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what does it mean to be devout?

The Religion Clause blog [discussion of legal experts on religion and the law] linked to an interesting journal article looking at the best law schools for “devout” law students. The article ranks schools based on “percentage and activity of students who belong to the faith; percentage and activity of faculty who belong to the faith; number of religion-focused courses and other ways the school incorporates the faith into the curricula; religion-related journals, centers and clinics; religious services and clergy at the law school; mission of the law school.

Interestingly, this means you might have a top school for (say) pious LDS students that wasn’t actually affiliated with the LDS church, though there would probably have to be a certain proportion of LDS students and faculty for it to score high on those metrics. The results are pretty interesting on their own.

What really caught my attention and made me flip through to the article was a sneaking suspicion I had that, for non-Catholic Christians at least, “devout” really conservative or evangelical. And it turns out that’s not entirely off-base. This article lists (starting with the best): Liberty University; Trinity Law School; Regent University; Pepperdine University; and Baylor University. I recognized Baylor and Liberty as obviously conservative schools right away – I actually thought of going to Baylor but decided it would be a poor fit for just that reason, though it’s academically a very good school, at least in philosophy. I then poked around on the websites of the other three schools, and of them, Trinity and Regent both used code words that made me think I wouldn’t be entirely comfortable there. Specifically, Regent referred to George Washington’s quote about God and government depending on each other, and Trinity talked quite a bit about the Biblical foundations of right law. Pepperdine, on the other hand, did seem to be genuinely open to people who were called to the law as a way to serve others, who wanted to do it as Christians but not necessarily as a way of fighting the culture wars. I could be wrong, but there was nothing I saw on their site that screamed conservative or evangelical Christianity.

Still, one out of five… :-S

This reminds me of a statement Franklin Graham made a while ago on the BGEA website, in the context of the Duck Dynasty fowl-up. I try not to pile on Franklin Graham because I’m not sure who I’ll convince who isn’t already convinced, and also because I know so many good people who work for his ministry and do such good work. Also also, if I’m being frank, out of gratitude for the opportunities that ministry gave me to do work that mattered right out of undergrad. This one’s stuck with me, though, so I’m going to talk it out, as much for my own sake as any other reason.

Back in early January, Franklin issued a statement about the churches that were going against Phil Robertson. The two first paragraphs, which are the bits I’ve been turning over in my head, are:

I appreciate the Robertson family’s strong commitment to biblical principles and their refusal to back down under intense media pressure over Phil Robertson’s comments in a recent interview. As the Robertson controversy winds down—at least for now—I have been amazed at how many churches have apparently “ducked” out on the issue (sin). Some were even quick to condemn Phil Robertson.

If we Christians banded together and took a stand, perhaps we wouldn’t be losing so much ground in what the media is calling the “cultural war.” However, it is not a cultural war—it is a religious war against Christians and the biblical truths we stand for. Some churches have fallen into the trap of being politically correct, under the disguise of tolerance.

I don’t doubt some churches condemned Phil because it was popular or easy, just like I’m sure some more conservative Christian institutions defended him for the same reasons. Tribalism and sticking up for “us and ours” can die hard. But I also suspect many Christians stood by Phil because they thought he was right. They probably believe in their heart of hearts that the Bible says it really is more natural for a man to love and build a life with a woman than with another man. I don’t think God has categorical preferences here, and I believe sexual immorality is about promiscuity and lack of commitment rather than gender. But I do respect that some of my fellow Christians disagree with me on these points, not because they hate gay people but because they sincerely believe it’s what their faith requires of them in terms of right doctrine.

I’d ask that they extend the same courtesy to me.

Seriously. I read my Bible and my church history. I pray and think and wrestle and debate and write about these things. When I say I don’t believe homosexuality is per se sinful (though of course homosexuals are capable of being sinful in their sexuality), this isn’t because I want to be liked. I’ve thought and said these things in contexts where the easiest path to being liked and approved of pretty much consisted of shutting up and sitting down, not rocking the boat. I’ve spoken up otherwise because I’ve seen my siblings in Christ being told who they were was an affront to God, and because I think the heart of the golden commandment requires me to act on this issue how I’d want to be treated if I was gay myself. And whatever I thought of the standard Christian response to homosexuality, it wasn’t that. Then I started filling in the edges with what I knew of the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel and the Letters, most specifically: how should I treat the person I thought was wrong, and the one I thought was right, and the messy majority who fell somewhere in the middle?

I flatter myself that pretty much every Christian (and every non-Christian for that matter) would disagree with me on some point. That’s how you know you’re doing the hard work of wrestling with these things, when you don’t fit neatly on anyone’s side. But even when we disagree, I’d really appreciate the courtesy of not writing my position off to political correctness. I can promise you this much: whether we agree or disagree, that factor had precious little to do with my thought process.

One more favor I’d ask: When you think of me as someone who may not match your theology, remember that I too spend my Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights at church events, that I too read my Bible or some other devotional literature before I head out in the morning, and that I take a moment to bow my head at various intervals during the day. I consider myself devout, and I hope you would as well if you saw how I live my faith. “What Would Jesus Do?,” perhaps asked in a slightly less cliched form, is usually at the center of my decision process. The fact that I often come to a different conclusion than many of the people thought of as devout Protestant Christians doesn’t change that fact.

And because I’m a Methodist, I’ll end with three simple clauses:

In essentials, unity;
In non-essentials, liberty;
In all things, charity.

As far as devotional creeds go, I’ve seen worse.

Originally published at Faith Seeking Understanding. You can comment here or there.

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