Changing Tradition

Change is a scary monster. It destroys the reliable ways of what has always been and ushers in the unpredictable ways of newness. It demolishes sameness and welcomes in difference. It is a thing to be feared and it should never be trusted.

I wonder if there are a lot of Christians who believe something to that effect. I can imagine that was the prevailing sentiment around the time that the Civil Rights bill was passed in the 1960s. It represented a rejection of a life that been upheld as holy and righteous for a long time. People would have to be sharing the public spaces that used to have signs separating them from other people. In some cases, there were people who found a way to get around the law. I learned that in the case of public swimming pools in Washington D.C., white families simply moved out toward the suburbs, built their own pools and established their own swim clubs on private land. The fee for joining was high enough to ensure that only the people they wanted in the club would be allowed to join. So it seems, even after segregation was demolished as a state-run institution, private citizens could still segregate themselves in a totally legal manner. But that was then.

I’d like to think that America is finally tackling certain issues of civil rights because we’re ready to deal with them honestly and openly. A great many of us are, but there are some who remain as private citizens who have found a way to segregate themselves from the changing world by hiding behind religion. Such a thing is in the spotlight here and now, particularly in the state I live in. It seems every day they have something to say about Kim Davis. To be honest, I haven’t been following that closely what’s going on. I haven’t been able to find a particular piece of information: The scriptural support for her deeply held beliefs.

If a Christian out there said that they felt that it was better for them to be a vegetarian than a carnivore, citing Romans 14 or 1 Corinthians 8 or 1 Corinthians 10, I can look up those passages, read the verses and find that they’re not wrong. Not only that, there is more than one ‘witness’ to the idea by having it mentioned plainly more than once and in two different books. I’d also see that it’s not my job to judge their beliefs and not quarrel with them about it.

Most of the time, I see references to ‘Kim Davis’ sincerely held beliefs’ but I have no idea what exactly those beliefs are, what Bible verses are used to support them, and if there are enough of them in a enough places to base a theology on. Now I’ve heard many people say: “It wouldn’t be in the Bible if it weren’t important! If it’s in the Bible it must be literally true because it’s inerrant and infallible.”

One of Crete’s own prophets has said it: “Cretans are always liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.” – Titus 1:12

If I travel to Crete and I can find one person who is honest, good, kind, hard-working, and fit, then does this verse remain absolutely true? Even so, it appears in Scripture just once. It’s not enough by itself to create a theological belief because it lacks witnesses.

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them? – 1 Corinthians 15:29

Baptism for the dead sounds like a great addition to the Halloween ‘Hell House’ tradition that modern Christians have created; which, by the way, in and of itself doesn’t really have any Biblical support. It’s also an ancient tradition that Paul didn’t dirrectly condemn nor did he affirm it. You don’t see believers line-up at church to get baptized in the name of their deseased relatives, now do you?

But even if something has multiple witnesses, we don’t necessarily take it up either: 1 Peter 5:14, 1 Thess. 5:26, Romans 16:16, 1 Cor. 16:20, and 2 Cor. 13:12 are the verses telling us to greet one another with a holy kiss. While that might very well be how other cultures greet each other, Americans are generally hand-shakers, so we’ve replaced the instructed action with our own culturally-approved one.

The problem with these deeply held beliefs is that it’s really difficult to see them clearly stated anywhere. Jesus himself never spoke a word on it, leaving a few scattered references in the rest of the New Testament – but even if all of them were put together, it doesn’t form a coherent teaching that gives a person the right to disobey the state because of their personal beliefs. On the contrary – there are verses telling believers to submit to the authorities in Titus 3:1 and Romans 13. There are more verses telling us to clearly submit to the authorities over us than to disobey them on matters of conscience. There are more verses telling us to submit to the authorities over us than there are verses on homosexuality.

Not long ago, I watched one of the versions of the Book of Esther on Netflix. It seems they were not content to have the story match the Biblical outline, so they decided to insert a scene where Mordecai is brought before the King and Haman to answer for his beliefs, particularly the question: “If the king (whom it has been established that God orders you to obey) orders something that is contrary to the Law of God, who do you obey, the king or your God?” Esther speaks up to point out that such a thing has never happened. But Mordecai gets the king to come around to his way of thinking that you stand by your conscience. Conscience is a funny thing – it varies from person to person. That’s why there are Christians on both sides of this issue.

Perhaps we should ask the crucial question: Is it against the Word for God for a clerk to issue marriage liscences in accordance with state and federal rules? It is not. Some of the issues I’m seeing stems from Christians who believe that the m-word – marriage – is a sacred institution created by God. If they want the God-created institution, then they should use the God-created for it – ba’al: to marry (also rule over – it means both.) Marriage is also a state institution that comes with laws – in so far as that is the case, then you cannot deny the rights that the state opts to give for people to join in marriage. Laws are a funny thing – the language one uses to craft them matters. By referring to their marriages by another name opens the door to give them second-class treatment. In a sort of ‘seperate but equal’ sort of way: if you say that marriage and civil unions are ‘seperate and equal’ then you create a scenario that paves the way for inequality. By referring to them with the same word, the same legal protections exist for both people involved.

The truth is that change is a whole lot easier to accept if you don’t have to personally change a thing. That’s something that I see a lot around here. Change comes slowly and takes a long time to be accepted. When change seems to happen all at once, it’s nice to have somebody to rally behind who embodies tradition. Kim Davis does that better than anyone. You see, there is always somebody who represents tradition – the ones who hold onto the past more tightly than the rest. Some are politcians who promise to repeal Civil Rights and restore segregation. Some are average people who are thrust into the spotlight during a major controversy. They are not to be ridiculed – that doesn’t do any good. But their beliefs ought to be carefully examined and tested and weighed and measured. What makes this nation great is that we favor good beliefs – ones that change things for the better for everyone. Ones that make things more equal for everyone. One that gives everyone the same chance to do well. Does her beliefs allow for any of these things? Does her beliefs reflect Jesus’ teachings: ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself’?

I told you that change here doesn’t happen quickly. The law has changed, but not her own personal beliefs. She might not even hate ‘them’ but she might not have any love for ‘them’ either. Or it might be a case that she believes she is doing the loving thing by preventing them from sinning so that they can repent and go to Heaven. This particular deeply held belief is obscure like that and really difficult to find it listed plainly. Perhaps some of the reason for that is that they need it to be really flexible. After all, the aforementiond vegetarian has specific references that limits their actions. But if you claim a deeply held BIblical belief without any specific verses – then you can say “The Bible says …” and claim anything you need it to say is in there. And that is the problem with the whole thing – from beginning to end. That is the thing that needs to change most of all.

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...Anyway, that's just how I feel about it ... What do you think?

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