Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Swaggert's Six Commandments. UCLA Law Prof. Eugene Volokh rightly notes Jimmy Swaggert is beyond the bounds of humanity with his announcement that he would kill any gay man who looked at Swaggert with lust and then lie to God about it. Swaggert is best known for flouting the commandment against adultery and now looks to, in order, read out of existence the commandments against murder, lying, and honoring God. [Update: Volokh has more here.]

However, Volokh then argues that all Christians have a responsibility to declaim the words of Swaggert, which have given rise to a concern about "guilt by association." Prof. Volokh, being a true gentleman and scholar (and I do not use these words lightly, Eugene has always been scrupulously fair), posts a lengthy articulate e-mail and responds.

I believe the division between Volokh and his correspondents is really more over the nature of being a Christian.* For Volokh, anyone who proclaims themself to be a "Christian" should be taken at face value. Yet, there are many out there who call themselves "Christian," who believe and support the most abhorrent practices known to humanity. Currently, John Kerry is a self-professed Catholic, yet believes that there should be no prohibition on the murder of infants in the womb or those infants who have a part of their body still clinging to their mother. Recently, speaking of the Catholic Church, there has been a crisis with respect to ministers who have been engaged in horrendous acts of child molestation. Reading a book a couple of months ago, I learned that a "Christian" minister was an active participant in the acts of genocide in Rwanda ten years ago. [see related]

Within my own denomination, the Episcopal Church, we have had bishops and ministers who have denied the resurrection and/or Divinity of Jesus. We have a crisis because of the elevation to bishop status a man who is living in an active sexual relationship outside the bounds of matrimony. Further aggravating the crisis is the unilateral decision of a number of ministers to authorize the blessing of same-sex relationships, despite clear denominational teachings and prohibitions against this practice.

So my question, I guess, is what are Christians to do? Should we set up an index? An office to engage in, oh, inquisitorial practices?

Making things even more difficult for the establishment of an index is the fact that Christianity is not really a unitary system: it is a religion manifest in a multitude of denominations. I have little reluctance to critique those within my own denomination (and be critiqued by them). I will do the same to those with whom I have a relationship (even if a cyber-relationship). I will critique those within Christian churches which are related to mine and with which I feel a close kinship. For those farther removed, such as a Jerry Falwell, I am more reticent.

Personally, I have long regarded Swaggert as beyond the bounds of Christianity (although, not beyond the bounds of Christ -- Swaggert may still be reached by Jesus). I see him as being like that former Gore supporter and self-proclaimed minister who is involved with that "godhatesfags" movement.

While not set up as judges (Mt. 7:1), we were left a clear text for determining sheep and wolves:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them. 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. Many 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?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' "

Mt. 7:15-23 (NIV)

I believe Jimmy Swaggert is a false prophet -- look at the fruit of his belief system and his practice: he has completely eliminated four of the eternal ten commandments. This is bad fruit.

Now, on the contrary, if you want to see what real Christianity is, read this essay just posted on the Christianity Today website about a student who encountered Christ in a dying homosexual activist and his cats.

One last thing, Prof. Volokh observes: "Christianity is a belief system -- not just an involuntary status such as race or ethnicity, but a consciously chosen belief system that is based on certain writings and certain traditions." I have Calvinist friends who would strongly deny this -- they would argue that they did not choose Christ, He chose them. For them, it is every bit as deep an involuntary status as race or ethnicity.

*If I remember correctly, the words used in the New Testament to refer to "Christians" literally means a slave of Christ and was used by those outside the faith, not the adherents themselves.

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