Thinking Out Loud

June 11, 2015

Gay Marriage: When There’s No Room for “I’m Not Sure.”

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn't exist.

There are small churches everywhere for whom the pressure to respond to every cultural issue simply doesn’t exist.

It’s hard to be on social media and ignore the dust that Tony Campolo kicked up on Monday in affirming gay marriage. I’m not here today to discuss the actual issue, but a particular nuance raised in an article on Religion News Service referencing Albert Mohler, in which he’s quoted as saying: “This is a moment of decision, and every evangelical believer, congregation, denomination, and institution will have to answer. There will be no place to hide.”

I immediately thought of the four older women who sat in the back row of a church I once attended. They have to stake a position on this issue? They need to have an opinion? He did say every believer. And what does he mean by a place to hide? If it means hiding your position that’s one thing, but what if you just want to hide from this issue?

Furthermore, I’m not sure that I could state my own position on this with clarity because the issue is so terribly complex. It bears on one’s feelings about homosexuality, but even there we find people talking about different degrees of everything from mild same-sex attraction to actual copulation. It bears on one’s feelings about the word marriage, and whether or not one can be opposed to gay marriage but support gay civil union. It bears on your response to sin and whether or not we have to clean up to meet God or if we’re invited to be ourselves; to come as we are. It bears on how one feels about how the church sees itself: As a private club for members only, or as agents of grace and mercy on The Jericho Road.

(My personal take leans toward the ‘welcoming but not affirming’ position; the belief that some people are experiencing something that is good, but it’s good only because it borrows elements of the best.)

The article by Jacob Lupfer cites Mohler’s own blog noting, “For conservative evangelicals, there is no middle ground — no “third way.” Either churches will affirm covenanted same-sex relationships or they will not.”

Maybe it’s ostrich-like of me to believe this, but I like to think that somewhere — many somewheres — there is a church that simply hasn’t done a sermon or held a seminar on this topic; they are quietly working their way through a study of Hebrews, or Mark’s gospel, and they don’t feel the need to respond.

The article was prompted by support for Campolo by Christianity Today’s former editor David Neff. Fearing that this might send a signal that CT lines up with Campolo, current editor Mark Galli is quoted as saying, ““We at CT are sorry when fellow evangelicals modify their views to accord with the current secular thinking on this matter,” he wrote.”

Galli is touching on something important here. As the capital-C Church, we can’t let ourselves and our positions be overwhelmed by what’s happening in the broader culture. We can’t allow the daily news to be the lens through which we interpret scripture and establish doctrine.

But there’s a lesson in that principle for Mohler as well. Just as we can’t allow culture to shape our theology, so also we can’t permit culture to force what constitutes the preaching and teaching agenda of local churches. The rest of us don’t have to call an emergency membership meeting next Wednesday night to sort out our position just because we’re being told we have to have one. Again, this is a very complex issue.

Some will say my imaginary somewhere churches exist in a cultural backwater somewhere, but if they just want to trust God and let these social issues work themselves out under God’s sovereignty, I’m fine with that. True, the gay issue may come home to roost in some of those places, as it might in the families of the blue-haired women on the back row of my former church; but armed with a knowledge of the ways of God that only comes through in-depth study of the Bible, they’ll meet that crisis with a calmness and conviction that’s rooted in Christ, not in the need to declare a position that puts them on one side or the other.

In other words, thanks Tony, Albert, David, Mark; but now can we please talk about something else? We’re allowing ourselves to get oh, so distracted.

 

 

 

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September 24, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Pope Clement Coffee

The links are on me!  Actually, the Religious Newswriters Association people were all at a convention last week, so mysteriously, there was no news.

Our closing graphic is from eScapegoat, which allows our Jewish friends to transfer their sins to a goat roaming the internet collecting sins for Yom Kippur.  (Note: No actual Halachic atonement implied.) Click the image below to visit.
eScapegoat

 

August 20, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Christian Coke

Time for your midweek break and some news and opinion pieces you may have missed:

Paul Wilkinson is available to speak or sing on any dates you had previously booked with Mark Driscoll, Vicky Beeching or Gungor and may be contacted through his blogs, Thinking Out Loud and Christianity 201.

May 21, 2014

Wednesday Link List

John Wesley quotation

Out of several hundred potential links, these were some things that got my attention this week. Clicking anything below will take you to PARSE, the list’s owner, a blog of Leadership Journal in the Christianity Today family. From there, click the stories you want to see.

When not hunting down links for you, Paul Wilkinson blogs at Thinking Out Loud, Christianity 201, and Christian Book Shop Talk.

April 8, 2014

The Equivalent to Hiring Someone Who Is Gay

Hiring Policy

In the last 17 years, we’ve hired over 40 people to work with us in a ministry setting in four different locations and three different cities. To the best of my knowledge we’ve never had an employee who is gay. But we have dealt with the equivalent.

In conservative Christian circles, especially going back a few years, the equivalent was hiring someone who was divorced. The religious stigma was huge. We did this. More than once. As an adjunct ministry of local churches.

In one case, I know that the family were outsiders, so the story was not apparent. But in another case — life in a small town being what it is — I know some former customers voted with their feet. Nobody ever said to me, “How could you hire her?” but we always had the sense that certain people were part of a silent boycott.

Thinking about those two in particular, I can look back and say with the benefit of hindsight: They were among the best employees we ever had. They knew life. They knew pain. They knew joy. They knew Jesus. Therefore, they were able to connect with certain customers in ways I could not then and cannot now, and I’m thankful for their part in our story.

March 26, 2014

Wednesday Link List

Football Cross at MontanaWestUSA(dot)com

We’re back with another mid-week link meeting! Here’s what your brothers and sisters from random parts of the big ‘C’ church were up to this week. Clicking any of the links below will take you to PARSE, the list’s benevolent patron.

Stay in touch with Paul Wilkinson during the week on Twitter.

Our closing cartoon is rather interesting, don’t you think? The artist is Jess MacCallum and you can click the image to see more.

Evolution Cartoon at JessMacCallum(dot)com

June 27, 2013

When is an Apology Not an Apology?

I was a regular reader of John Shore’s blog before he became, as it were, a one-issue candidate. I liked the Christlikeness of his loving approach toward gay and lesbian Christians (and non-Christians) but over time his blog morphed into a sort of advocacy group for faith-connected or faith-seeking people in the LGBT community. I would agree with him on one day, but not the next. So I mostly stopped reading.

But I figured John would be quite happy to see the end of Christian reparative therapy organization Exodus International.

John was not happy at all. He took EI’s Alan Chambers to task for issuing something that had the literary form of an apology, while at the same time noting that Chambers was not really apologizing at all.  At first, I thought, ‘C’mon John… can’t you at least accept this as a step in the right direction?”

But you know, it’s amazing what 24 hours can do. Someone once said if you want to follow world events, read magazines not newspapers, because newspapers stories are written in haste, but magazine writers have the luxury of up to a month to ruminate on a given topic.  I realized that Shore has a point.

I’m not saying that I disagree with Chambers. He still holds to the same Biblical principles as he did before. He doesn’t see that God has changed His mind on certain issues. He doesn’t feel he has anything to recant. He is repenting of the approach that EI used, the damage it caused in many individuals and families, and its present outdatedness in a rapidly shifting culture.

So it’s understandable that from Shore’s point of view, the announcement of last week simply doesn’t resonate.

EI got boxed into a corner and had the good sense to hoist the white flag. The problem in the Evangelical milieu is that we don’t have good protocols for shutting down ministry organizations. As long as there are donors creating a good supply of daily donation mail, the organization must continue, the lights must be kept on, the staff must be paid.

EI decided it couldn’t maintain the status quo. Whatever form that decision takes, it was the right one; but Shore is astute to notice that it doesn’t mean there’s been a shift in core values among the leadership.

o-o-o-o-o

In Saturday’s post here about the EI closing — the one where I subtracted 1976 from 2013 and got 47 instead of 37* — I mentioned some parallels between Exodus International and their Canadian cousins at New Direction Ministries.  NDM director Wendy Gritter had just released their monthly eNewsletter and I noticed the issue of the hour was missing. That’s changed now on their blog, and you can read Wendy’s comments at this link.   Here’s a sample:

…When New Direction was going through the birth pangs of trying to move towards generous spaciousness, we had a very involved conversation as board and stakeholders about whether we should change the name of the organization and start over with a fresh, new blank page.  After all, here in Toronto, New Direction had that association with ex-gay – not a nice or easy legacy to navigate.  It would have been really nice to change the name, rebrand, and simply start over.

In the end, we felt that it was very important to keep the name.  It has been hard.  I still meet gay people in Toronto whose first reaction is cynical and bitter when they hear that I lead New Direction.  But it has been richer too.  I get to hear the painful stories.  I get to be a humble ambassador of reconciliation.  I get to be a living apology.  And sometimes our biggest critics have become some of our biggest champions…

I’m not sure that would work in the same way for Exodus.  So I’m not suggesting that they shouldn’t close down.  But, I do wonder if they simply re-open, with a new name, if there aren’t a few red flags for me.  When I wrote my apology for Ex-Gay Watch, New Direction still clearly held a traditional theological view of marriage.  What we found, however, was that the notion of building bridges while holding a clear position was a bit of an idealistic pipe-dream.  If we really wanted to nurture open and safe and spacious places for people to explore, wrestle, and ultimately own their own spiritual journey – we needed to relinquish our certainty – and acknowledge that Christians with deep commitment to Jesus Christ and to the Scriptures come to different conclusions on the question of whether a committed gay relationship can be an expression of faithful discipleship.  As leaders and as an organization – we had to relinquish power, control, status, privilege – and humble ourselves in the place of real tension – where we have to trust that the Holy Spirit is more than able to lead people in the way they need to go.  We don’t need to control the outcomes in people’s lives.  Our role is to enter mutual relationship with a commitment to keep looking to Jesus.


*The headline was repaired but the error lives forever in the permalink!

June 22, 2013

Exodus International Shuttered After 37 Years

In the television program Newhart, which should not be confused with The Bob Newhart Show, Bob Newhart plays innkeeper Dick Loudon with actress Mary Fran playing his wife, Joanna Loudon.  I’ll let Wikipedia tell the rest:

Newhart boasts one of the most memorable series finales in television history,  entitled “The Last Newhart.”

…The screen goes black.

Then a light is turned on. Viewers see Bob Newhart is playing the role of Dr. Bob Hartley (Newhart’s character from The Bob Newhart Show) clad in pajamas, while sitting up in bed. The master bedroom is a duplicate of the room set seen on The Bob Newhart Show.

Dr. Hartley says, “Honey, you won’t believe the dream I just had.” His wife turns on the light and rolls over to speak with him. It becomes clear that she is not Joanna, but the dark-haired Emily (Suzanne Pleshette, Hartley’s wife from The Bob Newhart Show). Many in the studio audience (and millions of television viewers) realized with a shock that the entire Newhart series (and presumably Dick Loudon’s entire existence) had just been revealed to have been nothing more than Bob Hartley’s dream.

In a way, that’s how the years 1976 to 2013 must appear to those who were part of the drama of Exodus International, a non-profit Christian organization founded to quench homosexual desire. Was that all a dream? And then…

Exodus InternationalOn June 19, following a unanimous vote at its annual meeting in Irvine, California, the board of directors announced that the organization intends to shut down. It said the move came “after a year of dialogue and prayer about the organization’s place in a changing culture.”  Its president, Alan Chambers, repudiated the organization’s mission in a nearly hour-long talk at the annual meeting, the organization’s 38th such gathering.  In the talk he said, “I am sorry for the pain and hurt many of you have experienced. I am sorry that some of you spent years working through the shame and guilt you felt when your attractions didn’t change. I am sorry we promoted sexual orientation change efforts and reparative theories about sexual orientation that stigmatized parents.”  He said his next ministry would be different: “Our goals are to reduce fear and come alongside churches to become safe, welcoming and mutually transforming communities”.One member of the board, Tony Moore, issued a statement that said its decision was “not negating the ways God used Exodus to positively affect thousands of people, but a new generation of Christians is looking for change — and they want it to be heard.”  The organization has local affiliates that may continue to operate independently under a name other than Exodus.

[complete article with annotation at Wikipedia]

Basically, in a changing world with more investigative data on the subject of homosexuality than any other psychological and sociological phenomena in the last several decades, the reparative therapy shoe no longer fit. While the effort of those years wasn’t all for naught, it is a repudiation of a ministry paradigm by the very organization which epitomized its radical approach.

In many respects, the Canadian organization New Direction Ministries reached this same decision many years earlier. It’s too bad that Exodus International didn’t borrow a page from their Canadian cousins. Although the organization began in 1985, its history page recounts the change that took place:

Having been a member ministry of Exodus International since the beginning, New Direction left Exodus in 2007. This decision was made in light of our distinct identity and no longer fitting an ex-gay paradigm of ministry.

The transition from being an ex-gay ministry to embracing an identity as bridge-builders in the midst of diversity around faith and sexuality has not been a quick or easy one. Such a transition can also raise suspicion as to our true motives and true activities as a ministry.

In the Spring quarter of 2010, the New Direction board concluded a season of conversation with key stakeholders of the ministry. The outcome of this time of reflection on our identity and purpose was an affirmation of our posture as bridge-builders in the context of complexity, diversity, and tension that surrounds the integration of faith and sexuality.

What this means practically is that we acknowledge the challenge of difference and work as peacemakers to develop models of relating and language that will promote unity, reconciliation, and justice. This posture of peacemaking will be shaped by our existing core values to be: respectful, relational, relevant, redemptive, humble, and hopeful.

We lament the alienation, judgment, anger, and hatred that marks far too many of the debates around homosexuality. The primary casualties are those outside the heterosexual mainstream, their families, and loved ones. For the sake of our witness to a watching world, ministry to those personally impacted, and our desire to see a vibrant church united in mission to bring shalom, we choose this identity of bridge-builder. We choose to stand in the midst of the tension, anger, and hatred-and we choose to speak words of love and peace.

Our theological and ethical positions are important, but if they are held without love, we are nothing but a clanging gong and resounding cymbal. In the debates on homosexuality, one does not have to look far to see evidence of a lack of love. At New Direction, we will move forward, focused not on trying to resolve the theological arguments, but on calling followers of Christ to relate and respond in the midst of this diversity with radical trust, robust hope, and fearless love. We believe that this will honour Christ, build the church, and foster life giving ministry to those outside the heterosexual mainstream.

Many times I’ve written that the issues of homosexuality and same sex attraction is the issue that the church has to face. In a series of gender issues and what some would call “pelvic” issues — abortion, commonlaw relationships, women in ministry, etc. — issues like gay marriage and the compatibility of a homosexual orientation with a faith based on the life and teachings of Jesus are probably among the most crucial issues the church has faced in the last century.

At a piece entitled “Top Trends Affecting Your Church…” we wrote:

The Gay Issue — I debated how to phrase this.   I’m not even sure what aspect of this is going to play out in your church.  I just guaranty that at some point during the year, you’re going to deal with various aspects of the gay debate …If you haven’t already.

However, the hoisting of the white flag at Exodus International is a concession to updated realities, not in terms of Christian theology, but in terms of the approach we take; a shift from confronting to coming alongside; from staring down an enemy to standing side-by-side.

My personal belief is that there are some people who are mis-identified, who have believed a lie being perpetuated by an internet movement that has a number of agenda reflecting a host of motivations. But we’ll save that for another article. I do agree that attempts at reparative therapy have been unsuccessful in changing the wiring of individuals given to same sex attraction, and that such efforts have done the proverbial more harm than good.

At this point, Exodus International has shot the final episode, and it ends with a dawning that the 47 years were, to use the Newhart comparison,  like a dream…

May 17, 2013

Exploiting Communion to Make a Political Statement

Rainbow Communion Bread

I believe my good-better-best approach to the whole gay debate is much healthier response to the issue of Christians and homosexuality than the hardline, binary right-and-wrong approach that’s more prevalent.   In that respect, I think the Christian gay community have a better ally than this blog than I might get credit for; though some progressive Christians will consider me conservative nonetheless.

But the decision by Jay Bakker to create a rainbow themed communion bread on the occasion of the opening of his church’s new location in Minnesota clearly crosses a line — for reasons I get into below — though not everybody feels that way.   For example, if you don’t know the story, Tony Jones describes it:

Last night, Courtney and I were on hand to help our dear friend, Jay Bakker, launch the new Minneapolis site of Revolution Church.  You can hear Jay’s inaugural sermon, “Vulgar Grace Throws the First Stone.”

The photo above is a detail shot by Courtney of the rainbow communion bread that we contributed to the service. We baked that loaf — the same loaf that Courtney baked with our friends Rachel and Rachet for our (sacramental) wedding — in support of marriage equality. Jay has been an outspoken proponent of marriage equality and has performed several same-sex weddings. When he broke the bread last night, Jay told us to remember not just the broken body of Jesus, but also the broken bodies and spirits of many GLBT persons who have been persecuted for their non-heterosexuality.

At the blog Juicy Ecumenism (yes, that’s its name) we read another account:

Complementing the rainbow bread, Bakker spoke on grace and inclusion, focusing on St. Paul, who “gets grace the most,” as he was a ruthless persecutor of Christians before his conversion. “The Bible is full of unperfect [sic] people” and it was “murderers and traitors … literally starting a faith, being part of a faith and that’s what I would call the good news,” Bakker said. He added that Martin Luther King, Jr. and Ghandi also “Really got the idea of what inclusion was meant to be, what loving your enemy was meant to be, what loving your neighbor.”

At Huffington Post:

Bakker reports that the rainbow communion has gotten people questioning his orthodoxy. He responds that “I don’t think Jesus is insecure about sharing communion with others, including gay folks who suffered. So many lives have been lost because of what Christians say and preach. Heterosexisim and homophobia are deadly.”

I don’t want to give a lot of space to this issue. I know this is an issue about which Bakker and Jones and many others are truly passionate.

However when you are also remembering the plight of people in the LGBT community when you are supposed to be remembering the death of Jesus, then you are creating a mixed meaning to the communion service, and making the remembrance of Christ’s death share the stage with some contemporary social issue.

But there is also the issue of altering the symbol used in the sacrament. True, Jesus lived in a world without food coloring, but we have to believe that when the scriptures say “He took bread and brake it;” we are looking at bread that free and clear of any additional symbolism, references, advertising or fortune cookie message. The formula is: The bread = Christ’s body, broken for you. There is no room here to add anything or manipulate this Eucharistic formula.

And why stop at rainbow coloring? There are other “ribbon” colors. Shall we observe a particularly colored bread on behalf of those who suffered child abuse or are fighting cancer? 

No.  The broken body of Jesus Christ is for the forgiveness of sin. And woe to anyone (see Rev. 22) who adds anything to that.

April 14, 2013

Weekend Link List

Faith Reason Hope

A handful of things have gained a lot of traction over the weekend that should probably be dealt with here instead of waiting until Wednesday.  If you read other Christian blogs, none of this will be new, but I wanted my regular readers to be up to speed.

  • The first is the death of Brennan Manning. He authored The Ragamuffin Gospel and Abba’s Child and at least 20 other books.  Here’s a beautiful tribute from a blog which takes its name in part from Brennan’s inspiration. If you don’t know of him, here’s a set of quotations I compiled from his writing a little more than a year ago.
  • We also learned this weekend of the earlier passing a week ago of another prolific author, Christian apologist and radio host Dave Hunt.  He was the author of over 30 books.
  • Unless this is the only Christian blog you read — for which we’re grateful, by the way — you can’t have missed hearing about a rap song video by Shai Linne in which he calls out the names of prominent televangelists he believes to be False Teacher$. Having said that, I can’t find a YouTube version of the song with stats commensurate to the articles about the song. Maybe televangelists are no longer all that interesting, but it took courage to name names.
  • What is without a doubt truly viral is a letter “to the church” that appeared on the blog of a gay young person who “misses you.” Here’s a key line: ““When I was at church, they taught me something else: if you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.”  By the time you read this it is closing in on 2,300 comments!  Here’s the letter.  And here’s a response from a Christian blogger.

So many other links in the vault, but we’ll have to save some for Wednesday.  You can also follow me on Twitter.

Today’s lower graphic is a bit of a curiosity. It’s a warning to epileptics from the bottom of the page of a church bulletin from North Point Community Church (Andy Stanley) in Atlanta. I’m not sure if the warning about the church lighting system appears weekly or if this was a one-off situation. I’ve always thought the lighting at North Point resembles high school dances I attended, but they’re not the only church to do this type of thing. And what if someone misses the warning?  Comments on this topic appreciated.

North Point Church Lighting Warning

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