pharisees

Quit Picking on the Pharisees!

PEJORATIVE COMMENTS about racial and ethnic minorities, GLBTQI people, and the poor appropriately receive public censure. But say something negative about Pharisees, and the response is likely to be a hearty “amen.”

When anti-Pharisaic comments appear, especially from church pulpits or Christian magazines, few complain. And when correctives are suggested, the responses are usually something like, “Of course not all Pharisees were money-loving, sanctimonious hypocrites.” The comparison to other bigoted comments—“Of course not all Latinos are illegal; of course not all African Americans are lazy”—should tell us how insufficient the excuses are.

Just as we are heirs of centuries of racism, we are heirs of two millennia of negative stereotypes of Pharisees and, by extension, of Jews—for it is substantially from Pharisaic teaching that rabbinic Judaism springs. Whenever sermons and Bible studies proclaim that Jesus’ views concerning social justice are contrary to Jewish views grounded in Pharisaic teaching, they promote bad history and bad theology.

The pastors and priests who make such comments are not anti-Semites. Even Pope Francis, who is certainly no bigot, speaks of Pharisees as “Closed-minded men, men who are so attached to the laws, to the letter of the law, that they were always closing the doorway to hope, love, and salvation.” Rather, these interpreters are unaware of the history of the Pharisees and unaware as well of how these claims about Pharisees often bleed over into anti-Jewish invective.

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Did Jesus Really Never Say Anything About Homosexuality?

A gay couple holding hands. Image courtesy EpicStockMedia/shutterstock.com

A gay couple holding hands. Image courtesy EpicStockMedia/shutterstock.com

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.

According to the Bible, You Might Be a Christian If …

Image via CreationSwap.com

Image via CreationSwap.com

Many people exploit the Bible to furiously cast judgment on others — sinfully using condemnation, guilt, shame, fear, and hatred to abuse others — all under the guise of “accountability” and the false premise of “Christianity.”

But according to the Bible, various people were used by God to do amazing things, and these individuals were often described as righteous and holy … even though they were dramatically flawed.

To be human is to be imperfect, and although we shouldn’t glorify sin or purposefully live in sin, we need to be careful about labeling others at “heretics,” “unbelievers,” and “sinners.” Because in reality, contrary to everything we assume, those whom we detest just might be favored by God.

Sinful attributes and misdeeds don’t disqualify you from a life of holiness, righteousness, and Godliness, but we often treat people as such — and condemn them to an eternity in hell. But according to the Bible, you might be a ‘Christian’ even if …

The Parameters We Prefer Jesus to Work Under

Jesus healing the lepers, © Daniel W. Erlander, http://danerlander.com

Jesus healing the lepers, © Daniel W. Erlander, http://danerlander.com

I have to say, one of my very favorite things about Jesus is how he does whatever he wants to and could really give a hell about how other people feel about it. Yeah. I just find that endearing — especially when he irritates the nice religious people. That’s secretly my favorite.

In our Gospel text for today Jesus is teaching in the synagogue on a Sabbath when he sees a woman with a crippled back. He saw her, called her over and said “Woman you are set free from your ailment.” He reached out and touched her and she stood upright for the first time in 18 years and praised God — which seems like a win. Except for that then the leader of the synagogue throws a little tizzy about how that kind of thing should not be happening on the Sabbath. Further proof that super religious people can just be so helpful, can’t they?

Especially when they seem to value parameters over people – which should sound like a familiar story …

Stories of churches denying your call to ministry because you fall outside the parameters of which gender is allowed to be ordained and stories of churches denying you the Eucharist because you fall outside the parameters of what kind of sexual orientation is allowed to receive the means of grace and stories of churches denying you a place in community because you just weren’t sure if you believed in God and that falls outside the parameters of doctrinal purity – well, these kind of stories are sadly bordering on cliché around here. We hear them all the time.

Christians: It's NOT a Sin to Change Your Beliefs

Change illustration, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

Change illustration, alphaspirit / Shutterstock.com

When denominations, churches, faith-based organizations, theologians, pastors, and Christian celebrities change their beliefs on homosexuality, abortion, immigration, and other political and social hot-button issues, they often face a vitriolic pushback from many Evangelicals. Obviously, many see their final stance — such as supporting marriage equality — as a sin, but more surprisingly, many of the vicious reactions attack the very idea of changing one’s beliefs — as if change itself is bad.

American Christianity has created a culture of theological permanence, where individuals are expected to learn a set of beliefs and latch onto them for the rest of their lives. Many of our first theological beliefs were probably taught to us in Sunday school, which was part of a church, which was represented by a denomination, which had its own parochial schools and Bible colleges.

Theoretically, Christians can go from preschool to seminary hearing the exact same religious doctrines. Theologies are often considered too “valuable,” “right,” and “holy” to change or question. Therefore, pastors debate instead of dialogue, professors preach instead of listen, schools propagate instead of discuss, and faith-based communities ultimately reject any form of honest questioning and doubt.

Indoctrination is preferred over critical thinking, certainty is favored over doubt, and we expect our leaders to offer black-and-white answers. A change of theology is viewed as weakness, poor exegesis, and a sign of insecurity. “If they change their views now, how can I believe anything they say in the future?” Christians often perceive change as a break in trust and a loss of identity.

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