With all of the the talk about “civility” recently, I have been trying to figure out exactly when American became a civilized nation. Was it after we invaded this continent in the first place, pushing aside the original inhabitants (often in violent manners)? Was it after we started a war to gain independence? Or maybe it was after we stopped justifying slavery as a civilized norm? Was it after World War I, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the whatever-you-call our current wars? Or maybe it was after we finally gave all people the right to vote and participate in society equally? What exactly does “civility” mean in a country with a history of violence and mistreatment (both here and abroad) like ours?
Of course, maybe all of the calls for civility would not sound so hollow if so many had not just now started saying anything at all. I mean – black churches were burned… no calls for civility. Immigrant children were separated from their parents… and no calls for civility. The LGBTQA community faces constant attacks, death threats, and harassment daily… and no calls for civility. But a handful of rich white people lose a dinner while some others call for more to be harassed…. and stop the presses! We need civility NOW!
And the weird way people cherry-pick religion to support their new-found desire for civility? Especially when they didn’t say a word when white supremacists marched; or when our leaders said horrible things about people with disabilities, about women, about Muslims, about all kinds of people? Take, for instance, how Bob Vander Plaats focused on how Jesus told people that have disagreements to go and meet with those they have the disagreement with. Of course, the scripture there does not say “first” like Plaats misquotes it as, and secondly, he conveniently leaves out how Jesus again and again spoke out harshly against those he disagreed with publicly – many that He had never met. Plaats makes it seems like the only Biblical way to respond to disagreements is to privately meet with those that you disagree with, or else keep it to yourself. The Bible is not that black and white on this issue by a long shot, and it is unfortunate that Plaats would misrepresent scripture like this.
To a certain degree, I do agree with Plaats that we should get to know people before demonizing them – but I wouldn’t make that an absolute rule to live by. In many cases, it wouldn’t be safe to meet those one disagrees with (I wouldn’t recommend a woman go meet with someone from GamerGate, for instance). But we also have to realize that there is a lot more to be done after we get to know people. Plaats’ scenario is not the solution, it is a place for some to start. Plaats described where he got to know a leader in the LGBTQA community, and they stopped demonizing each other. But the problem is, both sides often can’t have both of their stances in society. We can’t can both “marriage quality for all” AND “traditional definition of marriage” as the law at the same time. It is good that they learned how to get a long. But someday, one of them will be deemed “wrong” by society. One, day, one of them will have to stick with their side and be on the wrong side of society, or change sides.
Sitting down for coffee with those we disagree with will help us get along better with certain people, but will not solve the problems in society if that is all it does. “Civility” is a call by the privileged to stay at the coffee table when they suddenly see society getting up from coffee talk and taking away their privileged spots.
But I still have a problem with people thinking that our society was all that “civilized” in the first place, or that we really need to hang on to it (if it was). Maybe it is because I live in the South and we see through civility so easily down here. People will say “bless your heart!” as way to tell you how ignorant they think you are. So many people live out civility in cities where racism is still rampant. So many people claim to be “civilized” while still being racist themselves. Civility is just too low of a target.
Mike Caulfield made an excellent point that we need decency rather than civility:
Civility is often a push-back to conflict, as a call to ignore disagreements and just get along (even though that is not really what it should be – but that is another issue for another time). Decency is how we treat people even when we disagree – or even how we call out people that aren’t decent to others (sometimes decency requires you to stand against those who aren’t decent). There is nothing wrong with disagreeing. But if your response to finally receiving some push back for the way you treat others is to scream “we need civility!!!!” when you have never done so when others are mistreated, that is not decent. Civility – for too long of a time – has kept different standards for different people. You can’t have one response to one type of harassment (telling men to grab women by their….) and another response to another lesser type of harassment (getting booted out of a restaurant) and still be “decent.” But you can have different responses and still be “civilized.” Civility never was that great of a thing.
The past few weeks, I have been reading many responses from “moderate conservative” Christians to the Nashville Statement controversy. Many of them attempt to explain why liberal/progressive Christians are (typically) affirming of LGBTQA issues, while others attempt to dissect why some conservatives are stuck in the middle and not sure what side to take (while sneakily pointing out where liberals are wrong as well).
Most of these lists or examinations of why a Christian (conservative, moderate, liberal, anything) would become LGBTQA affirming are unfortunate at best. The authors do a pretty good job at exposing their utter lack of understanding of the liberal/progressive Christian viewpoint on this issue. Many progressive Christians are not LGBTQA affirming because they ignore the Bible or church tradition, but because they have studied it all deeply and come to different conclusions on what is in the Scriptures and the history of the Church.
Full stop. This is their reason. If you don’t agree, fine – you can believe what you want about these issues. But you don’t get to re-write anyone’s reasons because you disagree with them. You don’t get to define or re-write their reasons. That would go for the moderates and conservatives that are considering the progressive side as well. Taking their well-thought out, or extensively wrestled with, or even intensely debated reasons and re-imagining them as a list of moral failures or lack of personal fortitude is just inappropriate.
Don’t forget that most church traditions believed that all people of color and all women were less than white men until they changed their stance within recent memory. Or that the word “homosexual” first appeared in writing in 1869 – meaning that it probably didn’t exist as the same concept it does today much before then. So stop claiming “long church traditions” on a word that has only existed for as long as some church traditions have believed in letting women vote or letting black people drink out of the same fountain.
If you are not going to be bothered to understand the progressive position (or why some conservatives are interested in it) deeply enough to get it right, or to misrepresent it when you write about it, then just don’t say anything until you can speak Truth.
Or let’s look at it this way: Rod Drehler makes a list of what he thinks motivates “conservative Christians who are considering adopting the pro-LGBT position.” These reasons probably are true for some, but after reading through books and blog posts of many people that are wrestling with this question, I find little Truth in Drehler’s points. Plus, Drehler’s list is really just a generic list of bad reasons why people make decisions, with a few words tweaked to make it about his point. One could easily tweak those few words another way to make it true about why many other conservatives staunchly stick with anti-LGBTQA positions:
- Discomfort with being called or thought of as a friend of gays, and with the social stigma attached to it
- A desire to deny homosexuals the blessings of marriage.
- Belief that marriage is intrinsically complementary, in terms of male and female, but no ability to point out where that is commanded in the Bible beyond a few anecdotal references by the writers of certain Biblical passages that are never attributed as direct commands from God (aka, never printed in red letters for a reason).
- An inability to explain why gay marriage and homosexuality in general is wrong, except for “because the Bible tells us so.” [yes, this one stays the same – think about it]
- Having no real dialogue with a gay or transgendered person in one’s life, and not understanding how that person suffers — especially if that person is one’s child.
- Belief that the struggle over sexuality within the church is not that important, and is keeping the church from focusing on more important things (e.g., “When can we stop talking about gay marriage and get back to preaching the Gospel?”)
- Resignation over the fact that the church has solidified so much with Purity Culture to this point that it makes no practical sense to reconsider lines based more on 1950s sexual frustration than Biblical concepts. Better to accept that reality and to work within it as best one can to preach, teach, and live the Gospel
If you are really want to know how many progressives have thought through this issue from scripture, from history, from logic, from tradition, and from any other angle they are accused of ignoring, I would encourage you to read these posts (as a starting point):
- Response to Kevin DeYoung’s “40 Questions For Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags”
- Marriage by the Book
- Yes, I Do Believe in Your Scripture De Jour, But….
- Why Are So Many Evangelical Leaders Clueless?
- Transgender and the Garden of Eden
- America Has Always Gone Against Global and Historical Definitions of Marriage
- What if We are Just Starting to get Gender and Sex and Sexuality and All of that Right?
- Is Same-Sex Marriage Unjust?
- Its Not ‘Distorted Thinking’ – Its Called Using Our Brains
- When Albert Mohler and Other Church Leaders Resort to Lies and Manipulation
- Is The Church Really Homophobic?
Not everyone knows this about me, but I am certified to teach art at the Jr. High/High school level in Texas. We studied a lot about art history and the symbolism behind art, especially public displays like monuments. The thing to remember is that there is no way to memorialize everything “historical” that needs to be memorialized. We would have statues every two feet to even begin that. Society has to pick and choose what to memorialize. Just putting up a statue in the first place is revisionist in several ways, because you choose to symbolize one thing over another. But because of this, statues are not just about history or art. They also have to symbolize who we are now and what we want to become in the future. That is how you move a memorial out of being a mere “historical artifact” (or worse “historical revisionism”) and into being an actual monument. That is also why, for instance, 9/11 monuments don’t show a building blowing up, but usually symbols to memorialize those that died while at the same time pointing to a better future that we want to see happen.
Also, we have to realize that there is a difference – from an artistic and symbolic perspective – between memorializing events and memorializing people. This is why we see memorials to the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King, Jr. A memorial to the civil rights movement is not really appropriate for memorializing King, and a memorial to King is not really appropriate for memorializing the whole civil rights movement. Statues of people symbolize what that person did and who they were, not just the movement they led or were connected to – or the culture they were a part of.
This leads to the problem of Civil War statues of General Lee and other Confederate leaders being confused for memorials of the history and culture of the South. The United States Civil War was a specific type of war that was ideological in focus while being contained within our borders. Not all wars are like that, so we have to be careful when comparing it to other wars our country has been in, like the Korean War or World War II (or really any of the others). The ideas we divided over would shape the future of our country. Therefore, how we choose to memorialize and symbolize our Civil War is important. Do we symbolize the Civil War itself, or the leaders of the war? The difference is important.
This important difference means that the symbolism of the statues becomes ingrained with the history they represent – otherwise, they just simply aren’t “art.” If you look at the statues of General Lee (or other confederate leaders), they always have the pose of a leader. Sometimes taking a step forward, or on a horse – leading. This is to symbolize not only the historical record of where they led us in the past (dividing a nation to protect a state’s right to treat certain humans as less than human), but also to memorialize where the people were at during the time it was built and where they wanted to go in the future. Therefore, these statues symbolize not only art and history, but a future where people want to follow in General Lee’s footsteps again. That is why they created a statue of him as a leader (or actively leading on a horse), when he is no longer a leader. If the builders of the statues had wanted to symbolize a memorial to remind us not divide over hate again, they would not have made a statute that literally memorializes a leader leading his people into dividing over hate. No, a statue immortalizing General Lee as still leading is symbolic of a hope to go down that past road again.
Civil War monuments are also unique in that they are some of the only statues built by the losing side to memorialize their failed leaders. This has rarely happened in the history of war and conquest. Imagine the Romans (or any other large force) allowing the areas they conquered to build statues to their losing military leaders. No, usually the conquering force came in and tore down any statues of the people they conquered, and replaced them with statues of those people being conquered. To send a message. Because statues and memorials almost always send a message about the future at the same time they teach about the past.
Also, in the cases where conquered people’s statues weren’t destroyed, they were taken down and moved to a museum or trophy case of the winning side. We still see that in modern day America – symbols of the “losing” side are, at best, displayed in a museum. Most are filed away and forgotten in warehouses.
But let’s take the idea of Civil War statues into a modern context to really drive home this point. And no, not Korean War. For many reasons, the Korean War is a horrible comparison for the Civil War. No war in America can really be used as a good comparison. The closest parallel I can think of for this point (even though it is still problematic) is 9/11. Think of it this way: what if America had annexed Afghanistan as a new state (sorry Guam and Puerto Rico) and somehow the Taliban had settled down and became citizens. Then a large chunk of them moved to the U.S. and wanted to build statues to Osama Bin Laden and the people believed to have caused 9/11. And then we actually let them. And then a few decades later we wised up to how insensitive and inappropriate it was to build those statues in the first place. And then their descendants claimed we couldn’t take those statues down because it represented history and culture.
Would we buy into that? Doubtful. The people protesting the removal of Civil War statues would be the main ones crying out for the removal of these hypothetical statues. Let that sink in.
Truth is a concept that gets thrown around a lot these days. What is the Truth of this political situation? What is the Truth of that famous person’s claim? What is the Truth of this scientific study? On and on it goes.
Much has been written about Absolute Truth versus relative truths. For the record, I believe that there is Truth and there are truths. But how many times have we gotten lost in the search for Truth or truths that are still “out there” and “illusive,” all the while missing “reality” that is right in front of us and needs to be dealt with?
Science is one area where we debate Truth, truths, and “alternative truths.”
Let’s talk Truth in science a bit, and the concept of “what science says” is Truth. What you hear in school or on the news is not necessarily “what science says” in an exact and specific manner. It is usually a condensed, simplified, and amplified version designed to be easily shareable or to gain viewers/readers/etc.
For example, you hear people say that one week that scientific Truth says coffee is bad for you, and the next week science says coffee is good for you, so that means facts and truth are relative and science is not trust-able… right? However, science never really says “Coffee good unga unga!” or “coffee bad unga unga!” What science says is something like “under these circumstances in reality, those that drink this much coffee are 30% more likely to develop these possibly negative factors” or “under these circumstances in reality, people that drink coffee this many times per day are 52% likely to live 4 years longer than those that don’t.” People in the news and media simplify that to “Scientists say coffee may be good for you!” because, well, we have short attention spans and they have to catch our attention quickly. But that is not what “Science says” – it is what a reporter say about a scientific report. To dismiss science because of this is a bad idea, because you are not dismissing scientific Truth but how some report on science.
Or for another example: people say that they were taught in school that scientific Truth says that Saturn was the only planet in the solar system with rings, but that ended up not being true, so scientific facts and Truth must be relative. However, “science” never said Saturn was the only planet with rings. In 1789, William Herschel reported seeing rings around Uranus and got several details about them correct. No one else saw them again for hundreds of years until the 1970s, but the idea that there could be other planets with rings has been a scientific possibility for hundreds of years. A few decades ago, science textbooks said things like “based on our current reality and abilities to view space, Saturn is the only planet that we currently know of that has rings, but it is possible that others will be discovered.” Your teacher might have shortened that to save time to “Saturn is the only planet with rings,” but that does not mean that is fully what science said in Truth.
So in order to critique science, you have to look at what science actually says and not how it has been summarized by non-scientists. To throw out scientific evidence just because you don’t like it is just reckless at best. I mean, really – scientists spend their whole career studying something, using thousands if not millions of dollars in funding and hundreds of full time hours to come up with their science… and you come along with no experience or funding or employment in the field and spend a few minutes or even a few hours reading about their work and just decide “I don’t buy it” and that means science is wrong or relative or whatever? Ummm…. nope.
But if that is the case, then great. We can reject any facts simply because we don’t like them or they don’t add up in our minds. Awesome! I will now call everyone that believes this “She-ra Princess of Power” because the evidence that your name is Jeff or whatever just doesn’t “seem right” to me. Your birth certificate and decades of experience being called your name is now irrelevant to me, She-ra – sorry. I disagree with your name and that is all that matters.
But, of course, the reality is that you are called Jeff at this moment, so the Truth of your name is irrelevant to me at this moment. I have to focus on your name being Jeff because that is what the reality at this moment is.
So that is why I am growing less interested in talking “Truth” and more interested in talking “reality” in most circumstances where practical solutions are needed. Of course, I would be glad to sit over a meal and chat Truth with those that like those kind of deep talks, but those rarely solve the problems in the world. What we need as a country is to face reality.
For example, the Truth about Trump’s involvement with Russia is that we just don’t know for sure what the Truth is. But the reality is that there is a lot of concerning evidence that many laws were broken, so we need to fully investigate those concerns to find out either way.
The Truth about climate change is that there is much we do not know about what is going on on our planet in general. But the reality is that the numbers and signs are not good and pointing towards imminent global catastrophe. So we could argue the Truth about blips and problems with the Science, or live in the reality that we currently have and do something about it.
Truth is something that is always true and any changes to it will cause massive crises of faith, thus revealing it to have never been “True.” But a reality is something that is real right now, but it may change in the future and still be real.
For instance, the Truth about the DNC rigging the Democratic nomination for Clinton is that we just don’t know if that was really true or possible. The reality is that the evidence for that idea that we currently have was mostly fabricated by WikiLeaks. I can’t say that is a Truth either way right now because something could be released tomorrow either way to prove me a liar. But I can say that the reality right now is that we have no credible evidence that the DNC rigged anything. That reality might change either way in the future, but all we have to act on at this moment is reality.
There are, of course, historical, scientific, and political issues that we do know the Truth about. Or at least parts of it. Time, investigation, and research have provided a solid foundation of Truth. In other cases, it depends on what you are talking about. Do you want to know the final Truth about every aspect of climate change? Can’t give you that. But we can give you a whole ton of concerning current realities. For instance, do you want to know the Truth about whether humans have caused some problematic climate change? We can provide you with that – that part of Truth is also a current reality for the bigger issue of climate change. It’s all inter-related in some ways. A bit fuzzy and hard to pinpoint depending on the angle you take, but clearer and clearer from another angle. Kind of like, well… metamodernism
But so often we are arguing current realities as if they are already settled Truth. Or arguing against current realities because they lack the ability to reach the level of settled Truth (yet). So I prefer to keep the arguments about current realities and leave the discussions of Truth to be with those that can handle that conversation without all the drama.
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).
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.
Then 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.
We are now all being told that the biggest problem with with our national discourse on the election is that we don’t listen to each other. On the surface, this is a good point because listening is usually always a good idea. However, it seems that this good idea is being served with an unhealthy side dish of “if you are disagreeing, it is because you are not listening and understanding.”
We tend to accept this side dish because we are taught that our problems would all be solved if we just realized that we are more alike than we are different.
But what if we all start listening to each other right now and find that…. we are all still different on many key issues?
I have lived in Texas all my life. My parents are not very conservative, but probably 90%+ of all people that I have known are. I know and understand the conservative position as much as any conservative does (and sometimes even more so). And because I understand, I disagree. Bigly.
However, I don’t believe that the conservative viewpoint should be silenced or removed from the national discourse on and topic. Many conservatives feel like their viewpoint is not being heard because the liberal media and biased system is keeping it out. To advocate for those feelings to be ignored will just cause them to grow stronger.
But at the same time, I know that there are factual problems with that last paragraph. There is a conservative side of the media that tells their story and technically gets more viewers than the liberal side. The system is a mess that causes many problems with many people, not just conservatives. And even those two sentences are greatly oversimplifying some complex issues.
But the current drift of our national narrative is heading towards an attitude that will label me as not “listening” or “understanding” just because I disagree.
Its not really one way or the other. Sometimes listening leads us to realize we are more alike than we realize – on some issues. Sometimes listening leads us to realize we are really different on some issues and that can’t be changed.
The other side of this problem are those that say that all opinions on all issues are valid, and that we should stop telling anyone that they are wrong. This, of course, is followed by a long list of exceptions to this all inclusive declaration: except for racism, except for sexism, except for religion discrimination, except for heterosexism, except for ableism, etc. This whole package sounds good on the surface, until you dig in and find out that its not that people don’t want you calling out any of these exceptions as much as they want to re-assign everything to different categories so that nothing falls into any negative area. For instance, people will acknowledge that racism exists, but any specific instance of racism is labeled as something else – misunderstanding, social media hype, personal feelings, etc – and therefore moved into the category of “personal opinion” rather than societal problem. Racism exists, its just that there are no racists. Somehow, its magic.
I know people by name that have made racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, transphobic, etc statements and jokes on social media. So I am not saying they are any of those because they voted for Trump – I knew that they were long before Trump was even considering running. I just didn’t see anyone that had inflammatory statements before the election posting on social media about how they voted for Clinton, Johnson, Stein, or no one after the election.
And so when I also saw people that never posted or said anything prejudiced declaring their support for Trump, you can maybe now see why it confused me. Did you know what you were voting for? Did you care? Why did you not point out that you disagreed with Trump’s sexist, racist, ableist, heterosexist rhetoric until after someone asked you how you could be okay with that? Before the election, I had one cousin that pointed out how much he hated Trump but as a Republican only wanted to vote Republican and felt trapped. I believe him. A few other connections that stated a general discomfort with “some” of Trump’s rhetoric. I believe them as well. These people are unfairly getting labeled many things they shouldn’t be.
I am not a huge fan of blanket statements. I try to avoid them even in the few cases where I suspect they might be true. But I also have listened to many Trump supporters enough to know where a majority of them come from, and I disagree with a majority of their reasoning for voting for Trump (and technically, all votes are for someone – the ballot did not say “against Hillary Clinton” on it). Additional listening on my part will not change my disagreements (even though I will still be listening because that is just who I am).
And for that matter, I don’t think getting Trump supporters to listen to me will get them to change their mind on many stances wither (even though it would be nice to stop being personally accused of killing millions of unborn babies with my own hands because I voted for Clinton).
So this is the challenge we are facing in America. Understanding each other is not going to solve all of our problems. Some, maybe, but not all. It will lead us to realize there are some things we just can’t agree on. We will need to find a way to agree to disagree and then work towards a system where everyone’s rights are protected. This will not be simple or easy. And the incoming administration seems to think there are simple one-solution-fits-all answers for every problem more so than not. I hope we don’t have to go through a large number of national tragedies and hardships for them to realize this is not the case.
This has been some election year. The only reason I haven’t blogged more is that so much changes every day that I can never keep up with it all. One of the constants that I do see continually popping up about this election is that the future of the Supreme Court is the main concern for many voters. All sides of the political spectrum (because there are more than two) feel that the Supreme Court will intensely impact the future of our country.
I don’t disagree that the Supreme Court is very important in every election cycle. But I completely disagree that it is the most important issue in this election.
You only need to look into the eyes of the people around you to see what is the most important thing in this election. And what I am seeing is heart breaking.
I am seeing my own wife growing more and more disillusioned with America in general as an openly sexist woman-hater spouts out hatred and attacks against women while still gaining mass support from millions of people.
I am seeing people of color become more and more depressed over hateful white supremacy becoming the norm as people wish to “make America great again” (which to people of color means oppression, discrimination, and slavery – that was what happen back when “again” is referenced).
I am seeing Muslims growing fearful that next year they might become violently expelled out of this country, or that their family in another country might be mistaken for a terrorist family and bombed out of existence by someone that thinks they deserved it in the first place.
I am seeing people justify sexual assault-filled language as “normal” and “presidential.”
I am seeing a hate-filled man tearing this country apart by speaking his opinion as “truth”…. and people that call themselves “Christians” supporting this with things like (false) prophecies and (fake) words from the Lord.
These people – the ones that are being filled with disillusion, depression, fear, and hatred – they are the future of this country. We will reap what we sow. We will reap what our leaders sow.
Is having your political position represented on the Supreme Court really more important than the emotional well-being of over half the country?
Look, I remember in 1980 when one political side thought the country would fall apart if Reagan was elected and was able to appoint Supreme Court justices. Same thing in 1988 with Bush. Then the other political side thought the country would fall apart if Bill Clinton won in 1992. Then it flipped the other way for Bush in 2000, and the other way for Obama in 2008.
Guess what. The country never falls apart no matter which political side wins the election. The Supreme Court can only rule on issues that come before them, and that is a random collection of issues that is impossible to predict.
But the damage that can happen to the emotional well-being of our country if a guy that is on no one’s side but his own (as he has often stated) can not be under-estimated. We have already seen the rising level of hatred towards women, people of color, religious minorities, people with disabilities, and the LGBTQA community. All of which have been targeted by one party, more specifically their chosen candidate.
So while the Supreme Court may make a decision a few years from now that you don’t agree with, you will daily have to look into the eyes of women, people of color, religious minorities, people with disabilities, or someone from the LGBTQA community and acknowledge that you voted for a person to lead this country that has spoken harsh, hate-filled words about them.
Even if he loses.
Let that sink in a minute: Every. Day.
To me, the heart of the message of Jesus is that we care more about people than politics, more about their well-being than our political positions, more about the least of these than the loudest of these. The Supreme Court is not in the Bible. The people around you are. Make sure that if you consider yourself a Christian or a decent human being, that you get your priorities straight when it comes to the upcoming election. There is something far more important than the Supreme Court at stake in this election: the souls of the people all over this country that have felt the hate-filled wrath of Donald Trump through the actions of his followers. Always remember that words influence actions.
If you have been at an evangelical church for more than a few sermons, you have probably run into some variation of the “counter culture” church narrative. This is basically the idea that 10-20 years ago, the church was the center of American culture. However, either the media or the government or both have been plotting against the church to move America away from Christian values. That has resulted in a Church that is now counter-cultural, in the midst of a culture that has different values than those at the Church.
If you are lucky it ends there. If not, you also get to hear about how a great persecution is coming, how churches will be shut down, and how Christians are soon to be going to jail for simply having faith.
Witness, for example, these recent articles:
There are many others like them. The problem is, these articles and the narrative that inspired them gets our “culture” all wrong.
Take some of these “most counter-cultural” values from the first article: patience, humility, hope, etc. How exactly are these “radically counter-cultural,” as the author says? The problem is, they aren’t. Go to the various values pages of most schools or colleges or community groups, or look at the values objectives in most state educational standards, or look at what characteristics are most valued on most TV shows, and you will find humility, hope, patience, etc explicitly listed. I know these specific characteristics are written into many state level educational standards, because I have studied those standards and read them for myself. They are not counter-cultural at all. They are being ingrained in our culture.
The second article about “dating lies” is so weird I don’t even know where to start. Nothing on TV or in our culture teaches this. Not at least any I have seen.
Which leads to the main problem with the “counter-cultural” church. Which culture does that refer to? America is a diverse place, full of different cultures that have different cultural norms. We all belong to slightly different sociocultural groupings. You can’t throw all of that into one box and call it “American Culture.” Its not that simple.
Another problem is the historical roots of the “counter-cultural church” narrative. You might think I quoted the first two paragraphs from a recent church sermon. However, I didn’t. Those ideas are from a interview in 1971 with early Jesus Music pioneer Larry Norman. Yes, that narrative is at least 40 years old (except Norman himself actually got it from sources that had been using it for over 20 years). Yet my first paragraph exactly describes a sermon I heard two weeks ago.
So if this “counter cultural church” narrative is over 60 years old, how is it that “culture” has suddenly moved away 10-20 years ago? Where is this great persecution that – 60 years ago and even today – is right around the corner? If people in 2016 thinks our “culture” has moved away from the Church in the past 20 years, but people 40 years ago said the same thing, what’s the deal?
The deal is that this whole “counter cultural church” narrative is a false gospel. To some people, it is good news that the culture is rejecting them, because that means they get to be mean back to the culture.
But if our culture is a diverse thing that is hard to put in a box, and many facets of it value the same things we value as a church, then what is the real problem in churches? Why does the church seem to be on the decline in so many people’s minds?
In general, when looking at Protestant churches (where you will usually find these ideas in sermons), attendance is only down among… white people. When you look at people of color, whether Black, Latino, Asian, etc., you see that attendance trends are increasing.
The truth is, the Protestant church is becoming less white.
Not necessarily declining, or losing ground to our culture, just shifting in ways that those that have enjoyed the position of power are probably uncomfortable with. Instead of acknowledging this trend, they decided to create the false gospel of the counter culture church.
Has anyone else listened to the current political debates playing out on social media and feel that it all seems familiar? Not as is “this argument happened last time,” but some thing even closer to home than that? Am I the only one that thinks the two sides are beginning to resemble a couple in the midst of a divorce going at each other? And I’m not talking about the “oh, they are just drifting apart” kind, but the “should we get the police here before we have to call an ambulance” kind?
Yeah, America needs marriage counseling pronto. And I say marriage counseling for a reason. When two people don’t get along, you don’t just tell them they need unity… they are already united whether they want to be or not (just like we are in America). You don’t let them blame external forces for dividing them. You tell them one thing: they need to sit down and listen to each other. And not just listen, but learn to practice what is called active listening:
According to experts in the field of communication, active listening means that you possess and have developed a specific kind of communication skill that allows you to fully hear what another person is trying to say.
There are many ways to do this, but the article that I quoted above lists five good places where America (aka “you reading this”) could start:
- Let your partner speak”This simply means that you should refrain from arguing your case until your partner finishes stating her or his position.”
- Put yourself in your partner’s shoes”During times of conflict, you should enter the conversation with specific goals of what you would like to learn from your mate – and not your talking points.”
- Don’t jump to conclusions”Even when folks are trying to listen, they sometimes assume that they know what their mate will say before the words can escape their mouth.”
- Ask questions”Avoid asking questions disguised as accusations. Instead, focus on knowledge that you truly need in order to better understand your partner’s position.
- Paraphrase what your partner says”Be aware there is a big difference between paraphrasing and parroting. In other words, don’t engage in a verbatim account or take on a litigious tone.”
Notice what this advice doesn’t say: “Quote Bible verses that say you should listen more than speak to the one you need to listen to” “Tell them that other factors are dividing you and there are the reasons why you can’t get along.” “Minimize their point of view by saying your point of view is just as important or more so than theirs.”
Look, I believe in unity. I believe in speaking in love and not hate. But too many times we use the ideas of unity, speaking in love, letting no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth, we are all the same on the inside, the world is changed by your example and not your opinion, the media is dividing us so turn it off, etc to silence the other “side” rather than to actively listen to them.
To put this another way, even good responses can be the wrong responses when utilized at the wrong time or with the wrong intentions.
I hate to have to bring it up, but those in power usually use the concept of “unity” to force their political stance on those that they have power over. And even if you don’t buy that, any concept like “unity” has to be defined, and different people will have different definitions. If the goal is unity, then one definitive version of what that means will have to win out. And everyone else will be forced to follow the winner.
Therefore, unity is not really a great goal at this point. Maybe someday, but not now. Besides, we have had unity forced upon us in America already. It hasn’t been working all that great, especially in recent years. We don’t need to ignore our differences, or even acknowledge them and then gloss over them in pursuit of one side’s view of unity. We need marriage counseling. We need to understand each other. We need to see each other as humans and not as sides to be opposed. To some reading this, that is unity. But to those that haven’t benefited from the majority’s view of “unity” so far in America, it is actually a much higher goal. Equality.