dark starry night

Broken Religious Community: The Flip Side to Hope and Chanukah

I’ve outgrown the furrowed-browed warnings of a sky that is perpetually falling.
I’ve outgrown the snarling brimstone preaching that brokers in damnation.
I’ve outgrown the vile war rhetoric that continually demands an encroaching enemy.
I’ve outgrown the expectation that my faith is the sole property of a political party.
I’ve outgrown violent bigotry and xenophobia disguised as Biblical obedience.
I’ve outgrown God wrapped in a flag and soaked in rabid nationalism.
I’ve outgrown the incessant attacks on the Gay, Muslim, and Atheist communities.
I’ve outgrown theology as a hammer always looking for a nail.
I’ve outgrown the cramped, creaky, rusting box that God never belonged in anyway.

Most of all though, I’ve outgrown something that simply no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in.

John Pavlovitz
“My Emancipation From American Christianity”
John Pavlovitz: Stuff That Needs To Be Said

At today’s meeting of the Cincinnati City Council law and public safety committee, Council Member Chris Seelbach “will propose an ordinance that would impose a $200-a-day fine on a therapist or counselor practicing the therapy that aims to “change” lesbians, gay men, bisexuals or transgender people from their sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to Cincinnati.com.

According to the article it will likely be a done deal on Wednesday of this week. Seelbach is confident that he has the necessary votes both to make it out of committee tonight and to pass it as law on Wednesday. Although a few states have passed similar laws, no major city has done so, and Cincinnati.com is exultant in claiming that Cincinnati is leading the way in such wickedness.

Why “wickedness”? Because this law is nothing less than a denial of the biblical doctrine of sanctification, threatening fines of $73,000 per year to a counselor that uses 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 to help those caught in sin: “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Joseph Bayly
“Providing biblical counsel to homosexual youth soon illegal in Cincy…”
(originally titled “Quoting Bible illegal in Cincinnati starting this Wednesday…”)
Christ Church

christians-vs-gaysThese two Pastors represent the opposite end of the scale along the single topic of homosexuality, specifically as applied to the presence of representatives of the LGBTQ community in the Church.

I’ve written my opinions about Pastor Pavlovitz before, particularly about the absence of the requirement of repentance, which was Jesus’s (Rav Yeshua’s) central message, relative to what he has “outgrown,” so I won’t belabor my points regarding his opinions.

As far as Pastor Bayly is concerned, he wildly misrepresents the pending law he objects to so strongly. You can click on the link to his blog post (and in my quoting him, I included a link to his source material so you can acquire further context) to see the specifics, but in short, The City of Cincinnati has proposed a law that would make it a crime for mental health professionals (religious or otherwise) to provide conversion therapy, also called “reparative therapy” or any other therapeutic model designed to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, to anyone under the age of 18 (it would not be illegal to offer such therapy to adults).

Pastor Bayly states that the law specifically forbids Christian counselors from quoting the Bible, as if that’s the law’s main thrust. However, according to the news article he’s citing:

Passage apparently would make Cincinnati the first major U.S. city to ban reparative or conversion therapy. The Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT organization in Denver that tracks legislation nationwide on reparative therapy, has no record of a city passing an ordinance that would ban the practice.

And the reason Cincinnati is making such a move is because:

Nearly a year after the death by suicide of local transgender teenager Leelah Alcorn, Cincinnati again stands to become a national leader in LGBT rights, with debate scheduled Monday on a measure that would ban reparative or conversion therapy for LGBT youth.

The law, as far as I can tell, does not make it illegal to offer conversion therapy to anyone age 18 or older and does not, in general, make it illegal for Christian counselors to quote from the Bible. If it passes, it would make it illegal to offer or apply conversion therapy to anyone under the age of 18 (and presumably identifying as part of the LGBTQ community). Also as far as I can tell, there are already ethical standards in place in the various psychiatric, psychological, social work, and counseling bodies that provide state licensing for mental health professionals designed to inhibit or forbid the use of conversion therapy, so in addition to professional censure for unethical behavior (including possible lose of licensing), a therapist can also be fined by the city for violating the proposed law.

conversion therapy
Photo: soc.ucsb.edu

I’m not writing all this to complain about what Cincinnati is proposing, about the matter of the use or lack of use of conversion therapy, or to support or oppose the LGBTQ community. I’m writing this because both Pastor Pavlovitz and Pastor Bayly, from my point of view, seem to be paying more attention to their personal priorities than they are to the issues at hand, and particularly, the teaching of our Rav.

I’ve already mentioned that I’ve commented at length regarding Pastor Pavlovitz. And in response to my comment to Pastor Bayly on his blog, he stated:

“Except that, again, it has nothing to do with quoting the Bible or scripture. It has everything to do with the use of a particular type of psychotherapy”

Wrong. I changed the title, but you are just wrong about what the law says. It doesn’t limit it to a particular type of psychotherapy. Here is the applicable text from the law, which I finally have:

““Conversion therapy” means any treatment that aims to change sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual or to convert an individual who identifies with a gender other than the gender assigned at birth to the originally assigned gender.”

So tell me again, would a counselor be able to quote that verse?

He’s focusing on using Bible quotes during the course of conversion therapy with minors rather than on the fact that if the law passes, he wouldn’t be able to legally offer such a therapeutic model to minor children in the first place. He changed the original title of his blog post since I had pointed out it was misleading (and I wasn’t the only one), but he didn’t seem to “get it”. He can provide multiple counseling techniques to treat a wide variety of emotional and mental disorders. He can even quote the Bible in doing so. He can even offer conversion therapy. He just can’t offer it to minors.

A commentator on Bayly’s blog post had this to say to me:

Well James, I guess you seem to think that a Christian is to follow every law that is contrary to the written Word of God. I guess Peter and John thought differently and spent time in jail telling the “law makers” that they would obey God rather then man.

Actually, depending on how you interpret the Apostle Paul (Rav Shaul), maybe we should obey civil law:

Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves.

Romans 13:1-2 (NASB)

justiceI know that New Testament scholar Mark Nanos interprets this passage as specifically directing non-Jewish believers in synagogues to obey the authority of the synagogue leaders, but more widely, the passage is understood as a directive for believers to be compliant with the laws of the nations in which we live.

Of course, this is problematic under specific circumstances. Consider those Christians who concealed Jews from their Nazi executioners during the Holocaust. The matter of obeying or disobeying civil and penal codes is certainly complex, though I don’t think it gives us license to break any law we feel like just because.

However, the person I quoted above was comparing apples and oranges.

When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Acts 5:27-29

Peter wasn’t flaunting civil law in a diaspora nation or rebelling against the Roman Empire, he was engaging in a disagreement on whether or not to accept the revelation of the coming of Messiah in Rav Yeshua with Jewish religious authorities in Jerusalem. Further, the priesthood was compromised in those days and not truly representative, in many cases, of the authority of Hashem. He wasn’t issuing a blanket statement that gives modern Christians the right to disobey any law if we believe it violates the imperatives of our faith. Christian counselors can’t simply kidnap teenage gay people and compel them to admit their sin of homosexual sex, then repent, receive forgiveness, and live happily ever after.

I know that Pastor Bayly and his supporters feel their rights are being trod upon by this particular law, and that they are being inhibited from following Biblical instructions, specifically those issued in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, however, when he misrepresents the nature of his objections, as he did with the original blog title as well as in parts of his content, and then continues to support that misrepresentation when it is pointed out to him, he not only damages the credibility of Christians and their/our faith to the general public, he desecrates the Name of Hashem (my opinion, of course).

Adding all this up, both Pastor Pavlovitz and Pastor Bayly, who together represent a large number if not the vast majority of churches in America, drive me nuts. This is largely the reason that I stopped attending a local church and have no interest in formal Christian community (I do have other reasons, though).

But it doesn’t stop there:

For this, he is subject to a very harsh bio in the Jewish Telegraph Agency, as if Thalasinos himself were the murderer, rather than the victim. The post attracted a host of hostile comments from Orthodox Jews against the very concept of a Messianic Jew, trying to argue we are all fraudsters. Meanwhile, Jewish-born Messianic Jews are pointing out that Thalasinos wasn’t born Jewish. Anti-missionary Bat Zion Susskind-Sacks wants to assure us that Thalasinos himself never claimed to be Jewish, and never claimed to convert.

“Let Nicholas Thalasinos’ family mourn in peace”
Rosh Pina Project

Photo: L.A. Times

A Chabad Rabbi states in the comments section of the Jewish Telegraph Agency (JTA) article:

So JTA is now faling for the missionary line? messianic Jew is a cover for “Christians trying to convert Jews to Christianity”. I have nobeef with christians, but if you believe in Jesus, you are a Christian, not a “Messianic Jew”. The fact that Jesus was Jewish is meaningless, so was Karl Marx and Meyer Lansky, and it does not bestow truth on their persona.

Further, some Jewish commentators on this blog post also spend a great deal of time lambasting Thalasinos for his faith and how he chose to express it.

For the record, I probably wouldn’t have agreed with at least some of Thalasinos’s beliefs, but the point is moot. The man is dead. He was murdered in a terrorist attack that took the lives of 14 people. As the folks over at the Rosh Pina Project state, let his family grieve in peace. How does it further the mission of God for human beings to repair our broken world by continuing, in our own various ways, to break it further?

Do you see why I have a problem with religious people, and why I have, for the most part, lost my faith in them?

If you happen to attend a church, synagogue, or other religious community that is filled with loving, caring people, and your Pastor or Rabbi isn’t crazy or misguided or fueled by his/her personal agenda disguised as “sound doctrine,” then I’m happy for you. But it makes my skin crawl to imagine myself sitting in a pew in either Pastor Pavlovitz’s and Pastor Bayly’s church, or for that matter, being a Gentile in that particular Chabad Rabbi’s synagogue, and being judged because I don’t conform to their particular interpretation of the intent and purpose God has for human beings, both Jews and non-Jews.

Which is why I would never enter those churches and why I’ve accepted I have no place in Jewish community either.

My wife and daughter attended the local Chabad Chanukah menorah lighting at the statehouse last night. My wife and daughter are Jewish and I’m glad they went. They’re Jewish. They need to be in Jewish community. I wasn’t invited, which is fine, even though I’m sure there were a lot of non-Jews present for the event (this is Idaho…there are only about 1,500 Jews in the entire state). There are just some places I don’t belong.

After they got home and lit our own little hanukkiyah (both of them, actually), I found myself staring at my computer monitor and pondering all of this. I have a lot of reasons for not being part of religious community, and I’ve written about them at length in various blog posts, but now I have another reason. A lot of religious communities and their leaders are either plain nuts, disingenuous, misguided, or have some sort of ax to grind, usually from the pulpit and/or in the blogosphere.

Granted, there is no such thing as a perfect congregation where everyone loves each other and even the disenfranchised outliers such as myself are tolerated if not accepted and given a voice. I know that.

abandoned churchBut it’s not a matter of religious community just being imperfect. A lot of them can be downright arrogant and even hostile given the provocation.

I used to think I could go to church and even be a small part of healing the rift between current Christian doctrine on things like Judaism and the Torah and how I understand God’s plan of redemption for Israel, even though I was afraid of church at the same time.

I was wrong.

I suppose it’s mainly my problem, since the churches and other institutions I’ve mentioned don’t seem to have a problem with themselves. I’ll never be a good Christian if it means espousing specific moral, social, and political viewpoints.

Many/most religious communities aren’t just imperfect, they’re broken. I only hope Messiah comes back in time to heal at least some of us.

End rant.

8 thoughts on “Broken Religious Community: The Flip Side to Hope and Chanukah”

  1. James, great post my friend…all the “whackyness” within most religion just makes me want to vomit. One one side the idea of teshuvah is removed, and on the other more right wing side Christianity is seen as synonymous with patriotism, and nationalism…I’m tired of it, and I’m sure it all makes G-d weep.

  2. Perhaps when people begin to see that Christianity, in all it’s forms, rarely represents what Yeshua taught, they will discover that one does not need a church or assembly or a synagogue to love G-d, and obey His appointed Mashiach, Yeshua.

    Being without a formal congregation does not limit one’s contact with G-d, Yeshua or the Ruach haKodesh, and merely lessens one’s ability to meet other like-minded Believer’s in Yeshua.

    I gladly exchange a full social and community schedule for the peace and quiet to study the Scriptures, and avoid the insanity that is overtaking much of the Christian world. We were warned from the beginning that we are on a narrow path…that appears to mean that we mostly go in single file, and make our own way into the heart of G-d, in the way that He leads us.

    Blessedly, that also means we do not have to hear the outright silliness of preachers and teachers that are not on that narrow path, and who are only concerned with getting their own agenda put through. They have fallen into one of many kinds of deception promised to the world…the one in particular that makes them believe that their way is the only way, and that everyone must do as they say, and believe as they do.

  3. Beautiful article, James! It’s just terrible witnessing this severe division and fragmentation within the body of the messiah and I am also very much distressed seeing those, however, nonetheless, I still want to encourage those believers come to their senses sometimes in the matter of being more logical and humble in what they state. I think we often jump to conclusion as so much information we are exposed are not facts but more like half-info and half-opinionated and inclined something. I just hope you don’t become spiritually dry and have great company who would appreciate you as your meditation really shed light upon us all, specifically, the pains and so many more other things that might anguish G-D’s heart.. Thanks for the great meditation and may G-D never cease to bless you and your family!

  4. This seems like the thread in which you are now open to response that is a little more challenging. So I want to correct something you linked to previously. http://www.ijreview.com/2015/12/487495-melissa-harris-perry-god/

    I don’t watch this show. I have watched and have a clue what it’s like, but I guess I’d say I find it tiring. She gets into a lot of detail and discussion especially on details of topics no one wants to talk about. Obviously, I’m not always going to agree with her.

    Anyway, the author of the article is misleading about what she said. She did not say we pray to a “non-Muslim god.” She said she was wondering if we think we pray to an “anti-Muslim God.”

    This would be in the context of the hoopla over not telling people not to pray (which itself was a misrepresentation of that to which the reaction broke out). So, if it’s great or okay to pray, is it great for Muslims too? Or is that scary? That would be the question.

  5. @Questor: While I agree that the various modern incarnations of “the Church” seriously misunderstand the teachings our Rav, at least in certain important ways, even in ancient days, worship was communal. Even Yeshua worshipped in the synagogue and he and his disciples after him, taught at the Temple.

    In modern Judaism, the center of religious worship is considered the home, but one still davens with a minyan at shul, so it’s not like religious community is moot.

    That said, and to revisit this blog post’s original content, Many or most religious communities, when you question their sacred cows, will turn decidedly unpleasant. While many have complained about the “lone wolf” believer, circumstances for some of us make that the only viable alternative.

    @sagacio23: You’re welcome. I periodically go off on a rant when I’ve had enough of some of the ridiculous behavior coming out of the religious world, particularly when it’s aimed at deliberately injuring other people in the name of “righteousness” or “sound doctrine”. As I mentioned to Questor above, for some of us, being solitary may be the only alternative, although I have heard at least one pundit in the Messianic world denigrate those of us outside of community.

    @Marleen: I sometimes see portions of Harris-Perry’s show when I’m on the cardio machine at the gym on Sunday mornings. Her point of view is, shall we say, “unique” and pretty extreme, so I wouldn’t put much past her in terms of making outrageous statements. I used her as an example because of that.

  6. So she was just an icon of sorts, and what she actually said (or false witness about it) wasn’t important one way or another.

  7. By the way, here is something I posted somewhere else on the 5th. I obviously hadn’t heard “the” (other, bigger) controversy. I didn’t hear it anywhere but here (not bad to know). For all the steady stream of complaining about reporters, they haven’t been on the topic of the man’s religion or identity (other than the initial, not continuing, reporting of what they took away from what his wife said of him).

    What beautiful people. I’m looking at the fourteen who died in California this week, people with big hearts, lovely smiles, and the dedication to be working for the public good. These and the fact that one of them gave his life to shield a co-worker who is now recovering at home makes me cry. He said, “I got you.”

    Another of them was a self-described/identified messianic Jew. His wife says he certainly would have debated and shared his faith with and talked to “anyone who would listen.” Some among us are going to find, going forward, strange avenues of some Christians’ fixation are going to have to be sorted out.

    Go to 11:50 (through the end) on this recording. As it goes to clips of the lawyers for the Farook family, you will first see them speaking during the day. I saw them uncut for about an hour earlier in the day.

    I don’t remember what channel I was watching at that hour. Now, later on in the above recording with clips, you will see the lawyers talking in the evening or night (not sure if it was later on the same date or on a previous one). Beside the fact what is said is somewhat at cross purpose with the other, it’s into conspiracy.

    In the daylight meeting or presser, the one in which the lawyers conveyed (falsely) that the President should stop saying (which in fact he doesn’t say) that we should get rid of all guns, they also were saying the family didn’t know about the stuff in the garage in detail and thus aren’t to be painted with the brush of guilt.

    In addition, in the night time presser, the lawyers were saying that the idea the family didn’t know about the stuff in the garage is sort of proof or maybe grounds that this all might be made up. I say the lawyers, but it was the white guy (not Mohammed) saying the weirdest things. Right wing conspiracy is now a defense?

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