Tag Archives: John Pavlovitz

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.

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

thalasinos
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.

The Price of Admission

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

If religion it is to be worth holding on to, it should be the place were [sic] the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge.

It should be the place where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show.

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

I’ve never heard of this guy before today, but apparently he’s a big deal. Not only is he a blogger, but he’s a blogger with 16,759 followers (as of this writing), one who’s been featured on WordPress’s Freshly Pressed, and just the one missive I quoted from above has garnered (as of this writing) 211 responses (that’s up from 209 when I initially completed reading his blog post).

I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing. On the one hand, if you’re an “18-year ministry veteran” and “proudly serve at North Raleigh Community Church” pastoring “people in the Raleigh area and throughout the world,” I suppose having such a large audience attending to your content is a good thing.

On the other hand, even with my very modest experiences in religious blogging, I know that what most often attracts attention in the blogosphere is “blood in the water,” so to speak. In other words, people love to “debate” (argue about) controversy.

helping the poorYou can click the link I provided above to see Pavlovitz’s full write-up. You’ll quickly see, even if you just read the quote at the top of my blog post, that this author has something to say that’s likely to upset more than a few Christians.

However, we should consider…

He entered Jericho and was passing through. And there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; he was a chief tax collector and he was rich. Zaccheus was trying to see who Jesus was, and was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way. When Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, “Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house.” And he hurried and came down and received Him gladly. When they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Luke 19:1-10 (NASB)

And Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he replied, “Say it, Teacher.” “A moneylender had two debtors: one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they were unable to repay, he graciously forgave them both. So which of them will love him more?” Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” And He said to him, “You have judged correctly.” Turning toward the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has wet My feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, has not ceased to kiss My feet. You did not anoint My head with oil, but she anointed My feet with perfume. For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins have been forgiven.” Those who were reclining at the table with Him began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who even forgives sins?” And He said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 7:36-50

prostitutes
Photo: krauserpua.com

Jesus said to them, “Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.”

Matthew 21:31-32

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?” And hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Mark 2:14-17

As it turns out, Rav Yeshua (Jesus) really did hang out with marginalized, victimized outsiders. He associated with what was considered the dregs of society in that place at that time. Tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners. He was bitterly criticized for it by at least some of the Pharisees.

PhariseesGranted, it was part of the job of the Pharisees to test the many itinerant Rabbis wandering throughout Judah and the Galilee, questioning their teachings and their understanding of the Torah and traditions. But our Rav never faltered in his convictions. How could he? Yes, as fully human, he could have failed.

But if it was impossible for him to fail, why was he tested?

So we can hardly fault Pavlovitz for wanting to emulate Jesus in also ministering to those who have been rejected by our society, and especially to distance himself from the modern-day equivalents of some of the Pharisees, those whose religion requires they always condemn people who we consider latter-day “tax collectors,” prostitutes, and sinners. People who are gay, transsexuals, drug addicts, HIV positive or who suffer from AIDS. Anyone who is not “us”.

Yeshua didn’t isolate himself from these people and often, he called the religious elite of his day to repent of their sins. But I’m not quite sure Pavlovitz is on the same page as the Rav. Maybe he’s just exchanged one form of religious elitism for another.

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 18:9-14

Granted, this is a parable, meaning it’s a metaphorical story that probably isn’t a literal, factual rendition of an event. Nevertheless, it’s intended to teach us a moral and ethical truth. What is that truth?

Which of these two men, after praying, went back down to his house justified? The sinner who sincerely repented, not the one who thought he was already righteous.

From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Matthew 4:17

jewish-repentanceThis is the central message of Rav Yeshua’s ministry. Repent. Without repentance, you cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven, alternately known as the Kingdom of God (which doesn’t mean going to Heaven to be with Jesus when you die, but entering the earthly Kingdom of Messiah when he establishes his throne in Jerusalem).

Heck, I agree with Pavlovitz about “American Christianity”. God isn’t a Republican or Democrat, He doesn’t prefer either Fox News or MSNBC. He loves humanity, all of us, not just those of a certain political or social bias.

But I think that Pavlovitz may have missed that even though God doesn’t use some American political yardstick in order to judge, He does have standards and we are all accountable to them.

He’d probably think I’m a heretic or something, because, going one step further, I don’t think the Church will inherit the Earth and then rule and reign with Jesus, I think that Israel was, is, and always will be the center of Messiah’s Kingdom.

All of those tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners didn’t keep on doing business as before when they followed their Rav. They repented and kept repenting. The prostitutes stopped prostituting. The tax collectors stopped extorting money, paid it all back, plus an amount over and above what they took (which was a requirement of thieves in the Torah).

And “sinners…?”

But the man who was healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had slipped away while there was a crowd in that place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse happens to you.”

John 5:13-14

changeAnyone who Jesus helped, anyone he healed and comforted was expected to repent and stop sinning.

I don’t know how Pavlovitz sees his marginalized and outsider populations. I don’t know what he considers sin. It’s possible to be an outcast even after you’ve repented, made a big U-turn, and ceased sinning, so maybe these are the people he means. If so, then more power to him.

I hope that’s what he means. There are quite a number of churches and synagogues in the U.S. and elsewhere that have conformed, not to they hyper-conservative politics of many Evangelical churches, but the more progressive societal norms we see associated with secularism, emphasizing love far, far above obedience to the requirements of God.

I think it’s possible for what’s been referred to as Progressive Christianity to be just as elitist and just as self-righteous as they consider what Pavlovitz calls American Christianity. In responding to one of his critics, Pavlovitz wrote:

Brad, I’ve outgrown responding angrily to those who don’t understand, or wish to attack me from a distance. Take care.

If he’s outgrown so many things, does he believe he’s somehow more righteous than his detractors? Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector again. Who shall we apply the Pharisee role to? I don’t know. I can’t read Pavlovitz’s mind.

I’ve said on more than one occasion that each one of us as people of faith have our hands full taking care of our own behavior, our own battles with sin, our own faults and imperfections to have time (if we’re willing to be honest) to judge others.

I’m just as guilty as the next person of hopping on Facebook or twitter and slamming some politician, social media pundit, or, most recently, matters of safe places and microaggressions we see plastered all over the news.

I admit it.

I also admit, having once again confronted my own personal brand of self-righteousness, that I can’t go back down to my home justified until I leave all that behind and repent, begging God’s forgiveness because I’m a sinner, too.

I really hate admitting that, but it would be far worse for me if I didn’t.

faithI do believe that we, as believers, are better people when we stop looking at others as “types” and start looking at and treating them as human beings, just as human and flawed and loved by God as we are. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t pass on the message of repentance of our Rav to those around us, though. But it does mean we should do our repentance first before asking anyone else to do so.

Jesus loves…but his love isn’t blind. The price of admission into the Kingdom of God always has been repentance. Keep practicing repentance.