Tyler Francke is a journalist, photographer, blogger, and author. He is the founder of God of Evolution — a website dedicated to promoting the compatibility of biblical Christianity and mainstream science — and a contributor to several other media outlets on matters of faith and culture. His first book, a novel exploring the Christian conversation about same-sex relationships, was published in May 2014. He serves as the communications director for his evangelical church and lives with his wife and daughter on a farm outside Portland, Ore.
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Why Suing Over a Biblically Based Theme Park Isn't Really Biblical
America is a nation established on certain inalienable rights. The right to life. The right to liberty. The right to pursue happiness as one sees fit. The right, as a religious organization, to sue a government and its officials whenever you don’t get what you want.
You may not remember that last one from social studies class — and to be honest, I don’t recall Jefferson expounding upon it, either — but it is nevertheless a right the fundamentalist group Answers in Genesis and its president, Ken Ham, availed themselves of last week with the announcement of their forthcoming lawsuit against the state of Kentucky, its governor, and its tourism secretary.
The kerfuffle is over AiG’s Ark Encounter — the “creationist theme park” complete with a 510-foot wooden replica of Noah’s floating barn (except this one won’t float, plus it costs 70 million bucks) — and specifically, the $18 million in special tax incentives the Commonwealth’s tourism department had initially approved in 2011 before retracting them last year.
The goal of the incentives is to promote the construction of job-creating tourist attractions in Kentucky, and AiG’s project initially held water. What caused it to fall out of favor with the Bluegrass State was the group’s increasingly vocal insistence that it intended to: 1) require its employees to sign a statement of faith affirming, among other things, their devotion to the idea that the universe was created sometime more recently than the invention of beer by the Mesopotamians, and 2) operate the park pretty much like its Creation Museum — i.e., as evangelistic outreach.
Did Jesus Really Never Say Anything About Homosexuality?
In the realm of biblical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, I’ve always found one — “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality” — to be particularly weak.
After all, Jesus also never said anything about rape, molestation, bestiality, torture, cyber-bullying, insurance fraud or elaborate pagan rituals involving self-mutilation and child sacrifice. That does not, by default, earn any of those things the Lord’s unconditional seal of approval.
What’s more, I’m not sure if the argument’s underlying premise is even true. Because, in the Gospels, Christ may indeed have failed to specifically broach the topic currently preoccupying the American Evangelical church, but he did address the subject, in a manner of speaking, in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.
In those two brief, but pivotal, passages of scripture, Jesus captures the essence of the Christian ethic, mission, calling and faith in an incredibly simple and beautiful way. And he did so, interestingly, not as a standalone teaching, but in answer to a question from his critics.
It starts when a group of Pharisees, taking the tag from the Sadducees — who had been silenced in the previous back-and-forth — descend on Jesus, with the goal of ripping open a can of good, old-fashioned pwnage, first-century style.
Three Reasons It Doesn’t Matter What We Think About Homosexuality
Following the release of the popular God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines, and the innumerable responses by conservative pundits and theologians — including the cleverly titled e-book “God and the Gay Christian?” (Note the question mark. It’s very important.) — the church is discussing the morality of same-sex behavior as it never has before.
That’s really not saying that much, since the idea of homosexuality being anything other than a sin hadn’t been discussed within mainstream Christianity at all before this decade or so.
But still. The dialogue is cool to see. It’s much-needed, and has been for a very long time. I want to call the conversation “long overdue,” but that would be an absurd understatement, like saying a baby in the 403rd trimester is “a little late.”
The Lunacy of a Nation
On June 10, Emilio Hoffman, a 14-year-old student at Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Ore., was transformed, from a good-hearted kid with his life ahead of him to a statistic.
Now, he’s a red dot on a graph, one blip in an “American victims of gun violence” total that is already absurdly high, and will no doubt be higher the next time you check it.
Emilio’s crime? He went to school, on a day that another student decided — for reasons none of us can fathom — to bring an AR-15 rifle from home and start shooting people.
What happened to Emilio is not a tragedy. A tragedy is when something happens that no one could have helped: an accident, a natural disaster, a crime that could not have been foreseen or prevented.
A Matter of Misinformation
In just the latest evidence that a certain subset of conservative evangelical Christians really has no interest in occupying the real world with the rest of us, the trailer for a new movie called A Matter of Faith has hit the Internet.
The film follows the travails of a Christian father, who — horrified by the fact that his daughter’s college teaches the theory of evolution as a fact (gasp!) — challenges the villainous biology professor to a public debate that will no doubt settle the matter once and for all.
If this premise sounds strangely familiar, it could be that you’re remembering God’s Not Dead, a film released in March, in which a Christian student who — horrified by the fact that his philosophy professor is a committed atheist — challenges the dastardly nonbeliever to a debate on the existence of God that, no doubt, settled the matter once and for all.
(I’m told that the new movie was called Christians vs. the Straw Man II: This Time It’s Personal throughout production, before filmmakers decided to rename it A Matter of Faith.)
The similarities between the two pictures don’t stop there.
Rethinking What It Means to be a Christian
“You are not only a coward but a non-believer as well.”
It may not quite be at the level of Captain America’s vibranium shield, but my skin is a lot thicker than it used to be. When you start a blog that promotes something as insanely unorthodox as the idea that the author of Genesis 1-3 might have (like most other biblical authors) made use of a metaphor here and there, you come to expect that some fundamentalists are going to call Father Merrin and start reaching for the holy water.
It’s unfortunate — and, often, perplexing — but you learn to get used to it.
Even so, there are times I receive emailed messages like the one quoted above, and it hits like a punch in the gut. I know I should just ignore such trollishness. Usually I can. But not always.
Don’t worry, though. This is not a whiny column about how mean the conservatives are to us open-minded, forward-thinking progressives. Instead, it’s about how messages like this are helping me rethink almost everything I thought I knew about the Christian faith.
7 Reasons God Just Might Be Psyched About the Millennial Generation
Millennials are the worst generation ever, a recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed. The other generations already knew that, of course, but the study has given them new insights into what characterizes me and my fellow Millennials beyond “They freaking love Starbucks” and “They refuse to move out of my basement.”
The study’s revelations include that we’re not making all that much money, we have tons of debt, we’re racially diverse, and we use the Internet a lot (curiously absent was the fact that 97 percent of us do not like being broadly defined or labeled or otherwise demographed). We also tend to shun institutions, including religious ones, at rates far surpassing our parents and grandparents.
This last little detail has not escaped the notice of conservative media outlets, whose reactions have ranged from cautious reserved judgment to something bordering on full-blown alarm.
Like a true Millennial, I don’t think things are all that bad (heck, I wouldn’t know where the panic button is even if I wanted to press it). Actually, as a Christian, I think there is a lot to be excited about in the generation that’s poised to inherit the world … after we move out of our parents’ houses, that is.
What Christians Could Do With $70 Million ... Besides Build a Noah's Ark Replica
Every so often, the young-earth groups come up with an idea that is just so plainly, utterly, obviously wrong — in every sense of the word — that it demands a response from a larger subset of believers. To do otherwise would be to make a mockery of the Christ we claim to follow — a man who was hated by the religious establishment of the day precisely because he called them out for their hypocrisy and refused to let them claim divine fiat for their immoral actions.
I'm speaking of the so-called Ark Encounter. If you're not familiar with the project, it's the latest brainchild of Ken Ham (of recent "Ham on Nye" fame) and AiG, a planned "biblical" theme park centered around a scale, wooden replica of Noah's ark, constructed according to the instructions in Genesis (except this one will be built by teams of modern-day professionals rather than a single, unskilled old man, won’t be seaworthy, and won’t hold two of every unclean animal and 14 of every clean one).
Ham and his team have been discussing these plans for years, but few outside their devoted following paid them much heed till now, probably because the project’s well-publicized funding issues led us all to believe the thing would never be built. But, according to a statement by Ham last week, enough investors are on board to “start” construction on the 510-foot-long, boat-shaped building. The cost of completing the first phase of the theme park has been estimated at more than $70 million.
Just ‘Love the Sinner.’ Period.
I hate the phrase, “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”
To be clear, I don’t deny that God hates sin, or that it has dire consequences, or that it exists, or that everyone does it, or that it’s the reason Christ had to come to earth and be crucified in the flesh. I affirm these beliefs. They are not the reason I hate “Love the sinner; hate the sin.”
I hate the phrase because I think it’s a totally screwed-up, backwards, un-Christlike, and unbiblical way to approach ministry and the world in general.
It may be a corrupted bastardization of “Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum,” a quote from a letter by Augustine of Hippo that can be roughly translated as “With love for mankind and hatred for sin.” I have fewer problems with that construction; unlike its modern-day successor, it does not create a subtle but virtually insurmountable divide between speaker and those spoken of.
The Gospel According to Young-Earth Creationist Ken Ham
There was a moment during last week’s “debate” between Bill Nye the Science Guy and young-earth creationist Ken Ham that I think was more telling than any other.
During the Q&A session, Ham was asked what seemed to me to be a very simple question: “Hypothetically, if evidence existed that caused you to admit that the universe is older than 10,000 years and creation did not occur in six days, would you still believe in God, and the historical Jesus of Nazareth, and that Jesus was the son of God?”
What was most telling was not really what Ham said, as much as what he didn’t say, which was “Yes.”
In my mind, this question was a softball pitch. It couldn’t possibly be easier. And Ham was given two minutes to answer the thing? His response should have taken all of two seconds: “Yes.”
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