Controversial Celebrities and Their Church’s Stance on LGBTQA Issues: Why It All Matters

I may be opening up a can of worms that I shouldn’t here. But I knew this day would come. Small towns in the South are sometimes thrust into the spotlight when a resident becomes a celebrity. Eventually, people begin to wonder where these people stand on various equality issues, especially since the South doesn’t have the best track record in that area. And eventually those concerns will turn to equality for those that are LGBTQA

I’m from a small Southern town with some celebrities that go to a church that I used to go to (even though I never met them). That church has come under scrutiny for their stance on LGBTQA issues. Since I used to be a very involved insider at that church (before moving to a different city and leaving the “evangelical” tag behind), I thought would comment on some of the issues that happens in almost all of these situations.

Usually these situations come about after an expose article looks at an online blog post or sermon video or what have you and brings certain views on LGBTQA issues to light. Then there is a confusing tornadic swirl of responses from all sides. Often it becomes difficult to figure out what the real problem is. But have you ever noticed that no matter what is said and done, every single article that looks into the issue in a way that might harm a church is automatically labeled as “bad journalism”, “a hit job”, “a witch hunt”, etc by members of the church, no matter what the article says? Every single bit of criticism is bad journalism, regardless of whether it really is bad or not. In general, the original pieces are pretty middle of the road explanations that present the church’s views in context with little commentary. Then many of the follow-up reaction pieces attack the original article for saying things it didn’t say, or even go as far as taking quotes out of contexts. Leaders and members of the church in questions echo that sentiment.

There are also accusations of “major liberal hateful backlash” that are hard to substantiate. Of course, there are usually a few fringe left-leaning websites that call for extreme responses, but they typically were doing that before any controversy breaks out. It is important to note that when ever any Christian becomes famous, there are also extreme right-leaning sources that attack them for not being “bold” enough with their faith. Attacks against Christian celebrities are usually always there from both sides, but people just latch onto the extreme ones from one side and use them as “proof” that there is a wave of new persecution when there really isn’t.

Of course, it is also somewhat unfair to hold the views of a church against the celebrities that go there. Yes, churches in the South do tend towards “believe one way or else” mentalities, and they tend to vet political attitudes before letting anyone on their stage (including celebrities in their midst). It is possible, although probably unlikely, that they hold a different view from their church. But until they say anything specific it is unfair to hold their churches stance against them.

At the same time, those that feel it is unwarranted to look into the beliefs of these churches are also misunderstanding the power and influence of the nondenominational evangelical movement, which holds millions of Americans under its sway. As a former insider at one of these churches (at least that is what some of the church leadership referred to me as once), I did want to shine a light on some of the problematic issues at play here.

First of all, most expose articles will characterize these churches as being “hard line” and “unmoving” around these issues. This might seem harsh, but is usually true. You will even find these churches boasting about their unwavering stances in their sermons. So I am not sure how something they once bragged about suddenly becomes an “attack,” but what can you do?

I used to bang my head against this unmovable wall when discussing creationism, evangelism, or the role of women in a marriage. I generally find that you either parrot what they want to hear from you and get accepted, or question things and get ostracized. This is nothing new – such is the case in many churches both conservative and liberal, as well as businesses and organizations of all kinds. I just bring this up in case anyone wants to say “why don’t you try talking to them about all this?” Believe me – myself and others have tried. We have even formed an unofficial support group on Facebook to process what we went through. Others have started blogs to chronicle their problems. I don’t want to dig into that any more as there is plenty online about that at many churches already.

Many will say that these expose articles are taking words out of context, even when they provide links to videos and articles to show they aren’t. But I can verify that these stances typically have been preached over and over again at these churches, with tens of thousands of people being influenced by them. So even if one specific article had taken words out of context (which they rarely do in these cases), I have sat through enough of these sermons to know what has been said. Then there are countless leadership development classes, missionary training programs, and other secondary outlets that I have also attended that dig deeper. What emerges once you have become enough of any insider is a deep layer of problematic issues that need to be brought to the Light. I will touch on these issues next.

Biblical Clarity on Marriage and Gender Definitions

First issue: the concept of the Bible being clear that marriage is only between a man and a woman, based on Genesis. The problem is, its not really that clear. If you take an honest look at Genesis 2:24, its not really a command from God as much as a commentary on a reason why people get married: “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.” Even more problematic is that in Bibles that mark the words of God in red, this passage is rarely in red. That is because it is not a direct quote of God, again, but commentary from the writer of Genesis. Therefore, it is not necessarily true that “God defined marriage” as many preachers say, even if you believe that the Scriptures were literally written by God. Why? Because none of the scriptures used to back that statement up are in any way written as “definitions.” To say that they are “definitions” is for us to re-write the Bible based on our own feelings. Commentary is commentary, not a definition.

Additionally, pastors often talk about God clearly defining masculinity and femininity, which is another extreme oversimplification of what the Bible actually says. What it really says is “male and female he created them.” Well, of course: there were only two of them. So there were only two options for anything. Which also means that God could have only created, at max, two hair colors, two eye colors, two skin colors, and so on. Those details were irrelevant to the story of creation, so they weren’t mentioned, but it doesn’t mean that this wasn’t true (and if you don’t believe that Genesis is literal history, I understand – I am just writing this to those that do). Of course, now we have more that two hair colors, two eye colors, two skin colors, etc. The same DNA that produces hair color also produces our sex. Yes, that is a major oversimplification, but what I am trying to get at is that we should not confuse the way things were created with the way they have to be forever. God created (at most) two eye colors. We now have more. Same can be said for any other genetic trait, such as our sex.

Then, of course, there is the whole problem of saying anything in the Bible is “clear” at all.

Homosexuality as a Sin

On to the next issue: Stating that “homosexuality is a sin” is the truth while “homosexuality is not a sin” is a lie. The problem with statements like this one is that the word “homosexuality” does not appear in the Bible in the original languages. This is because the word was coined around 1869. It probably didn’t get used in English Bible translations until the 1950s. The history of what many incorrectly refer to as “homosexuality” now is problematic and confusing. While historically a few individuals saw it as a way they were born, most people saw it as deviant actions of heterosexuals or a temporary condition. In fact, the places where we tend to see “homosexual” now in our Bibles are all words based on this assumption in relation to sexual slavery of young boys, or rebellious heterosexual women that were performing in some weird religious sexual ritual. This is important because it means that there is no commentary in the Bible about committed, loving marriage between two normal, non-cultish people of the same gender. To say that the Bible is clear on modern “homosexuality” issues is not historically or Biblically honest. If you want more commentary on this issue, or to look at the difficulties of specific scriptures, I highly recommend looking into this series of blog posts by my friend Michelle.

Part of the problem here is the constant strategy of hiding real stances on these issues behind the ambiguous veil of “homosexuality.” Its a vague word that takes away any responsibility of really saying what one believes. Instead of saying things like “I don’t want to let gay people legally marry” or “we don’t let those that are openly LGBTQA attend our church” or “I want to be free to not bake cakes for lesbian weddings” or “I want to cause transgender people to use the bathroom that matches with their birth sex” you just say “sure we believe that homosexuality is sin, but we still accept all people at our church.” Typically churches mean all of what I spelled out in that sentence and more with that last vague sentence, but I will get to that more later.

A lot of these issues are often coupled with some weird picking and choosing of statistics to support these positions: 90% of “homosexuals” are abused and that caused their “homosexuality,” many people are lured into “homosexuality” through pornography, etc. There are many problems with this line of thinking, including how it ignores a lot of research, but I will just point to this article as a good summary into the problems with assuming that abuse causes people to change their sexual attractions. Additionally, the idea that people can be “lured” into “homosexuality” through pornography is a major misunderstanding of the roots of sexual addiction (as well as the shady attempts that criminals make to exploit those addictions to make money online). This article is a good source to start looking into that.

If you are seeing a pattern here of oversimplification and glossing over unclear realities in a manner that ignores the complexities of life, welcome to life in the evangelical nondenominational movement. Questions are only encouraged as long as you are moving in the direction of the leadership on the answers. You are only allowed to come to the conclusion that the leaders already have. Only one answer is allowed in the end for the whole church, no matter how unclear the scriptures are. And then a few token “unclear” issues such as “whether missionaries can drink a beer in countries with different views of alcohol” are touted as “proof” of their “theological diversity.”

Oversimplification of What Change Means

Now for the next issue: saying that someone is a homosexual in thought and action and cannot change is a lie. Of course, we all know we can change many things about ourselves. Others we can not. Even others are not so black and white. To be honest, sexuality is not as black and white as many would like it to be. Just look at this list of Seven Myths about Sexual Orientation. Its not very clear or straight forward for many. But ambiguity is a tough sell from the pulpit, so any gray areas that exist in reality are painted over in black and white “Biblical Clarity.” Additionally, churches love to take one or two stories of people that exist in this ambiguity (in other words, they had their sexual attractions change for reasons they don’t even understand) and lift them up as examples of everyone else to follow. They completely have no idea what really happened, but take a few random weird examples out of this person’s life as “steps” to “overcoming homosexuality.”

I know that at this points pastors always have their stories of hundreds of people that they have helped. They always do. All of heir beliefs are backed up by their stories as much as scripture. Some that can be corroborated, others that can’t. Its always hard to figure out which are which, but many people have spoken up through the years when they have veered off the verifiable path. Regardless, when pastors say “I have seen hundreds of people personally change their direction of same-sex attraction from a homosexual lifestyle to a heterosexual lifestyle”… I don’t buy it. First of all, statistically there are probably not that many people in any one city that would claim to have been gay and then changed their sexual orientation. Are we to believe that every single one of them ended up at any one church? Just look into the numbers of people that are or were LGBTQA and then how many of those claim they have changed it. Doubtful once you convert that to the population of most cities. But how does a pastor of a church of hundreds or thousands have time to “personally” work with hundreds of people with any one issue? My experience has been that these pastors are one busy dude and it takes a lot to get a little of their time.

Also, I know some of these people that pastors have “helped.” Many of them are currently not a member of any church and are openly LGBTQA. So, sorry, not quite all “success” stories (by the church in question’s standards or conversion). Others have privately disagreed with their church about being able to change and have told me horror stories about the “conversion” therapy they went through after being pressured by their church. Not to mention that they have also told me and others that they doubt there are “hundreds” of ex-gays helped by any one church. At best, I think pastors can say they know a couple of people that have had their sexual attractions change for unknown reasons and then have forced a good number of people that are LGBTQA to live celibate lifestyles based on this idea that people can change their attractions.

Public Response to Personal Beliefs

Two more issues rolled into one: when pastors talk about how educators in public schools should not accept same-sex marriage as normal, or how business owners should be willing to stand to lose business or even various deals or contracts over this issue. Which is weird, considering our job as Christians is to be in the world but not of the world. Treat every student you teach as weird unless they believe like you? Cause your business to go under unless everyone you deal with has the same religious beliefs as you? That is all just silly. People every where are not going to believe like you, but you can still do business with them or treat them like they are normal. That is the whole point of “be in the world but not of it.”

Of course, this stance often does does not apply to other issues, like the many people at church that are currently on their third marriage, or who had sex before marriage but still got married, or who are obviously not treating their bodies as a temple of God by the way they eat. You see, at many churches like these, it is okay to do business with people that violate some scriptures, just not others. They can even become leaders in the church (yep, I have personally known some leaders at various churches that are on their third marriage, or had sex before marriage, or committed a wide range of the “acceptable” evangelical sins).

Compassionate Christians?

Look, as I often say, I am not trying to convince anyone that they need to change their belief on what is sin. My concern is that many very complex and difficult issues are being glossed over and made to seem clear when they are not. People are going around saying that the Bible clearly says things that it does not. People are saying that most Christians believe something that they sometimes don’t (even though Christianity is not supposed to be about popularity anyways, but interesting how many will automatically turn “what we should believe” into a popularity contest if it helps their point). Many are going around saying that Christians at these churches are nice, caring people… which they are, as long as you agree with them. Try to take a different position and have a productive conversation about it? Not so much. I have had many in person and online conversations to prove it. I have been defriended by many former close friends over just raising questions. Then once the arguments start, I have had to block more than I can count once they go off the deep end of hate. People I used to be good friends with, pray with, walk with, eat with, etc. Once the hateful insults come out about how I want to kill babies (it always goes there for some reason) just because I want to acknowledge the difficulties on this issue, its time to block. Before someone wants to talk about the compassion of evangelicals, let me pull out some statements towards me that are not very compassionate: I’m worse than a pagan because I am too liberal (even though I never expressed that), hopeful God will strike me down in explicit graphic ways, how gay men will attack my wife and kid, etc.

You have to ask yourself: why does such extreme hatred come out of the mouths of people once they are confronted by one of their former insiders that now walks a different path? Maybe we can look back to the words of their pastors to see why: claims that if one is not clear, they will have no leg to stand on at some point in the future, or if they think they are going to get away with their beliefs in the short run, then they won’t in the long run, because the “spirit demands submission.” Skipping over the problematic idea that is “spirit demands submission,” just looking at the whole tone there is very telling: you either agree with me or God is gonna get you in the end. Its not grace, its beliefs. You have to get every point right or else there will be divine trouble.

It is the ultimate in works-based religion played out to its logical conclusion. Faith that God is still God even in the gray areas is not enough. You have to know for sure what you know, and get it correct right now or the big army boot of the Spirit in the sky is going to squash you. Of course, this is all because they care for you, even if that caring is wrapped up in a big ball of “God is abusive” theology.

Do They Really Hate Gays?

Finally, I would also like to address people saying that these Christians “hate gays” because of their beliefs. Look, the concept of “truth being more complex than easy, quick sound bites” goes both ways. Yes, conversion therapy is very hateful towards those that are LGBTQA. But many people, especially at these churches, just don’t understand that. Their pastors seems to refuse to understand that side of the issue. But they don’t hate gays in the ways they are accused of hating them. Or at least, in the ways that many conservative outlets say they are being attacked for (its always hard to know if that is true when conservative media won’t actually point to any real attacks or claim that certain articles are an attack when they really aren’t). Do these churches have abusive parts to their theology? Yes. Does that mean they are intentionally trying to be abusive? Not necessarily. They are just misguided in these areas. Part of that is the pastor’s fault, part of it is the evangelical leaders that they listens to, and part of it is the fault of the thousands that enable them by accepting what they preaches without critically analyzing it.

And I know what the typical response is: they aren’t anti-gay – they love all people and want them to be everything that God has for them. This sounds wonderful, but there is one big problem: when saying this they conveniently leave out the parenthetical statement after that: “be everything that God has for them (as long as it is not a gay Christian).” They like to selectively edit their response to seem like a loving, accepting church, specifically leaving out the part where you will be expected to not be LGBTQA if you want to stay there a long time, or that you will at best have to live a celibate lifestyle and never serve anywhere on the church leadership. Yes, it is dishonest and deceiving. Technically they are still anti-gay even after claiming not to be. That is because they are trying to take a “bold stand” in a way that will get them attacked the least.

Take Time to Listen

The biggest problem here is an evangelical movement that refuses to listen. You can go find many other sermons by these pastors on a wide range of topics where they speak so emphatically of things they clearly do not understand. I say this not because they have a different stance than I think they should, but because they can not accurately describe the side they are railing against. Such is the case when they speak about “homosexuality.” Just using that word demonstrates they are not listening or understanding or both. They do this because they follow the lead of many other problematic evangelical leaders like John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Francis Chan. To these pastors and those that follow them I would say: try to listen more and rebuke less. Those of us that have left the evangelical tradition but still cling to Jesus are not any more ignorant or misled than anyone else is. Please try to understand our position before preaching more misguided sermons about us. I highly recommend the work of Justin Lee and the Gay Christian Network. They have many members who believe that “homosexuality is a sin” but are willing to be honest about the uncertainties about what the Bible actually says in this area.

And I know the response that many evangelicals give: I have lots of gay/liberal/homosexual friends/family/co-workers, so I have listened to and know their side well. Leaders and members at these churches do technically listen, but then respond in ways that reveal they didn’t listen to understand as much as correct. Look, you can disagree with someone all you want – its a free country. But if your words do not display an understanding of the side you are railing against, then it doesn’t matter how many people you talked to: you didn’t listen to understand. There is a difference.

metamodern-faith-avatarThen there is the response that I am saying all of this because I want to be “popular with the world.” Look, I’m not a famous person. I won’t gain popularity taking this stance in Texas. I will probably get defriended by at least 10 people for posting this. I will probably get a handful of likes and then a massive amount of argument and accusations from many others. And all of that is nothing compared to what people who are LGBTQA will face once all of those articles about “hit jobs” against popular celebrities circulate more and more. Yes, something for you to consider: someone you know that is LGBTQA could possibly get harassed and verbally attacked each time you post those articles “in support of This Famous Person.” Any negative feedback you or I face is nothing compared to the horrors that the LGBTQA community has to face every time they get accused of “overstepping their bounds” in response to some celebrity’s beliefs.

New Name, Facebook, and Twitter

Things have been quiet around here, mainly due to my doctoral work, but now that that is slowing down, I hope to pick up the slack here. The first order of business was to change the name of the site to something that I can actually pronounce. After years of investigation and coming to grips with my own philosophical beliefs, I realized that I have probably been metamodernist most of my life. Hints of that can be seen here in many of blog posts – but the lack of clarity in many of those can probably be traced to not fully understanding where I stood ontologically.

Since the old site name was just weird and quite the mouthful, I decided to change to a more pronounceable name…. even if its not any easier to explain what it means 🙂

metamodern-faith-avatarAdditionally, I decided to open up a Facebook and Twitter page. Posts from this blog will post at these sites, but I will probably also post other links and ideas to those sites as well.

Metamodern Faith on Facebook
Metamodern Faith on Twitter

So feel free to follow there or keep following here or not.

This World Needs a Social Constructivist Enema

Several months ago I made a Facebook post that simply said “This World Needs a Social Constructivist Enema.” Some people probably thought I was just being funny with a Batman quote. Many probably thought I was being weird. I was really just stating a frustration I usually have with the typical Facebook debate.

We see it so often on Facebook: people get into back and forth arguments over some political or religious or parenting issue, with both sides spending most of the time telling the other side what they think that side believes believe. “You missed the point” “You don’t seem to understand” “Your point is invalid because” etc. We spend a lot of time telling people what their beliefs and misunderstanding are, while rarely trying to ask them to speak for themselves. We someone believe we are all carnival magicians that can read minds.

But the reality is, there is very little we can understand of another person without spending time to clarify, and when we assume we know clearly what they think before they even speak it, that makes it even worse.

ALL of our understanding of another person is socially constructed through communicative actions. That’s just the nature of the world. We can only understand what a person has told us, and if we misunderstand, we have to let them explain or else we are equating ourselves with God.

So what we end up with is an unholy amalgamation of empiricism and relativism. We think our view of Truth (with a big T) is the one right Truth, and all others are false. But then we treat all other “truths” that others believe as their own distinct, separate truth that only they can have – different, wrong, and completely separated from ours. We set up this weird system in our minds where everyone else has their own individualized system of beliefs that have NO bearing on our own, yet they are all wrong if they don’t match up exactly with ours.

Social constructivism is kind of the great egalitarian philosophical viewpoint in that we have to work together to define Truth and truth. Its not a dominating system like empiricism where there is only one Truth and if you don’t get it, you are just less than the others that do. Its not a seperativist system like relativism that says all truths are equal, but I don’t have to really care what your truth is an long as it doesn’t affect mine (nor do I even have to share mine if don’t I want to). Its an interactive philosophy of seeking to understand and be understood with the goal of coming to a mutual understanding that guides how we function as a society.

metamodern-faith-avatarAnd yes, it can be applied incorrectly. But at times, I am convinced that we need to wash away our weird system of empirical relativism and replace it with a new communicative system built on seeking to understand and be understood through negotiation and discourse rather than to pass out pre-defined understanding.

The Growing Ranks of Evangelical Ecclesia Extraneus

The past few weeks have brought a swell to the ranks of the Evangelical Ecclesia Extraneus – the Evangelical Church Outsiders. I’m not referring to this blog (people only seem to visit here to post “passionate” comments proving how “loving” they are of gay people), but the idea of being an outsider to a specific tradition in the church. When I started this blog, I was attracted to the name Ecclesia Extraneus despite having no idea how to pronounce it as well as it being hard to remember (can’t count the number of times I have typed it wrong myself). But in the wake of the World Vision schism in the evangelical church and many leaders along the lines of Rachel Held Evans, Jay Bakker, and others leaving evangelicalism, I am reminded again of what the title of this blog means to me:

The English word “strange” originated from the Latin word extraneus (from which the English word “extra” also originated) which meant on the outside i.e. “strangers” were “outsiders,” socially, religiously or politically, within one’s own nation – they could be one’s own countrymen just as easily as they could be “foreigners.”

We all seem to belong to the same “nation” of Christianity, but so many of us feel like strangers even among those that inhabit the section of that nation called evangelicalism. Some people don’t get why we feel this way. All I can offer is my explanation of the privilege of fitting in. When you fit in, you always get what is so wrong. When you don’t fit in, you don’t see how to make it work.

metamodern-faith-avatarWhile many churches are focused on Revival, I have always found Reformation to be more intriguing. Revival seems to be a temporary emotional fix (that dies after a while), but Reformation seems to be a complete change of course. I pray that we are seeing the beginnings of a true Reformation and not just a temporary revival of diversity in the Church.

I Had a Really Nice Post to Make. Then the Church Got Mean.

Sometimes I just don’t know what to say. I think this whole Duck Dynasty thing just demonstrates how little the Church understands the gay community, how much we would rather talk than listen, and how we care more about being right than understanding others.

Does anyone out there realize that we care more about a rich white guy losing his job than we do about finding out why a community that has been ostracized, hated, rejected, beaten up, even killed over who they were born to be is mad over his statements?

I agree that there is mass confusion from all sides. But what most Christians SHOULD be doing is stopping to ask themselves “why does this statement and verse make the gay community so mad?” instead of turning it into a shouting match. If it turns out that the gay community overacted, so be it. And so what if they did? Goes back to my original statement – why is it more important to be right than to listen and understand?

How are statements like this going to help:

“Thank you Mr. Phil Robertson!!!! Homosexuality is not a innate characteristic or “biological condition.” it is a sick, twisted, unnatural perversion that needs to die.” – Matt Mauk on this post

People have killed themselves after hearing statements like this. Like, every week of the year. Why do people in the church talk like this? Is there any hope left for the few of us that don’t want to be consumed by hate? Just saying “well, we’re all imperfect… if you find the perfect church, don’t enter or you will ruin it” just sounds like complete and utter enabling bull shit at times like this.

metamodern-faith-avatarThere is a complete difference between being imperfect and being… well, this.

I have no answers. I am embarrassed yet again to be associated with these people that incorrectly label them selves as “Christ-like.” I don’t doubt their salvation…. I just doubt whether I want to be around people like this. Can anyone tell me… is there any hope out there for the Church?

The Rough Guide to Christian Intellectuals

At one time, the Christian intellectual was thought to be a dying breed. Sure, there was a spike of interest in the 1960’s and 70’s when J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S.Lewis were popular for more than just imaginative fantasy. But after that, most people thought they went into decline. Most churches probably had their token older gentleman intellectual, but that was about it. Some probably assumed that the majority of the Christian intellectuals either finally stopped worshiping their minds and got “on fire for God” (or “filled with the Holy Spirit” for charismatic types) or that they gave into the wickedness in the scholarly world and left the faith altogether.

Truth be told, they were always there, mainly just hiding in plain sight and keeping their mouths shut for fear of being banned from social gatherings as annoying “know-it-alls.” With the recent explosion of social media and for reasons we will look at later, Christian intellectuals have been forced out of the closet and are now facing considerable difficulties integrating with a Church system they don’t fully understand, or that really fully understands them. So I offer to you the following list of tips for understanding the confusing world of Christian intellectuals – my own Rough Guide to Christian Intellectuals

Who do think you are? First of all, a quick definition. Intellectuals are people that enjoy learning and research. Some people have to do both because of a school or job situation – but an intellectual is someone that enjoys the pursuit of knowledge. They may not even ever set foot on a college campus. But you have to understand that this overwhelming love for knowledge and study that drives an intellectual – much in the same way that an overwhelming desire to help people might lead someone to become a doctor.

As I say the word “intellectual”, chances are that most people get a very negative, condescending picture in their head. I get that. I count myself as an intellectual and I tend to get the same picture of people like that in my own head. Hopefully as I go through the post, I can clear up some misunderstandings and misconceptions along the way.

Intellectuals are not your enemy. I know that to many, the intellectual is the enemy of the faith. You only interact with them to prove them wrong. Because if Hollywood has taught us anything, it is that a plucky group of scrappy kids can defeat the evil intellectual genius every time. Many other books and blogs have been written to deal with how the intellectual is not the Church’s enemy. But just do some research and you will find that there are many intellectuals that actually love the Church and count themselves as followers of Christ.

And to the intellectuals out there that feel like all your friends keep acting like they are in a bad Spy Kids sequel when they are around you, cut them some slack. You know there are some pretty stuck-up smart people out there, so instead of setting them straight and living up to the stereo type, turn the other cheek. Besides – trust me – it is fun watching them stammer as their paradigm shifts under their feet. “What – an intellectual that won’t argue with me?”

You will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free. To an intellectual, Truth is one of the greatest gifts God has bestowed on mankind. Not the greatest, but pretty far up there. “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of our soul, and all of your mind” just reinforces that. Truth is greater than intellect, but the intellectual finds their brain to be one of the most enjoyable ways to seek Truth. They find joy in it because it is probably the way their brains are wired. Yes, Love is greater than all – but Truth is Love to an intellectual. Love covers many things that aren’t intellectual, but all intellectual pursuits are truth and therefore are Love.

But not knowing the Truth is bondage. Most people, when hearing a friend talking about something they know isn’t true, will just agree and let it go, because they think the best way to show love is to keep the peace and just listen. To an intellectual, you would never keep the Truth from anyone. That is the worst way to be a friend. If you know the truth on something and you don’t share it, as an intellectual you will feel like the worst person in the world for as long as you remember the incident. And joy of all joys, being an intellectual means your memory probably also sticks around a lot longer than you would like. So you are left with the choice of being a bad person (in your mind) and not saying anything, or showing love to the person and helping them to see truth. Because – ultimately – to an intellectual, sharing knowledge is the greatest way you know to show love in every day average situations.

And yes, intellectuals get it wrong all the time. They use the wrong words, the wrong tone, or the wrong emotion to convey that truth. It may not sound like love to you. But have you ever tried to show someone that you love them, but choose the wrong words/tone to do it? It is easy to see that when you are expressing love through encouragement but accidentally chose to encourage someone in a way that hurts their feelings. They will probably still see that. But when a person shows their love by sharing knowledge, it is much harder to see. And I don’t think intellectuals get that – we think that it is so obvious that our short correction of your Wikipedia quote is just us showing you love. But it isn’t as obvious as we think it is. So, maybe keep that in mind next time: is that person being a jerk to you, or maybe trying to actually help you out? Most intellectuals wouldn’t waste time correcting you if they didn’t care about you.

Black and white in a gray world. Of course, so far I have been just dealing with situations where there are small factoids or general ideas. The more you learn about anything, the more you realize that you hardly know anything. There is just so much to know. Google only indexes 1% of the Internet – 99% of the Webs are locked away behind pay walls and in databases. Intellectuals hate this – they think knowledge should be free for everyone. That is why they keep talking about what they know – they want to share this awesome gift with everyone.

But so many things in this world are not so black and white. The more you learn about different topics, the more you find out that there are many different ways to look at things. Empirical, behaviorist, constructivist, relativist, sub-categories of these, pragmatic views that combine some or all, etc, etc. Most people pick their preferred paradigm and try to make everything fit into their view point. The intellectual sees validity in all views – even if they pick one themselves and stick with it. The more you learn about all sides, the more you come to respect those sides (even if you fundamentally disagree). Oh, and then there are cases in which no one way works for everyone, but different methods work differently for different people. For example, you can’t say that one way of counseling works for all people (even though I know some do say just that). Each person has to find a way that works for them and go with it. Quite often (especially on Facebook), you will see people that exalt their way as the best (or only) way that works. Intellectuals see that and have a genuine concern for these people because they may not see the value in other points of view (or that they are making others feel judged or belittled by their black and white stance). So they often make comments or ask questions that are not meant to correct, but to get people to think about how there might be other ways or viewpoints. They usually make these statements kind of vague because they respect people’s intelligence and want them to think, not just spoon feed it to them.

So to the intellectuals out there, we have to stop being so vague at times like this. Just come out and say that there are other sides to things. Stop making it sound like we are correcting everybody on everything (which I know we aren’t – but I will hit on that later).

To others out there, before you slam someone for being arrogant, maybe think about what they are really saying. Are they disagreeing with you, or just bringing up a different perspective?  Are they trying to harass you, or show you love by opening up another layer of truth for you? Remember, without the words “I think” or “My view is” or something like that, you really shouldn’t assume that they are sharing personal beliefs. My inbox is scattered with emails accusing me of thinking all kinds of things that I have never believed, some that are just outright outrageous.

You have no respect for the scripture. Speaking of outrageous claims on beliefs, the “no respect for scripture” claim stands out as the most oxymoronic. We all know that our English translations of the Bible have problems. These problems mainly arise not only from just not knowing what the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek words meant, but also from the original words having multiple meanings and layers that don’t translate well into English. When someone comes along and tells us a new way of looking at Scripture that still fits into our regular belief and paradigm, we think it is the best thing we have heard all week. But when they come along and teach us something contradictory to what we think is truth – the common reaction is “you have no respect for scripture!” It is really an odd reaction when you think of it – how many hours of study did they have to go through to come up with this stance? If they really want to know what the scriptures really say – isn’t that the utmost form of respect? I think what most people mean when they say “you have no respect for scripture” is “why can’t you leave well enough alone? I had no desire today to change paradigms!”

Who do you think you are? If a gifted chef cooks you a meal – how do you respond to that? “You just think you are such a better eater than everyone else – showing off how well you eat every day!” No – you usually say “Yum!” Knowledge and information are the results of the life-passion of an intellectual just like food and desserts are of cooks, flowers are of gardeners, and well-running cars are of mechanics. But intellectuals most often face extreme resistance when sharing their gifts with the rest of the world. We see our intellect as a passion that we love to explore just like any other job or hobby. But thanks to our public school system, we all have been sold the lie that “smarter is better.” “You don’t want to end up like those ignorant burger flippers down at Burger-esque Box?” In no way, shape, or form does intellect make you a better person. You read an article or book – one of a billion trillion out there – and that is how you get that knowledge in your head. There is nothing special about that – most people in the world are born with the ability to do that.

True intellectuals know this. Some don’t, but a lot do. So when they are trying to show you love and share their passion with you, and you turn around and tell them “you just think you are better than everyone. Everyone is going to end up hating you and you will die without friends.” How do think that makes them feel? Oh, and they will probably never get to forget that statement no matter how much they try. You think it is all fun and games being an intellectual? Every mean comment you get plays over and over and over again in your head for the rest of your life. Many people do something to cheer themselves up. That “cheering up” is a process of replacing negative feelings with better ones, and the hurt goes away. The intellectual bases their feelings on intellect as much as hurt, so while they can get past it at times, that pesky intellect keeps bringing it back up. And being a fair researcher, they have to ask themselves again if maybe those cruel words were true. Every time. For the rest of their lives.

Ever wonder why intellectuals end up so socially awkward, even though they possess the intellect to figure out how to get past it?

So back to the question – how do you think it makes the intellectual feel to get their attempt at helping you thrown back at them with a condemning insult? You know those television shows where the meek step-child tries to serve dinner to their evil Step-Mom, but the Step-Mom slaps the tray to the ground and hurls insults at the child? After all, being that it was a child who cooked the meal, I am sure there actually was a lot wrong with the food on the dish. That has happened to us all – we tried to do good, but because we used the wrong words, the wrong tone, etc – we got a finger back in our face with a mean rant on what we did wrong. That happens to us all. But as an intellectual, how do you respond to “you think you are so much smarter than everyone else” in any way that doesn’t make you sound like a know-it-all? There just isn’t. It is the Kobayashi Maru reaction of the discussion world. You just can’t win.

Intellectuals know they aren’t better than you. We are all really sorry that we come across that way at times. We often look at people that are such good hosts or singers or whatever and wish we could be as good as them. We often look at ourselves as less than most other people. Half the time when we read a book or article, we get new evidence of just how insignificant we are. Our “condescending tone” is more often us trying to raise our own adequacy levels in our own eyes up to the levels of everyone around us. That doesn’t make it right, but hopefully just explains what is happening on one side. Most people spend most of their time thinking about themselves and how wrong they are – not how wrong everyone else is. Intellectuals are no different.

Why do you have to correct everything everyone says? This is a common accusation leveled at every intellectual – which often makes no sense when it is asked. Here is why: I was asked this once on Facebook, and being an intellectual I had to see what the numbers said. Was it true that I corrected everything? According to my count, I averaged reading about 500 thoughts, posts, facts, etc. per week. About 200 of those were ones that I disagreed with in some way (usually a minor non-issue). Of the total average of 500, I commented on an average of 40 or so, and liked another 20. All of those comments except two were on the posts/comments I agreed with. Only two interactions that week where ones where I disagreed. So I also decided to look only at the interactions with the person that accused me of correcting everything. The numbers were smaller, but I still only disagreed with them 1% of the time that I interacted with them over a 6 month period. So it was hardly true that I corrected everything that everyone said. Because, for the record, my accuser did in 2% of the interactions that I had access to 🙂

The problem was not me correcting this person, or them not being open to correction, or them really doing it more than me. Well, there is probably some of all three in there, but what I see is the real problem is our society. To be wrong is BAD. You get punished, failed, scolded or mocked for being wrong. So most people learn to take being corrected in the worst possible way.

But to an intellectual, being wrong is often a good thing. We actually like being wrong – because it gives us a chance to learn something new. It gives us a chance to learn and grow and research.

So maybe that intensity you felt when we were showing you what was right was not us condemning you…. but possibly us getting excited that we had a chance to bring more Truth and Freedom into your life? Or maybe it was fear that you would just react the same way everyone does when we bring up our intellect?

Yes, we do it wrong sometimes. To other intellectuals out there – we have to learn to do this better. We can’t force everyone to see our side. We can just attempt to improve how we come across.

Can’t you just try not to be an intellectual? You hear this a lot, along with “can’t you just try to keep your mouth shut?” As if we have never tried? There is just something in us that makes us want to learn and share. People that just like to learn about a few things and keep it to themselves are usually labeled as a nerd (and I say that with all respect as a complete nerd and geek on many topics). Go ahead and tell a preacher they shouldn’t preach, or an artist that they shouldn’t paint, or a NASCAR racer that they shouldn’t race. With so many other people, it is socially acceptable for them to share their gift with the world. But there is this stigma in our culture with the intellectual sharing knowledge. “They are so stuck up” you say. So, you have never seen a stuck up NASCAR racer on TV? “They think they are better than all of us” you say. You have never met a weight lifter that thinks they are better than everyone else out there? “Well, there are always good people and bad people out there, so you shouldn’t lump the good in with the bad.” Agreed – and the same goes for intellectuals. There are nice ones and stuck up ones. But don’t lump us all in the same category. And yes, that does happen a lot. Intellectuals are typically pre-judged sooner, dismissed quicker, shut out more often, and forgiven less often than most other groups in the Church, with the obvious exception of gays.. I know someone that is still holding a grudge against an intellectual friend of mine 10 years after they had a falling out (all the while posting updates all over their wall on Facebook about how awesome it was to reconcile with a different friend so quickly). Our imperfections seem to be less forgiven than others.

We do have emotions. I know that might be hard to tell, but it is often true. We may rely on intellect more often, and try to let intellect rule the day, but there is only so far we can go with that. If we are getting pushed or insulted enough or hurt enough, we will let those emotions loose. And since we don’t spend near as much time thinking through that response, it will probably come out as a jumble of ideas, hurts, accusations, and justifications that don’t always make sense. Hey – we are used to thinking through things without emotion in the way. Once that gets in the way and things heat up, we are out of our comfort zone.

If you see that happening with an intellectual friend, please just stop. Yes, they should be the better person and stop first, but in this instance you need to trust me and be the one to step up and stop. You did something to hurt their feelings. Stop trying to prove yourself right or win the argument and stop. Find out what you did and just go from there. Once those emotions get going in an intellectual, it is like a dam has broken loose. A dam that was keeping back a lake full of broken branches and other dangerous objects. Trust me – you do not want to be standing in front of this tidal wave of potential hurtful objects, backed-up with a mind that probably knows and remembers more about you than you would like to admit.

To the intellectuals out there, try to learn to recognize the signs that this dam is about to burst. If you see it coming, get out at all costs. Stop the burst before you say or do something that you will regret for the rest of your life (literally). Yes, I do realize that it is hard to do that, but at least try. So many people out there care more about being right than being in a right relationship and they will push you over the edge. I know it seems like it can’t happen, but trust me, you can learn. Just this last month I had an acquaintance trying to push my buttons in the worst way (and boy do I have a dozy of an email to prove it). I didn’t react perfectly, but I did stop my personal emotional dam from breaking open and ended up being the only one that apologized or responded correctly. Which is quite an achievement if you know me 🙂

Why are you always defending yourself? I wish I had a good reason why here, but for some reason we just do that a lot. We don’t really see it as “defending” as much as explaining our credentials. In scholarly situations, it is pretty common for someone to challenge why they should listen to you. You respond with your publications or experience or whatever, and they just go “right – I see.” No one feels like they are demeaned or spoken down to. For some reason, this has transferred over to every day interactions with people that don’t get why you are telling them how awesome you are. It isn’t that – like I have shown, intellectuals often don’t think they are awesome – they just want to prove to you that you can trust them.

Intellectuals, sorry – we just have to stop that one. I need to stop that one. I don’t think anyone is ever going to get where we are coming from on this one.

———-
metamodern-faith-avatarSo I already have a book and I have barely scratched the surface. None of this is meant to justify how intellectuals act. None of this is meant to say that intellectuals never do anything wrong, are never guilty of arrogance, are never the one to blame. My hope is that you will see a bit more into the minds and actions of very misunderstood portion of the Christian Church, and also maybe learn to understand where they are coming from. Where I have unnecessarily romanticized the intellectual side or glossed over problems we cause, I apologize. I am an intellectual myself and my view is biased. And we are all different – so everything here might not apply to every intellectual out there. Or there might be more. We are a rather complex bunch after all 🙂

If a Literal Tree Falls in a Figurative Forest, is it Predestined to Not Make a Sound?

Even though my faith journey has been going on most of my life, the “Christian” part of that journey has only been active for a little over 20 years now. But I remember early on in my Christian faith journey when I ran into one of the most divisive and confusing debates in the church.

I’m not talking Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Or worship style. Or blue carpet versus navy carpet. Because you evil navy carpet people just need to…

Oh wait – back to the confusing debate. The one major fight that has baffled me time and time again through the years is also one of the most basic: figurative vs. literal.

I have probably heard almost every scripture in the Bible labeled as figurative or literal at some time or another (depending on what church culture background you come from). This label is often followed by the rock solid supporting evidence that “because this scripture five books over is obviously figurative, we then also have to take this scripture as figurative. Because it sounds figurative, that is why.”

Figurative stuff is often tricky in the Bible. Many Scholars at the time of Jesus thought the Messiah was figurative. I mean, how can a virgin have a child? Sounds impossible, so it must be figurative. But then Jesus came and changed all these figurative poems into historical narratives in the span of about 30 years.

And then there are those scriptures that are both. Take Galatians 3:26-29. This is obviously very figurative. At least, I am assuming it is. I can only speak for my wife and I, but we did not lose our gender or ethnicity once we became Christians. Maybe everyone else did… but I’m not gonna check.

But who wants a figurative equality? That’s not real equality. I assume that this verse speaks of figurative and literal equality. But as many complementarians point out, it does not literally say that these statements apply to the Church. It is just how we are treated by Christ – he sees us all as equals. But since there is literally no mention of Church structure in this verse, we can’t apply it to how we see gender roles in Church.

Fair enough. But let’s take the same literal look at the scriptures that some use to say that women can’t perform certain roles in the Church.

I Timothy 2 is one of the most quoted verses about women in the church. The literal interpretation of this scripture – we are usually told – tells us that women are not permitted to teach or hold authority in the Church. But for me, the problem with this line of thinking comes in the first four words of verse 8 (“Therefore I want men”) and 12 (“I do not permit”). Notice something missing there? Like… a direct command from God? Paul does not say “God does not permit” or “Therefore God wants”. He is expressing his opinion on the topic – for how churches under his authority are to structure themselves.

But wait, you say. He goes on in verses 13-15 to show how God ordained this Church structure from the beginning. Really? What I see is Paul giving his reasoning behind his beliefs – but not proving that it is supposed to be this way for all. In fact, he gets the story very wrong in verse 14 – Adam was also deceived and became a sinner, not just Eve. Verses 13-15 are just Paul backing up his point, not showing how this is a Church structure for all to follow until the end of time.

If you were to truly take I Timothy 2 literally, you would read verses 8-15 as Paul describing the way he wants his churches to operate, and nothing more. To take that and apply it to the universal church is adding a figurative interpretation to the scriptures that is not literally there.

After all, Paul had no problem telling people what he thought was directly from God for all believers and what wasn’t. So the fact that he didn’t point that out here, if you take it in light of all his writings and his writing style, would seem to indicate that he is writing his feelings for HIS churches. If this is to be the command for all churches for all time, then we have a huge problem with verse 14. God wants an incorrect idea of Paul’s to be a command for all churches to follow for all times?

It is also interesting that Paul said that women cannot hold authority over men. But then in Romans 16:1 he clearly states that sister Phoebe is a deacon in the church (using the same word as is used in I Timothy 3:8-13. Obviously, Paul never meant for us to believe that no church can have a woman leader. He is making a specific decision for a specific church under his authority. Otherwise, why would he commend Phoebe for violating what he thought was the case for all churches everywhere?

Paul is no longer on this Earth, so therefore he is no longer in authority over any churches. Every church has someone in charge that can decided to carry on with Paul’s opinions here, but they are not required to. Nothing in the scriptures says this. You have to step away from a literal interpretation of I Timothy 2 to apply it to your church in modern times.

In fact, when looking at all of the relatively few scriptures in the Bible about women in the church, you see the exact same problem. Well, for complementarians and patriarchs, that is.

For example, let’s look at I Corinthians 11. In verses 1 and 2, Paul literally states that these are his traditions and desires, not necessarily God’s. Verses 2-16 he gives his reasoning, but notice that literally he is backing up his traditions with his own logic, not necessarily scriptural commands. Has anyone ever noticed that he contradicts himself in verses 11 and 12 (compare verses 8 and 12)? And of course he ends with a good old dose of “Paul Guilt Trip” in verse 16. Kind of like he hinted that since he was filled with the Spirit that meant his views against marriage were probably best. Or that whole letter to Philemon thing. Some see this as Paul saying these statements are command for all churches. But the problem is, he doesn’t literally say that here. He is just saying that all churches at that time had that practice, so don’t argue with me!

Not everything is so easy from a literal standpoint. I Corinthians 14:34-35 is a particularly hard pair of verses, but not because of what they clearly say. The problem with these verses are the contradictions that they seem to cause with other scriptures.

Before I get to that, let me say a few things. If you think that women can’t speak in Church, but you don’t let people prophesy or speak in tongues in Church, close the browser and step away. I can’t even begin to unpack the twist and turns that you took to get to a place that believes that verses 27-33 are for a different time and culture, but verses 34-35 are for now. That is such a blatant contradiction that I can’t even mess with it here.

Secondly, I need to point out that what most people who say they believe in a “literal” take on scriptures really mean “surface-y and anthropocentric.” To be truly literal, you need to go deep into the original meaning and look at everything with God at the center, not humans. To take a surface look at I Corinthians 14, you run into several contradictions:

  • The Greek for the words used in vs. 24-26 of I Corinthians are gender-inclusive, meaning Paul is telling men and women to speak in Church (“What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn,or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation”). Then he turns around and tells them not to speak?
  • In Titus 2:3-5, Paul commends women who are good teachers of other women. But I Corinthians 14:35 says they should only learn from their husbands?
  • Again in verse 39, Paul says “ Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy.” Why would he tell women to be eager to prophesy if he was telling women they had to be silent?
  • Verse 34 also references the Law, but have you ever noticed that no Bible contains a note there to tell where in the Law this is? (because it’s not there)

The secret to unlocking this is to go to the Greek. In the Greek, the first word of verse 36 is often left out of many translations. But some have it, and translate it best when they start verse 36 with “WHAT?” The drastic subject shift from verses 33 to 34 is actually meant to show that Paul is quoting something that the Corinthians wrote to him in vs. 34-35, in which they incorrectly quote the Law. Paul’s response is to say “What? Do you guys think you can make up scripture?” He frequently shows from his responses all around this verse that he intends for men and women to speak in church (you can find a closer examination of this idea here).

Pretty much any other scripture in the Bible that deals with women in the church falls into one of the areas explored here, so hopefully I don’t have to spell those out for you 🙂

The overall problem you get with the complementarian take on scripture is that you have to add a level of figurative interpretation to scripture to even get to the place that women have different roles. In a literal sense, Paul is either down right rebuking the idea that women couldn’t do certain things, or he is giving a specific command to a specific church for reasons that are probably lost to us now. Think of it this way: how do you pay your taxes? Do you grab a fishing rod and head to the lake hoping to find some money in a fish’s mouth? That is the only method Jesus gives us in scripture for paying taxes. If we are to take that literally (in a surface-y and anthropocentric manner), then we should follow the example that Jesus gave to Peter. But a truly deep literal examination of those scriptures show that was just a one time occurrence for Peter. We all know that, but I wonder why we don’t apply that same logic to other scriptures, to see when Paul (and other writers) are giving one time commands or even rebukes of weird ideas, and when they are giving true lessons for all times.

metamodern-faith-avatarI have more to say on this topic, but it is time to take a break. Next I want to look at the weird idea that says that Christianity has a distinct “male” feel to it (which will be a shorter post), and then follow that up with an examination of the scriptural role of women in the family/home (which will probably be a much longer post). While I am at it I need to explain more on how too many take an “either/or” attitude towards literal or figurative interpretations of scriptures that are supposed to be both. Which would lead into how most people who say they translate Genesis 1-2 literally actually don’t really translate these scriptures literally.