The Rick Warren Bru-ha-ha

December 20, 2008

I am of two minds on the Rick Warren matter.

My first reaction is to say, “Look, I don’t like the guy either. I don’t agree with his theology. I don’t agree with his politics. But it isn’t like he was chosen to be the minister-in-chief or something. He is giving an invocation. I know it has a lot of symbolic meaning, but it doesn’t have any practical consequences in and of itself. It is a gesture of the president elect to say, ‘I am not a president only to progressives or to liberals, but a president to the whole country.’ And, there are big parts of the country that can identify with Rev. Rick Warren. And, as conservative evangelical pastors go, he is one of the less offensive ones who has at least made some overtures toward changing the tone of the rhetoric. My hope is that it is a gesture that will soften the hearts of those who would tend to be more opposed to Obama and his policies. It will not solve many problems, but it is a gesture of unity, which people are always talking about. You know, one country, working out our differences and that sort of thing. By saying all of this, I don’t mean to say that I don’t understand why people don’t like it. Heck, I don’t like it either. But I see it as a strategic move that may help in the long run with things that matter more than who gives the invocation at the inauguration.” (It is of course another matter whether there should be invocations and benedictions at inaugurations anyway.)

That said, it occurred to me how often discrimination against women or the GLBTQ community can often be chalked up to theology, while few people will stand for discrimination against ethnic minorities chalked up to theology. I try to imagine if someone gave the invocation that said that they still supported slavery based on theology. Or that women should obey thier husbands based on theology (heck, Warren may agree with the second of those statements). What would it mean to have someone give the invocation as a gesture of unity and goodwill who was known to support legalized discrimination against women – that they should get paid less, that rape should be less of a crime, that they should not have inheritance rights? Hmm. No matter how symbolic or strategic that would be, I would be feeling really unhappy about this. So then I started rethinking what I said above.

And now I just don’t know. The thing is, so many of these difficult issues are totally intrackable. “We” dig in our heals. “They” dig in their heels. We write on our blogs about why we are right. We affirm each other at our churches about why we are right. We are smug. We know whose side God is on. And where does this get us? What is the way forward toward better understanding each other, finding common ground to work on together, even, dare I say it, finding areas where compromise makes sense. I am not talking about any particular issue, but rather all of these very intense social and political issues that are so close to our hearts – all of our hearts – and where it seems so difficult to move forward.

I’m guessing having Rick Warren give the invocation at the inauguration isn’t the answer. But I wish we could come up with a better one that just insisting on how right and just we are and getting offended and indignant. Not that I am somehow immune to this. I do it to. But there must be a better way…

On the question: Can you be a person of faith and a feminist?

December 16, 2008

Wow. There is a post over at, a third-wave feminist blog which I tend to really like (although the style is not always exactly my style), titled Can you love God and feminism? I was a little shocked by the title, but thought that perhaps it was simply meant to be provocative.

Um, I think it was actually serious. And even if it wasn’t meant to be serious, many readers are taking it that way. The post is about a very conservative brand of Christianity that is very sexist, and then somehow asks, from that, if feminism and loving God are somehow incommensurable. I think the author of the post does not really think this, but also has not thought out (well-enough) the implications of her framing. It leaves open the door for the worst framings of Christians and feminists… Christians who must somehow be incapable of valuing equality and the full humanity of all people, or feminists who are somehow incapable of connecting with or unwilling or uninterested in the divine. I feel like to ask, “Can you love God and love feminism?” is like asking, “Can you love men and be a feminist?” Or “Are all feminists feminazis?” It is just a bad way to frame the question that doesn’t do justice to the complexity of the issues or people involved.

As someone whose job and studies as a doctoral student and, you know, like my entire life calling, is, in many ways, at the intersection of feminism and faith, reading many of the comments was like a huge punch in the stomach. I suppose it is good. A good reality check. A good time to reach out to people. A good encouragement to post more about this on my own blog.

I encourage those of you who are are feminists of faith to include your voices in the comments over at the post on feministing. You have to register once in order to comment, but it only takes a second. There are so many posters on there who have clearly been convinced by more conservative parts of religion, particularly Christianity, that the patriarchal versions of Christianity are somehow all there is of it. There are likewise rather naive framings of Paul and Jesus and the bible as all totally feminist friendly. Oh, is there outreach work to be done. What surprises me so much is so many self-identified feminist posters who are so dismissive of the experiences of people who are feminists and people of faith. Like just totally excluding them as valid, dismissing them as “duped” or tricked or just wrong. How very unfeminist.

One question that someone posted that perhaps readers here could help with is: Does anyone have suggestions on where to get your feminist Christian fix? I’ve been trying to find some sort of blog or magazine or anything, and I know there’s a lot of academic work out there, but is there anything a bit more…I don’t know, enjoyable to consume?

Sadly (I need to remedy this) I am much more familiar with the academic work, and not more popular stuff. Anyone have any ideas?

Meet Jesus: My running list of things that would somewhat traumatize lots of people I know

June 14, 2007

I just got a huge kick out of what is probably a great book. It is called Meet Jesus: The Life and Lessons of a Beloved Teacher and it is on the front page of the UUA bookstore website. It is so something I would get for my kids (if I had them) but I just envisioned some of my dear and beloved more traditional Christian friends and relatives and how dreadfully horrible this book would seem to them – you might as well give your kid a book called “How to Be Evil.” This goes in the same category with the tradition at my home UU church where everyone is invited to dress in costume the Sunday closest to Halloween and sing a song called “The Witch Song” with the following chorus:

Who were the witches, where did they come from?
Maybe your great great grandmother was one.
Witches were wise, wise women they say,
And there’s a little witch in every woman today.
There’s a little witch in every woman today.

Perhaps you have to come from a Baptist charismatic background to appreciate the absolute horror that these two very nice UU innovations would invoke. Why makes me laugh, I don’t know. It just does. It would so not be funny if these ideas were even ever mentioned anywhere some of my nearest and dearest. Or in my hometown. So not funny.

Current Issues in Unitarian Universalism

November 27, 2006

Current Issues in Unitarian Universalism is the title of my sermon for the upcoming week. I’m really excited about it and most of what I’ll talk about comes from my enjoyable year or so reading UU blogs, and a little from what I learn about/hear about in divinity school.

I would love to see folks all over the country do more sermons like this one in order that we can feel more connected as a movement/denomination/religion. I know that at the church where I am a student intern minister and at my home congregation it would be easy to be very involved in the congregation and really have very little sense of Unitarian Universalism as a whole/as a coherent movement.

If, as I am, we are concerned about growing at least some (okay, or at least not shrinking) it would seem that we would need to have more of a sense of the association/denomination that we are a part of. I’m all for congregational polity, but I’d like to see a stronger sense of people feeling excited to belong to Unitarian Universalism as a whole, rather than only to their congregation.

I think Protestant denominations need a little less of this since it would be hard NOT to sense that you are part of a big movement called Protestant Christianity, and I think there is absolutely no risk of Catholics not feeling like they are not part of a big movement headed up by the lovely Pope Benedict XV. Plus, if you are Presbyterian (or Methodist or whatever), you know what Presbyterian churches in Florida or New Hampshire or Nevada do, in general, and of course if you are Catholic you know that masses look more or less the same. With Unitarian Universalists, things can be soooo different that you might not recognize another church’s liturgy or they may not even have one. All of this is a long way of saying that I think there ARE issues that we face as a religious/spiritual movement, and there are things that unite us. But perhaps more needs to be said in our congregations so that we can understand what these shared concerns are.

If you were going to do a sermon on this, what issues would you highlight?

Christianity Without Christ? Another Response.

June 16, 2006

So, I read It’s All One Thing‘s response to an April 2005 post on Making Chutney and so I went over and read Making Chutney’s original post and got, I think, the most annoyed that I have ever been in my days of reading UU blogs. Not at Making Chutney (I mean I don’t even know him), but at the particular post and the way that it was written (so self-assured). I started to post a very long comment, but instead thought I would not usurp his comments section with my semi-rant (which I really try to keep to a minimum) and instead take it over to my own little blog and post. So here is his post and below is my response. Deep breaths, Elizabeth. Just calm down. (An area close to my heart….)


Rick Heller recently posted the first of four responses to Bishop John Shelby Spong’s “12 Theses Of Nontheistic Christianity.” Read through them and tell me if you agree:

Someone who (dis)believes what Spong (dis)believes is no longer a Christian. As I wrote in the comments to Rick’s post, if you don’t believe that Jesus is “the Christ,” then you are not a “Christian.” Period. You can play with “Christ” up to a point, but there are only so many shade of meaning you can attach to that word and still get away with it.

Why are so many people who no longer believe what Christians believe so desperate to still call themselves a Christian? Courage, my friends, is a virtue. Play with the language however you like. But if calling Jesus things like “Christ,” “Messiah,” “Son of God,” and “Savior” doesn’t resonate for you, you are at best a heretical Christian. At least own up to that much. Grandma and your childhood Sunday School teacher may not like it, but it’s true nonetheless.


My response:

I know that you posted this in April of last year (apparently) but I can’t help responding having seen it referred to on another blog. I am really shocked that you could think that you or anyone else could have such a monopoly on what being a Christian is and you can just state it so succinctly as if there aren’t centuries of debate on this irresolvable issue. You write about people “who no longer believe what Christians believe,” as if this is some sort of set of beliefs that everyone just KNOWS. As if there is some list of criteria of beliefs that one must been in order to be in the club. First, the term Christian was not even used until at least the second century. It was a term that likely began as a derogatory term, not a term developed by Jesus-followers themselves. The question as to when groups began to either be identified or identify themselves as “Christian” or when it makes sense to begin to call groups “Christian” continues to be a highly disputed point. Thus, if the earliest followers of Jesus weren’t understanding themselves as “Christians” and this only came up later, it is pretty hard to talk about the etymological meaning of the term to be its “real” and most basic meaning (as you write about “Christ” as central to what “Christians” apparently must believe). You can read more about the development of Christian identity(and how and when it began to distinguish itself from Judaism) in Gabriele Boccaccini, “History of Judaism: Its Periods in Antiquity,” in J. Neusner (ed.), Judaism in Late Antiquity 2 Historical Syntheses, Leiden, Netherlands: Brill, 1995: 279-302 and in Judith Lieu’s excellent book on identity in early Christianity in Christian Identity in the Jewish and Graeco-Roman World. For more on Christian identity formation, particularly as it relates to the term Christian, see Lieu, 1-26, 240-241, 250-259.

Your comment on people being “at best” a “heretical” Christian “if calling Jesus things like “Christ,” “Messiah,” “Son of God,” and “Savior” doesn’t resonate for” them so much reduces the possibilities for the ways that Christianity can be understood as a religious identity or practice of faith. So-called heretical Christians did not just show up in the early centuries after Jesus’ death and say “Well, we know what real Christianity is all about, but we have a different take on it so we would like to be the heretical Christians.” Oh no. The religious movement that has come to be known as Christianity has been diverse from its earliest moments. There have always been multiple, diverse, interpretations as to what being a follower of Jesus or part of the Jesus movement or a Christian means. Eventually, in the midst of all this diversity, some groups won out and started calling themselves “real” Christianity and they started calling all those that did not agree with them heretical Christians (and killing them). But just because one group announced that they had the right interpretation and right practices and killed those who were not on board does not mean that everyone else must resign and say, “Well, okay, you guys win. I guess our reading of the Gospel of Thomas is just wrong. We’ll be the heretics.” No no, double no. (That is unless you believe that God ordained some Christians to be “right” and others to be “wrong” in which case I suppose an arguement could be made for heresy, although I don’t think an argument can be made that shows that there was or is some sort of divine force granting some Christians “rightness” while others are wrong. Of course some Christians would disagree, but I’ve yet to see convincing proof of their position.)

I’m terribly afraid that this situation is one of the U.S. American Christian right somehow convincing Making Chutney, along with a bunch of other people that THEY have the monopoly on saying what being Christian means – that is, one must think that Jesus was the Christ, a Messiah, (literal) son of God and a Savior in order for it to be “real” Christianity. I think it is key to realize that people who don’t believe these things and still call themselves Christians are not new age weirdos who just woke up one morning and came up with crazy ideas or “desperate” people with out the “courage” to let go of their old tradition. There is a lloooong history of the Jesus tradition being understood in diverse, and contradicting ways. I think as liberal religious people of faith, in particular, we need to be sensitive to the varying ways that people make sense of their religious identity. To somehow imply that some people who understand themselves as Christians aren’t “real” Christians and are “at best” heretical Christians, seems both disrespectful and inattentive to the development of what we today call Christianity.

I suggest What is Gnostism? by Karen King and Redescribing Christian Origins edited by Ron Cameron and Merrill P Miller as helpful in understanding the diverse array of Christianities that developed in the wake of Jesus’ death. The Gospel of Thomas also helps shed some light on what some early versions of Christianity looked like that did not eventually “make the cut” into orthodoxy and did not understand Jesus as the ressurected savior of the world.

Please excuse the ranting nature of this post. I mean no disrespect, but just feel quite strongly about this and feel as though it is essential to respond strongly against the idea that some people can somehow own what it really means to be a Christian. If we let this go, then we cede the ability to define Christianity to the more conservative (if not right-wing) branches of the faith and, I believe, do an injustice to the messages attributed to Jesus and those messages and themes traditionally claimed by more liberal Christians.