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Nadia Bolz-Weber: Livin' On A Prayer?

Nadia Bolz-Weber: Livin' On A Prayer?

By Judi Sture
Special to Virtueonline
www.virtueonline.org
July 4, 2020

Searching the web recently for what other churches are doing during the lockdown, I came across quite a number of parishes and Christian organisations that were promoting a 'prayer' from Nadia Bolz-Weber. For those readers not familiar with Bolz-Weber, she is a Lutheran pastor in the US who is now viewed as a 'public theologian' by many who see her iconoclastic approach to the faith as 'liberated', 'open', 'inclusive' and 'authentic'. All of which are words that fill me with groanings that cannot be uttered.

'So what's wrong with a prayer?' I hear you ask. Good question. But before we get into it, let's have a quick look at NBW's track record to date.

This is an ordained pastor who thinks it is acceptable to publish a photo of her middle finger being directed at a Christian bakery she doesn't like. The bakery's sin? The owner had refused to bake a cake to order for a gay wedding (Masterpiece Cake Shop, Lakeland, Colorado). To add to the finger, she said on her blog:

'My 12-step program is next door to Masterpiece Cake Shop (of anti-gay fame) so as an act of resistance I always choose to take up their best parking places. It's the little things...'

The owner of the cake shop is, remember, a fellow-Christian. Dare we suppose that the finger and the sentiment would have been applied to a Muslim cake shop and its owner? Answers on the usual postcard, please, folks.

In a recent interview with an LGBT organisation, she stated that there is such a thing as 'ethically sourced porn'. In addition to this droplet of 'wisdom', she also believes that the consumption of pornography should not be shamed.

The church she founded in Denver is apparently blessed with a "Minister of Fabulousness," a drag queen called Stuart. (More about a drag queen at her church later).

On other Christians: 'They go to the Bible to justify their bullshit. 'Oh look, uh, the fact that men should be dominating women, that's not my opinion, that's "God's" opinion.' Bullshit!

On the clarity of the teachings of the Bible: 'The Bible's not clear about shit!'

On the everlasting truths of the faith and the Church: 'If the teachings of the church are harming people, then we need to rethink those teachings'.

Just look at her Twitter feed or interviews and see how they are sprinkled liberally with the sort of language you don't want to hear from a Christian, let alone a pastor. Whatever happened to the instructions from Paul to Timothy on the attributes of leaders in the faith? (No doubt he was mansplaining from a place of cis-male privilege and promoting the patriarchy at the expense of the sisterhood).

The church NBW founded in Denver, the House For All Sinners and Saints, states on its website:

HFASS is a big tent kind of church where people believe all kinds of things. So, we don't often talk about what "we ALL believe." In fact, we like to say that what people believe (and even what they do) is none of our business.

To read more about what we confess as a congregation, read the HFASS Manifesto [this currently seems to be unavailable]. Our Manifesto was written by housemates (what we call our parishioners) in 2019 and is not a binding statement of belief. Instead, it is a reflection of this moment in time in the life of our congregation.

When NBW moved on from her church in Denver, she left it in the hands of the Rev. Reagan Humber. Humber, who came to HFASS from an Episcopal Church in San Francisco, is certainly well-placed to take over. His partner is (or was in 2018) apparently a hair stylist who moonlights as the drag queen 'Fruitbomb'. In addition to this unusual household set-up, Humber is open about his struggles with opiates and alcohol. According to the website Anglican Ink, one of 'Fruitbomb''s performances involves enacting staged abortions.

Since leaving the HFASS, NBW has published a book 'Shameless: A Sexual Revolution' in 2019:

'I'm here to tell you: unless your sexual desires are for minors or animals, or your sexual choices are hurting you or those you love, those desires are not something you need to "struggle with." They are something to listen to, make decisions about, explore, perhaps have caution about. But struggle with? Fight against? Make enemies of? No.'

Wesley Hill, writing in Christianity Today, says 'The message of Shameless, in short, is that feeling like a transgressor never bears the seeds of redemption, and the way to flourishing lies in throwing out any standard that isn't giving you life'.

In the book, NBW calls for a sexual reformation within Christianity, modelled on the arguments of Martin Luther, who famously nailed ninety-five theses (ideas) to a church door in Wittenberg, Germany, in the sixteenth century. Naturally, NBW used this as an inspiration for a slogan for her Denver church: "Nailing shit to the church door since 1517." In the book, she builds on the fact that Luther rebelled against the legalism that pervaded the Church in his time and argued (in her own interpretation of his writings) that to keep going on about sinful conduct was unnecessary, because people were already redeemed through Christ's sacrifice.

In an interview with The New Yorker, she said:

'Luther saw the harm that the teachings of the Church were doing in the lives of those in his care....He decided to be less loyal to the teachings than to their well-being.'

I assume that by now, you are getting the picture. The first question that surely springs to mind is, 'Why are mainstream Christian leaders choosing to quote anything at all from this person?' We'll answer that in a minute.

Let's look at this 'prayer' then.

'I do not know when we can gather together again in worship, Lord.

So, for now I just ask that:

When I sing along in my kitchen to each song on Stevie Wonder's Songs in The Key of Life Album, that it be counted as praise. (Happy 70th Birthday, SW!)

And that when I read the news and my heart tightens in my chest, may it be counted as a Kyrie.

And that when my eyes brighten in a smile behind my mask as I thank the cashier may it be counted as passing the peace.

And that when I water my plants and wash my dishes and take a shower may it be counted as remembering my baptism.

And that when the tears come and my shoulders shake and my breathing falters, may it be counted as prayer.

And that when I stumble upon a Tabitha Brown video and hear her grace and love of you may it be counted as a hearing a homily.

And that as I sit at that table in my apartment, and eat one more homemade meal, slowly, joyfully, with nothing else demanding my me or attention, may it be counted as communion. Amen.'

Sounds quite good on first hearing, doesn't it? But, as usual with anything emanating from the 'progressive' wing of the church, words don't always mean what they seem to mean. And bearing in mind that most people don't actually bother to think about what things mean, the progressives usually have a good chance of slipping their ideals in under the radar of the gullible mainstream leadership.

Anyone with a moderate amount of Bible knowledge and Christian experience could see that there is something not quite right with this prayer, even if it takes a few readings to see it.

There's nothing inherently wrong in singing along to Stevie Wonder, but it ain't praise, sister. Praise is praising God, not singing to or about anyone else. No matter what many of today's religious entertainment theme parks religious entertainment theme parks warehouse-style or other varieties of guitar-dominated churches may tell you, as they promote a rock concert as worship several times a week.

Your heart tightening in your chest when reading the news isn't a Kyrie. A Kyrie is a prayer to God that asks 'Lord, have mercy'. Your heart tightening in your chest through some negative human emotion is not a prayer. It's an understandable fear that needs a prayer.

When your eyes brighten behind your face mask in the shop, how about saying something or doing something to pass the peace to the cashier? Lots of customers no doubt smile at him/her, but not all are Christians, able to pass on words from God. You may be the only Christian that cashier sees today. Yet you think your smile is sufficient to 'pass peace' on? What's the difference between your smile and the next person's?

When you're doing the washing up and taking a shower, that is not a replacement for remembering your baptism. How about actually remembering and thanking God for your baptism if you want to? Or is every shower and every bowl of washing up now to be considered by God as a spiritual act?

When you are upset and crying and your breath falters, that isn't a prayer. It's a situation that needs prayer. Or is all upset now to be a replacement for prayers? Do we need real prayers at all? Or is God to simply count our upsets as if they were prayers? Why bother praying at all, in that case?

See what's happening here? Non-spiritual practices and events are now to be considered as if they are spiritual. There's nothing wrong with remembering your baptism when watering your plants, singing along to our favourite music or reacting with fear (initially) to the news. But here's the thing -- as Christians, we get to respond by turning to Our Father in prayer or praise. Singing to Stevie Wonder is not praise. A fear response is not a request to God of 'Lord, have mercy'. We need to say it and do it. Not simply imagine that God will assume it.

It never fails to amaze me how our supposedly spiritually-aware leaders, assorted priests, Christian movers-and-shakers and so on, so regularly fall for this stuff. The amount of drivel that passes for wisdom as it gushes forth from the 'progressive' sector of Christianity seems to be never-ending. And equally, there seems to be a never-ending stream of useful idiots* ever-ready to grab hold of it and promote it unthinkingly.

*the term 'useful idiots' refers to those easily-influenced individuals used by propagandists to promote a cause, while they, the useful idiots, do not fully understand the true aims of the cause. It was often used to describe pro-Communist westerners by Communists during the Cold War. Some people say that Lenin coined the phrase earlier in the 20th century.

Bearing this in mind, what do many mainstream vicars and pastors think when reading this 'prayer' and all the similar twaddle that flows down like a stream into their naïve, useful-idiot minds?

'Hey -- this wisdom is coming from Nadia Bolz-Weber! She's 'out there' and very 'progressive'! She has tattoos! She's had an abortion and thinks it's ok! And we need to look cool and 'down-there' to get people into our churches, otherwise they'll never come in! If we advertise her stuff, we can hit two birds with one stone -- more people will come in to our churches and we will get to bask in the reflected glory whatever it is that shines out of NBW and her ilk. Win-win!'

It really makes you wonder how the Church has managed to entice any new members at all during the last 2000 years. But somehow, God managed it -- and without all this woke claptrap. I don't recall Charles Spurgeon or John Wesley having any problems in getting people to listen when they proclaimed the gospel with all the challenging bits left in. Going back further, neither did the apostles. Yet in the 21st century we're told we have to be 'seeker sensitive' and not only leave out the difficult bits, but actually change what we believe, just in case God's Word upsets/offends/triggers anyone.

But why are we surprised at any of this? NBW and other 'progressives' in the faith have been coming up with stuff like this for a long time. That is, dressing up non-spiritual things as if they are spiritual. In doing so, they are cleverly undermining tradition by saying that we don't need to actually engage in our long-established Christian practices.

We no longer need prayer because we can simply feel fear. After all, that's more authentic, isn't it? We no longer need to praise God because we are actually doing it when singing along to Stevie Wonder (insert your own fave singer here).

In this 'progressive' Christian worldview, prayer, praise, practising the presence of God and so on are all equal to (and therefore replaceable by) whatever you prefer to do at the time. According to this worldview, everything is spiritual if you want it to be. The end result of all this is, amongst other things, 'ethical porn' and the shameless consumption of it. Oh yes, and indulgence (no pun intended) in any other kind of sexual variation you fancy at the time. With whomever you choose. Hey, it's all about celebrating God's creation, right?

How do these progressives get away with it? Simple. They only need three things:

1. To continue to practise some traditional aspects of the faith as a bit of reassuring window-dressing to keep the useful idiots deceived. After all, if they discarded all church tradition and all Christian teaching immediately, then other Christians wouldn't be tempted to listen to them, would they? It's easy to reject obvious heresy. But when it is dressed up with just the right amount of 'proper' window-dressing, it causes confusion and makes the un-thinking wonder if there is not a bit of truth in there with all the claptrap. That's how the 'progressive' agenda works.

2. A willing audience of useful idiots, the higher up in church leadership, the better. Must be ready and willing to be conned; must be so unsure of their own faith that they don't recognise heresy when they see it. Not so much wolves in sheep's clothing as sheep with special educational needs who have somehow found their way into bishop's palaces, vicarages and church websites and think they need to tell the rest of the sheep how wrong they are -- because they think the sheep in the parishes are just too dumb to realise their own levels of hate and discrimination.

3. The majority of Bible-believing Christians to keep quiet, whether from despair or from a feeling of powerlessness in the face of the progressive onslaught. Either way, silence = success for the progressives.

See what is happening here? Dilution, drip by drip.

And there are plenty of drips among our leaders ready and willing to not only fall for this junk but promote it. Just google any line from NBW's 'prayer' and see how many Christian sites are advocating it. Further, I read a piece recently that said although the UK's National Secular Society has been trying to remove the Church from British public life for over 100 years, this has actually now been achieved by the Church itself in its response to Covid-19. The decision of the Archmuppet of Canterbury to completely close all Anglican churches has been a good example of the reach and impact of this 'progressive' agenda. That's how far these ideas have travelled. We must be seen to be fitting in with the world, not standing out from it.

Since when did the Gospel of Christ require any 'help' from the world's standards to attract those who are called to it? Yes, we are told to go out and make disciples of all people. But this doesn't mean that in order to attract these new folks we have to dilute the standards and practices required of us within the faith. If we live according to the standards of the unsaved -- while saying that we are saved ourselves, complete with the language and behaviours of what God calls sin -- then what is the incentive for the 'sinners' to change sides? Won't onlookers simply say, 'Well if they are Christians and they're doing this and saying this, then so can we'?

If the Church and Christians look and behave just like non-believers, what is the difference?

Anyone for prayers?

Dr Judi Sture was formerly a senior lecturer and researcher at a UK university; she led a Master's programme in Research Methods and spent 15 years teaching PhD students how to carry out effective research. Her own research has also been widely published and has influenced international policy through the UN and other national and international organisations and governments. She writes a blog on Culture, Faith and Life here: https://viewfromthecrowsnest.net/ which includes a longer version of this article.

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