heard stories of a battle cry being established, but I personally have not seen nor heard any.

While the idea itself isn’t necessarily bad, the means by which those people achieve ends is frightening. Thinking back throughout history, the conversion of souls to Christianity usually involves a lot of bloodshed, like in the Crusades, or the violent conversions of the Native Americans. And while there is little to no bloodshed in the modern age, scare tactics and violence are often the method of choice for showing people that Christ is a loving deity.

Who hasn’t heard the fire and brimstone preacher shout to his congregation that non-believers will be thrown into a lake of fire for all eternity, forever suffering the stench of seared flesh and the crushing pain of eternal torture? Because it’s certainly not a metaphor or anything. But that’s another entry.

The point is, being a Christian isn’t like playing Halo (or for the older crowd, Super Mario Brothers). After you die, you don’t enter your initials into Heaven and hope like crazy some punk with a few extra tokens is going to beat you. Most rushed conversions don’t really blossom into anything meaningful anyway; like the parable of the seeds, sometimes the seed is choked out by weeds, and sometimes it is eaten by birds.

I’m sure I’ve led my fair share of people to Christ. In fact, I can think of a couple of instances of where by purely loving someone and being there for them, I’ve helped them see that Christianity isn’t a religion of ignorance, but one of acceptance. Thing is, I’m sure there are many more that I’m completely unaware of.

I’m not in it to see my name in flashing lights. I’m in it because there is nothing better. Shouldn’t it be the same way for everyone else?

The Dalai Lama’s Message of Peace

Posted in religion with tags , , , , , , , , on May 19, 2010 by Kyle Fleming

The Dalai Lama made his first trip to Iowa on Monday and Tuesday. It was a unique experience for those who went. Sadly, I was unable to get tickets to either event (both were sold out), but from what I’ve read in the article and heard from people who went, it was a unique experience.

The Dalai Lama is the political and spiritual leader-in-exile of Tibet. Even though he’s not allowed in the country, he still controls the people. The Des Moines Register described him as “light-hearted,” and even describes an incident where he had to stifle laughter: “When told about a young man who fathered 23 children in high school, he had to stifle a chuckle after hearing the story from a translator.”

But despite the light-hearted personality of the Dalai Lama, what was important about the visit was his message of peace, ethics, and education.

The representatives that we hear about today are all about violence. Their rhetoric is militant: “Don’t retreat, reload,” and fighting new hypothetical wars. There is no room in American rhetoric to be peaceful, and those who do preach peace are soft-hearted pansies, definitely Liberal, and most likely a New Age vegetarian hippy.

The Dalai Lama’s message was refreshing. He called for educating both “the head and the heart,” acting ethically for “one human family,” and not falling into the “traps of violence” that we as Americans so easily fall into. He realized that a lot of the world’s problems are caused by man, and only man can fix them through peace and cooperation.

While the Dalai Lama admits that he would be a terrible professor because he is “kind of lazy,” he is an amazing teacher that knows how to preach a message that all faiths can fall behind. Christianity, Islam, and many other religions get bad publicity because they are perceived as violent religions. And even though many pundits would like to paint “social justice” and “equality” as bad things, it is extremely important to practice exactly those principles.

The “second formation” of Immanuel Kant’s “Categorical Imperative” is, “Act so that, whether in yourself or another, you treat yourself or another as ends and not means only,” meaning that we should be treating our fellow humans as worthwhile creatures, and not just a way to get what we want. American society today practically preaches using people as a means to an end only: drunken women are only good for getting sex, rich men are only good for getting jewelry, and so on. There is no longer any respect for our fellow humans; we are too individualized to see the consequences of our actions. In an “every man for himself” world, we miss the big picture of being a global community.

We can learn something from the Dalai Lama’s visit. As someone who is not jaded by material struggles and being bigger and better, he sees what a lot of the world can’t see: in the end, it’s all about loving ourselves and loving others.

“You have the truth,” he says. “Be patient and do your work.”