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From Alie

Dear Liberal Preacher,

I have noticed most Baptists do not drink alcohol.  Why is that?  Is there a Biblical reason for this, or just a personal preference?  (After all, Jesus didn’t turn water into milkshakes!)

Alie

 

Dear Alie:

You are not seriously buying the idea that most Baptists do not drink alcohol are you?

Whath goes on beyond closed doors?  There’s a song with those words, isn’t there?

You’ve heard the joke?  You know the difference between a ___________ (fill in the blank, Methodist, Presby, Whiskeypalean, etc.) and a Baptist?  A ______ will talk to you in the liquor store.

On the other hand, we all know and believe Jesus drank Welch’s grape juice.  It’s right there in John 999:99 (Goofed-up Bible version). 

Will Baptists ever be honest?

 

Submit questions to askaliberalpreacher@gmail.com

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From Rosie:

Dear Liberal Baptist Preacher,

It is my understanding that the Baptist church has traditionally believed in the “Four Freedoms.”

1) Soul freedom: the soul is competent before God, and is capable of making decisions in matters of faith without coercion or compulsion by any larger religious or civil body (the priesthood of the believer)

2) Church freedom: freedom of the local church from outside interference, whether government or civilian (the autonomy of the local church)

3) Bible freedom: the individual is free to interpret the Bible for himself or herself, using the best tools of scholarship and Biblical study available to the individual

4) Religious freedom: the individual is free to choose whether to practice their religion, another religion, or no religion – also, religious freedom in separation of church and state.

My questions: Are these four freedoms still a part of the Baptist tradition? Do Fundamentalist Baptists believe in these four freedoms? Does the SBC endorse these traditions? If this is NOT still a part of Baptist tradition, when did it change? Thank you for your time.

Rosie

 

Dear Rosie:

There’s nothing I would enjoy more – well, that’s an exaggeration – there’s nothing I would enjoy more than raking a few Baptist fundamentalists over the coals.  I went to a Southern Baptist seminary during the fundamentalist takeover of the SBC. The church I serve as pastor is a former Southern Baptist Church.  (We couldn’t take any more of their sexism, homophobic statements, anti-Semitism, dishonesty about the Bible, etc.)

I’d love to rake them over the coals and tell you they are not true Baptists, but I don’t think that would be accurate.  During the big SBC debates there was a lot of talk about who was and wasn’t a true Baptist. True this or true that, true Baptist or a sorry excuse for a Baptist, true Christian and you aren’t a Christian – all that talk makes me nervous.

I’d like for you to read Leon McBeth’s mammoth work, The Baptist Heritage. He makes Baptist history interesting, and there is some funny stuff in it too!  It’s a big, big book, though.

There are currently so many different “brands” of Baptist I wouldn’t even want to start to define Baptist these days.  And I think a good case can be made for there being diversity among Baptists from the start of Baptistdom. 

Walter Shurden – I once heard him give a lecture, I believe, at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary – spoke of different strands or traditions among the early Baptists/Southern Baptists. 

In Jane Wagner’s book, The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe, the main character, played by Lily Tomlin on Broadway, says:  “when I look at my family I feel like a detached retina.” 

When I look at my Baptist kinfolk, I sometimes feel like a detached retina.  On the other hand, there are more Baptists who live in my neighborhood (I’m a baptist, Jewish, Universalist, Agnostic Christian) than you might believe.  Baptists, like me, stand in the great heritage of John LeLand.  In 1791 John Leland, an outspoken Baptist in America, wrote his major treatise on religious liberty, “The Rights of Conscience Inalienable.”  In this treatise, Leland argued that the real motives for establishment of religion are not to benefit religion, but to buttress the power of civil clergy and augment the purposes of ambitious clergy.  Leland concluded that: “Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics.  Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods, and let government protect him in so doing.”

That’s my kind of Baptist!

But, alas, your questions.

Those four freedoms you mention are still alive and well among REAL, TRUE Baptists – O.K., among some of the modern Baptists.

I don’t speak for fundamentalist  or SBC Baptists.  You’ll have to ask them.  But watch them.  I find them squirmy.  I find them dishonest.  They are trying to be honest.  They are good people, for the most part.  They are just – they just think you have to be the way they are to be Christian and they are flat out wrong.  I don’t find their Christianity very Christian.  It sure doesn’t appeal to me.  Or put another way, I’m not going back, but I do appreciate many wonderful things about my conservative Baptist upbringing.  [I bet I can whip you in a Bible sword drill.  “Sword”? – “Sword Drill”?  That should have been a clue!]

When did it change?  Well, that’s the old “what’s the original” angle.  Christians spend too much time worrying about originals we never were or had and will never get or retrieve.  What a waste of time and energy and ink. 

When did it change?  Did it ever change?  I’m not getting into that debate too much.  I spend my time using the Bible, experience, reason, science, church tradition to make persuasive arguments about what God is asking the church and Christians to believe, and more importantly, to do today.

[Speaking of the original debate, original in this case being Baptists as the originial Christians – God help us.  There’s a book, The Trail of Blood by J. M. Carroll, which traces Baptists all the way back to John the Baptist.  I can buy that.  He was one weird dude.]

What’s your next question?

You sure have a lot of questions.

That’s a good thing.

Be careful about putting “periods” at the end of your sentences, metaphorically speaking, of course.

Happy Easter! (And watch out for those Baptists)

 

submit questions to askaliberalpreacher@gmail.com

 

From Anonymous:

Dear Liberal Preacher,
 
I am a young college student who is questioning their sexual orientation.  My question is what does the bible say about being gay?  I have always heard it is wrong to be gay and I want to know what you are supposed to do if you can not be straight?
 
Thanks
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous College Student:

I am so glad you are in college.  You will learn that many things you were previously taught are wrong, including that your sexual orientation is a sin.

I am a liberal Christian.  We typically are not certain of much, but I am certain your sexual orientation is not a sin.

I wish I could explain my position in a blog entry but I can’t.  I’m writing a book titled The Sex Education of a Baptist Ministry which explains how I became convinced, with not even an ounce of uncertainty, that one’s sexual orientation and gender identity is not a sin.

Now here’s the bad news.  In my opinion, there are probably two Bible verses which disapprove of same sex.  What they don’t tell you is that many of the verses which are supposedly clear are, in fact, unclear.  Either way, parts of the Bible are simply wrong.  I know that may be shocking news but I want the chance in the book to convince you such is the case.  I also want to convince you that in thinking about God and life and sexual orientation, etc. we (if you are a Christian) need to consider that all sources for our theology are equally valid (experience, reason, church tradition, Bible, science) and are our sources are problematic, including the Bible.

Now I don’t mean to be “smart,” but Dale C. Martin has taught me in Sex and the Single Savior that the Bible does not “say” anything.  Put a Bible in the room and be quiet for two or three hours and listen to if you hear any the Bible say any words (literally, now).  All that is to say that simply referring to the Bible is not enough. The Bible requires interpretation.  Now all interpretations are not possible and not interpretations are equal.  The church throughout its history is forced to use more than the Bible.   Actually, when you consider Christians disagree about what books should be in the Bible, that we have tons of manuscripts and have to pick which ones to use, and when you consider many other factors – well, it’s really just more complicated than many Christians want to be honest about.  Regardless of what I just wrote, for starters I would encourage you to read the Bible and start highlighting all the horrible things in it.  Buy Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer’s book Jesus Against Christianity.   Read the first 100 pages and then check back with me.

Sorry for the delay in responding to your very important question.  I’ve been in intense pain the last five weeks and am recovering from gallbladder surgery.   (Sorry for not having a drawing at the end of the post.  Just not up to it yet.)

You need to recover from the untruths the church has taught you.

Now here’s a prayer for your healing.  Here are the lyrics of Easy To Be Me (Lifehouse).

“Easier To Be”

Lifehouse

Chasing fireflies
Elusive dreams
This pre life crisis
Is killing me
Beautiful tragedy
Who I was wasn’t me
Yeah yeah

Do do do do
You make it easier to be
Easier to be me

It’s hard to believe
You make it easy…

We speak in silence
Words can’t break
It feels like we are
Falling awake
In a place and a time
Of our own
Yeah yeah

Do do do do
You make it easier to be
Easier to be me

Hard to believe

It felt like the world
Fell from my feet
Gave up on myself

You didn’t give up on me
Let myself go
You were still there
Like coming home
Coming up for air
Yeah yeah

 

From CN:

Dear Liberal Preacher,
 
I hate church. Despise it. I love the idea of finding a liberal church (like yours) and for once worshipping with people who aren’t afraid to ask the “big” questions. I have been reading a lot of your blog and have been diving into your website, I really love it.  I also have a degree in religion and psychology and currently work in a ministry position, and yet I can’t stand the idea of sitting through church. It is the standing, sitting, singing, and gathering of sweaty bodies that just kind of make my stomach turn. I have come to associate church with cheesiness, fake smiles, and uncomfortable shoes. I wish I wanted to go to church, but mostly I just want to have my Sundays to myself. Is that so bad? How do I get over the “I just graduated college and I hate church” hump?
 
Thanks,
CN

 

CN,

The church needs you.  But the world needs you more, and the world is the point.  And if going to church saps you and is a waste of time, time that you could be using to love the world, well, snub the institutional church.  Or start a cell group yourself.  Do some new form of church.  The Church needs a kick in the pants.  It is impotent and is missing the point/s.

There are no perfect churches and there are no perfect people, but, like you, the cheesiness, the inability to ask big questions, and the fake smiles are just too much.  I mean, have they ever read Job or Ecclesiastes or the lament Psalms?

I’m going to email you the best story I’ve ever read.  It’s about a drunk named Old Ike.  The story is from  Wilfred Pelletier’s No Foreign Land:  The Autobiography of a North American Indian.  Old Ike steals a Gideon Bible and discovers real religion; finds out he is more like Jesus than the priests.  It’s funny, but it’s hard-hitting.

I’m more interested in you following Jesus than being in a church, but if you can, help the Christians in churches.  They need it badly.  Unfortunately, the type of help they want from you (your money, you sitting on the pew, you sitting in a million long and boring meetings listening to people think of a thousand reasons not to do something Jesus said to do) is not the type of help which could make them more faithful, real, and relevant.

 

From Theologically Curious:

Dear Liberal Preacher:

You told MJ that Hell doesn’t exist. How can you be a Christian and not believe in Hell? If Hell doesn’t exist, does Heaven? Can you believe in Heaven, but not Hell?

Yours,
Theologically Curious

Dear Theologically Curious,

Yes, you can be a Christian and not believe in hell.  I’m a Christian and I don’t believe in hell.  I find an ever-lasting, punishing hell to be contrary to a loving God.  So did some early church fathers.  Origen of Alexandria and Gregory of Nyssa questioned the eternality of hell and the literal interpretation of it as a fiery place.  I go one step further and doubt hell exists. 

So if hell doesn’t exist, why do I believe heaven does exist?  Isn’t that convenient to believe one but not the other?

Good point.

Actually, the idea of heaven itself is problematic.  Why not set up the world as heaven in the first place?  Why put human beings to the test?  Why didn’t God get it right the first time?

Furthermore, is heaven a place we go to or does heaven describe a reality on earth?

Personally, I’m pulling for heaven on earth, something like what is described in the Sibylline Oracles, which was a Jewish vision of utopian social transformation from around the time of Jesus’ birth.

The earth will belong equally to all, undivided by walls or fences. It will then bear more abundant fruits spontaneously. Lives will be in common and wealth will have no division. For there will be no poor man there, no rich, and no tyrant, no slave. Further, no one will be either great or small anymore. No kings, no leaders. All will be on a par together (Sibylline Oracles 2:319-24).

Doesn’t that sound pretty good?

From MJ:
 
Dear Liberal Preacher,
 
Can you explain the Holy Trinity? If God and Jesus are the same was Jesus talking to himself from the cross when he said “forgive them father for they know not what they do”?
 
MJ
 
Dear MJ,
 
No, I can’t explain the Trinity.  That graph above helps me about as much as a sore throat helps me.
 
Three in one.  Monotheism but trinity too.  Sounds like talking out of both sides of your mouth.
 
Well, I guess with God you are trying to explain the unexplainable.  We have to make attempts at God-talk, at theology.  My problem is with religious folk who think they’ve given the final answer.  It’s not like we are on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire.
 
Here’s a question I have.  Let’s suppose all this conservative theology is correct.  Here’s my question:  Why God, why make “it”, why make theology, so complicated?  Life is hard enough without God making theology so darn confusing.  Why not spell it  out.  If you are going to provide us with Scripture, how about some Scripture that is clear?  Blaming theological and biblical confusion on the limited brains and understanding of humans – that little manuever is not going to work.
 
MJ, I don’t know if Jesus on the cross talking to God was Jesus talking to himself or not.  I talk to myself all the time, but then again I’m not God. 
 
Thanks for your question.  I like your questions more than the Christians’ answers.
 
From MJ:
 
 
Dear Liberal Preacher,
 
I believe Jesus was a good man and I follow his teachings, but I don’t know or care if he was the son of God.   Again I do follow his teachings because they are the right thing to do; so am I condemned to hell?
 
MJ
 
 
Dear MJ,
 
Like you, I too find much about Jesus that is appealing.  (For the record, there are a few texts in the gospels which reveal a Jesus who either was having a bad day or a Jesus we should not imitate.  Yeah, we’ve got to be honest about those texts too.)
 
And like you, I’m sure I don’t have Jesus’ personhood, Christology, etc. all figured out.  I’m also sure the people who think they are sure shouldn’t be so sure.
 
So no, you aren’t going to hell.  Hell doesn’t exist.
 
As for Jesus being the son of God (or Son of God), well, we really can’t even be 100% sure of what “Son of God” means.   I will not get into all the scholarship on this matter.  What I will do is encourage you to read Bart Ehrman’s Lost Christianities and you will discover just how diverse early Christianity was, including diversity on who Jesus was.  The diversity will astound you.
 
Before closing, I also want to mention a guy by the name of Arius (AD 256 – 336).  The first ecumenical council of the church, the First Council of Nicaea, excommunicated the fellah because they didn’t like his understanding of Jesus.   That’s what the church does with folk who don’t sign  on the dotted line; they excommunicate them.  And, the church sends them to hell.
 
I’m a Baptist.  We are not creedal.  (Some Baptists have not figured this out yet.)  I will not sign on any dotted line, including that of The First Council of Nicea or any other church council.
 
Or put another way, it’s good to have you as my Jesus-sister.