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Drawing the Battle Lines: Dean Breidenthal “Exegetes” Mark 1:21-28 [Part III of IV]

9 March 2010

…continuing the fisk of Bp. Breidenthal’s “exegesis” of Mark 1:21-28, given while he was still Dean of Religious Life at Princeton.

If you recall, so far, Dean Breidenthal’s eisegesis asserts that Jesus became a brainstorming session facilitator at Temple one Sabbath. While this happened, a demoniac (DB also apologizes for the text here) attempts to exercise control over Jesus, and Jesus, not exercising His own authority, tells the demon to go away. And the demon acquises, because well, I’m not sure why he does, if he wasn’t overpowered by Jesus’ divinity.

(again, I’m summarizing DB, here)

It’s also interesting to note that DB doesn’t focus on the pastoral aspect of Jesus casting out the demon – that he actually cared for the poor man who was possessed. I suppose that wouldn’t be compatible with Jesus’ role as brainstorming session facilitator.

And here we pick up again…

So a battle line is being drawn here. On one side we have the emergence of God’s reign, being brought to birth by Jesus through an ever-deeper encounter with God’s word and with one another as we struggle to understand that word from our varying perspectives. At its heart this kingdom is about love – a love that respects personal experience and delights in diversity, because it is not afraid of truth.

Jesus’ love respects personal experience and delights in diversity?? Can someone please show me, chapter and verse(s), where we see this mentioned in a Gospel, an Epistle, or the Old Testament?

On the other side we have everything that opposes freedom, not because it opposes truth, as such, but because it thinks there is no truth, no ultimate order, apart from that which can be imposed by force – and the winner takes all.

So, the Evil One and his minions don’t oppose truth? Let’s dig a little into those red letters, shall we?

Okay, so Jesus identifies the Evil One as a liar (i.e., opposed to truth) and murderer (i.e., one who kills human beings unlawfully) par excellence, and the father of lies. Perhaps .. and this is just me going out on a limb .. perhaps the Evil One and his minions (like the demon Jesus expels in Mark 1) really are opposed to truth?

I mean, I’m only going on what Jesus had said about the subject.  😉

Having tortured the text with tortured logic, DB goes on to build up his “battlelines” between truth and individual freedom.

The crushing of individual freedom and human dignity may well march under the ensign of truth, but such truth always turns out to be nothing but ideology masquerading as religion, patriotism or political idealism.

Here, DB spends some time talking about the baptismal covenant, presumably so that he can apply it to national and church politics. Note however the last line of the upcoming paragraph: “In other words, although we may not be able to vanquish evil without God’s help, we are expected to call it when we see it, and to refuse to go along with it.”

..Note it, remember it, and savor it.

This battle line presents us with a challenge. As followers of Jesus we are called to take our stand on the side of the kingdom. From earliest times, Baptism has been an occasion to be clear about this. In my own tradition, the parents and godparents of infants being presented for Baptism, and older children and adults who can speak for themselves, are asked the following questions: “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” In other words, although we may not be able to vanquish evil without God’s help, we are expected to call it when we see it, and to refuse to go along with it.

And here is where DB applies the baptismal covenant to national politics…

This demand that we draw the line as Christians is echoed – and rightly so – by the demand any democratic society places on us to be clear about our loyalty to the values on which democracy depends. We are called on to reject terrorism, and to adhere fiercely and bravely to our freedoms, even at the risk of losing our security. We are called to reject tyranny in any form, and to embrace the political process, however inconvenient and imperfect it may be from time to time. We are called to reject incivility when we disagree, and to condemn disrespect for those who hold a different view from ours.

Having applied the baptimsal covenant to national politics, DB then proceeds to apply national politics to the Christian Ethics (Ethics, which he has asserted earlier, that naturally fall out of the Baptismal Covenant – remember the line I asked you to remember, earlier in this article?)

But there’s a problem here. Obviously, these battle lines are meant to create and defend a safe space for disagreement. We are expected, both as Christians and as citizens, to protect the political realm from ideological forces that seek to substitute force for dialogue in the search for truth. But if we draw battle lines at all, don’t we run the risk of rejecting not only “unclean spirits” but bona fide brothers and sisters who disagree with us? How can we take a stand for the kingdom without demonizing others who genuinely love the kingdom but visualize it differently?

Here, let’s write it down in modus ponens form:

A) Our Baptismal Covenant dictates our moral behavior as Christians;

B) Our Baptismal Covenant is echoed in national politics;

C) In national politics, we have to play nice and respect diversity

D) This ‘laying nice’ ought to be echoed in our Christian Morality, which supposedly is based on our Baptismal Covenant.

Eh? That can’t be right. Oh well, if I have misstated the argument, perhaps I could be corrected(?)

Or, perhaps not.

This is a very real question for the Christian churches in the United States. Whether we are talking about abortion rights, gay marriage, or stem-cell research, the conservative-liberal divide is real and serious.

Heh. People who believe in abortion rights, gay marriage, or stem-cell research do not give a fig about the conservative-liberal divide; and people who are on the other side of those issues, do not give a fig about it, either.

Why does Dean Breidenthal?

Ah yes… and next we have DB in a pathetic attempt to paint himself a martyr for The Cause, having failed so miserably at his exegesis.

Just the other night I was on the web, tracking coverage of the four bishops nominated this week for the position of Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. As you may know, the Episcopal Church is deeply divided over the consecration of Gene Robinson, an openly gay man, as bishop of New Hampshire. I ended up on some sites that oppose his consecration. That’s okay. I supported his consecration, but I am open to debate about this. What shocked me was the hate language directed against the nominees for presiding bishop, all of whom have sought in their own dioceses to respect and honor differing convictions about the ordination of gay and lesbian persons. The line was drawn, and gay-friendly people –myself included – were obviously on the side of the unclean spirits.

Well, you said it yourself, DB … “As followers of Jesus we are called to take our stand on the side of the kingdom. From earliest times, Baptism has been an occasion to be clear about this. In my own tradition, the parents and godparents of infants being presented for Baptism, and older children and adults who can speak for themselves, are asked the following questions: “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” In other words, although we may not be able to vanquish evil without God’s help, we are expected to call it when we see it, and to refuse to go along with it.”

Let’s rephrase that last part again, shall we? We are expected as Christians to not cooperate with evil.  Period. 

Mhm, hm.

And having failed at martyrdom, DB attempts to paint people who genuinely haven’t decided, or who have decided not to decide, as martyrs as well. Apparently, liberals like DB are kind and generous to the folks in the middle, and conservatives are not :

The conservative-liberal divide is most keenly felt by Christians who are undecided or see both sides of a question. Some would say that these issues are so fundamental that one’s stand with regard to them places one on the side of the reign of God or against it. Others – including myself – would argue that these are matters about which conscientious Christians may disagree in good faith. Fundamental loyalty to the person of Jesus and a commitment to serious dialogue that respects all stake-holders should prevent the drawing of false battle-lines. The crucial thing is not to buy into polarization.

Hm, that’s interesting. I wonder what Jesus had to say about polarization within the Church?

It seems to me that there are those seasons where “fundamental loyalty to Jesus,” trumps all else. For a progressive like DB to claim otherwise is disingenuous to everyone – liberal, conservative, gay, straight, and what-have-you.

(.. to be concluded)

– Elder

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