Can we give "Evangelicals" a break?

russell-crowe-noah This has been such an awful week for those of us who are associated with the "Evangelical" church.  The week started with World Vision changing their hiring practices to include married homosexual relationships.  Then a day and a half later reversed it.  And to round out the week, the movie Noah is hitting theaters.

Both of these stories have erected giant straw men called "Evangelicals" only to then proceed to light them up and burn it to the ground!

THE WORLD VISION NIGHTMARE:

For the vast majority of "Evangelicals" homosexual marriage is a theological offense to their understanding of scripture, authority and sexuality.  And when World Vision decided to change their hiring practices, this caused concern and a violation of conscience for those in the "Evangelical" camp.  I read just about everything there was to read about this entire episode, and in everything I read I saw confusion, lamenting, and wrestling with what actions to take on the side of "Evangelicals" and belittling disdain from the "Progressive" camp.

When this decision was reversed, again, I didn't see the "Evangelical" camp stomp on the grave of the homosexual community or of progressives.  But yet I saw the never ending stream of wailing posts by my "Progressive" friends.  Again the "Evangelicals," the evil white, old men who are the puppet masters, crushing the passion of the next generation.

I think that this is a really complicated issue, to say the least.  But painting the other side as straw men, dehumanizing them, and then freaking out about the freshly minted caricature is not helpful to move the ball forward, for whatever camp you are coming from.

It has to be ok to have a conviction and to stick to it.  Not wanting to support an organization that doesn't align with your worldview, theology, and values is what everyone of us does with every group we give our time and money too.  So when "Evangelicals" wrestle with wanting to continue to support an organization that no longer shares some of their theological values, and choose to spend that money somewhere else, is not the end of the world.  It doesn't mean that "Evangelicals" hate gay people and don't care about the poor.

NOAH: THE MOVIE:

In a similar vein to the World Vision chaos, there seems to be endless posts and tweets from "Progressives" blowing up those close-minded "Evangelicals" for not wanting to support the movie Noah.  Again, everything I have read has been a relatively small group of blogs and tweets by some conservative news outlets and a couple of unknown "Christian Leaders" who have said that they don't think that the movie Noah jives with their biblical world view.

Then the parade of blog posts lambasting "Evangelicals" for their lack of support.  While the World Vision episode was full of bitterness, disdain, and even hatred, the Noah posts are full of patronizing laments like, "Christians are just too mad, too offended, to hurt about too many things these days. Where is the grace, the love the hope?  So maybe this is not a great movie - I don't know.  But do we always have to act like this?  Do we have such little trust in our own Good News?"

Again, not supporting organizations or movies that don't align with our values, worldview, or theology has to be ok.  Pointing out how culture, movies, and even organizations are no longer in line with those values, worldview, or theology is not a matter of hatred, not a lack of grace, nor a lack of trust in the Good News.

WE LIVE IN A PLURALISTIC COUNTRY:

Pluralistic.  This is "a situation in which people of different social classes, religions, races, etc., are together in a society but continue to have their different traditions and interests."  This is the world in which we live.  And in recent history it has not been the "Evangelicals" who have been trying to have the rest of the country adhere to their particular traditions, interests, and beliefs.

I am sad that the religious right over played their hand in during the Alamo of the cultural wars, but that was twenty years ago.  For the past decade it has been the Progressives who have won just about every battle culturally, but who have forgotten that we indeed do live in a pluralistic country.

If we are going to have any hope of unity as a Christian community, let along a country, then we must make space for others to disagree and dissent.  And if "Evangelicals" no longer want to support financially media and organizations that don't fit with their traditions or interests, then that has to be ok.  That is the complete opposite of the ways "Evangelicals" have been portrayed this week.

I long for there to be Christian unity, and this only happens when there is humility for the weaker brother.  We all think we are the stronger brother, but maybe we are all the weaker brother.  And in that case whether you are the stronger "Progressive" or the stronger "Evangelical," may you be willing to give a little of your freedom and give grace in your words, arguments, Facebook posts and tweets, to me as the weaker brother.

 

The culture war is over! (And we lost)

white-flag-2 This was such an interesting election to say the least.  Now that there has been time for me and you to collect our whits, I am left with a couple of thoughts that I think are important for the church to come to terms with.  And with the church, I mean the suburban white church that I am a part of.

Here is my take away:  After all the exit polls and post mortem of the election, I see the election as a choice between two cultures:  The Judeo-Christian White Man vs. Those who have been wronged by that culture combined with those who feel bad for those who have been wronged.  And for the first time, ever, the Judeo-Christian suburban culture has been rejected by the majority of Americans.

Before you react, think about it for a second.  Think about who you voted for and what values you were choosing.  Think about all the demographic information we have learned since the election.  Think about who you want to cast your lot with?  For the first time ever the majority cast their lot against the Judeo-Christian, suburban, middle class, married, white man.  And if not him specifically, the culture he represents.

Suburban Christians have lost the Culture War: Now what?

For those of us who do ministry in this suburban context, this movement into the minority culture has some very important implications.  There are huge implications politically, and even more so in how we do ministry.   Here are some of my take-a-ways:

1) We can not legislate morality. It is obvious that the electorate rejects Judeo-Christian morality.  With the legalization of marijuana and marriage equality winning in several states, Pandora's box is now fully open.  There is no putting away this genie.  This is a losing argument politically and we must concede that culturally we have been left in the dust of close minded bigots.  The more we fight this battle, the more we lose any real chance to do ministry in this increasingly post-modern and post-christian context.

2) Let's free up our legislators from our litmus tests so they can work for the "common good."  I know this blog is not about politics and that I have absolutely zero influence or impact politically.  But if I did and could speak a little truth to the right wing political establishment, let the moral issues go.  Embrace marriage equality and quit trying to reverse Roe v Wade.  Be about fiscal responsibility and find an ideology that unites us in a common good and doesn't vilify half the electorate who have different morals that we do.  (Ok, no more politics because . . .)

3) Politics is not our battlefield.  We are the church for crying out loud.  Our hope, our calling, our mission has not one thing to do with the powers that be.  It has everything to do with establishing God's kingdom here as it is in heaven.  The second we sell out to a political party (like what the religious right did and the religious left is now doing) we cut off our nose to spite our face.  In this increasingly post-christian context we find our selves in, we must not soil the name of Jesus by using power and money to crush the opposition.  His kingdom is a tiny mustard seed, it is a mystery, and no matter what, it has more to do with us decreasing than us increasing our influence.

4) Homosexuality and Marijuana are culturally acceptable.  We can not respond politically.  There is no argument in the public square that is going to help the church.  Gone are the days where we could tell our kids to look to the laws of the land and that is how you define morality.  We are Spirit filled people who major on discernment, grace, and love.  We take the planks out of our own eyes and then graciously help our sisters and brothers in distress.  The Christian life is going to have to be less and less about self-righteous moral legalism, and more about helping others find there true identity in Christ as they travel the long and winding road of sanctification.

5) Our hallmarks of Christian maturity need to change.  Being married and going to church while you judge those still do the things you used to do before you cleaned yourself up has not worked for the church's reputation.  Judging the sins that are furthest from your struggles or experience has not worked well for the church either.  We must find a new paradigm in which to engage Christians and the world.  We are going to have to have more grace for others and more truth for ourselves.  We are going to have to focus our discipleship around identity formation and true sanctification.  Having good theology and little to no personal reflection can not be our reputation anymore.  We will be known by how we love one another, by being the fragrance of Christ, and by being a blessing to everyone. We must no longer be known for our politics, our fear, our judgementalism, or our hypocrisy.  We must be true christians, exhibiting a spirit proper to a follower of Jesus Christ.

I think it might be time to say no to knee jerk reactions and yes to discernment, humility, and grace.  We do this so we can truly build Christian community, not a Christian nation.

Is their room to confess sexual brokenness with one another?

Over the last six months I have been really wrestling with my theology and ministry practice in the area of sexuality. If you read my blog you may have seen little glimpses here and there, some subtle, some not so subtle. As I have been rounding the corner on some clearer understandings and convictions I have found myself engaged in a number of really amazing and challenging conversations. One of the more amazing conversations was with a friend and fellow youth worker who shared with me his addiction to homosexual pornography in his past. As he shared his story with me, I thought that this was a compelling story that was worthy to be shared.

He is remaining anonymous because I don't want his story to negatively impact his ministry context. But I wanted to have him share it because if we are ever going to move forward in this discussion and in bringing the good news of healing and redemption then we have to throw back the curtain and allows space for us to share our stories.

Currently there isn't any place for adults to share their personal struggles with sex and sexuality. It is the forbidden topic, the topic that leads to being fired, divorced, and often forcing people to move away and start from scratch some where else. But I am want to continually push toward a truly authentic Christian community where our entire lives are shared, our entire lives are laid before Jesus, and we truly carry each others burdens and celebrate each other's victories.

I hope you are encouraged by my friend's story and hope that you have people in your life that you can share your story with and that you are someone in which others feel the same freedom with you.

confessing

As most kids do, I faced many social pressures in Elementary and Jr. High school, most of which revolved around me and friends. I was not good at sports (even though I tried to be), and so I didn’t fit in with the majority of the guys. I changed school so much from living in a divorced family, so I never had the core friends to rely on from my childhood. And I never really knew how to defend myself from criticism, so more often than not, I became a target for jokes. I remember specifically in 7th grade, a group of boys making fun of me for not growing as much hair on my legs as them. They would tell me that I must have shaved my legs and say that I must have been gay because of it. I remember my older brothers in jr. high calling me gay because I couldn’t get a girlfriend. I remember feeling rather alone in all of it, desperate to find purpose and reason.
At the end of Jr. High, as my body was changing and my hormones went rampant, I began to form an addiction to homosexual pornography. While I also became aroused by hetero pornography, I found myself seeking homosexual pornography first. It was my little secret. No one knew. I would delete all traces of activity on my home computer before anyone would know the difference. But even so, I could not delete the traces it was leaving on my heart. I felt dirty, as most people do that are addicted to pornography. But for some reason, because it was homosexual I felt even dirtier inside.
I became a Christian my freshman year of High school. It was mostly for the reasons stated above. I longed for acceptance and a place to fit in… A fix from the social pressures that brought me down. And I found an overwhelming sense of love from God and my church’s youth group. There was no going back. Accept I still had a secret. I did not stop indulging in gay porn. I began to seek answers in scripture, and I concluded that my addictions to pornography were wrong… But I still had a lingering question. Was I gay? I mean, I liked homosexual porn, but I was never attracted to another guy. And I could not find the answer in myself, mainly because at the time I could not find an answer in the bible. I began to form my identity on Christ and his teachings, but I could not find an answer to if it was okay if I was gay or not. I mean, everything inside me told me I was not, but what if I was? Would it have been natural? Did God make me gay, even if I didn’t want to be?
This struggle stayed with me all through high school. In college, I had a mentor that I began to trust very quickly. After a long time of gathering courage, I began to tell my mentor about my struggles with homosexuality. And through His guidance, prayer, and a lot of studying of the scripture, I began to find understanding.
My choosing to indulge in homosexuality was caused by two things: A desire for intimacy and mistaken identity. I discovered the desire for intimacy with guys as I began to form very strong relationships with a group of guys in college. We all lived together and I realized that the intimacy I was in need of was of brotherhood. I needed a place among my fellow man, a place to feel accepted as a man and a place to become who I was made to be. It was a place that I had long sought after from the time of getting picked on from the other guys in jr. high. Also, while discovering this truth, I became aware of my desire for intimacy with woman. As a human, driven by hormones, I naturally wanted to feel like I could get close intimately in a relationship. I longed for a romantically intimate relationship and that was why I first pushed into pornography. And just like anyone else, I needed to control that desire until I found the person God had for me; the person that would complete me. And naturally, it became easiest if I merged the two desires for intimacy together.
I also discovered that I had severely mistaken my identity. I believe that we are called to two main truths that we must form our identities to. The first is the truth that God created us, this world, and all that is within it, in a very specific and intentional fashion, and he did it for himself. And the second is that due to our not fulfilling our roles in that creation, Jesus Christ gave us the wisdom and knowledge we needed to fix that broken relationship in the example of His own life, and sacrificed himself to make it possible for us to be with God again. My issue that I struggled with was the first. God created this world in a very specific way. There was purpose and intention in each piece of it. The first 3 chapters of the bible are dense and give us a guide to what God’s intention was for us. And very intentionally in there is this creation of man and woman. We were created together, as two pieces that come together to complete each other, and to complete the work of us being made in the image of God. And when bonded together, it is called marriage. As humans, that is how we have been created. My mistake was thinking that I could form my own identity. My mistake was thinking that I could do what I want, sexually desire what I want, and form myself into what I want to be based off of what feels and sounds good to me. But the identity I created in myself is not the identity that God intended. I needed to lay down my own thoughts and selfish desires, to become what I was meant to be. To allow God and his intention, as well as the work of Jesus Christ in my life, form me into my true identity.
I bring you my story in a time that I feel is dangerous in the topic of homosexuality. As we trust in God and live faithful in the knowledge that He knows what He’s doing, we need to allow Him to form our identities. We need to gather together, men and women, heterosexual and homosexual, sinner and saint, adulterer, cheater, liar, murderer, and thief… And allow the God of the entire Universe to form our identities through the knowledge presented in the bible, and through the gospel of Jesus Christ. In my story, no person, Facebook post, hate-filled word, or picket sign changed me from my sin nor helped me to accept it. Only God can form true identity.
The reason I tell you this now is because I have since abandoned my addiction to homosexuality and have begun that work of identity changing in my life. God has formed me into a spectacular individual over the last 7 years since I last indulged in gay pornography. And he has been faithful to me since. I have since found my counter-part, the woman in which I have become whole with, and I work with her each and every day towards completing our identities in those two truths. May God do with this story in your heart and mind as it will. And may the peace of Christ go with you.