Author Archives: Joe

About Joe

I began my life in the South and for five years lived as a closeted teacher, but am now making a new life for myself as an oral historian in New England. I think my life will work out the way it was always meant to be. That doesn't mean there won't be ups and downs; that's all part of life. It means I just have to be patient. I feel like October 7, 2015 is my new birthday. It's a beginning filled with great hope. It's a second chance to live my life…not anyone else's. My profile picture is "David and Me," 2001 painting by artist Steve Walker. It happens to be one of my favorite modern gay art pieces.

What does the Bible verse Jeff Sessions quoted really mean?

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. Therefore one must be in subjection, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.– Romans 13:1-7

(CNN) — It’s been called one of the most important and most misunderstood passages in the Bible: Romans 13:1-7.

“The most historically influential paragraph Paul ever wrote,” in the words of one scholar.

Likely written by the Apostle Paul around 57 AD, Romans 13, including the snippet cited by Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday, instructs Christians to submit to “God’s servants.” That is, the government.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established,” the passage says. “The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.”

Romans 13 has been cited by Nazi sympathizers and apartheid-enforcers, slave owners and loyalists opposed to the American Revolution. Modern Christians have wrestled with how to apply the passage to issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and taxes.

Thursday, Sessions cited Romans 13 to defend the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” prosecution policy on illegal immigration. In a speech addressed to his “church friends,” Sessions said:

“I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Sessions, saying, “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”

In some ways, Sessions’ citation of Romans 13 makes sense. Many of the “church friends” to whom the attorney general addressed his speech had quoted scripture to criticize current immigration policies, particularly the separation of children from their parents.

The Southern Baptist Convention, for example, passed a resolution Tuesday that cited Scripture six times to make the case for immigration reform. (Some Southern Baptists also cited Romans 13 in the controversial decision to allow Vice President Mike Pence to address their annual meeting.)

But what did Paul really mean when he wrote his letter to the Romans? Should Christians be expected to obey all human laws and cooperate with all regimes? And why would Paul counsel submission to a state power that had executed his savior?

Here are five ways Christians have tried to answer those questions:

1. The Bible is full of civil disobedience.

In citing Romans, Sessions made a small but telling slip. He said Paul commanded Christians to “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them.”

But Romans doesn’t quite say that. It says obey the “governing authorities” — that is, the government, not the laws. You could argue that one implies the other, but the Bible teems with examples of heroes who disobey the law.

Take Daniel, for example, who was thrown to the lions because he wouldn’t obey an edict requiring all subjects of King Darius to pray only to him. Daniel went home, threw open the windows for all to see and got on his knees, defying the edict. It was a blatant act of civil disobedience.

“Whenever laws are enacted which contradict God’s law, civil disobedience becomes a Christian duty,” the late evangelical eminence John Stott wrote in a Bible study on Romans 13.

2. Paul thought Roman spies were reading his letters.

Big Brother wasn’t around in the first century, but life as a Christian, especially a Jewish Christian, wasn’t free from state surveillance.

Just a few years before Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, the empire had expelled Jews from Rome for “rioting at the instigation of Chrestus,” according to the Roman historian Suetonius. Some scholars believe Chrestus is a misspelling of Christ.

It’s not too big a stretch to imagine that Paul, writing to a small band of religious subversives in the capital of the empire, would suspect that his letters could fall into imperial hands.

“Paul is probably writing to be read by government officials as well as by the church in Rome,” John Piper, an influential evangelical pastor, said in a sermon series on Romans 13.

“He knows that this letter will find its way into Caesar’s household and into the hands of the civil authorities. He wants them to understand two truths. One is that Christians are not out to overthrow the empire politically by claiming Jesus, and not Caesar, is Lord.”

The other thing Paul wants the Romans to know, Piper says, is that their authority is based on God’s.

3. Paul was talking about angels, not attorneys general.

Who, exactly, are the “authorities” that Paul is urging Christians to submit to?

Oscar Cullman, a New Testament scholar who died in 1999, posed an interesting theory: Paul was talking about cosmic authorities, not civil ones. Or rather, he was talking about both.

As Cullman noted, some early Christians, like some first-century Jews, believed that guardian angels — “the angels of the nations” — sat above the earthly rulers, somewhere between God and man.

In other parts of the New Testament, Paul sometimes using the same Greek word to describe earthly and angelic authorities.

On a practical level, you could understand why Cullman, a Lutheran who lived in Europe during the rise of Hitler, would be attracted to this idea. It’s easier to counsel submission to angels than to Nazis.

But many scholars have dismissed Cullman’s theory, saying the “authorities” in Romans 13 refer to the earthly government. Later in Romans 13, Paul notes that Christians pay taxes to “God’s servants” — and, as we all know, the taxman is no angel.

4. Paul was worried about a Jewish uprising.

Much of Paul’s letter to the Romans is about Jewish/Gentile relationships. This was a time when Christians were divided about whether “true” Christians had to be one or the other.

Some Bible scholars theorize that Paul feared Jewish Christians would rebel against the Roman authorities. He had good reason to be worried. Jewish Christians had just been allowed back into Rome after being expelled. A governmental crackdown could have crushed the small and fractious Christian community.

“Paul was not attempting in Romans 13:1-7 to write out a manifesto for Church-State relations for the next two or three millennia,” writes Matthew Neufeld, a Mennonite scholar.

“His concern was pastoral and local. … Paul was advising against anti-Roman and Palestinian nationalist sentiments among the Jewish Christians in Rome.”

5. Paul was being ironic.

At first glance, writes British scholar T.L. Carter, Romans 13 may look like “an embarrassingly unqualified endorsement of the political status quo.”

But Paul was likely aware of the Jewish expulsion from Rome, as well as other persecutions, Carter argues. So it’s hard to fathom why he would portray the government as divinely sanctioned.

Paul’s praise for government authority so over the top, it’s possible that he meant to be ironic, Carter says. In other words, Romans 13 is not praise, it’s a cleverly disguised critique.

“By using the technique of irony, Paul was able to express his criticism without fear of repercussions from the authorities, who may have been oblivious to the disparity between the ideal he portrays and the reality of their government.”

Carter acknowledges that his interpretation is somewhat idiosyncratic. Many Christians take a more straightforward reading of Romans 13, even as they struggle to apply to modern life.

“It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the history of the interpretation of Romans 13:1-7,” says New Testament scholar Douglas Moo, “is the history of attempts to avoid what seems to be its plain meaning.”


Moment of Zen: Pride

From BosGuy:

Pride is much more than parties and parades. What I think some people fail to recognize is in the face of hostility, legislated discrimination and violence, focusing on love and celebrating that love can be a far more effective tonic than channeling negative emotions. That is why Pride is and always will be at its core a political message: We’re here and we’re not going anywhere. #KillTheCloset


The Search

Another exhausting week has gone by. It’s finally Friday. I’ve been job searching since around the end of October last year. I think that’s the most exhausting thing. It seems like a never ending search. I find plenty of jobs that I’m qualified for, but they just don’t pan out. Then there are jobs that I’m perfect for, but they don’t pan out. Right now it seems like there is no end in sight, and I’m exhausted. I want a good job I’ll enjoy. I don’t want to have to settle for something. I know I may have to. Ideally, I’d love a job in the South, preferably in a progressive city (yes, they do exist), and a job I’d enjoy. I pray that it will happen but so far nothing has come along. I will just keep searching and keep hoping. It’s all I can do at this point. The only other option is for there to be some rich man out there who’d love to take care of a 40 year old, sweet and kind, intellectual.


Interview

The interview seemed to go really well yesterday. Although, I thought the same thing about the New Mexico job, but I haven’t heard back from them. The job interview yesterday went pretty smoothly though. I totally blanked on the name of some software I use, but I don’t think that’s a big problem. They said that they genuinely enjoyed talking to me, that it was a joy to talk to someone else in the trenches of the oral history world. So now I wait and see.


Big Day

I had one of my headaches last night, so I’m going to make this short. I have my performance evaluation today at work. I hope that goes well, just because I like to do well, not because it matters worth a damn. It doesn’t. I will be gone in less than six months. Also, tomorrow after work, I have a job interview with a very prestigious school on the west coast (think of a giant tree). It’s for another oral history position, but at least this time they are upfront about it being a three year position.


I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing
by Walt Whitman

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing,
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches,
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark
green,
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself,
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there
without its friend near, for I knew I could not,
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and
twined around it a little moss,
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room,
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends,
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,)
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love;
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary
in a wide flat space,
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near,
I know very well I could not.


Monday, Monday

I was a bit lazy most of the weekend. I did a little house cleaning, but should have done more. I did go to an art opening Friday night which was fun. Some of the art was quite beautiful. I also did a little networking for museum jobs.

This week will probably be a doozy like last week. It’s the first week for our new director. I have a dentist appointment this afternoon that I’m not looking forward to. I really hate going to the dentist. Then on Wednesday, I have my yearly evaluation, with our old interim director. There is no reason to be dreading this but I am. I never much liked our interim director and he always treats me like a third wheel. Hopefully, it will all go smoothly, and like the dentist today, I can cross that off my list of things to dread.


Charity

And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. (KJV) ( 1 Corinthians 13:2 )

We often think if only I were more witty, if I had more intelligence, if I were more attractive, my life would be much different.  If we actually matched our ideal qualities but failed to grow a love for others, it would all be pointless.  Paul even says if he had all the faith in the world, he would be nothing if he didn’t love others.  Do you spend more time thinking about self-improvement or on growing your love for others more?


Moment of Zen: Pooltime


TGIF

It’s been quite a week. I have a new boss. I’ve finally finished my two online classes, at least I hope I’ve finished with them both. The museum studies class was fun and interesting. The adjunct instructor class was a pain in the butt. After all that I have gone through to teach adjunct at this college, I’d better be hired. I’ve done well on all the other assignments, so I hope I did well on the last one. I know I did well in my museums studies class. I have a 100 average in that class. I’ve already signed up for class two in my museum studies class.


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