Updating Common Sense: What Christians Really Believe

As a kid I took for granted the fact that popping out of the womb as a male beat the hell out of the alternative. Any girl with half a brain, if given the choice, would obviously opt for checking “male” on the census form.

In fact, so clear was this bit of wisdom, and so desperately did young males my age need it to be true that we used “woman” as a slur: Sissy. Fem. Girly-man.

One time I called my little brother a woman in front of my mom. She said, “You know, woman isn’t a dirty word. There’s no shame in being a woman.”

I said, “Sorry, Mom.” But deep inside I knew she was wrong. Everybody did. The reality of male superiority was woven into the fabric of the universe.

But it wasn’t only women. I also took it as read that being gay made you somehow defective. We used sexual orientation as an epithet, too. You know the ones. I don’t need to repeat them.

We just knew these things, as surely as we knew the earth revolved around the sun, or that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is 180º, or that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time.

We didn’t argue that men were superior to women or that gay people had made some shoddy lifestyle choices any more than we argued about gravity or the law of the conservation of matter or entropy. Because, why would you?

That’s what taking something for granted means: You don’t have to argue about it anymore. It’s the way the world is. It’s not even conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom implies that there might be another side to the story. This stuff is just eye-rollingly obvious.

But then one day that stuff about women and gay people didn’t seem nearly so obvious anymore. I realized that I knew women who were smarter and funnier and more successful than me. I spent time with LGBT folks who seemed much more together, much more empathic, much more generous than I am. Now, a lot of that stuff I once took for granted seems not only laughably false, but something that I should be actively attempting to stand athwart.

We need to take a look at this whole “taken-for-grantedness” thing. We need to update common sense.

I was reading some analysis recently about the HuffPost/YouGov poll that indicates a problem with Americans’ perception of the budget deficit. In short, the deficit has been steadily falling over the last four years -- which you’d never know by asking the average American, 68 percent of whom believe otherwise.

Why the disparity between reality and perception? Because reality changes, while perception very often does not.

People, according to George Lakoff, make sense of reality by relying on a deeply embedded structure of frames. These frames are the taken-for-granted things we use as shortcuts to understand a complex world.

In many ways frames operate as “what-everybody-with-any-sense-knows-to-be-true.” In the worlds they construct and over which they have dominion, these frames are things that no longer even need to be asserted, let alone argued. Everybody just knows.

But we’ve come to understand that some frames are so wrongheaded that we have a moral responsibility to leave them behind -- like the idea that some classes of people are fit for nothing more than slavery, or that women are inherently hysterical and unfit for positions of responsibility outside the home, or that sexual orientation is a choice to be made -- a choice that is open to praise or blame. Obsolete and unchallenged frames can be moral liabilities.

The liability of certain frames is also true when it comes to religion. Christianity, for instance, has long suffered from some popular certainties that need to be shed. The “taken-for-grantedness” of some frames in popular Christianity is no longer just a hidebound inconvenience; it’s an obstacle to faith. But because the fundamentalists who rely on those yell louder than anyone else, their vision of the world sits at the forefront of the public consciousness as “the Christian position.”

Well, some of the frames popularly believed to be “the Christian position” aren’t; they are distortions of what many folks who claim to follow Jesus believe.

So, here is a list of popular Christian frames that come to mind that need to go away:

Christians are credulous dolts, who view science as a threat.

  • In fact, an overwhelming majority of U.S. Catholics and white mainline Protestants take evolution to be the way we got here.

  • Across the board, a significant majority of Christians believe climate change is underway.

  • A majority of Christians (Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, and Catholic) view stem cell research as morally acceptable or as “not a moral issue.”

Christians hate gay people.

Christians are nationalists who hate immigrants.

I’m tired of playing defense against fundamentalism. Fundamentalists don’t occupy “the Christian position,” which requires some kind of special deference, not to mention the expectation of an explanation from those who would deviate. Christianity, in large part, is much more progressive than is popularly taken for granted.

Common sense about what the majority of Christians believe needs an update.

(This article originally appeared in the Huffington Post.)

A Response to HJR-3 on Same Gender Marriage

By Bruce Barkhauer

As the Indiana Legislature considers HJR-3, I offer a few reflections. 

1. In our legacy as a country, time has not favored the suppression of the rights of a minority by the will and power of a majority. Whether it was enslaving other human-beings, forcibly taking the lands of Native Americans, failing to grant women the right to vote, interring all of the Japanese Americans during the Second World War, or any of a plethora of similar travesties; they all share one thing in common – they have proven to be on the wrong side of history and those who championed them now lie disgraced on the sideline of human progress.

2. “Letting the people decide” while politically expedient, is morally bankrupt.  If Congress in 1964 had allowed the people to decide the outcome on civil rights, in many southern states African Americans would not be able to exercise the right to vote and would still be drinking from “separate but equal - Blacks only water fountains”. [Look at North Carolina’s response to SCOTUS relaxing of voting law changes in the once segregated southern states if you think this is over-reach.] At the risk of failing to win a future election, this group stands in the privileged place of doing what is just, fair, and right.

3. I have yet to be convinced that my marriage (or the institution of marriage) is threatened by allowing same-sex persons who choose to commit themselves to one another to enjoy the same legal rights that my partner and I enjoy. 

4. Religious Communities who teach against same sex relationships will continue to be protected in their right to do so (and while in disagreement with them, I would defend their right to do so).  Churches and pastors will not be required to marry same sex couples.  As a pastor for 25 years, there were numerous occasions where I elected not to solemnize and preside over a couple coming to me who wanted me to officiate at their wedding.  No attorney or state official ever “came calling” to threaten or force me to do so.  Nothing changes.

5. The arguments made not to grant same-sex couples these rights are primarily based on religious values and a particular interpretation of sacred writings.  The very communities that claim these writings as scripture are not in full agreement about this, nor are they of one mind about hundreds of other issues. The First Amendment would suggest that such a basis for a law (solely based on religious practice) would in fact, render it unconstitutional.  Yes, many of our laws are based on some of the “Ten Words” of the Hebrew Bible – but they are also laws which order society in such a way as to protect and sustain human community and are not bound by a particular religious perspective.  Allowing two people who choose to be committed to each other share property legally, provide for the transfer of that property as inheritance at the time of death, enjoy a tax deduction, and have a right to visit and care for their partner as any married couple would; strengthens, rather than diminishes our social fabric.  Such commitment between individuals provides for stabilization, not chaos, in our communities.

6. Making something legal does not mean I condone it, it simply provides the protection of the civil rights of those who choose to do so.  There are plenty of laws on the books that allow me to do things I personally find objectionable. I simply do not engage in some behaviors that I am afforded the right to under the law, should I choose to exact that privilege.  For example, just because it is legal and constitutionally guaranteed that I may own a gun, does not mean I have to purchase one.

7. Should Indiana both resist the temptation to crystalize this aging and passing cultural norm of the opposition to same gender unions and eventually come to (however hesitatingly) embrace or accept these unions, it would strengthen the state. By affirming the value of the diversity of her citizens, it would be a recognition that all who reside within its boundaries have gifts to share that benefit us all.  Such a position would be more true to the framers of our original governing documents who were never foolish enough to believe that “Out of Many, One” meant homogeneity of thought, but rather unity of purpose.  That purpose, at its best, was meant to be the freedom to pursue one’s happiness and to contribute to the prospect of liberty and justice for each and every individual. 

8. Bad laws can be undone, but it is messy, expensive, time consuming, and wastes energy that could otherwise be used to craft legislation that is badly needed to protect the poor, secure the legacy of our natural resources, and provide for the education and nurturing of our children.  The Eighteenth Amendment was eventually struck down by the Twenty-first, and this too, if ultimately enacted could be (and likely in less than a generation will be) undone – but at what cost.  Let us focus instead on some of the things that really will make the Hoosier State a better place to live.