Monday, November 17, 2008

Who would Jesus excommunicate?

I have some business to attend to related to this post. First, let me direct you to Joe Carter's direct response; and thoughts from Rod Dreher, Daniel Larison, Jamelle Bouie, and Alan Jacobs.

As I said in my initial post, I don't have the authority (not being a theologian) or much right (not being a Christian) to decide what is or isn't Christian. My point is, first, that from a standpoint of nomenclature unbiased by fidelity to any particular Christian creed, neither does anyone else. That's not to say that members of individual Christian doctrines can't necessarily proclaim that someone's view of Christian living is wrong. My point is merely that, in a world with literally hundreds of Christianities, where there has been so much blood and treasure sacrificed in the name of defining who, exactly, is a representative of Christ, American courtesy and Christian charity would demand leniency and flexibility in determining who is fit to call themselves a member of a flock.

Of course, I think the more important response is also the more boring one. I simply don't find what Obama said actually dismissive of the idea that Jesus was divine, or the Son of God, and I find the certainty of some of his critics that it was very weird. Additionally, there are other interviews where Obama expresses quite explicitly the divinity of Christ, and endorses a perfectly mainstream, mundane Christian faith. That seems much more dispositive than an individual interview with a little ambiguity, into which has been injected a tremendous amount of supposition. As for Carter's complaint that he wasn't really attacking Obama's Christianity, or making a big deal about it, well... the bandwidth is mostly free, I suppose, but say something or don't, partner.

Now this... this is my guy, and a reminder that I will never arrive at an atheism so crude or so unyielding that I cast believers from the heart of conscience. He is talking, by the way, of real love, not some symbol or analog, not in metaphor or riddle, but actual, Christian love, erotic and divine. The same way, if you ask me, Jesus regarded love, the love he constantly demanded that Christian men and women show to their neighbors, no different from that which they felt for themselves.

Eros lo fucking volt.

Update: In comments, paul asks for some content from these other interviews. I'm here to serve. I'll quote one of Joe Carter's own commenters:

In an interview in Jan ‘08 with Christianity Today, Obama said:

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life.

In his book, The Audacity of Hope, Obama writes about what happened to him after he submitted himself to God’s will and dedicated himself to discovering God’s truth. Obama describes this discernment as an “ongoing process for all of us in making sure that we are living out our faith every day.” Obama has consistently pointed to his faith as the primary motivator for his career of working for the common good.

In a July 2008 interview with Newsweek magazine, Obama spoke to this directly:
I am a big believer in not just words, but deeds and works. I don’t believe that the kingdom of God is achievable on Earth without God’s intervention, and without God’s return through Jesus Christ, but I do believe in improvement.


  1. I'd be interested to read/see these other interviews.

  2. “I simply don't find what Obama said actually dismissive of the idea that Jesus was divine, or the Son of God, and I find the certainty of some of his critics that it was very weird.”

    Not at all . . . . Within a large segment of Christianity, it’s not really about a subscription to this creed or that or a particular recitation of doctrine, it’s about the manner in which the subscription or recitation is made. The language chosen has symbolic value, and the process of using the right language is part of the acculturation into the tribe. Having spent much of my fundamentalist Christian childhood in Pentecostal summer camps, evangelical (“charismatic,” back then) churches of many different stripes, family vacations at Heritage USA, et al., it becomes easy to recognize the “proper” language used as a profession of faith. Most of the time, it’s a pretty straightforward reshuffling of some of the more venerated New Testament passages: Romans 10: 9-10, John 14:6, Ephesians 2:8, etc. You don’t say “Jesus is a bridge between God and man,” you say “Jesus died so that we might have life.” You don’t talk about the “challenge of maintaining your moral compass,” you talk about the “struggle to flee from temptation and the pressures of a sinful world.” Jesus isn’t a “means of us reaching something higher;” we are “sanctified through the Holy Spirit.” When it’s said with emotion and with emphasis in the right places, it all adds up to a kind of cipher identifying the speaker as authentic.

    Try not to focus so hard on what Obama actually said (as bizarre as that might seem) and it becomes a little clearer. I don’t if Obama isn’t steeped in the vernacular because he wasn’t raised in a Christian home or if he chooses to use a different brushstroke to paint a picture of his Christian faith or simply prefers a more academic sensibility in giving his “testimony,” but it sounds very different, very unorthodox, to my ears.

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  4. Freddie, as a non-Christian, why did this strike you as important? I look at it and see an intra-religion dispute - did you see anything past that?

  5. Good question bcg. Dunno, just got caught up in the question I suppose.

  6. 21"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' 23Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'

    That's who He'd excommunicate. (Matthew 7). Thankfully, I don't have that job. -K.

  7. In the comments to Carter's post, you say

    How can there be Catholicism and Protestantism and Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and born again fundamentalists and Eastern Orthodox and Unitarians and Quakers and all the rest, if we are “largely in agreement”?

    As a member of a Unitarian Universalist congregration, I'd like to point out that Unitarians or UUs do not consider themselves to be a Christian church. A particular person may consider themselves to be both Christian and UU. But you'd probably be more likely to run into an atheist UU than a Christian one and you'd probably be even more likely to find a member who considers themselves neither of those.

    This is in contrast with Quakers where you might also find a non-Christian member or even meetings with many non-Christians, but the overall the organization does consider itself Christian.

    So Quakers belong in your list, but Unitarians do not.

  8. I like AJ's comment, and I think it gets right to the heart of why Joe Carter's posts on the topic piss me off so much.

    For certain segments of Christians, Christianity is more of a tribal affiliation than a spiritual discussion. The tribal customs descended from lowland Scots and Borderer English define their mindset much more than the notably pacifistic and accepting actual tenets of Jesus's teachings.

    This "are you part of the clan, are you trustworthy" kind of thinking still defines the reactionary swathe of the Christian community. (It also gives rise to the ridiculous belief that Christians are somehow discriminated against in the U.S..) When Obama uses these academic, individually formed statements to express his faith it sets off Joe Carter's hackles. Not a clan member!! He's an infiltrator!!

    As someone who has dabbled in religious studies it annoys me to no end that many of the most strongly self-identified Christians act more like the Pharisees Jesus so despised. No wonder there was a pile-on in response to Carter's postings.


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