Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Naughty Christians Should Come Out This Christmas

The LayMAN has posted Al Mohler's Christmas screed. Brother Al is the pope of the Southern Baptist Convention, headquartered right here in Tennessee. Brother Al has declared that true Christians must believe in the Virgin Birth. If you don't you are not a true Christian.

The good brother lists a number of folks who are not true Christians from past and present. You could call them naughty Christians. They include Albert Schweitzer, Rudolph Bultmann, Harry Emerson Fosdick, John Shelby Spong, Gerd Luedemann, John Dominic Crossan, Jane Schaberg, Bishop Joseph Sprague, and the Jesus Seminar.

The naughty Christians use reason to come to conclusions. They recognize the difference between legends, fantasies, and poetic language on one hand and biology and fact on the other. Naughty Christians can sing "Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child" and know they are using symbolic or archetypal language that touches the heart.

The true Christians know that just won't do. For them Adam and Eve were real people cursed with original sin that was transmuted from generation to generation by wicked human sperm. Mary, because she was a virgin, contributed nothing to Jesus except being an incubator for God's sperm. That is why Jesus could do all kinds of divine tricks including dying for your sins, rising from the dead, and flying off to heaven.

The real point of Brother Al's screed is to hunt down the heretics:

Bishop Sprague was charged with heresy but has twice been cleared of the charge--a clear sign that the mainline Protestant denominations are unwilling to identify as heretics even those who openly teach heresy.
He even goes after one of his own, fellow Baptist, Cecil Sherman:
Several years ago, Cecil Sherman--then a Southern Baptist, but later the first coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship--stated: "A teacher who might also be led by the Scripture not to believe in the Virgin Birth should not be fired." Consider the logic of that statement. A Christian can be led by the Bible to deny what the Bible teaches? This kind of logic is what has allowed those who deny the virgin birth to sit comfortably in liberal theological seminaries and to preach their reductionistic Christ from major pulpits.
Al's point is that true Christians need to hunt down and "fire" the naughty Christians. I am small potatoes since I don't preach from a major pulpit. Nevertheless, I am coming out as a naughty Christian.

Here I am Al. I think your views are wrong. Not only wrong, but harmful. Mohler, like a true fundamentalist, engages in intellectual bullying. "No true Christian can deny the virgin birth." In other words, believe as I do or you are not a true Christian.

Like other progressive ministers, I have had to clean up the mess this bullying has made of people's lives. What are some of the effects of this bullying? People grow up and out of fear of hell or of doubting the "Word of God" they think they cannot affirm evolution for instance. The biology of original sin and the need for a biological virgin birth makes little sense in light of our evolutionary history. Evolution, therefore, must be wrong.

More than that, these threats are aimed at keeping people from thinking for themselves. They create paranoia regarding scholarship and learning. Mohler's true Christians are ultimately paranoid Christians.

A word of warning. It really does no good to argue with them. You won't change their minds. However coming out as a naughty Christian can free your mind and can show others that there are other ways to appreciate and honor these marvelous Christmas stories.


  1. What IS it about these people that leads them to believe that this attempt at public shaming is not only a good idea, but is somehow "Godly"?

    Busybodies, fusspots, and scolds. Gladys Kravitz is taking over the fundamentalist movement folks. Keep your kids off her lawn or she'll call the police.

    I swear, I feel the need to send them all a Christmas present: My Mother. She'd certainly give them a lesson on manners that would stick with them long after they were able to sit down again.

  2. Gladys Kravitz! I haven't thought of her in years! Love the analogy. Thanks.

    John McNeese

  3. I wonder what Mrs Kravitz's husband did for a living. He was mild mannered, calm, and patient... A really nice guy. With all those traits he could have been a piano tuner or something... ;-)

    I am surrounded by well educated emotionally intelligent people who will not set foot in church because of the fundamentalists.

    Occasionally, after knowing me for years, and usually over a glass of wine or beer, they will trust me enough to explore matters of faith, and on occasion even thank me for not being a bible thumping judgmental jerk.

    These are some of the people Jesus would have enjoyed spending his time with.

  4. Fortunately, I am surrounded by well educated emotionally intelligent people who DO set foot in church in spite of the fundamentalists. Thank you John I and John II. Color me as "come out".

  5. Meh. I like the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. I just happen to think there are all sorts of important lessons we can learn from it about how to treat each other, how to trust God, how to live our lives with dignity, humility and grace, etc. All of that is far more important to me than the fundies' exclusive emphasis on parthenogenesis -- the only part of the story they seem to get. (What is it with those people and groin issues? Sheesh. Eyes up here folks!)

    So, be at ease. I'm not about to set torches and pitchforks because someone else doesn't happen to like that particular doctrine. I like Calvin and all, but unlike the fussbudgets, busybodies, and scolds of the SBC (and very recently, some PCUSA bloggers) I'm pretty sure that his treatment of Servetus is not his best moment, nor a model we should follow. And, unlike them, I don't think of Salem, Mass as "Ye goode olde days."

  6. Rhetorical question of the day:
    I wonder what people like "Gladys" here would do if we all just threw our hands in the air and said "Absolutely! You've been right all along!"

    Do you think they'd go away or do you think they'd just find another star on our bellies to separate "us" from "them"?

  7. Oh I'm sure they would.

    On Mohler's "ignorant rant" (an accurate description if I ever heard one), I wonder if the Fundamentalists have an agenda to get re-absorbed into the Roman Catholic Church?

    Granted, Southern Baptists Fundamentalists never claimed to be Reformed, but the stuff they say bleeds over and the next thing you know Presbyterian Fundamentalists are singing their praises.

    Maybe they really DO want to re-unite with Rome.

  8. "Meh. I like the doctrine of the Virgin Birth. I just happen to think there are all sorts of important lessons we can learn from it about how to treat each other, how to trust God, how to live our lives with dignity, humility and grace, etc."

    @ Alan

    I'm curious here, because absent the premodern misconception of...conception, and absent the idea that sin is transmitted via sexual intercourse, I'm not sure what the value of the virgin birth is, especially in light of how we should treat each other, respect each others' dignity, etc...I mean, it is one in a long list of miracles that every faith on Earth claims (not to mention the long list of virgin births!) so it might have some value as a miracle. But I'm curious what you're thinking here.

  9. Doug asked,

    I'm not sure what the value of the virgin birth is, especially in light of how we should treat each other, respect each others' dignity, etc...

    I don't mean to step too heavily into your thread with Alan, Doug, but let me take a shot at this with two ideas...

    The story of the virgin birth is a reflection of God's reverence for women, and by extension, His reverence for all humanity.

    The birth is a result of a profoundly intimate relationship with God, which God himself initiates. It addresses the question of "how close can we be to God?"...where the answer is, well, that close.

  10. There are a number of ways in which this story/symbol/metaphor what have you can be meaningful.

    You probably have all heard of the story of Sojourner Truth. Some guy was pointing out that women couldn't be ministers because Jesus was a man. To which she replied:

    "Who gave birth to Jesus? God and a woman, that's who. A man had nothing to do with it!"

  11. Love the "Gladys Kravitz" reference.

    OK. I read it, and come away thinking that I’m glad I did. Not surprisingly, I am diametrically opposed to Mohler’s position, but happily and gratefully so.

    Mohler speaks of heresy regarding non-literal interpretation of the Bible (He uses some form of the word five times.) Where “heresy” means “An belief system at variance with established religious beliefs, especially dissension from or denial of dogma by a professed believer or baptized church member,” and the where the established church is authoritarian and cult-like, count me among the heretics. Praise the Lord!

    Mohler tips his hand in the second paragraph when he speaks of “power and authority” which seems to be important to his central thesis. And not unpredictably, he seeks (and would vehemently deny) that the power and authority are his, which is soooo evident because it is he himself who feels annointed with the righteousness, thanks to his conviction and confession, to draw the line between the saved and the damned.

    I’m grateful to Mohler for bringing out the points I so strongly agree with, though they are the way of perdition in his judgement. Mohler recounts Harry Fosdick’s insistence “that others, equally Christian, could disagree with those who believe the virgin birth to be historically true.”

    Mohler cites Gerd Leudemann: “...modern Christians completely discount the historicity of the virgin birth and understand it in a figurative sense." Yes, we most certainly do. Amen and amen!

    Mohler brings in Bishop Spong. Though he does attribute any quotes to Spong, he could have offered text from Spong’s sermon where he said, “Jesus did not die for your sins. Let it be said a thousand times!” Spong might say, however, that Jesus died for being heretical.

    Mohler includes Methodist Bishop Joseph Sprague who “claimed that the ‘myth’ of the virgin birth ‘was not intended as historical fact, but was employed by Matthew and Luke in different ways to appoint poetically the truth about Jesus as experienced in the emerging church.’” And Further, “Sprague defined a theological myth as ‘not false presentation but a valid and quite persuasive literary device employed to point to ultimate truth that can only be insinuated symbolically and never depicted exhaustively.’” That is so elegant, so beautiful and so true. God bless Bishop Sprague!

    But wait! There’s more! Mohler brings us this “Thus, Sprague dismisses the miracles, the exclusivity of Christ, and the bodily resurrection as well as the virgin birth. His Christology is explicitly heretical: ‘Jesus was not born the Christ, rather by the confluence of grace with faith, he became the Christ, God's beloved in whom God was well pleased.’" I love it! Hallelujah! Praise God!

    And then there’s these unintended jewels:

    “Bishop Sprague was charged with heresy but has twice been cleared of the charge.” The man is heroic! What courage!

    “--a clear sign that the mainline Protestant denominations are unwilling to identify as heretics even those who openly teach heresy.” Hooray for the mainline! What fortitude!

    “The presence of theologians and pastors who deny the virgin birth in the theological seminaries and pulpits of the land is evidence of the sweeping tide of unbelief that marks so many institutions and churches in our time.” Where’s my checkbook! I'll help fund a professorship!

    My indulgence continues with my [insertions]…

    “Can a true Christian deny the virgin birth?...” If literally, and only literally meant, then proudly so!

    “…The answer to that question must be a decisive No.” But only if we’re hankering for a place in a self-defeating cult.

    “Those who deny the virgin birth reject the [literal] authority of Scripture…” That we do!

    “…deny the supernatural birth of the Savior…” Yes, a pox on this literalist stone in the true seeker’s shoe.

    “…undermine the very foundations of the [narrow-mindedly, literally interpreted] Gospel…” With glee! Like happy, vigorous Tolkinesque dwarfs we undermine those foundations that reveal the significance of Matt. 7:22-23.

    “…and have no way of explaining the deity of Christ [as he is revealed solely within the confines of the ink and paper that constitute the idolatry of text worship].” Oh, so true, so very true! The deity of Christ is never revealed by text, but only by what is written in our hearts when we are compelled to do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Christ’s deity is never, never, not ever found within the Pharisee-like gleaning for the letter of the law, and the “correctness of belief.” Jesus rebuked this legalistic attitude when walked on the earth and he rebukes it today and with a smile on my face I thank him for his courage that got him killed while I praise his name! Thank you Jesus! And thank you all who carry his revolutionary, heretical spirit today.

    When we cast aside the idolatry of Bible worship, the narrow confines of God-diminishing literalism and the manner in which they are used to veil the greedy quest for exclusionary human authority, congregational control and pastoral domination, we are freed! We are free at last, thank God almighty we are free a last! We find the true spirit of Jesus in the hymns he plays in our hearts. We find Jesus revealed not from the pages of a book, but in the warmth of courage he gives us to fight the good fight, to rally for justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.

    I thank Mohler for his article. It’s a Christmas Gift! It is such a good mirror for my joyful heresy. And as Jesus speaks to me, sitting here at the adjacent kitchen chair, exercising his divine authority, I hear him telling me to wish for Albert Mohler, and all, a Merry Christmas, have Peace on Earth. Good will to all!

  12. Dang, DR! I love reading your stuff, but don't you have anything better to do on Christmas Eve? ;-)

    If not, holler at us, and we'll swing by and pick you up and go looking at lights.

    Merry Christmas back atcha

  13. Thanks for the offer, Snad. I'm back in bayou country and the sooped-up creole coffee gets my motor running.

  14. DR,

    Love your attitude.

    Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

  15. Hey, John, if somebody started a "Naughty Christian" web ring, I'd join. I wonder who else would?

  16. I decided to come out as a "naughty Christian" and out some other famous individuals that I consider Christians but presumably Mohler would not.

    Here's a link to my post, Naughty Christians of the Bible.

  17. I am late to this party but I will simply leave the comment that I left at Fred's/Rev's Rumbles...

    Nero fiddles and truly Rome burns.

    Resident Catholic, who one might pre-judge as committed to this notion.

    This type of literalism will continue to push all churches off of the cliff - and that may be a good thing.

    As my pastor often says "Everything in the Bible is true... and some of it even happened."

    For God's sake, even the Vatican in the document Dei Verbum said that sacred scripture must be interpreted in many ways.

    Perhaps then virgin birth refers to a unique openness? A surrender at a level which most of us find impossible?

    And why do we dicker (I know that you don't and that John doesn't) over such nonsense when the real work of Christ screams out to be done?

  18. I meant to say that one who might be pre-judged to be committed to the notion of virgin birth!!

  19. @ Doug..

    I think my statement is self-evident. As my Calculus textbooks used to say, the rest is left as an exercise for the reader.