A Mother’s Lament

Tripp has made it clear on several podcasts that he became unwilling to raise his kids in a church where this was even a question or issue. When my friend Rachel wrote this, I asked her if I could cross-post it here. 

Why some are choosing to stay in The United Methodist Church…
by Rachel Gipson

A Mother’s Lament

I have just finished putting my three sons to bed.  This nightly ritual involves a somewhat chaotic flurry of baths, books, snuggles, prayers, sippy-cups of water, night lights, songs, kisses, and I-love-yous.  At all times, but especially bedtime, I try to create an environment where my children feel safe, secure, and unconditionally loved.  The world is waiting, and it is so big, and often cruel, but for now I can protect them and surround them with love.

The church has been an environment that contributes to the goals of safety, security, and unconditional love.  Having been raised in the United Methodist church as the daughter of two ministers, I have personally felt this love through the years.  The support, friendship, and community I have experienced at church have been constant in my life, and have a dependability unlike any other group of which I have been a part.  I feel a deep loyalty to my church on a local and global level.  For this reason, I have looked forward to raising my family in a community of faith, that they might experience God’s love through others as I have.

But now I wonder.  As I listen to the testimony of Tim Schaefer, I wonder if I am making the right choice as a parent.  Sure, right now the church is just one big love-fest for my kids.  But what if any of my sons are gay?  What if any of them have a gender identity different than their biological sex?  Tim Schaefer contemplated suicide because of the messages he received from the church.  Am I doing harm by teaching them to love a church that does not love them unconditionally?

By being a member of a United Methodist church, am I conveying, even implicitly, that the views held by the church at large are acceptable to me?

By giving my money to the global United Methodist Church am I teaching them to look the other way where there is injustice?  Am I setting them up to feel shame in their sexuality, whatever form that takes, by loving this church as much as I do?

On a local level, my boys will be loved and accepted.  I know that.  My church will love them, their pastors will minister to them, and they will not feel shame from the pulpit of their home church.  For that I am deeply thankful.  However, this isn’t just a local issue.  I can’t hide the published views and official stance of the church from them.  I can’t look in my son’s eyes and promise him that he can marry whoever is lucky enough to earn his love in the same sanctuary where his parents were married. Facade of St. Vitus Cathedral

Obviously, this is not the first time I have felt at odds with my church over this issue.  But this is the first time I have ever considered leaving.  As a mom, I am intentional about the messages my children receive.  I am not naïve enough to think I can filter all the bad out of the world (nor would I want to), but right now I am facing a choice.

Can I knowingly expose my sons to a church that does not offer all people the opportunity to feel safe, secure, and unconditionally loved?

How can I teach them to support an organization that makes clear that not all of God’s children are welcome?

And finally, how can I possibly say goodbye to a church that has given me so much over my lifetime?

No matter what choice I make, I feel loss, uncertainty, and deep disappointment.

I don’t know how to conclude these thoughts.  This isn’t a call to action or rallying cry.  Nor is it an angry goodbye to my church.  It is a mother’s lament.  It is the recognition of a hurt that I feel deeply.  A hurt that bears the faces of my sons and a desperation for change that is as urgent as Tim Schaefer’s thoughts of suicide.  I do not want to leave my church.  However, my church is making it painful to stay.

Rachel Gipson, Los Angeles, CA.  Nov. 21, 2013

. . .

Reasons I Stay is a project of Reconciling Ministries Network dedicated to share the stories of individuals who have decided to stay in The United Methodist Church despite its descriminatory, unjust rules against LGBTQ persons. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across The United Methodist Church. We recognize that staying is not the right and healthy choice for all people, and we celebrate those too who have chosen to leave to more inclusive faith communities. You can read all the Reasons I Stay stories here.  They invite you to submit your own story to Reasons I Stay.

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Who Am I To Judge? an honest question

It is no secret that  I am a fan of many of the things (not all)  that the new Pope has been up to. So I was very intrigued when it came out that on his cross-Atlantic flight he took the airplane microphone and addressed reporters. RNS-Pope-Francis-flight-home-Catholic-News-Service

I was also surprised by the reports of the following sentence:

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” — Pope Francis, July 2013

The running joke is of course that if you are the Pope … it’s kinda your job description! You might be the only person who is allowed to judge in some of your followers estimations.

These things have landed Francis on the cover of this month’s Sojourners magazine. They are advertising it this way:

Francis—refreshingly candid and seemingly repelled by the perks of the papacy—offers new hope for the Catholic Church and beyond. From the symbolism of him stooping to wash a Muslim woman’s feet to his harsh lambasts against a culture of greed and consumerism, this Jesuit from Argentina has captured the collective imagination of the world.

This has me thinking over the past week about the topic of judging. When I was an evangelical preacher we were very clear to distinguish between judging – which is defined by its connection to wrath – and evaluating ‘a tree by its fruit’  which christians are also commanded by Jesus to do.

Yes Jesus said ‘Do not judge’ but Jesus also said you can tell a tree by its fruit. The question “who am I to judge” seems to be a rhetorical one.

Even Miley Cyrus knows that Only God Can Judge, as she proclaims in her new video (for which I am sure that she should be judged harshly).

Now I am a pastor at a Mainline church in LA and I can honestly say that it is the least judgmental place I have ever been… but is that a good thing?  Don’t we need to make some moral evaluations?

I was getting ready to ask the HBC crowd how they have learned to navigate this cultural conundrum when my new favorite persons to quote – Brene Brown – came out with this tweet:

“When you judge yourself for asking for help, you are always judging when you give help.” - @BreneBrown

Judging is clearly on people’s minds these day. It is everywhere in our cultural conversation. As we transition out of post-Christendom and cultural revolutions of 1970’s into an information age where everything is available to everyone all of the time … and your mom is your friend of Facebook ….  here is an honest question:

How are your navigating the challenge of “Judge not lest you be judged” ?

 

one favor I ask: let me know if you are even trying to live up to Jesus’ commands or if you have left that behind. I have a feeling it might make a difference in this discussion.  

 

Photo: Pope Francis addresses journalists on his flight from Rio de Janeiro to Rome, July 29. (Paul Haring/Catholic News Service)

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God Is Not Like Me

I grew up in a tradition that said I should be, as much as possible, like Jesus.  I get that – and I try to do so.

Yesterday at the Loft LA I had the privilege to say 3 things (among many others) about God:

  1. God is Black (from James Cone)
  2. She Who Is (from Elizabeth Johnson)
  3. God is a Fag ( from Bernard Brandon Scott)

It is interesting because I am none of these three things! I am not black, a women, or homosexual. It is interesting then to present these images of a God who is very much different than I am – even as we, as a community, are being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29).  money_and_god

It is important that we acknowledge that God is not on the side of ‘the powers’ but of those in need of liberation – that it is equally as accurate and as inaccurate to call God ‘She’ and it is to call God ‘He’ – and that according to 2 Corinthians 5:21

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

This is a topsy-turvey business.

Over the last 20 years of ministry I have noticed a somewhat unsettling trend that in order to be like God, I have had to move away from many of the natural strengths that ‘God gave me’.

  •  While I love to be at center stage in the spot light with a microphone – I am fascinated with the cell group, house church, and small group model of church. As a pentecostal, I am obsessed with how the Spirit of God is at work in the People of God.
  • While I am a big, hairy, muscular man – I am convinced that feminist theologian are right and that Christian history does not accurately reflect the will and mind of God for the world that God loves so much (John 3:16).
  • While I am white guy – I am writing my dissertation on ‘White Privilege’ and hoping to confront some of the systemic racism that will not do as we move into the 21st Century.

So while I attempt to be more like God, I am very aware that God is not all that much like me. 

This is an important distinction. As C.S. Lewis said in his poem “A footnote to all prayers”  (it references Pheidias who was  a legendary statue maker in the ancient world):

He whom I bow to only knows to whom I bow
When I attempt the ineffable Name, murmuring Thou,
And dream of Pheidian fancies and embrace in heart
Symbols (I know) which cannot be the thing Thou art.
Thus always, taken at their word, all prayers blaspheme
Worshipping with frail images a folk-lore dream,
And all men in their praying, self-deceived, address
The coinage of their own unquiet thoughts, unless
Thou in magnetic mercy to Thyself divert
Our arrows, aimed unskilfully, beyond desert;
And all men are idolators, crying unheard
To a deaf idol, if Thou take them at their word.

Take not, O Lord, our literal sense. Lord, in thy great
Unbroken speech our limping metaphor translate.

When we pray, we by nature blaspheme – all of us. The reality is that language , by its nature, means that words are provisional. When the Hebrew Testament speaks of God as a ‘King’ or Martin Luther writes a hymn declaring “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” … these are analogies. They are metaphors. They are temporary place holders.

Anything that we say about God is (in the apophatic sense) both illustrative and, at the same time, not exactly all that accurate. We would do well to get used to saying :

“God is like X … and that, of course, is not exactly true.”

Philippians 2 is helpful at this point. The ‘Kenotic’ Move of Christ self-emptying and descending for the purpose of service, exhorts us to not hold onto anything too tightly (clinging/grasping) but to empty our certainty and expose all of our assumptions to that which is not natural to us. Not an easy task!

If we acknowledge, then, that all language is provisional… that it is just a accurate and as inaccurate to call God she or he… that any prayer is at some level blaspheming … and that I am called to be like God – though I know that God is not exactly like me … then I can begin a kenotic journey of recognizing God while releasing God from my pre-conceived notions.

This is the dynamic journey of faith: to recognize  the full moon and the new moon, the high tide and low tide, the Fall and the Spring, the ebb and the flow, the fall and the rise of all that I am familiar with and and all that I am ignorant about. That is what we talk about when we talk about God.

Rob Bell puts it this way:

When we talk about God, then, we’re talking about something very real and yet beyond our conventional means of analysis and description.

The Germans, interestingly enough, have a word for this: they call it grenzbegrifflich. Grenzbegrifflich describes that which is very real but is beyond analysis and description.

When I’m talking about God, I’m talking about your intuitive sense that reality at its deepest flows from the God who is grenzbegriff.

Bell, Rob (2013-03-12). What We Talk About When We Talk About God (Kindle Locations 767-772). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

I would love your feedback and reflections.  

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Homosexuality: the difference between TV and Greek Tragedy

bible wedding

Blogging is a fascinating way to interact with people over an issue or topic.

Once in while a blog will unexpectedly come back to life after months of lying dormant. It usually happens when A) somebody references it month later B) when the topic hits the news again. The dying embers leap back to life in flame! 

This week my old post on and Evangelical approach to same-sex marriage has fired back up – for obvious reasons. I’m not going to link there because I just can’t wade into the 195 comments without getting lost.  I did, however, want to report about a most interesting exchange that came out of it.

Someone who disagreed with my saying that ‘homosexual’ as we currently understand and conceive of the term, never existed until the 19th century. Some people keep wanting to argue about sexual acts and missing that there are broader issues of orientation and identity that were not addressed in Greco-Roman culture or the greek language of the New Testament.

One such person – let’s call him TM – engaged the issue this way: 

For example, the statement “The Bible (the inspired written word of God) is not talking about homosexuality. It didn’t exist.” seems somewhat confusing, even if we only focused on the Roman era of indulgences of the First Century. Are you suggesting that homosexuality didn’t exist in this era… simply because they may have called it something else?

This is along the lines of your attempt to make a point about television – in one sense, it didn’t exist; and yet in another, it did – as plays/theater. Are you suggesting that simply because the presentation was different that there weren’t actors and actresses who presented drama, comedy, tragedy and more to a mass audience? Are you really going to argue that because a word didn’t exist that means the concept didn’t exist?

Do you see the how the analogy works? This is really important to see because those who sincerely believe that they are being faithful to the scriptures are often mashing contemporary experiences into ancient writings in a way that is … how should I say this?
Let’s try it a different way: when your faith is constructed in such a way that you need your sacred text to speak to every area of your life – then you will, by necessity, fit your modern data into the provided molds.

My response to TM included 3 points of departure:

“TV is indeed different from ancient theatre.

1) One can sit alone in a house and watch TV, absent of the social connection and crowd interaction.

2) One can also change the channel when it gets boring. You can not do that at the theatre.

3) Plays also so do not have commercials which deeply influence us.

In those three ways I would say that one can not simply say “TV and theatre are the same” as you have.

You are comfortable mashing modern categories onto the ancient & calling them the same. This willingness to mash is why you are frustrated that the Bible isn’t talking about what we are talking about.  TV is a different medium than ancient theatre – I hope that you can see that.”

It seems like a great example of the where the ‘two’ sides are missing each other in this debate.

It reminds me a great deal of the ongoing issues of conservatives ‘starting in the middle’ that I am perpetually having to point out.

That is where Ray Comfort takes the highly refined and cultivated modern banana and reads meaning, design, and intention back into it by the ‘creator’ – even going as far as it’s fit to the human hand, its easy pull tab opening, and its built-in disposal wrapping.

Maybe it would be easier for us to talk about TV & theatre in a categorical way before we wade into the elevated hostilities of the same-sex debate.

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TNT: Same Sex Marriage, Rob Bell and His Detractors

Happy Birthday!  HomeBrewed is celebrating its 5th and BoDaddy is celebrating his 40th!

Subscribe on iTunes Here!

Subscribe on iTunes Here!

On this episode of the Theology Nerd Throw-down,  Tripp and Bo talk about same-sex marriage, Rob Bell and his detractors.

This all started when Tripp posted about big platforms coming out in support.

Then Bo posted about Rob and his detractors.

It came to a head when Bo responded to an odd post about how this paints Jesus in a weird light.

You will have to listen to the hour long conversation to put all the pieces together.

 

At the end – we talk about this Summer’s book series called “High Gravity” with Peter Rollins.

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Rob Bell is Gay Affirming but not everyone is happy about it

Rob Bell, among others, has come out as open to Same Sex Marriage (SSM) - but not everyone is on-board with it. SquareDesign_ver1

David Fitch (with a Canadian connection) posted this:

Who is Rob Bell speaking for/to in affirming gay marriage? His (former) church? Christians at large? The press? Culture observers? Gay Christians (in Grace Church SF)? Why or who should be paying attention to him? and Why?

More and more I’m seeing Christian leaders who have no congregation/people they’re accountable to (who yet carry media/publishing driven leadership) create division with pronouncements. This results in damage to the church’s wherewithal for witness in a world that sees all this. I don’t know if Rob Bell is to blame (for the media) but I do think we Christians should not encourage this nonsense. (On the other hand, I can listen to the Pope differently because he stands within 2000 years of a tradition so that he cannot make statements without being accountable to it).

When we listen to a Christian leader we should first and foremost look at place of ministry/accountability from which he/she speaks. What say you? agree?

Jason Postma (another Canadian connection)  added this:

Newsflash: Neither is Rob Bell is not the first Christian to “come out” in support of marriage equality nor is he single-handedly destroying the Church in sharing his opinion.
I would go as so far as to say that the culture-warrior saber rattling in response to Bell is more divisive than anything else precisely because it serves to marshal support and draw lines in the sand, none of which is helpful for unity or for opening the possibility for a charitable discussion.

I should point out that Postma added many bold posts including:

Question: when did support for marriage equality become a theology boundary that could not be crossed when there remains a robust theological pluralism on things that are central to the faith, like, I don’t know, the atonement, justification, ecclesiology, etc.?

Here is my thought on the issue: 

It can be difficult as a local church pastor to speak out on a very controversial issues.

  • You feel the weight of your congregation’s expectations.
  • You feel a responsibility to your denomination/ ordaining body.
  • You feel the pastoral/shepherding responsibility to your community.

Those 3 things weigh heavily on you. SO when you are in the pulpit/in the employment of a local congregation – you might not feel all that free to share where you are on any given issue.

Rob Bell, then, being independent of his official responsibilities and obligations, is free to say what he really thinks – and by doing so – to further the cultural conversation in a way that helps those of us who are currently employed at churches within denominations that may not allow us (at the current time) to say such things.

I, for one, am glad that Rob Bell came out as affirming.

No – he is not employed at local congregation any more.  But that should not disqualify him from weighing in on the matter.

In fact, his willingness to do so may be the exact opportunity that some of us who have:
A) a smaller spotlight and
B) responsibilities at a local church
to speak up for something that we have deep convictions about but don’t want to assume our entire congregations are with us is.

What do you think? 
Is Rob out-of-line as a out-of-work minister?
How do we give voice to issues that our congregations may not be 100% with us? 

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McLaren Changed His Mind

Brian McLaren recently posted a very interesting note from a former fan who was feeling the need to ‘break ranks’ with the author over his position regarding homosexuality. 

I wanted to post part of it here for several reasons.

  1. I have been saying that ‘People Do Change Their Minds’. 
  2. We talked about Brian doing the religious  ceremony for his son and his son’s partner on the last TNT.
  3. In the post Brian quotes his new book – which we are giving away next week.
  4. Brian doesn’t allow comments on his blog so I thought it would nice to host a little comparing of notes conversation.

After the reader’s very cordial note, McLaren begins his response by saying that we don’t actually have to break ranks with each other.

So, it’s important for you to know that if you hold a different view than I do, whatever the issue – I would not want to “break ranks” with you. In fact, I am continually enriched, instructed, and challenged by people who differ with me on this and other issues – and I hope the reverse could be true.

Brian’s second point is that in the current configuration of conservative v. liberal positions, some groups place a lot of pressure of people to ‘break ranks’ with those who differ – or they are in danger of ‘guilt by association’.

McLaren’s third point is that if you just look at sheer percentages, that if roughly 6% of every population is homosexual …  if they were not forced to live in silence,  in denial, or in the closet  … that the numbers quickly become significant of people who are directly affected (parents, siblings, and friends) to the point that old views simply become untenable. [you will actually want to read McLaren’s reasoning here if you plan to push-back on it.]

Then he gets to the quote from the book (p. 52).

I think of a friend of mine from the same background of Christian fundamentalism I hail from. When his son came out, he had no support to help him accept the possibility that his son could be both gay and good. With deep ambivalence, he stood with his tradition and condemned his son. The cost alienation from his son – was high, but it grew unspeakably higher when his son internalized the rejection and condemnation of his community and took his own life. Or I think of another friend, the mother of a gay son, also from my heritage. She came to me in secret to talk, knowing that one of my sons had come out around the same time as hers. Through tears she said, “I feel like I’m being forced to choose between my father and my son. If I affirm my son, I’m rejecting everything my father stood for. If I stand with my father, I’m rejecting my son.”
In religion as in parenthood, uncritical loyalty to our ancestors may implicate us in an injustice against our descendants: imprisoning them in the errors of our ancestors. Yes, there are costs either way.

Finally McLaren says the most interesting thing of all: 
“I want to add one more brief comment. You ask, if we change our way of interpreting the Bible on this issue (my words, not yours) “- what else will happen next?” Here’s what I hope will happen. After acknowledging the full humanity and human rights of gay people, I hope we will tackle the elephant in the room, so to speak – the big subject of poverty. If homosexuality directly and indirectly affects 6 – 30% of the population, poverty indirectly and directly affects 60 – 100%. What would happen if we acknowledged the full humanity and full human rights of poor people? And then people with physical disabilities and mental illnesses and impairments? And then, what after that? What would happen if we acknowledged the spiritual, theological, moral value – far beyond monetary or corporate value – of the birds of the air, the flowers of the field, of seas and mountains and valleys and ecosystems? To me, Jesus’ proclamation of the reign or commonwealth of God requires us to keep pressing forward, opening blind eyes, setting captives free, proclaiming God’s amazing grace to all creation.”

And that is why I thought the conversation might be worth hosting here.   What are you thoughts about the last part?  

 

 

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Waiting for Superman: the problem with Christopher Reeve

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine about Christopher Reeve. As you may remember the rich movie star, famous for his role as Superman, was tossed from his show horse and broke his neck resulting in paralysis. He soon began a campaign to bring awareness for the cause of such things as paralysis.

I was talking to this friend of mine who subscribes to the idea that everything is in God’s hands and everything happens for a reason (since God is in control). I was making the point that since Mr. Reeve did not care about such things as paralysis before he fell off a horse, it calls into question whether he is doing his now benevolent work for an ego-centric reason since he is campaigning for the very condition from which he suffers. ?
My point was that it would have been remarkable if some superstar or famous person cared about something before it impacted them personally. It intrigues me to see someone standing up for something that wasn’t just their back yard.
My friend thought that this was ridiculous. And said that there is a divine plan in such matters and that the proud will be humbled so that they can do this kind of work. I think that there is a great danger in the kind of thinking.

1. We are not only to care about things that directly impact us. One of the major points of Jesus‘ teaching was to care for those who couldn’t or didn’t return the favor. If we only love those who love us, what have we done? Everyone does that. If we invite to dinner only those who will reciprocate, what good is that? Even the pharisees do that. If we keep our energy and influence within a circle of economy that ultimately benefits us and ours, what value is there? Even the pagans do that.

We are supposed to be a people who look outside ourselves. Who reach out to those just beyond our natural reach. To work for those who don’t (and maybe can’t) pay us back. To folks who circles of economy don’t immediately overlap with our wealth of influence and credibility.

2. Unless we are going to adopt (or wholesale buy into) a form of divine ordination of things like the myth of progressive society, manifest destiny, social darwinism or historic inevitability – then we are on thin ice with this kind of thinking.

When I was a Sr. Pastor my wife was the director of Rape Crisis for the county which was a part of the Domestic Violence hotline. I have heard so many times over the past 20 years of being in ministry some configuration of ‘God allowed this to happen so that the victim can now help other victims/ work on the problem’. This both terrifies me (about our view of God) and infuriates me (double wounding the victim).

I get wanting to say that God was not absent from care in the situation. I do. But because we concede the omnipotence idea initially we run into that overly simple binary that if God is loving why didn’t then ‘he’ is not all-powerful and if God is all-powerful then ‘he’ is not loving. This will never get us anywhere.
We need to have a real theology of sin and a real anthropology. It is not enough to simply quote watered down clichés of something Europeans held to in the 17th and 18th centuries.

3. We are fools if we don’t think that things outside our backyard don’t effect us. There is no such thing as an individual. Every time we say ‘individual’ we must say ‘an individual in community’. There is no individual. It is an enlightenment fraud. You were born into a family, socialized into a society, you don’t speak a private language and you are intimately tied to those around you and the earth that upholds you.

So much of our short-sighted thinking acts as if we are not inter-connected in a web of relationships. Communities, cultures, economies, environments, and families are both related and in some way impacted by each other. To think otherwise is not simply foolish but sheer fantasy. What happens over there impacts us over here.

In fact, I would expand it one ring further: I need the other. I am missing something that they can supply and God has designed-called us into a mutuality and partnership that strengthens us all. I am in as much need of what they have as they are of what I bring. We need each other.

The old saying is lacking. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is impossible – it can’t be done. You can not have someone else’s experience. The best we can do is to build a friendship of trust, where someone tells me their story – shares with me the truth of their experience and I believe them.

When it comes to matters of race, gender and sexuality I think that we should admit that we all have something at stake in the conversation. Matters of race and color are not only important to non-whites. Gender isn’t something that only women should care about. Sexuality is not just a conversation about same-sex attraction. By not addressing issues of privilege and the fantasy of individualism we are stunting the conversation and the scope of our impact.

To summarize:

  • Jesus both modeled and taught that we are to care about more than just things that impact us directly.
  • Unless we think that this world is how God wants it to be, we need to revisit some really bad ideas we have inherited.
  • We are fooling ourselves if we think that what happens over there does not impact us over here. We are all in this together – and in fact, we need each other. God designed it that way.

Let me give you three examples:

  1. In the documentary ‘Waiting for Superman’, public education and problems with our school systems are detailed. It is a heartbreaking situation. If you don’t think that in our lifetime, that will not impact everyone of us …
  2. We have a problem in our prisons. What some call the Prison Industrial Complex and what Michelle Alexander calls the New Jim Crow is at epidemic proportions. We have a higher percentage of black men in prison in the US than South Africa had during apartheid. Half of all inmates are black. One-quarter of all African American males in their 20’s are in prison, on probation, on parole, or awaiting trial. You think that doesn’t affect us all?
  3. Domestic violence against women is the leading cause of injury – resulting in more emergency room visits than car crashes, muggings and rapes combined. What is said from our pulpits about this?

Here is why I bring this up:  if the christian gospel is supposed to be the solution – the antidote to the sin-sickness that ails us – but it continues to conceptualize the issues the way it does and participate in the culture wars the way it is … then we have a problem. The thing that is supposed to help make us well is actually contributing to the disease of ‘me and mine’. If that is the case, then what hope is there? At that point, we would no longer have the power of the gospel, we would have some odd mutation or amalgamation of some civil religion with vaguely christian veneer.

May it never be. What happens over there impacts us over here. We need each other. God designed us this way and Jesus both taught and modeled this way for us. If I only care about those things that impact me or only reach out to those who can profit me – what have I really done. Even the pharisees do that. We are to have an eye toward a kin-dom that doesn’t work the way this world does.

 

[tomorrow in part 2 I’ll explain why fundamentalism is pornography] 

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The Church and State are Married in a Civil Union

In last week’s TNT episode, Tripp and I spend the first half hour talking about marriage and the church.

I learned early on in ministry to ask a simple question: If I as an ordained minister perform a wedding ceremony for a couple, but they have not secured a license from the state, then when I say “Before God and all these witnesses – I pronounce that you are husband and wife. What God has joined together, let no one separate.” Are they married?

Overwhelmingly the answer is ‘no’. That they are not married until that paper is signed and it is legal.
So it is indeed that piece of paper that is marriage and not the Christian ceremony that we perform.

This actually happened to me one time. A young couple had secured the marriage license but in all the fun and frivolity of the reception and photos, they forgot to get the paper signed. They were just about to get on the Cruise ship when they realized the mistake!
No big deal, we got it taken care of. What was a big deal was the family’s reaction! What would have happened if they had consummated the union and they weren’t even married??? (legally).

If what we are doing is nothing more than a thin Christian veneer over a civil institution, then one has to wonder why we are also so concerned about who can get married – or even have civil unions – according to our biblical morality.

It seems that the Church wants it’s wedding cake and to eat it too.

But that is a second conversation. There is a different conversation that we need to have first. Like I said, I know hundreds of people who do not (because of what they claim is their christian conviction) support same-sex unions or homosexuality in general. I get that. But why does that then translate into legislating one’s religious belief into a legal morality imposed upon others?

My point is that there is a secondary mechanism involved. There is something else working behind the scenes.

We see this in legislating who can get married based on a reading of the Bible … but we also see it in the assumption of when someone is officially married: when the Christian minister declares it or when the State license is signed.

We try to have the second conversation without having the first and that is why we never get anywhere. Christians ask the question “should same sex unions be allowed” without first addressing “why are Christian ministers performing as agents of the State?

If the answer is what I suspect it is, then we may want to take the ‘separation of church & state’ verbiage down a notch and start thinking about how we are going to fund ministry if our tax-deductible status was not so convenient for people to ‘give’.

The same-sex union is a second conversation.
There is a conversation we should have first that no one seems too eager to entertain.

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Is this even Christianity?

This past Monday I caught wind of a cooky Southern preacher who preached about a plan to exterminate lesbians, queers and homosexuals. I hear a lot of chatter about this kind of thing so I hoped it would just go away.

By Tuesday night this North Carolina pastor was showing up all over Facebook and Twitter. By Wednesday morning he was the ‘most popular’ link on all of Yahoo! world homepage.

If you have not seen this video, be warned. It is in no way understated. Here is the link:  NC Pastor 

 I have 3 main thoughts about this:

  1. I know tons of people who are not for ‘same sex marriage’ who would not speak of electric fences. Anytime you are suggesting some tactic that the Germans used in WWII you may want to take note.
  2. This is a different TYPE of Christianity – one that is the concerned with governing morals. We going to have to address why the church is even doing State sanctioned marriage in the first place. So often we try to have the second conversation without the first – no wonder it doesn’t go anywhere.
  3. My church and 50 others that I know of and communicate with on a regular basis do kind things and say loving words all the time and no one press covers it. That is the nature of the modern media. Deal with it.

Nothing thus far is that surprising – save the actual sermon by the NC Pastor. Here is my concern:

  • At what point is some pastor so deep in the Constantinian compromise that he is more Roman than Christ-like? At some point do we say ‘that is not even Christian’ ?
  • OR is this just one branch of Christianity and it is our obligation to treat this man as a brother who has simply lost his way?
  • OR is this Preacher doing more harm than good and actually crippling the gospel message – and in that sense he is an enemy of our cause?  And at that point, what do we do with Jesus’ admonition to love our enemy?

Admission: I have been re-reading Stuart Murray’s Post-Christendom and … while that is admittedly probably not the best idea … I have to admit that this whole ‘legislating civil unions and marriages’ thing in North Carolina could not come at a worse time for me.

For what it is worth, here is my 2 cents.

  1. This is not Christianity. Well, it might be Christendom but it is not whatever Jesus was after.
  2. This guy is my brother (in humanity even if not christianity) and has simply lost his way.
  3. Whether he is my crazy cousin or my enemy – Christ compels me to love and respect him as a person even as I wholly (and holy) disagree with his inhuman and immoral speech.

I’m not really sure what other course of action I have in this situation. I spent last week in the woods with no technology and unless I want to perpetually retreat away from all this ugliness, I have got to address this kind of craziness at some level. What else is there in the face of hate except to love?

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