Christian Piatt Blog has MOVED

August 12th, 2011

Hi all:

I have moved my blog to my new website at You can link to the blog directly from the home page, and there is an RSS feed you can pick up if you would like to subscribe.

Thanks for following, and hope to greet you at the new site!

Christian Piatt

Un-American in the name of Jesus?

July 23rd, 2011

Un-American in the name of Jesus?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.


Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

Evangelism, Missional Church & God’s Sense of Humor

June 22nd, 2011

A little more than twenty years ago, I walked out of a church for what I was pretty sure would be the last time. For a decade, I held to that assumption, but it turns out that God works, even among us heretics.

I’m not going to lean on the whole “everything happens for a reason” cliche because I don’t believe everything does happen for a reason. But the fact that I’m a presenter in Nashville at the New Evangelism Workshop (NEW) on Friday, July 8th and Saturday the 9th with my wife, Rev. Amy Piatt is enough to convince me that God can use nearly anything for good.

What’s most interesting to me is that my entire ministry has ended up being built upon those years I walked away from church. What once appeared to be my stumbling block is now the cornerstone. God is good, and God has a pretty sick sense of humor.

Anyway, if you’re going to be in or around Nashville, TN on July 8-9th, come check out what is sure to be an exciting two days of folks coming together in conversation to discuss and discern just how the church can be relevant in a 21st century world. We’ll be joined by folks like Bill Easum, Bill and Kris Tenny-Brittian, Heather Patriacca Tolleson, Geoffrey McClure Mitchell, Wayne Calhoun, Bill McConnell, Gary Straub, Dick Hamm and lots of others who will come together to share what they have learned about this common mission.


As for Amy and me, we’re sticking to what we know best: teaching people how to learn from our mistakes. Seven years into a new church start, we’re alive, well and vibrant, but the road was rife with Strategic IEDs. If we can help others find a smoother path by sharing some from our host of screw-ups, far be it from us to let our egos interfere.

Also, if you’re part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and will be attending the General Assembly in Nashville following the NEW, come check out the groovy Missional Church learning track facilitated by Brian McLaren, Sharon Watkins, Amy, myself and others. We’ll talk about what “emerging church” or “missional church” actually mean, why they matter and what it means for our work as ministers. The setting will be dynamic, interactive and enriching, I’m sure.


Hope to see many of you there.

Two Friars, a Fool, a Book and a Beer

June 21st, 2011

Many thanks to Two Friars and a Fool for sharing their own thoughts on BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE. These guys are an unruly band of theologians who enjoy pub-style discourse over all things faith-related. When they asked me to share something about the new book for their forum, I was naturally happy to oblige.

Their format is refreshingly different. They have folks like me submit an article, then each of the three (two friars plus one fool equals three) share a video response. This then leads to a larger conversation in their forum, where others can jump in, offer their two cents, chuck the virtual bar stool and the like.

For me, this kind of online space is exactly what the BANNED QUESTIONS series is all about: opening the doors, opening peoples’ minds and giving permission to talk about anything we are wondering about, afraid of, doubting or passionately convicted about. If only more of our congregations reflected this kind of vibe!

Check out the article here, along with the Two Friars and a Fool video responses.

On a somewhat related note, Chalice Press, my beloved publisher, released their top-three list of most viewed titles on their website, and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE was number two! Thanks to all who are showing an interest in the work we’re doing with this series. For those who have yet to order the book, or for those awaiting book two in the series, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS, you can order either or both through the end of June on the Chalice Press website for 40% off the retail price if you enter the promotional code “BANNEDQJ” on the final checkout page. There is no limit on the number of book s that qualify for this discount, so stock up and give copies to your pastor, friends and enemies.

Finally, several folks have asked about additional titles in the BANNED QUESTIONS series. Right now, Chalice Press is waiting to see how their first two titles do before committing to more, but being optimistic, I’ve been wrangling an all-star roster of interested contributors for a third book, should the publisher agree to pull the trigger. More on this as I’m allowed to share, but the best way to ensure there are more titles is to share a good word about the first two.

Until next time…

Energy Independence: From Crop to Tank

June 17th, 2011

Energy Independence: From Crop to Tank
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Energy sources such as wind, solar, geothermal and hydroelectric have a long way to go before they can begin to replace our energy consumption derived from oil. So aside from locking up our cars in the garage, what options are we left with?

One local group believes that biofuels may be at least part of that answer. Hal Holder, Joel Lundquist, and Rick young are all Rocky Ford farmers and co-owners of Big Squeeze, LLC a biofuel production facility here in our own back yard. And although most such projects are either concept projects only or tied to some nameless government or corporate entity, Big Squeeze is actually accessible by anyone with a diesel engine.

The concept is pretty simple. The Big Squeeze facility has presses and centrifuges that yield oil from plant seeds than then can be combined in a four-to-one ratio with diesel and used in everything from cars to tractors and industrial generators. This reduces the use of fossil fuels by eighty percent and attacks some other issues along the way, such as global warming, water shortages and in-state economic development.

I talked with Dr. Perry Cabot, a Water Resources Specialist in the Colorado State University system, about why this seems like a good idea. Biofuels, he explained, include anything that is considered a renewable resource that can yield usable energy.

“Biofuels are considered ‘carbon neutral’ with respect to CO2 emissions (i.e., CO2 produced during combustion is offset by CO2 used during photosynthesis to grow biofuel crops),” says Dr. Cabot. So although CO2 is released in the process, the idea is that the same amount will be re-absorbed by the plants grown for your next use.

But what about water? In a state where we’re already fallowing land so water can be used in growing urban settings, how can we think about expanding our farming?

“In desert climates, we’re always shooting for ‘more crop per drop,’” says Cabot, “Ethanol from corn takes a fair amount of water (24 inches or more) and the energy balance is tough to pin down. Some reports have documented substantial net-positive direct energy balances, while others contend that ethanol production is an ‘energy negative’ situation (takes more energy to produce than is contained in the final product).”

It should also be noted that the byproduct left after the oil is squeezed out is perfect for livestock food at feedlots. Ever seen a cow munching on a petroleum byproduct? Didn’t think so.

But crops like winter canola, which is ideal for diesel-based biofuels, use much less water than corn or other common crops. In fact, using limited irrigation techniques, Cabot suggests that farmers can even use land temporarily fallowed due to the sale of water rights to grow winter canola. This is where water wonks like Dr. Cabot come in, working with the farmers on irrigation plans, and striving for the ideal seeds that yield more canola with less water.

Cabot believes that such ideas can allow farmers in other arid climates grow valuable crops on land they have not been able to farm before due to lack of water storage or transfer. This could include economically struggling economies such as those in sub-Saharan Africa or other arid parts of the United States.

One argument against biofuels is that they impinge on land already being used for edible food, and when the product they yield is more valuable as a fuel, those depending on the crops for sustenance are out of luck (i.e., the poor and those living in developing countries). This is where using a low-water crop is particularly value, says Cabot. Ideally, the process adds arable land available to farmers, increasing their overall production rather than trading one for another.

Dr. Cabot acknowledges that the system isn’t perfect, but that it’s a critical step toward our collective goal of energy independence. “I like quote General George Patton,” he says “who used to say that ‘a good plan implemented today is better than a perfect plan implemented tomorrow.’ So, until electric cars really come on line, or algae biodiesel bears out, we need something that will keep the trains moving, keep interstate commerce going, and keep tractors running so farmers can farm.

“I think oilseeds are the ‘good plan today’ that will bridge us to the newer generation of fuel that we’ll see in the next 20 or 30 years. So, my end goal is to increase the demand and production of oilseeds in Colorado, in tandem as an energy solution coupled with a water solution.”

So do we just drive up to the Big Squeeze facility with our diesel car and fill ‘er up? Not just yet, says Cabot. “Oilseed cropping, particularly canola and sunflower, is practiced in numerous regions of the Arkansas Valley,” he says. “There are ongoing variety trials in Rocky Ford (Otero County) and Walsh (down in Baca County). There is also a growing interest and some cropping of canola and sunflowers down in Lamar (Prowers County).”

The reason, Cabot says, that growth of such crops is increasing is specifically because farmers know they have a facility like Big Squeeze where they can have their oilseed processed. “Historically, the lack of crushing facilities in the area has stifled interest in using these crops for fuel, he says. “But now, with (Big Squeeze) in Rocky Ford and the expansion of the Colorado Mills facility in Lamar, the seed can be crushed locally.”

Basically, those interested in using such fuels contract with farmers to lease a certain acreage it is estimated will be needed to fulfill their energy needs for the coming year. This lease converts to credits at a biofuel co-op that can be cashed in at the time of fill-up. Currently, there are no local stations that the average Joe or Jane can access, but Cabot hopes this will change in the near future.

For more information, read a recent article on the Big Squeeze and CSU’s collaborative efforts:

Can Christians Ever Cheer for Death?

June 6th, 2011

Can people of faith cheer for death?
Smells Like Sprit
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

Ding, dong, the wicked witch is dead. Or something like that.

News spread like a Pueblo West brushfire that Osama Bin Laden, America’s longtime Public Enemy Number One, had been killed in a firefight with Delta Force and Navy SEAL soldiers earlier in May. I wrestled with mixed feelings as I heard President Obama break the news late that Sunday evening, relieved that the manhunt was finally over, but also disturbed by the fatal outcome.

Then I jumped online to chat it up with my fellow Facebookers to see what the pulse of my peers was. The feelings spanned the spectrum, from dismay that our government world embark on secret assassination missions in foreign territory to outright jubilation that the Bad Guy finally got his due.

The latter sentiment really bothered me, though, especially when it came from folks I knew considered themselves to be people of faith. To celebrate the killing of anyone – ever – seems contrary to the tenet that we see (or at least seek to see) God in all of creation. To cheer the killing of Osama Bin Laden seemed to me an effort to draw a line in the sand between the so-called “sheep” and “goats,” thus ensuring we’re on the side of the righteous.

Are we so sure, though? I’m not saying in any way that the horrendous acts of September 11th, 2001 are justified by any human or divine sense of justice: at least I hope not. But how sure are we that our hands are without similar blemish? And ultimately, how can there ever be peace when the transaction of justice is “blood for blood?”

I guess it raises the question of whether what we are seeking is peace, or our own sense of justice. And when we ascribe what we claim as right and wrong as divinely justified, well, how is that different from what Bin Laden did in the first place?

The whole thing causes me to think back to a story I once read in an August 8th, 2008 post on the Christianity Today website about theologian and author Dietrich Bonheoffer and his opposition to Adolf Hitler. The article says the following about Bonheoffer:

“To this point he had been a pacifist, and he had tried to oppose the Nazis through religious action and moral persuasion. Now he signed up with the German secret service (to serve as a double agent—while traveling to church conferences over Europe, he was supposed to be collecting information about the places he visited, but he was, instead, trying to help Jews escape Nazi oppression). Bonheoffer also became a part of a plot to overthrow, and later to assassinate, Hitler.”

Bonheoffer later was hanged along with other Jewish sympathizers before he could participate in any assassination attempt. But Bonheoffer himself acknowledges the hypocrisy of trying to kill another human being, no matter their evils, in the name of a faith that ultimately calls for peace and reconciliation.

It was in his humanity, not in his faith, that he found the compulsion to kill Hitler. All the while he recognized the discrepancy with what he claimed as his beliefs, yet felt helpless to resort to any, less violent, solution.

In the pop culture sphere, I think of the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker chops off Darth Vader’s hand with his light saber, only to look down and realize his own hand had become that of his enemy.

How, after all, do we respond like our enemy without becoming that which we hate? Is it even possible?

The answer to that, as I’ve said in columns past, is above my pay grade. But suffice it to say that Proverbs 24, Verse 17, sums up my feelings about how we’re called to react to such a killing;

Don’t rejoice when your enemy falls. Don’t let your heart be glad when he is overthrown.

Freedom not to be free?

May 13th, 2011

Freedom not to be free?
By Christian Piatt
(Originally published in PULP)

We’ve all watched history revealing itself in real time with the remarkable events in the Middle East. From Egypt and Libya to Yemen and Bahrain, individuals and small groups of protesters are challenging the iron grasps of decades-long dictatorships. It’s enough to give even the most cynical observer a moment of awe-filled pause.

For the most part, the protesters focus on wanting to bring democracy to their respective countries, a situation that would seem to be a natural for American support. The trouble is, we’ve had economically and strategically beneficial relationships with many of these dictators for a long time. By placing our allegiance with the people in the streets, we run the risk that the revolutions may fail, and that we may be left with a tarnished, if not irreparable, relationship with a former partner.

Does the United States support democracy? Sort of. When it’s in our best interests, to be sure. Yes, we’ve stuck our necks out in some cases where we seemed to have little vested interest, but suffice it to say we drag our feet when there an oil pipeline or American military base involved.

But there are other issues at play here, and I’m not sure any of them are discussed at the level where real decisions are made. One came to light for me when co-editing a recent book for Chalice Press called “Split Ticket: Independent Faith in a Time of Partisan Politics.” In it, a pair of self-proclaimed Christian anarchists made the compelling claim that voting, in itself, is an act of violence.

What? The system we’ve come to hold near and practically worship is inherently violent? It took me a while to come around, and though I don’t entirely see eye to eye with them, they make a good point.

The essence of the argument is that, in a democracy, 50 percent of the people plus one more can subjugate the will and rights of the rest. By not making room for the minority’s interests to be heard and acted on in these instances, the minority is marginalized. This, the authors claim, falls within the definition of inflicting violence from the majority onto the minority.

Kinda like Churchill said, it’s a tragically flawed system, but it’s the best we have. But what about in a context where religious ideology is poised to use majority rule to impose potentially severe limits on many of its people? And what if these leaders, though democratically elected, might set out to impose a legal system that is inherently un-democratic?

Some protest groups seek to impose Sharia, an Islamic system of law based upon truths revealed in the Quran by Allah, and through practices embodied by the prophet Muhammad. Sharia, like many ideological systems, has been interpreted in a number of ways by different people, but in some cases it can seriously limit the rights of women. For example, under some understandings of Sharia, men can have up to four wives, women are told what they can and can’t wear in public, and in some cases, they may not be allowed to vote.

So, do we put our material and human resources at risk to support those seeking democracy in their country, all the while knowing that they fully intend to implement a legal system that many believe violates human and civil rights? Or do we keep propping up the dictators who, by fear and threat of violence, may keep a relative peace in the land where the oil runs freely?

Talk about a moral dilemma. Some might even say it’s a lose-lose scenario. Theologian Walter Wink suggests that any violent or oppressive system that is replaced by violent means run a great risk of becoming that which it despised, changing the rulers but not the rules.

Provided the dictators are overthrown, we can always offer to serve in an advisory role on how to effect safeguards that prevent laws that violate individual or collective rights. But if democracy is really just a means to another ideological end, the new powers that be may have no interest in what we have to say.

If we try to implement certain strictures by force, we run the risk of further solidifying our reputation as an imperial power, intent on taking over the region one country at a time. So do we support the uprisings, knowing that what may emerge is another system of governance with which we have fundamental differences? Or do we stand on the sidelines, convincing ourselves that tyrants like Gaddafi aren’t really so bad?

Call me a starry-eyed idealist, but I still believe that the greatest change for the better comes from leading by example. For us, this begins with advocating for truly equal rights across the board in our own back yard, including those who love differently or look differently than we. Until that time, our calls for freedom and equality ring hollow in a world that sees the truth beneath the thin veneer.

Pueblo Going Nuclear? (NewSpin)

April 11th, 2011


Pueblo Going Nuclear?

(Originally printed in PULP)
Everyone’s aglow about the prospect of nuclear power coming to southern Colorado. Given the ongoing plant disaster in Japan, it seems the timing for such a proposal could not be worse, though the plans for the 24,000-acre Clean Energy Park southeast of town were moving ahead well before then.

Lawyer and local resident Don Banner is at the helm of the proposal, which would develop in three phases. At present, he’s seeking rezoning for the giant swath of land in eastern Pueblo County for a PUD, or Planned Unit Development.

As Banner himself noted, there are scores of factors that would have to fall into place for his plan to work, only one of which is local support. But he claims, too, that the only way to bring together other green energy components of the park. such as wind, solar, biomass and geothermal, is to go nuclear, to the tune of a 1,000 megawatt plant, give or take a few watts.

There’s plenty of hyperbole around such an explosive issue, so let’s set aside the Simpsons-like images of fish with three eyes long enough to get a little bit more perspective on what’s at stake.


It’s easy to hedge at plans for a nuclear power plant, reacting with a knee-jerk sense of fear. From Chernobyl to Three Mile Island, the fallout from a nuclear plant failure ain’t pretty. But Banner argues that the fears are generally overblown. Chernobyl’s substandard engineering doomed it from the start, and Three Mile Island – the only nuclear plant to fail on US soil to date – cannot be connected to any actual deaths, according to Banner.

The new plant would be far superior to either of the aforementioned plants, he says, and it would be located in a relatively remote area, buffered on all sides by thousands of acres of the Clean Energy Park. As for security, the storage facilities where the spent fuel rods are kept after use have been tested against the heartiest potential air attacks, standing firm in the face of fire.

On the upside, we would enjoy hundreds of Davis Bacon-wage jobs over the several years it would take to build the plant, followed by up to a hundred permanent jobs that pay well above average for power plant work. In addition, more than a dozen interest groups organized by Banner, from local schools to nonprofits, would share in hundreds of thousands of dollars donated back to the community.

The average Joe Consumer would stand to benefit from Banner’s proposal to contractually require the utility company that builds the plant to sell power generated to Pueblo residents, the price of which would be equal to the cheapest rate offered to any other community. Pueblo would benefit from the taxes the plant would push back into the local economy, and Banner suggests that the number of secondary jobs due to the new plant could grow into the hundreds.

Another big question is water.  We’re more or less in the middle of the desert here, and nuclear plants require water to keep the fission process under control. Though Mr. Banner points out that the volume of water needed will depend largely on what kind of plant a developer can place on the land, he projects that consumptive water use (the amount that can’t be returned directly to the water system) could be as low as 125 acre-feet per year.


It’s well and good to claim no lives lost during the Three Mile Island catastrophe, but some studies have projected that upwards of 5,000 will eventually die because of complications related to radiation exposure from the site. This is not to mention the risks to the livestock, land and other natural resources which could be affected for hundreds of years or more, should an accident happen.

So the silos where the radioactive spent fuel rods are stored (on-site, by law, for at least sixty years) may be sturdy, but are we inviting terrorist attacks by having such materials lying around? And, current US law requires that the uranium be removed from reactors and stored before it reaches weapons-grade level. This means it still has the potential to be converted to weapons-grade uranium, which seems to invite trouble.

Most of the construction work would be temporary, and yet we’d be left to contend with nuclear waste for generations. And who is responsible for decommissioning the plant after its projected 60- to 80-year life? If history is an indicator, the plant operators will walk away and leave local taxpayers with the bill.

Pueblo is developing a reputation for being the dumping ground for power plants other folks need but don’t want in their own back yards. How much of the power created will actually stay in Pueblo? And doesn’t having the plant in our county warrant a little bit more of a homeboy discount?

Jobs are fine, but if folks don’t have water to drink, what good is economic development? How many hundreds or thousands of acres of farmland will dry up as a result of water purchased for the power plant, and how many agricultural jobs will dry up as a result? Will the water that passes through the plant damage the streams into which it is released? Is nuclear power our last, best hope to stem the effects of global warming, or are we just passing on the problem in another, possibly more dangerous, form to future generations? Can we afford the water? Are we even sure the net to Pueblo is positive when all is told?

And the debate rages on.

My Take

Comparing the proposed plant to the one in Japan impacted by a 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami really isn’t fair. Neither is in the cards for Pueblo. And yes, modern plants have many more safeguards than those from decades past. But aside from moral, safety and security arguments, there’s the question of what we want Pueblo to be.

Will we continue to produce for wealthier communities what they need, yet refuse to provide for themselves? And will we use our limited water resources to do so, for the promise of a fleeting handful of jobs and some negligibly cheaper power? Or are we something more?

Our bountiful sun and wind position us to be industry leaders in renewable energy, setting a standard that others around the world will long to follow.  Do we want to invest in decades-old technology that may be at its apex, or should we focus on developing energy technologies that have more potential without the negative environmental impact?

We’ve gotten a start with the likes of Vestas and the proposed solar arrays here and in the San Luis Valley. But we have to believe that we’re more than a repository for the rest of the state’s undesirable industries.

Finally, we’ve created this beat of need for power with our own unbridled consumption habits. If we’re really worried about what the risks of such power sources will be for any community – not just ours, the only real solution is to reduce consumption.

It’s been said that the two-fold path to happiness includes both making more and needing less. Only one is a path that leads anywhere. We have to choose our own path.

Which is it? Eye for an Eye or turn the Other Cheek? (BANNED QUESTIONS)

April 1st, 2011

How do we reconcile the Old Testament command for vengeance (eye for an eye) with Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek and love our enemies?(Order BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE, now available at Chalice Press and other booksellers.)

Becky Garrison:

Our hatred of the “other” is nothing new. At the time of Jesus’ birth, the Samaritans and the Jews had been at each other’s throats for literally hundreds of years. At the time when Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37), the concept of a Samaritan coming to the rescue of a Jew would have been considered just as incongruous as if, say, a Focus on the Family follower marched in the New York City LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Pride Parade today.

But as the parable made clear, the Samaritan was considered the Jewish man’s “neighbor.” By implication, that means the definition of “neighbor” has to be expanded to include all of God’s children, including those of different social classes, races, creeds and political affiliations. When Jesus commanded His followers to “go and do likewise” by following the example of the Good Samaritan, he challenged the early church to look beyond its comfort zone. His disciples were required to obey the Greatest Commandment by showing His love and kindness to all people, because everyone was their “neighbor.”

The early Christian church cut across the various hierarchical lines that divided people. It did not seek to dominate the political establishment or maintain the status quo; rather its goal was to spread the universal love of Christ. In doing that, it transformed the world.

Jarrod McKenna:

I had just finished running a workshop for Greenpeace, The Wilderness Society and an anti-nuclear organization on the history and power of nonviolent direct action where I had explored and trained people in the transformative nonviolence of Gandhi, MLK and to the surprise of many gathered, Jesus. Afterwards a well-respected activist approached me away from others and asked with tears in their eyes, “Why was this Jesus not found in my experience of church?”

This question goes to the heart of the Gospel. To the heart of mission. To the heart of discipleship. Why is it that people can’t find the hope of the world in our churches? I think it’s directly connected to the lack of schooling in letting God’s love through us by “loving our enemies.” To be merciful as The Triune God is merciful. Fierce Calvary-shaped love is how God has saved us and its how we are to witness to our salvation. Grace is both how God has saved us and the pattern of kingdom living the Holy Spirit empowers us for.

“Eye for an eye” is not about vengeance but the limitation of retaliation. In Christ, violence is not only restrained but transformed. On the cross God does not overcome evil with evil but with good (Rom. 12:21). There is nothing passive about Jesus turning the other cheek in the face of injustice (John 18:23). To turn the other cheek is to practice the provocative peace that embodies the healing justice of the Kingdom that exposing injustice with the presence of Love (Col.2:15).

We don’t need to reconcile vengeance or violence with loving our enemies. Instead we need to be open to the Holy Spirit’s empowerment to witness to God reconciling the world to Godself through the nonviolent Messiah, Jesus.

Rebecca Bowman Woods:

In Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know and Doesn’t, Stephen Prothero shares the story of a 1995 Colorado murder trial. During deliberations, one juror pulled out his Bible and quoted Leviticus 24, the “eye for an eye” passage that concludes with “He that killeth a man, he shall be put to death.” After the juror instructed his fellow jurors to go home and prayerfully consider this passage, they voted unanimously for the death penalty.

The state Supreme Court ordered a new trial, ruling that jurors were not allowed to consult the Bible. Some Christians, led by Colorado-based Focus on the Family, protested the higher court’s ruling. Perhaps rightly so — can a court really prevent people of faith from including scripture in their decision-making?

But the real injustice, in Prothero’s opinion, was that the jurors failed to consider the rest of the Bible, particularly Jesus’ views on retaliation in Matthew 5:38-42.

“There are very few passages from the Hebrew Bible that are explicitly refuted in the New Testament, but Leviticus 24:20-21 (echoed in Exodus 21:23-25 and Deuteronomy 19:21) is one of them,” writes Prothero, a professor of religious studies at Boston University and a staunch advocate of religious literacy.

Christians should rarely fall back on the ‘New Testament supersedes the Old Testament’ argument. In Matthew 5, Jesus warns that he has not “come to abolish the law or the prophets” but to fulfill it. He teaches an ethic that “embraces and extends” the law in several instances, and refutes it in a few.

Amy Greenbaum, a friend who is in the process of becoming an ordained Reformed Jewish rabbi, says the ‘eye for an eye’ text in Leviticus 24 would not have been taken literally, even in ancient times.

Kathy Escobar:

I started seeking God on my own when I was a little girl, apart from my family who were not Christians.  I can’t explain it, really; I was always drawn to Jesus but couldn’t quite make sense of the Old Testament and a lot of the crazy things that were in there–whole communities being wiped out, God’s vengeance being poured out left and right.  I tried to skip over those parts and somehow erase them from my mind and just focus on Jesus because that was a lot more comforting.

Later, as I began to mature in my faith, I realized I needed to wrestle with this disparity.  I admit, I still do. I rest on the new order that Jesus created through the incarnation, turning the old ways upside down.  I think the contrast is important; the radical difference between vengeance in the Old and New Testament makes God’s point.  Jesus changes everything, teaching what the Kingdom now means.

The Sermon on the Mount clearly sets the stage for this new way that completely demolishes the idea of “an eye for an eye.” I don’t think I have to pick apart all the reasons why the Old Testament contains certain stories or examples that are utterly confusing and seemingly contrary to God’s heart for people. I try to rest on the reality that through the gospels, all that changed.   The commands shifted, the law got summed up, and the Kingdom principles Jesus taught were going to be much harder to apply than the old laws by a long shot.

Are some sins better or worse than others? (Banned Questions)

March 21st, 2011

Are some sins worse or better than others?

(From the book, BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE by Chalice Press, edited by Christian Piatt. Order either BANNED QUESTIONS book on the Chalice Press website during the month of March, enter the promotional code “BANNEDMAR” at checkout and receive a 40% discount.)

Nadia Bolz-Weber:

It’s important to recognize the difference between big S Sin and little s sins.  Big S sin is the human state of being “turned in on self” without a thought of God or neighbor.  Big S sin is putting ourselves on God’s throne and not allowing God to be God for us.  The fancy Latin that Martin Luther used was se encurvatus en se.  The self turned in on the self.  That is that state of big S sin in which every human being on the planet lives.

Little s sins are the result of big S sin.  But even if someone managed to pull off not committing little s sin they would still be plagued with big S Sin.  Yet a lot of Christianity tries to come off as a way to avoid little s sin so that you are progressively sanctified until – poof – you are without big S sin.

For the record, Lutherans such as myself do not think this is actually possible, even though it sounds real nice. This is why a lot of other Christians don’t like Lutherans, but that is another story entirely.

Now, back to the question.  Are some little s sins worse than others? Yes. Are some little s sins better that others? No. (Leave it to a Lutheran to make something a paradox). But here’s the thing: the sin of murder is more harmful than the sin of, say, stealing a salt-shaker from Denny’s. But the big S Sin of the sinner who stole the salt-shaker is no less than the big S Sin of the sinner who killed another sinner.

Being Christian does not mean that we follow a really great Sin Management Program. It means that we confess that the grace of God is sufficient.

…if grace is true, you must bear a true and not a fictitious sin. God does not save people who are only fictitious sinners. Be a sinner and sin boldly, but believe and rejoice in Christ even more boldly. For he is victorious over sin, death, and the world.[1]

-Martin Luther

Gary Peluso-Verdend:

Yes, but first let’s define sin. In the U.S., we tend to think of “sin” and “sex” together. That pairing is most unfortunate, both for a healthy understanding of sex as well as a healthy understanding of sin. This limitation of “sin” to “sex” and, secondarily, to some vices (e.g., gambling, drinking, smoking) leads us Christians to over-attend to sexual sin and under-attend to other areas of sin.

For example, in a recent national election, most Americans polled did not understand war as a moral issue.

Sin is a condition of broken relationship, the act of breaking a relationship, living in broken relationships, and acting in ways so as to perpetuate a broken relationship. By this definition, murder is sin, insulting a colleague is sin, and passing laws that perpetuate injustice is sin. I’ve heard some interpreters quote Paul to the effect that, since “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” all sin is equal. Paul’s statement might be rightly used to argue all human beings are sinners but not that all sins are equally weighty. Catholic moral theology has long argued that some sins were more (mortal) or less (venial) severe.

Certainly, murder is a worse sin than stealing a piece of candy. Abusing a child is a worse sin than flipping off the driver who cut you off in traffic.

Consider this principle: the more people are affected, the more permanent are the negative consequences, the deeper and broader and more irreparable the broken relationships, the worse the sin.

Joshua Einsohn:

Well, some sins are a lot more fun than others!  (Rim shot, please!).

I’m not really one to worry about the afterlife. If there is one, I think everyone pretty much has it wrong. A favorable judgment isn’t going to come from specifically taking, say, Jesus into your heart. Taking love into your heart, sure. But all the exclusionary rules that fall under the category of “sin” are far too inconsistent to be what actually happens.

I have to believe that the sin of stealing your stapler from work isn’t going to compete with the sin of hypocrisy. I have to believe that the people who claim to do God’s work by making miserable the lives of those who are different from them aren’t really allowed a free pass when it comes to cleansing their conscience.

Even within the Ten Commandments, some are quite obviously good guidelines, but some are a little hazy. Don’t kill anyone. Don’t take shit that’s not yours. Don’t lie.  Stop checkin’ out your neighbor’s firm butt because you might try to do something about it.

Solid advice. Telling your buddy that the hideous item of clothing that they’ve fallen in love with looks good on them…well, yes that’s bearing false witness, but it comes from a good place, so that’s gotta be ok, right???

The whole “sin” thing seems to be on a sliding scale to me, but I’ve always operated under the idea that all sins are not created equally and that the best we can do is avoid the big ones and try to learn not to commit the smaller ones…often.

[1] Weimar ed. vol. 2, p. 371; Letters I, “Luther’s Works,” American Ed., Vol 48. p. 281- 282