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Old 07-02-2015, 09:48 PM   #1
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Christianity Today

So, this kinda stemmed from a brief conversation between Diemen and myself in the "Gay" thread and I wanted to branch it into a larger discussion in a separate thread, because the direction I was going to take it really had nothing to do with the topic and it might be a nice thread to have around, we'll see.

Anyways, I had a horrible commute home and lots of time to roll things around in my head, so you're getting one of the longest posts I've ever written. Brace yourselves:

Basically the idea is this: As a religious/spiritual/whatever-term-you-want-to-use person, I've really begun to feel bogged down, almost suffocated by the world around me lately. This stems from two large issues that go as follows (and I'll be using anecdotal evidence here, so just please bear with my stories. I don't want this to come off as a long-winded blog post or something, so I'm going to write my point, and then I'll share my story in a spoiler tag for those interested):

1) In an effort to include those who had been discriminated against by the religious for so long, are people of faith being shoved out as a result?
 

In my life I have almost never had much of an issue with my faith and the people around me. I grew up in the Midwest, so maybe this had something to do with it? Once in elementary school I said something about going to Heaven, and a kid made fun of me for it, but that was about it. I never had much trouble with work, and in fact, having been in HR, I began to learn that a lot of the preconceived notions some of my family had put into my head about how I couldn't talk about my faith or anything in the workplace were almost completely BS. It was a relief to understand how the system really worked, and I took to heart the idea that you just kinda need to be kind, and feel the air around people. Don't come off abrasive, respect other people, don't push, etc.

When I moved to Los Angeles, it was all pretty good, still, until about March. I started a new job and I could almost immediately tell that the atmosphere was different. Right around the time I started, the situation in Indiana occurred, and there were people all around me very openly, harshly criticizing people of faith, mocking the religious and generally making me feel, to use a technical term, like I was in a hostile work environment. I almost went to HR, but I suddenly became afraid of being associated as one of "Those Christians" who thinks the world revolves around them, and that they can't handle any kind of criticism. But it wasn't that. I'd been posting on here, pretty openly with you all, for years by this point. I really just felt, in those moments, like I was being openly made fun of, that people were pointing and laughing at me and that I could not say anything about how I felt.

The thing is, I honestly do believe that there is a God. I honestly believe that he exists in the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in Heaven and Hell. I believe in Salvation, redemption, and unconditional love. I do believe that the Great Commission is for those who believe the same as me to spread the word of God. I truly believe all of these things, and until recently I felt like I could balance that between the idea that other people don't believe that way.

I ended up leaving, both because the job was temporary, and simply because I wasn't happy there. Basically, I still believe that my Aunt constantly saying she's "Discriminated against" is a load, but does she experience a more hostile working environment as a result of her faith? Based on my own experiences and the stories she's told me? I think so.

But now, the other side of the coin:

2) Are Christians today too caught up in politics to pay any attention to the purpose of faith in the first place? This article, shared with me last week, is basically one of the best things I've ever read, and I think it sums up very well how far off the mark the loudest, most evident Christians are:

The Supreme Court Just Gave American Evangelicals a Gift | Ed Cyzewski :: Freelance Writer
 

I do believe that a marriage in the eyes of God is between a man and a woman, but I believe that it is far more important in the grand scheme of things that everyone be entitled to the same rights and privileges in the eyes of the law, because we've seen what segregation, separation, terminology and an Us vs. Them attitude can do to people. Honestly, I'm not even sure how much God cares about marriage in the first place (29 But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.) marriage is a far more earthly thing than people are willing to give it credit for being.

More than any of this, though, I believe that our job on earth is to help one another, to love one another, to care for one another, feed those without, clothe those without, care for the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the helpless, etc. I think that's really what spreading God's love is about.

So what's the other problem: I can't stand other "Christians" and I almost feel more suffocated than ever, first with the Indiana thing earlier this year, a huge in-fight with my family over a cousin that came out and now the marriage situation. I feel like I can't talk to anyone because the people who are supposed to be there with me are too caught up in politics to care.

I have had an aunt go off on me, and basically suggest that I've lost my way because I care that people aren't discriminated against.

I had a cousin go back and forth with me for nearly an hour trying to argue about how the Supreme Court works, because she so badly didn't want to admit that she just didn't like the decision.

I argued with a friend's dad for another hour because he (without knowing his son was gay) condemned all homosexuals to hell, while excusing his own infidelities as a one-off mistake that he'd already been forgiven for.

This whole attitude of picking and choosing Bible verses to fit what you want to believe has completely thrown me for a loop. This year, I have started reading the Bible all the way through for the first time. The Old Testament has started to lose some of its meaning for me, except for the chapters from Psalms forward, but the New Testament has been incredibly enlightening. Basically, I don't know what book my family and those like them are reading, but it's not this one.


So after all of that, what's my point? Is there a way to balance spirituality and the world today? Is there hope for Christianity? Have Christians had too much for too long, and as a result are others too unwilling to allow them to have a seat at the table? Have we become too caught up in the idea that if we want to extend equality to all, we have to do it at the expensive of those who believe in a creator?

Basically, this thread should just be called "Random Christianity Talk" because there are a lot of topics to speak of and my own feelings are just one of them.

Anyways, I think that's about all I wanted to say, sorry for how long-winded that ended up being. It felt good to be able to say it to someone besides my husband, mother or sister, the only three people I feel like I can talk about this kind of thing with.
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Old 07-02-2015, 10:09 PM   #2
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Good thread. I'll chime in when I get the time to write things out.
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Old 07-02-2015, 10:16 PM   #3
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Your post really resonates with me.

I grew up as a very active member of a Baptist church. It's the kind of church that considers itself liberal and progressive because they play guitars now occasionally during the service instead of only the pipe organ. I went every week plus Wednesday night youth group and all the weekend activities until I was about 17. I went on international mission trips, went to church camp and even was a counsellor there every summer until I started having to work to save money for school. And I believed all of it - a lot didn't jive in my brain (things like evolution and cosmology) but I didn't ponder those questions too hard and just chalked it up to doubting and dismissed these things.

I got to high school and started to question my faith as I learned more about the universe and the Earth. I tried holding on to it for a few more years. I would cast off the parts of God that didn't make sense and try all kinds of mental acrobatics to make things make sense in my head. Eventually for me it got to be too much - I reached a point where I had to make a call between two opposing worldviews, and when I sat down and thought it out, I could no longer accept the monotheistic notion of "God".

For me it was a mentally enlightening and psychologically relieving experience. I no longer worried about faith being challenged, and I gobbled up as much knowledge as I could without the fetters of "this isn't how the Bible tells it" in the back of my brain. It hit me at the right time as I was in late high school/starting university and my grades went way up.

I've never had a problem with people who believe in God. Both my parents are strong believers and attend church multiple times a week, are involved in all the activities, host a bible study, etc. I respect their beliefs and they respect mine. I know that for them a large aspect of the faith is the social aspect - the majority of their non-family or work friends are from the church. The church can be a great focal point for a community, culturally, spiritually, and socially. I have no beef with religious people. I honestly think that people who can have their faith (in whatever) challenged repeatedly all their lives and stick by it anyways are admirable.

Religion provides many people some very important benefits, to be sure. My parents' church has sponsored multiple refugee families, constantly helps charities, and I've seen personally dozens of struggling people helped by that one church alone. I dislike what Christianity has become, and I think that all the various institutions have strayed so far away from the message of Christ that they can't really be called His followers anymore in anything but name. And a part of me wishes Hell exists for those people who prey on the vulnerable, the weak, and the lost in the name of God. Believe in God, and share that with other people if you want - but people who push need to eff off. Live and let live, to each their own.

I'm not sure what the point is to this post, and I think I've strayed from whatever I was originally intending to say anyways. I think the idea was to convey that I do understand that feeling, where you are now. For me, the answer was to leave it behind. The answer for you may or may not be different, but either way it's hard. I think I can speak for all of us when I say that we respect and love you around here because you are honest, mature, open-minded, tolerant and straightforward with your opinions (all great qualities). I hope that whatever comes from this period for you, that you never feel like you can't share this kind of stuff around here.
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Old 07-03-2015, 12:28 AM   #4
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Thanks for starting this thread, Ashley - this should be a great discussion.

I'm about to head to bed, but there's a lot to think about and reflect on in what you wrote, so I'll try to collect my thoughts a little and respond tomorrow.
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Old 07-03-2015, 01:15 AM   #5
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Great post. I too am tired but I like this topic and will hopefully remember to contribute aomething tomorrow.
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Old 07-03-2015, 01:33 AM   #6
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This is a good discussion to have. I see it this way: the strains of Christianity or groups of Christians who attempt to legislate morality or believe what other people do in the privacy of their own homes is somehow their business are going to disappear in the next few generations. I think this also means the end of the religious right as a force in politics. I just don't see younger generations latching on to that type of evangelist Christianity in any significant way.

On the other hand, Christianity whose primary message is of inclusion and charity (which is the fundamental message of Jesus anyway) can thrive in the future. This is purely observational, but I think there are plenty of young people looking for a spiritual outlet that Christianity can fulfill, but only if it fits with the social perspectives of the 21st century.

Just one more thing: I work around a lot of academics, and something I notice is there are a lot of devout Jews in those circles, but few devout Christians. Part of the reason for this must be that Judaism is able to look at its scriptures metaphorically and/or within historical context, whereas a great deal of devout Christians are not. That type of biblical literalism is something else that will need to change should Christianity seek to remain relevant for younger generations.
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Old 07-03-2015, 03:07 AM   #7
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As an atheist who became an atheist because of the religious right (plus the genocide God commands his followers to commit and the general nastiness in the Old Testament), I think the most damaging thing to Christianity is the politicization of Christianity and how the religious right focused on the fire and brimstone. Trying to get creationism taught in schools, discriminating against LGBTQ people, the whole Christian Nation BS, etc. all of it served to create an image of all Christians as bigots, which is in no way true.


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Old 07-03-2015, 03:46 AM   #8
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The matter of Biblical literalism tends to cast these kinds of - understandably, US-oriented - discussions in an odd light for me. If only because I was never raised with that understanding of what is a disparate collection of books spanning a millennium. Anyhow.

There is and has always been a tension in Christianity between the 'Old Testament' (a collection comprising law, mythical history and prophecy) and the fulfilment of the old law which Jesus Christ was, in the minds of the earliest Christians, supposed to have represented. The significance of Paul was to open the 'Gentile Jewish' faith up to all comers, believing Christ's message to be a universal one. But - and notwithstanding the instincts of some early believers to jettison it entirely - the old Jewish scriptures survived and hang around like some sort of odd prelude. Maybe to illustrate some sort of evolving relationship between the people and the divine. If it's nasty, it reflects a nasty, harsh world.

There is no way the Old Testament stuff can be taken at face value. A lot of the oft-quoted strictures on clothing fibres and acceptable foodstuffs, for example, date from the Jewish communities exiled in Babylon after the destruction of the First Temple - they speak of a people consciously trying to set themselves apart, to crystallise some sort of identity as (they perceived) God's chosen people living among strangers. In other words, the original authors were not talking to you or I.

Modern biblical literalism is a strange, strange development in one respect, given the actual history of how that book came to be cobbled together in the third and fourth centuries. If anything it's closer to the sort of 'eternal, unmade' status accorded the Quran by Muslim scholars.

If Christianity has an ongoing relevance above and beyond the currents of the moment, it must surely be on questions of justice and fundamental dignity. For all their crimes and failings, the mainline denominations (the US 'Religious Right' is altogether more problematic) are among the few organised human institutions in the western world to maintain some push-back against the creed of the market (to which even social democratic political organisations, in the main, have long since surrendered), and for that, I would hope they survive.
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Old 07-03-2015, 10:47 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bono_212 View Post
1) In an effort to include those who had been discriminated against by the religious for so long, are people of faith being shoved out as a result?
I think there is no doubt that on a large scale people of faith are being minimized in this current debate. I think one reason it's so prevalent is that the kinds of opinions that most non-religious (or religious-but-progressive) people end up seeing the most, and as a result see as the most representative of Christianity as a whole, are actually those of the extremes within Christianity - the Fox News version of Christianity, if you will. The talking heads that shout about the [big scary quotes]Homosexual Agenda[/big scary quotes], the destruction of society, that warn of the slippery slope into depravity, that fight tooth and nail to not only prevent the legality of same sex marriage but also to actively allow discrimination in myriad ways against the LGBT community (housing, job security, etc) - these aren't actually majority views within Christianity, but they certainly are the most often heard views from the "Religious Right." And to those of us who don't agree with it, those kinds of incendiary views are very easy to dismiss.

The truly unfortunate thing is that these views tend to become, at least in the mainstream media and those that consume it, representative of Christianity as a whole, and so people can then dismiss anyone who believes that marriage is between a man and a woman as 'one of those crazy Christians' and not bother giving them the time of day to hear their views.

So yeah, I do think you're right that perhaps the pendulum has swung a bit too far in the other direction that people of faith are perhaps being shut out. But...

Quote:
2) Are Christians today too caught up in politics to pay any attention to the purpose of faith in the first place?
I think this is the biggest reason why Christians are being shut out of the conversation. From the article:

Quote:
We can disagree all day about same sex marriage. Heck, the majority of evangelicals will most likely continue to disagree about this issue for another 20 years until the millennials take their place in church leadership.

However, there’s no denying that millions of people around the world are suffering significantly, and Jesus wants us to focus our energies on serving them. If there was ever a group of people who should give a damn about children dying of hunger, deeply wounded people suffering in prison, and thousands upon thousands of refugees fleeing unprecedented violence in the Middle East, it should be American evangelicals.

...

If God is going to condemn us over anything in America, it’s going to be our indifference and inaction when it comes to feeding people, giving out clean water, offering shelter, visiting the sick, and helping the prisoners, not a Supreme Court ruling.
This marks my main frustration with many who call themselves Christian. They have allowed partisan politics to corrupt the focus of their faith. I've seen it in my own family, in my in-laws' family, in the families of friends, in practically every facet of life. I was raised and still identify as Catholic, but have focused much more of my energy on the social justice aspect of the faith - which is surprisingly progressive (especially to those outside the faith), and has been for quite a while. Everyone likes to think of Pope Francis as this sudden liberal jolt in the church, but much of what he says is actually pretty much in line with decades of Catholic social teachings. However, as a reaction to his perceived liberalness, I have seen many relatives attempt to minimize his teachings because they perceive them as an affront to their right wing political ideology, even though his statements are completely in line with Catholic social teaching.

Just a few anecdotes:
- One of Pope Francis' first published writings as Pope, Evangelii Gaudium, spent a lot of time focusing on economic injustice, including some very clear criticisms of western capitalism:

Quote:
In this context, some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting.
My mom, who considers herself an extremely devout Catholic, attempted to explain that "well, he wasn't talking about American capitalism" when he said that. Except that he was. Her opposition to his words comes not from her faith, but from her politics.

- His most recent encyclical on the environment (Laudato si') is, again, completely in line with previous social teaching, and yet, because climate change is so politicized in the US, many of my older relatives have either completely dismissed it or are remaining curiously silent on it. There have been prominent members in the US Catholic community even come out and say that we should basically ignore the entire thing. Not because it goes against church teachings, mind you. Because it dares to stand up to the petty political squabbles of today and suggest that there's a bigger picture we should be concerned about.

- The Church is crystal clear on the death penalty - there is absolutely no justification for it. Same goes for torture - absolutely no justification under any circumstances. And yet I have had arguments with my mom where she thinks that Muslim terrorists no longer deserve life, and should be tortured for information and then killed. When I naturally bring up that this is a deeply anti-Christian view to hold that is in clear contradiction of core church doctrine, her justification is well, they probably weren't talking about terrorists when they said that or well, but what if it might save a life (aka, the ticking time bomb scenario - to which my response would be it's what you do when the choices are hard that shows your true faith). It's a complete abdication of your faith to a political ideology that contradicts it in many ways.

I may have just kind of rambled off track for a bit (though it feels good to vent some frustration about my mom... heh), but it goes to show you the corrupting influence of politics. As the article states, Christian faith should motivate you to help those most marginalized in society. Right wing politicized Christian faith seems to focus more on protecting your interests by marginalizing those most different from you. All the money poured into these campaigns to outlaw gay marriage, or prevent gay adoption, or allow businesses to fire people for being gay - I think of the good that money could have done to those truly in need and I shake my head.

Quote:
More than any of this, though, I believe that our job on earth is to help one another, to love one another, to care for one another, feed those without, clothe those without, care for the sick, the disabled, the elderly, the helpless, etc. I think that's really what spreading God's love is about.
Absolutely this. And there are so many other Christians who feel this same way, and yet the public face of Christianity today is dominated by the most intolerant, combative and angry voices out there. It's a real shame.

Quote:
So after all of that, what's my point? Is there a way to balance spirituality and the world today? Is there hope for Christianity? Have Christians had too much for too long, and as a result are others too unwilling to allow them to have a seat at the table? Have we become too caught up in the idea that if we want to extend equality to all, we have to do it at the expensive of those who believe in a creator?
I think there is hope for Christianity. I think the hope comes from those who, like you, understand that we live in a pluralistic society that values diversity and accepts that not everyone shares the same beliefs and that's okay. That allowing others to receive equal rights under the laws of our pluralistic, secular society doesn't mean you can't hold onto your beliefs. That you can treat those you disagree with with kindness, dignity and respect (acknowledging that this goes both ways and requires good intent from both sides). I think this Supreme Court decision was inevitable, and I hope it gives way to the kind of Christianity you talk about - the kind more invested in helping and loving people than in sullying itself in political fights.
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Old 07-03-2015, 10:49 PM   #10
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Interesting discussion and first time posting in here

Some Christians seem to have their eyes set on politics as a way to catch people and say, "a-ha! look what they’re doing to the fabric of American society! Our country was founded on these principles!" It causes me to think that a lot of energy is expended by these "right wing politicized Christians" on trying to reclaim/maintain Christianity's privileged place in society, when, in fact, persecution is only going to increase. . . . why isn't this same energy applied towards loving one's neighbor and serving others?

There is hope for Christianity as long as we tell about Jesus’ death and resurrection and the freedom from sin. It applies to everyone. No one else has been able to offer that on such terms (giving a life as a "ransom for many"). Otherwise we might as well be followers of any other good person on the planet. The lack of this message is where I think where the modern church is losing its bite. (Then again, there must be some sort of conviction or concept of sin before there's a need for salvation, and that's not very popular nowadays )

That said, I also think that as a result of our belief comes the "job on earth" portion you said - caring, loving, feeding, working for human dignity among all humans, caring for our environment. I agree with the article you posted - today’s Christians do VERY little of this and it's to our detriment... not only is it spreading God’s love, but it's a witness to your belief in a way that can be more powerful than any proselytizing. Personally I don’t think you can jettison the "good news" from the action of loving your neighbor; one is an outpouring of the other.

On a side note, I think part of the problem stems from an extreme lack of Biblical literacy and logical, rational thinking amongst American Christians, as well as a cultural inability to debate and disagree with kindness, dignity and respect (as Diemen said).

Hopefully that made sense. Cold meds kicking in, lol.
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Old 07-06-2015, 02:01 AM   #11
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Sorry I kinda disappeared. Busy week. I just wanted to say, though, Diemen, that your post made me really happy to read. Gave me a, "you're not alone in the universe" type feeling and I'm very glad you shared.
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Old 07-06-2015, 07:45 AM   #12
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There's a part of me that wants to believe, and a part of me that still believes in... I dunno... something bigger and divine.

But when the Church I was raised in consistently and systematically enabled and covered up the abuse of children for decades, it makes you question every last thing they say and do.

I have no issue with those who have not lost their faith, or who cling on to small pieces of it. I have issue with anyone who is fundamentalist in regards to anything; religion or politics, which too often needlessly intersect.

Pope Francis has at the very least given some new hope for me when it comes to Catholicism's future. But as some have already said in a much more intelligent fashion than i can, there are far too many people of faith in this country who have allowed their politics, which is heavily influenced by fundamentalist evangelicals, to overtake their own vision of faith and godliness.

Ultimately i think faith and religion were great ideas that, like most things, humans fucked up.
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Old 07-06-2015, 08:28 AM   #13
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It's impossible to separate religion from culture, because surely, it is a part of it. Maybe it makes more sense to speak of Christian-flavoured US ultra-reactionism, with the emphasis on the latter. Catholicism too has its ultramontanists, a truly creepy bunch if ever there were one. If you trace this stuff back there's always a first principle that makes some kind of sense; in the case of US fundies, a branch of the protestant reformation, in the case of the latter, the attempted reassertion of papal authority in the rather unenlightening stretch between the reformation and the middle twentieth century. The popes used to be temporal rulers, and boy did that conceit die hard. But it did die. It's late, I'm tired.
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Old 07-06-2015, 08:44 AM   #14
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As a Christian, I try to envision that God isn't as petty as I am. Really, the only belief I think all Christians need to share is a belief in Christ (with, hopefully, some morally upright actions to go along with that). As far as other beliefs go, I think God tries to give people a break. I view this religion as a handful of cornerstone beliefs, followed by Christ-like actions such as helping the poor and giving of our time to others. Think of the diverse backgrounds that the early church came from and understand that they likely struggled to find common ground from time to time, but that didn't place them into some lesser category. Christianity isn't a political party or think tank. Sadly, it has become synonymous with backwards political views, alienation of minorities and a lack of acceptance for anyone that doesn't fall in line with an unwritten conservative Evangelical manifesto that is supposedly the Bible, but to my eyes is anything but.

2 Timothy 2:14 specifically warns against arguing over unnecessary matters that bring discord, yet God's online warriors took to the internet on June 26 to find out if there were any Real Christians still left, taking those to task that disagreed with them. Romans 13:1 reveals governing bodies to be established by God for a purpose, yet it's Evangelical Christians that are trying to push for impeachment and stir up a revolution on Facebook. It's ludicrous. What a colossal waste of time that could be spent establishing Christianity as a good example for everyone instead of being a negative force.

I hope changes in government policy become less a "loss" for Christians and more of an excuse for them to adjust their priorities in a more socially-beneficial direction.
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Old 07-07-2015, 09:18 PM   #15
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My step mother just "liked" an article on Facebook that suggests flying a Christian flag over an American flag at churches.


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