Contradiction: Was There a Sojourn in Egypt or Not?

Peter, one of the regular readers here, pointed my attention to a post that shows a discrepancy in what the Bible claims about Jacob’s descendants spending 400+ years in Egypt. I won’t try to summarize it here — I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Just check it out for yourself:

Which Nativity Story?

Well, it’s that time of year again. Regular church attendees are going to have to share their pews with people who have finally decided to make it out for their second service of the year. Their belief that Jesus bled and died so they can gain eternal salvation might be unshakable, but it apparently isn’t all that motivating, considering how little these believers seem to do in response. Nevertheless, they can at least be counted on to show up for a retelling of Jesus’s miraculous birth.

But what version will they hear? More than likely, they’ll hear a “Hollywood” version of the tale that incorporates the most exciting elements of the two versions that we read about in Matthew and Luke. A quick Google search turned up this one, which illustrates my point perfectly. But what if someone tried to tell the full version? A version that included every detail that both Matthew and Luke provide?
Continue reading “Which Nativity Story?”

God and Football, or: Facts Should Matter

For the past few months, my wife and I have been meeting periodically with some family members to discuss our religious differences. The conversations have been interesting.

When we tried this during our deconversion six years ago, it didn’t go well. Emotions were simply way too high. This time around, we’ve all come to accept the status quo, so there’s less pressure on both sides. The conversations have gotten heated at times, but nothing like they used to. Overall, I feel like they’ve been going pretty well, though I don’t think any positions have been changed, and I don’t expect them to.

Most of you know that my wife and I once believed the Bible was completely inerrant, and this was pretty much the consensus of everyone at our congregation. The Bible’s flaws had a lot to do with our leaving Christianity, and I tend to refer to them any time I’m discussing religion with someone. But these family members have reacted to this in a way that I don’t really understand, and that’s what I want to talk through in this post.
Continue reading “God and Football, or: Facts Should Matter”

The Big Picture

We live in a world where it’s possible to question the very existence of God, even the supernatural altogether. Our world also contains many religions that, more often than not, tend to break out along ethnic and cultural boundaries. Most of these religions claim to be the one true way to win the “game” of life — whether that’s through reaching enlightenment, receiving salvation, etc.

So for the sake of argument, let’s say that there really is a God, and he’s given us one of these religions that we’re supposed to follow. As most of these religions teach, picking the wrong belief system will result in horrible punishment that is likely to last an eternity. I already see lots of problems with this scenario, but let’s ignore those for the moment.

How are we supposed to know which religion is the true one? Continue reading “The Big Picture”

A Modern-Day Abraham

Well, it’s no longer a scenario we have to imagine. I’m sad to say that there’s a case currently underway not far from where I live concerning a man who murdered his daughter because “Yahweh” told him to. You can read the full story here.

Stephon Lindsay killed his 20-month old daughter Maliyah in March 2013 and confessed to it not long after. As he explained to police, “I only did what he told me to do to her… he wanted me to get rid of her.” According to Lindsay, “Whoever did not have the family name will die.” And “I tried to make her right by him. He didn’t want her.”

It’s a horribly tragic story, but it’s also hard to not comment on the irony. The article I linked to makes no reference to this story being similar to the story of Abraham and Isaac, and they don’t even acknowledge that it’s the same God. As the article says, “he claimed he was told to do it by his god, Yahweh.” Most people in Etowah county, where this is being tried, are Christian, yet I doubt any of them have stopped to wonder if Lindsay might have actually been following an order from God. I have heard so many Christians over the years comment on Abraham’s great faith, without considering how terrible that story actually is. Now they see a real life example, and they immediately know that what Lindsay did is an atrocity. Sadly, most of them won’t think as deeply about this as they should.

What’s the difference between divine revelation and just a voice in your head? How could Lindsay have possibly known that God wouldn’t stay his hand just as he supposedly did for Abraham? The only real differences between these two stories is that one actually happened only 3 years ago, and the other is ancient legend. It’s the same god, and it’s the same action. Yet millions of Jews, Christians, and Muslims revere Abraham and his “great faith.”

As atheists, many of us have asked people to imagine how they’d react if they heard a voice telling them to kill their own child. Or how they would react if they heard about someone doing that because “God told them to.” Sadly, we no longer have to discuss this as mere speculation.

Jewish Disciples Wouldn’t Have Created the Idea of the Resurrection, So It Must Have Really Happened… Right?

If you’ve discussed the resurrection with Christians before, then you’re probably familiar with the above argument. Since first century Jews didn’t believe in a bodily resurrection like Jesus’s, then they’re no way the disciples would have believed it without actually witnessing it for themselves. William Lane Craig has used this argument several times:

He made the case again in a 2005 debate at California State University. At the 29 minute mark, he says that Jews like the Pharisees believed in a resurrection that would happen to everyone at the end of time. They never believed that an individual could have a bodily resurrection within the course of human history.

But recently, while I was reading Crossan’s The Historical Jesus, he pointed out something that I hadn’t thought of before. It turns out that there are a couple of New Testament passages that really throw a wrench in Craig’s claim. For instance, Mark 6:14-16 says:

King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

Here, we have a number of people who are ready to believe that Jesus is actually a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah, or some other prophet from antiquity. And we find similar passages in both Matthew and Luke as well. So now we have a problem. Either Craig’s argument is totally false, and the idea of a bodily resurrection from the dead is something that people in Jesus’s time were ready to believe with virtually no evidence, or the writers of the synoptic gospels were lying or mistaken. Either way, it illustrates how an actual resurrection is the least likely explanation for the resurrection story.

If you’d like to read about other issues with the resurrection, you can check out this article.

PolitiFact Misses the Mark on Jesus

I love PolitiFact. I follow them on Facebook, and I always appreciate the fact-checking they do every time a politician makes a claim. Last week, they had an article that caught my eye, titled “Jesus was an ‘undocumented immigrant,’ ordained minister says.” The minister, Ryan Eller, is the executive director of a group that works to promote awareness about immigration issues, and he was trying to point out that people shouldn’t be so judgmental toward undocumented immigrants — that even Jesus would have been considered an undocumented immigrant when he and his family fled to Egypt to avoid persecution from Herod.

PolitiFact decided to investigate this claim, and they quickly pointed out that during Jesus’s life, Egypt was part of the Roman Empire. Therefore, the comparison doesn’t really hold up — Jesus and his family were still traveling within the boundaries of the same empire, which was allowable under Roman law.

All of that is fine. But where I have a bit of a problem is that PolitiFact didn’t deal with this as thoroughly as they could have. Consider this paragraph, for instance:

Even though many scholars don’t agree on the exact years Jesus was born or moved to Nazareth as a youth, we know the family left Egypt after Herod the Great died in 4 B.C.E. The region known as Judaea (where Bethlehem was) became a Roman province in 6 C.E., after Rome removed Herod’s son Archelaus, who had become king of that portion of Herod’s kingdom. Nazareth, meanwhile, was in Galilee, an area later ruled by Herod’s son Antipas, known as the king who eventually beheaded John the Baptist.

“We know”?! No, we really don’t know. Yes, if Matthew’s story (his is the only gospel that tells us about this flight to Egypt) is to be believed, then Jesus’s family left Egypt after the death of Herod. But we don’t really know that Jesus’s family went there in the first place. Earlier in the article, we read this:

Luke 2:1-5 says Joseph lived in Nazareth with Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, when the Roman emperor called for all the residents of the empire to be counted and taxed. Joseph left for Bethlehem, where King David had been born, because Joseph had roots there.

Anyone who celebrates Christmas is pretty aware what happened in Bethlehem, but Eller is referring to what happened after that.

Matthew 2:12-16 describes how the Magi visited Jesus, then were warned by God in a dream not to tell King Herod, who wanted to kill the child. Joseph then took Mary and Jesus to Egypt. According to Matthew, Herod then had every male child in Bethlehem younger than 2 killed. Verses 17-23 say Joseph moved the family back to Nazareth after Herod died.

But here’s the thing, as many of you who read this blog know, it’s pretty apparent that Luke’s and Matthew’s versions of Jesus’s birth can’t be reconciled with one another. One or both of them is a fabrication. According to Luke, Joseph and Mary are from Nazareth and are only in Bethlehem temporarily; therefore, it’s only in their version that we have the manger scene. Shepherds come to witness his birth, but no wise men are mentioned. According to Luke, around 6 weeks after Jesus’s birth, the family goes to Jerusalem to present him at the temple, do the sacrifices, etc. And once they finish that, they go straight home to Nazareth.

Matthew, on the other hand, starts his account with Mary and Joseph already in Bethlehem. There’s no mention of a trip to Jerusalem, and there’s no mention of the shepherds who witness his birth. However, we’re told that when he was born, some “wise men from the east” traveled to Jerusalem to find him. We have no idea how much time has passed since his birth. But after the wise men tell Herod why they’re there, Herod decides to kill all the children in Bethlehem under the age of two in an effort to eradicate this threat to his throne. Joseph is warned of this by an angel, and he and the family flee to Egypt. Matthew also tells us this was done in accordance with some prophecies, but when you look at those “prophecies” in their original context, you see that they aren’t prophecies at all. It’s also important to note that no historians of the time talk about this slaughter of children that supposedly took place, even those who had no love for Herod. Finally, Matthew tells us that after Herod’s death, the family decides to go back to Judea (the province in which Bethlehem is situated). However, Joseph worries that Herod’s son, who has now taken the throne, might still be a threat. So instead of going back to Judea, they go to Galilee and settle “in a city called Nazareth,” which seems like an odd way to refer to their hometown.

In Matthew’s version, instead of a journey to Jerusalem, it becomes the most dangerous place they could travel to. And in Luke’s version, there’s no mention of a trip to Egypt. Instead, they go to Jerusalem shortly after Jesus’s birth and then go home to Nazareth. Traveling to Egypt is simply unnecessary. Even if Herod had actually decided to kill all the children in Bethlehem, there was still no reason to go to Egypt. They could simply have gone back home to Nazareth. The city wasn’t under Herod’s control, and he didn’t actually know who they were, anyway.

In other words, there’s very little reason to think that Jesus ever went to Egypt at all. I know PolitiFact isn’t in the business of fact-checking religion. But since they took the time to examine this preacher’s claim, why not address it fully? Their entire shtick is fact-checking. I don’t expect them to flat-out say that Jesus never went to Egypt. But they could have at least mentioned that there’s no scholarly consensus about whether or not this even happened.

It reminds me of an article that Lawrence Krauss wrote for the New Yorker a couple of days ago that describes why scientists should stop being so PC with religion. We can still be respectful of individuals without compromising our standards of truth when it comes to their belief systems. And I feel that PolitiFact got it wrong this time.

“Times of Ignorance”

There’s a passage in the Bible that has long stood out to me. When I was a Christian, I found it comforting; now, I just find it perplexing. In Acts 17 (beginning in verse 16), Paul is visiting Athens. Since it was a hub of philosophy and culture, it had temples and altars to a multitude of different gods, including an altar “to the unknown god.” Paul uses this opportunity to preach to them about the Jewish god — the god that (according to Paul) created everything. Then, in verses 30-31, Paul says this:

The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.

When Paul talks about “the times of ignorance,” he’s obviously talking about all the time before that moment — a time when God “allowed” people to serve “false” gods. But what does he mean when he says that God overlooked that time? I’d be curious to know how other denominations view this passage. When I was a Christian, my view of it tied in with the first three chapters of Romans. Those chapters lay out a case for why both Jews and Gentiles needed Christ. Romans 2:12-16 says this:

For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified. For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

The Old Law was given to the Jews. While the OT didn’t teach the concepts of Heaven and Hell, many Christians believe that keeping the Law is what let Jews go to Heaven, before Christ came. But what provision was there for Gentiles? Romans 2 seems to say that even though Gentiles didn’t have the law, those who lived righteously anyway were a “law to themselves,” which could “excuse them” on that day of judgement. This is still vague… did it mean that the Gentiles had to somehow anticipate the actual Mosaic laws? Or is this just talking about basic morality? I tend to think it’s the latter, since the former would be virtually impossible.

So let’s go back to Acts 17:30. When Paul says that God overlooked these “times of ignorance,” I took that to mean that he judged Gentiles merely on their morality. It seems like this would be a more forgiving scale, since it wouldn’t include any ritualistic precepts that only apply to specific doctrines. In other words, it seems to fit pretty well with Romans 2.

When I was a Christian, this gave me great comfort. After all, it meant that before the time of Christ, salvation was still awarded to many people, even if they weren’t Jewish. The alternative, that all Gentiles were automatically consigned to Hell, is just too horrible to contemplate.

But this also brings up some uncomfortable questions. First of all, Acts 17:30 goes on to say “but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” This would indicate that Gentiles could no longer simply be judged on a general moral law. Instead, they would be required to become Christians. But how much sense does that make? If Paul really made this speech in Athens, most sources I’ve seen estimate it to have taken place around 50 CE. This is before any books of the New Testament had been written, which means Christianity was solely spreading by word of mouth. How could all Gentiles have been expected to respond to the gospel at this point in time? Even decades later, once some of the writings were circulating, there were also “non-canonical” writings in the mix. How could people have known which were accurate? For centuries, Christians simply didn’t have access to all the canonical books of the Bible, and even if they had, the majority couldn’t have read them. So they would have relied on the testimony of clergy. When disagreements arose surrounding doctrine, how could they have known what to believe? This doesn’t even deal with the very big problem that Christianity, for most of its history, barely spread outside of Europe, the Middle East, and northern Africa. Most of the world knew nothing of it.

If God no longer excused ignorance after Paul’s speech, then millions upon millions of people were consigned to Hell through no fault of their own. If God did still excuse people’s ignorance, then Paul’s speech doesn’t make a lot of sense here.

But there’s another problem as well. If God was able to save people simply based on their morality, then why did he ever do anything different? Let’s say God still overlooked ignorance even after Paul’s speech. If you had been a Gentile living at that time, you would have had a greater chance at salvation if you never heard the gospel. Because if you heard it, but rejected it, you would be accountable to it. If you never heard it, then simply living a moral life would be enough for salvation. This means that those who preached the gospel were actually doing a disservice. Ignorance truly would have been bliss. Why would God have implemented such a flawed and unfair plan?

When I was a Christian, I took it for granted that Christianity was true, so I when I read this passage, I really just focused on the comfort I got from thinking that Gentiles still had an avenue for salvation before Christ came. But I now see this as another red flag about the truth of Christianity. So I’m curious as to how other groups view this. Are there ways of looking at it that aren’t so problematic? Or is this a minor enough passage that most of you never paid much attention to it?

My Recent Field Trip

Last night, my friend Matt and I had an opportunity to go to one of the church services that I talked about in my last post. As I mentioned there, this is a series of lessons surrounding the topic “Can We Believe the Bible?” by an evangelist / college professor / apologist that I corresponded with several years ago, named Doy Moyer. I was excited about going, but also nervous. It had been almost 5 years since I was last inside a conservative Church of Christ, and I knew I would probably see a couple of people that I knew. It was really nice having Matt along for the adventure.

Once we came in and got seated (last row, stage left, which I guess placed us firmly in the “goats” section), I noticed my in-laws sitting in the center section as well as the preacher from their congregation — the same one who was there when I attended. Let me state upfront that I still care deeply for all three of them. My wife’s parents are genuinely great people, and I couldn’t have gotten better in-laws. Granted, things aren’t as good now as they once were, but they’re just as hurt by all that as we are. And the preacher is a great guy as well. We were pretty close, once upon a time.

Anyway, while we waited for the service to begin, the PowerPoint was showing the topics that they plan to cover each night:

  • 3/30/15 — How Is Bible History to Be Perceived?
  • 4/6/15 — Can We Trust the Gospels?
  • 4/13/15 — Have the Gospels Been Hopelessly Corrupted?
  • 4/20/15 — Can We Use the Bible to Prove the Bible?
  • 4/27/15 — What About God and the Slaughter of the Innocents?
  • 5/4/15 — How Can the Bible Really Be Understood?

Those are interesting topics. And though there’s no way I’ll be able to make each one of them in person, I plan to listen to them all. But last night was the second topic, “Can We Trust the Gospels?” It more or less went the way I expected it would.

Moyer started by quoting Simon Greenleaf, who once said something to the effect that every witness should be considered credible until proven otherwise. He then spent some time talking about presuppositions — and this is apparently something he talked about at length during the first session as well. He said that atheists (I don’t remember if he implied “all” or “most”) start with the presupposition that miracles are impossible, so of course they don’t accept the Bible. He also said that when examining the Bible we should avoid modern biases. In other words, he implied that some parts of the Bible might look problematic, but that’s only from our modern mindset. He pointed out that the authors of the gospels displayed historical intent and referenced Luke 1:1 as evidence for that. He also mentioned that CS Lewis was convinced that the accounts did not bear the markers of legend. Moyer stated that the authors seemed to know what they were talking about. And he said that their bias was not a reason to discount their testimony, since we all have bias of some kind or another.

All in all, I didn’t disagree with much of his introduction. I wish he had pointed out that presuppositions can run both ways, but I can’t say I was surprised by that omission. Of course, I disagreed with his assertion that the main reason people reject the gospels is because they’ve eliminated the possibility of miracles. But the rest of his points were decent, in my opinion, though I could tell he was going to take some of them in directions I wouldn’t agree with.

He then got into the guts of his presentation, laying out several arguments that supported his belief that the gospels can be trusted. Much of his information came from Lord or Legend?, by Gregory Boyd and Paul Rhodes Eddy, and Can We Trust the Gospels?, by Mark D Roberts. I’ve read the latter, but not the former. The rest of Moyer’s presentation went as follows:

Were the authors in a position to know?

According to Moyer, some of the gospels make eyewitness claims. This was one of the first statements that really stood out to me. Is that true? I don’t really think it is, but I haven’t looked into it for a while and haven’t had a chance to since last night. I’d be interested in anything you readers might have to say about this claim.

Moyer also asked, if the gospels were fabricated, then why were the names Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John chosen for them? He pointed out that pseudonymous works typically used names that were well known and carried weight: like the Gospel of Thomas, the Gospel of Peter, etc. Why would anyone have used Mark and Luke, since neither of them were eyewitnesses or knew Jesus? In fact, Moyer argued, the anonymity of the gospels suggests legitimacy, since they didn’t feel the need to claim the names of well-known disciples.

But I didn’t find this point particularly compelling. First of all, his point would only hold true for Mark and Luke, since Matthew and John were both very well known disciples. Furthermore, he made it sound as though we didn’t really know why the names Mark and Luke were assigned to these, suggesting that the Christians who began using those names must have known something. But we do know why those gospels are named as they are. Mark carries its name, because Papias said (about 100 years after Jesus’ death) that Mark was simply transcribing dictation from Peter. But the majority of modern scholars don’t accept that claim. And the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts are said to be written by Luke, because of some pronoun usage in Acts (Luke was a companion to Paul). But again, most modern scholars don’t accept that position, since parts of Acts are not in agreement with statements made in Paul’s epistles.

Moyer also made it sound like the authorship of the gospels was pretty settled, which is definitely not true, unless he’s only considering the opinions of ultra-conservative scholars.

In all, I didn’t think this point was particularly strong.

Are the copies reasonably close to the originals?

Here, Moyer went through the typical points about the number of manuscripts, how the textual attestation for the Bible is better than any other document from antiquity, etc. These points were pretty accurate, but a little misleading. For instance, while he mentioned that the Greek manuscripts date from about 50 years after the originals to about 1500 years, he didn’t point out that about 94% of those manuscripts date from the 9th century or later, or that the oldest manuscripts are just fragments. Nevertheless, the actual facts he referenced were pretty accurate.

He did point out that he’ll cover this in more detail in the next meeting. And for what it’s worth, I do think that the biblical texts are likely very close to the originals — at least in most cases. In some ways, this is actually a problem for Christianity, in my opinion, since it makes it very hard to claim that all discrepancies are the result of copying errors.

Are the reports consistent with eyewitness testimony?

Here, Moyer referenced things like Aramaisms (the recording of an Aramaic saying in another language, like “Lama, Lama sabacthani”) and references to places and people. Here, he referenced another book, Richard Baukham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses.

These points have never seemed especially strong to me. Maybe they should, I don’t know. But when a Spider-Man comic references Barack Obama, or Michael Bloomberg, I don’t suddenly think it must be true. And Aramaic was still being spoken at the time the gospels were written — would it be weird for Greek-speaking Christians who were educated enough to write these gospels to know some Aramaic as well?

The gospels contain self-damaging material

Moyer pointed out that if the gospels were being invented, surely the authors would want to portray the protagonists in the best possible light. Yet the gospels talk about the disciples being inadequate at times, they reference some people thinking Jesus was crazy or demon-possessed, and they show his disciples either betraying or abandoning him in the end. On top of that, the first people to find Jesus after his resurrection were women, who were considered unreliable back then.

But I don’t know many skeptics who think the gospels were pure inventions. Most believe (like most scholars) that the gospel story began as oral traditions that circulated among the believers. I think each gospel was written by someone who believed the bulk of what they were writing. And is there really no value in having stories that show the weaknesses of the disciples? It’s a great way to illustrate the supremacy of Jesus’ wisdom, as well as provide a compelling character arc for the disciples.

Do the gospels demonstrate reasonable consistency?

This was probably the one that bugged me the most. You have to remember that this was being presented in a Church of Christ, and every member of the CoC that I know believes in biblical inerrancy. Yet you can see from the wording of this heading that Moyer was playing it safe with phrases like “reasonable consistency.”

Moyer again stressed that the gospels weren’t written from a modern point of view. He also stressed that there was a difference between a “difficulty” and a “contradiction” and that the bar for proving an actual contradiction was extremely high. He referenced the synoptic problem, but complained that when the gospels differ people say they’re contradictory, yet when they agree people claim it’s evidence of collusion. This is a false dichotomy, of course. Otherwise, no one would ever be able to recognize plagiarism. The simple fact is that parts of the synoptics are direct copies of one another, while other portions of the gospels are diametrically opposed.

Moyer also showed his hand on the subject of inerrancy a bit by stressing that “for core historical events, it’s not necessary to prove flawlessness.”

Is there other literary evidence?

Moyer ended things by talking about the references to Christ and Christians in ancient sources like Tacitus, Seutonius, Josephus, Thallus, Pliny, Trajan, Hadrian, and the Talmud. He didn’t go into details, but did acknowledge that none of these sources corroborate things like the resurrection, etc. But he felt that they did demonstrate some basic things, like Jesus being a real individual, that he died by crucifixion under Pontius Pilate’s authority, and that Christians believed in the resurrection.

I didn’t have any real problems with his points here.


He didn’t say much in the conclusion, other than again stressing the problem with an a priori position that miracles are impossible.

He opened the floor up for questions, and he got a few. Nothing major. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to jump in. I didn’t want to be a jerk — that would have been the wrong move with my in-laws, and they were the only real reason I was there. At the same time, I figured that most people in the audience hadn’t realized how soft Moyer’s position on inerrancy is. And while I think that’s appropriate for a Christian who’s aware of all the information, I knew that he was essentially pulling one over on everyone there. Most of them view inerrancy as a major piece of evidence for Christianity, but that’s not how Moyer sees it.

So I raised my hand (I was pretty nervous, I have to admit), and when he called on me, I asked, “It seems like the authors you’re quoting from imply that inerrancy isn’t very supportable… am I understanding that correctly?”

To me, he seemed uncomfortable, and he didn’t really answer the question. He talked about first needing to determine what the gospels were trying to say. Then, based on their historical reliability, one could think more about things like inerrancy. As a Jesus follower, he would need to establish what Jesus thought about scripture and inerrancy and then follow that.

As you can see, he didn’t really say what he believed Jesus’ position on that was. He was trying his very best to be noncommittal on the subject of inerrancy. I’m not sure how noticeable that was to everyone else, but maybe they picked up on it.

After the service, Matt and I walked over and spoke to my in-laws and the preacher from my old congregation. Matt knows all of them as well. The interaction was friendly — a little awkward maybe, but still friendly. I also introduced myself to Moyer, but I don’t think he remembered me from our previous correspondence.

All in all, I’m glad I went. My in-laws are obviously attending all of these, and I want to know what they’re hearing. We should get an opportunity to discuss all of it at some point, and I’m looking forward to that. It was still weird being in a church, though. :/

Public Office and Political Activism Just Don’t Mix

As I’ve mentioned before, my home state of Alabama has recently been wrangling over the subject of gay marriage. A federal judge in the city of Mobile ruled that Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional, which made us the 37th state legalizing it. Even though the state was dragged into this position, I couldn’t help being a little proud that gay marriage became legal here before the Supreme Court’s ruling.

But of course, a couple of weeks after the federal judge’s ruling went into effect, Alabama Supreme Court Justice Roy Moore (of 10 Commandments monument fame) finally ordered all probate judges to stop issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, oddly claiming, “This is a case of dual sovereignty of federal and state authorities. The United States Supreme Court is very clear in recognizing that federal courts do not bind state courts.”

It’s hard to understand his position, considering past precedent. As Ruthann Robson (a law professor at the City University of New York) states, “If what Moore says is true, then no federal court could ever hold a state law, regulation or policy unconstitutional. And the 14th Amendment, then, would be essentially meaningless.”

The county probate judges have now been put in a difficult position between following a federal judge ruling (which applied to a specific case in Mobile County) and a direct order from the state supreme court. Last I checked, all counties in Alabama had stopped issuing marriage licenses to gay couples, and I think Mobile County simply stopped issuing them to anyone after being trapped in a catch 22.

So that’s the background. Today, someone pointed me to a lengthy blog post by a Christian here in Alabama entitled Same Sex Marriage: Where Do We Draw the Line? As you might imagine, it explores the recent events and asks “how should a Christian feel about this, and what should he or she do in response?” It won’t surprise most of you to find out that I disagreed with quite a lot of what she had to say. And not just from my differing religious and political views — I also think she makes some factual errors, and I even think her reasoning is flawed from the Christian perspective. I left a comment, and since I don’t know if she’ll approve it or not, I decided to repost it here for consideration and discussion:

So there are a number of areas in which you and I disagree.

First, you seem to suggest that the United States is a theocracy in the same way that the Israelites were under the Law of Moses. Is that what you believe? Because in the New Testament, Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples that he didn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom (like the Jews had expected of their Messiah), but a spiritual one. Later NT books back this up by saying that there is no more Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free — instead, all have access to God. Instead of “God’s people” being a particular nation, as it was in the OT, it now simply means those who serve him, regardless of race or nationality. Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews in particular explain that Christians are not bound by the Law of Moses. Therefore, using 2 Chronicles to state that God is going to judge us as a nation is reaching quite a bit. That applied to Israel and Judah — nations that were actual theocracies.

One of the founding principles of the United States was freedom of religion. That means citizens are free to practice whatever religion they believe in (or practice no religion at all) without fear of government intrusion. That means that if someone like Governor Bentley or Chief Justice Moore take on public office, they are promising to uphold the laws of this secular government, not whatever religious rules they believe in. They should certainly exercise the same rights we all have in living their personal lives according to their religious convictions. But in their role as a public official, they can’t bind other citizens to their own religious beliefs. If that’s a problem for them, then they should step down. In your article, you seem to conflate public office with political and social activism. The two just don’t mix. If Moore wants to lobby against homosexual marriage, then he should step down from the state supreme court and do just that.

As to whether or not this is a civil rights issue, I think you’re mistaken. Civil rights applies to more than just race. When Christians are targeted in other parts of the world, is that totally fine? Or in order to see a problem with it, must one also be a Christian? No, I think it’s obvious that discriminating against a person because of their religious beliefs definitely falls under civil rights. The same goes for sexual orientation.

You may feel from personally knowing a few gay people that you understand them very well, but I tend to think they understand themselves a bit better. I am personally heterosexual, and I know it would be very difficult for me to choose to be anything different. Is that how you view your own sexuality as well, or do you feel that you could very easily be attracted to other women if you simply changed your mind about what’s attractive?

Now instead of arguing that homosexuality is a choice, if you were simply arguing that it’s a personal manner in which some people are tempted, just as others are tempted by gambling, others by alcohol, etc, then I could accept that premise. Then the problem of homosexuality would just be its indulgence, instead of the thought-crime route you’re currently running with.

Regardless, what does it really matter? Maybe God has a problem with homosexuality, but it’s also claimed that he has a problem with divorce, gossip, lying, etc. Does that mean that we, as other individuals, have a right to judge those people, or that we should legislate against their right to live as they choose? God’s not going to hold you accountable for the actions of two other consenting adults who happen to live in your state. What they do is between them and God.

Therefore, since we do live in a secular society that respects all religions equally, as well as the right to have no religion at all, how can we deny people the right to marry under religious grounds? If this country ever became majority Muslim, but still had no established religion, should you be required to wear a hijab just because others want you to? Or should you be allowed to make that decision for yourself?

Finally, the last point I want to make, is that the biological argument against homosexuality is a bit silly. Do people only have sex to procreate? Or if procreation should be a requirement of marriage, what do we do about people who are sterile? Or what about two people who are past childbearing years, yet want to marry? The percentage of homosexuals in any population is always a minority, and it always has been. It truly is an “alternate lifestyle.” Also, homosexuality is not contagious. So we don’t have to worry about the human population dropping to 0 because everyone becomes gay.

Look, tell people why you think homosexuality is wrong. If that’s part of the “good news” of the gospel, then by all means preach it. Our country protects the right to free speech, so go for it. But don’t try to legislate morality. What good does that really do? Does it suddenly make a homosexual couple no longer want to get married? Does it make them stop being gay? Does it even keep them from having sex? People have to make their own choices about that, and if they don’t share your personal beliefs, let them live how they want. Isn’t that what you would want people to do for you? Or should we start fitting you for a hijab? 😉