I have a confession to make. Over the last 10 plus years of teaching sunday school, I’ve spent little to no time on a large section of the New Testament. Basically, I’ve chosen not to give Paul any airtime. I just don’t care for the guy. And that’s wrong. I admit it and I’m here to make amends.
But first, let me explain myself (and get in a few more digs). First, I’ve got an authority problem. As in, who is this guy and why do I have to listen to him? As I understand it, Paul was born two years after Jesus’ death. Ok, fine. I suppose you can claim to be an authoritative expert on the teachings of a man you’ve never met. Particularly if you do everything you can to soak up the first hand knowledge of those who did know Jesus really, really well, like his disciples. Except, in Galatians, Paul tells us that he’s never spent any time with the disciples, except for a brief visit with James, Jesus’ brother. Ok, so you’ve never met Jesus and you haven’t bothered to learn from those who knew him really well, but I’m supposed to base most of my religious life on your writings? You’re losing me, dude.
Paul claims — I mean tell us — that he knows Jesus personally because Jesus spoke to him directly for a five year period (after Jesus’ death) while Paul was in Jerusalem. Believe it or not, I’m ok with this. I think Jesus probably did speak to Paul this way. I think Jesus speaks to a lot of us in this way. In fact, like Paul, I had my own five year period back in my mid twenties, where I was convinced that Jesus was interacting with me in a real and personal and very significant way. So I have no doubt that Paul could have had this same sort of experience. My problem is not that it didn’t happen, but that even if it did happen, it doesn’t make Paul all that unique. Paul may be divinely inspired but I’m not sure he’s any more divinely inspired than a lot of other people who have interacted with God in real and personal ways.
And that’s my other problem. Interactions with God are, by their very nature, unique and personal. God interacts with us when, and how, God chooses. It’s different for each of us. So is our interpretation of those interactions. The messages that we take from those interactions is subject to our own bias, prejudice, and misunderstanding. At least I know mine are and I have no reason to believe that Paul wouldn’t be subject to the same limitations as I am.
And then there’s the whole persecuting Christians thing. I get it that he eventually gave that up. Good for him. But, seriously? One day you’re stoning Christians — or at least watching passively as Stephen is murdered — and the next you’re calling yourself the father of Christianity and telling us all how to live? I got a problem with that. It’s like the guy on the corner downtown. One day he’s high on crack and the next day he’s passing out religious tracks telling me I’m going to hell because I wasn’t immersed. Whatever.
And then, there’s the biggie. I think you’re just too darn conservative. I think you listened to story after story about grace, and redemption, and reconciliation and forgiveness and some how came away thinking it was all about homosexuality, adultery, alcohol and dancing. I don’t get that. Unfortunately, lots of your followers do. You’d be amazed (but hopefully not proud) to see how many people seem incredibly dismissive of Jesus’ message of grace but are more than willing to lift high your banner opposing gay marriage (you do talk about gay marriage, don’t you?). Whether you intended it or not, I think a lot of your writing has given people cover to be less than graceful and I think that’s unfortunate.
So there you go. I’ve been wanting to get that off my chest for years. I’ve had my say. Now it’s time for you to have yours. The next few weeks, you’ve got the floor. I’m going to do my best to give you a fair shake.