Bible Girl: The Merry Christmas Edition
It's a mellow week at the Dallas Observer. We've exchanged gifts. (Yikes--except me. You'll see me running through Target later today.) Right now I'm listening to a heated conversation in the distance about long-sleeved sweaters. We've got the day off tomorrow, and I'll be taking the opportunity to whisk my son to Fort Worth for an IMAX movie.
Yeah, we've broken some news -- actually, quite a bit of it -- like the fact that Mitchell Rasansky won't be running for mayor. We do that every day on Unfair Park, the only news blog that matters in Dallas. (Really, what else am I going to say?) But this is kind of a mellow column. It's a way to wish y'all a merry Christmas -- hey, Bible Girl can say that, right? -- and thank you for reading and contributing lo, these many months. Even if "thanks" is the last thing in the world you feel about it.
I started Bible Girl in late August with a friend and fellow writer, Stephanie Morris. It was a half-baked, spur-of-the-moment thing. Got the idea on a Saturday, roped in Stephanie on Monday, posted the first column, The Reverend Pimp, on Wednesday. The idea -- as much as I had one -- was to launch an interactive column on religion. I was pretty sure there was nothing like it in the alternative press. Now I'm sure I'm sure.
As one person rightly pointed out, Bible Girl doesn't concern itself with religion in general. It's written from an unabashedly orthodox Christian perspective. I figured the name of the column should have conveyed that pretty clearly. If it didn't, well, accept this as fair warning.
I suspected Bible Girl would find an audience in the alternative press, but I wasn't entirely sure. My alt-weekly brethren reserve some of their sharpest contempt for theologically conservative Christians such as myself. After these few months, though, one thing I can say is we've found an audience. A raucous, passionate, fiercely opinionated one. Don't know where else you'll find such a no-holds-barred conversation about the historic Christian faith. (I have to admit I get a little grouchy about being called a "lezbo" every week, but Jesus loves you, Jack, and I do too.)
I told you this column had a point. Now it's time to get to that. This is a time of much upheaval in American Christianity; an historic shift is taking place. No, I can't quantify these things, I just know what Christians are talking about, what really gets them exercised. Not too many reporters in the secular press are in touch with what goes on in the churches they never visit, so you're not gonna read about it in too many places. But a line of demarcation is becoming clearer.
It is sexual morality -- how it's defined, and how it's handled in the church.
I've told friends for some time that you can tell everything you need to know about a believer's faithfulness to Jesus Christ by their treatment of money and sex. Churches where greed and covetousness are tolerated and even promoted have departed from the historic Christian faith, plain and simple. When you look at places where the love of money got completely out of control, like Bishop Terry Hornbuckle's Agape Christian Fellowship in Arlington, you find that sexual immorality often goes with it.
They tend to go hand in hand, because both are forms of idolatry -- a thing that is given higher priority than God and ends up becoming an object of worship. Many church folks bow down to pornography and materialism, for example. That's modern-day idolatry.
That brings me to my fearless predictions and observations:
Evangelicals will become identifiable by their stance on sexual sin, as will all believers who adhere to the historic Christian faith. They take with utter seriousness Paul's admonition in Ephesians: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people."
The definition of an evangelical has always been this: They view the Bible as the divinely inspired, wholly authoritative guide for life and belief. They believe one must obtain a personal relationship with Jesus Christ through faith. And they see an urgency to spread that faith -- to evangelize -- because Jesus commanded us to do so, and they accept him at his word.
Evangelicals are a big swath of the Christian world, including all Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, Bible churches, independent charismatic churches, fundamentalists...and that's just a few of us. There are even Anglican and other mainline churches with an evangelical flavor; they fit within the broad definition of evangelical because they hold to a "high" view of Scripture.
If you accept the Bible as the Word of God, you accept its proscriptions against certain sexual practices. Adultery, fornication and homosexuality are explicitly deemed immoral in Scripture in numerous passages. Indulging in pornography -- or even sexually crude language -- is immoral by context.
Since we live in a society where every sexual urge seems to warrant expression, it isn't surprising that a great many churches have sidled away from a traditional Christian understanding of sexual morality. They see such a failure among their members to live by these standards that they conclude something must be wrong with the standards themselves, that perhaps they're a bit musty and outdated.
True evangelicals say "not so."
Evangelicals will find they have much in common with Orthodox and Catholic believers who hold to a traditional understanding of Christian morality -- while the Western church as a whole drifts farther and farther away from orthodoxy. Orthodoxy: adhering to the historic tenets of the Christian faith. Jesus' virgin birth; his death on the cross and his bodily resurrection; the divinely inspired nature of the Word of God; the need for salvation.
The Global North will be looking to the Global South to reclaim its Christian witness. Protestant Christianity in Africa, Asia and South America is fiercely orthodox and committed to a traditional understanding of morality. They see Americans as loosey-goosey, compromising and far too tolerant of sin. In one of the most astonishing developments, Nigeria's Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG)--a Pentecostal denomination that has its North American headquarters in the Dallas area--has adopted as a goal the re-evangelization of America. This isn't some pie-in-the-sky quest by a benighted group of Third-World dreamers. Many of RCCG's U.S. members are highly educated Nigerian professionals. They're well acquainted with our postmodern version of Christianity, and they're not impressed. They're ready and willing to prod us back toward orthodoxy, to revive us from our faint-heartedness on moral issues.
Same with the orthodox branches of the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. Witness the developments in the Anglican Communion: Congregations such as Plano's Christ Church have pulled out of the American Episcopal church and have placed themselves under the authority of bishops in the Global South. In the case of Christ Church, it's a Brazilian bishop. Other American congregations have allied with Nigeria's Bishop Peter Akinola. Whoa, this is historic stuff, folks. In these cases, the catalyst was the Episcopal church's acceptance of openly gay clergy, but the deeper issue is the erosion of Scriptural authority.
Pentecostals have become the mainstream of conservative evangelical Christianity. Not necessarily in the United States, but in the world. What an upending of the hierarchy of class and ethnicity! The modern Pentecostal Movement has its origins in the Azusa Street revival, which started in 1906 in Los Angeles under the leadership of a black man, William J. Seymour. The Azusa revival would spread Pentecostalism to the entire world in less than a century. Today, there are as many as 500 million Pentecostals, with the majority of them in the Global South. (What is Pentecostalism? Here are some concise definitions.)
I remember talking some years ago to a great Pentecostal lady, a woman in her 80s who was a longtime member of the mostly black Church of God in Christ, the biggest Pentecostal denomination in the United States. We talked about the early days of Pentecostalism, when "holy roller" was very much a derisive term. Back in the day, folks had much fun at the expense of the holy rollers, so called because of exuberant worship that, yes, sometimes involved people rolling on the church floor for various reasons (in a religious ecstasy, or because they were under the sway of a demonic power that wasn't too keen about being in the presence of the Holy Spirit). What people often forget is that the mainstream American church though Pentecostals were wackos and extremists. Many evangelicals didn't even accept them as brothers and sisters in the faith.
Let's face it -- one of the reasons is that Pentecostalism drew its members from the lowest strata of society and adopted some of the practices of African-American Christian spirituality, such as shouting and dancing. The mainstream of Christianity very much reflected America's segregation back then.
In contrast, this lady, who is black and grew up in East Texas, actually attended a Pentecostal Bible school alongside white people -- in the 1940s! Amazing, especially when you consider that East Texas was one of the worst locales for lynchings in the Jim Crow Era.
Today, the last have become first, statistically speaking. Pentecostal evangelicalism is growing much faster than non-Pentecostal evangelicalism.
Here's a particularly telling point: Dallas Theological Seminary is known as one of the chief proponents of cessationism -- a belief that many of the distinctive practices of Pentecostalism, such as speaking in tongues and other "gifts" or charisms of the Holy Spirit, are no longer valid for our day. Now DTS is an outstanding theologically conservative school with a worldwide reputation. (Yes, I'm a bit biased. My husband earned his master of theology degree there in 2001.) Well, I happen to know that roughly half of the student body is either Pentecostal, charismatic or sympathetic to Pentecostal beliefs. Folks, we're everywhere. You just don't hear our voices very much yet, because we're not represented in the American media.
Pretty soon, every charismatic and Pentecostal is gonna know the words of a couple of Nigerian praise songs: "Jehovah, You Are the Most High" and "Jesus, I Love Calling Your Name." (I think that's what the latter is called.) You can already get "Jehovah, You Are the Most High" as a ringtone. Need I say more? Well, I'll say one more thing: Since Pentecostals are writing the soundtrack for Christianity, that means all y'all will eventually be hearing these.
It's the Global South again, infiltrating and renewing the faith.
Which brings us to...Merry Christmas! --Julie Lyons
A Bible Girl postscript: This Bible Girl is taking a two-week break, though I'll still respond to comments. One of those weeks, you'll get a Bible Girl column by Stephanie Morris. See you soon.
Thanks again to Harvey, Bill, Jack, Zero, S. Boralis, Rich, Lavrentievich, C. Mackey, Kelli and all y'all -- you have certainly made life...interesting.