Category Archives: Kingdom of God

Are LGBTQ People Human or Not?

pa-equality-watch-rainbow-flag.pngSomething from my last post here has stayed with me. I’ve continued to speak out on Twitter against those who say that the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case isn’t about the gay couple involved but rather about the event or a message. What I’ve found is that not only are conservative evangelicals content to further marginalise LGBTQ people but they also view them as less than human.

If you don’t believe me then start by looking through the Twitter feed of organisations like the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention or the Family Research Council. The ERLC, for example, has been very vocal lately about the right to life of the unborn. One of their recent posts on the subject is entitled, “Why human dignity shapes our public activism.” The FRC took the same stance by retweeting an article from Live Action News on December 8 entitled, “Tragic: 1 of every 3 babies is aborted in New York City.” What’s worth noting here is that they could have focused their position on the ideology behind pro-choice beliefs, or even the beliefs themselves, or the pro-choice “agenda” but they didn’t. They focused on the people. Contrast that with recent posts by the same organisations regarding the Masterpiece Cakeshop case. This one from the FRC is entitled, “The SCOTUS Sweet Stakes: Baker’s Freedom in the Balance,” while this one they retweeted refers to it as the “Case of the Christian Baker.” The ERLC took a similar stance with an article entitled, “Into the looking glass: Why the Impact of Masterpiece Cakeshop at the Supreme Court matters.” The focus in these article is on the baker and the impact the case will have on religious liberty, on the cake as a message, and on the gay wedding as an event. Notably absent is any recognition of the gay couple involved.

(Now before you go pointing out that those supporting Charlie Craig and David Mullins, the gay couple at the heart of this, may have done likewise in their treatment of Jack Phillips, let me say that as a minister my issue in this post is with those claiming to represent Christ in this case.)

How the gay couple are viewed by conservatives in this case doesn’t improve any when you look at the comments these posts have generated on Twitter. Gay people are “given over to a depraved mind.” Their rights are an agenda. Their wedding is just an event, one that is apparently so sinful that a baker would be justified in not selling a product only intended as a gift for the couple. You can’t help but conclude that to Christians gay people are somehow “other” and not fully human like the rest of us. If this case is truly about a message or an ideology then why hasn’t that same logic been applied to other cases like those described above?

To an extent I understand where this approach comes from. That does nomean I support or endorse it, just that I understand what lies behind it. Affirming the humanity of LGBTQ people in every sense of that word, or at the very least acknowledging it, would require conservative evangelicals to rethink much of their worldview and they are simply not willing to do it Doing so would raise too many questions and as contemporary evangelicalism revolves around being faithful to an increasingly narrow worldview those questions can’t be allowed. That’s where the Nashville Statement comes from. It’s a way of saying to the world, “Anything outside this position is wrong.” The lack of respect for the humanity of Charlie Craig and David Mullins is the natural outgrowth of that logic. And if you think I’m off the mark on this, go through those articles and count how many times the two men are referred to by name. Too often they’re just “the gay couple.” (Hell, I spoke out in their defence on Twitter for almost a week before I realised I didn’t even know their names.) Jack Phillips, in contrast, has own hashtag. Such an approach cannot, however, be justified when it seeks to reduce real people down to nothing more than an event or an agenda.

Affirming the full humanity of gay, lesbian, trans, and other gender-nonconforming people is something conservatives need to do. For many Christians out there this isn’t a problem. For them LGBTQ people are no different than anyone else. For those that do have a problem with it, ask yourself this. If your theology requires that you view someone as less than human, is it really worth holding onto? Is it really “Christian” theology? If you’re honest then those questions will answer themselves.

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The Church is Dead

broken-down-churchYou’d have to have been living under a rock this past Tuesday not to have heard or seen something on social media regarding the Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case and #JusticeforJack. As a vocal supporter of LGBTQ people in this country I spent most of the day on Twitter engaging with those who don’t see them as I have come to know them. I did so knowing what was going to come our way and I was still taken aback. I mean, the Nashville Statement and the DOJ’s guidance on religious liberty left no doubt as to what conservative evangelicals think of their place in this world and of those they disagree with. Tuesday on Twitter topped both of those.

Before going on I should point out that I am not a legal expert. The ins and outs of what the Constitution protects are not something I am familiar with, although I don’t think it’s that hard to see that giving a religious group the right to discriminate against those who don’t share their beliefs is the start of a very slippery slope. (I also understand that back in the 1960s similar religious arguments were made over the issue of racial discrimination; the Supreme Court shot those down, too.) What I am is a minister and a theologian and and my take on this whole thing is along those lines.

As I’ve learned over the past year, LGBTQ people in the United States often exist on the margins of society. They are, if you look at the Gospels, the very same people that Jesus spent most of his time with. Every argument that I saw in support of #JusticeforJack, whether it was from average people with opinions or from pastors and church leaders, ignored those people entirely. For them it was about the message the cake represents or about the celebration itself (conveniently forgetting that without the people involved neither the cake or the celebration would be an issue). Not only did the conservative church overlook these people on the margins but it is more than content to let them stay there. If the verdict goes against the gay couple then the church will have succeeded in turning LGBTQ people into second class citizens. You are harming the very people Jesus cared about most.

And what about Jack Phillips’ rights? As a minister and a Christian I have to admit that I don’t understand the question or the arguments behind it. For all the focus on “religious liberty” these last few months it’s a concept I don’t find in Scripture. Where is it written that our rights as Christians are to be protected above those of everyone else? That our conscience, and our right to be offended, matters more than loving people? Instead I find passages like John 16:33 (ESV), which reads, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Or Hebrews 11:36-38 (ESV), “Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” This world is not our home and it’s not a safe place and yet you fight to so at the cost of the very people you’re supposed to love. Ultimately, which is the better Christian witness, to turn away the gay couple or to love them and serve them as best you can? As Christians we don’t have rights in this world and the ones we do have stand on a foundation far more durable than the Supreme Court.

I almost didn’t title this post “The Church is Dead.” Maybe I’m just being too dramatic, you know? All the Supreme Court did on Tuesday was hear oral arguments. They did not rule on the issue and they are not expected to do so for sometime. The thing is I keep coming back to one place. If the ruling comes in favour of Jack Phillips then someday an LGBTQ person will leave an establishment where they are not welcome, turn to the church and say, “This is because of YOU.” This is not who we are supposed to be, and if it is who you as a conservative evangelical church have become, if you’re OK with that and even celebrate it, then there is no life left in you.

And if that pisses you off, don’t come at me for twisting Scripture. Search the Scripture yourself. See who Jesus loves and how he shows it. And then tell me that the church’s behaviour these past months has shown the same love. You won’t be able to. The institutional, evangelical church is about many things in this world but being Christ’s representatives on earth isn’t one of them. The church is dead.

Grace and Christmas

christmas1When did we stop giving each other grace?

I guess it’s almost a cliche that on Black Friday and the day before Christmas (or on Boxing Day if you’re Canadian) that people out shopping go a little squirrelly trying to get the best deal or that “must have” item. What I didn’t expect was to see the same behaviour over yogurt and buttermilk. I work in the dairy department of a major retailer and as we lead up to Thanksgiving I’ve seen customers walk around each other like they’re not even there, darting in and reaching over each other to get milk of all things. The phrase “Excuse me” seems to be dead. And when someone does get in their way, as tends to happen at this time of year, instead of laughing it off and going about their business many people give looks that could best be described as annoyed.

Have we become that self-centred that we no longer even make the effort to notice and respect those around us?

And it’s not just in grocery stores, either. Evangelicals are now more aware than ever before that there are those in this country whose very existence goes against how they view the world. At best they scratch their heads over it. At worse they cry, “It’s a sin!” every chance they get. But you know what? These people are people, too, and fully deserving of all the dignity and love and respect that goes along with that. Would it kill you to show them that? Respecting a trans person for who they are doesn’t negate your right to believe whatever it is you want to believe. It means no more than being a decent human being (and, I think, a decent Christian, too).

Not too long ago conservatives were ecstatic over President Trump’s promise that “We’re going to say ‘Merry Christmas’ again.” Evangelicals were finally going to turn the tide in the culture war. “Make Christmas great again!” was the joke. Here’s a tip. If you really want to make Christmas great again, stop fighting the culture war. Stop demanding your own rights and put the other person first for a change. As Christians, at this time of year we celebrate God coming to earth and I don’t think we fully realize the depth of that anymore. Christ had every right to come as a King in glory but he didn’t. In the words of Paul, Jesus “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-9) Jesus set everything aside to love us. Paul starts out this passage by saying in verse 4, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” We are to love others as Christ loved us, and yet the church in America has got this backwards. We demand that others look to our interests before their own and we call it religious liberty. We claim the right to say whatever we want in the name of “God’s truth,” regardless of the cost to others, and then argue that anything less places limits on our freedom of speech.

If you really want to make Christmas great again then it’s time to turn things around. Stop demanding to be protected and treated as the most important people in this country and start following Christ’s example. I know it’s scary to give your rights and put others first but in that place is where Christ is and the bottom line is we either trust him or we don’t. Which is it going to be?

Who gets to tell the church no?

noOver the last few weeks I have seen both conservative organisations and leaders within the church rejoice that they finally have a government that is putting their priorities first. Whether or not those priorities are good for the country as a whole, or even shared by the rest of the country, is beside the point. That’s what conservatives want and that’s what the government is going to deliver. The problem with this is that there doesn’t seem to be anyone with the authority to step in and say, “Yes, you have the right to your beliefs but pursuing this goal is hurting other people.” There is no one, in short, to tell the church no.

As Christians it’s foundational to our faith that we don’t ultimately answer to men. When push comes to shove we don’t answer to elected governments (or any other government, for that matter). We follow the example of Peter and John in Acts 5, for example, or we point to Christ as the head of the church as our ultimate authority. And if you’ve been following the religious liberty arguments on social media lately, you’ll know that there is a very vocal group out there which believes that the government has no authority whatsoever to interfere with the church anyways. To an extent, such views are correct. When the government gets in the way of the church doing what it is supposed to be doing then the church has a higher authority to which it answers.

That being said, what about when the church isn’t necessarily up to what it’s supposed to be up to? The evangelical church in particular is, arguably, pursuing its own interests right now in trying to take the culture of this country back to something of which they would approve. As I’ve written about before, and as I see all the time, in doing so they are hurting people. And yet when I see people engage with them on social media, trying to get them to understand that, the conservatives won’t have it. They are the ones who understand Scripture correctly. They are the ones following God’s plan. Those who disagree with them, and who have a scriptural basis for their objections, are simply “selectively quoting Scripture.” As we’ve already touched on, conservatives also don’t have to listen to government concerns, either. There is, at the risk of overstating it, no one to tell the church no. As admirable as that may be under certain circumstances, when it becomes a justification for putting your fingers in your ears and saying, “I don’t care. You don’t get to tell me what to do,” then it’s a problem.

Such an attitude is also a problem in that, even after chewing on this for a while now, there is no easy solution to it that I can articulate. I am not, as you might expect from this article, in favour of government control of the church. Nor am I in favour of a hierarchical system of church government for all denominations. Such actions won’t stop the harm. It will just take different forms. (That being said, I am not in favour of repealing the Johnson Amendment. Church and politics never mix well.) Unfortunately there is only one answer to this question that I see. If, as 1 Peter 2:5-9 says, all believers are priests before God, then the only ones who can tell Christians no are other Christians. The irony is not lost on me that these are the very people conservatives refuse to listen to right now.

I am not saying that those of us who disagree with conservative evangelicals have more authority than they do. I am also not saying that they are required to agree with us. Free speech exists for a reason. What I am saying is that if it comes down to choosing between “doctrinal purity” and real purple hurt by the consequences of what you’re doing, which is really more important? In the last year the evangelical church has lost all credibility in this country and its actions mean a backlash is coming that will not be pretty. That alone is cause for alarm. I also understand that there are many out there who are afraid of having to do something as simple as respect another human being whose very existence goes against your beliefs but if you’re operating out of fear then you’re not in a good place biblically. Maybe, just maybe, the rest of us are on to something. How much would it cost you to listen?

You ARE better than this

Family_Research_Council_logoI came across yet another article from the Family Research Council on Twitter yesterday entitled “We Got Your Back, Jack.” And it’s just sad. The gist of the article is that “church and civic leaders,” including several prominent African American leaders, are “Tired of hearing the LGBT community compare its experience to the real suffering of the civil rights movement.” One such leader is quoted as pointing out how “insulting it is to hear LGBT activists equate their ‘persecution’ to generations of African Americans.” Now I am not for a moment trying to diminish the discrimination and the pain that black people have experienced in this country and which they continue to experience. That being said, as a conservative, faith-based organisation, that’s the best you have for LGBTQ people? “We’re tired of hearing you complain. Go away and let us deal with real pain and suffering.”

I’ve said recently that Christians need to do better with regards to LGBTQ people and this article is a prime example of why. I see it everyday, the struggle and, yes, the discrimination, that they deal with. Whether it’s in trying to accept themselves when no one else will, or in holding down a job while dealing with people who reject them for who they are, or in just having the freedom to pee where they feel safe enough to do so, the pain is very real. And conservative Christians can’t see it. Forget the biblical admonition to “mourn with those who mourn.” This is, “Go away. You bother me.” At the risk of putting it too bluntly, that’s pathetic.

Behind positions like this is the view that gender identity and sexual orientation are not the same things as skin colour. The latter is a scientific fact while the former are choices and therefore not to be considered on the same level as “civil rights.” It’s actually not a new position. The Southern Baptist Convention holds this view and has for some time now. I called them out for it earlier this year in an open letter and what I had to say then still applies. “The term ‘civil rights,’ by definition, refers to having the freedom to live your life as you see fit. The members of the LGBTQ community should have, by that right, the same freedom to be themselves that you and I enjoy in this country.” Gender identity and sexual orientation, for that reason, are civil rights issues whether or not conservatives want to view them as such. In holding the view that they are not civil rights issues, conservatives are merely stating that they don’t care about these issues. All the church cares about are its own rights and that is a big problem.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the article takes things further. Jack Phillips, the man at the centre of the Masterpiece Cakes Supreme Court case, is the only one “who can identify with what African Americans went through.” In other words, the Christian is the one facing legitimate discrimination here. He is the one whose “free exercise and expression of religion, convictions and conscience” is being infringed upon, not the LGBTQ community. While he certainly does have the right to his beliefs, the LGBTQ community has rights just the same, rights that conservative groups like the FRC are all too eager to overlook. Equating the Christian in this case with the discrimination faced by African Americans is little more than a cute attempt to further marginalise LGBTQ people. (If conscience is truly the “currency” in situations like this, and a currency “for everyone,” then why doesn’t that apply to LGBTQ people?)

Christians are supposed to be better than this. As 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, we’re supposed to be “ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” The appeal that conservatives are making right now is, “Go away. Our God hates you and so do we.” As I’ve said before, I understand that it can be difficult to wrap your mind around just who LGBTQ people are and why they are who they are, but that is no excuse whatsoever for responses like this. This behaviour is nothing short of appalling. I said in my last post that Christians need to do better in how they treat the LGBTQ community but this is past that. As Christians, you are better than this. You need to show it.

You Need to do Better

41U4s9JARAL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_Let me start out by saying that I get it. The idea that a trans person can legitimately be in the wrong body, so to speak, is one that can take a while to wrap your head around. The same goes for the idea that they are not crazy for feeling that way. If that’s not something you’ve ever thought about much it can take a while to process it and try to understand who these people are. Hopefully along the way you’ll get to know at least some of them. Speaking from my own experience if you skip that part then you really have no idea what the hell you’re talking about. The whole “trans debate” is so much more than just a debate. There are real people involved here. So yeah, I understand that it can take a while, even as a Christian, to wrap your head around this but, that being said, it’s no excuse for not treating fellow human beings like, well, human beings.

Case in point is this article I came across yesterday on Twitter, “Transgender and children: Responding in the local church,” which is an adapted excerpt from Andrew T. Walker’s book God and the Transgender Debate. The “response” in question here is whether or not a local church should accommodate a parent’s request that their child be referred to by pronouns that do not line up with their biological sex. While Walker does acknowledge that “each situation is unique because each child is unique,” his conclusion is ultimately that “whatever the situation in the home may be, pastors and elders should say they’ll be unable to comply with this parent’s request, or to ask anyone else in the church to do this, because it goes against what the Bible teaches about who this child is.” Furthermore, “If the parent is opposed to the Bible’s teaching (rather than in agreement with it, but struggling to know how best to love their suffering child), and refuses to change their mind, I’d see this as an issue of church discipline, because the parent is publicly living in rejection of God’s Word.” This conclusion, coming from someone relatively senior in the Southern Baptist Convention, carries a great deal of weight but that does little to deflect from the issues inherent in it.

Setting aside that the Bible’s teaching on this is not as clear as Walker believes it to be, his conclusion here is problematic for two main reasons. First of all, it asserts that the leadership of a congregation are better placed to know who a child is than the parents of that child are. I’ve been in churches where the leadership was lucky to know a child’s first name. I’ve also been in one church in particular where the best interests of the children were sacrificed in the best interests of the direction the pastor wanted to take the congregation. Finally as Ephesians 6:1-4 shows, how children turn out is not the church’s responsibility. It is, rather, the responsibility of the parents. Walker is encouraging the local church to take on a responsibility it has no right to take on and that sets a very dangerous precedent.

Walker’s conclusion is also problematic in how it treats trans children. From my own experience I have learned that trans youth of all ages struggle not only with accepting themselves but also with being accepted by those around them. They are, in a word, vulnerable because of that. In making the issue of trans youth a matter of “church discipline” Walker is in essence telling those who likely already feel rejected by the world around them that God rejects them, too, and they are not welcome in God’s house the way that they are. It should go without saying that you will do far more harm to these young people with that response than you ever will through simply using whatever pronouns they prefer. In Matthew 19:13-14, we are told, “Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.'” The church is supposed to be representing Jesus to the world but Walker does the exact opposite here. 

As I said at the beginning, I understand that this issue can be a tough one to wrap your head around. (Please hear me when I say that I don’t make that observation with a negative view towards trans people. I know trans people can get frustrated as hell with cis people. That being said, some cis people have a hard time with this and pretending otherwise doesn’t really help.) As I illustrated above there are a number of healthy responses towards trans people even while you’re trying to understand who they are. Mr. Walker’s response is not one of them and the evangelical church as a whole can do far better. It needs to do better for the sake of these people who I have come to love very much.

An Evangelical Legacy of Fear

headerI’ve said it before many times that I try to stay the hell out of politics. It’s just too easy to hurt people and the whole point of Church for Misfits is that it’s a place for people of all backgrounds. That being said, every now and then I come across something so incredulous from Christians in this country that I just have to speak out. Case in point is this article I found earlier this week by the Family Research Council regarding last week’s Values Voter Summit. The gist of the article is that “liberals are terrified” because “conservatives finally have a president who doesn’t just make them political promises, he acts on their policy priorities.” From what I’ve seen myself this is true. Many in this country right now are terrified both of the Trump administration and of the Religious Right. That a conservative faith-based organisation is ecstatic over this is nothing short of appalling.

The problem with conservatives in this current adaptation of the culture war is not, as the article claims, that “they appreciate a leader who will finally go to bat [for the] church.” The problem is that “going to bat” for the church right now means infringing upon the rights of those who are not the church. The Family Research Council, among others, wants to see the restoration of a “pro-family, pro-faith culture” in America, yet what they don’t understand is that the culture of this country as a whole has moved on. Times have changed. And you can’t force a cultural view on someone without sacrificing their right to disagree with that view. That is what people are afraid of and it’s already happening. From the DOJ’s recent guidance on religious liberty to the roleback of Title IX protections, legal protections are disappearing for those who do not see things the church’s way. These people have every reason to be afraid.

The FRC article asserts that evangelical support for Trump is not just “blind allegiance” and that may be true. What I do know is that evangelicals are, by and large, utterly blind to the impact their policies are having on others. The hurt they are causing is such that those outside the church are genuinely afraid and yet when conservatives see that fear all they can do is rejoice that it’s there. You don’t have to be a minister to know how twisted and wrong it is for the world to fear Christians. At the risk of stating the obvious, that’s not how it’s supposed to be.

Thanks to the Trump administration’s support for evangelicals those outside the church are now a minority in this country. They lack the influence evangelicals currently enjoy and the government as a whole is largely deaf to the voice they do have. As such they are very much the “least of these” Jesus refers to in Matthew 25. Christ’s warning in that passage should be sobering to all those who rejoice at fear of the church. In Matthew 25:45, he says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” Ask yourself, if you were treating Christ the way that you treat LGBTQ people, or anyone at all who disagrees with you, would you still be rejoicing? I should hope not. 

Evangelicals are fighting the culture war and losing the battle where it really counts. And unless things turn around soon, this fear will be your legacy. I know evangelicals can be very loving people when they want to be, but this treatment of others, this rejoicing at their downfall, is how you will be remembered. Is that what you really want?

 

It’s Time for Conservative Evangelicals to Drop the Pretense

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my computer has been on the fritz the last couple of weeks leaving me without any real means of writing here. (I shudder at the thought of typing out one of these posts using my smartphone or tablet keypad.) Now that it’s fixed we’re back in business. With all that’s been going on in this country over the past few weeks not having my voice here has been maddening but it’s also, I think, been healthy. It’s given me the opportunity to process and to think, to try to word what I feel needs said in a way that does as little hurt as possible. I ran across a tweet from Nadia Bolz-Weber last week about “seeing the humanity in your ideological other” and it’s true. (If you don’t know who she is, you should really look her up on social media.) No matter how strongly we may disagree, people are people and they deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. It was an especially relevant reminder for me here with Church for Misfits. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating that this place was never about attacking anyone. All are welcome here, regardless of background. That being the case, there is still much that needs to be said regarding those in this country who claim to be followers of Christ.

Too many Christians, especially conservative evangelicals, are fighting the wrong damn battle in trying to remake this country in their own image. This isn’t the promised land or Christ’s Kingdom and trying to make it those things only hurts those who disagree. Just when I think they’re done, that they’ve taken it as far as they’re going to and they actually recognise that others in this country have rights, too, they go and do something really stupid. On October 6, 2017, the Department of Justice issued guidance regarding religious liberty in the U.S. On the surface of it, this isn’t that unusual. Freedom of religion, as the document points out, is “enshrined in the text of our Constitution and in numerous federal statutes.” I, for one, don’t have a problem with that. The problem comes as you read deeper into the government’s position as expressed in this document.

The problem, in short, is that the government’s guidance privileges certain religious beliefs above all other views. This can be seen clearly in Points 5 and 9. Point 5 reads, “Government may not restrict acts or abstentions because of the beliefs they display,” while Point 9 states, “Government may not interfere with the autonomy of a religious organisation.” Religious organisations and groups can therefore now exercise their beliefs as they see fit without fear of government reprisal. The government has, in essence, placed itself in a position where it cannot interfere. And while the DOJ guidance goes on to state that “government may not officially favor or disfavor particular religious groups,” the reality that President Trump’s religious advisers are almost entirely evangelical shows the government is already doing exactly that.

Conservative evangelical leaders proceeded to make a bad situation worse when they not only accepted this new reality but went on to defend it (that’s the part where they do something really stupid). Outcry from civil rights groups filled social media in the days that followed, yet no one on the conservative side seemed to care. Many saw this as a “license to discriminate” and rightly so. Yet in responding to those concerns, Andrew T. Walker, of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, simply swept them under the rug. He stated the purpose of this was “to give space to good-faith consciences that do not see the same religious or ethical convictions as majorities do.” Given that under the Trump administration people of faith are now the majority, Walker’s response rings incredibly hollow. Indeed, the DOJ has already sided with the Colorado baker under fire for not providing the cake for a gay wedding. Given the DOJ’s guidance, how could the government do anything else? How can they be expected to do anything else in the future? It is nothing less than a license to discriminate, one that conservative evangelicals not only helped bring about but also now defend.

When will conservative evangelicals open their eyes? If your God is who He says He is, your right to be who you are doesn’t need to be protected by a mortal government and setting that up only hurts those who don’t see things the way you do. How can you honestly tell a gay or lesbian couple that you love them when you’ve set it up so that the government always supports you and never them? The hypocrisy in that is stunning. No longer can they keep up the pretense that they care about anybody other than themselves.

If you’re pissed off at how I’m painting conservative evangelicals in the U.S. all I have to say is, “Good.” The Southern Baptist Convention alone has something like 15 million members and yet nowhere on social media have I seen anyone, Baptist or evangelical, standing up to these leaders and saying, “This is wrong. This isn’t who we are. You represent us and you need to fix this.” If even a small percentage of 15 million people actually did so maybe this crap would stop.

And lest you think I’m just anti-religious liberty, these people have shown the same lack of regard for opposing views in other ways as well in recent weeks. The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, for example, which was responsible for the infamous Nashville Statement back in August, announced on October 11, 2017, that it had translated the Statement into multiple languages. As far as I can tell they have absolutely refused to engage with those who disagree with it (at least through social media) yet they have the time to focus on ensuring even more people will be able to read it for themselves. A second noteworthy example is that of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary which, on October 10, 2017, “unanimously approved a recommendation to adopt ‘The Nashville Statement’ as an official part of the school’s confessional documents.” This is the “flagship” school of the Southern Baptist Convention and it is ensuring that future leaders of the Convention, at least those who come through this school, will have no choice but to support this Statement just as current leaders do. This makes it highly likely that current discriminatory practices will continue. Both groups have thus shown the same lack of care for the concerns of others that the ERLC showed in its support of religious liberty.

It’s time for conservative evangelicals to drop the pretense. Your actions don’t back up who you say you are. In Matthew 5:43-48, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” If that really is your God and if you really are His kids, that is how you show it. That is who you are supposed to be.

What you’re doing right now is the exact opposite of that. It’s not about religious liberty. It’s about control that stems from fear. Fear of what’s different and fear that someone is going to do to you what you’re doing to marginalised people in this country right now. And you know what? They will. Your actions right here have given them the precedent. And if you say that if you hadn’t done so they would have taken your rights already, the answer to that is a few verses prior to the above passage. In Matthew 5:38-42, Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.” That’s how you love people who are different from you. I mean, hell, that’s what Christ did for us on the cross. It’s telling that you can’t do it for those around you here today. (For the record, I’m not calling LGBTQ people evil. I do not believe that and I would never state that. I am simply speaking to the concerns of evangelical Christians.)

If you’re going to continue to be people of faith then let your actions back up your words. Show it.

I know that what I’ve said here will seem harsh to some and I’m sorry for that. I’m not trying to attack anyone, Baptist, evangelical, or otherwise, but too many members of those groups are doing their best to attack others, LGBTQ people included, and that has got to stop. If posts like this can get their attention, or even yours if you’re a Baptist and you haven’t spoken up yet, then it’s worth it.

Time to Think for Yourself Again

di45peXBTI’ve been engaging a lot on social media over the last few weeks regarding the Nashville Statement and I’ve noticed a few things. One of these is how few Baptists there are speaking out against it. This might come as a surprise given that Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was one of those who initially signed the document but hear me out. Dr. Moore’s Twitter has 131 000 followers. The Twitter feed for the ERLC has 26 400. The Twitter of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, which is not distinctly Baptist but still definitely conservative, has 9 765 followers. That’s more than 160 000 people and yet, while all 3 feeds have continued to publish articles and support for the Nashville Statement, the number of people directly engaging with these posts is minuscule. Granted social media is not the only place for interactions regarding this issue to take place. Still, the silence is troubling.

Take the Southern Baptist Convention just by itself for a moment. By its own reckoning, there are more than 50 000 churches in the convention which as of 2016 included some 15.2 million people. I find it hard to believe that many people have a solid consensus on this issue. I was ordained in the SBC and I’ve been around it long enough to know that Southern Baptists have a wide variety of positions on a number of issues. Getting a clash over the wrong one in any given congregation can even lead to a split within that congregation. Therefore, if there’s anything the silence doesn’t indicate it’s that everyone in the SBC is in agreement on the Nashville Statement.

So why then are Southern Baptists so quiet on this? I mean, they pride themselves on being able to read the Bible and understand it for themselves. There is no centralised leadership in the Convention the way there is in the Roman Catholic church. They’re not bound to one voice and one position. And yet what we see here is essentially that. One voice speaking for 15 million people.

The only reason I can see for those 15 million people allowing that voice speak for them is fear. Fear of ripping congregations apart over this issue. Fear of losing your place in the church. Fear of destroying relationships. I mean, the Nashville Statement itself says that this isn’t an issue Christians can agree to disagree on. The Convention’s own leadership has said there is no longer any middle ground.

If I may speak directly to those people for a moment, are you that afraid of the consequences of speaking your mind? Would it be that terrible to search the Scriptures for yourselves and find that oops, the position the denomination has taken here might not be right? To question your pastor over this? And as for you, pastors, I have to say I get it. To speak your mind on this means running the risk of upsetting that one portion of your congregation that can have you out of a job within a week. I am not disparaging that in the least. What I am saying is that the Nashville Statement is pushing LGBTQ people away from Christ and maybe that’s enough reason to run that risk.

Southern Baptists have lost the ability to think for themselves. They’ve become so dependent on what church leadership says, or to afraid to rock the boat, that they don’t question it anymore. In Acts 17:11, the Bereans took what they heard and “searched the scriptures daily, [to see] whether these things were so.” Too many don’t even do that anymore, and if it does happen it’s not much more than looking up passage like Leviticus 20:13 to see that, “Yep, the Bible calls being gay a sin,” and leaving it at that. (Please hear me when I say that I don’t say these things to attack you. I was in the same position until a year and a half ago.) What needs to happen is for people to really grapple with Scripture, to dig into it and look at the contexts and original languages to see what’s really going on and then having the courage to allow your own views to be shaped by what you find. And if you do all that and still disagree with me on the Nashville Statement, that’s fine. That, at least, I can respect.

Too many people are being hurt by bad theology to let things continue as they are right now in the Southern Baptist Convention. If you’re one of those who looks at the theology and figures it makes sense on paper so it must be true just remember, the Pharisees thought they had it all figured out, too, and they completely missed the boat. Don’t let that be you.

Thoughts from a Recovering Baptist

Much of this post has to do with fallout from the Nashville Statement which, by now, is old news but for me at least is something I am still working through. I hadn’t expected to be doing so at this point but I am. And I apologise in advance if it is a little rambling or disjointed. My feelings regarding my fellow Baptists are still more than a little mixed.

We spent most of today at our local Sam’s Club getting new tires for our car. While we were walking around the store just killing time I came across a 3-in-1 volume of works by A.W. Tozer. His Pursuit of God was one of my favourite theological books when I first read it years ago and having not read any of his other works my curiosity was piqued. As it turned out, that was only for a moment. Before going on I should probably explain that I have always cherished any older theological work that I’ve had the chance to read. Even the ones I didn’t agree with were deeper and richer works than many of their contemporaries. Too many contemporary authors only convey information. Older authors knew how to speak to the heart as well as to the head. Anyways, as I flipped through this volume it hit me. There’s no life in it anymore, at least not for me.

I’ve known since I moved to the South full-time three years ago that I’m a bit of an odd duck in the Baptist church. From my long, purple hair to my earrings to my positions on a variety of subjects, I just don’t fit in all that well. To be honest, knowing this didn’t bother me all that much. I grew up in a Baptist church in Ontario (which as it turns out is the same word but a very different experience). In that church, at least, what mattered was who you were and not how old you were or whether or not you fit some predefined mould. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t perfect. I can still remember having a conversation with one lady on the church staff about how in focusing on a Sunday morning “production” (for that’s what it was) we were missing the point of this whole church thing. She agreed right before she went back to organising the following week’s production. That being said, if you were different you were still welcome. I was an odd duck in general through most of my high school years and that church was the one place in the world where I did feel welcome.

When I first came to the South almost 7 years ago (commuting back and forth while on leave from the Canadian Forces), the Southern Baptists I met were the most welcoming people I had ever met. They say us Canadians are polite but Southerners can really give us a run for our money when they want to. Even as my oddities became apparent no one really said anything negative. I belonged, at least to a point.

About a year and a half ago we had moved back to my wife’s home church (the same people I met back in 2010) and were teaching a Sunday School class for young girls. The pastor had also taken me under his wing in an effort to provide me the exposure I needed to get a pastorate of my own. We had been asked to reach out to the girls where they were at in life, to try to connect above all else, and we did just that. As things quickly turned out, we ran afoul of the pastor for not using the proscribed Sunday School curriculum and when we pointed out that using this material (calling it boring was an understatement) would likely turn off the girls on church altogether we were quickly run off ourselves. (Getting called a demon in the church is a sure-fire way to want to find the exit door in a hurry.) Even then I still thought of myself as a Baptist. There was still life in it for me. That’s not to say that I put being a Baptist before God but just that my own views had to more or less line up with somebody’s and I felt at home there. Even as I’ve reached out to the LGBTQ community over the last year or so I’ve still felt at home as a Baptist. I don’t agree with a number of things the Southern Baptist Convention lists in its Statement of Faith (things which largely define one as a Baptist) but I’ve still thought of myself as a member of that community with a voice within that community.

And then came the Nashville Statement which, as I’ve written about already, was nothing less than abuse masquerading as love. The people behind it used this place where intellectually I’ve come to feel at home to say “This is who we are,” and furthermore, “This is what defines who we are.” It took the life out of it for me. I don’t belong here anymore. Hell, I’m not even welcome here anymore.

I understand that there are other Baptist denominations out there, and even individual churches, who do not support the beliefs embodied in the Nashville Statement. They, at least, can do so and still call themselves Baptists. I’m not sure I can.

And so I feel lost. I want my faith and I want Jesus and yet saying those things sounds so much like what they have and I want no part of that and so I’m not sure what I want or even what I should want. I’m not sure where I fit as a Christian anymore, and that’s at the same time incredibly freeing and incredibly lonely, too.

What does it mean to be a Christian? Intellectually I know the answer to that, and in my heart I know as well. But as to what it looks like lived out? I’m not sure. Too much of what comes to mind and of what I know is too close to how they look for comfort.

I usually try to have something to offer at the end of each post but all I have to offer here are questions. What does it mean to have a faith with room for everyone? Where and how does it exist free of the influence of those who want nothing but control? In many ways it feels like I’m starting over with my faith, seeking something but I don’t know what exactly. So all I have to offer is that, and I hope it’s enough.