Monday, January 28

Barack Obama and a Discussion of Centered Sets

Bounded Set
In a bounded set approach, there is a clear boundary drawn between who is "in" and who is "out." Usually, the boundary is made up of very specific beliefs and behaviors.

Centered Set
In the centered set approach, the center is understood to be Jesus. Those who are “in” are not defined in relation to a boundary, but by facing and moving toward the center.
We talked yesterday in church about bounded sets versus centered sets. Many, many churches (including churches I've attended before) believe in the bounded set approach. There are very clear beliefs you must follow to be considered to be inside the circle. Things such as questioning, doubting, believing that homosexuality is not a sin, not believing in eternal damnation, and many more such issues would most certainly put you into the outside of the circle. In some ways it's comforting to be so sure and certain about your beliefs that you think you are justified in telling other people they are not Christians for having a different belief about an issue. It would be great not to have any questions about anything, and I envy the ease with which they lay the boundaries and the battle lines. 

But then I think about grace. And I think about mercy. And I think about how little I know of such a big God, and I realize that there's no way in hell that I could honestly say that I know who is saved and who is not saved. I would never be so presumptuous. 

When Chase and I were going through confirmation classes at the Episcopal church, another member asked the priest if it was okay to not believe the same way as the church on a particular issue. Although his answer bothered my evangelical mind at the time, I now realize how gracious and humble his answer was.

He said that it was absolutely okay to believe differently. As long as we believe the same on the basics, which are the beliefs outlined in the Nicene Creed, then there is freedom to have differing beliefs on the peripheral issues. He is not going to say that other denominations or religions are condemned for believing differently, because that's not our place. Regardless of beliefs, everybody in the church shares in fellowship, in the giving of the peace, in the Eucharist, and we will do that because of and in spite of our differences. 

So, with that being said, the common Evangelical habit of marking other people to hell has frustrated me immensely lately. It makes me so angry to read articles, blog posts, comments, or tweets by an Evangelical, sure-of-himself, person who thinks they know exactly who is and isn't going to heaven. Mark Driscoll, ever the asshole, wrote a tweet on inauguration day that said, "Praying for our president, who today will place his hand on a Bible he does not believe to take an oath to a God he likely does not know."

The constant facebook posts by people I know and the speculation or outright rejection of Obama's faith is awful. I fully believe that a person's faith is something that is between them and God. Here's an except from on article on Huffington Post:
"If Barack Obama says he is a Christian, if he confesses his faith in Christ, that's where the conversation ends. The same is true for George W. Bush, or Franklin D. Roosevelt, or even Mark Driscoll. 
There is a difference between saying to someone "my understanding of Christian faith is different from yours on this issue" and saying "we don't believe the same thing, so you must not be a Christian." I often disagreed with George W. Bush's actions, and struggled to reconcile them with my understanding of Christian faith, but I refused to speculate on the sincerity of his faith. That's not my place. And I've had it done far too often in my life to turn around and do it to others. 
And it happens far too often. We forget that some Christian right figures believe that Catholics are not "real Christians". We forget that "real Christians" used their firm belief that they were right to rail against the faith of those who wanted to end slavery and later segregation. We forget that on an ongoing basis, gay Christians are told by these "loving" "real Christians" their faith is not real. 
Some of the most faithful, loving, and sacrificing Christians I know would likely not meet Mark Driscoll's definition of a "real Christian". He might tell them, the way he told Obama, that they don't really know God. That makes me frustrated for them, but it makes me sad for Mark Driscoll. How sad must it be to proclaim the love of God with one breath and to feel the need doubt the sincerity of another's love for God with the next?
Mark Driscoll may be concerned that President Obama is not following his particular view of Christianity. But Christian faith has never had much to do with following the opinions of the popular crowd, and a best selling book has never granted the author the power to discern the legitimacy of another's faith. In the end, the only two authorities on Barack Obama's relationship with God are Barack Obama and God. I'm not either of the two. And so that's where the discussion ends." Read the full post

After I posted on this blog about doubts I faced, a person emailed me and said that she was quite sure I didn't know God and didn't read the Bible, because of what I had posted. It sucks when a complete stranger makes assumptions about your spirituality--which is a part of you that is tender and personal and vulnerable (although I'm quite impressed she could decipher 23 years of my spiritual life by reading a few paragraphs, which is something I can't even do. Note: I must talk to her next time I bet on anything). 

So basically, my decision is this: I do not want to be the kind of person who walks around deciding who is in and who is out. I don't want to be so arrogant in my beliefs that I think I am able to clearly distinguish God's plan for not just my life, but everybody's eternal destiny. I want to live in a place where I face the center and seek Christ rather than measuring how far away other people are from the center. Does anybody really the hell know where the magic line is? I'm quite sure they don't. Let's focus on love and on seeking Christ rather than making hateful judgey accusations toward other people. 


  1. I don't know who Mark Driscol is, but he sounds like everyone at Heritage!

    1. No, Mark Driscoll is in a league of his own. He's a super duper reformed person who speaks out against EVERYBODY who doesn't believe the same as he. He's truly a jerk.

  2. Adore this post! I wish people could be focused more on their growth as a spiritual being (note: not just referring to Christians but people in ALL various religions) and not on the spiritual beliefs of others. It is a very personal decision and no one has any right to mock/comment on that! UGH.

  3. This is quite the interesting post! lol. I really do like how you outlined so many things that are wrong with the general church today. I like your last statemnet where you mentioned looking towards the center and not measuring those around you!!! That's so huge! If only more people would come to realize that it's not about the relationship with Christ that the friends or even the people in church have, it's only their own.

    Blue Eyed Beauty Blog

  4. This was a thought provoking and inspiring post...well thought and articulated. I'm very glad you put it out there (hmmm... it's actually "out here", isn't it). I liked that you emphasized the gift of choice, and I loved how you pointed out the flaws of exclusion. I clicked to your "doubts" post too. I'm thinking we're kindred spirits (not in a bounded set way, of course) (=. Thanks again! Lynaea @

  5. I've been reading your blog for a short time, but in that time I believe I have determined that you are one of the coolest people I "know". It is always uplifting to find a Christian who believes that we are not the ones who define another person's faith and Christianity.

    Let's be friends! :-)

    1. Yes, let's do be friends! :)

  6. I have been catching up on my blog "lurking" and reading back posts. I was moved to comment on this one. I really enjoy your blog, and I wish that I had seen this sooner. I have a friend who is a Christian and has been having crisis of faith lately. She was having a hard time reconciling the idea of judging others worth what felt right with her. I am going to send her a link to this post, because I think out will offer her some solice and a different perspective. Thank you for the intelligent and well written read.


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