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. 3 (exclusively inclusive)

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before (it’s funny because you can’t; such power!):

“Jesus lived out his earthly ministry among the marginalized and outcast, preaching a gospel of radical inclusion that upended the sinful exclusivism of the hypocritical religious elite. Today, many religious leaders are denying full acceptance to gay men and women in local congregations due to disagreements about the moral status of same-sex unions. Jesus, who embraced the stigmatized, would side with those being denied total inclusion by the judgmental majority. To be Christians, then, requires that we cast off arbitrary requirements for acceptance that were made by power-seeking Pharisees and realize that those in monogamous, faithful, loving, same-sex unions (and the LGBTQ community in general) are the new Gentiles to our self-righteous 1st century Judaism; Jesus’s table is set, and all are welcome. Refusing full inclusion to affirming gay men and women goes against the very nature of Jesus’s embodied ethic of acceptance.”

There are some good biblical/theological arguments to be made in support of sanctioning SSU’s (same-sex unions). This is not one of them. It’s not even close. If arguments were colors, this would be taupe: the world would be better off without it, and I become depressed and angry whenever it is used.

Unfortunately, it’s everywhere, and not just in fringe blogs or rash YouTube videos. Authors I deeply respect have, at times, gone on in a similar vein. In fact, the prevalence of this argument across various media makes me wonder if I’ve simply misunderstood the logical sequence and dealt only with a straw-person; it’s certainly a possibility, so please correct me if I misrepresent this particular position. However, if I’m right (fingers crossed, everybody!), then such a polemic must be put to rest in order to move forward in constructive dialogue as it avoids the central questions, cheapens the Gospel, and displaces the centrality of the biblical text in favor of foreign standards of morality.

That large paraphrase up there? I actually agree with most of it. Jesus really did align himself with the poor and marginalized, really did devote himself to the scandalous inclusion of “the other,” really did excoriate the religiously hypocritical for their wretched xenophobia. And make no mistake, such actions were not peripheral events in the grand narrative of his life – they were central to his Gospel, and are therefore central to us. I think feminist/liberation/subaltern theologians have it right: if we proclaim the Gospel without simultaneously declaring that this good news is for everyone, no exceptions, then we’ve missed it.

We Christians (especially those in positions of cultural power) don’t get to choose who is invited to the feast table. We are not the gatekeepers. We are the messengers joyfully telling everyone that the Lord wants them to come and experience the abundance of his love. To do anything less is to play the role of deluded Pharisee, and the world is right to condemn us. We must be throwing ourselves to the aid of the sinfully stigmatized, showing love to those who receive undeserved hatred, and telling them of Christ. This definitely includes the LGBTQ community in all its multiformity.

That being said, and this is the crux for me, the Gospel is not just an invitation, it’s a new way of existing. And praise God for that! He doesn’t just leave us as we were, draped in tattered rags and caked in filth. He bathes us, clothes us, and sets before us a path of obedient faithfulness, promising to walk with us every step of the way. And, as we walk, we are changed, we are challenged, and we are daily having to cast aside old behaviors and patterns of thinking.

After Jesus came to the rescue of the woman in John 8, saving her life and exposing the sins of those judging her, he didn’t walk away and yell over his shoulder, “Cool, welcome to the kingdom of God, have fun sleeping around! I love you!” He told her to “sin no more.” The rest of the New Testament is univocal in expounding on that call: if you have accepted Christ’s universally offered invitation, then you must also live as he prescribes. If you truly love him, you will obey his commands.

This is Christian discipleship at it’s most basic, which is why it is so bewildering that the aforementioned argument, in all its popularity, fails to display even a rudimentary understanding of the concept. We come to the table as we are, but by the grace of God we cannot stay as we were. There are, believe it or not, rules. There are demands, prohibitions, standards, and consequences woven into the Christian faith. The Church is not an inchoate mass of autonomous individuals that answer to no one but their own consciences.

This argument seems preoccupied with conjoining the figure of Jesus to a secular manifestation of inclusion that demands nothing from anyone except self-identification and a laissez-faire approach to community.

In contrast, the Jesus testified to in the New Testament demands everything from those who would aspire to follow him to everlasting life. When he says “sin no more,” the question becomes, “How then shall we live?” And, there you have it, we are driven back to exegesis, to mining the text to understand what Jesus requires of us, what it means to be a Christian. In this context (for me as an Evangelical), it means scouring the biblical canon to determine what it is saying about homosexuality, how that applies to the church today, and then, whether I like it or not, obeying.

Jesus is not simply the best example of inclusion in abstracto, he is the true expression of what it means to be inclusive – he is the form and character of the thing. And the inclusion he embodies is not simply blind acceptance that costs nothing, it is a lightning, wide-eyed gaze that sees us all as we are, and shakes us to our core with the good news that the God of the universe loves us and has not left us to our own bitter devices, and that the daunting sacrifice of obedience, though it require everything, leads to unfathomable abundance, namely a relationship with God and his Church. It is a free gift that still costs all that we have.

The contended argument gets it half right, but, unfortunately, “half right” is still totally wrong. When I read it, I cannot help but think that the author has given up wrestling with scripture for fear of coming away with a dislocated hip. But we must keep wrestling, lest we forfeit divine blessing. The Church is a community of those who limp, yet we walk proudly, bearing with grace the mark that we have been touched by God. We simply cannot have it any other way.

I hope we can move past the kind of shallow arguments I’ve briefly described in the past few posts and begin to, with great humility and love, press into the heart of the disagreements for the sake of truth and unity. On that point, at least, we should all be in agreement.

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.