August 4, 2016

Can You Be a Christian and Wrong?

Yes, absolutely. In our postlapsarian state, we are pretty much guaranteed to stray, make errors, make stupid decisions, misinterpret, fail to interpret, and so forth. However, in an interesting article on the Federalist website, Kira Davis, while agreeing that Christians can be wrong, goes on to make several statements which I think are unsupportable.

In fairness, here is what I understand Ms. Davis to be saying. If this is incorrect, I hope she will reach out to discuss and correct any of my misunderstandings. After providing her impetus for writing the post (others' statements that one cannot be Christian and vote for Trump, and similar claims), she goes on to list a series of questions which occur to her - not an an exhaustive prospectus of questions to be answered, but rather examples of the kinds which occur to her and others. A sample: "Can you be gay and Christian? Can you be Jewish and Christian? Can you be pro-choice and Christian?"

Ms. Davis then indicates that the Bible is the only reliable source for answers to these questions. In consulting her Bible (she limits herself to the New Testament, for the most part), she indicates she sees many "dos," but very few "don'ts." So, for instance, she finds "Do treat your neighbor the way you would wish to be treated, do love the Lord with all your heart, do turn the other cheek, do be patient and kind and honest." She also outlines the requirements she finds for being a Christian, which are "fairly simple:" After citing verses from Galatians 3:22, John 1:12, John 3:16, and Mark 16:16, and referencing "a hundred more verses just like," she states (and let us call this the "Davis beliefs" for shorthand, as I do not feel hunting around in theological history to label it as any particular Christian belief set - I suspect it is similar to what many Christians would say):
If you believe Jesus Christ is the living Messiah and was sent to lead us back into relationship with Jehovah, than you are a Christian. If you believe the only remedy for sin is the blood of Jesus, you are a Christian. If you believe God has created you to be an adopted son or daughter and partake in his blessings through the mystery of Jesus Christ, you are a Christian.
The quotes seem like textual cherry picking. One wonders what Ms. Davis makes of St. Paul's statement from 1 Corinthians 6:9:
Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. (NRSV-CE).
or, if we want to go straight to Christ:
But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. 
True, St. Paul says that those who have been "washed, sanctified, and justified" by Christ have been changed, but he does not say that this changes those who are fornicators, etc. to those who will inherit the kingdom if they fail to change - that is, if they profess Faith in Christ and believe that this Faith then makes deliberate persistence in these ways forgivable and forgiven.

I think this selective reading of the New Testament (while completely ignoring the old) enables Ms. Davis to do what she does next, which is to minimize or eliminate the differences between "status" and "behavior." So, she argues that one can be "an alcoholic and a Christian," "a liar" and a Christian, pro-abortion and a Christian, progressive socialist and a Christian and so on. That sets the stage for this statement:
If the legitimacy of our faith is based solely on our opinions—political or otherwise—then is that to say we are always moving in and out of the grace of God? In and out of Christianity? That’s a scary thought, and also completely antithetical to what we just read in Scripture.
So, if I understand Ms. Davis correctly, the only decision that matters is to affirm the contents of the Davis beliefs, and after that, as long as one makes honest errors, nearly anything one believes short of dis-affirming the Davis credo will not move you out of God's Grace. While beliefs "if you choose to continually live in your sin while unrepentant....will have different consequences for your spiritual health and how you influence others," they are not enough to make one "not Christian."

In the end, Ms. Davis concludes:
Some Christians may have heard my pro-choice chatter and thought I was a heretic, but truth was (and is) that I was a very passionate follower of Jesus and believed with all my heart that he saved my life. I was also wrong. That’s it. Does God abandon us for being wrong sometimes? If so, we’re all screwed.
So can you be [insert stereotype here] and still be a Christian? Yes. You can be gay or vote for Donald Trump or even be pro-choice and still be a Christian. Faith in Christ is not qualified by anything but faith in Christ. The end.
I think that Ms. Davis, having (rightfully) abandoned the idea that God "abandons" us when we make a mistake, now has gone too far in the other direction. Our beliefs, our choices, our actions, etc. all effect us spiritually. We can turn away from God. We can make choices that, while professing Faith in Christ, empty that Faith. She also fails to distinguish between those who make broad, sweeping, statements "nobody can be pro-choice and Christian," and those who, individually and careful, counsel others that being pro-choice is, in fact, antithetical to life in Christ. She admits that being pro-choice was wrong, but she also claims that someone else making the judgment that her being pro-choice as wrong is...itself wrong. Surely an odd stance, especially if one assumes (as Christ seemed to) that the Holy Spirit may work through other people.

If Ms. Davis is correct that Faith is what is required, why does it really matter if anyone is "wrong," or "right?" Why does it matter that we "influence others," if we are all wrong-headed, and that we damage our "spiritual health?" If we cannot or should not tell others that they are wrong, even in Christian charity, does it matter whether we hold opinions entirely contrary to Scripture? If our interpretation of Scripture is wrong, even completely wrong? Does nobody have an accurate interpretation of Scripture?

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