What American Christians Should Learn from ISIS

what american christians should learn

As reported by the Daily Beast, a video of ISIS stoning a gay couple in northern Syria has sparked another wave of outrage in the west. It’s not the first time ISIS has publicly executed homosexuals; reports surfaced a couple months ago of ISIS throwing perpetrators from the rooftops as a gruesome form of retribution.

What makes this video unique is what happens immediately before the executions. Prior to stoning them, several of the to-be executioners step forward and hug the blind-folded men.

via Daily Beast
via Daily Beast

This act was described by sympathizers of ISIS as “an expression of compassion, a gesture of forgiveness”. Others say that the act of hugging communicates the executioner’s sincere belief that they were acting as servants of Allah, executing his judgement and doing his will. This belief rests behind many of the heinous deeds done by ISIS. Whether it’s the prostitution of captured women, executing spies with a gunshot to the head or beheading apostates, one thing is consistent: the members of ISIS truly believe that they are loving and serving God with their actions, despite how gruesome and heinous these actions may be.

This should make us think twice about the way we “love” those within our borders.

“The truth hurts.” If I’ve heard this once, I’ve heard it a million times. (And I’ve said it numerous times myself.) Some Christians quote it like Scripture. But it’s not Scripture. And it’s also not true.

At least it’s not true when it flows from the mouths of those who proceed to inflict pain in the name of truth. Truth doesn’t have to hurt. We need no further proof than the fact that Truth Incarnate refused to lift a finger against those who killed him. He carried the truth of eternity in his hands and could have used it to hurt everyone and everything. But he didn’t. And from him we learn that truth actually doesn’t hurt.

What does hurt is the people who use truth as justification, slapping it on the table as a “get out of jail free” card for all the grave sins they commit in their service to (so-called) truth. The difference between ISIS stoning two gay men and someone berating a homosexual person in the American blogosphere is not moral standing but technique.

We’d do well to remember that Satan himself used “truth” to attempt great evil. He quoted Bible verses in his temptation of Jesus (Matthew 4:6 quoting Psalm 91). Satan’s utilization of Scripture is proof that even the truest truth is a lie when wielded by a hurtful and rebellious heart.

This is a lesson for ISIS. But it’s also a lesson for us.

American Christians have a tendency to lob grenades of truth into culture and call the whiplash “collateral” or (even worse) “persecution”. This is often the case when it comes to the discussion over homosexuality. We have no issue with declaring the truth regarding someone else’s sex life- despite the ramifications it may have for that person. We use atrociously hurtful headlines to champion our cause; we scoff at disproportionate depression and suicide rates among the gay community in our borders; “it’s not our fault that truth hurts so much!” Well, actually, yeah it is. When you stop using a hammer to hang family pictures and instead begin smashing fingers, it’s not the hammer that’s gone awry- it’s you.

The problem is that we hold tightly to the “traditional” and “biblical” verdict regarding homosexuality, so tightly we won’t release loosen our grip enough for the traditional, Biblical teaching of “love thy neighbor” to also find its place. We cannot let anyone say a word on the topic without ensuring we get our “YES! But the truth is that it’s a sin!” thrown in. Every conversation has to include our diagnosis, every blog post a condemning aside and every apology a justification.

From the Reformation to the slave-trade, well-meaning Christians across history have done great harm in the name of “truth.” We prop ourselves up with Bible verses and theological concepts. But our actions do not perpetuate love, they perpetuate pain. And therefore, they are not truth; they are lies used to accuse others in the spirit of the Accuser.

Like ISIS who execute people in the name of Allah, so also we easily forget that the gospel is not propaganda to be delivered with the sword, but love to be delivered with affection and care:

“…to preach the gospel is not just to tell the truth but to tell the truth in love. And to tell the truth in love means to tell it with concern not only for the truth that is being told but with concern also for the people it is being told to.

-Frederich Buechner

The posture of American Christians regarding homosexuality needs to be one of apology; the lesson we need to learn from ISIS is that we’re not much better servants of God ourselves. Christians are called to stand in solidarity with homosexuals not because we agree with their lifestyle choices; when has that ever been a mandated precedent for love? We are called to stand in solidarity with this community because we are called to stand with the marginalized. We are called to love “the least of these”. And what the discussion on homosexuality needs is not doctrine, it’s humility. Truth follows where love has paved the way; if the road is poorly constructed then truth arrives battered. If it arrives at all.

To any member of the homosexual community who has ever felt the painful sting of another’s “truth”, to anyone who’s ever wondered why “God’s will” has to feel like stones falling on their head: I want to say that I am sorry. I am sorry that another person’s truth has equated to your pain. I’m sorry that Christians across the globe do not mourn ISIS’ execution of two gay men as much as they mourn the execution of Christians; and I’m so sorry that people don’t realize these two identities don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

I pray for the day when we finally learn that truth doesn’t maim, kill or hurt.

I hope and pray for the day when Christ’s love is communicated through our love to all races, genders, sexualities, religions, dispositions, political parties, reprobates and sinners.

I pray for the day when our love does not name another’s fault, when we don’t live in the denial of sin, but we live together as a community who acknowledges our brokenness and Christ’s grace.

May we all learn a lesson from the heinous acts committed by ISIS. May we all look into the mirror and see the log in our own eye.

And may the world know we are Christians by our truth love.

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Dear Indiana, This Is NOT Religious Freedom

bigstock-Indiana-USA-flag-waving-on-t-57892469

 

Dear Indiana,

You’re a nice state. I mean, you’ve got Bloomington and the Colts, dunes on Lake Michigan, cornfields, windmills, country concerts and the world’s best funnel cakes at your county fairs. You have a lot going for you.

But if there’s one mark against you, its last week’s signing of ‘The Religious Freedom Restoration Act’ by Governor Mike Pence. The act allows for the citing of religious beliefs as a defense for anyone prosecuted by a private party for discrimination. The main concerns with this legislature regard treatments of same-sex couples. Because Indiana business owners now are legally protected from ramifications for their refusal to serve, sell, aid or cater to gay persons on the basis of personal convictions.

“I support the freedom of religion for every Hoosier of every faith,” Governor Pence said in a very private, quiet ceremony last week.

Which is ironic. Because this is not religious freedom.

The legislative mandate that I am able to deny someone else goods or services because I judge their beliefs as being in opposition to mine, creates a dangerous paradigm. As a Christian, I am now protected in openly and publically refusing mechanical assistance, food services, and even banking to someone, just because they are gay. Take a moment to tinker with that sentence; remove the words “Christian” and “gay” and insert “Aryan” and “Jewish” in their stead. Try it with “white” and “black.” Are you nervous yet?

This is why history books will one day recognize the gay rights movement as another sad chapter in the story of the American Church.

Because we, as American Christians, have proven once again that we will go to great lengths to avoid our oppression. We’ve proven that our knee-jerk reaction to the slightest scent of persecution is to rise up and pull whatever political strings are necessary to ensure that we are safe. It doesn’t matter who isn’t protected, just so long as we’re left unscathed.

Thus, in an effort to avoid being oppressed, the Church willingly takes on the role of oppressor.

This is not religious freedom. And it certainly is not Christian.

We would be wise- in debates such as these- to reconsider our earthly role as the body of Christ. Because the calling of the Christian is not to legislate our beliefs. The Biblical mandate for Christian relationships with earthly kingdoms is not to force them into alignment with our personal journeys of sanctification. Rather, God commands that the church be a city on a hill, a vibrant example of Christ’s love in contrast to the world’s corruption, evil, oppression and hate.

We ought not say: “let us ensure that our’s is a Christian government.” Because it never will be.

Rather, what we should be saying, what we should be living, is a life that tells the world: “Look at how nations go to war and kill each other- we Christians love our enemies and pray for those who hurt us. Look at how the kingdoms are enthroned with power and money- we Christians share possessions openly with everyone. Look at how governments close borders to refugees in need- we Christians open our houses to anyone. Look at how people discriminate and hurt, we Christians love and cherish the marginalized, broken and yes- even the sinful. Lest we forget the log in our own eye.”

But we cannot say this. Not right now, anyway. We’re too busy protesting, arguing and advocating for our ‘rights.’ When we’ve accomplished that, we might see to those of others. Maybe.

Which is to say every Christian in Indiana and the rest of America should look upon this law with ominous shudders because of the precedent it establishes for those Christians across the globe who really are facing persecution. Today, thousands of Christians live under the oppression of radical religious rule (have we forgotten the plight of Iraqi Christians under ISIS who are forced to pay a hefty tax or convert?). Christians live in fear, many unable to attain basic services or earn a living. They are boycotted, robbed, beaten and sometimes killed. All this because a radical Muslim’s expression of their religious convictions is protected by their judicial law.

And that’s not religious freedom.

True, refusing to serve someone at the local diner doesn’t equate to beating them and taking their wallet. But history tells us- again, Germany circa 1935- that its not too far behind. And it’s a slippery slide.

To many of us, this law will be of little concern. We will never feel its ramifications. Maybe this is because we don’t live in Indiana. Maybe it’s because we’re part of the religious status quo. Maybe it’s because we’re too busy making sure that religious freedom means: “I’m safe and I’m free.”

But -if we’re being honest, Indiana- we know that this is not religious freedom. It’s the tyranny of self-interest. And it’s been the go-to reaction of American Christians for far too long.

The issue of homosexuality is a real one. It is an issue of moral and theological implications that all Christians should grapple with. But someone else’s conviction regarding their sexuality has nothing to do with Christ’s mandate that- above all else- I am to show love, hospitality, generosity, empathy and care.

We must come to value the freedom of Christ more than our ‘freedom of religion.’ The freedom of Christ moves us to find new ways to love all others at all times. And it certainly doesn’t allow us to go on a legislative binge whenever we get the sense that culture is treading on our toes.

My hope is that one day the American Church will be known, not for the legislature we erect in self-defense, but for the dividing walls we destroy with our love. It can happen. And in the grand scheme of things, Indiana, you’re not a bad place to start.

After all, you have funnel cakes.

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Sincerely,

A Christian in support of freedom

 

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P.S. And, by the way, what exactly is a ‘Hoosier??’

 

 

 

What Needs To Be Said About Wheaton

What Needs To Be Said About Wheaton

Normally I’m proud to tell people that I graduated from Wheaton. It has a reputation for being an institution that thrives on the basis of rigor, discipline, and academic conversation all towards the ends of “Christ and His Kingdom.”

But this week Wheaton made the news in a painful way. The college has a long standing tradition of hosting a Town Hall Chapel. During this gathering of the college community, students are allowed to address the college’s president- Dr. Philip Ryken- directly. It’s a cherished tradition in which the student body is allowed to express their concerns publicly and respectfully and hear the response straight from the horse’s mouth- so to speak.

But on Monday that’s not what happened. On Monday a married, heterosexual senior stood up and asked Dr. Ryken a question concerning apparent discrepancy in Wheaton’s policy against same-sex marriage and/or relationships. The student (who’s wife has shared a wonderful post on the incident found here) saw a potential discontinuity in Wheaton’s Community Covenant- a document all students and staff must sign- between the college’s decision to directly address and condemn homosexuality while excluding any stance on sacraments such as baptism and the Lord’s supper. The student asked:

“Why is it the case that our college, in documents we all must agree to or be expelled, insists on formally condemning and denying equality to our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, on spurious theological grounds, yet completely leaves behind baptism and Eucharist, which Jesus Christ himself instituted to grow and strengthen the Christian community?”

And then something terribly embarrassing and immature occurred: another student threw and apple at him. Someone threw an apple at him. Someone threw and apple at a student who questioned the school’s stance on homosexuality.

To make matters worse, a couple of days later the perpetrator posted a letter to the college’s Forum Wall, an informal bulletin board in the campus’ student center, often used for the expression and even comedic sparring of opinions. But this letter was anything but a joke. Here’s what it says:

Forum Wall

Now I want to be clear here: this post is not about my stance on the issue of homosexuality, per say. The issue is a nuanced, complicated, theologically and politically (to say nothing of emotionally) charged debate. And it’s not my intent to attempt to address it with any sort of authority let alone comprehensively in the next five minutes.

But I also can’t compartmentalize what took place at Wheaton College. While on the one hand, this was immature and disrespectful, we mustn’t pretend that such diagnoses pertain only to the perpetrator and not to the nature of the debate itself. In other words, this particular event is a glaring example of what is somewhat symptomatic of Evangelicals when it comes to the debate over homosexuality.

Evangelicals, as exemplified by the author of this letter, like to assert that we stand on the foundation of truth. We claim the high ground of morality then dare anyone obstinate enough to go ahead and question us. We hold our viewpoints with an attitude that says “this is the truth. Because it’s undeniably what the Bible says and the Bible is inerrant. Therefore not only am I justified in my assertions but I am also justified in the manner in which I express them.”  In other words, we employ a type of theological immunity with which we excuse a multitude of sins. And the events at Wheaton are a bitter and deplorable example.

Homosexuality is not a black and white issue. I say this because humanity is not a black and white issue. There were Nazi soldiers who committed great acts of humanity and most of the figures we hold up as saints and tenants of the faith committed sins which would have made LA paparazzi blush. Jesus did not walk around with a set of criteria, presenting us with a checklist for morality. Rather he told parables, nuanced, intriguing, mysterious and vague parables that confused the hell out of the disciples (and us- if we’re being honest) and pissed off the Pharisees. Jesus denied the dogmatic structures of religion.

Likewise, we- the church- cannot view the issue of homosexuality as something which we address once (either in condemnation or affirmation) and then declare the problem solved. This would be irresponsible of a church filled with people of every shade, culture, disposition and struggles. For theology without relationship is moralism and relationship without theology is humanism. There’s not a blanket, dogmatic approach to life with Christ. Religion works that way, but Jesus doesn’t.

And yet, we often handle the issue of homosexuality the same way as a certain Roland Hesse. As frustrated and angry as I am with this individual, he’s really just a product of the Evangelical agenda developed in response to the gay agenda.

It is true- and I have witnessed it and experienced it personally- that there are individuals who express their support of homosexuality in disrespectful and immature fashions. They make blanket generalizations, declaring any Christians who can’t- with either intellectual or theological integrity- affirm homosexuality as “intolerant” and “hateful.” This does happen and it is just as unhelpful as throwing an apple at in Town Hall. It hinders the conversation which desperately needs to be had.

But- and here’s my point- such (limited) occurrences do not justify Christians reacting in kind. And if there’s one thing Christians are mighty, damned good at it’s adopting a victim mentality when it comes to this debate. We love to point at the secular culture and express how unfair, immature and cruel they’re being to us. We’re like two siblings in the back of the van on family vacation: one of us punching the other and then defending our actions with a: “well they started it!”

Evangelicals have come to base our mode and fashion of debate on the standard of culture rather than Scripture. Again, I’m not talking about the issue of homosexuality itself. I’m saying that the way we handle this argument- before we even get to the argument itself– is in stubborn denial of the log in our own eye. We punch because we were punched first; we insult because was have the high ground and its time that those miscreants understood that.

What needs to be said about the episode at Wheaton College this week is not: “We’re sorry this happened. But the Bible does condemn homosexuality.” No, it’s time that we shut up, keep our dogma to ourselves, and instead express what really needs to be said.

“We’re sorry.”

That’s it. No “but…you’re also wrong, so….yea.” No “well have you seen how the other side acts?!” No “but we have to make sure we express the truth!” No “but if we don’t say anything then we’ll be allowing Christ to be slandered.” Christ never asked us to defend him. He asked us to put away our swords and learn how to love others…for a change.

The testimony of Scripture is one in which Christ said “go and sin no more.” But is also (arguably more so) a story that speaks for the marginalized, the hushed, the oppressed and the overlooked. If we, as Christians, are the ones throwing the apples and not the one’s being hit by them, then we really need to check ourselves. Because Jesus didn’t throw anything at us. To the contrary, he received our immaturity, our sin, our anger, our self-righteousness. He conquered our sin with his love and commanded us to do the same. If we want to enter this vital conversation as representatives of Christ, then we need to start with a more humble approach.

What needs to be said about Wheaton starts and ends with “we’re sorry.” We’re sorry for the pain, hurt, hatred, anger and injustice that we’ve committed in the name of Christ. We’re sorry that we create environments where anyone who says “well, hey maybe we’re wrong here…” is silenced and put down. We’re sorry.

But if something else must be said then, please, let it be: “forgive us, we know not what we do. And we hope someday that you will know we are Christians by our love.”

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