Recently in the mail I received an offer for a VISA credit card. On its face, the offer is very attractive: an 8.9% fixed rate, no interest until May of 2007 for purchases and transfers, and a low yearly membership fee. Looking at the fine print, however, reveals the setting of a potential trap. First, if even one single payment is late as much as 3 days, the interest rate can be changed to the default rate of 31%. Further, the rate is “fixed” until they provide 30-days notice of a different rate. Beyond that, the default rate can be applied if I am late on any other bill (something referred to commonly as “universal default”) or if the credit grantor decides, notwithstanding that all bills to every creditor have been paid on time that the credit card holder/debtor (me, they hope) is carrying too much overall debt. Nevermind that you can be sure that the card issuer would try hard to get the debtor to run a balance on the card. So, while the credit issuing institution pretends that it wants a valued relationship with a customer, it really just wants power and control.
Are we in danger of using the Bible and interpreting the faith to create a “gotcha Christianity” in which we seek not to build community or disciples, but to catch people so that we can impose penalties on them? Do we entice people with ideals of love but then spring the “universal default clause” on them? Oh, I know some people will claim that I favor cheap grace. What, however, about the danger of easy judgment pronounced not from the mountaintop but from the little mole hill called self-righteousness?
John Brown University (JBU) of Siloam Springs, Arkansas, a private inter-denominational Christian college, has expelled an openly homosexual, but celibate, student, seemingly for publicly acknowledging his orientation (actually an anonymous tip alerted JBU officials to his on-line journal). JBU has provided a fine education to many, many folks and has contributed overall to a moral grounding and sense of community for Siloam Springs. Their students come away with a much greater sense of mission and evangelism than most other places. However, in this instance, it seems to me that “Gotcha Christianity” is prevailing whereby the essentials of the faith are qualified by fine print and asterisks such that he was “set up” for the “universal default” clause to be invoked against him. I have chosen not to reveal the student’s name, but his identity was revealed by the local newspaper, the Herald Leader, for anyone that it matters to.
I do not dispute that JBU has the right to set whatever standards it wants for its students. I do not see, however, that their stance proclaims Christ crucified and risen as much as it demonizes an already marginalized community.
My returning post is dedicated to the memory of my beloved nephew, John Bartholomew “Bart” Thomas Betow, 1987-2005, who died on September 15 from injuries sustained in a tragic car accident. A faithful Catholic and aspiring journalist, Bart exemplified the ideal of Christian community. Please keep his family, friends, and girlfriend in your prayers .
Note: I have consistently identified myself on blogs as Joel Thomas, omitting my last name of Betow in order to have a degree of anonymity. I have since concluded that might not have been such a great idea.