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!

 

framed, pt. 2 (constructive criticism)

As I said in the last post, I think, as Christians, we must frame the conversation about homosexuality in terms of the Gospel and solid exegesis; it’s futile to form intricate and immaculate theological justifications for whichever side if the text simply doesn’t support them. (Yes, this means I believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and yes, that makes me rather conservative and no, I don’t feel like arguing about it right now.)

So for me, the questions have to be, What does the Bible say about homosexuality and how is that applicable to life today? Nothing new at all, and yet there has been a surge of interest in asking those questions in a more critical light and with a renewed vigor. Theologians, especially those identifying as side-A, are re-examining the traditional interpretations of the six or so “clobber passages” that have been so abused (and abusive) in the hands of “Christian” homophobes who treat gay men and women as plagues rather than people. These scholars bring a host of historical and cultural knowledge to bear on the text that help clarify what the biblical authors would have intended their words to communicate to the first century audience. For instance, would the perverse sexual practices condemned in Romans chapter 1 have any moral correlation with the loving, monogamous unions shared by numerous gay people today, if such a social reality did not exist in Paul’s time?

Many conservative evangelicals refuse to entertain such “obvious heresy,” casting those who would dare even suggest such an endeavor as pagan monsters that burn Bibles to fuel their pitchfork-making factories. Staunch defenders of a “literal” or “plain” reading of the text, they often summarily reject critical methodology of any kind, saying it only serves to confuse the faithful and give all the power to a few spindly, diabolical, ivory-tower academics.

But I would humbly (and, I think, rightly) suggest that, without critical methodology, without some brave (and slightly insane) men and women meticulously carrying out word-studies, historical analyses, and theological examinations, we would have absolutely no chance to arrive at anything that gets even close to a “literal” reading, mostly because it’s mighty hard for the average American to read Koine Greek. As a rapidly growing number of evangelical leaders will agree, our relationship with critical methodology should be one of cautious approval, evaluating each “critique” by its own merit and integrity for the benefit of all believers seeking a clearer understanding of the text.

In a recent video discussing how to interpret the endlessly contentious first chapter of Genesis, Dr. John Walton (who was one of many phenomenal professors of mine at Wheaton) said:

“We’re well aware that people have to translate the language for us. We forget that people have to translate the culture for us. And therefore if we want to get the best benefit from the communication we need to try to enter their world, hear it as the audience would have heard it, as the author would have meant it, and to read it in those terms.” That’s what it means to read the text “literally.”

Later in the video he reminds us that although the books of the Bible were certainly written for us, they were not written to us – we are neither the Galatian church nor the Israelites in exile. So we have a bit of work to do in order to extract the intended meaning from difficult passages, which Romans 1:26ff and others seem to be.

Rather than simply dismissing side-A scholars’ work as anti-Bible, I would love to see more conservative evangelicals willing to wrestle with the studies (some of which are more worthwhile than others) – evaluating the methods used, the motives of the scholar (or “scholar”), and the conclusions’ consonance with the whole witness of scripture. When we disdain historical/cultural inquiry on principle, we make ourselves hypocrites. Turn to John 5:4 in your Bibles to see but one tiny example. The fact that we can even read the book of John in English is the result of unbelievably painstaking research in multiple fields of study. This is important, and I think the Bible can hold up quite well under the scrutiny.

One final thing: should people read the disputed passages and interpret them as saying that “the gays” are all sinners who choose to be that way and are a threat to the church, the only thing I can say is that they are dead wrong. Even should it be proven that the Bible does not condone same-sex unions, an interpretation so devoid of love of one’s neighbor simply cannot be right.

In this ceaseless excavation for biblical truth, love of God and neighbor is the earth through which we dig, the gold from which the uncovered treasure is made, and the mysterious electromagnetic fields that lend it form and luster. Without love, not only is there no sparkling cache to be searched for, but there is no search to begin with! When I hear homophobic vitriol poured forth from pulpit or padded desk chair and labeled as “biblical truth,” I can only think that the person has, in this instance, actually forsaken the foundational purposes of the Bible, namely to know God and his love for all people. Instead of relentlessly digging into scripture with prayer and humility and discovering the vast wealth of God’s loving self-revelation, he or she is merely clutching a dry bone from the shallow dust while claiming to have plundered Solomon’s treasury.

I’m not saying that there is no meaningful disagreement between people adhering to either side-A or side-B (or whatever other sides there are). What I hope to communicate is that, given this disagreement, there is still much fruitful, Bible-affirming, Christ-centered wisdom to be gained from critical dialogue rooted in love and respect, and the all-too-common reluctance of conservative evangelicals to engage in that dialogue is one of my community’s greatest failures.

Thus for those whose interpretations are little more than thinly veiled justifications for their bitter fear, the Bible seems clear that “they have exchanged the truth about God for a lie” and have failed to unearth the most beautiful treasure in the text: deeper relationships with our awesome God and those he demands we love as neighbors.

I think we can do better.

Jordan

framed, pt. 1

This series will be, I desperately hope, one of my only forays into the various theological arguments regarding homosexuality. After observing the semi-renewed interest in Matt Vines’ Youtube video about homosexuality and Scripture as well as countless other posts, articles, reviews, tirades, and comments relating to the topic, I feel compelled to say one thing (which will then lead to many other things!): the conversations surrounding being gay and Christian must begin with a commitment to love, nuance, and solid, careful, biblical exegesis (the art of understanding the meaning of the text).

I’m so tired of reading one-dimensional arguments, from Christians, that simply peddle the same old tired rhetoric that avoids the real questions, namely, What does the whole of the biblical witness say, what does it require of the Church, and how should Christians then interact with those who do not share their convictions? Instead we pick and choose, proof-text, and pretend that we have it all figured out.

“I was born this way!” That’s fine, but let’s talk about the fall and Christian ascesis. “Leviticus says gay people are abominations!” Enjoy your shrimp and polyester graphic-T. “Genesis 2:18 says it isn’t good for man to be alone, so singleness is tragic!” I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you over the banshee-screams of your horrifying exegetical folly. “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and—-” Banshee-screams, I tell you!

Ok, now I’m venting unhelpfully. Basically what I’m trying to say is that, as an Evangelical, I’m thoroughly dissatisfied with the shallow faux-theology that has been framing the popular discussion for the past few years. There have been some serious transgressions on both sides, mistakes that are then propped up by detractors and demolished in a haze of straw, as if something of consequence was actually communicated. It’s an elaborate dance of glancing tangents – sure, there’s contact, but nobody gets to the heart of the thing.

I intend to write a follow-up post on two approaches to the conversation that I find distinctly annoying: uncritical rejection of intense historical-cultural analysis that challenges the traditional status-quo, and uncritical acceptance of a distressingly anemic “gospel of unqualified inclusion.” The former is most commonly found among side-B Christians (though is by no means constitutive of that position), and the latter is most commonly found among side-A Christians (though is by no means constitutive of that position).

I’m quite solidly “side-B,” and it can be dangerously easy to slip into a “go team!” mentality when reading articles of divergent opinions; easy, that is, until I remember that my “team” is ultimately the Church and this Church contains men and women who are sincerely and ardently side-A because of their commitment to the Bible. When I approach material written by other Christians with the singular intent to expose all its weaknesses and deconstruct it, I do ecclesial unity a great disservice.

One of my mentors taught me to set my default question as, “What can I learn from this person?” As an intrinsically constructive inquiry, it encourages me to move past knee-jerk generalizations that only serve to feed the illusion of a simplistic us vs. them reality that fails to do justice to the complexity of the topic at hand (a “topic” that is intimately connected to the lives of beloved men and women) as well as the oneness of Christ’s body.

And I’m pretty sure I just ended up convicting myself. That sucks. I hate it when this happens! This is why it’s so hard being imperfect.

I found this article (consequently by a side-A brother) to be a helpful reminder of how the conversation must be framed: graciously, in terms of the Gospel. His last paragraphs especially gave concrete expression to my vague unhappiness, and I hope to build on his thoughtful clarity in the next post.

Does any of this ring true for other people? That it seems like, at least recently, there has been a small explosion of unreflective articles about homosexuality and the Christian faith? (And you’re like, Yea, I’m reading one. And I’m like, Oh.)

Anyway, more on this later, I need to go do this thing people call “sleep” (which, tonight, is mostly just a veiled pretense to lay in bed and listen to Mika’s new album). I hope you all are well.

Jordan

Correction: I mistakenly identified Steve Holmes as side-A when he is in fact not. My apologies. I think, in a way, that it stands as a testament to the humble grace with which he wrote that particular article.