Inspiration of the Bible: Questions we were not allowed to ask

bibleWhen thinking about the Inspiration of the Scriptures, we were allowed to ask:

  1. Who wrote this book or letter,
  2. To whom was it written,
  3. In what era of time was it written,
  4. What were the customs of the day?
  5. How much has the text been altered over the years when we compare different copies of the text? What is the probable original text?
  6. What was the goal of the writer? Of what concepts was he/she trying to convince his/her audience?

Questions we were not allowed to ask:

  1. How much does the author disagree with his contemporary Scripture authors? Does Paul disagree with James or with Jesus? Do any of the laws in the Law of Moses contradict each other? Is there a change in the status of women from the Old Testament to the New Testament?
  2. Did Jesus break or contradict the Law of Moses, or the books of wisdom?
  3. Did the prophets of the OT contradict each other? Did the concept of resurrection of the dead gradually develop over time (as N.T. Wright believes)n_t_-wright from no resurrection to a definite resurrection?“It is all the more surprising, then, to discover that, within the Bible itself, the hope of resurrection makes rare appearances, so rare that some have considered them marginal. Though later exegesis, both Jewish and Christian, became skilled at discovering covert allusions which earlier readers had not seen – a skill shared, according to the gospels, by Jesus himself – there is general agreement that for much of the Old Testament the idea of resurrection is, to put it at its strongest, deeply asleep, only to be woken by echoes from later times and texts.” N.T. Wright
  4. Was the author correctly reporting from the Spirit of God?
  5. Do I agree with the author?
  6. Can I find wisdom to lead my life in other literature outside the Bible?

Most fundamentalists say things like: “The Bible says…” And some of the biblical writers use similar phrases: “The law and prophets…”  What do the Scriptures say?” However, when one starts to say: “Paul says” or “Isaiah says” then we begin the long walk out of fundamentalism.

As fundamentalists and evangelicals, we were not allowed to question the inspiration of any part of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church never had that perspective. They always viewed different parts of Scripture as having varying levels of inspiration. (Evangelicals do the same, by quoting their favorite scriptures and ignoring their not-so-favorites.) The liturgical churches usually ask the congregation to stand during the reading of the stories of Jesus, and sit during the reading of other parts of Scripture. Martin Luther, a Catholic priest who demanded that the Roman church repent and reform in the 15th century, was not shy in examining which books he thought had more inspiration than others in the Bible.

FowlerFaithHow does viewing the Bible as less than perfect impact a person’s faith?  If one is in James Fowler’s Stage 3 Faith, then questioning how deep a particular passage is inspired, may cause someone to lose their faith entirely. But if you are in Stage 5 it is refreshing and deepens your faith to examine how close to God’s Spirit you perceive the writer of a book in the Bible has come. We examine secular writers this way, why not then the writers of the Bible?

When the apostle Paul wrote his letters, he started with his credentials: “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Then he worked on persuading his readers, pleading with them. He didn’t expect them to just accept everything he said as 100% inspired. He expected his readers to be convinced by his arguments. So are you convinced by all of Paul’s arguments? He was writing to churches 2,000 years ago. We are not the ones he was writing to, so the answer is probably no, we are not convinced by every single argument Paul makes. Some of his arguments sound odd and strange to us, not being familiar with the customs and beliefs of his day.

Hebrew scroll

The Torah

When the apostle Paul told Timothy that the OT Scriptures he had learned as a child were filled with the breath of God, and were profitable for teaching and would equip the man of God, he was talking about the Law of Moses, the books of wisdom and the prophets. The same books Paul said were “a mere shadow of the things to come,” (Col. 2:16-17) and the writer of Hebrews said were weak, fulfilled and fading away. (8:13)

No, we cannot say that Paul’s statement that the Scriptures were God-breathed means we can never disagree with the Scriptures. Paul freely showed how brighter revelations made much of the OT obsolete (and the religious leaders of his day hated him for it, accusing him of not believing that God had inspired Moses).  As evangelicals we are taught that Jesus fulfilled the Law, and did away with it  by bringing a better sacrifice and a better worship.

Objection:

If we don’t have a fully inspired Bible, then there is a slippery slope to “anything goes.”

Answer:

jonestown-451In fundamentalist churches we can find people who have justified anything and everything from adultery, multiple wives, child wives, wife-swapping, and even murder. Holding to the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures does not guarantee we will stay in the safe zone.

The apostle Paul wrote a wonderful passage, one of my favorites, to the Jews in Rome:

For it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified. For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them…So then, if those who are not circumcised keep the law’s requirements, will they not be regarded as though they were circumcised?  (Romans 2:13-15, 26)

 Paul reasons that our consciences should be attuned to God and keeping His will, and that it is not our circumcision (or even our baptism) that makes us Jews (or even Christians), but the way we act in daily life. Paul says that non-Jews, who had never had access to the 10 Commandments, could follow their consciences and end up keeping the 10 Commandments, and be counted as righteous before God.

Using that same logic, couldn’t people who don’t accept the full inspiration of every book of the Bible, still follow the principles of love and grace taught by Jesus? And wouldn’t God accept them as righteous?  
It is not the inspiration of Scripture, or even theology that ultimate demonstrates the grace of God in our hearts, but what shines forth from our schweit4actions. 


Albert Schweitzer
was a liberal in his theology, but he raised money and opened a hospital in western Africa because he saw a need, and was motivated by Jesus’ teachings to minister to those in need.

So if you were to ask yourself, how much of the NT writers do you agree with, what would be your answer? And would it shake or strengthen your faith?

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Why the Churches of Christ, and most evangelicals, should vote for Donald Trump

TrumpRecently Donald Trump, in campaigning for the U.S. Presidency, has made several comments that play into the fears of Americans: that no Muslims be allowed to emigrate into the United States. franklin grahamEvangelist Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham) has affirmed Trump’s stance by saying we cannot import more Muslims into our country “until the war with Islam is over.”

Why should the  group known as the Churches of Christ (Restoration Movement, fundamentalist, Bible belt) vote for Donald Trump?

The Churches of Christ split from the Christian Church in the 1840s-1860s, ostensibly over denominational hierarchy, and musical organs being introduced into the Sunday morning worship, upsetting the traditional American acapella four part harmony singing. But the unspoken reason was because the northern Christian Church did not support slavery, and the southern Churches of Christ were solidly in the Confederacy. There were some racially integrated anti-slavery churches in the David Lipscomb influenced Tennessee area, but the rest were solidly pro-slavery, and their feelings ran deep. After the Civil War there were many warnings in journals published in the Churches of Christ against racially integrating congregations because of the immorality that would be stirred up by white women listening to black preachers, and how, after the service, the black preachers would shake the white women’s hands with both their hands, and how would the white women be able to resist committing adultery with the black preachers? (Foy E. Wallace, Sr., Bible Banner)

During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s the white Churches of Christ were silent about civil rights, or even hostile. One of my Arkansas friends remembers hearing a sermon referring to “Martin Lucifer Coon” in a Church of Christ he was a member of. No tears were shed in white Churches of Christ when King was assassinated.

florida collegeIn the one college associated with the non-institutional wing of the churches of Christ in Tampa, Florida, there was a ban against admitting black non-athlete students until 1972, mainly because of one major contributor to the college.

So the (white) Churches of Christ should vote for Donald Trump because they have always been afraid of dark skinned people. Donald Trump will lead the nation in protecting, defending, drone striking, water boarding, and bombing dark skinned people with foreign religions who threaten to attack us.

swim poolStatistically the danger of being attacked by a Muslim extremist is far less than the danger of dying in a car crash, drowning in a backyard swimming pool, accidentally shooting oneself with a handgun, or even being shot by an American police officer. But none of those things are popular things to campaign against, or be elected because of. Can you imagine a presidential platform including the banning of backyard swimming pools?

FowlerFaithThe Churches of Christ are solidly within James Fowler’s Stage 3 Faith. Stage 3 is characterized by an allegiance to one’s group. The group or church holds one’s faith. If I am in Stage 3 Faith I am not strong enough to hold onto my faith by myself, so I hold onto my church, who holds onto my faith for me. They prop me up, support me and hold me safe. Departing from my church would be terrifying, because I would fall apart. But Stage 3 is the most xenophobic (fear of other races) of stages of Faith. My group is good, all other groups are inferior, or if I am even more insecure, all other groups are evil, and bound for hellfire damnation. Jesus warned against this: “Why do you pick the sawdust out of your brother’s eye, when you have a plank in your own eye?” And the story of the Good Samaritan. The people of Jesus’ day hated the Samaritans because they were half-breed Jews. They hated them more than they hated the Romans who had conquered them.

People in Stage 3, and this includes the Churches of Christ (and Franklin Graham, who is Baptist), have great difficulty viewing life from another group’s point of view. If I were in Stage 3 Faith, it would be very difficult for me to view life from the point of view of an Afghani, a Palestinian or a Pakistani. To be abysmally dirt poor and uneducated, to read in the newspapers about American drones flying in and shooting my people. Surely I would believe the Americans are the out group, the enemy, the dangerous giant.

stalin

Joseph Stalin

People in Stage 3 have little interest in negotiation, mediation and talking through something. If I am in Stage 3 I am frightened and I want immediate relief. I want to feel that my group is strong and powerful, superior and maybe even ruthless.

2. The Churches of Christ have been teaching “spare the rod and spoil the child” for decades. They do not focus on “of such are the kingdom of heaven” when talking about children (unless they are arguing against infant baptism). They see children as a source of disobedience, and the rod or spanking paddle is the instrument that will give them well behaved children. They are proud when they are harsh and their children are well behaved. Force, threats and fear are the primary motivators of their child rearing, and so why shouldn’t they look to force, threats and fear as the primary instruments of diplomacy.

3. The Churches of Christ, as all blue collar religions in America, are strongly influenced by the military industrial complex of America. As long as transportation of goods is cheap, then we will continue to lose our manufacturing industries to countries that pay ten cents per hour for labor. What is left are sales jobs, high tech, healthcare, teaching, service industries, construction and military jobs. Military and military related industries are 15% of the economy. For blue collar workers it is 20% or more of their employers. So there is no discussion of conscientious objection in these blue collar churches. They fly the American flag out in front of their church buildings, as if to saallah is satan signy: we are part of the military industrial complex, we pray for victory in all the wars that the United States fights, we do not question the morality of our leaders, we are Stage 3 Faith, and the United States military holds our faith.

For these reasons, the Churches of Christ, and most evangelicals, should
vote for the zenophobia of Donald Trump.

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The Loneliness of leaving a Cult: the documentary, Sons of Perdition

Two of the boys who escaped the cult

Two of the boys who escaped the cult

Last night I enjoyed the documentary, Sons of Perdition, about people who leave the FLDS, a polygamist Mormon sect on the border of Utah and Colorado. Although the sect in which I grew up was not as cult-like, I found many similarities to the way I was raised and the way I left my sect.

1. Arrogance of the group toward all other groups. They preached superiority: We follow God; nobody else follows God.

2. Isolation. A deliberate effort to keep members separated from the influence of anyone outside the group; keeping members ignorant of the way outsiders think and live.

3. Fear of leaving the sect. Anyone who leaves is going to hell. Anyone who leaves is shunned. Anyone who leaves the sect loses their family.

The bishop and the bishop's father, who was bishop before him, had 70 children.

The bishop and the bishop’s father, who was bishop before him, had 70 children.

4. Obedience to crazy rules is important for many reasons:

     a. Obedience to seemingly odd rules shows that you are willing to obey God even when you do not understand why.

     b. Obedience to crazy rules isolates you from outsiders.

     c. Obedience to crazy rules shows that you are not leaving the group, that you are part of the in-group, can be relied on, and are safe.

5. Lack of self control. The reason they were seemingly self controlled while in the sect was because the sect was so controlling, not because they were self-disciplined. Now that they are out of the sect they can’t make mature decisions for their lives, like resisting crystal meth.

6. Taken in by promises, gullible. They were easy prey to salespeople promising grand things.

One of the boys' family portraits. The women wear ankle length dresses.

One of the boys’ family portraits. The women wear ankle length dresses.

7. Longing for the idealized pieces of their past life they left behind in the sect. They still sang the old songs, they reminisced about the happy times in their large families. They knew only one source of happiness: big families. One boy remembered one happy time with his family together, tickling Dad. Yet family was also the source of their worst memories.

8. Feeling lost spiritually and existentially. They worried about being damned to literal hellfire, and they also worried about not having a literal father and mother to relate to on a daily basis. They had no faith to replace their lost faith, except faith in a future idealized family they would one day have.

9. Having to constantly tell themselves they were not going back. They had to remind themselves of the reasons why they left, and promise themselves they wouldn’t go back. Many of them went back into the sect several times before they could finally decide not to go back anymore. They rehearsed all the reasons they had left, repeating the reasons over and over to each other.

10. Banding together with those who left. They formed tight knit groups on the outside to support each other.

11. Traumatic memories. Those who left were plagued by unprocessed trauma waiting to be sorted out. They seemed to re-create their traumas, finding demanding habits to serve, and getting thrown out of their new homes, so they could once again experience being thrown out. They were stuck in a loop.

I felt sad after watching the documentary. I saw my parents caught up in, and reinforcing, the traumas of the sect I grew up in, shunning and withdrawing from family members who left. I still enjoy the old barbershop four part harmony acapella songs I grew up with in church, and long for an acapella group to sing those songs with. I joined church after church, believing the sad promises of community and faith they promised, as a facade for their nickels and noses agenda.

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Is the book of Proverbs from God?

Is the book of Proverbs in the Bible a book that should be revered as if it is the words of God?

Solomon was the son of King David, who was three quarters Hebrew, and Bathsheba, who was central African.

Solomon was the son of King David, who was three quarters Hebrew, and Bathsheba, who was central African.

The book of Proverbs, claiming to be written by King Solomon, nowhere states that it is from God. You might counter with the fact that the history writer in the book of I Kings states that Solomon was gifted by God with wisdom. The writer of Proverbs says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, but beyond that, there is no claim that this wisdom listed in the book of Proverbs is from God. In fact it states that some of it was from the wise man Agur and King Lemuel (ch. 30-31). These are not Hebrew names, so they must be wisdom that was gathered from outside of Israel in Mesopotamia/Ur/Uz. Also, the proverbs in ch. 22 are similar to a book of wisdom from Egypt. In ch. 25 Hezekiah is put in charge of gathering wisdom from around the world.

So what we have is a very rich and powerful king gathering wise sayings and wisdom from around the world and compiling it into a best selling self help book that has survived through the ages as the book of Proverbs. How would the evangelical and fundamentalist community here in the United States react if someone followed Solomon’s example, and gathered wisdom from all over the world, publishing it as a self-help Christian book for fundamentalists and evangelicals? They would tar and feather him/her and run them out of town on a rail. Yet that’s exactly what Solomon, the man God gifted with wisdom, did.

The proverbs are written for young men. Wisdom and Foolishness are personified as two women that a young man must choose between. Foolishness is an adulterous woman who tempts a young man into destruction, while Wisdom is a virtuous woman who is to be pursued and treasured.

Authoritarian Child Rearingspanking-discipline-kids

Some of the book of Proverbs is clearly authoritarian: Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of discipline will remove it far from him.” (Pr 22:15) Even Dr. Dobson, the great defender of spanking, says that spanking should be an infrequent occurrence, and end at least by age 9. And there is no alternative given in the book of Proverbs about how creativity is in the heart of a child and the person who can feed that creativity is blessed, or that curiosity is in the heart of a child and one should follow that curiosity in order for one’s child to find their God-given gifts and career. dare to disciplineNo, just beat the child, with no limits or boundaries outlined for how young, how old, how often, with what kind of rod, how severely, etc.; just an admonition to beat one’s children with a rod in order to drive foolishness from him. Solomon gives no admonition to hug the child, encourage the child, pay positive attention to the child. There is no admonition to protect children from harm, or to not sell your daughters as wives until they are old enough to have sex. The only child-rearing advice we hear from the wisest man in the Bible: beat your child with a rod.

jesus-blessing-childrenJesus, interestingly, does not quote Solomon on this topic, rather he says, “It would be better for a millstone to be hung around one’s neck and one to be thrown into the deep, than to cause one of these little ones to stumble.” This is in contrast to the authoritarian way the disciples wanted to treat the children, not bothering Jesus with their presence. Children are low status, take them away. Clearly the disciples had been reading the proverbs: “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” Jesus corrects this lack of wisdom: “Of such are the kingdom of heaven. No foolishness in their hearts, as far as Jesus is concerned, only the kingdom of heaven in their hearts. Jesus sharply departs from the wisdom of Solomon on this point.

Children in the 60s and 70s were taught that their normal needs and emotions were burdensome to parents (foolishness) and that children were to fear punishment. “That doesn’t hurt.” “Stop crying!” “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll really give you something to cry about!” “Oh, give me some real tears, those aren’t good enough.” “I could blister your butt.” “I’m going to tan your hide.” “I could skin you alive.” “I could beat you within an inch of your life!” “Stop embarrassing us.” “If you act up in the grocery store, I’ll take you out to the car and beat you.” “Do I need to pull your pants down and spank you in front of all these people?” As children growing up in fundamentalist churches, we were systematically taught that we were unimportant, that our universal legitimate needs were shameful, and that our normal emotions were dangerous and sinful.

Comfort childYes, child-rearing is difficult, and having the skills and equipment to handle tired and egocentric little ones takes a lot. But once a parent has learned the skills it’s not as hard as our parents and grandparents thought it was. “I know you want that toy right now. I would feel sad, too, if I couldn’t have it. I can see it is very important to you. Do you want a hug? No, you can’t have the toy, but when we get home you can play with your own toys. I know you want that toy.” angry-father-and-daughterFor teens: “I can understand that you want to go to the sleepover, but the answer is no. I know it is important to you, and I can understand why you think I’m being unreasonable. I feel sad when I say no to you, because I can see how sad you are.” Children become less whiney when they have a reservoir of comfort to draw from. If they have been safe and nurtured, then they have less meltdowns and less whining. If they have been emotionally and physically abandoned or beaten down, they don’t have much to draw from shopping-cart-tantrum-child_M to comfort themselves when they are upset. Many adults who grew up in fundamentalist churches have a very small reservoir of comfort to draw on when they are upset, and they crumble or blow up under stress or conflict.

Nazis

Authoritarian child rearing raises wonderful Nazis. My friend, Wolfgang, was born at the end of WW2 in southern Germany. He said all the kids in his town hated Christmas, hated Christmas! Because on Christmas day Father Christmas (Santa) and Hans Muff (black clothes, black mask) would arrive at the door of each house, and a list of the good children would be read out, who would each receive an orange, and the one bad child’s name would be read out, and that child would be beaten with a stick by Hans Muff. Then Father Christmas and Hans Muff would go to the next house. When Wolfgang told the story we would laugh with horror! Wolfgang never laughed with us, ever. He still hated the story. There was nothing funny about it to him, even after decades. So that is how you create Nazis: just be cruel to the children. That’s all it takes.

stanford prisonSeveral psychologists, some of them Jews who escaped Germany, studied anti-Semitism, authoritarianism and cruelty in the United States after WW2. They found that about 65% of Americans, by and large, make great authoritarians (i.e. Nazis). Authoritarians are somewhat paranoid about the government, extremely obedient to authority figures, competitive with peers, cruel to those beneath them, are a little racist, very concerned about sexual goings-on, see things in black-and-white, punishment and guilt, are a little superstitious, and concerned that the world is getting worse, not better. In contrast Norway has instituted a prison system which is mostly just an education and social skills training center, the opposite of authoritarianism.

King Lemuel in Proverbs 31 has a high view of women: not only did his mother impart wisdom to him, but a valuable wife buys real estate, improves the real estate, goes into business and makes a lot of money for her family.

So for a book that does not claim to be the words and wisdom of God, the fundamentalist church has taken it to heart, except for chapter 31, women going into business. A fundamentalist wife, when I was growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, was taught to stay home and take care of her children and family.

What I am noticing as I re-think the Bible, is that Jesus picked and chose what he wanted to use from the scriptures. If he thought something was foolish, he ignored it. If he thought something was valuable, he paid attention to it.

So where did Jesus get the idea that children were valuable, and needed physical touch, attention and blessing? We can find many stories in the Bible about how valuable children are, but I think the most important one is not specifically about children. I think it is the story of creation, of Adam and Eve, created in God’s image, given the task of taking care of the garden of Eden, with God walking and talking with them in the cool of the evening about all of the accomplishments they had done in the garden.

Adam and Eve by Jan Gossaert

Adam and Eve by Jan Gossaert

I read dignity, empowerment, value, companionship, relationship, purpose, gifting, all in that one story. And it applies to every human being. Perhaps that is where Jesus got the idea to value, respect and empower children.

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I will be speaking at this workshop in April

Recovering from Religion:
Toxic Theology, PTSD, and the Road to Healing

April 6-9, 2016
Minneapolis, MN

This workshop is sponsored by MICAH, Minnesota Institute of Contemplation and Healing. Price to be determined.

I will be presenting a portion of this workshop, focusing on issues that are central to people who have left the hard line fire and brimstone Churches of Christ.

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How to be a Famous Preacher

Joel Osteen

Joel Osteen

1. Be a good public speaker. Express emotion: either be very good at anger, or weep copiously, or smile successfully. Wear the right outfit for your target audience: a Rolex,  leather, tattoos, an Armani suit, whatever cardboard caricature impresses your particular constituents and will make them quit changing channels and watch you. Use a stage set that is part of your presentation: The most successful Christian TV show in the 1980s used French provincial living room furniture with an ornate staircase.

PTL Club

PTL Club

Another successful goateed speaker of the 1980s, Francis Schaeffer, dressed in early 20th century knee breeches to hike across Europe and speak about how the great European artists preached their version of religion, juxtaposed with the true Christian religion.

Francis Schaeffer dressed for his video series on humanism

Francis Schaeffer dressed for his video series on humanism

2. Be able to take a conversion or an answered prayer story and tell it dramatically. Tell only the details that support your premise. Leave out the details that disprove your premise. Don’t be above exaggeration. Edith Schaeffer wrote how their prayers as missionaries in Lausanne, Switzerland, after WW2 were miraculously answered, sometimes down to within a dime of the amount of money they needed to purchase their first L’Abri property.

Edith Schaeffer

Edith Schaeffer

Her son, in 3 heavily autobiographical novels, tells about how an American missionary family in Lausanne, Switzerland, having purloined the mailing list from their new denominational headquarters in Pennsylvania, sent out glowing reports of their work converting young college atheists in Switzerland, and begging for money for a camp for their evangelism. The denomination demanded the American missionaries cease and desist from using the denomination’s mailing list because their donations dropped precipitously while the L’Abri donations sky-rocketed, but the Schaeffers won the popularity contest and the denomination had to back down.

Oral Roberts

Oral Roberts

3. Be able to ask for money easily. Like Rick Warren, be able to make people feel a little bit guilty for not giving money to the mission to convert poor non-Christians in Russia. Pretend you are not begging. “I’m not begging for money, I’m just letting you know how much your contribution to my ministry means to the little orphans in Africa who benefit from it.” Make sure nobody can check on how the money is spent overseas. God told the famous radio preacher, Oral Roberts, that he had to raise 8 million dollars in 3 months or God “would take him home.” He raised the 8 million dollars, which temporarily rescued Oral Roberts University and City of Faith Hospital in Tulsa, Oklahoma from going under.

Jerry Falwell

Jerry Falwell

4. Look like you already have lots of money, and make your ministry look successful. Like the trainer at Edward Jones financial planning said, “Fake it ’til you make it.” When you are becoming a financial planner, nobody wants you to invest their money unless you look like you already invest lots of people’s money. So the trainer advised: “Fake it.” One famous TV preacher (Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University) always told his TV viewers that he was speaking to a packed capacity crowd, even when there were very few people present. When speaking to reporters he would over estimate his donor pool mailing list by 300% to exaggerate his influence and the power of the Christian right in the 1980s. Conservative Christians are trained to be loyal and to look the other way when one of their heroes exaggerates (lies).

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker

5. Have a successful looking spouse who looks like he/she is fascinated by what you say. Make sure she isn’t too high strung, so that she can look supportive and fascinated for years, through thick and thin, through unbridled boredom, for richer for poorer, through unfaithfulness and humiliation. Like Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, have your acts of penance ready for the bumps in the road.  And like Jimmy Lee Swaggart, act out your contritions in high melodrama with tearful appeals to God for forgiveness. Don’t be afraid to be so outlandish that your lives will be parodied on Saturday Night Live. Your constituents operate at a 7th grade level, emotionally and intellectually. Whatever worked in 7th grade, will work to make you a successful pastor. Face lifts are almost required for the TV preachers and their wives over 50.

 Jimmy Swaggart , 1987.

Jimmy Swaggart , 1987.

Rick Warren

Rick Warren

6. Pretend you’re not bragging. “I don’t want any of the glory for myself, I’m just telling you what the Lord has done in my life.” “I pray four hours per day.” Rick Warren: “My book, The Purpose Driven Life, sold more copies than the top 10 New York Times best sellers combined.” Nevermind that biblical scholars are horrified at how Warren used the scriptures out of context to mean things that the scripture clearly did not mean, the book still was wildly popular.

7. Preach about things that your listeners already believe in. Do not challenge the status quo. Your supporters will be in Fowler’s stage 3 faith, trusting that you will be leading them into the center of the faith. Use the catch phrases and evangelical  or pentecostal lingo that let people know they are part of the in

Pat Robertson

Pat Robertson

crowd. Like Pat Robertson, find a niche: Create an “Us versus Them” scenario that your supporters can feel righteously indignant about: In the 80s it was abortion and humanism. In the current age it is old evangelicalism versus post-evangelicalism. Or Covenantal Calvinism versus the God who learns as time goes by. Or New Age Buddhism versus the God who cares for us personally.

9. Drop names of famous people you have met:

Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon

Billy Graham and President Richard Nixon

entertainers, politicians, business owners. Like Billy Graham, remain loyal to President Nixon until he turns out to be a sleaze. Like James Dobson, support popular wars and the lost blue collar young men that die in them. It is interesting that Jesus was almost anarchic in the absence of name-dropping of the rich and powerful.

10. Hint at a hierarchical competitive Christian ladder that your listeners can attempt to climb in order to grow in status in the Christian community. “She prays 8 hours per day!”

James Dobson

James Dobson

11. Promise your listeners tacitly that if they follow your teachings their lives will be full of faith and promise, their marriages will be full of love, their children will grow up productive, happy and faithful churchgoers. Make it seem like life is hopeful, predictable and manageable, like all they have to do is reject a couple of popular books, movies and TV shows, or wear the appropriate uniform, or go to the right seminars and their lives will become easy, joyful and successful, maybe even promise them they will be successful in their careers and wealthy, or that all their diseases will be healed.

12. Don’t be too soft hearted. The most successful pastors in America today plow through volunteers and “leave the wounded in their wake” as Christianity Today magazine described James Dobson and his Focus on the Family ministry in the early ’90s. An exterior of a tough Christian pastor that protects a wounded child interior is the best recipe for a successful ministry. A couple of diagnoses from the DSM-V are helpful to the successful pastor as well, the most popular being Bipolar II, and Narcissistic Personality, with a wife who has Histrionic Personality. At the very least you need to be the adult child of an alcoholic parent, even better if the parent was suicidal.

13. Preach hard against sexual sin, but it doesn’t hurt to adopt a little sexual deviancy yourself. Rolling Stone Magazine (1986) reported that a male employee said Jim Bakker extorted blow-jobs from him, and Jimmy Swaggart’s prostitute said she wouldn’t want her kids hanging around Jimmy Swaggart because of the sex acts he liked (mostly watching). This came out after Jimmy Swaggart exposed his main competitor in Baton Rouge for committing adultery. 69% of evangelical men admit using porn in the last month, and 25% of pastors report they are currently having an affair with a member of their congregation.

13. Use your kids as illustrations in your lessons and books. It’s okay to punish them in front of the entire congregation. Make sure they are angry drug-addled sex addicts who want to follow in your footsteps.

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Recovering from Religion: Toxic Theology, PTSD, and the Road to Healing

April 6-9, 2016

Minneapolis, MN

Religion plays a major role in the lives of millions, especially in our early formative years. Sometimes this formation is positive. But far too often it’s not. Toxic theology, any theological system that fosters trauma or abuse, is all too common in the Christian Church experience. Some of the hallmarks of toxic theology are:

  • A violent image of God
  • Threats of torture and punishment in Hell for all eternity mentioned in almost every lesson
  • Focus on the basic badness of humanity and our personhood: an example being that the majority of sexual feelings are considered sinful. Almost no skills given for dealing with sexual feelings, just threats of punishment.
  • Rejection of certain types of people by God with slogans, sarcasm and condemnation from the pulpit.
  • Black and white thinking: either you believe what we believe or you are an atheist, nothing in-between.
  • Hierarchical relationships: No questioning allowed. No thinking, exploring or coming to terms with your own faith.
  • Symptoms include: Avoiding people from one’s old church in the grocery store or the mall. Dreading family gatherings. Searching in vain for a bridge to relate to loved ones. Expecting people at work to relate the same harsh way people at church related. Feeling adrift and cynical. Endless searching for a better church.

Come join us as we explore the destructive role of toxic theology in our lives: its negative impact on our health, and the ways in which we can heal from this trauma.

Using a variety of learning styles, Recovering from Religion will engage our hearts, minds, and bodies allowing us to address what may well be the number one cause of PTSD in our country: repeated exposure to toxic theology as a child. Through lectures, panel discussions, artistic presentations, and contemplative practices, we will address this important issue and explore ways to recover and heal.

The conference is appropriate for healthcare professionals, clergy, and anyone whose life has been touched by a negative religious message, either personally or though the experience of a close relationship.

More information to come. Watch this page for more details and registration!

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