Tag Archive | religion

Quote of the Day

 

I personally believe that twenty years from now most churches will welcome gay and lesbian families, will call gay and lesbian people to live lives of faithfulness and sacrificial love in their relationship just as they call heterosexual couples to do, and that they will see the passages on same-sex attraction as reflecting cultural norms just as the passages on slavery and on the subordination of women reflected cultural norm and not God’s heart and timeless will.

Methodist Pastor Adam Hamilton.

Theocrats to the Right of Me, Theocrats to the Left of Me

Southern Baptist blogger Jonathan Merritt has a pretty good article about his denomination as it deals with a decline that is not unfamiliar to mainline Protestants.  He offers a few ideas on how to stem the decline and the one that gets the most attention is where the he faults the SBC for mixing religion and politics or more specifically, conservative politics:

Tony Campolo once said that mixing the church with government is “like mixing ice cream with horse manure: You will not ruin the horse manure, but it will ruin the ice cream.” I’ll let you determine which one is the ice cream in his analogy.

During the last 25 years, the Southern Baptist Convention has rushed headlong into conservative politics, often parroting Republican talking points and baptizing the GOP’s agenda. Just last year, Richard Land, former head of the SBC’s political arm, broke tradition and publicly endorsed Mitt Romney for President.

Of the 117 resolutions passed by the denomination at their annual meeting since 2000, a breathtaking 70 of them have been political. This includes a 2003 resolution endorsing President Bush’s war in Iraq, a 2008 resolution taking a position in the so-called “War on Christmas,” and a 2009 resolution titled “On President Barack Hussein Obama.” I keep waiting for a resolution naming Sean Hannity as an honorary fourth member of the Trinity.

American evangelicalism is becoming more politically diverse and nuanced than it once was, particularly among young people. If the denomination continues to operate like a Republican lapdog, it can expect to be seen as a polarizing political institution. If they can learn to speak truth to power on both sides of the aisle, the SBC stands a chance of restoring its image. Americans want a Church that is prophetic, not partisan.

Having been raised in an evangelical background, I can agree with Merritt that there conservative Christianity has basically gotten in bed with conservative politics.  That was part of the reason that I left the evangelicalism of my youth and joined mainline Protestantism.  I was leaving the partisan in favor of a church that wasn’t in the thrall of the Republicans.

And the mainline church isn’t carrying the water for the Republicans, no sir.

They are carrying water for the Democrats.

Merritt is probably right that the SBC’s willingness to align itself with the GOP has turned off potential members.  They seem to waste a lot of time passing resolutions on whatever conservative cause du jour.  But having been a part of mainline/progressive Christianity for two decades, I would posit that the left-wing agenda of mainline churches has also turned off potential members.  I’ve heard enough “sermons” from pastors that are basically Democratic speeches with “God” tossed in a few times to know that the mainline is playing the same game conservatives churches are doing.

Back in 2010, Walter Russell Mead, who is Episcopalian, wrote a modern-day jeremiad against the mainline churches for their willingness to basically be petty prophets for what he calls the “Blue social model,” the operating model of governing starting at the middle of the 20th century.  He accuses mainline churches of confusing the Kingdom of God with the Blue Social Model:

The problem is that the contemporary mainline churches have confused the Blue social model with the Kingdom of God.  I’ve written about this model before — what the Blue model is and why it is breaking down, why the breakdown has impaled contemporary liberal politics on the horns of an impossible dilemma, and how the Blue Beast is sucking the life out of the mainline churches today. Historically this is not surprising; the blue social model was in large part formed by thinkers from the mainline churches in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  Somehow the mainline churches came through the violence and the upheavals of the twentieth century with their faith in liberal progress largely intact.  Neither Stalin nor Hitler nor Reinhold Niebuhr could convince us of the power of original sin; neither Hiroshima nor the Holocaust shook our faith in the ability of good government programs to remake mankind.

To mistake an ideology or a social model for the transcendent and always surprising (and irritating!) Kingdom of God is, technically speaking, the sin of idolatry.  It is to worship the work of our own hands.  What makes it worse is that to some degree in the mainline churches we have replaced faith in the scripturally based and historically rooted doctrines and values of the Christian heritage with faith in progressive social thought.

Instead of proclaiming a gospel of salvation that still brings lost sinners streaming through the doors (ask the Pentecostals and evangelicals who have continued to grow even as we shrink) we issue statements urging the federal government to fulfill its contributions to the Millennium Development Goals and to raise the minimum wage.  They preach and plant churches; we have professional development workshops for diocesan employees.

It’s hard for me to not to look at Merritt’s suggestion with a bit of suspicion.  It’s not that he’s wrong; I think he’s spot on.  What makes me skeptical is that I fear he is asking people to give up one idol and fall for another one.

I wasn’t expecting him to also call out the mainline church.  But I do wish that those who look at the sin of conservatives in walking too close to the ways of the world, are willing to look at their own heart and actions .

I end this with a quote from Methodist blogger Alan Bevere:

I must confess as a mainline Protestant who has come out of evangelicalism, I find it almost tragically humorous when the religious left accuses the religious right of wanting to institute a theocracy in America when they have their own theocratic vision they are working to bring to fruition. It reveals the truth of the statement that when you point your finger at someone there are three pointing back at you. The way around the errors of both, of course, is for the church to recover its primary work of embodying the gospel in its corporate life and bearing witness to the ways of God in the world. That is the central way the church is to be political in the world. As I continue to say, the church is where the politics of the kingdom resides and comes to fruition, not in the halls of nation state power.

Repost: Love, Justice, Vengence and Grace

The following is a blog post from 2007.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters,* what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
-Matthew 5:43-48

I decided to call my parents back home in Michigan tonight to find out how they were doing. Mom answered first, like she always does and we started chatting. At some point, she talked about a horrific crime just outside of Detroit. My mother expressed rage at the sheer savagery of the crime and saw this man as the perfect candidate for the death penalty.

dirty harryNow, you have to know something about Mom: she is dead set against the death penalty. She doesn’t approve of it on biblical grounds. So, for her to suggest this is somewhat shocking. Of course, she calmed down, but she explained the crime was terrible, that it was impossible to not simply react in this way towards one who would commit such an evil.

Later this evening, I ran into another blog where a pastor hoped the wrongdoer would get an ass-pounding in prison. He later regretted those remarks, somewhat.

The two incidents have me thinking about Jesus’ message to love everyone, including our enemies and how that smacks up against real life and real evil. Pastors and lay people hang on to the fact that Jesus seemed to love those that weren’t considered the proper people in society. On paper that seems wonderful. But how to does it hold up to child molesters? What about war criminals? Rapists? Not so easy to love them, huh?

My tamed cynical self tends to look at those who preach this easy love as fools somewhat-blind to the real evil that takes place in the world. The sad fact is that no matter how loving we are to our enemies, the enemies still rape and kill.

I think we are called to love everybody in the world. But I also know we live in the real world. We are also called to work for justice and part of my mother’s anger was the injustice of it all. We live in a world where there is evil and part of us wants to respond not in love, with vengence: to make them pay for their crimes. No forgiveness, no second chance, just blow the motherfucker away.

Psalm 137 is called the Cursing Psalm. It was written in a time of stress, probably as the Israelites were ripped from all they knew to a foreign land.

Read along:

By the rivers of Babylon—
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2On the willows* there
we hung up our harps.
3For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion!’

4How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.

7Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
8O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

Hmmm, somehow I don’t think you hear this Psalm much in Sunday worship services.

The fact is, the psalmist was sad at all the destruction. His town was destroyed by vandals. He wasn’t interested in seeking understanding- he wanted his pound of flesh. He wanted to hurt them as much he was hurt. This passage reminds me of how many felt after September 11. In the devastation of the World Trade Center towers, there was a rage to strike back and kick some ass. Some chastised this feeling, but the fact is, it is natural-it is human.

We are called to love, but as Christians we have to also be aware of our own feelings . Yes, we can love evil people, but we are also called to do justice, so seeing the injustice of innocents dying in buildings, or a young child not being able to live out a full life gets us angry.

And yet we have to move beyond our anger and love these people anyway. We are called to love them and pray for them.

The thing is, when we think these thoughts of vengance, we also know that God understands and gives us grace. We are loved even when we find it hard to love.

Advent reminds us that the world is not okay, but that God has a plan. Please, Lord God, come to our aid.

Faith, Love and Autism

A recent post by Methodist pastor Chad Holtz got me thinking again about feelings and faith.

 

As a kid, I was always nervous when it came to my being a Christian.  I grew up in evangelical and Black Protestant churches where there was a lot of emphasis placed on emotions.  I didn’t understand it then, but I was having to deal with being autistic and understanding my faith.  Because so much was placed on how one felt, I was always wondering if I really did believe.  I didn’t always feel anything.  I knew certain things.  I knew Jesus died for me.  I knew about heaven and I knew that God loved me.  But I was always told that knowing things isn’t enough.  One has to experience God, which meant one had to feel God, which was something that was hard for me.

I can’t speak for everyone that is on the spectrum, but I do wonder if other people have a hard time with faith.  Since I can’t see God, I have to just trust that something is there.  Thank God for imagination, which can help give some flesh to faith and allow someone like me to understand everything.  My love of all things supernatural, talk of zombies or vampires is a way of understanding that there are some things that don’t make sense.

I believe it was Martin Luther that once placed a marker of some kind that served as a reminder that he was saved by faith.  It was a visual and concrete reminder.  Now that is something I can grab on to and make sense.  In fact, it is a window on how I’ve learned to come to some peace about faith and feelings or lack thereof.  I might not always feel “strangely warmed” but I do know that God loves me.  I’ve learned to trust God even when I can’t feel God.  I’ve learned to be religious but not spiritual.

Hey, it works.

Sermon: “E Pluribus Unum”

E Pluribus Unum”
Matthew 28:19-20, II Corinthians 13:11-13
May 18, 2008 (Trinity Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

borgAs some of you know and are probably well sick of me telling you, I love science-fiction. What I love about this genre is that it present modern problems in futuristic garb. And I know that are also know and are sick of me telling you that I love Star Trek for especially, that reason. The groundbreaking television series, with a multicultural cast, dealt with many modern issues, such as war, racism, drugs, sexism and other topics. In the late 80s Star Trek came back to television in the version of Star Trek: The Next Generation. With a new series came new enemies. In the original television series, we had the Romulans and the Klingons. In the new series, we had an even more menacing villain: the Borg.

The Borg are a race of beings half-humanoid, half-android. There is no such thing as individuality or uniqueness among the Borg. They are soulless beings that work as one. They fly around in a ship that looks like giant cube and their job is to assimilate other species into their own collective. Whenever the meet up with a ship, such as the Enterprise, they “greet” their soon to be prey with these words: “We are Borg. Lower your shields. Your biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Resistance is futile.”

Today, the first Sunday after Pentecost, is commonly called Trinity Sunday, the day we remember the concept of God as Three in One; God the Father or Mother, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. This is always an odd day for Christians and for those of us who are part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in particular. For one thing, this is day devoted not to something in the Bible, but to doctrine, something that came along long after the Bible was written. For Disciples, this is also perplexing, because most of our founders were not considered what some would call Trinitarians. Because people like Barton Stone and Alexander Campbell placed an emphasis on restoring the church to what it was in the first century and because the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible, they did not place a whole lot of emphasis on it. That’s not to say they didn’t believe in God the Son or God the Holy Spirit, it’s just that they wouldn’t call that Trinity, nor would they make that a precursor for someone to become part of a faith community.

So, what do we do with this day? Do we ignore it? We could do that. But I think that there is still much to be mined from this day and from the Trinity. I think there is much to learn about who God is and how we can be church in this world. I think the Trinity is less of a doctrine that one must believe than a way to live life.

Now today’s texts have nothing to do with the Trinity. I am not going to try to say they uphold the doctrine of the Trinity, because no one was thinking in those terms yet. But they do give some clues about God and about us.

In the closing chapters of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to go and teach and baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He also tells them that he will always be with them until time ends.

Paul ends his second letter to his problem church in Corinth by saying that they should put their affairs in order, be agreeable with each other and greet each other with a holy kiss. And then he ends by saying a phrase that I know that I have heard often: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

The scriptures today remind us that we have a job to do. Jesus calls us to go into all the world and make disciples. Not make church goers, but disciples: people who will be followers of Jesus, not simply pew sitters. This text is commonly called the Great Commission many a pastor has preached on this text, to tell people to go and tell others about the Good News of Jesus. Congregations are urged to tell people about Jesus and pastors and churches get busy in the work of evangelism. There is nothing wrong with this, provided we don’t forget what else Jesus is saying here. We are to go and make disciples and also teach and baptize. We are called to help others understand the ways of Jesus and what it means that God loves us. And we are called to baptize, to formally welcome them into the larger faith community and into the life of being a follower of Jesus.

This seems like a tall order. How can we do this all? The sad fact is that many churches and pastors get involved in trying to be Christ in the world, and forget to take Christ with them. Jesus tells his disciples that he will be with them and God will be a work along with us as we preach, teach and baptize. It is not all on our shoulders. Christ is with us working in the lives of others and sustaining us when the road is long and hard.

If Jesus is giving us a charge of action, Paul is giving us a charge of character. Paul is telling the Corinthians to be in agreement with each other. Now, at first blush, this seems to mean that all the Corinthians must think the same way. The sad thing is that throughout church history, followers of Jesus have decided that everyone must have the same beliefs. People were forced out of churches for not sharing the same views on things as everyone else. That is not what Paul is saying here. Instead, Paul is saying we should not be divisive, or to put it in another way, to disagree without being disagreeable. He then ends it with the “trinitarian greeting.” What interesting here is that within God there is difference and yet unity. The love of God, the grace of Jesus, the communion of the Holy Spirit. Three different aspects of God and yet the same God, all in agreement.

As I said, the Trinity isn’t a doctrine to be believed. But I do think it is a way of life to be lived. Within God is diversity. Father/Mother God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Some people refer to the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. When Paul tells the Corinthians to be in agreement, he wasn’t calling for them to think the same and be the same. He was calling for this community to be united and yet different.

That is what we are called to be today. We all come here with as unique individuals. We all come from different backgrounds, with different life experiences and different religious and political beliefs. What binds us together, is the love of God, the grace of Jesus and the communion of the Holy Spirit. The church is called to be a place where there is diversity in every way imaginable and yet there is unity as well.

The fact is, the world sorely needs to hear this message. We live in a world where there is a spirit of sameness that is afraid of difference. We sort ourselves out into Republicans and Democrats, straight and gay, black and white and so on. We like to be in communities where everyone things like we do. In a way we are like the Borg, wanting to have a community where difference is not tolerated.

But God is calling us to be a place where we are different. We are called to be a place where we have a common purpose and goal, but where we are different as God is different.

The thing is, this diverse and yet unifying God is with us everywhere. We are reminded of God the Creator in the beauty of creation, we see God the Redeemer, when we receive communion and know that we are loved, no matter what. We see God the Sustainer, when when this diverse bunch of people gather together every Sunday to worship and bear each others burdens. God is with is, God is around us, and God is in us. We are never truly alone and we are called to be welcoming to all we meet.

You don’t have to believe in the Trinity. But I do think it is a lesson in how we are to be church: we are to be a community that knows God is with us and that is welcoming to all, even those people that are very different from us.

The fictional Borg, like to say “resistance is futile.” But I think in a world that demands conformity, we can respond with the old Latin phrase, “e pluribus unum,” out of many one. Out of many ways of being, we are united in Christ.

Maybe resistance isn’t so futile after all. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Sermon: “Waiting to Exhale”

Here’s a sermon I preached in 2007 on Pentecost Sunday.

“Waiting to Exhale”
Act 2:1-21
May 27, 2007 (Pentecost Sunday)
Lake Harriet Christian Church
Minneapolis, MN

 

When I was about two years old, I was diagnosed with asthma.  From about age two until maybe age 9, I dealt with constant asthma attacks where I had hard time breathing.  I can remember sitting in the doctor’s office of Dr. Cory Cookingham, who was my allergy and asthma doctor, who would sometimes have to give me a shot of adrenalin to open up my constricted lungs.  More than once he worried if this didn’t work, that the hospital would be the next stop.

Growing up as a kid with asthma was not fun in the early 70s.  I still had a pretty full childhood, but there were things I was limited in doing.  My made sure all the schools I attended were clean and not dusty so as not to trigger an attack.  I remember when I was very young, not playing outdoors again for fear of an attack.

As I got older the spectre of asthma grew smaller.  I was able to play outdoors and have fun, no longer fearful for another attack.  In fact I went without an asthma attack for eight years until the summer I graduated high school.  I still have attacks few and far between, but I do carry an inhaler just in case. Read More…

Tragic Church?

An interesting meditation on the role of the tragic in life of Christian worship and in modern culture:

The problem with much Christian worship in the contemporary world, Catholic and Protestant alike, is not that it is too entertaining but that it is not entertaining enough. Worship characterized by upbeat rock music, stand-up comedy, beautiful people taking center stage, and a certain amount of Hallmark Channel sentimentality neglects one classic form of entertainment, the one that tells us, to quote the Book of Common Prayer, that “in the midst of life we are in death.”

It neglects tragedy. Tragedy as a form of art and of entertainment highlighted death, and death is central to true Christian worship. The most basic liturgical elements of the faith, baptism and the Lord’s Supper, speak of death, of burial, of a covenant made in blood, of a body broken. Even the cry “Jesus is Lord!” assumes an understanding of lordship very different than Caesar’s. Christ’s lordship is established by his sacrifice upon the cross, Caesar’s by power…

Of all places, the Church should surely be the most realistic. The Church knows how far humanity has fallen, understands the cost of that fall in both the incarnate death of Christ and the inevitable death of every single believer. In the psalms of lament, the Church has a poetic language for giving expression to the deepest longings of a humanity looking to find rest not in this world but the next. In the great liturgies of the Church, death casts a long, creative, cathartic shadow. Our worship should reflect the realities of a life that must face death before experiencing resurrection.

As they say, read the whole thing.

On Holy Friendships

friendship

My thoughts these days are drifting towards relationships, or the lack thereof in churches.

I’ve been thinking about this in light of a recent blog post on CivilPolitics.org on the dearth of cross-party friendships.  The post linked to a longer article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the issue.  The author, Neil Gross notes that such friendships have benefits for the whole of society:

President Obama last month took a group of Republican senators to dinner at the Jefferson Hotel, in Washington, to discuss the sequestration crisis and a wide range of other policy matters. The next day he asked Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, the former vice-presidential candidate, to lunch at the White House. Another meal with Senate Republicans is planned for April 10. The goal of those meetings? To score PR points—but also to build personal relationships that might erode partisan gridlock.

It’s too early to tell whether the president’s outreach will work, but social-science research suggests that friendships that reach across the political aisle may be good for democracy: They facilitate cooperation by reducing extremism and enhancing trust. In a 2002 study, the political scientist Diana Mutz assessed the effects of political diversity among friends. Study participants who reported friendships with those who were unlike them politically had a better grasp of why people on the other side held the view they did. Those participants were also more tolerant…

The problem is that, in both Washington and the country as a whole, friendships that cross party lines are becoming rare. The political scientist Robert Huckfeldt and his co-authors found that in 2000 only about a third of Americans who supported George W. Bush or Al Gore for president had someone in their political-discussion network who backed the other candidate. And in a study of wider acquaintanceship networks, the sociologist Thomas DiPrete and colleagues discovered that such networks are segregated by politics as well.

It should not surprise anyone that such a lack of cross-party friendships are lacking in the church as well.  I’ve noticed more and more how liberal Christians tend to stick with each other, while conservatives keep with their own kind as well.  In a post from last year, I explained that this wasn’t always the case:

It was about 20 years ago, that I attended a large Baptist church in Washington, DC.   The church was an odd mix, or at least it would be odd today.  Evangelicals and liberals were somehow able to worship together, along side a healthy dose of members from Latin America and Asia.

The church decided at some point to hire a pastor to the join the good-sized multi-pastor staff.  The person chosen was a woman with great pastoral care skills.  At the time, there was a bit of controversy because she was pro-gay and some of the evangelicals in the church weren’t crazy about that.

I was at a meeting where a member of the congregation stood up.  She was one of the evangelical members of the congregation and she had what could be considered a “traditional” understanding on homosexuality, but she spoke in favor of calling the pastor.  You see, the pastor had been involved with congregation for a few years and the two had gotten to know each other.  “We don’t agree,” I recall this woman saying when talking about the issue they didn’t see eye-to-eye on.  But this woman was a good friend and she saw her as the right person for the job.

What’s so interesting about this story is that I don’t think it could happen today.  Churches like the one in DC really don’t exist anymore.  Evangelicals and liberals have sorted themselves into different churches and don’t really know each other.  Which only makes it easier to highlight differences and demonize each other.

As I move within my different circles, I’ve noticed how liberal and evangelical Christians don’t talk to each other at all.  They don’t see to like each other and say not-so-nice things when they are in their own groups.  Since I work for the Presbyterians and pastor a Disciples church, I’ve seen how we all self-select or how we wish we could not have to deal with “those” people.  I’m reminded of talking to another pastor a few years ago after a difficult vote.  The pastor wished our denomination was more like the United Church of Christ, our sister denomination that tends to be far more liberal.  I was privately irked by the pastor’s comments, because what was being said is that life would be easier if we didn’t have to deal with “those” conservatives.

In our society, it is becoming easier and easier to not have to hear diverse viewpoints.  As much as I like social media, it has the tendency to shelter folks from other opinions and reinforce our own views.  It’s been interesting to see people on Facebook who seemed more temperate in the past become more zealous over time.  People will put up the latest graphic that makes fun or demonizes the other side.

We are less interested in trying to build bridges, than we are in setting the damn bridge on fire.  In the name of social justice or orthodoxy, our places of worship are becoming less graceful.

Recently, social conservative writer Rod Dreher shared his experiences meeting the well known gay blogger Andrew Sullivan.  The two have tossled more than once on the issue of same-sex marriage, and yet something surprising happened over time: they became friends. Here’s what he said, responding to Andrew’s take of an evangelical church he attended where a mutual friend’s funeral took place:

It will not surprise anyone to learn that Andrew and I will simply not be able to agree on theology. It may surprise some to know that I can live with that, because Andrew is a decent and kind and very much alive person (though I can see his difficult side too; we all have them, as did — very much — David Kuo; as do I). Listening to Andrew speak with passion the other night about his love of Jesus Christ, and his experiences of Christ’s presence, was moving, because so genuine. Hearing of him speak of his own deep suffering as a child and as a young man — stories I hope he will be able to tell one day in his writing, because they were incredibly powerful, and gave me a new perspective on him and why he believes and feels the things he does — deeply reinforced for me the Gospel interdiction on withholding judgment from others. We really don’t know what others have endured, and how they have managed to hope in spite of hopelessness. I found myself back at my hotel room that night praying for Andrew, that Jesus will help him carry the things he has to carry, which to a degree that startled both of us, I think, resemble some of the heaviest burdens I myself have to carry.

If that makes me a squish, well, it makes me a squish. The older I get, and the more I become aware of my own frailty, my own vanity, my own hard-to-govern passions, my own weaknesses, and the more I come to grasp how freaking hard life is, the more inclined I am toward mercy. It’s not out of big-heartedness, necessarily, because unlike my sister Ruthie, I am not big-hearted. I am petty and jealous and quick to anger. My worst fault is my unbridled tongue. Rather, I think any inclination towards mercy on my part comes from a recognition of how much I need it myself.

The words that are most important here is that Rod could live with not agreeing with Andrew’s theology.  Live with. Tolerate.  Knowing that you might never change another person’s views and coming to a place where that’s okay.  To know that sometimes, it’s better to be loving than to be right. Grace.

What I wish for the church today is that we could live with a little more grace towards each other, especially when we don’t see eye-to-eye.  We need to get to a place where we can disagree and argue and still hug each other afterwards.

Maybe if we were more merciful we would be willing to hear each other.  Methodist pastor Stephen Rankin wishes that people not refer to things with the various political adjectives that keep us separated:

We absolutely must enact a moratorium on political labels as identifiers for the “kind of Methodist” that someone thinks she or he is.  Calling a particular theological position “progressive” or “conservative” perpetuates (ironically) the very groupthink that we often say we deplore.  These words are code that do nothing more than allow people to decide whether they like the theological idea or not without having actually to engage the idea itself.  It thus stops necessary reflection even before it gets started.

Using political labels, therefore, like “progressive” and “conservative” and, in some ways “evangelical” does nothing but short-circuit and maybe even ruin the possibility of important and serious conversations.  Let us please stop using them, at least long enough actually to talk and listen to one another without these maddening distractions.  I am not naive to think that we’ll stop using them altogether, but let us please become very self-aware and spare in our use of them.  And we should agree never to use them as conversations stoppers in public debate.

Our society is so fractured, and our churches mirror this sin.  What needs to happen is for Christians to not always work so hard to be right.  I’m not saying we give up our views, but to know that relationships matter, even when you don’t see eye-to-eye.

I know this will seem weird to others, but I hope one day to become friends with a social conservative.  We won’t agree on the issue of sexuality.  We might even think the other is sadly mistaken.  But I want to have a friendship with someone I don’t agree with to learn to love someone for more than their having the right viewpoint.  I want to love them as Christ did and does: with grace and mercy.

So, if there are any social conservatives who have always wanted a sassy black gay friend, I’m available.

Being Gay at Liberty University

Last fall, I wrote a blog post about how I’ve come to respect social conservatives.  What I’ve learned over time is that the view of social conservatives is not so black and white.  Here’s a little of what I wrote:

I’ve met good Christians who are some of the nicest and honorable people and have treated me with respect.  The only difference is that they can’t cross that bridge to accept same-sex marriage because they believe their faith says it wrong.  As much as I disagree with them, I don’t want to force them to disavow their belief, either.  But that is their fear.  That leads me to ask questions: how do we treat those who disagree?  How do we handle them with grace and love?  What can we learn from their views on marriage that can be adapted to the new consensus? What authority does Christianity have in regards to sexuality? What are the limits?  What does family mean in this day and age?  How can we help shore up disintergrating families in red states and also in the ghettoes of our inner cities?

This is why in the end I’ve come to respect social conservatives.  Yeah, there are a bunch of folks that are still hateful bigots, but that is not all of them and they do have some valuable things to tell us.  In the spirit of tolerance and love of neighbor, the least I can do is listen.

liberty universityIn that I spirit, I would urge folks to read this article by writer Brandon Ambrosino about being gay at Liberty University. For the uninitiated, Liberty University was founded by the late Jerry Fawell, who was once a leading figure in the Religious Right.  While the college in Lynchbrug, Virginia isn’t San Francisco East for LGBT folks, it also isn’t totally the horrible place many of might think it is. Brandon uses a story from the Gospel of John to explain what might be going on among some religious conservatives:

There’s a story in the Gospel of John that I’ve always liked. Some of the Pharisees who have it out for Jesus try to catch him in a trap. They bring to him a woman who was “caught in the act of adultery,” and they ask Jesus what he thinks they should do with her. They tell him that, as any good Jew knows, a woman committing adultery must be put to death, according to the Law that Moses gave them. After a mysterious episode of writing something unknown in the sand, Jesus both agrees and challenges the woman’s accusers. He says, in effect, “Alright, this is what the Law says, and it is very noble of you to want to honor the Law by stoning her. So we will do that. And we will start with the one of us who is blameless and perfect. Who’s first? Pick up your stone.” Apparently, this really aggravated and bested all of the religious accusers because, according to the gospel account, all of them left, leaving Jesus and the woman there alone. It’s at this point Jesus utters one of his more famous sayings. “Neither do I condemn you,” he tells her. “Go, and sin no more.”

The story centers around Jesus’ declaration that he does not condemn this woman. This is something that really resonates with me. Many of the same passages of Scripture that condemn adultery as abominable also condemn homosexuality. Anyone who is even slightly familiar with Torah or the Book of Romans would have to admit that both activities are regarded as sinful. Jesus, a first-century Rabbi, would have also held this belief. And yet, when the abstract sin is given a human face, Jesus responds with acceptance and mercy, proving the truth of Alexander Pope’s adage, “To err is human, to forgive divine.” It’s easy to despise an idea. But give that idea a human body, beat her up, and toss her down on the sand in front of you—do this, and then try to hate her. It’s not that easy.

I’ve always liked that story myself and it does sum up what might be happening in Lynchburg.  Read on to learn more of Brandon’s adventures and how he found the grace of God in some very unexpected places.

How A Nun and A Priest Led Me to be a Pastor

I don’t know when it happened, but at some point it became fashionable among both secular and religious progressives to bash the Catholic Church for basically everything under the sun.  Since the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, I’ve heard a number of slams against the church including that it is old-fashioned, sexist, homophobic and the like.  What is surprising and somewhat disturbing is how easily some progressive Christians have joined in the Catholic-bashing.  Posts by Tim Suttle, Tony Jones and David Hayward are just some of the negative reactions that I’ve seen from progressive folk on Facebook and the blogs. People who usually get upset when people speak ill of gays or Muslims have no problem saying all sorts of nasty things against Catholics.

Now, part of this bashing is understandable.  The child sex abuse scandal which has rocked the worldwide church has basically tarnished it’s reputation.  I also wish the Catholic leadership were more willing to bend when it comes to same-sex marriage.  But what bothers me is how we tend to miss the nuance of the Catholicism.  People who are so quick to judge others for being too black and white and ready to tar the Roman church without a hint of shame.

Even though I am an openly gay man, I still have soft spot for the Catholics- the result of knowing so many of them.

agnesflint

St. Agnes Catholic Church in Flint, MI. The congregation was closed by the Diocese of Lansing in 2008 because of declining attendance.

You see the Catholic church isn’t some distant entity for little ol’ Protestant me.  It’s a very real place with real people and it made me the person I am today.  Maybe I have a soft spot for Catholics because my mother is a Protestant convert who grew up Catholic.  I know kindergarten has something to do with it.  Kindergarten and 1st grade were spend at St. Agnes Catholic School in Flint, Michigan.  I can remember forming lines and walking from the school building to the church on the grounds.  Inside, the church was decked out in colorful banners.  This was just after Vactican II so it was all about the folk mass.  I was captivated by all of it.  I can remember Sister Veronica who worked at the school and one time gave me a ride home in her bright orange Chevy Nova with St. Christopher on the dash board.

I went to other schools between first and eighth grades, but in the fall of 1983, I became a student at Powers Catholic High School.  I was one of the few Protestants that went to the school (most of the Protestants happened to be African American.)  Powers was a great experience.  I learned more about Catholics through my class work as well as through the friends I made there, friendships that carry on thirty years later.

I never was interested in becoming Catholic much less a priest, but I do think people like Sister Veronica and Father Al from days in high school made me think more about becoming a man of the cloth in my own right.

Yes, I don’t get the insistance on celibacy for priests.  Yes, I wish the church would be open to gays and lesbians.  Yeah, I would like to see them consider ordaining women.  That’s not going to happen for a lot of reasons.

But despite all of those deficits, I am thankful we have Catholics in the world.  They tend to be the folks who stay in the inner city , working for justice where we Protestants fear to tread.  I am reminded of a Catholic aquaintence here in Minneapolis who gave up his job at Target and opened up his house in North Minneapolis as a kind of monastery in the inner city.  I don’t know if I could do that.

I think about that friend when I read things like this about Pope Francis:

He loves the poor and not in an abstract way. He gave the cardinal’s palace in Buenos Aires to a missionary order with no money. He lives in an apartment, cooks his own food, rides the bus. He rejects pomposity. He does not feel superior. He is a fellow soul. He had booked a flight back to Argentina when the conclave ended…

He picks up his own luggage, pays his own hotel bill, shuns security, refuses a limousine, gets on a minibus with the cardinals. That doesn’t sound like a prince, or a pope. He goes to visit a church in a modest car in rush-hour traffic. He pointedly refuses to sit on a throne after his election, it is reported, and meets his fellow cardinals standing, on equal footing. The night he was elected, according to New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Vatican officials and staffers came forward to meet the new pope. He politely put them off: Not now, the people are waiting. Then he went to the balcony.

No, Catholics aren’t perfect and yes, they have done some things that are just shameful. But I don’t know what part of the church doesn’t have some taint to it.  After all, Jesus entrusted his church to imperfect beings, so what do you expect?

So this liberal Protestant won’t be joining in the bashing of Catholics or Pope Francis.  I will pray for them even if they might not agree with me.  Because in spite of themselves, because of Sister Veronica and Father Al, a shy gay black kid was able to hear the call of God to ministry.

Thanks be to God.

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