The Truth Doesn’t Have To Shame

The Truth Doesn't Have To Shame

I’m a student at an evangelical seminary. One of the classes I’m required to take is a course on sexual ethics. We recently had a class discussion about the following case study: at a youth group meeting, one of the students-a young woman- was asked to share some words regarding her personal beliefs about God and sex. So, in front of all the other youth, she stated that she was sexually active with her boyfriend. At first, she said, they fought through guilt and sought forgiveness from the Lord. But eventually they came to the decision that since it felt good and made them happy, then it must be what God wanted for them. And so they planned to keep having sex.

We were asked, as a class, to analyze and discuss the ethical framework and worldview that undergirded her words. We were also asked how we would respond if this young woman came to us for moral guidance.

A twenty-something male student raised his hand and gave the following answer:

“When counseling this young woman, I would start by telling her that her behavior is totally outside the Christian worldview of sex.”

The discussion continued and class eventually ended. I went on with my day and returned home that evening. But, even after several hours, I still couldn’t get this statement out of my head.

It occurred to me that this statement represents a common attitude among Christians, one that is pervasive but also problematic. The statement made by my colleague reflects, not just a flaws in his approach to ministry, but amendable flaws that exist within the evangelical brand of Christianity.

The first flaw is that this approach begins with telling, which is neither helpful nor Christ-like. A Christian should be quick to listen. So often we hastily arrive at a spiritual diagnosis and immediately move forward with our prescribed course of treatment that we forget we are dealing with a human-being. In my social work education, we were continually reminded that the core conditions that must be present in order to help anyone are empathy, genuineness, and respect. If you aren’t willing to start there, then you shouldn’t be surprised when you can’t get anywhere. I wondered if that girl would have access to any of those in an evangelical church.

An analogous biblical example is the woman at the well. Empathy is seen in Jesus’s thirst. He begins his interaction by asking her for water. The great and powerful Messiah has humbled himself to the point of relying on another to provide for one of the most basic human needs. If sympathy is feeling for, then empathy is feeling with. “We’re both humans living in the desert. It’s hot. Care to share a drink together?” That’s empathy.

Jesus goes on to speak frankly with her about her marital relationships. The conversation is open and honest, or shall we say, genuine. He offers intimate parts of his own self as he requests the same from her. His authenticity doesn’t mean that he avoids the real truth issues. Far from it, his genuineness helps creates a context in which transformative communication can occur.

The second flaw in the student’s comment is the notion that Christians exist to give answers. This superiority complex is pervasive and damaging. We hide behind the assurance that walking someone through what the Bible says fulfills the responsibility we have to them. Our primary motivation becomes not helping but ensuring our viewpoints have been adequately expressed.

In the professional world this is called “covering your ass” and the attitude is all-too prevalent in the church. But we like to spiritualize it: “I told her what God thinks. Now it’s on her. My hands are clean and I’ll sleep easy tonight because I just scored another truth point for the gospel.” Walking someone through what “the Bible says” falls short of our full and true ministry calling, which is to walk with others through life. When we sacrificially offer ourselves to others, then we can hope that they will trust us enough to listen to what we are called to teach.

The final flaw with the statement the idea that, as Christians, we are authorized to speak to whomever about whatever, provided that it’s “in the name of Jesus.” At times it is neither prudent nor tactful to address a situation. And there are often other people whom are better equipped to speak into someone’s life. Is it even appropriate for an adult male to address and educate a teenage female on sexual matters? As Christians, I hope that we can instinctively call such circumstances into question.

Because we all play certain roles in the lives of those around us. The role of a parent has greater permission to speak into someone’s life than the role of a neighbor. And Christians need- especially when it comes to issues regarding sexuality- to discern how to identify and best operate according to the limits of the role we have in another’s life. We don’t need to play the prophet and intervene in every situation, especially when socially unwelcome or inappropriate.

As Christians, we carry a message of truth. But, being followers of Christ, we should be weary if not entirely avoidant of using this truth as a means of casting shame upon those around us. Jesus calls us to be as wise as serpents yet as innocent and gentle as doves. Discussions on personal matters of sexuality demand such a posture. When we lose our gentleness and wisdom, our truth does nothing to help people. Instead, we inadvertently heap burdens of shame where we should be pouring grace.

Let us not be known as those who spread shame in the name of truth; rather, let us be known as those who freely grant grace in the name of Christ.

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Burton is a Master of Divinity student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts. His educational and professional background is in social work and he intends to bring that experience to future ministry within the church. His passion is to see the church fulfill her role of being a place where those on the margins of society can find their true home. He can be followed at: instagram.com/burtola

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43 Ways You Know You’re A Seminary Student

43 Ways You Know You're A Seminary Student

Seminarians are odd birds. We come from a variety of backgrounds all of us drawn by a vague notion of “calling.” We are dedicated though hesitant. We feel unworthy but at times our ego drives us, too. We’ve come to seminary to prepare for a life of service. We’ve come because we think education is important and we’ve inherited masochistic genes. We’ve come because we believe God is mysterious, and beyond comprehension, exceeding the greatest depths of human knowledge. And yet we believe God also desires to be known, can be known. Though never comprehended.

Being the odd birds we are, we tend to flock together. As any seminary student knows, there’s common threads that binds us on this journey. And though there are many differences among us, here’s a few ways you know- beyond the shadow of a doubt- that you’re a seminary student:

1) At holiday family meals when someone asks “who’d like to pray” everyone else in the room is like:

Right.at.you.

Don’t screw up!

2) You wear a bow-tie and not ironically.

3) You have theological justification for why you listen to Taylor Swift.

4) You have (a more thorough) theological justification for why you don’t listen to Taylor Swift.

5) You regularly Instagram stacks of books.

6) You frequently add #blessed to your status updates.

7) You started putting a dime in a jar for every time you heard “you’re still in school?” and have used said money for Taco Bell. Twice.

8) You are regularly required to buy books, the titles of which prompt any normal person to say “dah fuh?”

(I still have no idea what ^that is about.)

9) You have a Hebrew tattoo.

10) You have a Greek tattoo.

11) You have both tattoos, on your wrist and foot respectively.

12) This is a better theodicy than any you could possibly conjure up:

13) You’ve been shushed in your school’s library for sneezing.

14) At weddings you create drinking games based on references to 1 Corinthians 13 in the maid of honor’s speech (“Alright- one shot for every ‘love is…’).

15) Afterwards, you (kinda) feel bad.

16) You know that reading week really means feeling-guilty-for-your-Netflix-binge week.

17) At some point in your life, you’ve corrected someone’s pronunciation of Karl Barth.

18) You bring up predestination to break awkward silences (“So Calvin, what a stickler, eh?”).

19) You find CS Lewis cliché.

20) You attend forums about topics you’ve no interest in just to get the free lunch

…because ^ that’s not Ramen.

21) The best life choice you’ve made this year involved a bottle of cheap wine and a Systematic Theology take-home final.

22) The worst life choice you’ve made this year involved a bottle of cheap wine and a Systematic Theology take-home final.

23) This will make you laugh:

24) Your little sister earns more money per hour than you do. She’s 16.

25) You stopped watching Rev. because it hits too close to home.

26) Your Bible software cost more than your car.

27) You’ve brought up dispensationalist theology on a first date…just to see if you should bail.

28) You once took portions of Augustine’s Confessions and put it to the tune of Usher’s Confessions which you proceeded to sing in the shower. All this before your first cup of coffee.

29) You’ve renamed the Starbuck’s where you study on Friday nights “The Naked Mermaid” so as not to feel so lame.

30) You call it “grad school” when talking to strangers for fear that when they hear “seminary” they might think:

Non-seminarians, please note: ^ that’s not us.

31) The more you learn, the more you realize how little you actually know.

32) The barista at the local coffee shop knows you as “Oh crap- it’s the one who pays with pennies”.

33) You keep your Greek and Hebrew flash cards in your back pocket, to review in grocery lines, waiting rooms and morning commutes. You’ve also mastered the art of steering while studying.

34) You take great comfort in reminding yourself that- worst case scenario- you’ll flunk out and be forced to make a better salary.

35) You get angry when the library closes at 5 PM on a Friday night.

36) Subtle euphemisms in the Songs of Solomon make you:

38) You take personal offense when communion features grape juice instead of wine.

39) You started smoking a pipe because it goes with your tweed jacket.

40) On more than one occasion someone has asked you if your Masters of Divinity degree has anything to do with Hogwarts (“What like JK Rowling kinda stuff?”)

41) When you realized the internship you were applying for actually pays you were all:

42) Getting tipsy and dancing in your campus apartment is considered “scandalous”.

43) You love what you do. But every day you wake up and wonder if you’re really the right person for the task-maybe God screwed up? And every day you look in the mirror and have to laugh when you consider that the person looking back is some sort of spiritual leader. Pastor? You can hardly boil water for your ramen!

And yet you remain. Today, tomorrow and a few days after that. And someday you may graduate and go forth. And that day will take care of itself. For now, you attend to the task at hand. Because its seminary, its a journey, its life, its difficult, its marvelous.

And perhaps you are incapable. Perhaps you’re a little inept. Of course you have skeleton’s in your closet. Of course your pride will get in the way. Of course your broken and tired and insecure and worried that you’ll screw up. The good news is you needn’t worry. Keep calm and study on; your Greek flashcards are calling your name.

Because at the end of the day we know that we are not enough. But his grace is.

And that’s why we’re here.

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