Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts on Numbers

“Hills of Gilead” (David Bjorgen, Wikipedia)
Most Christians don’t like the idea of a God who’s flexible, sometimes letting believers have their way. In fact, it’s a favorite pastime of church leaders to frighten people out of doing anything for fear that it might conflict with “God’s will.” (Apparently, they believe it’s super easy for people to mess up and prevent God from getting His way). Instead they assume that God sets a highly detailed, fixed, permanent seventy-year plan for the average individual, and any attempt by the said individual to make modifications constitutes damnable sin.

Reading Numbers has always been a bit of a chore, even for someone like me who worked as a demographer, analyzing census data. What stood out to me this time around was how Moses, or God for that matter, responded to the Reubenites and Gadites’ request to settle in Gilead instead of the “Promised Land” of Canaan (ch. 32). The people of these tribes cared about their economic prospects and asked that their shares of Canaan be exchanged for shares of land more suitable for livestock.

The request initially upset Moses. He was afraid that losing the fighting strength of Reuben and Gad. Weaker numbers in battle would discourage everyone, jeopardizing the other tribes’ chance to inherit Canaan. When the shepherds promised not to abandon their brothers in their conquest, Moses approved their request and even let one half-tribe of Manasseh join the Transjordan settlement.

What struck me about this passage is how Moses never lectured these tribes into accepting what they really didn’t want. If he were a typical preacher today, we might expect a sermon about how greedy people are for asking for what they want rather than being satisfied with what God has already given them. We’d also expect the before mentioned warnings about crossing God’s plans by zealously seeking anything more in life.

Although I’m not settled on the matter, I wonder why Christians are discouraged from petitioning for whatever they want in life and from actively pursuing those things. No doubt there will be disappointments and failures, and God rejecting sinful requests shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone (James 4:3). But this passage in Numbers makes for a good case study: God wants us to make requests (Matthew 21:22, 1 John 3:21-22), and He enjoys fulfilling them because He enjoys seeing us happy (Matthew 7:11, Luke 11:13).

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Shameless Search for Lesbian Martyrs of the Homeschool Movement

I was nineteen years old when I first discovered people’s eagerness to gain from others’ sexual orientation. A fellow college student, Mr. Popular concluded that I was “gay” because that was the only logical explanation his conceited self could make for my disinterest in him. Ms. Social Butterfly was the only friend – now former friend – who believed there was enough corroborating evidence for the rumor. She wanted to be compassionate by publicly accepting me. But she had an ulterior motive too: Having a lesbian friend would complete her social circle and make her appear more open-minded. A couple years later, Ms. Black Woman Power, whom I only knew by sight, persisted in believing that I was dating my sister, despite the constant refutation of other students. She was too busy celebrating black women’s independence. Facts and others’ feelings took second place to her socio-political goals.

One thing that all three of these experiences had in common: The primary instigator can be generally described as Christian. In other words, Christians were perfectly willing to use others’ real or imagined homosexuality to further their own ends. I reached this conclusion years later after seeing more of that nonsense in the “secular world” with non-Christians and genuine homosexuals. The script was very similar. Use someone else’s deviant sexuality to boost your public image.

So a few years ago, I was not surprised when a (married) survivor of the Quiverfull Movement and anti-homeschool activist began hinting that the key to resolving my singleness would be to enter a lesbian relationship. She wasn’t interested in hearing me deny being attracted to women. She didn’t care about my theological views on the topic. What she did care about was destroying conservative Christian homeschooling by having its key product (i.e., patriarchal-minded women) fail.

The conservative Christian homeschooling movement is infamous for declaring all men unmarriageable but a select few, leaving hundreds of women waiting decades for a non-existent perfect husband. A few concerned homeschool graduates had predicted that an epidemic of lesbianism would result, but to my knowledge no cases had been actually found. (Homosexual homeschool graduates tend to be from less religious or non-religious homes.) So someone decided to create one. The suggestion sickened me for a number of reasons, but primarily due to the realization that someone wanted to use my disappointments in life to further a personal cause against Christian homeschooling. I wonder how many homeschool girls are being used this way…for the good of the movement.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Is the King James Version Only Crowd Causing Others to Sin?

“Frontispiece to the King James’ Bible, 1611” (Wikipedia)
Because of my economics course assignments, I rarely get a chance to cover market structure, but when I do, one of my favorite monopoly examples to use is the British Crown’s perpetual copyright over the Authorized Version of the Bible (i.e., the King James Version). Needless to say, American rebels fighting against the Crown during the American Revolution really didn’t care about going through the appropriate legal channels for printing political tracts, let alone Bibles. Today, some effort is usually made to follow the copyright restrictions of American publishers when using and copying the text, however few people know or care about the Crown’s claim.

Unless you own a copy made by an approved printer, like Oxford or Cambridge, then you’re pretty much an accomplice in stealing. No, you’re not committing a crime here in the United States. From the perspective of our Federal government, the text has been in public domain for years. However, the interests of the owners have been pushed aside by our government. You might argue that your use of the KJV is solely for honorable purposes. You might claim “fair use,” but keep in mind that American publishers are selling the text, whether for profit or not.

You could argue that God’s Word can’t be owned. How convenient! Deny people right to their product, developed through years of people’s studying, copying, translating, and so on. This argument creates a problem for any human output. Why? Because it implies that there can’t be property rights over anything produced with God’s raw materials (i.e., any and all natural resources). Yes, many political conservatives, libertarians, and anarchists have argued against protecting intellectual property. Although I agree that the patent system has been corrupt and inefficient, I rarely give credence to claims that copyrights or patents are inherently wrong. They usually just echo the weak arguments calling for the abolition of physical property. In addition, the movement is filled with hypocrites who file or declare copyrights (even on Facebook profiles) or utilize Creative Commons, in attempt to limit other people’s infringement on “their” property. The whole situation just stinks of covetous protestors trying to get their greedy hands on other people’s stuff.

The fact remains that millions of American Christians possess illegitimate copies of the King James Bible. Worse, the “King James Only” movement encourages this. Americans are encouraged to purchase these unauthorized Authorized Bibles, due to some belief that reading any other English translation, even one based on the same Hebrew and Greek manuscripts or translated with the same ecclesiastical biases, is immoral. Adherents then patronize publishers who are essentially stealing from the British Crown. Any way you look at it, disagreements over politics and religion doesn’t make something any less of a sin. There’s to be one law for believer and unbeliever. I challenge the “King James Only” crowd and their leaders to take responsibility. They should denounce the purchase of unauthorized copies. Maybe they should consider burning them, since they probably are an abomination in the sight of God. Anything less would be collaborating with the Evil One.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Thoughts on Mark

When it comes to charity, there are generally two prevailing, conflicting thoughts on the issue: we have to obey the Scriptures by giving freely and generously, but we also must be “good stewards” of our resources, discriminating between worthy and unworthy causes. The result is bitter disputes among Christians, trying to figure out what’s required of them. Should we tithe or donate to a “Christian” organization whose leadership commits terrible offenses? Should we actively prevent others from doing so? That could make things bloody! I don’t have a good answer, but I’d like to cite a case before more Christians render their judgments.

A few months ago, I tackled the Gospel of Mark (assumed to be the Apostle Peter’s perspective) and was startled by a familiar story: “The Widow’s Offering” (12:41-44). I’ve heard about the widow who gave all she had since I was four years old. I’d read the story in and out of context a million times. Yet, something struck me as rather odd: this woman gave money to an apostate temple!

Consider the broader context: After His triumphant entry into Jerusalem, Jesus Christ cleanses the temple, calling the priests and their staff of money-changers “robbers” (11:15-19). Then He continues to tell off the religious authorities in chapters 11 and 12. Jesus even warns that they parade around for the benefits while breaking the commandments to care for widows (12:38-40). After observing the generous widow, Christ then informs His disciples that the pretty-looking Herodian temple they were gushing over would be destroyed (13:1-2).

Now consider what would’ve happened today: Christians publically denounce churches and para-church organizations for not staying true to biblical doctrine. And anyone who’d dare render a tithe, offering, or donation would be chided or even harassed for their decisions to give. But Jesus Christ didn’t even try to stop the widow from giving all she had to the Lord, even though the earthly benefactors were those he constantly denounced. Maybe the heart of the one doing the supporting really does matter more than who gets supported.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Diamond Blues

From about age 6 to 8, I had the misfortune of being forced to play softball. “Children’s Church” during evening service was made up of nearly all boys. I guess the parents of the girls I’d see Sunday morning weren’t as faithful attenders in the evening as my parents were. Most of the time, the teacher, was either unprepared to give us a lesson or just didn’t have enough backbone to say no to the preacher’s and elders’ sons. So, as long as it was light outside, we played softball.

I hated it with a passion. I was afraid of the ball. I couldn’t see it coming, so I never hit it, even when “Coach” (what we had to call the teacher) tossed it up in the air in front of me. He tried very hard to get me a hit, but it never happened. I’d drop the bat and duck, much to the disgust of my “teammates.” On my lucky days, I swung and missed. To make things worse, I literally threw like a girl, bringing down laughter and ridicule upon myself whenever I made any effort. And no one bothered to explain the rules to me, so I walked even when I struck out.

The parking lot was not the great equalizer. It merely unflavored me, the girl who’d never watched baseball, while favoring the roughhousing boys. Worse, while inside I could keep up with the older kids, singing praise songs, memorizing Bible verses, and playing games, outside I was picked on, even by boys younger than me. I was friendless and absolutely miserable.

Then one evening, we were playing softball. As usual, “Coach” was pitching. One of the older boys who I’d always admired was the catcher. One by one, different boys went up to bat. I recall someone hitting a “homerun” that required awhile for someone to retrieve the ball. It seemed like hours to me.

At some point, I was up to bat. I’d been practicing. I was determined to hit the ball. “Coach” was encouraging me. Everyone was cheering me on, even whoever was the “Manager” who got stuck picking me that day. Everyone was rooting for me! Me, the girl who couldn’t hit the ball to save her life!

The adrenalin was rushing through my body. I was going to hit it!

I stood ready to swing.

“Coach” threw the pitch.


Everything was silent. I remember looking up. I remember the catcher’s horrified face. I remember “Coach” fumbling with words.

I was in shock. HOW COULD HE HAVE HIT ME?!!! I had trusted him so much. For two years, he and all the male hoodlums had chided me for ducking. And now, I had a bruised head.

I didn’t cry. Maybe I was too afraid to.

I was walked.

If I hadn’t been a shy, obedient, intimidated girl, I would’ve screamed all evening. If I’d known what suing was, I would’ve threatened to take them all to court. Thinking back, I’m not sure if “Coach” told my parents about it. (When I’ve mentioned it, they don’t seem to even recall us playing softball, but this was a long time ago.)

I do recall one thing. I was never forced to play softball again.