How to Have a Christ-like Response to Homosexuality

There were two really well written articles on Christians and Homosexuality that were posted yesterday. The first is by Bobby Ross at the Christian Chronicle. His article, “Homosexuality and the Church” highlighted a lot of churches that are giving attention to this issue and engaging in discussion on how Christians should view this from a biblical perspective and how Christians should treat people who are homosexual. Then Wes Woodell, who was interviewed in that article put out his own piece also called “Homosexuality and the Church” where Wes gives some additional thoughts that are well worth reading. If you haven’t read these two articles you should take a few minutes to read them.

How does the church/Christians respond to this issue? Here are a few thoughts to help answer that question:

  1. Be Jesus to people. Scripture tells us over and over again that we are to be Christ-like and that means we must treat people as Christ treated people: 1 Cor 11:1, Philippians 2:5-8, 1 John 2:6, 1 John 3:16, 1 Peter 2:21 (context there is suffering), 2 Cor 3:18. In those verses we learn that we are to both be like Christ or be made like Christ and to then act/live/behave as Christ did. So if we want to know how to deal with people who are struggling with sin examine how Jesus treated people in similar situations. It is so disheartening when you see Christian organizations responding to sin in our world in ways that are uncharacteristic of Christ.
  2. Be the bride of Christ to people. The Bible talks about the church being like the bride of Christ. The bride doesn’t do things that bring dishonor to her own husband, neither should the church do and say things that bring reproach to Christ.
  3. Be transparent and honest. There is nothing worse than someone shouting you down because they don’t have a good answer. This is a very difficult issue to deal with well so we typically avoid it. In today’s world, to avoid it is to bury your head in the sand and hope it all goes away. It won’t. Don’t run from it. We want those in the congregation to be biblically informed on this. If we don’t teach on this their opinions will be solely shaped by a thousand other sources outside of scripture. If you really believe this is sin, be in the business Jesus was in…reconciling struggling people with the God who loves them unconditionally.
  4. Know what you believe and make sure it is actually from scripture. Remember, we don’t have authority on our own. The authority our words carry only go so far as our words are words from scripture. As Fred Craddock has said we are just the messengers. We are “as one without authority”. So study, study, study to know what you believe about this from scripture. Study, study, study to know how to communicate with people in ways that are in line with Christ. Too often we study to know what we believe but do a terrible job communicating it in Christ-like ways.
  5. Don’t be afraid to call a sin a sin. If you are convicted that something is sinful, don’t be ashamed to say that. We see in the ministry of Jesus, Paul, and others that there are times to call certain behaviors sin (Read Wes’ point #1).
  6. Understand the difference between rebuke to those inside the church and those outside the church. 1 Cor 5:9-13 says this, “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” Is anyone listening to that? I see few Christians on television who take that seriously. Why? Because taking that seriously won’t result in you getting much press. When Christians go ballistic on the world they get press because it makes us look stupid and confirms the pre-existing narrative that Christians are harsh, closed-minded, bigots…which, by the world’s standards, is the worst sin you can commit in the world today.12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
  7. Dealing with our own heart issues. Let’s be honest, there are going to be some Christians in the church who have serious heart issues on this matter. We won’t reach people we don’t love. That will be uncomfortable for some but Scripture never gave us an excuse or rationale to be unloving, ever. So if you have a heart issue on this, you are going to have to deal with it and ask God to forgive your unloving spirit. Sometimes the first person who really needs reconciliation is ourselves.

This is a discussion we are going to have to engage in. Know what you believe, based on scripture. Throw away any ungodly attitudes you may have about this issue or people who struggle with this. Treat people like Christ would.

What Exactly Did Dan Cathy Say to Land Chic fil a in Hot Water?

Here is the quote from his interview with Baptist Press

Some have opposed the company’s support of the traditional family. “Well, guilty as charged,” said Cathy when asked about the company’s position.

“We are very much supportive of the family — the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.

“We operate as a family business … our restaurants are typically led by families; some are single. We want to do anything we possibly can to strengthen families. We are very much committed to that,” Cathy emphasized.

“We intend to stay the course,” he said. “We know that it might not be popular with everyone, but thank the Lord, we live in a country where we can share our values and operate on biblical principles.”

The context of that statement was a discussion of their support of a ministry called Winshape that helps kids with scholarships and helps foster children. That led into Dan Cathy to make a statement about the company being pro-family.

That quote was followed up by an appearance on the Ken Coleman show where Dan Cathy said this,

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at Him and say ‘we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage’ and I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about”

The context of that statement was Dan Cathy talking about how even our very existence comes from DNA from a man and a woman and how God designed it to be that way. Cathy’s point was that when we start redefining marriage to something we don’t see it defined as in scripture that God won’t look favorably on that.

We do business with people we agree with and disagree with on a daily basis. It is only when a business steps on our hot button issue that people get bent all out of shape. Obviously, some businesses are more vocal about their stances than others and thankfully we live in a country where two things can freely happen: they can express their stance and we can decide to take our business to them in support or to someone else in a show of our disapproval. No one is forcing anyone to go to Chic fil a for all their chicken needs. I really don’t think Chic fil a will mind a ding in their profits for doing what they think is right…remember, these are the guys who already take Sunday off in order to honor God.

What gets under my skin most at times like this is that some people use these times as opportunities to politicize it all and use it as leverage to promote or push their agendas. We need to make sure that in all things we practice the fruits of the Spirit and are grace giving and loving toward the people God puts before us to minister to and show the love of Christ.

By the way, the quote you aren’t getting from the Baptist Press interview is this fantastic snippet about his perspective on “Christian business”,

“We don’t claim to be a Christian business,” Cathy told the Biblical Recorder in a recent visit to North Carolina. He attended a business leadership conference many years ago where he heard Christian businessman Fred Roach say, “There is no such thing as a Christian business.”

“That got my attention,” Cathy said. Roach went on to say, “Christ never died for a corporation. He died for you and me.”

“In that spirit … [Christianity] is about a personal relationship. Companies are not lost or saved, but certainly individuals are,” Cathy added.

“But as an organization we can operate on biblical principles. So that is what we claim to be. [We are] based on biblical principles, asking God and pleading with God to give us wisdom on decisions we make about people and the programs and partnerships we have. And He has blessed us.”

Conversation on President Obama, Gay Marriage and Christianity (Part 3)

This is the third and final part. I would love to hear your thoughts after reading all three.

Matt: Christianity struggles with extremes. There have been voices that have said Christians should have everything to do with politics and other voices who say Christians should have nothing to do with politics. Is there a healthy balance where we can land? I think that balance starts with saying that we can’t rely on political processes to be the leverage we use to impact the world with our faith. We cannot depend on politicians to be our voice or our power and strength. I fear we have often put politicians into some roles and given them some expectations that should have been reserved for God and the Holy Spirit.

Politics is not the priority in the life of a Christian. When we have faith in God it will certainly be expressed in how we view the political process, how we vote, what issues are important to us and which issues won’t make any difference to us. We have to get below the surface to the spiritual reality of our lives and how our actions and attitudes toward politics, legislation, etc either uphold a Christian worldview or they do not and adjust accordingly. I love how Jesus takes specific actions in the sermon on the mount and digs below it all to the spiritual reality of what God is really after. God wants our hearts. Have we given our hearts to another and does our reaction to all these things show us where our heart really is? Too often I am afraid we have co-opted and syncretized our faith with the world in a way that makes Christians unrecognizable from the world. We can’t let that happen.

On a side note, I don’t see why granting “partners” visitation rights has to be tied to marriage. Is there a good explanation out there of why the two must be tied together?

Philip: I pretty well agree with all you said there.

As for your question, that’s where my knowledge gets hazy.  But it’s always struck me that the only difference between a civil union and marriage is semantics.  And there is a growing sentiment in the LGBT community to call their relationships by the name that opposite-sex couples call their relationships:  marriage.

Imagine for a moment a bizzaro world (this is a stretch, but play along) where our country banned marriage for cannibals.  No one who openly eats human flesh is allowed to gain a marriage license.  ALSO- guess what:  Christians who partake in the Lord’s Supper are classified as cannibals.  So we can no longer get married.  But, hey, here you go:  you’re allowed to have a Civil Union.  BTW, that’s the case in only 18 states — in 30 of them you can’t even have a civil union.  So you’ve got that going for you.  But no matter what you can’t call it marriage.

To us, that would seem like a very strange way to prevent a group of people from enjoying all the civil benefits of marriage that a large swath of the rest of society enjoys when they pledge themselves to someone.  Much less being able to express socially that you are married to someone.  And having your government — which is supposed to represent you (“a government of the people, by the people, and for the people”) — acknowledge that as well.

So I think that’s the essence of the yearning that the LGBT community has.

Matt: I have a feeling the transubstantiation crowd would flex a little in order to retain their rights to marry 🙂 I also think that many would view themselves as married in God’s sight (after going through the traditional Christian process) apart from what the government had to say about it all. There is the whole point though, right? Do we care what the government does and doesn’t say about all of this?

Philip: The LGBT community cares, yes.  Especially when it comes to civil issues related to marriage.

I don’t like being put in a position of defending their views.  I don’t want to fall into the trap that political moderates (like myself… since I am one) often stumble into.  Someone takes a side, so they (I) sense imbalance.  So as to restore their (my) sense of balance the moderate takes the other side.

Over and above the political intricacies of rights in gay marriage — or legal considerations of state amendments vs. a federal law — I’m way more interested in how the Church responds to the shifting dynamics at play.  Because I’m convinced that the bi-polar status quo of either wholesale resentment of & political activism against anything homosexual (on one side) or wholesale embrace of homosexuality & consideration as a legitimate, God-accepted choice for consenting adults (on the other side) is wrong.  So what is the way forward for the Church?

Matt: You saw right through my trap 😉 How does the church respond? We could write a whole book on that one and not cover it. In my opinion here is the key…the problem we have had in the past is that somehow Christians have thought that certain issues were serious enough that they could leave every single one of the fruits of the Spirit at the door when discussing them with others. If we embrace those fruits as we enter into these conversations we can have a healthier dialog with those we disagree with.

Related links:
Did Obama Change the Nation’s Mind on Gay Marriage
How Obama Moves the Needle on Gay Marriage

Conversation on President Obama, Gay Marriage and Christianity (Part 2)

Matt: Great thoughts. I had thought about Rex’s posts as well when you mentioned the culture war. Part of our problem is that so many of us have nothing better to do for the kingdom than rail against stuff like this. If we were as actively engaged in kingdom work as Paul was we might not even have time to be talking about these things because there would be more pressing personal and spiritual issues we were dealing with locally.

There are several issues here that have to be pulled apart:

First is Obama, as a Christian, openly embracing homosexuality and gay marriage. It seems technology has trumped Matthew 18 when it comes to a dispute among brothers. When Jesus talked about resolving issues among brothers he really did mean go to that brother. He did not say smash people you don’t know from afar. He didn’t say blog about it and air your dirty laundry first and maybe then say something to them later if you have a chance. He said go to them and trying to make things right. President Obama is a Christian. I am allowing him to define himself rather than get into all of the ins and outs of that here. If we take that seriously it would mean someone really should personally and privately go to him and talk to him about on homosexuality and gay marriage. Based on his recent comments he personally believes the lifestyle is morally acceptable and should be on level with marriage among heterosexuals. That is problematic as far as how that meshes with his faith. It does not seem that he is taking the stance that he doesn’t believe homosexuality is right but he is just trying to stay out of the way of legislating what people do in their own lives. He said this is his own personal view.

Second, how do we as Christians feel the political process and legislation play a role in the lives of controlling behavior of Christians and non-Christians in this country? That, to me, is the trickier question and I am still trying to figure that one out. I would be curious to hear more of your thoughts in regard to the first point and the second.

Third, is there a place for a prophetic voice out there in all of this? It seems the voice of the prophet would be shut out today in the name of not offending people. Imagine someone today taking Isaiah’s approach of preaching naked to show how shameful it all is. Someone would call Christians nuts if someone did that. It happened in the Bible…although it was done in Israel/Judah (insiders who should have known better) and not in the streets of Babylon (outsiders to faith). I am not sure how to balance all of that out but I think it is a valid question that I really hear people avoiding more than anything else. Thoughts?

Fourth, it is interesting to read the trial and crucifixion of Jesus and Paul’s trials and see what approach these guys took in dealing with the authorities of their day. Paul deals with Festus and Agrippa differently based on their own background as insider and outsider to Judaism/Christianity. I need to read through some of that again but it might help us to see how they dealt with these things and what their priorities were so we can further define our own rather than letting contemporary culture and politics do it for us by default.

Philip: It’s a good point about the President being a Christian.  But the President is not the first person to call himself a Christian & welcome homosexual marriage.  I’d contend that there are people of greater influence in circles of faith who are promoting the moral acceptability of this lifestyle.

Your second question is one I’m very anxious about for the Church.  And more specifically:  is the Church allowing political calculators & political actors to announce what our moral priorities are or are not?  And I think the answer is a resounding yes.  Look through history of our country we find that the church has a terrible record of being swept up into the spirit of it’s age.  During the Civil War pulpits across the land moralized based on where they were located:  north or south. (HT: Harry Stouthttp://www.amazon.com/Upon-Altar-Nation-Moral-History/dp/B005MWL7HG/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337265012&sr=8-1)  Our pulpits moralized over the evils of alcohol leading up to Prohibition & had no idea about the devastating unintended consequences that would result.  Pulpits in the south were terribly slow to confront racism & even used passages like Ezra 9 to defend segregation.

WHO exactly were we allowing to lead us around???  Honestly!  Who are we allowing to lead us around today?  For Kingdom people who are on the left AND on the right?  If we receive our moral marching orders from either David Plouffe or Karl Rove, then we really are the useful idiots that the Evangelical Manifesto said we were 4 years ago.

If we’re seeking a prophetic voice for this country on homosexuality then I think we’ve mistaken our priorities & venerated “Christian society” ahead of Kingdom-building.  Prophets are always aimed at God’s people who have gone wayward.  Are we going to persist in holding on to this notion that the U.S. is new Israel?

Again- we don’t see Paul, a Roman citizen, aiming a prophetic voice at the Empire to turn from their godless values.  And just think historically for a moment:  how short-sighted would that have been?  For Paul to aim his energy and his talents at trying to turn around Rome?  Thank God that Paul was led by the Spirit to have larger priorities.

I think the prophets that the Church needs are prophets that the Church already has.  Like Shane Claiborne who invites the Church to come out from partisanship in “Jesus for President.”  And like Derek Webb who proclaims that he’s never seen a Savior on Capitol Hill.  I wish the Church had ears to hear those prophets.

But I think we still stubbornly hold on to this idea that we can create Christian Utopia here today.  If we just pass the right laws & have just the right leadership we can usher in an age of vibrant faith.  Or at the very least “keep God on our good side.”  And I think political calculators & political actors exploit that misplaced hope and/or potential fear of America getting on God’s bad side.

I think the Church desperately needs to take back her moral voice from the political influences that have tarnished it historically.  As you can probably tell I feel pretty strongly about this.

Matt: Much of the angst you are expressing was summed up extremely well in a book that has just come out called “A Faith of Our Own” by Jonathan Merritt. I reviewed it and did a Q & A with Jonathan about his book.

https://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/faith-of-our-own-author-jonathan-merritt/

https://mattdabbs.wordpress.com/2012/05/05/a-faith-of-our-own-following-jesus-beyond-the-culture-wars-by-jonathan-merritt/

You basically summed up his book in a few paragraphs. I will quote one paragraph from my review just to give you an idea,

“Jonathan believes Christianity has bought into the game of politics hook, line and sinker rather than mapping out a more biblical approach to how Christians engage their lives in what really matters. Merritt argues that for far too long Christians have allowed the political parties to use us as a voting block to move their agendas through while we mistook our partnership with politicians as a means to advance and engage in God’s mission. His contention in this book is that our identity as Christians must shape our politics and not the other way around. He also believes that our identity as Christians overcomes the dividing lines between parties as the commonality we find in Christ can bring those who disagree on the issues together worshipping the same God.”

As far as the prophetic voice goes, prophets didn’t focus on just one thing or the other all the time. They gave air time to many issues that were causing God’s people to be far from him (idolatry, mistreatment of the poor, etc). You know the list. The loudest Christian voices out there today have three major problems in dealing with issues like this:

1 – They don’t do it in love.

2 – They target the wrong audience (in scripture the target of rebuke was God’s people nine times out of ten, not the world…there are notable exceptions)

3 – They harp on the same one or two issues (homosexuality and abortion) and give no air time to anything else.

We all need to be reminded that speaking on God’s behalf is a dangerous thing. So many people take it so lightly. In Deuteronomy 18:20 here is what God told Moses about those who say they speak in God’s name things God has not commanded,

” But a prophet who presumes to speak in my name anything I have not commanded, or a prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, is to be put to death.” ”

That is pretty serious business!

Philip: Wise words.  And on that note I think you’ve nearly brought this conversation in for a landing.  Any prophetic voice needs to be motivated by love.  Not bigotry, or discomfort, or fear — but love.  And that’s what our reputation needs to be.  According to Jesus we are supposed to be known by our love (Jn. 13:35).  And when you look at our rep in the world today it seems like it’s anything but.  We’ve got some work to do.

I don’t know whether or not our country should allow same-sex marriage.  There are so many issues (from hospital visitation rights to taxes; to national standards of morality) that I have a difficult time saying exactly what the right thing to do is.  If each one of us were Emperor who knows what would be the right thing to do.  Maybe there’s some among us who would want to, like the President, apply the Golden Rule.  I know there’s plenty among us who want to stand on the side of the Biblical definition of marriage.

But the hard truth to face (for some among us) is that none of us is Emperor of America.  So how do we Christians proceed?  I think we’d do well to be agents of love in the world.  Who knows– we might even win over a few members of the LGBT community.  Wouldn’t that be a thrill?  I pray for that.

Conversation On President Obama, Gay Marriage and Christianity (Part 1)

A good friend of mine, Philip Cunningham, asked me if we could dialog a bit on our perspective on the news that Obama was going on the record about endorsing gay marriage. We thought it might be refreshing to have a healthy and productive conversation on the web instead of all the trashing people do of each other. We were mostly focused on what we, as Christians, should think about and respond to President Obama saying he was pro gay marriage. Here is the first part.

Matt: One thing I will say and am curious to hear what you think, why do you think he (The President) has always previously said that he thought marriage was between a man and woman but that his thoughts are still evolving. But now that he is pro gay marriage his views are no longer evolving as you might think they should. It is as if you can only evolve in your thinking toward gay marriage being right and once you land there, there is no more room to evolve into an better view. Do you think it implies that? Am I reading too much into it? Well…there is my first post 😉

Philip: I think the President said that because he wants to get elected.  Politicians — at least the ones who are good at it — say what they say to win elections & consolidate power.  There are lots of harebrained ideas out there about the President.  But one of the most under-discussed is this:  he is a political animal.  He & his team are as skilled a political machine as our country has ever seen.  And so you’ll forgive me if I doubt the sincerity of his evolution on this topic.

In fact:  it seems that our President has been evolving quite a bit over the last several decades (HT CBN:http://blogs.cbn.com/thebrodyfile/archive/2009/01/15/barack-obama-1996-questionnaire-i-favor-legalizing-same-sex-marriages.aspx)

Perhaps the most absurd example of political “evolution” is the issue of Healthcare & our new national law.  Four years ago, candidate & then-Senator Obama campaigned against a national mandate in order to defeat Hillary Clinton in the primary. (HT ABC News:http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2012/03/candidate-obama-opposed-health-care-mandate/)  And before all of the rancor & malice was stirred up on the right against healthcare, former Governor Romney pointed to his record in Massachusetts & championed a national mandate! (HT Boston Globe: http://www.boston.com/Boston/politicalintelligence/2012/03/mitt-romney-pushed-health-care-mandate-for-article/7nc7bRiGDmaomZXWuYpLFO/index.html)  And now, this fall, America will observe both of these gentlemen argue the opposite positions passionately.

No- I don’t intend to defend the President on his “evolution” same-sex marriage.  Or expect any politician to lead the Church forward on this issue.

Are you concerned at how the President’s announcement will influence the country?  The Church?

Matt: I think that the president certainly does have influence, otherwise what is the point of having a president? Does the president’s view on something dictate it for the rest of us? Only if it becomes law and legally binding. Being the first president in U.S. history to endorse gay marriage is certainly a step in the wrong direction morally speaking. I do realize that there have been presidents in the past on the wrong side of various moral issues. That doesn’t make this a unique issue with Obama. It isn’t that only perfect people with perfectly biblical view points can or should be president…we wouldn’t be able to fill the office ever again. The problem I have with this is:

  • I disagree with his conclusion
  • My assumption (could be wrong) is that it is all political anyway.
  • Political or not this gives presidential backing to a very controversial topic in a way that has never been done before. In doing so he is giving more confirmation to society that homosexuality is normal (hey the president is on my side!) and that the fight they have been fighting to make this a social issue (something close to race) has succeeded.

Will it influence the church? Of course. Some will come out with guns blazing and will only confirm to the world that Christians are nuts. Others will stand for the truth in a more loving and gentle way. However, the church will still be the church. The church doesn’t stand or fall based on presidential proclamations or personal stances.

I ran across some items that came up on Obama’s website after his announcement.

https://store.barackobama.com/catalog/product/view/id/22891/s/my-two-moms-support-obama-baby-onesie/

https://store.barackobama.com/catalog/product/view/id/22879/s/my-two-dads-support-obama-baby-onesie/

I guess that means this announcement had been in the works a while (regardless of Joe Biden “oopsing” it) for his production team to have these on hand so quickly. My question for you is does it bother you that the Obama’s website is now selling pro-homosexual and gay marriage memorabilia? Do we just chalk that up to catering to his base and supply and demand or should we have a problem with him making a profit off his stance on these issues? It is not a new question, I am sure every president to date has made a profit off their stand on various issues and their stand on various issues has resulted in campaign contributions from those who support their view. I am curious to hear your take on that. Maybe I have already answered my own question.

Philip: I don’t know- the baby onesies for sale probably don’t bother me as much they should.  There are a whole lot of other issues that disturb me more than that — like the amount of money that is poured into our political campaigns in general.  I only have so much indignation that I can muster.

I did vote for the President in ’08.  I root for him to do well.  I want to like him.  So that’s my bias.

Still- I’m not yet convinced this announcement changes much.  The President isn’t pushing for legislation; he says the issue should be left to the states.  Most of the states in our Union have already settled on this issue one way or another.  The President’s announcement stokes the passions of the culture wars, but I’m unsure if it does little else.

And that former issue is my concern- how does the Church handle these culture wars?  How do Kingdom people dwell in a society where the unchurched are largely accepting of homosexuality & increasingly favorable to same-sex marriage?

How much of the Evangelical community’s contentiousness is a result of angst?  Angst over watching a “Christian society” slip away.  Our friend Rex (http://kingdomseeking.com/2012/05/17/the-cost-of-waging-the-culture-war-part-2/) and many others in the blogosphere (Rachel Held Evans, et. al.) have written so much about this — about the possibility of winning a culture war but losing a generation for the Gospel.  I don’t know how much more I could add.  Except maybe this…

I have a strong conviction about 1st Corinthians 5 being the normative passage on this issue for our day.  Paul is scolding the Church at Corinth over this guy who’s sleeping w/ his step-mother & bragging about it.  And he goes on & on about how it is our responsibility — the Church’s responsibility — to make sure we have purity within the fellowship of believers.  And he’s also clear about how his dictum to not associate with immorality does not carry over to the unchurched of Corinth.  v. 12 — “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church?”

What business is it of our’s?  …to insist upon a what label is used on people outside of faith who want to pledge themselves to each other?

You know– Nero married a couple of guys in his reign.  We don’t see Paul or Peter organizing a million man march on Rome to “take their (society) back.”  That’s a notion that’s foreign to Scripture.

Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul – Who Gives the Labels?

In the Intrusive Word, Willimon tells the story of Duke Chapel holding a panel discussion on “The Church and Homosexuality” where a student came up to him after the discussion, told him he was a “baptized Episcopalian” and asked why there weren’t any homosexuals on the panel. Willimon asked him why that would matter. His response was “I have a right to define myself, to name the significance of my own experience as a gay person.”

Willimon writes,

“It seemed to me that, if his first designation of himself (‘I am a baptized Episopalian’) meant anything, it meant that he definitely was not to ‘define’ himself. I knew that his church was quite explicit in its service of baptism that the church was telling him who he was, not using the conventional labels of the wider culture, labels based upon gender, class, race, or sexual orientation, but rather on the basis of the gospel. He was someone, in baptism, named, claimed, chosen, called. His name was ‘Christian.'” (p39)

I am becoming more and more convinced that Willimon is a gutsy guy who isn’t going to pull any punches. This was probably easier to say in 1994 than it would be to say in 2012. The question is not whether or not it is easy or hard to say from the perspective of how people will respond to it…the question is, is this truth? His point is that church and the gospel should be defining these things over culture. It is not up to the world to define us by worldly categories and worldly ways of looking at things. Things in our society have changed since he wrote this in 1994. In 2003 the Episcopal church ordained their first openly gay, non-celibate clergy. That complicates things a bit further when there is diverse opinion on these issues within the denominations so that it depends on whose teaching on these matters you are going to go by. It becomes clearer and clearer that scripture defines this and the church should be taking every effort to conform to a biblical view on these things. Of course, there is even disagreement on what that would be.

I appreciate what Willimon is saying here. I think we have co-opted our faith, syncretized it and blended it with the labels, definitions and categories of the world that it is hardly recognizable who Christians even are any more. This is not just true when it comes to homosexuality. This is true is more areas of our lives than we would like to admit.

Later Willimon talks about the differences between evangelism and apologetics. He says,

“That’s why the gospel never asks for mere intellectual agreement. The gospel call is for conversion, detoxification, rebirth. The gospel cannot be mapped onto experiences that are already there, as if the gospel can be easily transposed onto the culture of the high-bourgeois narcissism. Apologetics is never as radical as evangelism because apologetics concedes too much intellectual territory to the enemy before the battle begins, adopting the culture’s self definition as the appropriate means of describing our condition. So we begin with  existentialism, or self-esteem, or Marxism, or some other culturally approved category of thought and attempt to work back toward a defense of the Gospel. I agree with Karl Barth that these homiletical tactics will not work because the gospel requires a severe epistemological reorientation. Our preaching to the unbaptized must aim for conversion rather than mere agreement, evangelism rather than apologetics.” (p.40)

Do you agree? In our discussions on faith with non-believers are we starting in the right place and aiming toward the right goal? How far do we allow the world to define our lives? Should our desires define us? Should our skin color define us? Should the Gospel and our creator define us and what do we do when the labels of the world don’t jive with the labels of our Lord? Who gives the labels and which labels are biblically acceptable and which are not?

Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul – Intellectual Agreement or Actual Conversion?

In the first chapter of Will Willimon’s book The Intrusive Word: Preaching to the Unbaptized, Willimon makes the case that too much of our preaching has not relied on the power of the Gospel to not just hear and agree with what is being said but to be converted by the message. The reason people have a hard time hearing is because they are so caught up in the powers and cultures of this world that the Gospel becomes foreign to their ears. It is not that the message is complicated and hard to understand but because the message is counter-cultural. He believes we have taught more to get people to agree with the truth of the message more than we have preached to actually convert people out of the world and into new life through Christ. Now that is something to chew on for a while. Do you agree?

Now this ties into Christianity and the culture wars really well. Much of the ruckus we have made over social issues like gay marriage and abortion has been to get the other side to agree with our stance but comes short of actually intending to convert people. We have isolated evangelism from the whole discussion and seen gay marriage, abortion, etc as separate issues that have little to nothing to do with conversion. We believe the world needs to agree with our stance but we don’t see this as an opportunity to move beyond agreement toward conversion. We have thought if people will just get it right on these things that everything and everyone will be okay. We have been taught to believe that Christian faith is agreement with certain truths over and above the tenants laid out by other religious or even non-religious groups. That is just not the case! That is part of it but not all of it. There is a huge difference between agreement with Christian truths and actual conversion and disciple making. Jesus didn’t say “Go and make the world agree with everything I have commanded” He did say go and make disciples, teaching them to actually obey the commands of Jesus and live in submission to him starting off with baptism. Jesus was talking about converting the world, not changing their minds on a few issues. True conversion goes further than intellectual ascent and requires a change of identity.

Win the Culture War, Lose the Soul

I hear this a lot these days. Christians are fighting the wrong fight. They saw we have gotten distracted and missed the point. We have engaged the wrong “enemy” with the wrong tactics. They say we might just win the culture war but at the expense of winning many souls to Christ.  Rachel Evans recently posted an article entitled “How to Win a Culture War and Lose a Generation.” It only got 487 comments in a short period of time. Apparently something she said might just have resonated with two or three or four hundred people. She has a way of doing that.

Here is where I think people like RachelRex ButtsJonathan Merritt and others are right…our generation is tired of all of the politics. We are tired of the bickering. We are tired of trying to leverage worldly powers for the good of the kingdom of God. It is like we really believe God needs our help and the help of our legislatures to get it right these days. So we try to bring about change through worldly channels. It gets tiring. It really does. Their voices and opinions have brought some needed balance to the conversation. However, there are a few things I feel have been left out that I want to add.

First, there are some fights in life that are worth fighting to the day you die. I am not saying we have picked all the right ones all the time and through all the right means but we can’t go to the extreme of saying there is little to nothing that is really worth fighting for. What you are willing to fight for shows where your heart is. Honestly, we all have things we are willing to stand up for and speak out for or against. It is just a matter of which issues we believe are important enough to do it. I believe scripture needs to help us define and refine our list and not the world.

Second, I don’t think we can allow the world’s reaction to truth dictate which things we talk about and which ones we avoid. Hear me on this. I am not saying be unloving. I am saying the standard for what Jesus and the church is to talk about is not based on how the world reacts to the conversation, unless we are doing it in a way that is unloving, uncaring, and anything less than compassionate. If we are unloving the world may help us correct our tone but the content must always come from scripture. It only makes sense that there is going to be a certain group of people in the world who get up in arms when you speak the truth in areas they disagree on. That is the way the world works. In John 16:8-12 Jesus says that when the Holy Spirit comes, “he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment” and “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth”. Jesus tells us there is truth, especially in regard to sin, righteousness and judgment that the world is not going to want to hear and yet it still stands as truth.

Third, Rachel and others express how tired they are of it all. Well, I am too. However, our own personal level of fatigue does not determine the worthiness of the fight. If it did Elijah should have given up years before he was taken up into heaven because he was also tired of battling the religious and political powers of his day. There are some fights worth fighting and those fights are going to make you tired from time to time. They are going to make you wish they would end. The truth is, some won’t. Now we have probably taken the extreme in the past that many of the fights worth fighting for were political. That was a mistake. We need to open up the New Testament and have a good look to see which fights Jesus and his followers deemed worthy of a fight and which ones did not. I think we have gotten too worldly in our definitions of which issues should get our attention.

Fourth, in some ways my generation has gotten lazy. I am not saying all of us but some have. We are used to things being worked out for us and handed to us. I am not pointing fingers. I am not speaking against Rachel, Rex, Jonathan or anyone else. I am just saying that we have a real tendency to not stick with anything for any length of time. That means our willingness to stick with a cause or abandon a cause is not the measuring stick for whether or not it is a worthy cause. I am tired of trying to teach my three year old to share with his little brother. I am not going to give up on that one and lose that battle. He has to learn it. It is that important. It would be easier in the short run to just give up but it would be much tougher in the long run. I think that is true with some of the issues we face today. We want short term results at the expense of long term gains. So don’t upset the world. Don’t speak out because someone might get turned off from Christianity. We lose our gumption.

Fifth, one of the problems we have is that we, Christians, have zeroed in on a small handful of issues to scream about at the expense of some others. My opinion is that when we spend a large amount of time on 2-3 issues and neglect other issues that are just as relevant we lose our relevance. Let me get more specific. When we spend a large amount of time on homosexuality and abortion (both things worthy of attention, mind you) to the neglect of many other things including the mission of the church and even sins that are in the same lists as homosexuality in scripture but aren’t really talked about very much, people stop listening to what we have to say. On the surface it at least appears we are more willing to poke at issues that are distant to us than those which are more personally relevant and might require personal change on our part. In other words, it is easier to condemn homosexuality when you don’t struggle with it than it is to condemn pride, which you do struggle with. When we do that we lose credibility.

Last, there is a real tension that I struggle with that I haven’t heard anyone mention that I would love to hear your thoughts on. Starting with Rob Bell and now from dozens of others I have heard people decry the bullhorn man. You have that guy out on the street corner preaching people to hell. I know that extreme and I don’t like it. It is often hateful and impersonal. It does some damage. I think we can and should avoid that approach.

Then take Isaiah who in Isaiah 20 preached against sin in Israel completely nakedGranted, his audience was God’s people and not people in the world…which is another issue for another day but still something that should be pointed out when it comes to the role of the prophet. If an Isaiah appeared on the scene today he would be called crazy by some Christians. Some would tell him to stop because of what people might think about Christianity based on what he was doing. Some would think three days of naked preaching was long and crazy. Isaiah went three years! Should people have warned him about who he was going to lose and who would be turned off? How do we find this balance? How do we stay the course? How do we balance the prophetic voice and telling people the tough things that need to be said by someone with the love and compassion of Jesus Christ? How do we know which fights are the right ones and which ones are not worth our time? What would we tell Isaiah if he were alive today and what does that tell us about ourselves?

A few answers:
Much of the answer to these questions comes from embracing grace and truth at the same time. I think we also have to realize that first and foremost any rebuke we have to speak is to be first aimed at God’s people and not the world. Another solution comes from having our nose in the Bible. It is easy to have worldly standards if you let the world be your guide. It is hard to know the truth if you are out of tune with God and His Word. These are all difficult things and I don’t claim to have all the answers. It is important we approach all of this with humility and I hope that is evident in everything I have said above. If not feel free to let me know that I missed it! I do hope some of the points made in this post help someone gain some perspective especially when it comes to the centrality of God and scripture in shaping our views and approach on these issues.

Mark Adams Weighs in On “How Can Churches Move Forward on the Gay Issue?”

It has been a while since I have highlighted other blogs. That is mainly because I don’t really have much time on my hands to read things outside of what is related to my ministry right now. I do want to mention an article over at Mark’s blog about how churches are to move forward on the issue of homosexuality. I appreciate the tone of Mark’s post and his thoughtfulness on the matter. This is a HUGE issue in the church whether we realize it or not. It will also have a lot to say to our relevance in our culture in years to come. I am alright with the culture thinking we are nuts because we believe certain things as long as we are approaching those matters of morality through a Christ-like framework and with an attitude of love. I also want to point out an additional resource that is quite helpful on this matter. It is a book by the late Stanley Grenz called “Welcoming but not Affirming.

Have a look at Mark’s post and see what you think. It is very important that we have a response to people on this issue. It is also important that we look at it from a broader biblical perspective and, as Mark said, don’t just keep on the surface of the issue by saying how wrong it is without really exploring why and how positive the biblical view is on relationships as God did intend for them to be. We have to be welcoming of people who are seeking God and realize that no matter who comes in our doors they will all have issues. We cannot have our list of issues that are on our “Not to have any patience with this person” list. Let Mark know what you think.

The Sin of Sodom at the Desiring God Blog

An interesting take on the sin of Sodom over at Desiring God. This one is by Tyler Kenney. The Sin of Sodom. Here is an excerpt,

There’s a warning in this for us: We must beware in our opposition to sexual immorality that we do not merely take on a different expression of the same sin. We must beware lest we think that the issue is simply an external one and that we are “good with God” just because we maintain a high moral code.

Any outcry among Christians against sexual immorality should be outdone by our protests against pride. We should be most aggressively opposed to arrogance—especially as we find it in ourselves and in our churches. Only then will we be in a right position to speak humbly, wisely and brokenheartedly about the evils of sexual immorality and the greater love of Jesus Christ.