Tomorrow's Christmas Eve, and I'm a parish pastor. AMA!
It’s that time of year again—time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ with egg nog, soccer (er, football) on the telly, and my fourth annual Christmas AMA, all while wondering if it’s appropriate for me to want to have scotch in my coffee mug this early in the morning. In years past, I’ve held these on Christmas Eve, but since the 24th is on a Sunday this year (meaning that holding an AMA tomorrow just isn’t humanly possible), Christmas Eve Eve it is!
So—I’ve been in parish ministry for over eight years now, two as a part-time associate while still in seminary and six-plus years post-seminary as a full-time senior/lead at the congregation I currently serve. Ask me (almost—see disclaimers below) anything about Christmas, Christianity, the Bible, the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop…anything.
A couple of disclaimers—I won’t answer a question in a way that would require me to betray the privacy or confidentiality of my congregants, whom I dearly love. I also do not speak in any official capacity for my denomination, the Disciples of Christ (which you can read all about at disciples.org), or my regional office that governs my standing and issues my ministry credentials.
Finally, I’m about to submit the manuscript for my debut book, Oregon Trail Theology: The Frontier Millennial Christians Face—and How We’re Ready, which is scheduled to be published in September 2018 by Church Publishing, Inc., the publishing arm of the Episcopal Church. Once the book is available for pre-order in the spring I’ll be sure to tweet links to where you can order a copy or three for yourself—it should make for a fine paperweight or a birthday gift for a friend you’d rather not see again. 😊
Proof: https://imgur.com/a/orSP4 and https://twitter.com/RevEricAtcheson/status/944583754512711686
Last year's AMA: http://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/5k36mj/its_christmas_eve_and_im_a_parish_pastor_ama/
Edit: Alright, y'all, eight-and-a-half hours--that's a wrap on this year's Christmas AMA! Thank you so much for taking the time out of your holiday weekend, and I'm so sorry if I didn't get around to addressing you personally. Merry Christmas!
I promise I'm not just saying this to plug it--that is basically the entire premise of my book. I'm a member of the so-called "Oregon Trail Generation" of younger Gen-X'ers and older millennials, and there are an awful lot of reasons behind the migration of our generation--and younger millennials--away from organized religion. I'll quickly offer a few that I address in the book:
-Static versus fluid culture. Churches that have been around for decades or centuries can very easily become time capsules not just in architecture, but in ways of doing things that are more about how things were done in decades past than how things are done now. The need to keep those systems and structures in place can become a form of idolatry, especially when it is used to close doors off to new generations of leadership.
-Economics. My generation has been royally hosed by the economics of the time. I graduated from college right as the stock market and the banks were imploding, and when I finished seminary three years later, the job market had only improved somewhat. I was profoundly fortunate to find a pastorate in a matter of months; I have immensely qualified classmates who needed years to find theirs. A lack of income available to tithe has led to severe resource shortages at churches as younger generations simply have not had the chance to earn what their elders have by that point in their lives.
-Trump. And by "Trump," I sort of mean the hyper-partisan nature of the church that got him to the presidency and all that it entails. The election of Trump laid bare for public consumption what many, many young Christians and ex-Christians have known for years: that many in the church care about being homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, and misogynist Republican voters first and good Christians second. The nature of the white evangelical vote was so stark that this particular chapter on it that I had planned to write last I ended up writing first. It urgently requires a cure.
And Merry Christmas to you too!
Thank you for the thorough response! I am not personally religious but I am glad to see this more positive side of religion.
I personally think a lot of what is driving younger generations away from religion is how unwelcoming a lot of religious people are to things like homosexuality and interracial relationships. I'll use my MIL for an example. She is what I see a good Christian person should be. She's very open and loving to everyone. They've met some of my gay friends, my BIL has a black wife and the most gorgeous mixed daughter. They are all loved one in the same to her. She volunteers at shelters and food kitchens, donates canned goods and linens to places that need them, and most importantly she doesn't speak down to people that don't have the same belief system as her. She doesn't push the message of God, or try to convert people. She lives her life the way she thinks God wants her to. She does her church thing every Sunday, and really tries to live her life in the most pure and giving way that she knows how.
I am grateful for the witness and ministry of your mother-in-law and will say a prayer of thanks for her, and for your testimony of her work here.
I have to say I thought I was the only one who left the church after the election. I had been wavering between agnosticism and atheism for a long time but kept attending church because I’m a fan of Jesus (still am). The night of the election I informed my husband that if he wanted to attend church and raise our son as a Christian that was fine with me, but I was out. I haven’t gone to church other than for weddings and funerals since. My husband and son haven’t, either, which proved to me that I really was the driving force in my family’s spirituality. I’m still a fan of the lessons of Jesus, but I don’t think I’ll ever be a regular churchgoer again. There are far too few Christians in most churches.
I'm sorry the election was the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back for you and your household, but I don't blame you for it in the slightest. The election has done severe damage to the church's witness, and repairing that damage will take decades. I hope we can repair that damage for you as well, but that's up to us, not you.
Don't forget that the younger generation(s) has a harder time believing in myths and fairytales. Knowledge/science is so readily available, that they no longer take the words given to them as truth.
Respect for science is something that definitely gets talked about. I was raised in a state (Kansas) that didn't teach evolution when I was in high school because fundamentalists had taken over the state board of education. It is an important illustration in one of the chapters.
I honestly believe the internet is killing organized religion.
Thanks a lot, Al Gore
You are missing the biggest one of all - people who do not believe in God for intellectual reasons.
In my experience, most of my generational peers who left the church did so because they felt the church left them or let them down. Any movement towards atheism almost always came afterwards.
What scotch do you recommend on a $50ish budget and who would be cooler to hang out with, Peter or Paul and why?
If you want something lighter and fruitier, I've really grown to like Glen Grant 12, which I tried when my wife and I went to Scotland a year and a half ago. For something a bit more seasonal and weightier, I've yet to go wrong with anything from Aberlour.
Peter would be way more fun to hang out with. He was imperfect, bumbling, but also profoundly thoughtful, especially in Acts. Paul is way more of an anti-fun scold, even (especially) when you know he's right.
Have you ever had laphroaig 10 year? That's my go to ~50 dollar bottle!
Many times. My parents claim it tastes like wood varnish.
Wow. It must have been hard on you when you cut them out of your life.
The scotch helps.
This is going to be a bit of an obscure question, but bare with me! I was raised Catholic until I was confirmed, but as I've gotten older I've realized I have zero belief in any to of religion/after-life. My soon-to-be wife believes in God/heaven, but doesn't necessarily practice a particular religion at all. One of our most difficult discussions was me explaining to her I don't believe at all, and told her that I feel like as long as I'm a good person I shouldn't feel obligated to do so because of some entity told me to do so. She got upset and that's kind of where we left off on it. This was a long while ago, but I feel like it may come up some time in the next few decades. How can I rationalize how I feel to her?
Lots of pastors are trained to do pre-marital counseling for couples. I realize you said you're not a believer, but it may be worth finding a pastor you might feel safe talking to about doing some pre-marital counseling with you and your bride-to-be about reconciling your views of religion with one another's. You're right that it may come up--it probably will--and your instinct to want to address it now is a very good one. Heed it well!
Merry Christmas! Wishing you all the best during the holidays.
As a Pastor, how does your parish deal with LGBT individuals wanting to reconcile their sexuality with Christianity? I have many Christian friends that can’t move beyond Leviticus 18:22/20:13 or letters from Paul, and tell me homosexuality and living as a Christian are mutually exclusive paths to salvation.
Often I feel the message of unconditional love of God excludes LGBT individuals, even during the holidays.
Sandwiched in between Leviticus 18:22/20:13 is 19:18--love your neighbor as yourself. Upon it, Jesus says, hangs the entirety of the law and the prophets (along with Deuteronomy 6:5--love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind).
If we're not fulfilling Lev 19:18 by loving our LGBTQ neighbors as ourselves, then it really doesn't matter how much we love 18:22 and 20:13. In fact, insofar as it does matter, it condemns the church, not the LGBTQ children of God we have beaten and battered with those verses time and again.
So, my parish and I try to respond with love. We are not yet officially open and affirming, but as I think I noted elsewhere, we have made some strides in that direction, and my LGBTQ friends who come to me for spiritual care and advice do so knowing that I believe their sexual orientation and/or identity to be a fundamental part of how God fearfully and wonderfully made them.
Thank you for your very helpful and honest response. I have had many negative experiences attempting to reconcile my faith and sexuality, and you provide hope that God’s love can extend to me. Thank you :)
For a fully affirming perspective, I'd encourage you to check out this podcast episode by my former pastor. (If listening to podcasts isn't your thing, you can find written stuff all over the internet if you search for "affirming theology" or "open and affirming congregations." It's not as rare as it used to be. I just love Sam's podcast though.)
I'm so sorry for all you have had to experience at the hands of the Church. There are a growing number of Christians who are figuring out that love is love is love, and I hope you find some soon.
Thank you for your words, and I share your sorrow for what the church has done to LGBTQ people. Homophobia and transphobia have horribly twisted the church. May their end come quickly.
Why do people get so fixated on passages that condemn homosexuality, yet conveniently ignore passages like 1 Timothy 2:12 and Jeremiah 10?
We all have a canon within the canon. If someone says they don't, and they take every word of the Bible as seriously and literally as every other word, I'm immediately suspicious...in no small part because one of the things the Bible says not to do is lie.
Can I recommend the book Torn. Rescuing the gospel from the gay-vs,-christians debate. By Justin Lee. The founder of the gay Christian network. He explains the issue coming from both sides, is non-judgemental and gracefully written.
Justin Lee does great work, and Torn is a very good book. Co-sign.
I am a student whose church is currently dealing with arguments of whether to accept homosexuality and how far such acceptance should go. What can I say to the older generations to help convince them that God teaches to love above all else?
I'm not sure.
For some folks, they believe what they believe, and nothing we say or do will change their minds (I mean, just look at some of the responses here...). Their hearts will have to be softened to this.
For folks who are genuinely on the fence, though, it takes an awful lot of patience--something I'm not always gifted with but have had to develop. But it's important work, just as it has been for years. I hope your church's discernment process leads to an affirmation of God's love above all else too.
I believe their sexual orientation and/or identity to be a fundamental part of how God fearfully and wonderfully made them.
What leads you to this belief? Leviticus 18 is clearly God saying men having sex with men is detestable. Loving homosexuals is one thing; but how can you justify saying that you believe God made them this way on purpose and condones their relationship when the only thing God ever specifically said about homosexual relationships is that he condemns them?
People don't choose to be gay any more than I chose to be left-handed, near-sighted, or bald. It's how God made me, and it is how God made them.
I think that is a far more deferential take to God's perspective than insisting that a pair of verses be taken out of context and used as spiritual clubs.
How are they taken out of context?
For one, there was no context of sexual orientation at that time. Leviticus only mentions man-with-man sexual relations, not woman-with-woman. The condemnation was the act itself, not the state of being made LGBTQ by God. Additionally, the penalty proscribed for it was death, so unless you really do believe you are entitled to start stoning LGBTQ people to death, you've already admitted that the verses are taken out of context today.
For another, take Paul's letter to Rome. That the Romans practiced institutionalized homosexuality in a few different ways is a matter of historical fact. Comparing it to a loving same-sex relationship today is apples and oranges.
I haven't been to church in a long long time but at one point was a super hardcore southern baptist so at one point I knew my bible well. Why does the old testament still apply in this situation? Arent those laws finished and done with? If I remember correctly Christ died on the cross to fulfill the law so that we no longer need to live up to those things in order to enter heaven. At the point Jesus said "It is finished" didn't the laws of the old testament no longer apply and those of the new testament take their place?
I would gently suggest moving away from this interpretation, because it doesn't give much credit to the Law that still remains a Scriptural basis of Judaism today, and many of my friends who are Jewish would (and do) chafe at us treating the Law like it is irrelevant or obsolete. Jesus reinterpreted the Law, not replaced it. I think we are still meant to take divine wisdom from the Old Testament, or else it wouldn't still be sacred Scripture for us too.
Respectfully, to heterosexual members of your congregation, do you affirm parts of their sexuality that are also in contradiction to biblical teaching? For example, a dating couple having sex with each other. Would you affirm that their actions are part of God's design for them and affirm their decision to continue to sleep together?
I don't necessarily affirm it, but neither do I force them to sign up for "conversion therapy" to make them not bump uglies and turn them into a perennial bogeyman for retrograde politicians to dump all over. There's a difference.
Im being 100% serious here. Don't you think that heaven would be boring? I mean praising someone for eternity would be exhausting after a billion years. what is your version of heaven?
I had lunch yesterday at Noodles and Company, which, for anyone who hasn't been to one, is basically just noodley carbs every which way you can imagine--pasta in red sauce, Japanese(ish) noodles and beef, and so on, served in giant bowls with actual forks, not those cheap plastic forks that snap in half the minute they do any heavy lifting.
Heaven is Noodles and Company where everything on the menu is free.
Thoughts on the church of Scientology?
By all appearances, it is a cult of personality that almost certainly abuses at least some of its members and merits nearly all of the criticism it engenders.
Sorry, Tom Cruise. But also not sorry.
Now do college football!
Pay the players.
Hello, Happy Holidays, and thanks for this ama.
I am an agnostic/atheist and I am in a serious relationship with a girl whose family is seasonally religious (aka Irish republicans who practice more around Christmas Easter and st. Patrick's day). I've never had any issue with people who have faith but I don't always feel comfortable when they try to include me in their religious ceremonies and traditions. It makes me feel as if I'm disrespecting their faith by going through the motions when I don't believe in it.
What advice would you have for someone in my situation? I love her and her family so leaving is no option and I dont want to upset them by refusing to participate in their holiday traditions but I also don't want them to feel I disrespected their faith when they eventually learn my beliefs( it's been 8 years of dropping less than subtle hints lol)
I wonder if they are inviting you to be a part of their religious ceremonies because they want to avoid disrespecting you, just as you wish to avoid disrespecting them and their faith. It sounds like an honest but gentle conversation--around a good Irish whiskey for liquid courage if need be (I'm a scotch partisan, but I've got nothing against good Irish medicine)--to ask them how you can be truest to yourself around them and your beloved may be in order.
As a Christian myself, I'd say as long you're not mocking it or anything like that, I think you're fine. I've had friends around during Christmas services that aren't believers, and the ones that quietly participated had a much better outcome than the ones that mocked it or complained the whole time
That's relieving to hear. And I'm definitely not attempting to make a mockery of it not would I want to make a scene being against it
Your heart is in the right place. Just be kind but honest with them.
Do you find those who come once a year hypocritical, or are you just glad to have them there even for the day?
I don't find them hypocritical at all. Are people who only watch the Super Bowl or the World Cup hypocritical? It's just the nature of big days.
The one gripe I've had is when I hear the complaint from someone that they always hear the same thing when they come to church and that's why they don't come more often...Like, yeah, if you're only coming to church on Christmas, don't expect a treatise on Ezekiel eating a scroll, y'know?
You should totally change it up one year and surprise everyone with a six hour mega sermon on the lineage of everyone on both testaments.
I bet that will go over swimmingly. :)
You give excellent advice.
Good morning (evening here) from Australia!
We're quite a secular society down here, so I'll try to frame this a non-offensively as I can (I'm really not trying to sound argumentative or anything, so apologies if it sounds it!)
There's a wonderful Rowan Atkinson sketch where he plays the Devil, and one of the bits that always stuck with me is when he goes "Christians? yes, well, I'm afraid the Jews were right..."
As a devout man, have you ever given any thought to whether any of the other religions may be right or "more correct" than yours? (Ie. the Catholic Church with all its fandangaldry and guilt is actually what God wants?) Also, how do you reconcile all of the hundreds of gods / methods of worship that have existed over the centuries with the particular 'brand' you are in?
I always wondered how that question would be thought of by the religious.
Merry Christmas, by the way!
I've played a lot of poker (less so now, I just don't have the time), and the way I see Christianity is the equivalent of going all-in on a pair of aces in no-limit hold'em. It is the best possible hand that I can have, but that doesn't mean there is another hand somewhere down the line that could potentially beat it.
Put another way: everything in my life tells me that it is the right call to cash in all my chips on this hand. But I have to be humble enough to recognize that my hand could be beaten at some point. I have yet to encounter such a situation yet though.
Merry Christmas to you too.
In this poker analogy, how many hands did you fold before being dealt the pocket aces?
I did go through a Church of the Fonz phase in my wild and crazy youth. Let us AY!
HAHAHA dude this actually made me laugh so hard. Merry Christmas brother
He dodged your question, and I'm guessing the answer is zero.
Do you have a specific opinion on more polytheistic religions such as Asatru, the worship of the Norse gods and goddesses, for example in regards to their practices and beliefs as compared to a monotheistic religion like Christianity?
Also Merry Christmas!
I think Norse mythology is fascinating. I actually did a paper in college comparing its apocalyptic imagery with Christianity's apocalypticism, it was a great deal of fun to write.
Merry Christmas to you too.
Do you tip your waiters with money or Bible verses?
I used to deliver pizzas, and my sister used to work as a waitress. Always. Tip. With. Money.
Thanks for doing this AMA!
What are your thoughts on Deism, and Agnosticism?
"Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, "I don't believe in Beatles, I just believe in me." Good point there. After all, he was the walrus." --Ferris Bueller
I was wondering, is the bible regarded as the word of God or the word of man?
The answer to that question is going to depend on who you ask (meaning there is no universal doctrine concerning the status of Scripture, or even what constitutes Scripture), but I regard the Bible--the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible and the New Testament--as written by people who were uniquely inspired by God.
Merry Christmas to you as well!
Thank you so much for answering, I hope you enjoy your AMA!
I always enjoy doing these, cheers. :)
To add to that, 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.”
So essentially the Bible was written by man, but inspired directly by God.
I have my own exegetical hang-ups with 2 Tim, but, basically, yes, this.
Can I ask what those are?
In a nutshell, 2 Timothy was almost certainly not written by Paul himself, and may have been written to sort of scale Paul back to make him more palatable in that time and place. Sort of how the white church has sanded off the edges of Martin Luther King Jr. to make him some sort of Christian care bear who said nice things about racial equality as opposed to a genuinely radical prophet who had important things to say about systemic racism, structural inequality, capitalism, and the war machine of the military-industrial complex.
As a lifelong Christian, I walked away from the church this past summer. I couldn't reconcile my personal values with the values my church was encouraging. Granted, I live in the south, but for instance our church would have whole sermons on why women are subservient to men, which (seemed) to be backed up by the scripture they pulled. These controversial issues seem to only be exacerbated by the trump era.
Walking away from the church isn't isolated - the majority of my left-leaning friends and siblings have done the same. And the majority of young people identify as left-leaning. Do you think the church should adapt to shifting ideologies (and thus, perhaps, interpret the bible less literally) in order to retain/keep their congregation? Or just double down on what their core base wants to hear?
ETA: my experience is limited to what I've heard and seen growing up in a non-denominational church in the south, which may represent the most egregious viewpoints the church still holds. I'll check out the denominations others have recommended to me in the replies.
I am sorry that you felt the need to walk away from church, but especially in the era of Trump, I do understand why you did.
I don't think adapting a more left-leaning outlook needs to be done solely on the basis of adjusting to younger generations. I also happen to believe that a more leftward approach to Christianity is correct as a matter of truth and right action.
Whats a parish pastor ?
A parish is a neighborhood church. A pastor is the minister who runs the parish (often with the help of a staff), preaches at the parish's worship services, provides pastoral care to the parish members, and drinks all the scotch.
The Bible, such as in Acts of the Apostles, describes it like the wind. You can't necessarily see the wind, but you can feel it, sometimes more strongly than other times. And sometimes, it is strong enough to pull you in a certain direction.
Does this analogy help?
I am one with the Force, the Force is with me.
What’s your schedule tomorrow? My priest likes to paint her fingernails the color of the church season, and she was frantically trying to find a moment between Advent 4 and Christmas.
I'm basically on from 9 in the morning until 6:30 or 7 in the evening with two worship services, Sunday School, a post-worship fellowship, and sandwich-making for the homeless ministry.
Having Advent 4 fall on Christmas Eve really feels weird. I have a colleague who dyes her hair the color of the church season and I don't envy her (well, I do...I no longer have hair to dye!).
I know this is open to a lot of interpretation but what sin's do you believe constitute eternal damnation?
Ranch dressing on french fries
While your sense of humor is great, I've noticed that you use it to deflect from questions that address particularly problematic aspects of Christian doctrine. When asked about LBGT rights, your views coincide with those of the majority of millennials and you have no problem expounding at length. When asked what would motivate a loving, compassionate God to damn people for eternity, you give a flip one-liner about fries. This fails to answer a very trenchant question, implies that the answer is something you don't want to advertise, and to a degree insults our intelligence. Can we get a straight answer?
Fair enough. You're right, it's an important question and a more thorough answer is certainly merited. I think that we are capable of being saved or redeemed even after we die. Jesus says in John 12 that the Word that He speaks acts as judge, and that it judges on the last day. So, we're not permanently judged when we die, but when time itself ends. I think, given that possibility (if not a reality) that I have to leave room for the possibility that someone who dies and is damned to be redeemed and enter heaven.
That, I realize, has some pretty radical implications of who could potentially be in heaven. But, then again, God's grace is pretty radical. The wideness of its availability frankly should offend us.
So would you classify yourself as a Universalist, in that case? Just wondering, because I love this kind of theology.
My understanding of universalism is that everyone is reconciled to God in the end, and I believe that we can still choose to resist God's grace if we wish to. What I do not know is who, if anyone, chooses to still resist God's grace all the way to the end.
If you could ask God one question what would it be?
Is Die Hard a Christmas movie?
What's your favorite firework?
The one where I'm a plastic bag drifting through the wind
How do you encourage those who do not believe in Christianity to attend church, especially at this time of the year?
Serious answer: A lot of it has to do with the worship service itself--is it accessible? Is there a lot of Christian-speak or are things made understandable? Are we creating a worship that our members would want to invite their unchurched family and friends to? "Seeker-friendly" is an overused term and I don't particularly like using it myself, but especially on Christmas and Easter, you don't want to make people feel dumb or guilty for not going to church more often--that is rarely an encouraging feeling!
I went to a Catholic Christmas Eve thing last year to support my wife. I didn't understand any of it. And then I felt really awkward when everyone was lining up for the biscuit and drink thing. I had two choices: sit or stand here awkwardly and out of place, or offend their faith by taking part in a ritual I did not understand or believe in. So I stood there hands folded, noticing every glance at me. I doubt they were judging me, but I felt judged.
I highly value accessibility.
Next time, start singing "The cheese stands alone!"
As a related question, do you actually want non-Christians to come, and if so why?
Absolutely, I do, for the same reason I have always enjoyed visiting a synagogue or a mosque--there is always something to learn from worshiping in God's house.
Happy holidays. I have a question. How can Christians justify any sort of commerce associated with religion when the only time Jesus expressed anger in the bible was towards the money changers at the temple?
A big part of the anger Jesus expressed towards the moneychangers came from the fact that those moneychangers were cheating the faithful. Denarii--the currency of the Roman empire--could not be used in the temple for commerce (I'll get to that in a minute), so pilgrims had to change their denarii just like you or I would at an airport on arriving in another country. Except that those moneychangers could charge exorbitant commissions for their services, and many of the faithful were already poor to begin with, because there really was no middle class back then. You were either part of the very wealthy few, possibly a merchant or part of a specialized trade that did alright, or a member of the peasantry living on subsistence-level income.
So why was temple commerce necessary? To purchase animals for sacrifice--again, often offered at extreme markups for persons who either could not afford to raise animals for sacrifice themselves or could not bring those sacrificial animals with them to the temple.
A better comparison, then, would not be between the moneychangers and the wider church, which often has lots and lots of accountability measures in place manage money, but between the moneychangers and the televangelists who preach prosperity theology to rip off people today.
I should add--none of my commentary should be construed as a negative take on the tradition that contemporary Judaism grew out of. Jesus spoke prophetically to serious religious, political, and economic injustices of the time, but especially given the moment that white nationalism is having, I feel it important to note that Christian commentary on ancient Israelite religion has historically fueled anti-Semitism, much to the church's shame and disgrace, and that we need to be able to comment on Jesus's public ministry without falling into those old, prejudiced tropes.
Happy holidays to you too!
As a non-believer, in the past I have been guilty of being obnoxious and arrogant towards others about my beliefs. I'm pretty ashamed of it now and I have become much more open and far less opinionated.
Have you ever had to deal with any particularly bad cases of this behaviour? Merry Christmas!
Yes, I have. They're the comments that have gotten the most downvotes here.
Merry Christmas to you too!
Merry Christmas. Does it sadden you to see so many people turning away from faith these days? Also, what do you think of pastors who have been taking advantage of their congregation through fraud
It saddens me greatly, but I also understand why, in part because of the stories of fraud that you cite. There's a lack of trust in the church right now, and we've inflicted that upon ourselves in a variety of ways.
What kind of car do you drive?
Do you do the same Christmas sermon every year, do you keep a common theme, or do you start from scratch?
I drive a Nissan Sentra with a bajillion miles on it. As I was told once by a colleague, "Being a man of the cloth means your seats aren't made of leather."
I give a different Christmas sermon every year. One of the best pieces of advice I got was from my college chaplain who said he focuses on a different aspect of Christmas every year--that way, you keep it fresh, but still get to do a deep dive on a story that everyone knows.
What’s your (and, by extension, your church’s) stance on gays, particularly relating to marriage and holding official roles within the parish?
My denomination has not yet promulgated an official stance, but we made our feelings clear back when Indiana--where we are headquartered--passed its Religious Freedom Restoration Act and we told then-Governor Pence that unless anti-discrimination laws would still cover LGBTQ people that we would move our General Assembly out of Indianapolis. In response, the city of Indianapolis assured us that their own anti-discrimination codes still covered LGBTQ persons.
Personally, I was raised in a congregation that had an openly gay worship pastor on staff, and I had been campaigning against the wave of gay marriage bans of the 00s throughout my college and seminary years.
Now, as an ordained pastor, it is my policy to never discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or identity when deciding whether or not I will perform a couple's wedding. My congregation has a wider array of opinions from person to person, but a few years ago we had our first (to my knowledge) openly lesbian preacher in worship, and we would not bar an openly LGBTQ person from membership or leadership. I'm proud of the progress we've made and hope it continues.
Does your church differentiate between 'active' homosexuality and celibate? Mine does. We have openly gay pastors, but they must remain celibate and not enter into relationships.
It's a terrible policy.
I have LGBTQ colleagues married to same-sex spouses, and those pastors are just as gifted in their ministries as I am in mine, if not more so. Enforced celibacy to bar them from the ministry would indeed be a terrible policy.
I'm pretty into sports, and I'm sure you've seen everything going on with the NFL recently about some black players taking a knee during the anthem, protesting police treatment of minorities and people of color. I grew up Catholic and have many Christian (and republican leaning) friends. I was asked what I thought of the whole movement when it was at its peak, and my response was basically "I don't know what it's like to be black or what it's like to have to deal with any of the issues they are protesting over, but I think we should try to see where they are coming from before making a judgement." I am then usually met with some measure of disdain about how it's disgraceful and disrespectful to the flag and the military.
I guess the way I see it, is we are Christians before we are Americans, and we are Americans before we are republican/democrat. If we are who we say we are (Christians), I feel we should be showing compassion and understanding to those who claim to be mistreated. I'm truly surprised at how many Christians I know who wanted to see these athletes fired and publicly disgraced.
Really what I'm getting at here Reverend, is that I'm seeing a real disconnect between what we as Christians are being taught and what we are going out and proclaiming ourselves. It genuinely scares me that Christianity seems to be a tool used by "Christians" to spread their own agenda guised in holy riotousness.
With everything going on in the world right now, I just feel embarrassed to be a Christian lately. How do I overcome this?
I think you're onto something that our political tribalism has become our religious tribalism. I could get up in worship tomorrow and preach on some historical theological heresy and nobody would likely bat an eye. But as you can see in this thread, I've had people get very upset with my characterization that Trumpism has become as important an allegiance to Christians as, well, Christianity.
I really appreciate your measured response on the anthem protests as well. The few bits of racism I've experienced (almost always by people mistaking me for an ethnicity or race I'm not) pales in comparison to what I imagine experiencing life as a Black person can be like. I can't tell them their concerns aren't important--they are, and I should listen instead of trying to silence.
I know that's more commiseration than an answer of overcoming your embarrassment, but maybe commiserating with others helps with the embarrassment by turning it into resolve.
Can you give us an example of a passage in the Bible that would objectively and necessarily require divine inspiration and cannot possibly derive from the knowledge and moral systems of its authors' societies at that time?
In other words, can you explain what EXACTLY makes you think the Bible is something more than yet another religious text inspired and written solely by humans, without invoking vague, personal feelings?
Faith is always inherently subjective and personal. Taking that leap of faith isn't really a matter of objectivity--that was sort of Kierkegaard's whole point when he came up with the concept of the leap of faith.
So--can I talk about how the Bible necessitated divine inspiration? Sure. Can I do so objectively? No, none of us can.
What’s your opinion on predestination? Personally, I don’t find it true at all. But many Christians do. And depending on your side, what’s your explanation?
I'm what's called an Arminian, which basically means that I subscribe to one of the interpretations of the teachings of Jacobus Arminius, who was (is) one of the most famous respondents to predestination and Calvinism. In a sentence, I believe that God's grace is a gift made available to all of us that we can choose to accept, reject, or put off--including after we die.
I'm also an Armenian, which makes me a walking Abbott and Costello routine if they did theology.
As a unitarian universalist, I'm always curious about how real Christians feel about us and our wacky ways. Care to comment?
I went to seminary next door to a UU seminary (Starr King) and certainly found y'all to be a bit wacky at times, but endearingly so.
what do u think of cultures existing and worshipping gods/religions for thousands of years before the bible? why is the bible any more true? do u think in 2000 years your God will be as archaic as the Greeks or Aztecs?
I imagine God was worshiped for thousands of years before the Bible was composed thanks to oral tradition--which is how most people worshiped back then, since literacy rates would have been the barest fraction of what they were today. And there's definitely thematic overlap between Bible stories and the stories of other ancient Near Eastern religions, like the flood narratives and tower of Babel-type stories. I imagine God will still be worshiped 2000 years from now too if we haven't managed to utterly destroy the planet by then, but I am fully willing to concede that such worship may well look very, very different from today.
I'm not even halfway through this AMA, but I have absolutely loved this. Your appeal towards a younger generation by being able to craft apt analogies that reference popular culture as well as the fact that you clearly know your stuff means you end up being really thought provoking with your answers. Anyone who comes to this genuinely curious and without an agenda against religion will likely find something to their taste. As someone preparing to go to a candlelight service tonight, I'll be glancing around regretting I'm not hearing about Ezekiel eating a scroll while considering looking for the scotches you recommended sometime next week. Thank you for a wonderful AMA.
My question has to do with marriage. When is someone married in the eyes of God? Is it when they have the legal document from the court house, or when two people decide that they want to be married and exchange vows, or something else?
My personal belief is that two people are married when they have consensually exchanged vows of enduring love, fidelity, and devotion and tokens of those vows (typically rings, but it doesn't have to be rings).
So... I'm a "Creastor" at my parent's church. (I live out of town.) How do you suggest dealing with the stares of disgust from the locals when I sit in "their" spot?
Bring a sheet of paper with your name on it, so that you can literally say that the seat has your name on it.
What's your favourite part of Christmas, either religious or secular (or both)?
The war on it. Also, gingerbread.
I don't celebrate Christmas and was a little miffed that there is now a Christmas tree in my Grand Theft Auto office.
Grand Theft Christmas Tree seems like the obvious solution.
Would you mind expounding on your response? If I may direct it, do you feel that the celebration of Christmas should be respected as a Christian holiday, i.e. keeping Christ in Christmas, or should the many traditions that this season has grown from be recognized nationally?
I was being a bit flip, but truthfully, many pastors weary of the "Christmas creep" that makes it such an outsized part of our culture. Leave room for other traditions, and leave room for Christianity's own tradition which says that Christmas necessitates four weeks of preparation called Advent.
In the war on Christmas, the front lines are in fact filled with double agents like m'self.
Why did you choose the specific denomination that you belong to? Do you feel as if they are more in the right, religiously speaking, over other Christian denominations?
Also, Merry Christmas!
I'm a basket-to-casket Disciple, meaning this was the denomination I was raised in, and will (barring a sudden turn of the church towards tinfoil hats and InfoWars fandom) remain in until I die.
That doesn't mean I necessarily think they're more in the right. I agree and disagree with different aspects of most denominations' doctrines, and I have Disciples colleagues who I love and respect but disagree with at times as well. It means that the Disciples has always been my home, and I've never felt the need to relocate.
Thank you for answering my question! I completely understand. I was born, raised, and still am Catholic. I don’t exactly see the Church as being correct on all topics, but will remain because, like you, I do not feel that is mandatory that I leave.
I'm Protestant, but I took a year's worth of my Master of Divinity classes from Roman Catholic seminaries and am currently earning my Doctor of Ministry from another Roman Catholic university. I have a great deal of admiration and affection for your tradition, even though I belong to another. I'm glad you have felt you have found your spiritual space there, and I hope it continues to feel right to you.
Christmas Eve Eve it is!
In our house, today is "Christmas Adam". Feel free to adopt this yourself/ves.
(Do I need to explain this? )
So I guess today is when we name all the presents too?
Have you read Why Do Bad Things Happen To Good People? by Rabbi Kushner? It was supposed to be a faith-affirming book (I originally read it for my religion class in high school), but the premise gave me such a crisis of faith that I now consider myself agnostic with animist tendencies. Are there other books that you’ve read or would recommend that influence your faith on a fundamental level?
I have read it and it's on my bookshelf in my office. I appreciated it but can intellectually understand how it might nudge someone in hte opposite direction.
Historical authors who have been influential and affirming to me on a fundamental level include Soren Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, and C.S. Lewis. More contemporary authors would be Carol Howard Merritt, William J. Barber II, Matthew Vines, and Kate Braestrup.
I was raised Baptist and grew out of my faith around high school. I was terrified of what my parents thought, and didn't open up to them about my personal views until after I moved out of the house. It didn't go well, and my relationships with prior generations of my family are still strained.
Things may have turned out differently if I had an open-minded pastor to advise me and help my parents understand, since the pastor is the only form of council or support for many religious families. Instead, all of my doubts were punished and ridiculed, like asking questions and forming my own opinions made me wrong. This of course pushed me farther away from my family's religion of birth.
How would you council a teenager who confided in you that they have lost or given up on their faith? How would you advise a youth who wanted to come out to their parents as agnostic or atheist?
Thank you for the ama!
I'm sorry that was your experience of church. I'd tell such a teenager that it gets better--like the anti-bullying campaign, because truthfully, the church can be just as dismissive of a child as their peers can be. And if they wanted to "come out," so to speak, I would definitely offer to be there for moral support.
How many times have you been told that Christmas is a Pagan holiday that was hated by Christians for a thousand years and that the Catholic church was the reason for anyone celebrating Jesus for Christmas? Or the fact that it was celebrated by many cultures with violence, booze, and debauchery for far longer than how it is celebrated today? How do you respond?
What's wrong with celebrating with booze and debauchery
What is your favorite Pslam? Thank you for answering our questions. Welcome.
One of my childhood friends preached on Psalm 42 for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and my attachment to that psalm has never been the same since. It is a beautifully profound song of reassurance.
What are your favourite Christmas Carols?
O Holy Night, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Hark the Herald Angels Sing, and Little Drummer Boy.
The list would be longer, but by this point in the season I'm so oversaturated with crappy Christmas music that the Grinch in me begins to detest the entire genre.
Do you believe in biblical inerrancy? Also what does inerrancy mean to you, not that everything in the Bible is literally true, or something else?
I don't believe in Biblical inerrancy. It's a relatively recent invention that the church came up with to respond to the German Biblical scholarship of the 1700s and 1800s that was heavily influenced by the Enlightenment.
I believe that the Bible was uniquely inspired by God and that moral truth does not always require factual reality to teach. If that were the case, then all of Jesus's parables would inherently be lies.
Merry Christmas padre! What are your thoughts on Father Ted and The Vicar of Dibley?
They are both delightfully funny shows, but have since been eclipsed by Grantchester as my favorite British show about a vicar. The guy solves murders, how can you compete with that?!
You mentioned a regional office - can you elaborate on that? My understanding of Disciples was that, since you have congregational polity, your church is in charge of itself and its own decisions. I could be totally wrong, though. How much power or influence does your denomination have as a whole?
Congregational governance, yes, but the standing of pastors is governed by regional offices that are analogous to a bishopric or a diocese. There are certain requirements I have to meet (continuing education, ethics training, anti-racism training, etc) to maintain my good standing and, similarly, I could theoretically have my standing revoked for unethical ministry practices. All of that is done through our denomination's regional offices, even though the congregations themselves call their own pastors. I hope this helps clarify.
I'm not a Christian, what should I do when I'm sitting around the table with my partner's family and they say grace before a meal? I have no problem with it, it's just so foreign to me that it feels awkward every time.
Close your eyes, meditate on something good in your life, and be sure to thank the person who said grace afterwards. :)
Even if churches get tax benefits, do you think it would improve their image to be responsible and help pay for the infrastructure all of us atheists have to pay to support? It's such an obvious scam.
As a follow up question, how do you justify the parts of the Bible that are inconsistent? It seems if you cherry pick one sentence you've cherry picked them all.
Churches and clergy pay all sorts of taxes. I should know, reviewing my congregation's financials with our board of directors is a part of my job. We pay payroll taxes for all our non-pastoral staff (basically, everyone but me), we pay labor and industries taxes, we pay sales taxes, we pay gasoline taxes for auto use on church business, we pay the surcharges attached to government-provided and regulated utilities, et cetera. We pay all sorts of taxes. Which we should.
One other thing to consider--requiring churches to pay taxes on income and property isn't going to close those televangelist ministries that rake in millions on the backs of the poor. It would close the neighborhood churches that are currently trying desperately to fill in the gaps in the safety net that are being unfortunately expanded by the current leadership in Washington D.C. Most of us aren't rolling the dough, trust me.
Re: Biblical inconsistencies--the easiest way, believe it or not, is to not justify them. Just because I believe the Bible was uniquely inspired by God doesn't make it infallible or inerrant. That doctrine is a recent invention as a response to the influence of European (especially German) Biblical scholarship of the 1700s and 1800s.
What, in your opinion, should we do to get those megachurches / televangelist scammers to pay their fair share of taxes?
Tell them that if they pay taxes on their income, God will give them new private jets.
No shit. I don't believe in the gman and all that, totally fine with folks who do, but it's 2017. Why do churches still get tax breaks? If I want to start the religion of binge drinkers, could I get a tax cut on my
Yes. John Oliver pretty much proved that a couple of years ago. Have at it.
May I ask what your take on John 6:44 is?
I ask because I was raised in a very insular fundamental cult, and I left when I had kids because I thought they were full of crap and I wasn't going to do that to my kids. But the question of god still bothers me sometimes because I was taught, according to that scripture, that God must of rejected me for me to be able to leave. So I'm left with limited options, either God is real, and doesn't want me, or it's all fake. Or there's a third option I don't see yet. To be honest, I'm not completely comfortable with either option, so I'm curious your take. Thanks!
Edited to add:. I'm a tad disappointed that op is still actively answering questions, but seems to have missed mine, it was a legit question and something that has bothered me for some time, but no other priest has been willing to answer me either, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. It's just, I left the religion to protect my children because of some policies I disagree with. To be taught that God has rejected me for protecting my kids rather conflicts with the God is love the thing they also preach. Either the religion is right, and I have been rejected for protecting children, or they're wrong, and I suppose priests don't like passing that judgement on another denomination of Christianity. So it goes I guess.
ETA: apologies to op, he did indeed answer and I appreciate it. :)
I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get to yours. There have been hundreds of comments, including many I haven't (and likely sadly won't) all get to, and my dogs don't make very good secretaries.
And I'm sorry for the pain your childhood religion has clearly caused. I don't think God rejected you for leaving the fundamentalist background of your childhood. I don't think that is how God seeks relationship with us. God can still be real and want you to flourish outside of the religious context you grew up in--after all, that's what happened for Ishmael, who was cast out by Abraham and Sarah but watched over by God. I have no doubt that God still watches over you, and your children.
Marry Christmas. Friendly Quaker here. Why do most religions and or churches hold Christmas services several weeks before the actual day or week of?
Speaking only for myself, my first year at the parish I serve, we tried holding a Christmas morning service and it went over like a lead balloon. I got a way better response, both in terms of numbers and of people really wanting to be there, on Christmas Eve rather than on Christmas morning. Ideally, I'd have both, but on Christmas Day of all days, I want people at church because they want to be there rather than out of a sense of begrudging obligation.
Merry Christmas to you as well!
Hello pastor. I’m a Catholic atheist, and as I read Jesus’ teachings, he encouraged a very decentralized moral authority based on individual reasoning (i.e. the golden rule) than edicts from on-high. (Indeed his whole life’s story revolves around resisting such institutions.)
Do you have any thoughts of balancing Jesus’ individualism with the natural human inclination to form hierarchies and designate leaders?
One of my denomination's early mottoes was "In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity." We certainly have some centralized structure and hierarchy to function as a denomination, but I really appreciate the way that we've emphasized discernment as a critical part of being Christian.
Thanks for doing this. I am an atheist. I don't believe God exists the way you don't believe Zeus exists. I am kind and polite to everyone I meet. I also adopted two little boys thst I love. Do you think I will go to hell? Why or why not.
"A cold, self-righteous prick who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than the prostitute." --C.S. Lewis
I hope you'll forgive the prostitute comparison, but the heart of the quote is that we in the church sometimes take our salvation for granted, while people outside the church are living exemplary lives. Y'all in the latter have way less to worry about than those in the former who take salvation for granted and behave like jerks because of it.
I read in one's of your comments about how evangelical Christians worry more about their political party more than their religious beliefs.
As a leader of a congregation. How do you deal with this? With out giving info about your congregation, how do you squash that sentiment and push the love Thy neighbor as i have loved you, let he who is with out sin cast the first stone beliefs and teachings that Christ wanted his followers to live by?
What are your feelings on distorting the things the bible says and teaches to serve their political needs?
What are your feelings on people using Christ as a political tool in general?
It's a tough sell, today more than ever. When you get your flock for one day a week and you know that Fox News gets many of them for the other six, it can feel a bit like Sisyphus with that durned rock.
I definitely have political opinions, and some are influenced by Scripture, but I try not to let that get mixed up with political needs, to use your term. There are politicians I admired who got credibly accused of sexual assault this year, and even though I agree with many of their views, I think it is more important to have leaders who are above reproach. I think Jesus would expect that of us, both in the church and in government, and so using Him as a partisan tool runs counter to that expectation of His.
New Year's is coming...maybe make that a joint New Year's Resolution with each other? Promise each other to travel to church as a way of caring for your relationship just like a couple might make a resolution to, say, keep a weekly date night or always do something nice for the other each week. Just spitballing here!
I also agree with /u/deusextibia's advice that this is a communication thing...the resolution may be a way to bring it up with each other and communicate a bit more openly.
Merry Christmas to you too!
didn't Jesus say something about giving up all your worldly possessions and dedicating your life to the needy?
To the rich young man who asked him for eternal life, yes.
does free will exist or does everything happen according to gods will/plan? why does God give babies cancer?
I think free will exists. God may have a plan, but not to the extent that we become puppets on a string. I think God sees all possibilities but knows that only one will end up happening.
How do you reconcile the numerous "branches" of Christianity altogether, where you have a myriad of denominations under Catholicism, and then you have evangelicals, Baptists, Mormons, and other groups, where they all definitively say and agree that Jesus gave his life for our salvation, and God is God, but then have a glaring number of differences? I.e. Catholics believe on the divinity of Mary, evangelicals do not. Mormons believe in God, but they have an extra book.
Is there just one specific group that is ultimately right and the others are wrong, or would you say this is the manifestation of how despite the perfect 'cannot sin' nature of God, the church is flawed? Like, are they all saved, even if one group also prays to Mary while another doesn't?
I'm not sure if I articulated the question well.
"Like, are they all saved, even if one group also prays to Mary while another doesn't?"
You articulated your question perfectly well and have answered it correctly with the above sentence.
Are you vegan?
My beef breath says no.
N.T. Wright, great theologian or greatest theologian?
Hello pastor! I just found out I'm going to have a child. Do you have any advice for new parents?
Serious answer--God has not yet blessed me with a child, so I tend to refrain from offering commentary on other peoples' parenting. :) But if you want to raise your child in the church, start your search now so that you have time to visit, do your homework, that sort of thing. Children's ministry matters, and not all churches do it the same.
And congratulations on becoming a parent!
How do you feel about people who only show up on major holidays? I always go to Christmas and Easter service for my grandmother but have off handedly been insulted for not being a 'real Christian'.
Think I answered this elsewhere--I'm more than happy to have them for major holidays. At least the foot is in the door, you know?
PS: happy reddit birthday.
Hello, Rev. Eric.
I have two questions.
How do Protestant clergy generally prefer to be addressed? I grew up Roman Catholic and instinctively greeted my male Unitarian/Episcopalian (long story, the theology of King's Chapel, Boston) pastor as Father Sean but the lead pastor as Rev. Joy. Now we have two female pastors, so I've been calling them both Rev. I know Reverend is an adjective and not a title, but it seems less … obvious. One of those things we ex-Catholics can count on is that our birth tradition had rules that you could discover. So far, I just ask what the individual prefers, but I didn't know if there were any general trends on the whole.
As a Unitarian, I agree that more or less everyone's faith path is "right" if it gives them comfort and helps them be a better person and don't seek to convert anyone to anything. I have qualms about "bad" religion when, well, the religion leads to bad things — JWs denying necessary medical care, Roman Catholics forcing women to carry a dead fetus to term, and so on. But would you say most pastors now worry a lot less about evangelizing to their tradition and more about ecumenalism? I don't really have a grip on the religious world outside of my Bostonian extremely ecumenical bubble.
May God bless you in your service to Him and may you and your congregation have a wonderful Christmas.
I'm honestly fine just being called Eric--that was my name for way longer than I've been a pastor. But for folks who like having a title to address me by, I prefer "Pastor." "Reverend" is a descriptive honorific, not a title, just like my dad the judge has the honorific "The Honorable..." in writing, but in speech, he is addressed as "Your Honor," not "The Honorable." Similarly, in writing, I'm Rev. Eric, but in conversation, Eric or Pastor Eric is fine.
I think ecumenicalism is a highly underrated part of my job, even as I have my own personal disagreements with other denominations' doctrine. And especially if a colleague is on board with combating the hate and bigotry that is having its moment once more, I am thrilled to partner with them in ecumenical projects.
God bless you as well, and merry Christmas.
Thanks, Merry Christmas to you too!
How do you proceed when you disagree with biblical teachings and the interpretation agreed upon by your denomination? Do you roll with the institutional opinion or craft sermons to be strictly biblical?
One of the things that I love about my denomination is that it doesn't enforce gobs of doctrine that I then have to defend. My denomination's core beliefs fit on an index card: Jesus is the Messiah, the priesthood consists of all believers, communion should be open and done every week, and baptism should be done by immersion if possible.
That's about it. Everything else I am allowed to pull directly from Scripture and where the Holy Spirit guides me. It is very liberating. Which isn't to say that my colleagues in denominations with more extensive doctrine are necessarily doing it wrong, it just isn't for me, just as my denomination's purposeful minimalism may not be for them.
Merry Christmas to you too.
Hello! Are you aware that the whole "Jesus was born on Christmas" basically was a way for early Christians to incorporate the older Yule tradition into Christianity? So even if Jesus was a real person (which most historians agree on) he probably wasn't born around Christmas.
MIND. BLOWN. brb rethinking my entire life's work
So how many kids are you going to abuse tomorrow? It is the christian pastor tradition after all!
Bless your cold, dark void where your heart should be.
Hey! How do you sleep at night taking those poor people's money??
Your snark is even more delicious than the coffee I am enjoying. Bless you.
Is it wrong to have sex with children? Why or why not?
It's wrong. I'm not Roy Moore.
Merry Christmas! How do you respond to the growing trend away from organized religion in today's youth? In your opinion, what's the reason behind it?
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