zero-sum

I can’t tolerate racism. Ideologically and systemically people are still subjected to injustice simply due to the color of their skin. As someone who inherited the privileges of being a racial majority in the States (let’s just say sunlight isn’t very friendly to me), it could be so easy for me to ignore the suffering of others, so simple for me to cling to the persistent lies that “we solved racism a while ago” or that “it’s not that big of a deal” or that “the real problem is the reverse racism of affirmative action and the liberal media.” I believed all of those, once. I’ve had to repent many times of my blindness and carelessness, of my stereotypes and ignorance that contributed (and, as I’m sure I’m not perfect, still contribute) to the pain of many men and women and children, including brothers and sisters in the Church.

Because of all that, I try to call out racism whenever I see it (whether in the form of overt prejudice, unexamined assumptions, or systemic imbalance) and encourage my friends to do the same, hoping that the Church, as well as our society, will become free from the scourge of such injustice. In short: I want to absolutely crush it without compromise. I may be constitutionally required (to a degree) to allow certain organizations to hold to their gross ideologies, but I want to make sure they are at least reduced to an impotent and laughable sham.

So, I get it.

While I personally hesitate to completely equate the African-American civil rights movement with the current push for LGBTQ rights (though there are definitely similarities!), I totally understand why many frame the conversation in those terms. And I understand why, for them, there can be no compromise. I may think there is no commonality between the segregationists’ acidic trash-of-an-ideology of MLK’s time and traditional Church teaching on sexuality expressed in love and grace, but of course I wouldn’t!

Many conservative Christians exclaimed in horror when Chick-fil-A’s first amendment rights seem to be under attack, but, honestly, I wasn’t upset. If it turns out the founders of Burger King financially supported the White Supremacist party, I would seriously hope every Christian (well, everybody) would absolutely boycott them. (I actually try to avoid fast-food joints anyway, due to concerns of food quality, chemicals, and animal abuse, but for the sake of illustration…)

My concern during the whole Chick-fil-A thing (gosh I hate to bring it up again) was simply that we appeared to be on the defensive end of another zero-sum cultural land grab, which creates an atmosphere largely toxic to nuanced and peaceful dialogue. But would you want to create an atmosphere that allows White Supremacists to “nuance” their evil ideology? No, absolutely not.

So, again, I get it.

In fact, every time I think about writing a post about how I hope the zero-sum mentality doesn’t take hold of the discussion on sexuality, especially within the Church, I can never think of a convincing reason why the “affirming”* position shouldn’t want things to go that way!** It just makes a lot of sense to me.

Not everyone believes American society is headed toward complete marginalization of the Church because of this,*** but some certainly are, and are sounding the alarm to take up the banner of Christ and go to war.

I get that, too.

This post is directed primarily at them. I am not trying to assume any particular course of future history, but if things do turn (more) against the traditional Church teaching, and the conservative Church in general, it’s not the end of the world. Unless you’ve never been exposed to, you know, anything about the historical and global Church, the idea of being a  marginalized minority should be neither scandalous nor an existential threat (though it is, I admit, highly undesirable).

Being that the Church’s existence and behavior is never, in any theologically determinative way, bound by human kingdoms (please don’t misunderstand me), it is unsurprising that, historically, persecution has come less from random prejudice and more from Christians’ occasional inability to be a good citizen as defined by the State (e.g. early Christian refusal of all military service and civic religion, which painted them as anarchist deviants unconcerned by the common good). Honestly, the fact that we’ve had such power and privilege in Western civilization probably**** means we’ve made a few serious compromises along the way.

Without advocating some sort of passive collapse or retreat from the public sphere, I do think those within conservative evangelicalism would be wrong to allow the vocabulary of “zero-sum” or “cultural land grabbing” to shade our understanding of how we must interact with those who disagree with us. Such overly-eschatological dominionist terminology has no place within a people who worship a God who died scorned and outside the city walls.

We must instead busy ourselves with becoming a community relentless in fighting injustice, proclaiming love, modeling forgiveness, speaking truth, and treating everyone with the human dignity they deserve and are often denied. Sometimes our work won’t be recognized as such. Sometimes it will be seen as societal poison or as a primitive disgrace. Sometimes our terms will be defined differently. But, with a few exceptions (see Andrew Marin’s recent rejection by the UN), I don’t think the Church has practically manifested a clear ethic of love and support for LGBTQ people that would make us totally innocent of cultural backlash.

I’m writing this because I smell fear and anger within certain evangelical circles, and I don’t think there is reason for the former nor use for the latter. I’m worried such emotions will cause leaders and laypeople to proliferate language of holy war and persecution,***** allowing the creeping film of anxiety to rob them of the clarity of Christ’s witness of neighbor-love, which never depended on the possibility of reciprocation or guarantee of respect.

I don’t want to see my community batten down the hatches and take up arms in response to recent events. Such a hardening of our hearts is antithetical to our calling and will only serve to further isolate us and harm others. And, should we reject the loving practice of meekness, whatever ground the Church may gain in this “culture war” of attrition must only be recognized as a bitter wilderness compared to the abundant inheritance of Matthew 5:5 that we will have forsaken.

Jordan

P.S. My use of the word “Church” throughout this post doesn’t do justice to the fact that I obviously think there are many within it who disagree vehemently with my sexual ethic and would see any “persecution” as totally unnecessary and a result of clinging to a misreading of the Bible and a rejection of the true calling of the Gospel. Language is often inadequate, I apologize.

* I’ll take “Terminology I Dislike” for 800, Alex.

** Though sometimes I marvel at the gracelessness of some LGBTQ advocates, and hope for something better.

*** So many evangelicals assume they are being attacked only because people hate the Church. Sometimes that may be true, but I think it’s a bit disingenuous and self-serving to say that “affirming” (gah!) advocates are motivated by hatred rather than by their love of LGBTQ people and their desire for their flourishing.

**** definitely

***** And now for a Karl Barth moment: If you think you are being “persecuted” for “Gospel truth” but are, in fact, simply being rebuked for hypocrisy and homophobia – you had it coming! Examine yourself! Repent!

 

presence, pt. 1

I hate disclaimers, but I feel one is necessary here. I wanted to write about God’s presence, but the post felt hollow without a little explanation as to why it’s such an important/conflicted topic for me. So I wrote about one of the darker moments of my college career in which the “presence of God” felt like a cruel yet tantalizing pipe dream. In trying to convey the emotions and immediate thoughts of that night, I decided to leave the ideas half finished and flawed (unlike, you know, all my other perfect and flawless thoughts), unedited by future reflection. I’m assuming I’m not the only one who has had thoughts like these. I’ll publish a followup post to work through the issues raised in better detail.

******

Wheaton has a small prayer chapel in the student center that was a kind of second home to me. I spent so much time in that dim-lit, stifling, little room that, by my senior year, the hushed quiet that greeted me as the door closed had become a kind of sacred encounter – drawing out a long, deep sigh as I waited for the ringing in my ears to dull before pulling out my Bible and journal. Rarely would a day go by without a visit to the sound-proof haven; which is why my inability to enter it for the month of October during my Junior year was so difficult.

But I couldn’t, or at least I didn’t want to, so long as that painting was still hanging on the wall.

I had found my desperate way to the chapel around 11pm on a warm, September night, my mind beginning that familiar process of implosion that was characteristic of Saturdays. (Like most fun-loving young adults, I spent my weekends contemplating the agony of existence). The self-loathing that wouldn’t lift until the end of that year was boasting over me – I had just been the recipient of a fairly caustic remark that seemed to confirm one of my greatest insecurities. My breathing had become shallow before I even grabbed the door handle with my frustratingly shaky hand. I needed… I needed to know, somehow, that God was still there, still full of love and willing to embrace me when I felt utterly alone.

I sat there, not really sure what I wanted except, in that moment, not to feel as if I were distant from God. I wanted to catch a glimpse of that beautiful mystery where my voice really does reach him and his arms really do reach me, a mystery that so many people seemed to understand in a visceral way that was entirely foreign to me.

So I sat, I prayed, I pleaded, I fell silent, I claimed promises, I repented, I begged, I yelled, and I tried as hard as I could not to doubt. I even cried – which was something I hadn’t done for six years – and yet the room remained a mundane vacuum, as if the “supernatural” encounter I desired couldn’t cohere within a twenty foot radius of my heart. I had never heard a comforting whisper before, never had my anxiety miraculously melt away as a warm peace took its place, and it looked like that night would be no different.

And then I saw it. (Well, saw it again, as it had been hanging there since I first set foot in the chapel as a Freshman). It was one of those earnestly saccharine paintings in which Jesus, face contorted in sympathetic compassion, held a sobbing man to his chest. The man was clearly grief-stricken, and yet all was well because, when he collapsed, the body of his Savior was there to surround him. It was everything I wanted: to be held, to be consoled, to be told I wasn’t worthless, to find rest, to know I wasn’t hated, disgusting, or being kept at an arm’s length. A bitter hatred for that painting overtook me – I grabbed my journal and threw it across the room, clipping the cheap frame and knocking it askew.

Two things happened in that moment: I was confronted by a host of things that made me feel loved and alive, and I decided they weren’t enough. They weren’t God, and that was all I wanted. The joy of digging into the Bible, the thrill of learning, the hug of a friend, the wisdom of a mentor, the beauty of a golden horizon, or the evocative power of an expertly crafted musical refrain – all good things, things that pointed me to God, that made me aware of his love for me and drew me out of myself… all things that could be taken away from me.

Was the entirety of my experience of the presence of God propped up by such vulnerable crutches? My hazy, anxious mind couldn’t seem to recall any evidence to the contrary. What would happen if I were thrown into solitary confinement, removed from everything that I had known? Would God be there? Here I was, barely starting to come to grips with what a life of chaste singleness may look like, settling into convictions that seemed to require a future of “aloneness,” struggling against an overwhelming fear of future abandonment, and all of a sudden I didn’t even know if I could trust God to show up in the present.

It was too much. Everything went dead. I remember calmly telling God, I’m going to get up, read some Psalms, convince myself that I just need a better theology of your presence, and go to bed. You don’t have to do anything, don’t worry. And that’s what happened. I walked out of that room still convinced, as always, that God was good, that he loved me, and that he was near, but it was with a tortured resignation that I left, barely clinging to the dimming hope that, someday, I might understand how God was present in all of this.

I wasn’t sure if my prayers were breaching the stratosphere, so I settled for a satellite and called my mentor. By the grace of God he picked up, and lovingly consoled my breaking heart as I sat in the quiet darkness.

Jordan

signs and blunders

Like many evangelicals, I suffer from a seriously conflicted pneumatology. I absolutely believe the Holy Spirit is alive and well and capable of moving in powerful, tangible ways to direct and convict people. It’s just that I’m also rather wary of over-attributing phenomena to “divine activity.”

It’s usually a great system…until I ask God for specific guidance/wisdom/signs/help. The moment I pray that prayer my post-enlightenment parietal lobe goes to war with my mystic cortex, and life gets crazy. I become, simultaneously, a jaded cynic and an avid cloud watcher – looking for some kind of sign from God only to disbelieve anything I might ever think to actually be one.

Well, friends, I prayed that prayer.

If you follow us on Twitter (which you totally should; we do awesome, exclusive things like post links to this blog), then you maybe saw that, recently, someone I love and trust suggested that the joy and growth and ministry opportunities I’ve experienced this past year that have helped me arrive at my current understanding of my sexuality have, in fact, all been a part of Satan’s plan to distract me from what is best for my life, from what is God’s will for my life, with a host of addictive and ultimately unfulfilling “goods.” This person’s perspective doesn’t resonate with what I believe to be true of God or Satan, but I’ve certainly been wrong before.

So, like I wrote in the last post, I’ve been daily praying that God would bring some sort of clarity into my life after a series of small bombs has kicked up a discouraging cloud of debris. It’s a good prayer; I’m just spastically impatient. The Sunday sermon titled People Can Change: sign or true-yet-vaguely-unhelpful platitude? The driving directions to “try going straight”: divine message or vicious attempt to get me hopelessly lost in South Africa? The friends that encourage me about all the ways God has been working in my life: BFFs or USOTFOLs (Unwitting Servants Of The Father Of Lies)? Ultra-creepy stray cat outside the window that just held eye-contact with me for way too long: Ehhh, probably just an ultra-creepy stray cat.

Semi-joking aside, it has been a problem. (But seriously, every time someone tells me, while driving, to “go straight” I’m like, Is that you, God?) It’s one thing to be looking for the will of God, staying alert and humbly seeking wisdom from others, and it’s another thing to see hidden messages behind every banal occurrence: the former is standard Christian discipleship and produces a patient focus on God, while the latter is some kind of pseudo-panentheistic schizophrenia that distracts me from dwelling on the central reality that God loves me, Christ died for me, and that my whole life is being gloriously redeemed through his power.

Maybe I really have just missed an obvious message – I’m one of those people who has on more than one occasion searched for my lost cell phone while talking on said cell phone – but I feel like the messages I seem to be looking for in my frenzied impatience are more characteristic of a cunning and deceptive serial killer than the very good God of the universe.

I imagine most of us have had experiences like this, where our healthy desire to know and obey the will of God actually gets in the way of simply following him. Inquiring after God should bring forth greater trust and patience in my life, and yet I find myself doubting whether or not he has even made it possible to discern the answers to my questions with any sort of assurance. Whatever God’s will for my life may be, it certainly ain’t that. Somehow I got blown off course.

So for now I must rest, and return to that blessed fount of the Gospel, and linger there. Lord knows why I was looking anywhere else. I suspect that, whether or not these particular questions are satisfied in the near future, I will find the answers I need there.

Jordan

swish and flick (and introspect)

I hate coming face to face with questions to which I have no answer, questions that back me up against the cold, brick wall of my limited wisdom and demand something I cannot provide. But it’s an inevitable human experience, I guess. This summer left me with a few haunting thoughts that have continually defied my attempts at mental exorcism, becoming mildly disruptive squatters in my little thought world.

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if a powerful wizard (let’s say Albus Dumbledore, to add some fabulous irony) came to me and said he could, without fail, cast a spell that would make me attracted to women. Would I accept? Decline? Stand there like some dazed fool, unable or unwilling to speak?

Probably the latter.

As if the relentless indecision weren’t enough, I’m not sure if my inability to decide is, well, sinful… especially because, if forced, I think I would turn Dumbledore down. I think I would choose to remain as I am, and for reasons that are solid as iron or flimsy as wet paper, depending on the day and hour.

I’ll spare you all the angst-ridden back and forth. It mostly comes down to whether or not the fact that I am content with who I am, at peace with the life God has called me to live, and excited about what ministry opportunities may lay before me as a Christian who happens to be attracted to the same sex, is enough to justify the fact that I can no longer categorize my desires as “unwanted” (which is the standard language of most conservative churches). The counselors drove home, again and again, the point that I hadn’t really done all that much to remove the “unwanted desires.” They were so sincere, so certain that proper biblical counseling would produce results as surely as a wave of a wand, that it is hard not to at least wonder…… In the heated moment their stream of words merely flowed past me. But, you know, given time, water can bore a hole through a mountain, and they have been swirling around my brain for a while now.

So I have to ask myself, why would I be so hesitant to take Dumbledore up on his kindly offer (aside from wanting to spite him for his refusal to invite me to Hogwarts)? It’s not that I think I have to be gay for God to use me, teach me, grow me, reveal himself to me in powerful ways… It’s just that he has done all of that through my experiences of being same-sex attracted, and it’s terrifying to think of that changing.

Maybe it’s that I’m exceptionally afraid of becoming a stranger to myself, exceptionally afraid of losing that which often feels like the only thing that makes me worth listening to, exceptionally afraid of all that would change, or just exceptionally afraid of not being exceptional. No, not “maybe,” I’m definitely afraid even though I know there is nothing to fear, and that makes me wonder if a new idol has been carved from the stone of my heart.

But what idol, exactly, and how shall it be torn down? God give me wisdom (or a bird formation that spells out the answer in the air, whichever).

Perhaps these are the wrong questions. One of my mentors certainly suggested I put these to rest and focus instead on the reality of what God has placed in front of me now – trusting that the truth will bloom before me on the path of faith and draw me ever onward. I think he’s right, and I think it’s not always so easy.

There’s more, there’s always more, but I’m going to drive myself crazy if I try to keep qualifying and nuancing everything like I want. There’s no real point to this; these are simply the things that have been occupying my attention recently; please feel free to comment with advice or different perspectives. I first started digging into these questions hoping to arrive at sturdy conclusions upon which I could rest, but I’m beginning to suspect they’re the kind of questions that are worth asking not because I’ll arrive anywhere, but because they urge me on in the process of sanctification like some kind of holy gadfly.

But then again, maybe I’m just wrong.

Jordan

P.S. Thought I’d include a simple reminder that God is good and he loves you relentlessly. That’s all.