Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Caesar and God

“Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s”

Last week’s post was declined by at least two mainstream Christian Facebook pages that had always seemed to welcome my free, ad-free weekly posts. The admins who declined them determined them “political,” unsuitable for their Christian audience. One even claimed that spirituality had nothing to do with politics!

As long as everyday Christians avoid the marketplace of ideas, extremist Christians will seem the prevailing voice of Christianity and/or the church. As Bishop Spong has said, religion is like a public pool: all the noise comes from the shallow end.

My post challenged a reactionary politician’s rejection of one of my Celtic Christian spiritual saints, Pelagius. Yes, he was declared a heretic, but initially by the State and not by the Pope at the time. In J. Philip Newell’s words in Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality: 

Two attempts were made to condemn [Pelagius] in 415, but twice Pelagius was acquitted by the Church in Palestine. In 416 Augustine and the African bishops reacted by convening two diocesan councils, at which Pelagius and his Celtic friend Celestius were condemned. In the following year the Pope himself convened a synod in Rome to consider the conflict; here Pelagius’ teaching was declared entirely true and orthodox. 

In an attempt to reconcile Pelagius’ emphasis on our essential goodness with Augustine’s emphasis on the prevalence of evil, the Pope wrote to the African bishops, “Love peace, prize love, strive after harmony. For it is written, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”  

The Pope’s guidance was not heeded by Augustine [who championed the concepts of “human depravity” and “original sin”] and the Western Church began to lose sight of the essential God-given goodness of the human. This loss would have implications for the Church’s perspective on the world, as a fundamentally unholy realm [p 20]. 

When tested by religious leaders about the relationship of faith to empire, Jesus famously said, “Give to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God that which is God’s.” Of course, in our faith, everything belongs to God. Some conservative/reactionary Christians instead see Jesus drawing a line between religion and politics, citing the apostle Paul’s dictum about obeying authorities.  Progressive Christians, on the other hand, see Jesus declaring the political realm also an avenue for welcoming the kingdom, or commonwealth, of God. 

So many political advances would not have been made without Christian and more broadly religious investment: more humane treatment of those who break the law, which led to establishing prisons and reform movements instead of inflicting physical punishment or death; the abolition of slavery and the much later Civil Rights Movement; the establishment of social safety nets to alleviate poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of education. 

Jesus was crucified for his political views, even if betrayed by religious colleagues. The cross was an execution by the state, the Roman Empire. If it were for religious reasons, he would have been stoned. 

Some of our present religious colleagues would like to silence or betray those of us with progressive views on refugees, immigrants, racial justice, women, LGBTQ people, peace, and justice. Theirs should not be the only Christian voices heard in the media and on social networks.


Tax-deductible donations may be made safely in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking hereThank you! 

Copyright © 2021 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Senator Josh Hawley versus the Celtic Christian Monk Pelagius


Francis Chung/E&E News and Politico, via Associated Press

The senator who gave the mob headed to the capitol last week a raised-fist salute in solidarity and is among those senators who rejected the vote of the U.S. electorate even after the melee that followed has taken on one of my Celtic saints and heroes, Pelagius. In “The Roots of Josh Hawley’s Rage,” New York Times columnist Katherine Stewart wrote [January 11, 2021]:

In multiple speeches, an interview and a widely shared article for Christianity Today, Mr. Hawley has explained that the blame for society’s ills traces all the way back to Pelagius—a British-born monk who lived 17 centuries ago.

Apparently, Hawley takes issue with Pelagius’s view that, as Stewart puts it, “grace comes to those who do good things, as opposed to those who believe the right doctrines.”

Reading this sent me back to my “go-to” guy for Celtic Christianity, the Rev. Dr. J. Philip Newell, a Church of Scotland minister who has served St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh as well as Iona Abbey, a Celtic Christian community off the coast of Scotland, both of which I’ve visited. I’ve studied and taught several of his books and attended a weekend course he led at Columbia Theological Seminary here in Georgia.

In Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality, Newell explains that, until recently, as translations of Pelagius’s letters have become available, what was known about him came from his opposition, none other than Augustine of Hippo and his school of thought, whose concept of “original sin” and human depravity (echoed in John Calvin and the Scottish Reformation) was at odds with Pelagius’s view that we are basically good, in Newell’s words, “his conviction that every child is conceived and born in the image of God.”

Pelagius’s letters offer other positive food for thought:

The presence of God’s spirit in all living things is what makes them beautiful; and if we look with God’s eyes, nothing on the earth is ugly.

People do not argue about whether generosity and forgiveness are good or bad; they know that they are good.

You will realize that doctrines are inventions of the human mind, as it tries to penetrate the mystery of God. You will realize that Scripture itself is the work of human minds, recording the example and teaching of Jesus. Thus it is not what you believe that matters; it is how you respond with your heart and your actions. It is not believing in Christ that matters; it is becoming like him.

A person who is rich and yet refuses to give food to the hungry may cause more deaths than even the cruellest murderer.

There are some who call themselves Christian, and who attend worship regularly, yet perform no Christian actions in their daily lives. There are others who do not call themselves Christian, and who never attend worship, yet perform many Christian actions in their daily lives. Which of these two groups are the better disciples of Christ? Some would say that believing in Christ and worshipping him is what matters for salvation. But this is not what Jesus himself said. His teaching was almost entirely concerned with action, and with the motives which inspire action.

My own two cents: early Christians understood “belief” in Jesus to be not mere assent but devotion to and practice of his principles.

Newell explains Pelagius’s view that “the Church becomes liberator rather than custodian of salvation. It provides the key that gives access to the treasure of God’s life instead of being the source of that richness; the treasure is already present, though hidden, waiting to be unlocked, in every person.”

Hawley’s attempt to deny the U.S. presidency and vice presidency to President Biden and Vice President Harris reminds me of the church politics in the scheming of Augustine to get Pelagius declared a heretic by both Empire and Church.

Related posts:

What about Sin?

The Soul Feels Its Worth

What I Don’t Believe What I Do Believe

This brief article is helpful:

White Christian Nationalists Want More Than Just Political Power

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking here.  Thank you!

Copyright © 2021 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Exorcising Demons

This post from 2011 speaks to the attack on the U.S. capitol last week.

The people of Jesus’ time assigned behavior or ailments they did not understand to demons inhabiting the individual. Any of us who have witnessed a friend in the throes of severe suffering, chronic pain, addiction, or mental or physical illness can understand how these things may so transform a person as to seem possessed. Naming the demon is the beginning of compassion, care, and possibly, cure.

We would not stop at naming a disease but try to provide treatment. So, to stop at simply naming a disorder or dysfunction and using it as an excuse for bad behavior or an occasion for getting on Dr. Phil, makes us enablers. Cultural anthropologist Rene Girard writes, “Possession is not an individual phenomenon…[it] is always contagious; those who are [so affected] are likely to communicate their desire to you, or in other words, drag you along their same path…” As Dr. Phil would ask, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”

Jesus might as well have been working with an addicted family member, a dysfunctional congregation, the Washington quagmire, or the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate when he confronted the Gerasene demoniac’s “Legion”—a hostile army of demons that caused its victim to live naked among the tombs, exiling himself and stoning himself, the standard punishments (Girard points out) of Middle Eastern societies in Jesus’ time. (See Mark 5:1-20.)

The Greek word for devil in the New Testament is “diabolos,” which means “divider” or “adversary.” I believe that “discerning the spirits” empowers us to name and cast out divisiveness, but not diversity, even of points of view. According to Girard, the demoniac was a convenient scapegoat for the Gerasenes, reflecting their own dysfunctionality. Jesus casts the demons into a herd of pigs which runs off a cliff into a lake to drown, another style of execution. His fellow villagers find the formerly possessed man at the feet of Jesus, “clothed and in his right mind” and they are afraid, asking Jesus to leave their community.

Who exorcises demons in our world today? Whistle-blowers. Prophets. Mediators. Systems analysts. Interim pastors. Therapists. Spiritual directors. 12-Step sponsors. Soul friends. Researchers. Scientists. Journalists. And more.

In our own divisiveness and dysfunctionality, Christians may take comfort as well as challenge in these words from the epistle to the Galatians, “For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” 

May we become “clothed in Christ” and in our right minds.

Tax-deductible donations may be made safely in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking here.  Thank you!

Copyright © 2011 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.  

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

From Loneliness to Solidarity

Greetings from the center of U.S. politics the day I write this, election day in Georgia January 5, 2021. I won’t know the results of our two senatorial elections determining the balance of the U.S. Senate until after you read this, perhaps not until l-o-n-g after you read this. I schedule each post on Tuesdays for publication on Wednesdays at 5 a.m. eastern time and, considering the volume of mail-in votes to be counted and the possible vote-twisting of the losers, delays are likely.

My senior status gave me the opportunity to vote weeks ago, Wade driving me to the only drop-box near us in downtown Atlanta where we had deposited our presidential votes in November. Wade voted before Christmas during early voting. We both received numerous texts, emails and voicemails reminding us to encourage everyone we know to vote, not to mention the television and radio commercials that bombarded us.

When I first moved to Atlanta, I was surprised that, unlike my home state of California, I did not get a non-partisan sample ballot automatically in the mail, explaining the candidates and the propositions. We still don’t receive sample ballots, non-partisan or otherwise, but now we receive mailings from various campaigns.

A Trump-voting relative asked in jest if we were exhausted voting so many times in the presidential election, and I kidded back about how much time it took to fill in all the extra ballots for Biden. “The real work,” I explained, “Was erasing all those filled-in ovals for Trump!”

I hope I don’t see this reported on social media or a certain network or Q-Anon as reality!

“This is Reality!” was a common refrain from the first Presbyterian pastor I worked alongside, the Rev. Dr. Ross Greek, in the late 70s and early 80s at what was then the West Hollywood Presbyterian Church. Reared a Quaker, his political instincts were left-of-center, and he had finely tuned a litany of societal wrongs which he punctuated with the response, “This is Reality!” waving his index finger for emphasis.

It was this left-leaning pastor who inspired our ministries with the Flower Children of the 60s on Sunset Strip, advised conscientious objectors, halfway-housed former prisoners and those with mental health issues, championed the Civil Rights Movement and the Peace Movement, welcomed LGBTQ people who provided worship for gay jail inmates and sack lunches for the homeless, and initiated a transition program for sex workers.

When California defeated a 1978 proposition that would have banned LGBT school teachers and any teacher who advocated gay rights, my personal “pride parade” was dampened by Ross’s dismay at the reinstitution of the death penalty and the election of a conservative governor.

Using the lyrics of Judy Collins, I’ve seen politics “from both sides now.” As a 13-year-old I volunteered at Goldwater headquarters. By the next election, I supported Senator Eugene McCarthy who opposed the Vietnam war, and progressive has been my persuasion ever since. Education helped, but frankly, I believe I simply grew into the kind of person Jesus called me to be.

Jesus may have called you to be a different kind of person, but that, I believe, is why we are part of the same Body of Christ, to consider one another’s values and needs and hopes and beliefs, to pray for one another and call one another to serve God’s commonwealth.

President Trump caused me to pray daily for the president and vice president and all of our leaders in this nation and the world—praying for compassion, wisdom, knowledge, truth, and justice. I pray the same daily for our electorates as well, as our leaders reflect our own limitations and possibilities.

I pray too for humanity’s deliverance from the pandemic, giving thanks to God for scientists and chaplains, the medical profession, frontline workers, healthcare workers and volunteers, grocery clerks and stockers and pharmaceutical workers, mail carriers and delivery persons.

Coping with the isolation of the pandemic, our congregation is enjoying a January series, “From Loneliness to Solitude,” based on the first movement of the spiritual life described in Henri Nouwen’s book, Reaching Out. This has prompted me to name this post, “From Loneliness to Solidarity.” That, I believe, is our ultimate goal in spirituality, to feel a solidarity with all that transcends partisanship.


Beginning this year, tax-deductible donations may be made safely in Chris Glaser’s name to the LGBTQ Religious Archives Network.

Personal gifts may be made safely by clicking here.  Thank you!

Copyright © 2021 by Chris R. Glaser. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Other rights reserved.