Are Murder, Rape, and Genocide Morally Christian?

The Jesus Eraser

I got caught up in a comment thread a few days ago in which an agnostic and a fundamentalist Christian argued about the nature of good and evil. At one point the agnostic posed this question:

“We also know that a minority opinion does not make a morally Christian act, objectively moral.
It is morally Christian to kill your son because God asked you too. It is morally Christian to offer your daughters to rapists to protect angels. It is morally Christian to kill thousands of people because God decided they were not worth him. Do you condone these acts or are you glad to live in our « fallen secular world »?”

The Christian answered with this response:

“YES I would condone all of those acts if commanded by God. Absolutely. Because God is the lawgiver. He is the moral standard of truth. Your opinion on right and wrong is irrelevant as is mine. When you fully grasp that God created the universe we inhabit and holds it together moment by moment in delicate balance, you will realize that his thoughts are SOOOO much higher than ours (as scripture says). But humans have a tendency to think they can know better than a God who created them. Yet we cannot even make our own hearts beat.”

The thread went back and forth for awhile, but both this particular question AND the response bothered me. I felt it was important for me to try and clear up a few things, if I could.

So I wrote the following response. It was probably tl;dr as it’s gotten no feedback whatsoever, and the thread itself stopped in its tracks. That is the nature of the internet, of course. But because I put so much time into thinking this out, and I wanted to be able to share these thoughts with others should they come up again, I’m going to reproduce my comment here.

The full thread and the original (quite good!) post can be found here: “Do Christians Indoctrinate Their Children?”


 

([agnostic commenter], I know this will bring some bloggers’ hellfire down upon me, but I just have to let you know–not all people who try to follow Jesus agree with what [Christian commenter] is saying. In fact, with regard to the murder/rape/genocide, I am hopeful that the majority of us very firmly do NOT. We would, however, disagree that “It is morally Christian to kill your son… offer your daughters to rapists… [and] kill thousands of people.” None of those things are morally Christian.

Christianity–the understanding and following of CHRIST, Jesus–did not exist in Abraham’s time. Abraham’s interaction with God as recorded in Genesis should therefore not be construed with the relationship God has with people through Jesus now–that Old Testament interaction had a different purpose. I should also note that 1. God never actually had Abraham kill Isaac, 2. God only asks Abraham to **offer** Isaac up, never gives an actual command to kill, 3. God in fact loudly and absolutely condemns child sacrifice elsewhere in the Old Testament. See Genesis 22, here for the account of Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac, and see Psalm 106:34-39, Ezekiel 16:20-22, and Ezekiel 23:36-39 for God condemning child sacrifice (you can search them on BibleGateway as well; I don’t want to clog up this comment with links).

If you read Psalm 106 and those Ezekiel chapters, this actually provides a good segue to your third point about genocide. Obviously, in those passages, wiping out other nations is referenced–very, very firmly within the context of due justice. Those nations were thoroughly murderous, sacrificing their children as a way of life, and they passed on that practice to ancient Israel. If we can agree that child sacrifice is unacceptable, even to the Christian God, then I think we can agree that a culture that formally enforces it as part of a religion is extremely dangerous and toxic–and that that everyone who committed murder in that society, which must be the vast majority of people, deserve death themselves.

However. It is important to note that God never “decided they were not worth him.” Having hand-made every single human with infinitely loving purpose and care, God loves every single one of us–even the ones he instructs authorities to kill for the sake of everyone else’s protection and stop a horrifyingly destructive practice. He mourns every person lost when a people group is wiped out, absolutely regardless of the reason. And in fact, Psalm 51:14-17 and Hosea 6:6 say outright that God does not desire sacrifice, but rather mercy. He will not back down from crushing a threat when innocents are being wantonly slaughtered; neither does he ever WANT to have to do such a thing. And, in fact, that is why he sent Jesus: so that even murders would have a way to turn away from their wrongdoing and be forgiven, rather than be killed in return. This is ALSO why Christians are NEVER justified in recreating that OT scenario and crusading or committing genocide themselves. God has NO USE for that now. Jesus wasn’t around in the OT, however, so it makes sense that God’s solution to systemic mass murder was damage control: eliminating the murderers themselves. That’s the ONLY reason Israel had the instruction to kill off other nations–because they were such hideously bad mojo–and it does NOT MEAN God didn’t love and care for and mourn those lives lost, too. This is the atomic bomb ethical dilemma that all of us can appreciate, now having that in our fairly recent history: destroy several thousand lives in an instant to end a war, or sacrifice untold quantities more–including and especially the very people you are sworn to protect as your first priority–by letting the war drag on instead. Which would you choose?

We argue that none of us can play God, that the best answer to this dilemma is passive non-decision; but if anyone does in fact have the right to play God, it’s God himself. Here is the point where I concede a bit of common ground with [Christian commenter]: if God has a solution, regardless of how terrible the fallout, you can believe that it is a just solution, and you can believe it is in fact the best solution. If you cannot see the justice in God’s work, and you cannot equally see the love, then you are not following a God that is truly worth worshipping, are you? May I also add, that if you are having a hard time seeing love and justice in the Christian God, you might well be mistaken about who he truly is, what he says, and what he does.

Finally (and I know I’m going out of order, but bear with me), offering Lot’s daughters to rapists to protect angels was not God’s idea, or even the angels’ idea; it was Lot’s, and he in no way receives commendation for it. It’s simply recorded that that’s what happened. See Genesis 19 here for the account: Any sane Christian today would look at that and say, “Well gee, I’m not trying that any time soon!!” God absolutely condemns rape. He absolutely condemns child abuse. He absolutely condemns going rogue on “doing the right thing” because you think you’re doing him a favor even while you’re harming other humans. I could pull you up passages for these principles, too, but again, I don’t want to clog the blog.

So, then, all this is to explain that “moral Christianity” is not at all what you think it is. There are evils that are obviously evil to the vast majority of humans, and when Christians get confused about that, that’s their fault, not God’s. It an absolute shame when we represent him so poorly, and I’m sorry for that. But I hope you will take the word of one of us who agrees with you that child sacrifice and rape and genocide are bad when I say that God wants none of these things from us–that practicing such is not “moral Christianity.”


 

If you made it to the end, gentle reader–what are you thoughts?

–GM

 

Beth Moore Throws the Book at Evangelical Misogyny

misogyny is showing

Yesterday, highly regarded Christian Evangelical women’s ministry leader Beth Moore published a message on her blog–one that’s been a long time coming. There are many excellent sections of it, ranging from clear, heartfelt appreciation for the GOOD men who have nothing to apologize for to an unwavering commitment to calling a spade*coughSINcough* a spade*coughSIN*; but for me, at least, the best part is where she makes the vital connection between the #MeToo/#ChurchToo movement and some deep-rooted tenants of fundamentalist/conservative Christian theology abundantly clear. I’ve been searching for the words to do this for some time, and I couldn’t be more grateful to Ms. Moore for sounding them from the rooftops.

Thank you, Beth. It means more than you know.

Follow this link to “A Letter to My Brothers” for the full piece. Here are the highlights that struck me the most (emphases added):

“I lack adequate words for my gratitude to God for the pastors and male staff members in my local churches for six decades who have shown me such love, support, grace, respect, opportunity and often out right favor. They alongside key leaders at LifeWay and numerous brothers elsewhere have no place in a larger picture I’m about to paint for you. They have brought me joy and kept me from derailing into cynicism and chronic discouragement amid the more challenging dynamics.”

Beth Moore - Living Proof Ministries

“I accepted the peculiarities accompanying female leadership in a conservative Christian world because I chose to believe that, whether or not some of the actions and attitudes seemed godly to me, they were rooted in deep convictions based on passages from 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 14.

“Then early October 2016 surfaced attitudes among some key Christian leaders that smacked of misogyny, objectification and astonishing disesteem of women and it spread like wildfire. It was just the beginning.

“I came face to face with one of the most demoralizing realizations of my adult life: Scripture was not the reason for the colossal disregard and disrespect of women among many of these men. It was only the excuse. Sin was the reason. Ungodliness.”

“This is where I cry foul and not for my own sake. Most of my life is behind me. I do so for sake of my gender, for the sake of our sisters in Christ and for the sake of other female leaders who will be faced with similar challenges. I do so for the sake of my brothers because Christlikeness is at stake and many of you are in positions to foster Christlikeness in your sons and in the men under your influence. The dignity with which Christ treated women in the Gospels is fiercely beautiful and it was not conditional upon their understanding their place.”

(And finally, the big kicker for me:)

“These examples may seem fairly benign in light of recent scandals of sexual abuse and assault coming to light but the attitudes are growing from the same dangerously malignant root. Many women have experienced horrific abuses within the power structures of our Christian world. Being any part of shaping misogynistic attitudes, whether or not they result in criminal behaviors, is sinful and harmful and produces terrible fruit.”

Amen. Say it again, Beth. Say it always–and let none of us ever say anything less.

–GM

 

This is what the past few weeks have felt like.

Sand Traps and John Milton

This is what the past few weeks have felt like.

Imagine me clawing my way up out of a particularly deep pit of sand, spitting grains of grit every which way. *ptuey, ptue ptuey!*

Blech. It’s been a hard, intense last couple of weeks in Real Life World. My mom was back in the hospital a bit (but is doing much better now!); potty-training is in full-swing (almost there!!); married life continues to demand a lot of focus and effort in order to grow and thrive (and plenty more difficult conversations–that being said, though, they are getting easier!!); my own internal demons continue to nip away at me; I’m singing in the choir for a local orchestral production of Verdi’s Requiem, which we perform this Friday; I’m trying to get my poetry workshop in order for June and continuing to teach Latin; family has been in town for visits; we’re getting back to house projects that we’ve let languish for weeks; we’ve started to hunt about seriously for our next house; and I continue with volunteering commitments for She’s Somebody’s Daughter and our church’s meal ministry. And we FINALLY got some beautiful days of spring weather, so the boys and I have spent a lot of time outside lately.

All that being said, my online life has waned dramatically.

Which, arguably, isn’t a bad thing, given the priorities that I’ve cut back on it for. But I’m still discouraged that I haven’t kept up very well with most of you reading this, or your blogs. There are a lot of wonderful people out there that I want to continue to build ties with, and it’s just sad that the nature of reality stands in the way of my ideals of perfect connection with everyone I encounter, online or in person.

So I hope you know I’m thinking of you, reading what I can as time permits, and praying for you as the occasion arises.

I have all these ideas that I want to blog about, too–but encouraging my 4-year-old’s newfound interest in FINALLY trying to write numbers (not letters–he’s still opposed to that–but he can and WILL happily make number shapes now, after I’ve suggested he try to write ANYTHING here and there for a year!), practicing how to share my emotional state honestly and openly with my husband without being combative, and getting my house into a lesser state of disarray–efforts like these are more important to me in this moment.

There have been very hard-won victories of patience, self-awareness, and persistence in the face of low-reward outcomes… outcomes that, in the grand scheme of things, really are remarkably important. They just feel rather like a let-down when they arrive because the amount of work to achieve them feels disproportionate to me somehow. But there my high expectations lead me astray again.


 

Ever tried to peel one of these--with a vegetable peeler? Bad idea.

Today, for example, has been an endless exercise in releasing expectations and their accompanying fears. It feels just like skinning an overripe avocado with a vegetable peeler–wholly unnatural. Who would do that?!

It’s so much easier to believe my broken ways of feeling and relating really aren’t a problem–they’re just part of what makes me different. It’s hard for me to think of them as wrong or anything like the source of destruction and heartache under the surface of my awareness.

But that describes so much of how we relate, mistakenly, to life: if we haven’t thought of something ourselves, it solicits every ounce of our skepticism.

Just because I don’t naturally, easily, readily think of my hyper-vigilance and senseless anxiety as anything but normal, healthy, and good doesn’t mean they ARE those things.

It means I take bad things for granted–bad things I could otherwise ditch.


 

Emotions exist in our brains. That doesn't make them more or less real than any other part of our existence.

Now, one conscious rejection of broken thought patterns does nothing–and, let me be clear, *NOTHING*–to re-write the neural pathways that solidified them to begin with. Not in that moment, not perceptibly. My subconscious can, and often does, draw me right back again to the nameless, reasonless worry that my consciousness formally rejected ten seconds before.

Christians will call this influence Satan’s work, or the work of my sin nature, and that I simply need to reject it repeatedly, firmly, or else distract myself with something else. Portions of this approach may be effective in some situations; but taken all by itself, I think this understanding is outright wrong and harmful. Spiritual warfare/moral mastery simply isn’t all there is to it.

Regardless of what prompts them–the devil, the sin nature, the Spirit of God, or any number of ethically neutral experiences and awarenesses–emotions are biological phenomena. Neural pathways house the electrical impulses that we experience as emotional sensation, which manifests itself in our bodies (if you not so sure, go talk to Dr. Laura Markham). I believe I heard this first in grade school; as a good fundamentalist cadet, I rejected the claim wholesale because it didn’t jive with my concept of emotions as a wholly spiritual ballgame–something completely disconnected from physical reality.

I believed this because I was taught that emotions are *always* something I could have control of, regardless of my physical OR mental state (which I also oddly thought of as mostly disconnected from physical reality since my childhood also taught me that intelligence was something you could attain through sheer obedience and diligence, which are moral character traits). Why? Because emotions had moral values assigned to them–they could be good, or they could be evil–and if they carried moral weight, and I was expected to live in a completely morally upright way, then it must be possible to control my emotions in such a way as to only cultivate “good” emotions and to clear out “evil” emotions. To avoid experiencing the evil ones at all was, in fact, the ideal impressed upon me.

I don’t think it’s just me. My wide experience of evangelical Christianity in general tells me that we, as a culture, have no concept of emotions as biology. It seems to be a completely foreign notion to us. And yet it is broadly documented and demonstrable in every moment your breath quickens at the sight of a loved one; every occasion in which you clench your jaw or squeeze your fists; every episode in which the skin on your face and between your shoulder blades tightens because you are trying so hard NOT to let the “wrong” emotion show and certainly never at any awkward or perceivably inappropriate time because goodness knows Christians MUST NOT let emotions control them–and so instead they spill out over your body in ways you don’t realize and you begin hunching, cowering, craning your neck and suffering mysterious pains and aches and stomach upset…

Because by squelching your emotions instead of studying, understanding, and effectively expressing them, you have indeed let them control you–physically and pronouncedly, though never intentionally.

How’s that goin’ for ya, GM?


 

Comfort *requires* physical touch.

As you might expect, the whole experience has been severely debilitating for decades. Just endlessly “rejecting” Satan or the sin nature hasn’t helped a whit in the long-term.

What has helped, though, has been allowing myself to feel ALL my emotions–even the irrational, deeply unsettling ones–understanding what is behind them, and resolving the source of those fears, worries, and frustrations with truths grounded in trustworthy experience of goodness, love, and security. Falling back on that absolute truth that Jesus loves me *in all my sin and in all my mistakes* as evidenced by the countless kindnesses he blesses me with each day (sunlight/rain/children/shoes/gas in the car/fattening foods I don’t need but love/cats/hugs/birdsong/video games/laughter/the smell of garlic cooking/hyacinths/blogs/paintings/poetry/Latin/computers/shelter/listening ears/my mother/the smell of my baby’s hair/the softness of my bedsheets/my husband’s smile/ETC.) does a lot to physically demonstrate to my physical body that I am loved. I. Am. LOVED.

And all the tensions and nervousness and nightmares created by countless memories of being unloved and unwanted and rejected and neglected: they are not relevant to the present moment in which I physically experience the love of God. And I can let them go.

They are no longer as real as the present time of goodness and love which He has set before me.

Then, when the neural pathways/Satan try to pull me back into detrimental, habitual thought patterns, I *can* say with good reason, “Nope. I know exactly why there is no reason to go there. I’ll tell you all about it.” I allow the sponge in my skull to soak up all the reassurance and resolution available for the fears that triggered my fight/flight response in the past, the button for which my subconscious and the devil take turns prodding.

And–after many repeated iterations of this practice–the devil will leave me alone for a time, and my neural networks gradually make some headway on rewiring themselves into healthy, positive patterns of emotional thought.

It. Takes. Time. And the right approach.


 

five to ten seconds: the eternal perspective you need in a moment

The hardest part is feeling desperate for the good effects to take place immediately, or else to feel guilt over not doing it the “right way,” as I was taught. I.e., setting mental fire to those unwanted emotions and ignoring their existence–until they burst out violently and damage everything.

(I think Satan cleverly takes advantage of me there, especially.)

And this is where the patience the last several weeks have demanded of me comes in particularly handy. Patiently addressing the difficult emotions and complicated baggage that keeps dragging me (or others) down, in detail, without shortcuts. Patiently accepting whatever steps forward we make, however small. Patiently resting in God’s expectations for us–which are so, so much lower than mine.

Without this patience no real progress is made.

Without this patience, I run ragged, desperately searching for a peace that I could only find while holding still.

My favorite psalm came to me once again this morning:

Lord, my heart is not haughty,
Nor my eyes lofty.
Neither do I concern myself with great matters,
Nor with things too profound for me.

Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul,

Like a weaned child with his mother;
Like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord

From this time forth and forever.

(Psalm 131, NKJV)

 

And I am reminded, as well, of this sonnet by John Milton (Sonnet 19):

When I consider how my light is spent,
   Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
   And that one Talent which is death to hide
   Lodged with me useless, though my Soul more bent
To serve therewith my Maker, and present
   My true account, lest he returning chide;
   “Doth God exact day-labour, light denied?”
   I fondly ask. But patience, to prevent
That murmur, soon replies, “God doth not need
   Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
   Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
   And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
   They also serve who only stand and wait.”

 

“They also serve who only stand and wait.”

This blog may have to stand and wait for a little while yet… but I hope you see why I’m finding it worthwhile.

Love to all.

–GM