Sunday, June 27, 2010

Some Thoughts about Spiritual Leadership

Probably, in every organized religion, there is some concept of spiritual leadership or spiritual authority. This teaching is potentially dangerous because spiritual leaders may abuse their authority. I think that in benign religions there are some boundaries for the spiritual authority, for example, requirements for spiritual leaders. In abusive religions, these boundaries are violated. In another post, I wrote about requirements for Sufi sheykhs that exist in traditional Sufism. Likewise, the New Testament contains requirements for Christian ministers in 1 Timothy 3:1-13 and Titus 1:5-9:

1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil's trap.

8 Deacons, likewise, are to be men worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.

12 A deacon must be the husband of but one wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.

(1 Timothy 3:1-13, NIV)

5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. 6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of but one wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer is entrusted with God's work, he must be blameless — not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.

(Titus 1:5-9, NIV)

Both descriptions are quite similar and Christian leaders are supposed to meet these requirements. Obviously, abusive leaders do not meet them. Are they blameless? not overbearing? not violent? gentle? not pursuing dishonest gain? not lovers of money? Do they meet other requirements? Since they do not meet these requirements, according to the New Testament, they cannot have real authority from God, in spite of their claims. Abusive leaders like to teach their followers that they need to submit to them because they are "spiritual authority." They pick up some verses from the Bible that speak about submission. They blame people who do not submit to them and say that they disobey God. However, they purposely neglect the verses that tell about requirements for spiritual leaders because these verses expose them.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Some Thoughts about Sufism

I am a Christian and have never been a Muslim. So, I did not practice Sufism. However, I have been interested about Islam, including Sufism. To some extent, it is because I had Chechen ancestors and am interested about Chechen culture. Chechens consider Sufism as their traditional religion. Originally, Sufism came to Chechnya from Daghestan, a neighbouring region in the Northern Caucasus. However, there are some differences between Sufism in Chechnya and Sufism in Daghestan. Most Chechen Sufis belong to Qadiri tariqah and follow the school of Kunta-hajji Kishiev, a Sufi sheykh (religious leader) who was a native Chechen. In Daghestan, there are many different Sufi groups and many tariqah. Probably, the most numerous are Naqshbandi, Shadhili, and Qadiri tariqahs. There are not much books written by Chechen Sufis, but there are many written by Daghestani Sufis. I read some of them as well as books written by Arab Sufis and other Sufi authors who live in the regions where Sufism has many adherents and exists for centuries.

I read several reports about abusive Sufi sheykhs in the Western countries. I do not know if it is the same in the traditional Sufi regions or not. In Sufism, murids (disciples) are required to submit to their sheykhs and potentially it can be a source of abuse if sheykhs have a tendency to be abusive. However, I think Sufis in traditional Sufi regions recognize this danger and have some ways to prevent it. In many Sufi books, it is written that there are genuine sheykhs and pseudo-sheykhs. Readers are warned about pseudo-sheykhs and are given some characteristics of genuine sheykhs. They are also encouraged to seek for genuine sheykhs and the best of them and not join the first person who calls himself a sheykh whom they met.

The first requirement is that a sheykh must have a certificate or permission to be a sheykh given by his sheykh. In turn, his sheykh must have a permission given by his sheykh, and so on. This line has to go to Muhammad. This requirement also implies that before a sheykh is allowed to have murids, he has to pass through the process of spiritual growth himself.

The second requirement is that a sheykh must know Islam doctrines and practices very well and must observe them. Sufism is a part of Islam and tariqah (Sufi way) is based on sharia (Islamic law).

When murids are in the presence of their sheykh or listen to him, they should feel love toward Allah and faith. Sheykh is supposed to treat murids in a respectful way. He should not only rebuke them, but also see their spiritual advance. Murids who spent long time with a sheykh are supposed to have spiritual growth. Sheykh is supposed to have murids of various social positions and national and cultural backgrounds.

In Sufism, there are many tariqahs, but Sufi from traditional regions believe that the differences between them are just outward practices while they all have the same goal. Thus, a murid can follow any tariqah and they different tariahs are considered to be true. Murids are allowed to change their tariqahs or their sheykhs, though it is not recommended. Murids are allowed to follow two tariqahs at the same time, though it is not recommended because in this case they have to use more time and energy to carry out practices of both tariqahs. There are even sheykhs who follow two tariqahs and have a permission to teach both. For example, there is one famous sheykh in Daghestan who is a sheykh of both Naqshbandi and Shadhili tariqahs and has permissions from his sheykhs to teach both.

In my opinion, these principles may serve as some protection against abusive sheykhs, though I understand that they may not work in some cases.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Evangelicalism and Liberation Theologies

I believe that the Bible is God's inerrant and inspired Word and in this I agree with evangelicalism and disagree with liberal theology because they do not take the Bible this way. I believe that mostly evangelical doctrines are correct and consider myself an evangelical. However, some time ago, I began to notice that evangelicalism lacks something. It stresses some teachings from the Bible, but omits some other biblical teachings. Traditional evangelicalism did not care for the social oppression, injustice, discrimination. Eventually, oppressed people had to form their own liberal theologies, that is, liberation theologies.

1. Liberation theology (in the narrow sense) pays attention on the liberation of poor people and poor countries. It says that God is with the poor and wants to release them from the oppression. Is this concept biblical? Yes, and it can be found in many places of the Bible. In Exodus, God led Israelites out of Egypt. He not only led them out in order to bring into the good land, but also delivered them from the slavery and oppression. Most Christians believe that Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality. The Bible does not say so. Ezekiel 16:49-50 tells what was Sodom's sin:

49 "Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. 50 They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen." (NIV)

These verses say that the sins of Sodom were that they were arrogant, overfed, and did not concern for the poor and needy. Old Testament prophets often condemned social sins. One example is Isaiah 1:16-18. This passage is often quoted by evangelical preachers, but they neglect verse 17:

"Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow." (NIV)

In Matthew 19:23-24, it is written:

"23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (NIV)

Luke 6:20-21, 24-25:

"20 Looking at his disciples, he said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep."

Many Christians consider these verses spiritually because in the parallel verses in Matthew 5 it is said in a different way: verse 3: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven", verse 6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." However, Luke does not say about spirit and righteousness.

There are many such verses in the Bible which indicate that God supports the poor and condemns social oppression.

2. Black theology pays attention to the release of the black from race discrimination. Unfortunately, the Bible was used in order to vindicate slavery. Racists used their interpretation of Genesis 9:24-27. They said that Noah cursed Ham and Canaan and their descendants were to be slaves of descendants of Shem and Japheth. Then, they said that descendants of Ham are the black and descendants of Japheth are the white and so the black should be slaves to the white. This interpretation is wrong. Actually, Noah cursed only Canaan and did not curse Ham. Descendants of Canaan were Canaanites who lived in Palestine and were conquered by Israelites. Israelites were descendants of Shem. It was then that Noah's words were fulfilled. By the way, the Bible and history never say that Canaanites were black. The Bible does not support racism, although it does not say much about the black. In Acts 8:26-40, Philip preached the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch who was black (cf. Jeremiah 13:23). In Acts 13:1, there is a list of prophets and teachers in the church at Antioch. One of them was Simeon called Niger. His nickname indicates that he was black. Another one was Lucius of Cyrene. Cyrene was a region of the northern Africa. So, he might also have been black. The early church did not make any difference between white and black people. Although Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11 do not speak about different races, they set a principle that in Christ all the people have the equal position regardless of their nationality, gender, social position, and other things.

3. Feminist theology pays attention to the release of women from sex discrimination. Again, the Bible was used in order to vindicate sexism. Sexists paid much attention to the biblical verses that say about women's submission to their husbands and prohibition for women to teach in the churches. However, they neglected many other biblical verses and the whole Bible context. In the Bible, some prescriptions were given only temporary, for some culture or for some people. For example, the biblical verses about slaves' submission to their masters were only for slave-owning culture. God's commandment for Noah to build the ark was given only to him and not to anyone else.

Galatians 3:28 sets an important principle:

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

This verse sets the equal position of men and women. Even in the Old Testament there were examples when women acted as leaders such as Deborah (Judges 4-5) who was a prophetess and a leader of Israel (Judges 4:4). Among Jesus disciples, there were many women, for example, Mary who was sitting and listening Jesus (Luke 10:39). Jewish rabbis did not teach women, but Jesus did. Four daughters of Philip the evangelist were prophetesses (Acts 21:9) (cf. Acts 21:10). In Acts 18:26, Priscilla (woman) and Aquila (man) taught and corrected Apollos who knew Scriptures, but did not know some teachings well. Priscilla is named first which means that she probably took the lead. Phoebe was a deacon (Romans 16:1-2) (cf. 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12). Andronicus (man) and Junia (woman) were apostles (Romans 16:7). Thus, women had the same functions and positions in the church as men.

4. Queer theology pays attention to the release of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgender people (GLBT) from discrimination. Most Christians believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality and that there are many biblical verses that condemn it. However, there are not so many verses that are used to condemn it. First, it is Genesis 1-2. Some people say that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve, nor Ada and Eve. However, the fact is that Steve, Ada, and all the other people of various races, nationalities and so on were also created by God. Genesis 2 just says about the first couple, not about all the couples. Second, the story of Sodom. The Bible does not say that Sodom was destroyed because of homosexuality. Ezekiel 16:49-50 tells about other reasons for destruction of Sodom. Jude 7 in the context (verse 6) speaks about sexual intercourses between human beings and angels (Genesis 6:1-4), not about homosexuality. The inhabitants of Sodom attempted a gang raping of angels. There is a similar story in Judges of another gang raping. A gang raping is obviously sinful, whether it is homosexual or heterosexual, but the story of Sodom does not say anything about homosexual relationships at mutual agreement. Third, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13. The context of both verses implies that they were about homosexual acts as a part of idol worship (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). Also, it is important that these verses are in Leviticus. Most commandments of Leviticus are not observed by most Christians because Christ canceled the Old Testament law. It is illogical to take two verses out of this book to condemn something. Fourth, Deuteronomy 23:17; 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7. These verses in King James Version contain the word "sodomite" or "sodomites" which some Christians apply to gays. However, in Deuteronomy 23:17 in the Hebrew text there are two very similar words: "qadesh" (masculine form) and "qadeshah" (feminine form). Their actual meaning is "male temple prostitute" and "female temple prostitute" and they refer to the temple prostitution as a part of pagan rituals. In 1 Kings 14:24; 15:12; 22:46; 2 Kings 23:7, the Hebrew word is "qadeshim" (plural form from "qadesh"). Fifth, Romans 1:26-27. The context of these verses that these people rejected God (verse 21), worshipped idols (verses 23 and 25), and did unnatural things. Again, the context implies that it may be the part of idol worship. Also, homosexual acts are unnatural for heterosexuals, not homosexuals. So, there is no indication that these people were homosexuals. Sixth, 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10. The Greek words here are "arsenokoitai" and "malakoi." There are many debates over these words and nobody knows what they exactly meant. Since their meaning is uncertain, these verses cannot be used to condemn homosexuality. Thus, there is no indication that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

Another related matter is transgenderism. Although most Christians believe that it is sinful as well, there are even less verses that are used to support this view. First, Genesis 1:27 which says that God created people male and female. Since transgender people "transgress" the gender binary, some Christians use this verse to condemn them. Actually, not all the people are clearly males or females. There are intersex people (also known as "hermaphrodites"). They are obviously born this way which means that God created them this way. Also, Genesis 1 and 2 do not say anything about great diversities among humankind such as various races and nationalities. Genesis 1 does not say about many species that exist in nature. This is a very short story about creation that does not give all the details. Second, Deuteronomy 22:5 which tells that men should not wear female clothes and women should not wear male clothes. There are different opinions why Israelites were given this commandment. One of them is that cross-dressing was a part of some pagan ritual. Another one is that through cross-dressing some Israelites tried to access the privileges of the other gender or avoid responsibilities of their own gender. However, it is important that this verse is a part of the Old Testament law. It is interesting that in the whole chapter 22 Christians consider that only verse 5 should be fulfilled. For example, they have nothing against wearing clothes made of wood and linen woven together which is forbidden by verse 11 of the same chapter. Thus, verse 5 is taken out of its context. Third, Deuteronomy 23:1; Leviticus 21:20; 22:24. These verses are used against male-to-female transsexuals because castration is a part of the surgeries they undergo. However, these verses say nothing about the reasons for castration: whether it was voluntary, forcible, or a result of trauma. Again, these verses are in the Old Testament law. On the basis of Deuteronomy 23:1, eunuchs were excluded from Judaism. However, Isaiah 56:3-5 prophesied that eunuchs would be accepted by God. Jesus confirmed it in Matthew 19:11-12 and Philip preached the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. Leviticus 21 and 22 list many physical defects of priests and offerings that made them unsuitable for God. However, nobody cares for all the other physical defects any more. Thus, the Bible does not condemn transgenderism either.

Probably, it is also important to mention that according to many respectful mental health and medical organizations such as American Psychological Association and many others, homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgenderism are not choices and cannot be changed. Thus, the science tells that GLBT people did not chose to be who they are and cannot change themselves. One of the principles of the proper biblical hermeneutics is that the Bible does not contradict the science and in fact it does not. In the past, I used to be a homophobic and transphobic Christian, but after I learned these things, I changed my opinion.

I think I need to add that I do not consider homosexuality to be sinful per se, but this does not mean that I consider any homosexual activity to be sinless. The principle is the same as for heterosexuality. Of course, no one thinks that heterosexuality is sinful per se, but there are some heterosexual activities that are sinful, such as raping, pedophilia, incest, prostitution, and sexual promiscuity. However, no one considers that heterosexual committed relationships in marriages are sinful. In the same way, I do not consider homosexual committed relationships to be sinful. Obviously, many homosexual couples are unable to legally register their relationships because same-sex marriages are not allowed in many countries. However, if essencially their relationships are equal to marriages, I do not believe they are sinful. Both homosexuals and heterosexuals do not choose their sexual orientation and cannot change it, but both are able to choose how they act according to their sexual orientation. Any sexual orientation is not only about sex, but also about love. Both heterosexuals and homosexuals are able to have loving and committed relationships.

Liberation theologies brought many biblical teachings that were traditionally neglected by evangelicalism, but are important in order to get the full biblical doctrine and practice. Fortunately, some evangelicals began to receive these teachings and add them to traditional evangelical teachings. I think this is the right approach. Evangelicals can learn something from liberation theologies. Probably, the main lesson of liberation theologies is non-discriminative attitude to all the people and love to all the people instead of hatred, condemnation, and biases.