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!

 

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

presence, pt. 2

I strained to hear God’s voice as I walked along the quiet coast of eastern South Africa, the star-flecked darkness unbroken except for the rhythmic intrusion of a distant lighthouse signal. Waves, wind, and footsteps, that was all. No divine whisper met me in the night.

I wondered why I kept doing that, kept trying to experience God in a way entirely divorced from material reality, kept trying to collect some kind of paranormal “proof” of his presence. I thought back to that night in the prayer chapel almost two years ago, remembering all the pain, the anxiety, the confusion… Why am I not like that anymore? Is it that I’m free of the depression, or have I simply stopped asking the hard questions and succumbed to an unreflective materialism? Or, somewhere along the line, was I given an answer?

I hadn’t totally overcome the feelings of abandonment and absence that were burnt into my heart when I threw my journal at the painting, and I occasionally battled against that brand of cynicism reserved for only the most tortured kind of jealousy. And yet, somehow, as I looked out over the ocean, I knew I was loved, I knew God was near, and I knew I had nothing to fear from the future.

But what about all the complaints I had? My experience of God still seemed precariously dependent on material things. And what about the hellish scenario of being trapped in solitary confinement, stripped of Bible, friends, music, nature, and, God forbid, soy lattes?

I think I was standing on a barnacle and mollusk encrusted boulder when Matthew 6 came to mind. “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” (I use the NRSV; Not Really Scripture Version [evangelical humor…slay me, please]).

The verse kept crashing into my mind, in sync with the rising tide. Why on earth am I worrying about solitary confinement?! Why have I let blind speculation about the future dictate my present? But, really, why did the particular details of my current experience have to supply assurance for every possible permutation of my imagination? Isn’t it enough that I can look at my life now, and, if I’m seeing clearly, recognize a million little affirmations of God’s loving presence and trustworthiness?

On days when I’m sane, I think the answer is, “I don’t know, I don’t know, but yes!”

I’ve been perceiving all the physical things that God has used to communicate his grace to me as inadequate or less desirable just because I don’t think God should speak to me so mundanely. And yet wasn’t the most stunning manifestation of God’s love for humanity a physical, tangible, mundane reality? My discontent doesn’t seem to make me much different from those first century Jews who rejected Jesus as Messiah and cheered for his crucifixion because he wasn’t the revelation of God that they wanted, because he didn’t arrive with military fanfare and drive out the Romans with a supernatural display of power. He wasn’t obviously glorious enough for them, and, I guess at times, for me.

But what could be more glorious than the hazy swath of the Milky Way as it holds together the night sky, the warm embrace of a loved one, the bubbling laugh of a child, or the humble and holy blood of God congealing into black rivulets outside the city walls for the salvation of the world? Truly they are enough for me. I still have questions, and maybe none of this will be of much comfort the next time my devotion seems more like farce than faith, but for now, praise God, it is more than enough.

And solitary confinement? Who cares. I’d love to know how I would land myself in that predicament, but I suspect that, even there, the hard, stone floor would remind me of Christ’s unfailing power upon which all things are founded, and the urgent cries of my stomach would proclaim the sustaining providence of his word.

I started smiling, enjoying the cold sand as it squished between my toes. Unexpectedly, that slightly trite poem about Jesus’ footprints intruded into my thoughts, and in a last gasp of self-pity I looked back to observe my lonely path. But instead I saw three trails; I’d forgotten about my friends, whose footprints kept good company with mine on the right and left. I was surrounded by two brothers who, in their own unique and beautiful ways, preached Christ to me. I wasn’t alone. I turned into the friendly wind and laughed, content.

Jordan