Fellow Christians, THIS Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

this is why we can't have nice things

Nice things like respect and social admiration. Nice things like good radio and romantic novels that aren’t pre-cycled TP. Nice things like a fair historical analysis (are you sick of “Hitler was a Christian!” yet?) nice things like positive perceptions in the media.

It’s because of things like this:


That’s a handwritten lawsuit from a certain Nebraska resident who claims to be representing Jesus Christ and God in a lawsuit against- and oh, how I wish I was kidding- all homosexuals.

Yeah, uh:


The self appointed plaintiff goes on to: “Contend that homosexuality is a sin, and that they the homosexuals know it is a sin to live a life of homosexuality. Why else would they have been hiding in a closet.” (punctuation and word order as per the original). As evidence for her proposition, the plaintiff presents passages from Leviticus, Romans and “Jenesis”.

Thankfully, the lawsuit was thrown out without so much as a hearing. Said Judge John Gerard: “A federal court is not a forum for debate or discourse on theological matters.”   

This is beyond embarrassing. Its beyond an eye-roll and a sigh. Because, unfortunately, its sickeningly diagnostic.

What is it about the issue of homosexuality and the American church that makes us look so buffoonish? What is it about the topic of homosexuality that leaves us perpetually (but remarkably unknowingly) putting our feet in our mouths?

We claim to listen to Scripture, but instances such as this make that a hard claim to purport (cf: 1 Corinthians 6:1-20 & John 8:7). Additionally, the problem is continually revealed to be that we don’t listen to culture. We don’t listen to culture and so we don’t have the slightest clue of how to address culture . We listen to our Christian subculture- yes- and from thence we attempt to blast our intellectually incestuous rhetoric into ‘the world’. Which goes over like a pork pizza at a Bar Mitzvah.

It is not the calling of the church to conform the world to our standards; its the calling of the church to conform ourselves to God’s grace. There’s no room in said job description for applying diagnostic morality vis a vi legislation. None. Nu-uh.

Jesus said that the world would hate us because he is not of the world. But- generally speaking- the “world” doesn’t hate the American church; hate would signify some level of adversarial respect. Culture doesn’t take us seriously enough to hate us.

Uh…^^^^^…. can you blame them?

Please take note of the pronoun here: “we.” I want to be clear that I consider myself to be in the same camp. For, as my pee-wee football coach used to say: we win as a team, we lose as a team. My fellow Christians, we sin as individuals but we lose as a church. Doesn’t matter if its sexual sin or social sin- all of Egypt suffered even though only the Pharaoh told Moses “no”. God is concerned with broken systems just as much as he is concerned with broken people- his redemptive power is not limited contrary to our narcissistic notions.

And as a group we bear the following indictment: we don’t listen, we talk (he blogs, ironically). And because we don’t listen we can’t hear the laughter generated by our own absurdity.

The issue of homosexuality is not black and white. It is complex. Because it is a matter of sexuality. And sexuality has a lot to do with personhood and human beings are anything but black and white. And they certainly don’t fall under the label of “issues” nor should they ever be handled as such.

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy O’Toole profiles a man by the name of Ignatius J. Reilly. Ignatius is a poignant character by any standards. He’s fat, repulsively unkempt, given to unashamed bowel movements, loud, selfish, narcissistically arrogant and incestuously intellectual; he spends his days berating his mother and writing his uncompleted works of self-designated genius while bemoaning the ‘mongoloids’ that have overrun society. Examined theologically, Reilly serves as a startling portrayal of the state of the American church.

At one point, Reilly self-righteously bewails the moral decay of the miscreants with whom he finds himself forced to interact. In between audible bowel movements, Reilly proclaims:

“A firm rule must be imposed upon our nation before it destroys itself. The United States needs some theology and geometry, some taste and decency. I suspect that we are teetering on the edge of the abyss.”

Wait…was it Reilly– or did I read that in the handwritten lawsuit?

My point is that American Church is indeed on the edge of an abyss. But that abyss isn’t “the gay agenda”, it isn’t liberal disregard for Biblical authority or abandonment of loyal translations and submissions to church tradition. The abyss is that of our own making, the corner we’ve backed ourselves into, the mountain we’ve sworn we’ll die upon.

Because America is on the verge of entering the post-Christendom era, whence Christianity is being increasingly separated from matters of the state and quickly dethroned from its temporary role as a cultural authority. The icons we continue defending in the midst of so-called “culture wars” are not the gospel- after all, Jesus told Peter to put away his sword. What we’re defending is our own religion, the grip we have on Christianity as we know it, the grip that doesn’t allow for conversation because we’ve not stopped talking long enough to hear what the other side might have to say.

The posture of the American Church towards culture needs to be one of listening. Simultaneously, we ought not listen to Scripture- we ought to live it. And living in Biblical truth means living with great concern for how we portray that truth to those around us, for the stories we tell with the lives we lead.

It’s laughable to reduce that story to a handwritten lawsuit filed against someone else’s moral decision. Nor should we allow our story to be conveyed in anyway that it might be taken as such. The imperative is on us, not the culture; the teacher cannot blame the students for her shoddy communication.

If a 66 year-old lady from Nebraska can teach us anything (besides how ‘Genesis’ really should be spelt) its that it’s time we took a moment to listen.

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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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4 Reasons For Christians To Abstain From Scriptural Reference In Discussions On Homosexuality

openbible

1.)   Our tendency to ignore other Scriptural mandates lends itself to hypocrisy.

So if the Bible does condemn homosexuality as a sin then what about all the other sins we conveniently overlook and accept? What about the call to Christian peacemaking and nonviolence (Mt. 5:44, Lu. 6:37, Mt. 5:39)? What about the warning against anger and divisions (Gal. 5: 19-21)? Warnings against greed and wealth (Proverbs 13:11)? What about the Sabbath (Ex. 20:8-11)? What about taking care of the poor (Ja. 2:15-16)?

The fact is that if Scriptural references are our only point for engaging in the discussion on homosexuality, we’re giving every dissenter who knows how to use a Bible concordance unlimited ammunition to throw back in our own faces.

Furthermore, because of our Protestant denial of tradition as a co-partner in Scriptural authority, the Protestant Christian attempting to cite Scripture in a discussion on this topic cannot logically rely on extra-biblical tradition or insight for authoritative support. Because:

 

2.) Our denial of tradition gives us little ground to on which to stand.

By following in the footsteps of the Reformers and adhering to the proclamation of Sola Scriptura (meaning that Scripture alone is our authority), mainstream Protestants have abandoned tradition as an authority particularly when it comes to referencing and exegeting Biblical texts. This is a fundamental foundation of our belief; no one’s singular translation or application of Scripture (i.e. le Pape) can be held above someone else’s.

I’ve heard numerous Protestants in this discussion reference the “traditional” consensus of Biblical translations against homosexuality. But there en lies the snare: trying to base anything on a “traditional” translation of Scripture immediately lends itself to Catholicism. But if we were Catholic we’d accept the traditional understanding of Scripture on numerous other points, such as (just to give one not-so-random example) abstaining from birth control.

But we don’t rely on a Pope or Tradition for our understanding of Scripture. Instead, we base any Scriptural support for/against homosexuality on our own translations and renderings of its meaning. Which leads us to the next problem:

 

3.) Our modern lens hinders our exegesis.

In the modern model of studying Scripture, we claim there is an actual definitive meaning of each text, which can be found via the dutiful elimination of all subjective bias and influence. Karl Barth is one of the more prominent theologians to point out that this notion is fallible and, in fact, fails to give due justice to Scripture itself. Unfortunately, we turned a deaf ear to such naysayers and have continued to pull meanings from Biblical passages without removing our biases, refusing to acknowledge they even exist.

Thus, if I am a heterosexual male with no attraction to other men, I will inevitably carry a premonition concerning the topic with me to the text. If I am someone who, however, finds myself regularly attracted to the same gender, I will examine the text from a completely different perspective. When I am taught that these premonitions do not exist, then I am in truly in danger of tainting the true meaning of the text with my own prejudices. And, like a man describing a midnight landscape with sunglasses on, the moment someone else comes along with a different shaded lens two viewpoints will clash as both claim to be right.

Thus, when trying to argue the Scriptural basis for homosexuality we cannot do so without destroying someone else’s perspective. But that someone else is just as convinced as we are that they have the right answer. This describes a majority of the divisions among Christians over homosexuality: two people standing side by side with different pairs of glasses bickering over a picture that’s much different than either of them can see.

And this is when we’re in a discussion with fellow Christians. But this discussion obviously engages with people outside of our faith. Thus, when quoting Scripture in these discussions, we suddenly learn that:

 

4) No one cares.

Don’t misunderstand me: Scripture should be the foundation of our faith. But the Bible is not the foundation of the faith of your neighbor, the basis for your company’s policies or the guiding principle of our country. Attempting to cite it against a gathering wave of judicial precedents, humanistic logic and personal passion is like reading a car manual to an Amish student. When we cite Scripture as our support to someone who does could not give a kick and giggle about its existence, it falls on deaf ears.

Scripture, though amazing and valid for many things, can no longer be the totality of our argument. Again: I am not arguing against Scripture as our authority. If anything I am promoting a more arduous and dedicated study of Scripture such that it seeps into everything we do rather than acting as footnotes to our own ideologies. Because snippets of Scripture can no longer be the fruition of our argument; we must start to view it as the soil from which our viewpoints grow.

 

We are all guilty of utilizing flawed logic as the foundation for our use of Scripture in cultural discussions. We must seek for Scripture to become the foundation, the basis, from which sound reasoning and logic flows. The Bible must be our anchor but it cannot also be the flag under which we sail. Like roots to a garden flower, Scripture ought to act as the sustenance for honest and humble logic, though it may not always be seen.

Any other attempts to engage in this conversation will no longer suffice. Scripture, while vitally important, must settle into the background of the pictures our arguments paint. And the ultimate goal of our arguments shouldn’t be convincing someone that our viewpoint is correct, but rather acting as a testimony to the beauty of our common Creator.

With a lot of grace, a dose of humility and a wise utilization of Scriptures as our foundation, our discussions on this topic may accomplish just that.