Why are Americans biased against atheists? 10-26-18
The impending failure of Halloween: 10-29-18

When it's time to change religious rules: 10-27/28-18

Every religious tradition carries with it various customs, practices and rules. The rules are both written and unwritten.

Star-DavidFor instance, in the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Mainline Protestant denomination to which my congregation belongs, one of the written rules is that if you are elected to be an officer of a local congregation -- either an elder or a deacon -- you must take the vows printed in the denomination's Book of Order. Those vows are taken in a public ceremony.

One of our unwritten rules is that our coffee offered in fellowship halls usually sucks. But I can't attest to that because I don't drink coffee.

Now and then there are challenges to both sets of rules. A really interesting one recently challenged in the Conservative branch of Judaism has to do with whether its rabbis may even attend -- much less officiate at -- an interfaith marriage ceremony.

The Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, which is the movement’s "central authority on Jewish law, has announced that rabbis can attend weddings between Jews and non-Jews," according to this story in The Forward.

In the report, there's a funny, if sort of painful, quote about all this:

"The decision overturns over four decades of assumptions that the movement’s rabbis could be kicked out simply for being a guest at an interfaith wedding. Over the years, rabbis skipped out on countless weddings of close friends and family members lest they get found out, and end up sacrificing their careers.

“'If it was found out that we even attended an intermarriage, meaning standing in the back of the venue, wearing a Groucho Marx disguise, we would be kicked out of the Rabbinical Assembly,' Rabbi Jason Miller told the Forward."

I suspect any rabbi attending a wedding in a Groucho Marx disguise might be vulnerable to being kicked out of the Rabbinical Assembly for reasons beyond attendance, but that's just a suspicion.

Many of the rules adopted by faith communities are for theological consistency and for emphasizing certain points about how the faith developed over the years. The latter is especially true of things like dietary laws or social customs such as not drinking alcohol or dancing or playing cards or wearing makeup. In the former category are such practices as who, in Christian churches, is eligible to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion or how the Bible can be interpreted.

But from time to time it's useful for faith communities to do an inventory of both written and unwritten rules and customs to see if they are serving any useful purpose. Sometimes those rules and customs turn out to be useless barnacles on the ship of faith.

If it were up to you, what customs or rules in your faith community would you abandon and why? If you haven't had a conversation about that with others in your group, maybe it's past time to do that, as Conservative Judaism just did about letting rabbis attend (not yet officiate at) interfaith marriages.

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Working alone for years, a now-deceased German artist, we now learn, created a picture Bible that, when stretched out from its accordion folds, would be almost a mile in length. It's now on display at the Museum of the Bible in Washington, D.C. Wait. Won't this play into the hands of skeptics who think of the stories in the Bible as stretchers?

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P.S.: Application forms for the 2018/2019 Margolis Scholarship offered by Kansas City Lodge 184 of B'nai Brith now are available. It's an essay contest for graduating seniors from high schools in the KC metro area and there's a $2,000 prize for the best essay on "The importance of Interfaith Dialogue Between Christians and Jews." For an application, download this pdf:  Download B-brith-form

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ANOTHER P.S.: Since Saturday's massacre at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, people on social media and in person have asked where this antisemitic trash comes from. One sad answer is from Christian history. My essay describing that stain is here.

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ALSO: My latest column for Flatland now is online here. It's about an innocent man imprisoned for 24 years and how he's now using his hard-fought freedom.


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