Tag Archives: Christian Church

The Article Every Liberal Needs To Show a Conservative

BoehnerCries-300x162by Allen Clifton – Forward Progressives.
When you’re like me, and I’m assuming there are quite a few, sometimes you hit a point where you can no longer sugarcoat your political arguments.  As you hear the same asinine statements constantly repeated, you just hit a point where you want to stand up and say, “Look you babbling buffoon, let me spell it out for you very simply.”

Now, most times we can’t do this because the person who we’re debating is a friend or relative and we don’t want to be overly rude.

Well, I’ve decided to do it for you.

Here are a few of my simplified responses to the ignorance by many on some key topics being debated in our country (and probably others as well):

*Side note: I’m not going to cover most of the lies against President Obama, I did that previously here.

Gun Rights:

I love when I see Republicans showing off some image of a group of “good ol’ boys” holding shotguns and hunting rifles with some caption like “Want to take our guns? Good luck!”  That or someone holding a handgun with a caption along the lines of “Liberals, come and take this!”

Attention all Fox News Sheeple:

Obama never said he was going to take your hunting rifles or handguns away.  He said he wants universal background checks, a ban on high-capacity magazines and a ban on assault weapons (a ban that every Republican President in the last 30 years, including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush has supported).

So, when you share these pictures, acting as if you’re “getting at liberal ignorance,” all you’re really doing is spreading an image around the internet that showcases how you–and any other Republican who sees it and thinks “EXACTLY!”–don’t know a damn thing about which you’re speaking.

We’re Out to Preserve the Sanctity of Marriage

Unless you want to make divorce illegal, don’t tell me about same-sex marriage “ruining the sanctity of marriage.”

Divorce did that long ago.

Marriage is a Sacred Bond Before God

Alright you religious radicals, I’ll take you on too.

Let’s assume marriage is a “sacred bond before God”.

First, that would eliminate any government involvement to define marriage.  So your push for a government “ban” on same-sex marriage would be pointless.

Second, there are millions of Christians who support same-sex marriage and many churches that would marry gay couples.  So isn’t that up to that particular congregation?

Or do you feel your congregation should control all others?

Which, if you feel your congregation should control all other religions (and rule every American), isn’t that a GIANT violation of the First Amendment, which gives Americans freedom of (or from) religion?

Then if you feel your religion should control all others, and all Americans, you then support a theocracy and apparently oppose the United States and our Constitutionally protected freedoms.

Because this country was largely founded to prevent, not strengthen, theocratic rule.

Same-sex Marriage overall

Honestly, I’m exhausted with the same-sex marriage “debate.”  There is no debate.

Procreation is not a requirement for the right to marry, nor are those who procreate required to get married.

“Homosexuality is a sin” comes from religion.

The term “traditional marriage” is defined from religious text.

Our country does not establish laws based on religion.

Therefore your “arguments” are invalid.

The end.

Republicans: The Party for Christian Values

ENOUGH!

If you want to say you’re the party of “Christian values” and you worship Jesus Christ…

Start by helping the sick, the poor, the needy—not opposing programs that do.

Republicans are for Fiscal Responsibility

Not even close.  There hasn’t been a Republican President that’s balanced the budget since Dwight D. Eisenhower, who served from 1953-1961.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush all drastically increased our national debt.

Republicans are the Party of Small Government

Big government regulations, they’re un-American!  They’re unconstitutional and ruining your way of life!

Unless that big government regulates:

  • What language to speak
  • Religion to follow
  • When life is created
  • Who can marry
  • Who can serve in the military
  • Invasive health procedures on women
  • That we have prayer in school
  • Mosques aren’t built in certain locations
  • Corporations are people
  • The Patriot Act
  • Unions don’t have rights
  • When alcohol can be sold
  • The requirement of an ID to vote

Then those government regulations are just fine.  How “small government” of you, Republicans!

Abortion

Abortion is a Constitutionally protected right.  That isn’t debatable.

You might not agree with abortion, you might think it’s murder, you might think life starts at the moment of conception.

It really doesn’t matter.  Abortion is a Constitutionally protected right—end of story.

So when you, and the party that you support, openly attempt to infringe on that right (or outright says they want to end abortion) you’re supporting a stance that violates a Constitutionally protected right.

For more on the overall hypocrisy of the right wing’s “pro-life” stance, check out this in-depth article.

The Debt Ceiling is About More Government Spending

No, it’s not.  The debt ceiling is about our government paying our bills on money we’ve already spent.

But guess what?  Ronald Reagan raised it 18 times and George W. Bush raised it 7 times.

I Want Big Intrusive Government–That Never Does Anything Good–Out of My Life!

Did you drive today?  Did you take your children to public school?  Did you enjoy a safe commute as you traveled thanks to traffic signals and signs?  Did you whisk through your city or state on an Interstate Highway?  Did you enjoy running water and plumbing that properly, and safely, disposes of waste?  Did you get a college degree at a public university because it was much cheaper than a private one?

Hey genius, that’s all government.

Tax Cuts Create Jobs

No, they don’t.  The rich don’t need more tax breaks, they want more tax breaks.

But guess what?  After you give them those breaks, they’ll want even more the next time.  Isn’t that what Republicans are basically saying now?  They had the Bush tax cuts for a decade, but now they want even more tax cuts.

Their argument will always be, no matter the economic climate, they “need” more tax breaks to create jobs.  Good economy?  “Cut our taxes and we’ll create even more jobs.”   Bad economy?  “Cut our taxes and we’ll create jobs and save the economy.”

Tax breaks don’t create jobs, demand creates jobs.

It’s an endless cycle, and it’s why Trickle Down Economics is a failure.

I’m going to stop there.  I’m sure there are more, and one day I’ll probably do another article covering those as well.

But I highly encourage any liberal/progressive/Democrat (or anyone that’s simply sick of right-wing rhetoric) to share this article so that those who’ve driven you to the brink of insanity when discussing these issues can see a simple counter to their Fox News-fed bullshit.

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Earthly things, wombs and the resurrection of the dead

laz41by Nadia Bolz-Weber

When I first re-entered the Christian faith as an adult, I took a catechumenate class (like an adult confirmation program) at the Lutheran church Matthew and I attended.  This is where I learned about and fell in love with Lutheran theology. It just made sense to me. Mostly. Pastor Ross grew quickly accustomed to my raised hand in the back row as I waited to ask clarifying, and at times, belligerent questions.

The week he taught us about the Apostles’ creed, I remember finding the line I believe in the resurrection of the dead to be particularly difficult to believe. Given various states of decomposition not to mention cremation,  it hardly made sense that at some point human bodies would all rise from the earth. I couldn’t shake the image of it all looking like an end times Thriller video. Half decayed arms reaching through soil and zombie women in torn vintage dresses.

My mind couldn’t make and logical sense out of it so I was sure that this was something we didn’t really have to believe, given how a-rational it is.  So raising my hand from the back row, I said “Um, do we have to believe that actual bodies are going to rise from the dead, because that’s just crazy” Expecting him to say of course not, it’s really just a metaphor and was shocked when instead, Pastor Ross just looked at me and unapologetically said “yes, Nadia. Actual bodies”

I mention this because I kind of relate to Nicodemis from our Gospel reading.  It says that he was Pharisee – a studied man and a religious scholar –  who came to Jesus by night raising his hand from the darkness of the back row to ask him some clarifying, if belligerent questions.  See, Nicodemis was just trying to wrap his brain around this Jesus thing.  He was looking for some basic facts. And trying to apply his reasoning to what he was experiencing about Jesus, he too was finding it all a little crazy. Even to the point of saying one of the most dumb-ass things ever recorded in scripture.  Jesus said you have to be born anew, or born from above and literal minded, logical Nicodemis says to Jesus, what? like, go back into your mom’s womb.  It’s a graphic image we could all do without, and I can only imagine how this made everyone totally cringe when he said it.

But I feel for him.

Because in typical Jesus fashion he doesn’t really answer the question but says even more crazy sounding stuff like the wind blows where it chooses and that’s what being born of spirit is like and then some stuff about Moses lifting up snakes in the wilderness.

And exactly none of it is very helpful in providing some facts which our minds can make sense of.

Basically because the Gospel just isn’t like that.  There’s no reason for the church to lean toward anti-intellectualism but the thing is, The Gospel is not domesticatable enough for the mind to grasp.  It’s wilder than that. Like wind. It’s more beautiful and a-rational than reason alone can contain.  That’s why we need stuff and not just ideas. I’ve heard it said that Christianity isn’t spiritual (or, I would add, intellectual) it’s material.  You can’t even get started without a river, some bread and a jug of wine.

I understand Nicodemis’s desire for this all to make sense. I do. But instead of a religion revealed through philosophical constructs – easily reasoned out and understood, instead we get a God inconveniently revealed in people, and food and wine and water and bodies and pies and oil and beer. When God chose to come and take on human flesh and walk the earth and break bread with friends it was as though God was baptizing the material.  As though to say “stop looking for me in the heavens when you aren’t even close to understanding the majesty of a loaf of bread” or as Jesus puts it, if you can’t understand earthly things you’ll never understand heavenly things.

And understanding the heavenly within the earthly, the transcendent within the mundane, is not an intellectual logical, reason-based experience. You can’t make the gospel make sense by using your head.  You have to use your hands.  And eyes, and mouth, and ears and nose. Because the kingdom of heaven, as Jesus says, is At HAND, reach out and touch it, see it, eat it, feel it. In other words, take in the glory of God in the common, unexpected and totally crazy ways in which our Lord Jesus Christ still seems to be redeeming us.

The next time we see Nicodemis, later in John’s Gospel, he is trying to defend Jesus against his fellow Pharisees. Many want to kill Jesus, who’s still ranting nonstop about blood and bread and light and salvation, but Nicodemus, who clearly still doesn’t get it, says rather weakly that maybe they should give Jesus a hearing and learn the facts.

There won’t be any facts, of course, until the unavoidable fact of the cross. [1]Which is where, against all logic, we meet Nicodemus for the last time.

And we know he finally got it because when we meet him again in chapter 19 he is doing something crazy.  He is carrying 100# of oils and spices. He takes the broken and yet to be resurrected body of his Lord Jesus and he wraps it lovingly in myrrh and aloe and strips of cloth. It seems a pound or two of such things would have done the trick.  But instead, Nicodemis casts his crown of logic and philosophy at the foot of the cross of Jesus and instead picks up an embarrassingly extravagant amount of stuff…material, earthly, touchable, carry-able stuff and does what he can in the light of such love.  He got it.  Or maybe more accurately, it got him. We know this because carrying 100# of oils and spices around is just plain Gospel-crazy.

I’m not sure the Gospel makes sense though facts and philosophy, but I have seen it recently in the stack of pies Ruthie is carrying every time I see her. And in the burritos and cocktails Meg and MK carried into the ER when Kathleen busted her ankle. And in the Honey and lemons Pastor Brian carried over to my house last time I was sick.

Love combined with people and actual earthly stuff is the only way we really glimpse heaven sometimes.

So if you are here thinking this is crazy. Bread that is the body and wine that is the blood of Christ?  Forgiveness of sins? Water that combined with God’s word somehow brings us new life and wholeness? Loving enemies? Turning cheeks? You are right. It’s all pretty nuts. AND totally the most true thing I’ve ever heard or experienced. And best of all, it’s for you.  All of it. The oil and ashes and the bread and wine and pies and burritos and – all revealing the glory of God  – all revealing heavenly things among earthly things.

Now, that whole resurrection of the dead thing I struggled with 18 years ago in my confirmation class, still seems pretty nuts. But last Sunday, when Ellen and Bobbie Jo and myself lovingly touched the paraplegic, broken, and yet to be resurrected body of Amy Mack, when I gently traced the sign of the cross on her forehead –I couldn’t help but believe in the resurrection of her body. I couldn’t help but know that all flesh will be redeemed.  That the suffering in our bodies – due to injury or illness, paraplegia or physical abuse, aging or self-harm – that the promise of the resurrection of the dead is that somehow God is able to knit it all back together like God knit it together in our mother’s wombs to begin with.  Perhaps we do re-enter out mother’s wombs in so far as we return to where God put together limb to limb to begin with. Because, as we heard in our first reading, this is the God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.

Somehow, for me, as I traced the sign of the cross on the cool forehead of our Amy, my fingers easily gliding over the oil to form the cross, I was taken back to 4 days earlier when I made the same sign on baby Willa’s head, on skin just hours old, with ashes. Remembering that we are God’s and to God we return And that 27 year old back row skeptic whose mind could not grasp the resurrection of the dead now could do nothing but hear Pastor Ross say, yes Nadia, actual bodies.

I believe. Help my unbelief.

This is the faith of Nicodemus, maybe like the faith of you and me, and it is in a God who saves us despite what we think we know. Who works despite our disbelief, beyond our best logical arguments, to bring the dead to life, call into existence that which does not yet exist, and to make all things, everywhere, new.[2]

Which is why for a couple millennia, Christians have gathered to say that crazy thing: we believe in the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

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[1] These 3 sentences stolen from my friend Sara Miles (with permission)
[2] These 2 sentences stolen shamelessly from my friend Sara Miles (with permission).

You can listen to this sermon by clicking here.

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nadiaNadia Bolz-Weber is an ordained Lutheran minister, and the mission developer for House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS) in Denver, Colorado. They are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination.

Click here for more info on HFASS.

Nadia Bolz-Weber is also the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television.

Meaningless Church Jargon

blahby Nadia Bolz-Weber

After my quiet time with the Lord, where I was bathing in prayer, God laid it on my heart to be a transformational leader by just loving up on my blog readers and offering them some ideas from my missional imagination.

Earlier this morning, I saw a tweet from @JesusofNazareth316: Blessed are they who stop using the word “‪#missional“, which caused me to post something on Twitter and Facebook asking people what their favorite church jargon is – mine being “Missional Imagination”. The response was unbelievable and also quite interesting.

I realized upon reading the #meaninglesschurchjargon tweets that the responses tended to fall into several categories

1. Mainline Protestant church consultant/bad seminary class lingo. (“Missional imagination”; congregations as “centers for evangelical mission”; pastors as “transformational leaders”; referring to members as “giving units”; and churches “doing life together”) this language has a commonality with corporate jargon and like corporate jargon, refers to the culture and practices related to an organization.

IDEA: Let’s make sure that in seminary classrooms and at church conferences and in congregational life when we use a term or a phrase, that it points to an actual thing, or person or event and is not just a string of words that sound like something meaningful but in fact, lack real meaning. There is a reason that my computer does not recognize the word Missional. Try it at home.  Go ahead.  Type that shit and see.

2. Evangelical piety lingo.  This was overwhelmingly the most common type of answer: using “just” repeatedly as a placeholder for “um”; wanting to “love up on” someone, “God laid it on my heart to tell you ___”; I just have “a heart for” children in Africa; asking God for a “hedge of protection” – (this one was new to me)

IDEA: Stop it. This is crazy.

3. When we say ___, but we really mean is ___. “We have discerned” when used to make a simple decision sound special, holy, and beyond reproach; “I’ve got a word from The Lord for you” which is usually followed by some kind of manipulation; “I just don’t feel a peace about it” = “I’ve decided not to do it”; “I’ll pray for you” is code for “Let’s stop talking about your stuff now”; “laid on my heart” usually means “I want my idea to have extra authority”

IDEA: Let’s just tell the truth.  Doing otherwise hurts other people and makes us look like assholes. Related IDEA: Let’s have churches where it’s ok to say you don’t want to do something and where it is ok to just have an idea be your idea and not something co-signed on by the Almighty.

4. Stuff that just sounds creepy. “We just want to love up on these kids”; a speaker saying Jesus had just “nailed her to the floor”; a post-evening service thingie called…”Afterglow”; keep “pressing into God”, you should “bathe that in prayer”

IDEA: Maybe we could take a minute and actually hear what we sound like to normal, non-churchgoing folks. Seriously.

Honorable mention: The Grammatically problematic.  “Christian” as an adjective, “Disciple” as a verb, “fellowship” as a verb, “Gospel” as an adjective.

Sure, jargon has it’s place.  We sometimes experience real things – things that have to do with actual people and events and physical reality, and in an effort to describe that, or in an effort to look toward something more, something bigger, we create language to sprinkle on top.  We make new phrases.  This is natural.  The problem becomes when these phrases and jargon replace speaking about things that are real.

Maybe there was a moment in prayer when someone felt really vulnerable and exposed and in his or her mind they saw an image of protection from God, and it seemed like it was almost like a hedge. There is nothing wrong with that.  The Psalmist did this kind of thing all the time.  And maybe there was a moment in time when, in reaction to a real situation, someone realized that the church was too focused on itself and focused enough on God and they realized that God is not just in the church but outside it as well, and in an effort to think broadly about this they thought “maybe what we need is to imagine what God wants to accomplish – we should have a, I don’t know…like, a missional imagination”.  Fine. Nothing wrong with this. But what happens is that the farther that “hedge of protection” and “missional imagination” is from the actual feelings and events and people it was created to describe, the less actual meaning it has.

So, as someone who is constantly being told to “watch her language” I offer the same. Let’s watch our language out there.  The church has some beautiful things to offer.  Let’s all speak of God and faith and community in clear and simple language. I’ll try and do the same. (right after I ask God to form a hedge of protection against my web-enemies)

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widow pic croppedNadia Bolz-Weber is the mission developer for House for All Sinners and Saints (HFASS) in Denver, Colorado. They are an urban liturgical community with a progressive yet deeply rooted theological imagination. Check out their site for more info.

Nadia Bolz-Weber: Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (This is her book. It will change your life.)

The Wisdom of Bishop John Shelby Spong

spong1For those seeking to experience Christianity in a new and vibrant way, Bishop John Shelby Spong offers fresh spiritual ideas. Over the past four decades, he has become one of the definitive voices for progressive Christianity.

He is a retired American bishop of the Episcopal Church, formerly the Bishop of Newark, New Jersey. Bishop Spong is a liberal Christian theologian, a commentator  on religion, and an author.

Spong often speaks about the need for a fundamental rethinking of Christianity, including a move away from traditional doctrines and theism, in general.

Here are two videos from the “Future of the Progressive Church” conference, held at the Community Christian Church in Springfield, MO

First Lecture:

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Second Lecture:

Dear Christian Conservatives

obama-thinking-jesusDear Christian Conservatives:

I finally understand, I really owe all of you a gigantic apology. I hadn’t realized until fairly recently how big of an impact you all have had on who I am, what I stand for and the type of Christian I want to be.

So, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.

For a while I had drifted away from Christianity. Not that I stopped considering myself a Christian, but I had stopped really thinking about faith in my life. While I’ve never been a big church attendee, once upon a time I did spend more time focused on my faith and incorporating it into my life in my own ways. However, the last few years, I had somewhat moved away from that. I’m not really sure why.

Well, thanks to all of you Christian conservatives, I’ve now come back to the point where my faith has become a greater focal point in my life.

See, if it wasn’t for the ignorance, hypocrisy and utter hatred that seems to emulate from many of the “Christian right,” I might have never decided to stand up to reclaim my faith from the tens of millions who have so ignorantly distorted its true meaning.

I found that in my current mission to correct the wrongs many of you people have inflicted on my faith, I’ve developed a stronger devotion to real Christianity.

You know – helping the helpless; defending the defenseless; giving to the needy; assisting the poor; accepting each other; forgiveness and hope; love and compassion. Those things Jesus Christ actually spoke of.

Values for which many “Christian” conservatives tell themselves they stand for, but by their devout relationship with the Republican party, undoubtedly prove that they don’t.

If it wasn’t for your blatant distortion of the faith that I hold dear — and my subsequent reaction to reclaim it from those who misrepresent it — I might have continued to stray further away from that very faith. And who knows, I might have never returned.

But I have – with a vengeance.

No longer will I sit idly by while you people pretend to be followers of Jesus Christ by representing values which are complete contradictions of his teachings. I’m not going to sit here and let you people call yourselves Christians, misrepresent my faith, and do nothing about it.

I will no longer sit silently by while my faith is represented by people who continue to drive more and more people away from it with your intolerable distorted system of beliefs about Christianity.

And trust me, I’m not the only one. Millions of liberal Christians are beginning to awaken and fight back against your distortion of our faith. We’re sick and tired of your ignorance being tied in with our religion.

Your despicable reign over our faith is coming to an end.

So, once again, thank you. Because if it wasn’t for all of you and your intolerance, bitterness and hateful attitudes, my eyes might not have been reopened.

Sincerely,

Allen Clifton

Co-founder: Forward Progressives

Founder: Right Off A Cliff

fp

The Salvation Conspiracy

infernoHow Hell Became Eternal

by Dr. Ken R. Vincent

Universal Salvation is the theological position that ALL people will be saved. This concept, present from the earliest days of Christianity, is supported by numerous verses in the Bible , second in number only to those advocating Salvation by Good Works. Universalists do not reject the undeniable fact that Hell is in the Bible but contend that the function of Hell is for purification. Much later in the Christian story, when some claimed that Hell was a place for everlasting punishment, Universalists countered with their conviction that God was too good to condemn anyone to Eternal Hell! Today’s world news is saturated with the tragedies resulting from religions that insist on their own “exclusive” path to God, and Universalists are reasserting the relevance of that loving doctrine known to the earliest Christians – Salvation for ALL.

In this paper, I will attempt to make the following points clear: 1) For the first 500 years of Christianity, Christians and Christian theologians were broadly Universalist, 2) Translation/Mistranslation of the Scriptures from Greek to Latin contributed the reinterpretation of the nature of Hell, 3) Merging of Church and State fostered the corruption of Universalist thought, 4) Modern archeological findings and Biblical scholarship confirm Universalist thought among early Christians, and 5) Contemporary Christian scholars find Universalist theology most authentic to Jesus.

To examine Universal Salvation during the first 500 years of Christianity, the works of three scholars are indisputably the finest: Hosea Ballou II’s Ancient History of Universalism (1842), Edward Beecher’s History of Opinions on the Scriptural Doctrine of Retribution (1878), and John Wesley Hanson’s Universalism, the Prevailing Doctrine of the Church for its First 500 Years (1899). I have used all these resources but have broadened Universalist history to include 20 th Century discoveries and scholarship pertinent to Universalist Christianity.

IN THE BEGINNING

At its beginning, Christianity was a hopeful religion. In the words of St. Paul, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). Communal meals, a culture of sharing and a tradition of helping others were the hallmarks of the early church. Despite a paternalistic culture, women were Apostles (Lk 8:2-3) and ministers (Rom 16: 1).

One of the best clues to early Christian theology is in artwork discovered at the Catacombs in Rome . Graves of common people were adorned with drawings of Jesus as the Good Shepherd – beardless and virtually indistinguishable from the Greco-Roman savior figure Orpheus. Other popular images there were the Last Supper and the Magi at the birth of Jesus. Occasionally in early Christian art, Jesus is shown working miracles using a magic wand! Significantly, the crucifix is noticeably absent from early art, as is any depiction of judgment scenes or Hell.

As we move into the middle of the 2 nd Century, a shift takes place from writing works considered “Holy Scripture” to interpretations of it. The first writer on the theology on Christian Universalism whose works survive is St. Clement of Alexandria (150 – 215CE). He was the head of the theology school at Alexandria which, until it closed at the end of the 4 th Century, was a bastion of Universalist thought. His pupil, Origen (185 – 254 CE), wrote the first complete presentation of Christianity as a system, and Universalism was at its core. Origen was the first to produce a parallel Old Testament that included Hebrew, a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew, the Septuagint, and three other Greek translations. He was also the first to recognize that some parts of the Bible should be taken literally and others metaphorically. He wrote a defense of Christianity in response to a pagan writer’s denigration of it.

Prior to the Roman Catholic Church’s condemnation of all of Universalist thought in the 6 th Century, Church authority had already reached back in time to pick out several of Origen’s ideas they deemed unacceptable. Some that found disfavor were his insistence that the Devil would be saved at the end of time, the pre-existence of human souls, the reincarnation of the wicked, and his claim that the purification of souls could go on for many eons. Finally, he was condemned by the Church because his concept of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit did not agree with the “official” Doctrine of the Trinity formulated a century after his death! After the 6 th Century, much of his work was destroyed; fortunately, some of it survived.

According to Edward Beecher, a Congregationalist theologian, there were six theology schools in Christendom during its early years – four were Universalist ( Alexandria , Cesarea, Antioch , and Edessa ). One advocated annihilation ( Ephesus ) and one advocated Eternal Hell (the Latin Church of North Africa). Most of the Universalists throughout Christendom followed the teachings of Origen. Later, Theodore of Mopsuestia had a different theological basis for Universal Salvation, and his view continued in the break-away Church of the East (Nestorian) where his Universalist ideas still exist in its liturgy today.

“HARROWING OF HELL” IN CANON AND APOCRYPHA

One of the primary beliefs of the early Christians was that Jesus descended into Sheol/Hades in order to preach to the dead and rescue all of those, as it clearly says in I Peter 3:20, “who in former times did not obey.” This terminology is familiar to anyone who has recited the Apostle’s Creed which states that Jesus descended to Hell after his death, before his resurrection. Known as the “Harrowing of Hell,” this is a major theme in Universalism because it underscores the early belief that judgment at the end of life is not final and that all souls can be saved after death. Interestingly, in the early Church there were not only prayers for the dead, but St. Paul notes there were also baptisms for the dead (I Cor 15: 29).

In later times, the church attempted to reinterpret the text to narrow the categories of people saved from Hell to the Jewish prophets and the righteous pagans. Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan take this approach in their latest book, The Last Week.(Curiously, they omit the key verse “those who in former times did not obey.”) However, in his earlier book, The Cross That Spoke , John Dominic Crossan is more favorable to the Universalist view. For example, he relates a story from the non-canonical Gospel of Peter in which two angels come down from Heaven to get Jesus out of the tomb on Easter morning. As they are carrying him out and are about to ascend to Heaven, a voice from Heaven asks them, “Hast thou preached to them that sleep?” The wooden cross that is somehow following them out of the tomb speaks and says, “Yes!” In discussing Jesus’ decent into Hell, Crossan also sites another classic Universalist text, I Peter 4:6 which says, “For this is why the Gospel was preached even to the dead, that though they were judged in flesh like men they might live in the spirit like God.” He also notes that in Colossians 2:15, Jesus, “disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them,” and in Ephesians 4:8-9:

Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high, he made captivity   itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” (When it says, “He   ascended,” what does it mean but that he also descended into the   lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who   ascended far above all heavens, so that he might fill all things.”)

Understanding the role of the “Harrowing of Hell” has been expanded by recent archeological findings and modern Biblical scholarship. Among the discoveries over the past 100 years is the Apocalypse of Peter , written about 135 C.E. (not to be confused with the Gnostic Apocalypse of Peter discovered at Nag Hammadi in 1947). For a time, it was considered for inclusion into the New Testament instead of the Revelation to John . It is referred to in the Muratorian Canon of the early Church, as well as in the writings of St. Clement of Alexandria . (It should be noted that the Universalist passage from theApocalypse of Peter is found in the Ethiopian text but is not part of the fragment text found at Akhmim , Egypt .) In the Ethiopic copy, Peter asks Jesus to have pity on the people in Hell, and Jesus says they will eventually all be saved. Later, Peter (who is writing to Clement) says to keep that knowledge a secret so that foolish men may not see it. This same theme is repeated in the Second Book of the Sibyline Oracles in which the saved behold the sinners in Hell and ask that mercy be shown them. Here, the sinners are saved by the prayers of the righteous.

Another 2 nd Century work, The Epistle to the Apostles , also states that our prayers for the dead can affect their forgiveness by God. The 2 nd Century Odes of Solomon , which was discovered in the early 20 th Century, was for a time considered to be Jewish, then Gnostic, and more recently, early Christian. Its theme is that Jesus saves the dead when they come to him in Hell and cry out, “Son of God, have pity on us!” In the 4 th /6 th Century Syriac Book of the Cave of Treasures , Jesus “preached the resurrection to those who were lying in the dust” and “pardoned those who had sinned against the Law.” In the Gospel of Nicodemus (a.k.a. Acts of Pilate ), a 4 th /5 th Century apocryphal gospel, Jesus saves everyone in the Greek version but rescues only the righteous pre-Christians in the Latin translation. In What is Gnosticism? , Karen King identifies the Nag Hammadi Gospel of Truth as teaching Universal Salvation; she states that The Apocryphon of John (a.k.a. The Secret Book of John ) declares all will be saved except apostates. In the Coptic Book of the Resurrection , all but Satan and his ministers are pardoned.

Interestingly, belief in the “Harrowing of Hell” has had some validation by modern day near-death experiencers (people who have been resuscitated following a period of clinical death). While most near-death experiencers report a “heavenly” experience of Light and overwhelming love, many of those whose experience begins in “hellish” turmoil and darkness say that their descent was reversed when they called out to God or Jesus.

THE CHURCH-STATE CONUNDRUM

Many think that Christianity was at its best during its first 300 years – a time of immense diversity of opinion, creativity, and expectation. Although the official sanction of governments provided the Church with some very critical benefits (like not feeding Christians to lions!), some of the vitality of the young Church was inevitably compromised. Its legitimization in the 4 th Century, first by the king of Armenia , then by Constantine of Rome, and finally by the king of Ethiopia , led to a new era for Christianity. Constantine , being a military man, wanted standardization in all things. The Emperor called the Counsel of Nicea because at the time, the Bishop of Rome was not yet Pope (in the way we think of him today). According to Roman Catholic scholar Jean-Guy Vaillancourt, the Pope did not become the head of the Roman Church until 752 CE. At that time, Charlemagne recognized the Bishop of Rome as the singular Pope, and Pope Leo III reciprocated by legitimizing Charlemagne as the Holy Roman Emperor. It should be noted that the 6 th Century Emperor Justinian – NOT the Bishop of Rome – called the Church counsel where Universalism was condemned.

JESUS SEMINAR “ENDORSES” CHRISTIAN UNIVERSALISM

Of all modern Biblical scholars, none have gained so much publicity and been so readily accessible to the lay reader than a group called the Jesus Seminar. Over 150 Biblical scholars pooled their knowledge for the express purpose of analyzing the Gospels to determine which words and deeds were authentic to Jesus. Their resulting “Scholars’ Editions” of the Gospels were remarkable for the few passages that were thought to be original to Jesus. For Universalists, the most significant result of the Seminar’s scrutiny was their inadvertent highlighting of many Universalist passages. By far, verses advocating Universal Salvation received the most endorsement from the Jesus Seminar as authentic to Jesus. While they rejected some of the “zingers” (e.g., Jn 12:32), virtually all Jesus’ classic parables that have been interpreted as Universalist since the beginning of Christian theology were judged by the Jesus Seminar to be genuine to him, including: The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt 18:12-13; Lk 15:4-6), The Workers in the Vineyard (Matt 20:1-15), The Parable of the Lost Coin (Lk 15:8-9), and the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Lk 15:11-32). Also, the verses relating to the fact that Hell is not permanent and used only for rehabilitation/purification were determined authentic by the Jesus Seminar. They are: Settle with Your Opponent (Matt 5:25 -26; Lk 12:58 -59) and the Parable of the Wicked Servant (Matt 18:23 -34). Finally, although it was mutilated in part by the Jesus Seminar scholars, Jesus’ teaching to be like God and love our enemies as God is good to the just and the unjust (Matt 5:44-46) was voted genuine to Jesus.

It is noteworthy that the Seminar rejected all of the verses relating to the “Jesus Saves” theology as original to Jesus. John Calvin’s Predestination fared only slightly better with only two verses seen as original to Jesus (Matt 6:10 , 10:29 ). Some classic sayings of Jesus on Good Works were deemed authentic, such as Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30 -35), Jesus on forgiveness (Matt 6:12 ), and the Parable of the Sower (Mk 4:3-8; Matt 13:3-8; Lk 8:5-8). (Tentmaker Ministries does NOT endorse Jesus Seminar.)

MISTRANSLATIONS AND MISANTHROPES

One of the essential tenents of Universalism is that all punishment in Hell is remedial, curative, and purifying. As long as Western Christianity was mainly Greek – the language of the New Testament – it was Universalist.

Interestingly, NONE of the Greek-speaking Universalists ever felt the need to explain Greek words such as “aion” and “aionion.” In Greek, an aion (in English, usually spelled “eon”) is an indefinite period of time, usually of long duration. When it was translated into Latin Vulgate, “aion” became “aeternam” which means “eternal.” These translation errors were the basis for much of what was written about Eternal Hell.

The first person to write about Eternal Hell was the Latin North African Tertullian who is considered the Father of the Latin Church. As most people reason, Hell is a place for people you don’t like to go! Tertullian fantasized that not only the wicked would be in Hell but also every philosopher and theologian who ever argued with him! He envisioned a time when he would look down from Heaven at those people in Hell and laugh with glee!

By far, the main person responsible for making Hell eternal in the Western Church was St. Augustine (354-430 CE). Augustine’s Christian mother did not kick him out of her house for not marrying the girlfriend he got pregnant, but she did oust him when he became a Manichean Gnostic. Later, he renounced Manichaeism and returned to the Roman Church where he was made Bishop of Hippo in North Africa . He did not know Greek, had tried to study it, but stated that he hated it. Sadly, it is his misunderstanding of Greek that cemented the concept of Eternal Hell in the Western Church . Augustine not only said that Hell was eternal for the wicked but also for anyone who wasn’t a Christian. So complete was his concept of God’s exclusion of non-Christians that he considered un-baptized babies as damned; when these babies died, Augustine softened slightly to declare that they would be sent to the “upper level” of Hell. Augustine is also the inventor the concept of “Hell Lite”, a.k.a. Purgatory, which he developed to accommodate some of the Universalist verses in the Bible . Augustine acknowledged the Universalists whom he called “tender-hearted,” and included them among the “orthodox.”

At this point, it should be noted that many in the early Church who were Universalist cautioned others to be careful whom they told about Universalism, as it might cause some of the weaker ones to sin. This has always been a criticism of Universalism by those who think that people will sin with abandon if there is no threat of eternal punishment. In fact, modern psychology has affirmed that love is a much more powerful motivator than fear, and knowing that God loves each and every person on the planet as much as God loves you does not promote delinquency. Conversely, it is Christian exclusivity that leads to the marginalization of other human beings and the thinking that war and cruelty to the “other” are justified since they’re going to Hell anyway! This kind of twisted thinking led to the persecution of the pagans, the witch hunts, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust.

UNIVERSALISM IN THE EAST AND ZOROASTRIAN ROOTS

A slightly different type of Universalist theology was taught in the Aramaic speaking Church of the East (Nestorian). Virtually all of the Greek-speaking Universalists built on Origen’s system that emphasizes free will. Origen saw an endless round of purification and relapse, but that in the end, God’s love would draw all back to God. According to Dr. Beecher, Theodore of Mopsuestia (350-428 CE) saw, “sin as an unavoidable part of the development and education of man; that some carry it to a greater extent than others, but that God will finally overrule it for their final establishment in good.” Theodore of Mopsuestia is known in the Nestorian Church as “The Interpreter.” The 5 th Century with its ongoing feuding councils saw major splits in the Christian Church. The Coptic Church of Egypt and Ethiopia split in 451CE; the Armenian Church left about the same time; the Church of the East (Nestorian) left in 486 CE. At the time of the split, the Nestorian Church was larger in numbers than the Roman Church. It included all of the Sasanian Persian Empire (which stretched from the Euphrates to India ), along the Silk Road through modern Kazakhstan , Turkmenistan , Uzbekistan , through Tibet , Mongolia , and into China . Additionally, it had established Christian churches in the south of India by the end of the 2 nd Century. While it suffered under Moslem invasion in the 7 th Century, it continued to grow in the Far East until being virtually annihilated by Tamerlane in the 14 th Century. Today, only a quarter-million remain. The Nestorian Church continued to be Universalist for most of its history, and a Universalist liturgy written by Theodore of Mopsuestia is still in use today. Also, the Book of the Bee written in the 13 th Century by Bishop Solomon of Basra includes the Universalist teachings of Isaac, Diodorus, and Theodore in Chapter 60. We know from Martin Palmer in the Jesus Sutras that the Nestorians who proselytized in China in the early days had only two Christian books: theGospel of Matthew and an early Christian prayer book known as the Didache or The Teachings of the Twelve Apostles . The appeal of Christianity in the Far East was that Jesus could save you and take you to Paradise , avoiding the risk of an undesired reincarnation.

Christopher Buck notes in his article, “The Universality of the Church of the East: How Persian Was Persian Christianity?” that the success of Christian conversions in the East may have been the affinity of Christianity with Zoroastrianism. Unlike Manichaeism and other Gnostic Christianity, Zoroastrianism (like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) maintains that the world was created good and was corrupted by evil. In Zoroastrianism, the basic tenents are: God-Satan, Good-Evil, Light-Darkness, Angels-Demons, Death-Judgment, Heaven-Hell, and at the end of time, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting. Zoroaster was a Universalist, as he says in his Hymns to God , “If you understand these laws of happiness and pain which God has ordained, O Mortals, there is a long period of punishment for the wicked and reward for the pious, but thereafterEternal Joy shall rein forever ” (Y 30:11 emphasis added ). In Zoroastrianism, while God is wholly good, there is no doctrine of forgiveness; your good deeds must always outnumber your bad deeds in order to avoid purification in Hell. Christianity brought Jesus’ message that God forgives sins for the asking! Also, one doesn’t need a priest as an intercessor or a sacrifice to obtain God’s grace. This affinity is best illustrated in a 13 th Century Christmas liturgy of the Nestorian Church which states that, “The Magi (Zoroastrian priests) came . they opened their treasures and offered him (Jesus) their offerings as they were commanded by their teacher Zoroaster who prophesized to them.” What is implicit in the Gospel of Matthew is explicit in this Nestorian liturgy. Zoroaster had predicted the coming of future saviors “from the nations” (e.g., countries other than Persia ). If you wanted to make converts in a Zoroastrian world, the story of the Magi at the birth of Jesus was your entree.

UNIVERSALISM OFFICIALLY CONDEMNED IN THE WEST

Although the Roman Church had condemned some of Origen’s other ideas, his Universalism was never questioned, nor were the writings of any other Universalist. There were even Universalists among the Gnostics; although Gnosticism had been condemned heartily by the Church, Universalism had never been listed among their errors. If Universal Salvation were heretical, how could the Church explain all those avowed Universalists who had already been made Saints (St. Clement of Alexandria , St. Macrina the Younger and her brother, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and others)? As mentioned earlier, it was the Emperor Justinian who initiated the deed.

Universalism had never been officially condemned prior to Justinian’s convening the Council of Constantinople in 553CE, but this momentous decision was made against a background of turmoil in the Church and Western civilization. Latin-speaking Christians in the Church began to overshadow the Greek-speakers, and the Nestorian Church of the East had recently split from the Catholic West. (In all fairness, the Latin Church was doing well to have anyone who could read Latin – much less Greek.) Less than eighty years earlier, the Western Roman Empire had fallen to pagan barbarians. The Roman Church had long before become the handmaiden of the State. What could be better for control in an age of superstition and fear than to make Hell eternal and Salvation possible only through the Church? Less than a century later, all of Christianity (Latin, Greek, Armenian, Coptic, as well as the Nestorian Church of the East) would be either partially or totally overrun by Moslem conquerors.

CONCLUSION

Compare the hopeful, positive art of the early Church in the Catacombs with the scenes of Hell and damnation on the wall of almost every Medieval Catholic Cathedral. These scenes were made even more terrifying by the Latin mistranslation of Jesus’ Parable of the Sheep and Goats (Matt 25:31-46). In the West, Augustine trumped Origen, and what was an “eon” in the original Greek became “eternal” in Latin.

While Universalism continued in the Church of the East, in the West from the 6 th Century forward, it was relegated to the realm of mystics until the Reformation when the idea of Universal Salvation was resurrected. Universalism continues today as a theological position among a fair number of Christians in a variety of denominations. It is ripe for revival.

Ken R. Vincent, Ed.D., is the author of: THE GOLDEN THREAD, GOD’S PROMISE OF UNIVERSAL SALVATION .

WWGD: What Would Galileo Do?

galileoBy Rev Susan Russell 

Here’s a question from an email I received not long ago. The subject line was, “The Clear Truth of Scripture.” The question was, “What we’re asking for is a straight answer out of you people on where in the Bible you find a passage that shows God approves of same sex marriage. Can you do that or not?”

Finally a question I can answer without hesitation.

And the answer is “no.”

There is no single text, no specific chapter and verse, that I can point anyone to and say, “Here it is: the clear truth of scripture in support of same-sex marriage!”

Nor is there any “clear truth of scripture” in support of the equality or ordination of women.

Nor is there any “clear truth of scripture” on the sanctity of interracial marriage.

Nor is there any “clear truth of scripture” opposing the death penalty, supporting the abolition of slavery, or proving that the Earth revolves around the Sun — which you may remember got Galileo in all kinds of trouble with the clear-truth-of-scripture crowd in his generation.

And yes, Galileo’s opponents also cited biblical references in defense of their position that the Sun revolved around the Earth, including Psalm 93:1, which states that “the world is firmly established; it cannot be moved”; Psalm 104:5, which states that “the LORD set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved”; Ecclesiastes 1:5, which states that “the sun rises and sets and returns to its place”; etc.

Meanwhile, Galileo defended the science of heliocentrism to the point of being condemned by the Catholic Church for “vehement suspicion of heresy” — and of course history eventually proved him right. In 1992 the Roman Catholic Church issued a declaration acknowledging the errors committed by the Church, and in 2008 Pope Benedict XVI praised Galileo’s contributions to astronomy.

They say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it — and an excellent example of that theory is the folks who, 400 years later, are throwing around isolated scripture passages to support outdated understandings of human sexuality, just as others have done through the ages, on everything from slavery and integration to equality for women.

So here’s the “takeaway” from this today’s object lesson on life, the universe, Galileo, and heresy: the Bible is no more a textbook on human sexuality in the 21st century than it was a textbook on astronomy in the 17th. And the folks who get that part confused repeatedly end up on the wrong side of history as the arc of the moral universe continues to bend toward justice.

And here’s the good news: we live in a country where the First Amendment protects not only your right to read the Bible any way you choose but your right to be on the wrong side of history. It does not, however, protect your right to write your theology into our Constitution and take away the equally protected rights of all Americans from some Americans because you’ve gotten the Bible confused with a textbook on human sexuality.

We begin this new year with anti-gay rhetoric in the presidential primary debates escalating while we await a decision on California’s Proposition 8 to come down literally any day now and watch the move to repeal DOMA gaining support on Capitol Hill. There is therefore every indication that gay and lesbian Americans will continue to experience the collateral damage of seeing their lives and relationships treated like sacrificial lambs on the altar of partisan politics by those firmly planted on the wrong side of the history of LGBT equality.

It is a time of opportunity for everyone who holds fast to the fundamental American value of liberty and justice for all to remember that the First Amendment is both a protection of and a protection from religion, and to say so loud and clear.

It is also a time of challenge for people of faith to stand up and speak out in rebuttal to those who presume to speak for “traditional Christian values,” which have nothing to do with God’s values of love, justice, and compassion and everything to do with their own homophobia projected onto biblical texts taken out of context.

Galileo didn’t live long enough to get the apology he deserved from the institutional church, and neither will we. But we’re not in it for the apology. We’re in it to win it — as we work to make “justice roll down like waters” and to turn “liberty and justice for all” from a pledge to a reality for LGBT Americans.

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Copyright �2012 Rev. Susan Russell. All rights reserved. Rev. Russel is the Senior Associate for Communication and Inclusion at All Saints Episcopal Church, Pasadena, CA. Originally published on January 11, 2012 in the Huffington Post . Follow Rev. Susan Russell on Twitter: www.twitter.com/revsusanrussell