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!

 

to know you belong

On December 23 I received a $10 Starbucks gift card. It was handed to me nonchalantly by one of the long-term missionary staff here at the orphanage as I was leaving the house to play some soccer. “It’s just a Christmas present from Rachel and I,” he said, “so… Merry Christmas!”

He was right, of course, it was just a Christmas present. But with it he and his wife had unknowingly given me something greater: they had surprised me with community.

My love of chatting over espresso is no secret – within the first week I had asked/begged/drugged/jedi-mind-tricked this guy into driving me to the nearby Starbucks – but I was blown away by the simple fact that he and his wife would have even thought, “Hey, let’s get Jordan something for Christmas even though he’s only been here for two weeks and we barely know him and he hasn’t really done anything except mess up easy spanish phrases and we have no obligation to get any of the volunteers anything because we’ve been here for almost a decade and have seen thousands of them come and go and he’s no different.” I mean, seriously!

Then, later, they invited me to an impromptu worship session of music and prayer. Five of us sat in a circle, enjoying the acoustic simplicity, the apple-cinnamon scented candles, and each other’s company. We left knowing it wouldn’t be long before we met again.

These are just two examples of a larger phenomenon. As I’ve thought about it, as I’ve marveled at a month devoid of anxiety and loneliness in a context in which I should almost certainly feel both, three things seemed to stand out as essential to the joy of my experiences here:

1) The first and perhaps most obvious observation is that it has taken the efforts of many people for me to feel that I am being included in the community. Yes, one young couple in particular is responsible for a majority of the warm-fuzzy feelings, but almost everyone here has said or done something that has made me know I am welcome. From offering to drive me places to telling me that I had permission to knock on their door at any hour of the night if I needed something, people have gone out of their way to demonstrate an easy self-giving that has been definitive of most of my relationships. Nothing like this is required behavior.

I totally didn’t see it coming, at least not to such an alarmingly generous degree.

But it’s not a unilateral accomplishment. I, too, have had to make an effort to include myself. Even on days when I’m feeling sick or tired (which have been frequent) I have tried to be involved. This is especially important, I think, in the early stages of entering a new context. Granted, if I’m utterly exhausted or dangerously ill, I’m not going to go play soccer or spoons or anything that doesn’t involve sleeping or vomiting as its main activity, but by this point people know that if I turn down an invitation it isn’t because I don’t want to be with them.

2) I’ve needed to grow up. A lot. I have generally suffered from a deep hypocrisy that usually compels me, in my feverish desire to be included, to distance myself from the people I don’t see helping me in my quest for social mobility. Even if I can tell that someone is lonely, if I think they are “weird” or “awkward” it becomes difficult to ever want to include them. They threaten my social stability, and when you are as desperate as I can sometimes be such people easily become burdens and competition rather than brothers and sisters. Such behavior is, honestly, one of the ugliest things about myself.

But I’ve realized it’s impossible to feel fully included in a community, fully rooted in the life-giving grace of belonging, if I am not willing to go out of my way to become the kind of person I so passionately hope everyone else will be to me. It’s simple, biblical logic. My own inhospitality, my haunting hypocrisy, corroded my ability to find peace. I was always worried other people resented my presence, my idiosyncracies and social failures, my struggles, because I knew myself all too well; I knew that if everyone else were like me, all my fears would be realized.

There are, in fact, people here who my sinful selfishness would want me to avoid. I am not. In fact, I spend more time with one of them than anyone else. And you know what? We have fun. I increasingly enjoy his company, and he has taught me some things that, well, I wouldn’t have considered otherwise. I am still in many ways an inhospitable person, but by the grace of God and the patience of others I hope to daily put such toxic hypocrisy to death.

3) I am confident that, should it somehow be discovered that I’m gay, there are numerous people who would stand by my side and advocate on my behalf. Latin America is not always the friendliest place to be attracted to the same-sex, and I’ve encountered some astonishingly aggressive homophobia among the teenagers I work with. But even so, I’ve had numerous conversations about homosexuality with some staff members and other volunteers and I’ve been amazed at the kindness and passion that has been displayed, even without anyone knowing I’m gay. These are safe people. I am safe.

Sure, it would be nice to have an hour where I didn’t need to creatively explain why I wasn’t dating one of the numerous single women in the orphanage, but I’ve matured enough to the point where it doesn’t really bother me all that much. And sure, sometimes it’s frustrating to work with an older woman who has a strange and magical ability to materialize whenever romance comes up in conversations, with a twinkle in her eye and a list of eligible women in her hand, but arguing with her (in spanish) has become more of a cheerful game than anything else.

I’ve learned that one community doesn’t have to fulfill all of my needs in order for it to be profoundly good.

I’ve learned that shifting my focus from “How can this community meet my needs” to “How can I meet the needs of this community” allows for surprising manifestations of care and love to flow more freely from myself and those I live with as we seek to encourage and strengthen each other.

***

These are not comprehensive observations, but rather just some small points that have been rattling around my dopamine-flooded skull for the past few weeks.

It isn’t a perfect community by any stretch of the imagination; there are some very serious problems that need to be addressed, some very real failures that vitiate the witness of this place. But my, our, passion for this place and these kids is greater than those troubles, and I consider it a privilege to be both aware of and fighting against those things which threaten the growth of this community. It means I really am a part of this place, that my life is in some serious way bound up with the future of the orphanage. It fills me with a fiery sense of purpose that is usually reserved for when I’m engaged in social peacemaking, studying theology, or eating pizza, and I am in awe of it all.

For what little reflection I’ve done on the subject, the blessed occurrence of community remains, like so much of what makes the world beautiful, a mystery.

And that $10 Starbucks giftcard? It bought a couple of mochas for some of the other volunteers before we saw The Hobbit. It just seemed like the only right thing to do.

Jordan

tense

Well, everybody, it’s time to admit the humiliating truth: I can’t see into the future.

I know, I know, it’s embarrassing, but I’ve got to be honest with myself, and the reality is that, for all my effort, all my reading, all my thinking, all my praying, I simply don’t know what my life will look like five, ten, or fifty years from now. Heck, I can’t even guarantee an irradiated dino-spider isn’t going burst into my room within the next three seconds.

No worries guys, I made it.

My inability to pierce the hazy veil of time usually stings most when I’m at home; because I spend so many months away, people want to know who I am now, how I’ve changed, and who I am becoming. That is all wonderful, and I appreciate being able to process through things with people and share what God has been doing in my life, but since I began coming out to people this past summer a new question has started to dominate certain conversations: who will I be in the future?

People who love and care about me want assurance that I will always be staunchly conservative and celibate. I mean, I want that assurance of myself, too. It would make life so simple to be able to say, “I will always and forever believe all the things I think to be true right now. I will never doubt, never question, never reconsider, never ‘switch sides.’ So don’t worry.”

Simple and, I think, totally miserable. It would be miserable because I know I’m not right about everything. In fact, I count it as one of God’s greatest gifts that we can learn and grow and be challenged and changed. I am thrilled I am not now who I was five years ago, and I suspect, five years from now (if I am still alive), I will be similarly amazed at what God has done to draw me closer to him in, I’m sure, surprising and unforeseen ways.

Before I went to college, I thought I would always be a “creationist,” never question gender roles, always be a Calvinist, never be a pacifist, always avoid an espresso addiction and, of course, never be gay. 

Oops.

So I can’t promise I’ll always be convinced that celibacy is my requisite (though not unhappy) path. I just can’t. I know myself too well, and I don’t know the future well enough.

What I can promise, though, is that I will live each day pursuing the glory of God, seeking to rest in his love and display it relentlessly to others. I can promise that I will place myself under the authority of scripture and Christian community, and that I will ask hard questions and, I hope, obey hard answers.

As it is, if I continue to live that kind of life, I feel confident the convictions toward sexuality that I have now will remain, though enriched, nuanced, and deepened. I hope they do.

I hope they do, because I’m scared they won’t.

I hope they do, because, when I lay in bed some nights, I hope they don’t.

I’m not some invincible dogmatic war-machine, impervious to any and all pain or insecurity. There are enough people telling me exactly who I need to be now because of my sexuality that I’ve found the added demand to simultaneously guarantee and justify who I will be in the future both beyond my capacity and deeply exhausting.

For so long I felt the need to put up some kind of iron-clad front to earn people’s approval, to dispel any doubt that I will always believe what I believe now. That I will be strong enough. That I will be wise enough.

Ridiculous. I’m a Christian. I should be the first to admit that I am both weak and unbearably stupid on my own. I am, as all humans are, an ever-changing work in progress.

No, I need God desperately, and trying to come across as sufficiently immutable was just smoke and mirrors to deter people from piercing me with that uncertain stare that says, You aren’t going to make it past forty, little more than a small rebellion against my utter dependence on Christ and the Church.

Because I am weak, I need to cling to the God whose strong embrace surrounds me and lifts me up. Because I am irrational and inconsistent, I need to draw near to the God who will lead me in righteousness all the days of my life. Because I can’t rely on my own feeble promises, I need to trust solely in the God whose promises never fail, who will guide me and teach me and nurture me and place before me a joyful path of discipleship that will lead me ever further into his marvelous light. Because I don’t know who exactly I will be as I grow, I need a church community to continually remind me who I am and who I serve.

Precisely because the future is hidden from me, I need to seek God in the present. My fear-fueled visions of what may be will always overwhelm me because I don’t yet have what it takes to overcome them. I suspect I won’t until that future becomes the present and God, as he always does, meets me in a way that is more astounding, more good than I could conceive of right now.

I’m only 22. I still struggle with child-proof Advil bottles and sometimes daydream about being a Pokémon master. I have a lot of maturing to do. As I have recently engaged in the conversation surrounding homosexuality and the church, I have realized that no matter how much research I may do, no matter how many blog posts I may write, I simply cannot change the fact that there is much I am unable to learn about myself and my sexuality except through the passing of time. There are fears and trials I cannot fully address until they actually materialize. Now, I’m in no rush – the future can hold on to its crow’s feet and baldness – but, well, patience doesn’t come naturally.

So, I’d rather not have to pretend that I have all, most, or even a decent chunk of the answers right now. What I do have is Jesus, transcendant and imminent, and his assurance that he will be with me as the seconds pass like gravel or grass beneath my uncalloused feet. And, as he’s told me in the past, I shouldn’t worry so much about the future because it distracts me from the present moment in which he is working miracles.

My goal in life is to glorify God in all that I do, not to merely be successfully celibate. Just because I’m confident the former leads to the latter, and just because I am committed to working hard to develop as someone who flourishes in singleness, doesn’t make the distinction any less important.

Why do I get the feeling that I’m just now beginning to learn what it looks like to really trust God? Maybe it’s that I’m finally having to admit that I don’t trust myself. Not yet, at least.

Well, whatever it is, to God be the glory, forever and ever, amen.

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.

link: a battle I face

This is an interview with Vaughan Roberts, the rector of a church in England who recently came out as being attracted to men. While still holding to a more conservative understanding of sexual ethics, he articulated himself in such a way that, I think, avoided the usual defensive and abrasive rhetoric that is all too common in this conversation, especially from behind the pulpit. I particularly appreciated how he answered the question of what the Bible says about sexuality by first speaking of God’s perfect love… because, you know, duh.

It obviously won’t satisfy every objection, but his approach strikes me as worthy of consideration.

So here it is. Enjoy!

Peace,

Jordan