Monday, August 29, 2005

To Submit or not to Submit: That is the Question

When Christians talk about wives submitting to their husbands in marriage - we are almost guaranteed to be accused by many of being benevolent (at best) dictators trying to keep our poor suffering wives subjugated - as well as barefoot, pregnant and standing in the kitchen. Christian women who support this I am sure are viewed by many as female "Uncle Tom's" supporting the subjugation of all women. As a man, I should just keep my mouth shut; but I have never shown much wisdom. Then again, husbands are to submit too; something that gets left out of this discussion a lot.

I will link two posts elsewhere:
The hiatus is broken [at Habbakuk's Watchpost]and Submission in a Nutshell [at Intellectuelle]. Some internet links: Christians for Biblical Equality, The Meaning of Christian Marriage, and The Submission of the Christian Wife, and The Submission of the Christian Husband. Finally, this post centers around:

Ephesians 5:21 and be subject [upotasso: In non-military use, it was "a voluntary attitude of giving in, cooperating, assuming responsibility, and carrying a burden"] to one another in the fear of Christ. 22 Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. 24 But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, 26. so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. 28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, 30 because we are members of His body. 31 FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. 32 This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church

Lexie, at the Intellectuelle link above cited this definition of:
Submit: v. intr. - To allow oneself to be subjected to something.
And one truly magnificent example:
"Jesus allowed Himself to be subjected to the cross. He could have opted out, but He chose not to because of His love for us. Restraint of strength is one expression of power. Choosing to submit and serve is another expression of power."
The decision to submit is a voluntary one - it cannot be forced on the wife or husband. It has to be voluntary because it is an expression of obedience to God; and He looks at our heart.

My most important imperative in my life and my marriage is to obey God - and to submit my ego and self to Him. As I do that, I will love my wife as Christ loves me; because that is what I am told to do and if I love her that is what I would want to do. As is pointed out in "The Submission of the Christian Husband":
"If the wives are commanded to submit, then the husbands surely must be instructed to lead. But they are not. Instead of commanding husbands to lead their wives, Paul instructs them to love their wives."
How does Christ love me? Sacrificially, unconditionally, meeting all my needs with no expectation (or need) for me to meet any of His. Feeling that love for me; I channel that to all people but particularly my wife - my self actually in a one flesh (two become one) relationship that mirrors Christ and His church (Him the head, the rest of us the Body); and the duality of God and Son. I love her, above all, as I love myself - because she is myself and to harm her harms me.

My wife too has this relationship with God. This leads to another spiritual relationship our marriage should mirror - the Trinity. My wife and I are one flesh; and we each, and as a duality, have a relationship with God. Therefore, we comprise another triune relationship that mirrors the Trinity for the world.

God's central human-to-human relationship on the planet, marriage, is such a deep spiritual and theological pool because it mirrors not only Christ's sacrificial, loving relationship to His Church; but the duality of Christ (God and man, God and Son) and the nature of the Trinity. From "The Meaning of Christian Marriage" (linked above):
Our text is based upon a principle, which is vitally important and yet little understood in our times: God has established certain institutions in this world which are earthly symbols of heavenly realities. The nature of the heavenly reality determines the nature of the symbol. Stated briefly the substance dictates the symbol . . . To pervert or distort the symbol is to distort the picture of the heavenly reality, which it represents . . . Christians have become far too casual about the commands of our Lord pertaining to symbolic actions . . . There may be a few areas of our Christian life where we have a measure of freedom to change a symbol, so as to make it more pointed to our culture, but we have no right at all to disobey, change, or distort God's symbolic commands when they distort the picture they are to portray concerning the substance."
How do we accomplish Biblical submission in order to display this symbol properly:
True submission is not difficult, my friend, it is impossible. There is no way that we can, in and of our own strength, submit. But that only means that we must look to God to produce that of which we are incapable, but which His word commands. Our text on submission follows immediately upon the teaching of Paul concerning being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). It is only as the Holy Spirit controls our life that the will and the ability to obey His commands are produced. To submit to one another necessitates that we die daily, that our flesh by crucified, put to death. This is God's work, and we must trust in Him to do it. This is God's work, and we must cooperate with Him as He does it." -- "The Submission of the Christian Wife" (linked above)
Now for the brain cramp. Kyle in the Habbukuk's comments (linked above) rightly says:
" . . . this understanding of man as the head of woman as God is the head of Christ has a notorious history of tyranny, oppression, and abuse . . . isn't it the oldest trick in the book for a dictator to defend himself by claiming that he loves his subjects and acts in their best interest? A dictator is a ruler with absolute power, whether it is exercised for good or ill. And when he starts comparing himself to God and his subjects accept the analogy, there is nothing to stop him from using his power for evil and no recourse for the subjects."
Of course, all sorts of nasty things can happen. I can open up myself in vulnerability (loving my wife as Christ loves me) and my wife can take horrible advantage of my servant heart. My wife can choose to submit and I can take horrible advantage of her servant heart. We both place ourselves by faith under God's grace by obeying Him - and open ourselves up to sacrifice on His account. We have taken up our crosses. Therefore, as is pointed out in "Submission of the Christian Wife" linked above:
". . . our text has much to say to the young woman who is considering marriage. A commitment to marriage to a young man is the commitment to a lifetime of submission to that man. If there is any one question which should be in a young woman's mind concerning marriage it is this one: 'Is this the kind of man I want as my 'head,' to whom I will submit in all things for the rest of my life?' Surely our text suggests the necessity of premarriage counseling, so that an independent, objective third party can help in arriving at the answer." [The future husband should also look at what he is submitting to]
Here are some questions I would not have thought to ask. From "The Meaning of Christian Marriage":
"For those who have chosen to set aside the teachings of Paul and Peter on the roles and responsibilities of husbands, and especially of wives, I have [these] question[s]. If you have set aside certain biblical commands, duties, and actions, with what have you replaced them? What are you doing which boldly and dramatically reflects the headship of Christ over His church, and the submission of the church to Christ? . . . What is it that you have replaced God's symbols with, which brings about persecution for your identification with Christ and the proclamation of His glorious gospel?"

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Justice, Mercy and Abortion

"Why Abortion is Immoral" [that is a PDF download] is a philosophical essay by Don Marquis outlining a secular, philosophical argument on "whether or not a fetus is the type of being whose life it is seriously wrong to end". He argues that indeed it is that kind of being and that abortion is prima facie (not always) immoral. In the course of doing this, he gave me a "unified theory" on life issues (birth control, abortion, killing in general, and active euthanasia) that does not require secular supporters of abortion to embrace God or the Bible. Indeed, it saves me discussing the Bible with some liberal theologians as well.

In the midst of having two different discussions on abortion at the same time (one with liberal Christians at NARAL: Propaganda Tool of the Radical Right and one with conservative Christians at Breaking the 11th: Speaking Ill of Republicans) Lisa asked me this (in the NARAL discussion):

"However, since you did talk theologically for a moment, let me ask you: is God's mercy or justice more important?"
That is an interesting juxtaposition since most want to examine "mercy" vs "judgment" (and not "justice"). The rest of the theological exchange with Lisa consisted of this:
AMB: Incidentally, groups outside of Abortion clinics can be terrifying. You wonder when they will attack you. Some do while they hand you phone numbers. Ambushing frightened, desperate women outside of a clinic is hardly helpful. There are better ways to help, if that is indeed what they are doing, rather than some judgmental (whore, slut, God will damn you to hell), self-righteous jackasses shoving paper at you and saying that your pain is not as important as the potential life of the child.
Me: people standing in front of abortion centers confronting women going in are going to have an UGLY chat with God at some point. Just my opinion. If someone is opposed to abortion they should be "coming alongside" someone planning to have one and give them the support they need not to.
Lisa: And what of compassion? Any god I would worship would be one of the deepest love and mercy... The embodiment of those things themselves, even . . . Who is your god, exactly?
Me: My God is one that says that even if I am to spend eternity with Him in His love - I still would have to account for beating someone so badly they had a miscarriage [AMB mentioned that a friend of hers had this experience coming out of an abortion clinic after going in to get information]. My God is a God who expects people, especially acting in His name, to treat people with His love - not shout "Murderer" at a women who may be suffering and confused . . . Would you have a God who would just ignore that? Just an "Aw, no big deal. Don't worry about it". My God is a God who demands justice; and sacrificed His own Son so that His justice could be provided in that sacrifice.
[Lisa's question quoted above]
My answer there: "I do not think God would weigh one or the other as higher than the other. I think mercy and justice [judgment is here] are met perfectly in God, and only in God. Since we are called not to judge (unless we want to be judged by our own standards rather than God's), and I do not think it is my job to carry out divine (or secular) justice - mercy is far more important for me. This is true in how I deal with others and my hope in how God will deal with me. Of course, those two things are connected.("Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy")."

Here we are back in the Sermon on the Mount. The question that occurred to me later in the NARAL thread was this: why when abortion supporters ask about compassion (or mercy, or justice, or lack of judgment) for the women contemplating having an abortion do they not extend the questions of mercy, justice, and lack of judgment to the child that may die. Curious.

I agree that we must approach pregnant women thinking about abortion with compassion and mercy and help them to overcome the fears and barriers that may push them to treat their unborn child in a noncompassionate and unmerciful way - inflicting final earthly judgment on it in ending its life by abortion.

So, starting from the definitions linked above lets talk about God's, and ours, mercy, justice, and judgment. I do not particularly see this as an abortion discussion although it, along with many other things, may provide some examples to discuss.

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Wednesday, August 10, 2005

How Deep the Father's Love for Us

Lyrics by Stuart Townsend
Meadowgreen Music Co.; ASCAP, 2000

How deep the Father's love for us
How vast beyond all measure
That He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure
How great the pain of searing loss
The Father turns His face away
As wounds that mar the Chosen One
Bring many sons to glory

Behold the man upon the cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished

I will not boast in anything
No gifts, no power, no wisdom
But I will boast in Jesus Christ
His death and resurrection
Why should I gain from His reward?
I cannot give an answer
But this I know with all my heart
His wounds have paid my ransom

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Monday, August 08, 2005

Grace: Your body's or Someone Else's?

Tyler asked me to read The Body's Grace by Rowan Williams - a defense of homosexuality by the future Archbishop of Canterbury, the head of the Anglican Church in England.

The Good

My mom (and everyone else's I think) said "if you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all"; and there are some things here that are exquisite:
The whole story of creation, incarnation and our incorporation into the fellowship of Christ's body tells us that God desires us, as if we were God, as if we were that unconditional response to God's giving that God's self makes in the life of the trinity. We are created so that we may be caught up in this; so that we may grow into the wholehearted love of God by learning that God loves us as God loves God.
This nearly erotic picture of God's love for us gives us deep understanding of the significance, acceptance, and security we have in Christ. He continues:
The life of the Christian community has as its rationale . . . the task of teaching us this: so ordering our relations that human beings may see themselves as desired, as the occasion of joy
Indeed, all Heaven celebrates when any one of us is saved. The core of all evangelism is to have non-believers see that God loves them; desires them to share in that loving relationship with Him; and that nothing they have done in their life alters that.

Williams shows the true heart of a loving sexual relationship: that each partner's sexual pleasure comes in pleasing the other and not themselves. He comes close to calling heterosexual sex in a legal marriage perversion if "in that they leave one agent in effective control of the situation - one agent, that is, who doesn't have to wait upon the desire of the other." and later mentions 1 Corinthians 7
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Of course, I think in this case he is better served mentioning any of the "one flesh" quotes; but oh well. Also, he mentions Ephesians 5:
28 So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; 29 for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church,
All in all, him and I agree that the sexual relationship God wants is one where the partners unite mind, body and soul; treat each other unselfishly sexually; and put their partner's needs on all of these levels over their own. This is the relationship that serves God and glorifies Him; it is what marriage in His name should be; and being heterosexual and married does not imply you have this. Finally, he "tantalizes" with this:
I suspect that a fuller exploration of the sexual metaphors of the Bible will have more to teach us about a theology and ethics of sexual desire than will the flat citation of isolated texts
The Bad

And delivers nothing:
"and I hope other theologians will find this worth following up more fully than I can do here."
This is what I expected him to do. He did have time to spend a third of his space on examples from the Raj Quartet by Paul Scott; and quotes from Thomas Nagel and Susan Griffin.

Now for homosexuality: Archbishop Williams argues that homosexual relationships are able to embody that complete unselfishness and abandonment of self to the other, and therefore they too will reflect and glorify God. Garry J. Williams, in The Theology of Rowan Williams:
"The method which Williams employs in his theological argument entails a significant non sequitur. He finds that God desires his people, and he identifies sexual desire with that desire in God. There may be some basis for this analogy, given that God is so often in Scripture depicted as the husband of his bride. It is, however, hermeneutically dubious to use the relation betweenGod and his people to justify specific sexual activity" [and] "There are thus two leaps here. One is from the desire or love of God for his people to human sexual desire, and the other is from heterosexual biblical examples to homosexual acts. Like the first, this second leap is consistently and conspicuously absent in the Bible . . . Scripture does not make the step which Williams makes, in that it customarily marks a clear distinction between heterosexual and homosexual relations and compares aspects of God's relation to his people with the former and not the latter."
Archbishop Williams does approach scripture in defending homosexuality in one way: he attacks procreation as the major factor in God's view of authentic sexual relations. Here I think he is right: I do not believe reproduction is the central point in God's plan for our "one flesh" relationships; although it is certainly a point. However, he brushes by (and brushes off) what is to me the real points:
the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous texts [see my piece on this], or on a problematic and non-scriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures
The bold part is what he just blows by: complementarity is very much a part of every scripture on this subject. He fails to try to make a case for the opposite - so of course none is made. Garry Williams says this is a natural outflowing from his general theological mistake in dismissing revelation in favor of experience.

and The Ugly

This should have been the first thing I talked about since it explains the title of the work - The Body's Grace - but once the parallelism with Clint Eastwood hit me . . . He does not mean grace from the Body of Christ; but grace our own body shows us when we work out our "fear and trembling" over time in giving ourselves up to the mutuality of an equal relationship with another.

In scripture which is simply packed with references to "the flesh" (our bodily desires) this position that we seek the body's grace is simply wrong. We seek God's grace to work through these relationships; His strength to overcome the "fear and trembling" as we work out a true bond of mind, soul, and body. I would argue that in many cases giving in to the grace of our body separates us from the grace of God.

Archbishop Williams seems to imply that homosexuals actually have an easier time finding the body's grace once they have made those first decisions to "identify certain patterns as sterile, undeveloped or even corrupt" and "what we want our bodily life to say, how our bodies are to be brought in to the whole project of 'making human sense' for ourselves and each other." He says:
"a conventional (heterosexual) morality simply absolves us from the difficulties we might meet in doing so. The question of human meaning is not raised, we are not helped to see what part sexuality plays in our learning to be human with one another, to enter the body's grace, because all we need to know is that sexual activity is licensed in one context and in no other." [and] ". . . where [do] the massive cultural and religious anxiety about same-sex relationships that is so prevalent at the moment comes from . . . I wonder whether it is to do with the fact that same-sex relations oblige us to think directly about bodiliness and sexuality in a way that socially and religiously sanctioned heterosexual unions don't."
Not only am I wrong for following scripture on the issue of homosexuality, I am stunting my physical and emotional growth in my relationship with my wife by doing so. I suppose I need a version of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" to get in touch with my bodily life and to recieve its grace.

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Sunday, August 07, 2005

Kingdom Character and Secular Responsibility

Tgirsch is someone I have had a few blogathons with over at Evangelical Outpost. We usually start out some fair distance from the fence on opposite sides and end up both leaning on the fence (on opposite sides) and chatting. That is actually rare in my experience. tgirsch listens, and cares not as much about defending his position and talking points; but in looking for agreement and some unity on the issues.

tgirsch: "I wanted to respond to you concerning our debate
at Evangelical Outpost, but Joe has closed the comments."

Me: "[We] were discussing Matthew 5-7 and whether the interpretation of that section of scripture (and related parts of Jesus' message) should be broadened beyond an analysis by Jesus of what our individual character should be to a call for certain qualities in society/government."

Here are some posts from the discussion to set the tone for the discussion here:

Stavrogin: how does one interpret "turn the other cheek" to define pacifism as a sinful and un-Christian attitude? Even Christ would not permit a sword to be raised in his defense, however noble the intention.

Joe: [On turn the other cheek] "that passage has nothing overtly to do with violence. To turn the other cheek is to literally allow someone who has slapped you to give you a backhanded slap on the other cheek. To receive such a blow was a great insult in Judaism; an offense against oneƂ’s dignity. While I agree that Christians should bear insults with meekness and humility, I do not believe that the passage intends for us to stand by and allow our neighbor to be raped,murdered, or mutilated . . . [On Christ and sword] Christ would not allow such a defense on his behalf because it was his intention to lay down his life willingly for us all."

Stavrogin: [On pacifism generally being sinful] ". . .Thee impression I get [is] that abandoning oneself to the mercy of God in the face of oppression, torment and even martyrdom at the hands of the unrighteous is a supremely Christian value.

Me: Would it be equally true if you were watching someone rape and kill your neighbor; and you abandoned them to the mercy of God? No, I think not. Could you interject yourself and become the victim while the other escaped? Of course. Could you harm, and even kill, the rapist to stop the killing? I think you could. There is ample justification in the Bible for government having the responsibility to use the sword to defend its people. I think calling people un-Christian for being personally pacifist is incorrect. Christians have been interpreting scripture, and God's will, to require their personal pacifism for a long time . . . it is almost impossible to use the bible to say the US government should be pacifist. We would be required, of course, to refuse participation in an unjust war: say a war of genocide.

Joe: I will agree that personal pacifism may not be inherently un-Christian (though there are times when non-violent resistance can be as unjust a use of power as violence). But I think that the right to pacifism, like the right to swing one's fist, ends at your neighbor's nose.

Mike: Commandments are by and large directed to individuals and not governments. Thou shalt not murder is directed to us as individuals. You only have to go down the page a little to find a list of circumstances under which society should exercise the death penalty.

Tgirsch: This illustrates a great problem with a literalist interpretation of scripture. It takes what Jesus likely intended as a larger message and pigeonholes it into something very specific and very narrowly applied. You take a very legalistic reading of Jesus' words here, and I think it's to your detriment.

Me: Damned if we do, damned if we do not. I think it is actually very necessary to take the Bible as literally as possible - in order to stop the use of scripture to support all those things you talk about. [Quoted Matt 5:38 - 42]. Everything here is about personal revenge or offensives to your person by another person. What reason is there to broaden it? In fact, the whole Sermon on the Mount was about personal righteousness and the personal traits of a Kingdom member. Let's let Christ say what Christ wants to say.

Tgirsch: The "eye for eye" verses don't concern personal revenge at all, but adherence to the law. [Quotes Lev 24:17-22: ] . Take the entire passage in context and you see that it's a conversation between God and Moses wherein God is proscribing His laws. Personal revenge has little to do with it; this is God's law. It is Biblical justice. A broad reading of the passage is advisable precisely because that's what makes sense in the context. I find it difficult to imagine that Jesus was speaking strictly of avoiding personal revenge against those who have wronged you personally, and nothing else . . .Notee that the Leviticus verse isn't saying what a wronged person would be within his rights to do, which is what you'd expect if revenge were the motivation. It talks about what must be done, and it doesn't say that the wronged party should be the one to do it. Someone who wrongs another must be wronged in similar fashion

Me: The whole context of Jesus's "ministry" (lame word really), and the Sermon on the Mount, is that the law needs not to be written in stone but on our hearts. Christianity is not a legalistic, law-driven belief structure - it is God's attempt to change our character and how we center our lives: To love God with our whole being; and our neighbor as ourselves. That is taken one individual at a time. He was HEAVILY amending (if not revoking) the Levitical law you quoted. He was, after all, here to revoke ( fulfill (as in complete) and replace the Mosaic covenant. Again, all of Matthew 5-7 is about the internal qualities and character of members of the Kingdom; and not about how society and government should behave. If you make the argument that a society of people having this character would approach its collective life, and relationship with other societies, differently - we would be on the same page entirely. [A quote from CS Lewis saying that the problem with political programs flowing from Christianity is that we go there to find support for our opinions rather than to see what our opinions should be]. The emphasis of Christianity is building our individual character to match that of Christ's, and have that character act as "salt and light" in the society around us - and that was the emphasis of the Sermon on the Mount.

Tgirsch: Jesus clearly is admonishing against violence here, even if in a limited context. I'd argue that it does Jesus' teaching a disservice to try to limit the scope of this admonition . . . I'm not aware of Jesus advocating violence anywhere, in any circumstance. So there's nothing else in Jesus' teaching that tells us we should limit our interpretation of that admonition. I believe he intended it to be broad (and many, many Christians concur, I might add). Given his habit of speaking in parables and using specific examples to illustrate broader principles (neither of which I suspect you'll dispute), the broad application makes the most sense here. Which brings us back to Stavrogin's original point: how is pacifism un-Christian? . . .Until you can show me where Jesus advocates war and capital punishment, I'll continue to argue that neither of these things helps "[build] our individual character to match Christ's," and in fact both are counterproductive to this end, and as such, Stavrogin's point stands.

Me: I think capital punishment is untenable from a Christian standpoint - but not everyone agrees (even the Catholics, who generally oppose it, aren't ironclad). As to war, you yourself I believe would fall into the just/unjust category on this - unless you would have bowed out of WWII even after Pearl Harbor; or finding out about the slaughter of the Jews. There is plenty of New Testament ground for government not having the same responsibilities as individuals. I think there are political responsibilities that flow from the character traits in the Sermon on the Mount - but I still argue for narrow interpretation of the Bible. I think we should be careful to fill in blanks with our own thoughts.

Nick: [on separation of Biblical view of individual vs state roles] I think that can be the basis of a Scripturally consistent defense of Christian pacifism. People like to point to Romans 13 for the role of government as an agent of God's wrath bearing the sword. But we might note that Paul is instructing the Roman Christians on how to respond to government. He doesn't indicate whether or not they should participate. However, in Chapter 12, he describes Christians as agents of God's mercy in a way that dovetails nicely with Christ's instructions in the Servant on the Mount and doesn't fit very well with the responsibilities of government in Chapter 13 . . .We might conclude that the code of conduct required of Christians is very different from the actions of government. We might also ask if it there is any support in Christ's instructions for the idea that it is possible to morally separate the things we do as private individuals from the things we do for the government. Even if we agree that government is established by God (perhaps in much the same way that he established the Babylonians and Assyrians as agents of his wrath in the Old Testament), weshouldd be very careful about concluding that we are permitted to do things as servants of government that we are not permitted to do as servants of Christ. To claim that Christians must always be ready to fight may be arrogating to much responsibility to ourselves. Christ calls us to be agents of love and mercy. He'll handle the wrath.

This is a magnificently important "brain cramp" for Christians and I have invited some people to help it continue. There are a couple of things I do not want this sidelined too: this is not a discussion on Iraq and whether we should be there; or whether any politicians who call themselves Christians are following Christ's example. I am inviting folks to the party - hopefully some will attend.

UPDATE: This topic does not need to be limited to the death penalty and pacifism. Discussion in general about how faith should, and should not, impact a Christian's secular political life would be great

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