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Tuesday, January 31, 2017

How Long? The Choice Conservative Christians Must Make.

In the Hebrew Scriptures is a concept known as "strengthening the hands of the wicked."

The idea is that our actions, wicked themselves, serve to embolden and empower others who are wicked.

Six men are dead in Quebec City, Quebec and while you nor I pulled the trigger, I feel some of us may have strengthened the hands of the man who did, holding them steady as he aimed his weapon at the backs of a crowd of men gathered to pray.

Since 2001 and the September terrorist attacks, the conversation about Islam among political conservatives has been dominated by negativity, if not prejudice.

Taking real concerns posed by aggressive forms of Islam and projecting them upon innocent Islāmic Americans who simply wish to live their lives has created a power keg of tension to the extent that when the word "Islam" is uttered, some people automatically hear "terrorism" and act accordingly.

Take, for example, the enduring lie that our President is secretly Muslim, a lie used to explain his supposed softness on terrorism.

Or take the spectacular opposition to the "Ground Zero Mosque", in reality an Islāmic Cultural center blocks away from site of the fallen Twin Towers, a twisted irony from folks priding themselves on "religious freedom."

And, most recently, President Trump, who as a candidate for president vowed to ban Muslims from immigrating to the United States “until we can figure out what’s going on”, whatever that meant.

No matter whether he would fulfill that promise (he did not), by making it in the first place, he did that much more to brand Muslims and Islam as enemies of the United States and to stoke the hornet’s nest of prejudice in the US and in the Middle East.

I understand this latest attack did not take place by an American on American soil.

Indeed, Canada, while also a relatively diverse country, leans more to the left than this nation.

Yet, this brand of bigotry has no borders and early reporting is already drawing the connections between the murderous gunman, right-wing politics, and president Trump.

So what’s my point?

I have no dog in the political fight.

In fact, every time I open my Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube accounts, the seething hatred in my heart for the entire rancid political system in this country and abroad only intensifies.

I don’t care what Republican Party or conservatives do with one important caveat: to the extent that Christians, followers of Christ, have made themselves participants in their dangerous foolishness, they have betrayed Christ.

People like Franklin Graham who proclaimed that "Islam has declared war on the world, and it's high time we acknowledge it and respond decisively."

Or Christian apologist Robert Morey suggested we could end terrorism by nuking the Kaaba.

Even more common are the unsubstantiated reports from "Christian" news sites of horrible things Muslims have supposedly done. 

Jesus refused to slander his accusers or bring a charge against them as they hurled lies at him, spit on him, beat him, mocked him, tortured him, and finally nailed him to a cross and watched him die.

And yet some Christians cannot afford to trouble themselves to even get to know the very people they are sure want to harm them.

Everyone not blinded by their own ideology understands that inside Islam exists violent factions and that even among moderate Muslims are religious doctrines and political opinions that do not cohere with what we have come to appreciate as Western values.

These are honest and legitimate conversations we can have.

But the shameless fear mongering, sharing of misinformation about the Islāmic religion, name-calling, and general lack of charity is simply unacceptable.

I say this not sitting in some ivory tower in Boston or San Diego; I have lived my life in the Midwest.

I am intimately acquainted with the convergence of Christianity and conservatism, from within and without, both in its best and worst forms.

This is not a pot-shot from the outside.

Conservatism seems to have hitched its wagon to the horses of populism and nativist nationalism and it is time for Christians to come out and be separate.

Indeed, what we are seeing is simply the fruit of politics: hateful division.

Politics forces us to take sides, create enemies, and consolidate power.

It can accomplish good, often in spite of itself, but it is inherently contradictory to the standards of God’s Kingdom built on service, patience, charity, and truth.

Understanding this, here is my plea: stop dragging the name of Christ through the mud by linking arms with those who do not care about Christ’s life and teachings.

And if a plea will not work, here is my warning: to the extent that you bear false witness against your neighbor, spread hate and fear, refuse to submit to Jesus’ Kingdom authority, and continue to strengthen the hands of the wicked, know your actions will not escape the eyes of God.

Care enough about your neighbor to care less about your politics and perhaps we can truly witness for Christ.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Catholic Distinctives in the Light of the New Testament: Head-Coverings.

For most of Christian history, women covered their heads for corporate worship in observance of the apostle Paul's instruction in his first letter to the church of Christ in Corinth. 

Keeping in mind the exceptions, as written Christian history and, notably, Christian art evince, covering was practiced generally across the Christian spectrum into the modern age. 

Indeed, the Catholic Church once required women to celebrate the Mass with veiled heads:

"Men, in a church or outside a church, while they are assisting at sacred rites, shall be bare-headed, unless the approved mores of the people or peculiar circumstances of things determine otherwise; women, however, shall have a covered head and be modestly dressed, especially when they approach the table of the Lord." (1917 Code of Canon Law. canon 1262)

What changed?

In 1983, Pope John Paul II issued an ecclesiastic pronouncement that replaced the 1917 Canon Law, the updated 1983 Law including no such command regarding head-coverings. 

Here I will repeat the argument of the Catholic Answers that (1.) further Catholic law states that any law not re-issued in the 1983 update is "abrogated" and (2.) since the 1970's the official Catholic doctrine has essentially been that "these ordinances, probably inspired by the customs of the period, concern scarcely more than disciplinary practices of minor importance, such as the obligation imposed upon women to wear a veil on their head (1 Cor. 11:2-16); such requirements no longer have a normative value" (see Inter Insignories). 

Indeed, that it is no longer required for Catholic women to veil their head is not the controversial point (though women must veil in the older form of the Catholic Mass) and does not bear further evidencing.

So, while Catholic doctrine has changed, what of the Bible's teaching on the subject? 

Paul straightforwardly commends the Christian congregation in Corinth in Ancient Greece for "remembering me [Paul] in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you" (1 Cor. 11:2).

Yet, he has counsel for them, which must be presented in full:

3. But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 

4. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 

5. But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 

6. For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head.

7. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. 

8. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; 

9. neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 

10. It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 

11. Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 

12. For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

13. Judge for yourselves: Is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?

The problem is that of the teachings the Corinthians have held to, they have otherwise neglected that women should cover their heads when praying and prophesying.

As a remedy, Paul re-emphasizes the importance of following this teaching, giving two arguments about woman being the glory of man and a further argument "because of the angels."

The first point is relevant insofar as the head-covering serves as a fitting veil of the glory of man in woman and the glory of a woman's hair (v15), so God's glory may be all the more clear when a woman is praying or prophesying. 

The second point about angels is open to endless speculation, but it must be noted these points are not "customs of the period", but extra-cultural concerns.

The issue is not whether a woman's hair is her covering, (previous Catholic teaching contradicts this idea), or a where a woman should cover (just in the congregational assemblies?), but is Paul's command here a normative rule still in force for all Christian women (and men, who should not cover) everywhere today?

The answer is yes because Paul roots Christian covering in factors independent of the passage of time or changing of cultural contexts.

Furthermore, while the Catholic Church may think Paul's command was "of minor importance", the fact he included it in his letter, taking the time to develop an argument in its favor, suggests it was of more than minor importance, despite its widespread neglect today.

I wonder if women had arrived for Mass in the 10th century with uncovered heads making this same argument if they would have been received well. 

Most Protestants, also ignoring this command, may miss the casualness with which this Bible teaching has been cast aside by the Catholic Church, especially in light of its insistence that Paul's commands about women teaching and having authority over men in the church, and speaking in the assembly are "of a different nature", thus not cultural in nature, and in full force today (see the previously linked document).

Paul mandated that the Corinthians obey the Christian tradition on the subject, which was in place in all the churches (v16), and grounded in extra-cultural concerns.

While we should never "major in the minors", we should be careful about which Bible teachings we brand as "minor" and thus freely abrogate with the stroke of an ecclesiastic pen. 

Fr. Raymond Burke, a high-ranking Catholic clergyman, in defending this change by the Catholic Church, reasons that because head-covering had lost its significance, that it could mean different things to different people (i.e., send mixed messages), and "because we find that in all areas of the Church's life not requiring a distinction of sex, men and women today participate equally in the Church as baptized persons", we can further affirm the prudency of the Catholic Church on this decision. 

The problem with his logic is that the very same things could have been said in Paul's day.

Head-coverings were common in the first century Ancient Near East, so the "sign" of covering for a female Christian would have meant nothing to a non-Christian outsider unless it was explained to them.

Moreover, not covering was apparently an issue when Christians were coming together (thus the issue of praying and prophesying), so if the sign was losing significance, it was among Christians!

And Paul's response?

Keep covering!

In addition, the "different things to different people" argument is what allows groups like the Salvation Army to forgo baptism and communion totally to avoid the problematic, modern connotations they see in these "signs" and to replace them with other things.

Also note that the early church was pegged as sexually debauched because of pagan misinterpretations of their "love feasts" and as cannibalistic because they ate the "body and blood" of their founder.

Yet, they continued on.

The reality is that being a Christian, with all that entails, will often run counter to culture and the proper response is never capitulation when an issue of inspired doctrine is in the balance.

Finally, men and women can be equal but different (as in regard to one wearing a covering and one not), a fact which Burke concedes when he mentions that Catholic women cannot serve in the priesthood of their church.

In the end, the Catholic teaching on head-coverings, when weighed, comes up wanting and we are reminded that while the doctrines of men may change, God's Word is settled forever in Heaven (Psalm 119:89).