Blue In Green

faith + culture + other stuff

Religious responses to the Sanford affair

Political sex scandals are a dime a dozen, but Gov. Sanford’s dalliance remains noteworthy for how he invokes his Christian faith to explain himself. On the New York Times‘ fantastic “Room For Debate” blog, religious commentators offer interesting takes on Sanford’s Biblical analogies, particularly the story of King David and Bathsheba.

“If the governor looks at the Bible, he will see that the story of David is told as a cautionary tale, not something to be emulated.” –Chuck Colson

“A politician who invokes the ‘I am a sinner’ language is subtly implying…‘don’t judge me harshly, since you’re just as bad.’ The problem with this is that Jesus never suggested that being cleansed of spiritual sin meant you were exempted from temporal punishment.” -Steven Waldman

Another suggests that this episode further reveals a fundamental tension between Christian faith and political conservatism:

“Christians believe that no one is blameless and all must therefore ride the coattails of a perfect being into heaven. But conservatives espouse the gospel of personal accountability. The paradox of American evangelicals is that [they hold] utterly opposing views of redemption.” -Rabbi Shumley Boteach

Yet it may be a mistake to conclude, as do some liberals, that such moral values should therefore be completely irrelevant to political discourse:

“…Personal failings do not automatically discredit the causes for which he was fighting or serve as irrefutable proof that he never believed in those causes in the first place…Americans should not be disqualified from speaking their conscience on contentious social and moral issues for fear of being exposed someday as imperfect.” -Colleen Campbell


Belated thoughts on the murder of Dr. Tiller

Condemning both Dr. Tiller’s killing and the act of abortion as murder is morally consistent on one level, yet doesn’t resolve the deeper, extremely unsettling question: if Tiller truly was the murderer of thousands, isn’t what Scott Roeder did at least somewhat defensible—even admirable? Though pro-life groups rightfully condemned this act, the force of their conviction was compromised by reflexively equating this heinous act with abortion in general. In any other circumstance, the ideological killing of a genocidal murderer would be celebrated—inwardly, if not openly. Why should this be any different?

This isn’t to say that abortion is not (at least in a sense) murder, or that Roeder deserves an iota of sympathy. However, it forces me to reconsider, as a pro-life Christian, the wisdom of classifying all abortion as first-degree murder. As abhorrent as late-term abortion may be, what Dr. Tiller did was legal, and gratefully acknowledged by many patients, most of whose situations were not as selfish or reckless as we want to believe. (And here’s another conundrum: if all abortion is murder, why is late-term abortion any worse than early-term? Why target Tiller?)

As a medical student, I had the eye-opening experience of meeting two women who were having abortions, then witnessing their procedures. I listened to their stories. I have also personally known Christian women, as decent and upstanding as you or me, who made secret, excruciating decisions to end their pregnancies.

Should the state forbid them this choice, and should they be punished if they proceed anyway? As a Christian, I realize I should answer—uneasily, humbly, but clearly—“yes.” But I am also increasingly at odds with crusading activists who insist this is a clear-cut issue with simple solutions, either morally or politically.

Abortion doctor murdered while in church

Shocking news today: a controversial provider of late-term abortions was murdered while passing out programs at his long-time church. This horrible act is sure to have tremendous impact on the debate over abortion, and the role of Christian fundamentalism in that debate. Thankfully, virtually all responses (but not quite all) have been unanimous in their condemnation, regardless of position on abortion.

The astonishing fact that this doctor—though an infamous abortion provider—was a long-time usher in a mainstream church reminds us how complex and delicate this issue can be. Let us pray for wisdom in government, church, and society as this story unfolds.

No doubt: waterboarding is torture

A conservative radio host gets waterboarded, thinking he’ll prove it’s not torture—and barely lasts five seconds. His instant conclusion: this is obviously torture. (Prediction: some far-right apologist is going to say this doesn’t count because the host had been scarred by a childhood near-drowning experience.)

It’s outrageous that some conservatives, and especially Christians, continue to claim that waterboarding is not torture. Then they insist that the torture of suspected terrorists is justified, even mandated, by the threat they pose. They never admit that these are mutually exclusive arguments, a sure sign they’re just making excuses for what Bush and Cheney have already done.

The fact that we, as a country, are debating torture as though it were a morally ambiguous issue just saddens me. If being a follower of Jesus—who said we are measured by how we treat our enemies, not our friends—means anything, it means that we should stand together against such despicable things.

Ned Flanders: not so pathetic after all

A lengthy but illuminating perspective in The Times of London uses Ned Flanders, a cartoon character from The Simpsons, to show that evangelical Christians are thriving even as they’re widely mocked. Though Flanders is meant as square, naïve comic relief, the simple faith he embodies is actually on the rise, especially in places like Russia and China.

The most risible thing about Flanders is his bulletproof Christian faith. Equipped with a degree from Oral Roberts University and a simple-minded optimism, Flanders is arguably America’s best-known Christian.

Intellectuals have predicted that religion – and particularly the effusive brand of religion now practiced by evangelicals – would be doomed by modernity…But that picture is beginning to change…

Virtually everywhere in the developing world fiery preachers are preaching a faith that would appeal to Ned Flanders: live your life according to God’s law, read the Bible as the literal word of Truth, treat your neighbour as yourself. And everywhere they are thriving. In 1900, 80 per cent of the world’s Christians lived in Europe and the United States; today, 60 per cent of them live in the developing world.

They conclude with the surprising but well-supported observations that Christians are wealthier, healthier, and happier than their secular counterparts.

Regular churchgoers more likely to support torture

The more often Americans go to church, the more likely they are to support the torture of suspected terrorists, according to a new survey.

Is this highly publicized new finding even surprising? Since churchgoers decisively trend conservative, perhaps not. But even Christians who believe that the “enhanced interrogation” techniques authorized by our country were fully justified in light of 9/11 might take pause at the notion that church attendance now correlates with support for torture.

More than half of people who attend services at least once a week — 54 percent — said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is “often” or “sometimes” justified. Only 42 percent of people who “seldom or never” go to services agreed, according to the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Story at

Opening a Christ-like dialogue on homosexuality

Jonathan Merritt, a conservative evangelical Christian, offers a constructive rebuke to those who demonize homosexuals in God’s name. Rather than argue about the interpretation of Biblical teachings on the subject, he says that Christians will have a greater impact and witness if they simply remember the mantra: “love the sinner.”

Evangelical opposition to anything even remotely concerning “the homosexual agenda” has often been vitriolic and unbalanced by a message of love for our gay neighbors. Thus, it is understandable that people have incredibly negative perceptions of Christians…

If Christians’ language were marked by these characteristics of humility, kindness and grace it would ease tensions and open up avenues for dialogue. It is time for evangelical Christians to reform our rhetoric.

This call for greater love, sensitivity and respect should be indisputable by all but the most embittered Christians. But he goes on to make a more challenging point about the proper relationship between Biblical teaching and political lobbying (emphasis added):

our role as Christians is not to delegitimize the existence of those who do not share our beliefs. Our job is to mirror Christ by loving people in spite of our differences and advocating for our culture’s disenfranchised groups. Only then can we effectively share with them the reasons that we believe our beliefs are most compelling.