Shuck and Jive

Friday, November 13, 2009

It Is Never Time for a Millstone

I am preparing a blog post regarding my thoughts on the Covenant Network Conference I attended in Cleveland last week. I hope to complete it next week. I am enjoying reading the reports by Leslie Scanlon of the Presbyterian Outlook and by Edward Terry, reporter for the Layman. Both attended the conference and both have reported accurate summations of some of the addresses that were given.

So far Edward Terry has reported on Mark Achtemeier's address and just today, Kenda Creasy Dean's address. Mr. Terry's reporting has been fair and accurate without scare quotes or loaded phrasing that is often typical with the Layman. I hope he keeps his job.

I say that because his editor, is, well, a bit unhinged.

Carmen Fowler on her latest blog post has found a passage in the Bible that she thinks applies to Dr. Achtemeier. She writes:

He has publically exchanged the truth about God for lies. He has publically renounced the truth of the Word of the Lord by subordinating that Word to his own sincerely held and heartfelt desires. He has become the kind of teacher about whom we are warned in II Timothy 4:3-4: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

Jesus has something to say about false teachers: “Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come. It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin’” (Luke 17:1-2). Harsh words? Yes, but they are not my own.

No, Carmen, they are your words.

When you find a passage in the Bible and apply it to someone it becomes your interpretation, your application, your words.

Notice the violent image she chose to apply to Dr. Achtemeier.

It would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck than for him to cause one of these little ones to sin.
The title of her blogpost is Time for a Millstone?

What exactly does that mean? Who is going to be the one to tie the millstone to Dr. Achtemeier? Will she do it herself or count on someone she will stir up with her rhetoric?

I am confident that is not her intent. But there are enough unstable people in the world who do take that type of rhetoric seriously enough to do violence in God's name.

I am not one in favor of censoring anyone's speech, but a little responsibility and sensitivity from an editor of a Christian publication is in order.


  1. Thank you for your post.
    I agree that the Layman's actual reporting of the Covenant Network Conference has been just that, actual reporting.
    I wonder if that is why the comments by Carmen stand out in such horrifying relief.
    I am praying for all of us today, but especially for people who are endangered by other people's words in the (supposed) name of God.

  2. "I am confident that is not her intent."

    Are you so sure, John?

    If Carmen Fowler wrote a piece about you, illustrating all the reasons she thinks you're a heretic, and she titled her hit piece "Time to file charges?" wouldn't you assume that in fact, she believes the answer to her own question is, "Yes, it is time to file charges"?

    Or if she wrote a piece about Mark Achetemeier and she titled a similar piece, "Time to fire him?" that was written from just one point of view, not listing all the pros and cons, wouldn't you assume that she was indeed in favor of firing him?

    It looks pretty clear that the answer to the question she poses in her title is serious, and that her answer to the question is "Yes, indeed it is time for a millstone" and her dittoheads cheer.

    I think it's charming that given all the evidence that anti-gay zealots do indeed mean exactly what they say no matter how horrible, that you remain optimistic. I just don't think there's any evidence that such optimism is warranted.

    They're out to destroy lives.

    But even if it was just rhetoric and not a call to start grinding millstones, it doesn't make it any better. To threaten to tie a millstone around someone's neck still seems pretty horrible.

    And of course, even if her fans wanted to rationalize and make excuses that these were just poorly chosen words, you have to wonder how stupid one would have to be to be an editor of a website for a supposedly Christian organization and yet print such a thing in the first place, and how stupid any organization (but particularly a political advocacy organization) would be to keep someone around who possesses such a tin ear, not to mention how stupid it would be for leaders of other political organizations like the IRD to cheer instead of distancing themselves immediately.

  3. Thanks Marci and Alan.

    Yes, the Layman has said on more than one occasion that it "is time to chuck shuck" (which I assume they mean out of the denomination).

    Perhaps I was being too charmingly optimistic regarding her language. It is so horrific that I can't believe she would use it.

    Thanks for not letting me off the hook.

  4. BTW, I commented on her blog earlier but it hasn't been posted yet. I said so who is going to tie the millstone around Dr. Achtemeier? You are those who you will stir up with your rhetoric.

    She has put people's lives in danger with that post.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Um...she's quoting Jesus, dudes. Matthew 18:6? Mark 9:42? Luke 17:2?

    Please tell me y'all know this and are just goofing around.

    She does miss the whole "repentance and forgiveness" thing that Jesus uses to frame his warning to those who perpetrate injustice and foment falsehood, but before getting worked up about her violent language, let's be sure we recall both the source and the point of the texts she misapplies.

  7. I know she is quoting Jesus.

    So what? She is not Jesus. Nor does she have any authority to apply this saying to anyone.

    "Time for a millstone?" Who is going to tie it?

    At issue is how the Bible is applied, even if it is a saying of Jesus.

  8. Indeed she quotes Jesus.

    But her title, "Time for a millstone?" is not a quote, it is a question, and one that she evidently answers in the affirmative, given the whole of the piece.

    These people have been out to destroy lives throughout this fight over ordination and marriage. That they're simply admitting it now that they're so desperate shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

    If she had written an editorial called "Time for healing?" about the ordination question and in it quoted various Biblical verses about unity and healing and loving our neighbor, wouldn't you come to the conclusion that she does indeed believe that it is time to heal, and that she believes it is we who are supposed to do the healing?

    So if she writes an editorial called, "Time for a millstone?" and includes quotes about millstones around people's necks and throwing them into the sea, why would you not assume that she does indeed believe that it is time for a millstone, and that she believes it is we who are supposed to do the tying?

    These people are out to destroy lives. In the past they've been content to go after ministers' livelihoods (notice they never file charges against deacons or elders because neither deacons nor elders get paid salaries, get health insurance, have a manse, or a pension to screw with.) Now they seem to have upped the ante.

    After all, they regularly and gleefully call us heretics and apostates. Historically, what does one do to a heretic?

  9. @ John: Glad to hear it. That was seemed your post. Honestly, what cheesed me most about her post is the misappropriation of the words of my Beloved Teacher by someone who has no clue about who he actually is or the implications of what he taught.

    But making this out to be a subtle call for physical violence overstates it. Don't get me wrong. What she's saying bites. It's a slight to the Gospel. But it's her erroneous assertion of the wrath of God against folks she doesn't like, not a specific threat of personal violence.

    Like much of the Layman's editorializing, it's glassy-eyed tea bagger stuff. But having read it myself and also futilely tried to leave a comment, I don't see an intended threat. Just the usual graceless histrionics that the Layman lives and breathes by. If you read the comments she's allowed, that's how it's being taken by the PureBloods.

  10. "I am not one in favor of censoring anyone's speech, but a little responsibility and sensitivity from an editor of a Christian publication is in order." Hellooooooo......
    Pot calling kettle black!

  11. Anon -

    If you're referring to the deleted comment (which I assume was yours and also anonymous), no one censored your speech. If you don't have the courage to name yourself, you are asking to be dismissed. You may say whatever you like, somewhere else. Like your own blog.

    Blessed Spear -

    Whether Fowler intends violence or not, her words are incendiary, and incite-full, as opposed to insightful. She needs to own up to that.

  12. No, I wasn't referring to the deleted comment, which wasn't mine. I was referring to the general tenor of comments in this blog.

  13. Then I am entirely confused as to your statement.

  14. Never mind. It really isn't worth it to try and engage in a conversation in here. Sorry I tried. I'll delete my own comments..and then this one in a bit.

  15. Or you can delete them...doesn't look like I am able.

  16. OK. So when asked to articulate your position you use the "can't talk to you people" defense and call it censorship.

    I call it blather. As you were.

  17. BTW, you'd be able to delete your comments if you didn't insist on being anonymous.

  18. Beloved Spear said...

    Um...she's quoting Jesus, dudes. Matthew 18:6? Mark 9:42? Luke 17:2?

    Jesus did not prescribe that such an act be committed. It was a metaphor describing the suffering of being spiritually disconnected from God for all eternity.

    Fowler, in the title (Time for a Millstone?) used the metaphor in a completely different way than Jesus intended it to be received.

    No big deal. She's not the first scripturally challenged person to miss the entire context of something Jesus said. Regardless of how clear it may have been.

  19. @ captainkona: You're exactly right. She utterly misunderstands it. But having followed Carmen for a while, my strong sense is that she is not inciting violence.

    @ Snad: True. But if the Layman had to apologize for every editorial that rolled that way, they'd spend every waking moment apologizing.

    Which wouldn't be a bad thing. Might keep 'em out of trouble.

  20. I am getting the word that a number of people have been trying to post comments on her blog but they are not being "approved."

    Feel free to post what you posted there over here.

  21. David has provided an excellent response to Carmen's screed over at his place.

  22. "The title of her blogpost is Time for a Millstone? "

    Carmen and the Layman have gone over the deep end many times. This is just one more pathetic low point.

    What she misses of course is the reflexive nature of her post. Or perhaps it is a cognitively aware propagandist attempt to capture the rhetorical high ground?

    (The purpose of Layman is after all to be propaganda tabloid)

    Either way, the language she quotes from the Bible was directed precisely to people such as herself who use the Scriptures to cause others to fall.

    To wit, if one person abuses a gay person as the result of her post, she stands convicted by her own words, and it is of her that Jesus said "it would be better if...".

    When Jesus says "cause one of these little ones to sin" I am thinking of the news report of the child - literally a "little one" - who brought a gun to school and shot and killed his young classmate (5th grader?!) because he thought he might be gay.

    Who put it in this boy's head that a potentially gay young classmate was somehow deserving of any kind of special treatment, let alone of murder?

    At least four lives were destroyed by that one murder, (two boys and two mothers), and many more were permanently injured.

    It is simple math that it WOULD have been better for Carmen to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around her neck than to allow her to continue to promote the paradigm that led to that murder and others like it.

    Jesus was right.

  23. I have been thinking about this. I can't quite get this out of my mind, actually.

    1) She thinks Achtemeier is a false teacher. That his teaching causes people to sin.

    2) Therefore, it would be better if he never existed or is dead now.

    Is that not what she is saying, that it would be better for (church, world, kingdom of God) if Achtemeier were dead?

  24. That is what she is saying, yes.

    Followed by applause by the self proclaimed defenders of the faith.

    God, in His wonderful sense of humor, giving us real life examples of what Jesus so vociferously opposed.

    In case we missed it.

  25. Here's what I posted over on David's page:
    "Nicely put. I am still having a great deal of trouble with the fact that Rev. Fowler is suggesting that perhaps her colleague be weighted down and thrown into the water so he drowns.

    I had a thought that Prof. Achtemeier show up at her office and offer himself to her so that she might carry out her suggestion herself. Not that I think in any way that she should do it, but I would enjoy seeing her response, given the opportunity to see her suggestion carried to its complete and scripturally accurate conclusion.

    This would, in essence, force her to admit her cowardice."

  26. It's one thing to quote Jesus and another thing entirely to exegete well. This use of the 'millstone' passage seems tenuous at best for a few reasons.

    One reason is that Jesus is clearly saying that it would be better for a millstone to be hung around a person's neck - meaning, obviously, that there is no need for said millstone because God is able to defend God's self if necessary - something conservatives never seem to feel is true. This is like people who quote "vengeance is mine said the Lord" and then go to take vengeance. It is quoting scripture but showing a paucity of understanding in my opinion.

    There is also the issue of "little ones". My friend and I were talking about this over lunch today, and doesn't the term "little ones" always refer to outsiders, or new converts, or possibly literally children? All of Achteier's audience were grownups, no? And insiders? Politically active members of the denomination? So they are not really 'little ones' are they?

    Instead, I would say that a great example of "little ones" in our context are same-gender-loving persons who are driven out of our denomination, victims of crimes and discrimination, prevented from living out their callings to be Elders or Pastors, etc. We are not the little ones - they are, if anything, because they are forcibly marginalized and discussed in the third person much of the time.

    This "millstone" language is usurping God's authority in the case of the call for using the millstone and ignoring the meaning of "little ones" in Jesus' context or in ours.

    This is apart from the fact that at face value, the language appears to be calling for the murder of another human being of faith because of his beliefs which has already been discussed. Even if it wasn't a call for violence (metaphorical or not) it is not exegesis I would stand behind.

  27. "I am getting the word that a number of people have been trying to post comments on her blog but they are not being "approved."

    Hardly surpring from the censor at all costs crowd. If there's one thing the busybodies, fusspots, tattletales, and scolds hate it's disagreement with their (aka. "God's") opinion.

    Given the title of her post, I decided not to comment there. If she wants to tie a millstone around the neck of a respected straight evangelical theologian, one can only imagine what she'd want do with her letter opener should some fag like me comment over there. ;)

  28. I don't know, Alan, but with their fear of gay cooties, I suspect it would involve an autoclave and tweezers!


  29. An enlightening exercise to search the word millstone on the LayMAN website.

    Here is my take on it. I don't like the millstone image. Whether Jesus himself used it in regards to his opponents or whether it was used by the gospel writers against their opponents, either way, it was a reflection of violent fantasies upon opponents, much like descriptive accounts of hell.

    I think we know its worth by its fruits. It is a darling for those who use it as a violent fantasy upon those with whom they disagree and then claim, "Well, Jesus said it, I didn't."

    If Jesus said it, it was because he was having a bad day. Not his greatest moment.