Tag Archives: Christianity

Our Best Days Are Not Ahead of Us

AM17-logoThe 2017 Annual Meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention ended a week ago, and it was the first time that I have been involved in such an event even from a distance via social media. It was also the first significant opportunity I had to advocate for the LGBTQ community with the very people who need to hear it the most. That being said, I have waited until now to give my thoughts on the event. LGBTQ rights can be an emotional subject for many people, myself included, and I wanted to let the dust settle in my own mind before commenting on the experience.

I have to say that I am amazed at how passionately Baptists tend to oppose any theological position that values gender non-conforming people for who they are. (I do realise that not all Baptists do so; it was just the general sense I got from #sbc17.) What also amazed me was the oft-repeated position that Baptists have compassion for all people but cannot and will not abandon God’s plan for human sexuality as laid out in Scripture. It is this sense of compassion, apparently, that leads Baptists to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is a sin, offensive in God’s sight, and something that must change. What I found incredulous was that no one sees the issue with such a stance. Putting it bluntly, if the best we can do to show compassion to these people is drive them farther away from Jesus than we have a seriously problem. That is not compassion. It’s discrimination hiding behind a veil of religious acceptability. If it really was compassion, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

I am becoming more and more convinced that our stance as Baptists in this country is turning us into the 21st century version of the New Testament Pharisees. Allow me to explain. One of the things I noticed when I studied the history of the Jewish people from the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC through the Intertestamental Period was that they progressively lost more and more of what it meant for them to be God’s people. The temple was destroyed (rebuilt, yes, but never to its formal glory). They were consistently subjugated by foreign peoples, and even during the brief period where they were able to rule themselves the office of High Priest, for example, became little more than a political pawn. Many of them lost the Promised Land as well when they were dispersed throughout the Roman Empire. In the end, all they had left was the Word. The Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament. This is the climate in which the Pharisees came to be. When all you have left is the Law, rigorous obedience to that Law becomes everything.

We see the ultimate expression of this in John 8 when the Pharisees bring the woman caught in adultery to Jesus and ask Him what they should do with her. As we’re told verses 3 and 4, the woman has been caught in the very act. She is obviously guilty, and the Pharisees are very much aware of the penalty given in Leviticus 20:10 for this situation. (Before you point out that Leviticus 20 applies to the man as well and that the Pharisees are just using this woman as bait to test Jesus, I am aware of that. I have another point to make here.) By the letter of the law, so to speak, the Pharisees are correct in what they say. That they can make the request, however, without any evidence of guilt, shows just how focused they are on obeying the Law. They actually think they’re doing the right thing.

Are contemporary Baptists that different? We have lost so much in this country of what made us who we are. We no longer have prayer in schools. We no longer really have the voice to speak to societal issues, and when we do speak, fewer and fewer people still listen. We are now but one voice in a sea of voices, many of which are given more respect than our own. All we really have left is morality. It’s the one area, as I see it, that we feel we can still speak to. We have, in Scripture, the reality of sin and judgement, of forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross, and of God’s moral law in the Old Testament. This is a basis that no other group has, at least as far as we’re concerned, which gives us the confidence to still speak out on moral issues. The problem is that when morality becomes all you have left it can easily become the whole point and it’s not supposed to be.

Many of those I spoke with through social media during #sbc17 were quick to point out that the Bible calls same-sex relationships a sin. And, technically, they’re right. Leviticus 18:22, amongst others, says as much. While I disagree with that interpretation (I believe there is plenty of room in Scripture for same-sex individuals the way they are without it being sinful or something “they have to repent from”), it is the interpretation held by many Baptists and by the Convention as a whole. Our focus on morality means that Baptists can share that stance with LGBTQ people, people who as I’ve written before have gone through so much and given up so much just to be who they are, and actually think they’re doing the right thing. Baptists tell them God rejects them, too, and like the Pharisees in John 8 they have no guilt about what they do. We actually have the gall to think we’re being compassionate.

(As an aside, I do still say “we” and “our” when referring to Baptists. Obviously I disagree with the Convention on a number of issues, and the voice of discrimination against LGBTQ people is not one I share. That being said, I was ordained in a Baptist church and I feel that I still have a voice within the Convention even as an ally of the LGBTQ community and an advocate for their rights. I have a foothold, so to speak, in both worlds, and I plan to use that position, and that voice, as much as I can in situations like this.)

Someone, and I can’t remember who, tweeted out during the Annual Meeting that our best days as a denomination are before us. I could not disagree more. As long as we can justify marginalising an entire group of people then our best days are definitely not still to come. Even a brief look through the Gospels shows that Jesus reached out and identified with the outcasts of His society. And what do we do? We make gender non-conforming people into the outcasts of ours. If as a Convention we can’t see that then we have a very big problem indeed.

What are we known for?

MV5BMTYyMTcxNzc5M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTg2ODE2MTI@._V1_UY1200_CR90,0,630,1200_AL_We saw Pirates of the Carribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales this past weekend and without giving away too much in spoilers let me just say it was the emotional, fun-filled adventure we’ve come to expect from these movies. There’s this one scene in particular that got me right in the gut. If you remember from the end of the third Pirates movie, Jack Sparrow lost the Black Pearl (again). And if you remember from the fourth one, Blackbeard shrank the Pearl and stuck it in a bottle. Well, there’s a scene early on in this one where Jack is on the beach with no ship and no crew and he stares out towards his beloved horizon and holds up the Pearl, still in the bottle, to make it look as though she’s sailing through the waves once more. It’s heartbreaking to watch. I mean, here is what he wants more than anything else in the world, the very thing that makes him who he is, and it’s the one thing he just can’t have. And in the very next scene he gets fall-down drunk and barters away the last real piece of his identity as a pirate for one more drink.

Haven’t we all been there? There’s something that we want, or need even, to make life work and for whatever reason it’s the one thing we just can’t get. And so we lock the desire away somewhere down deep and try to get on with life as it is. We get so busy we tell ourselves we haven’t got time for whatever it is, or we don’t really need it after all, thank you very much. Anything to avoid the pain inside. And who could blame us, really? There are times when I feel this way more often than I care to admit and in all honesty I simply don’t know what to do with the way I feel. It’s far easier to just try to get on with life than to face up to something I don’t even know how to begin to deal with. What exactly is at the root of all this may differ for everyone, but it’s a reality I’m convinced we all face. Black, white, gay, lesbian, trans, straight, it makes no difference. We all want more.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11 we’re told that God “has put eternity into man’s heart.” We all feel like there should be something more because there actually should be something more. We’re all missing something. The crazy hope of the Bible is that there is actually something out there, some object or person of desire, which makes this whole damn thing actually make sense.

When I first had the idea for this post I was going to leave it at that. If you feel Jesus tugging on your heart through your desires then I would definitely encourage you to be open to it and respond. That being said, it hit me that this hope is supposed to be largely what defines us as Christians. In 1 Peter 3:15, the Apostle Peter tells us to “always [be] prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” The implication is that Christians are by nature such a hopeful people that those around them can’t help but notice and be intrigued by it.

Is this still true today, I wonder? I remember preaching on this text a couple of years ago and asking those in the audience when the last time was that someone had come up to them and asked why they were so hopeful. For many of those present, myself included, we couldn’t remember when this had happened, if ever. There are, of course, many reasons for that. Hope can be the last thing on your mind when your head hits the pillow after a long day at work and you know when the alarm goes off you have to get up to do it all over again. My point here is not to shame us for this but rather to point out that if we’re not known for being hopeful than we’re probably known for being something else.

If you’re reading this and you’re not a Christian you can probably think of many things Christians are known for, especially here in the U.S. (and not all of them positive). All I have to do is peruse my Facebook or my Twitter feed to know that perhaps more than anything else right now Christians in this country are known for trying to take away the rights of those we disagree with. We’re connected to the Republican party and by God we’re going to use that connection to see this country remade the way God wants it to be. It would be laughable if only it didn’t cause so much pain.

That’s what we’re known for and that’s sad. If you’ve been around a church much at all you may have heard it said of someone that they’re “too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.” This is usually not a compliment of the person in question. They may, for example, be so focused on being “spiritual” that they don’t have  the time or the inclination to help out their fellow man. Having observed the church in this country over the last few years, and having experienced first hand the pain we inflict on those we marginalise, I have to wonder if maybe the reverse is true of Christianity as a whole in the U.S. today. Are we so focused on this world that we’ve forgotten it isn’t our home? Once we make this world the point, anything’s justified as long as it keeps us in power. We’re the ones who have God’s authority (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves), so why shouldn’t we be in power? And have we become so wedded to our own worldview that we’ve forgotten we’re not the only voice in this culture? Are we so convinced of our hold on the truth that we’ve forgotten the need to treat others with basic dignity and respect?

I would answer yes to all of those questions. We have forgotten so much and gotten so far off track that we think the most loving thing we can do for someone is share our own worldview with them without showing even an ounce of respect for theirs.

People need hope. We all do. If the Bible is to be believed, Christians are the ones who know where to find hope, for this world as well as for the next. If we want to start bringing hope again then it’s time for us to remember just who we are and just what we’re supposed to be about as Christians.

 

 

An Open Letter to All Those Attending the 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting

AM17-logoMy name is Mike Shewfelt. I am an ordained minister with the Southern Baptist Convention, and I work with Church for Misfits, a small online community dedicated to reaching out to those marginalised by mainstream Christianity in this country. Through this ministry I have been privileged to get to know many members of the LGBTQ community. I am also aware that the Convention as a whole does not view these people in a favourable light and, furthermore, that much of what is discussed and decided upon by you at the Annual Meeting will have an impact on these people. For all of those reasons, we need to talk.

Let me begin by saying that I understand both the Convention’s general position on matters relating to the LGBTQ community and the logic behind it. To summarize as I understand it, we think they’re living in sin and for that reason being at all charitable towards them would be blasphemous on our part. We don’t accept their position on who they are. We don’t accept that they have rights just as we do. To do so would put us in a position we’re not going to get into and force us to answer questions we don’t necessarily have answers to. And I fully understand that for us these are not easy questions with easy answers. I have spent the last 18 months praying through these questions trying to find a position that both respects the authority of Scripture and respects the position of the LGBTQ community. In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” There is no condition put on that offer, and yet we can’t seem to stop putting one on the Gospel as far as the LGBTQ community is concerned. They are people, too, just the same as you and me, and the fact that I’ve had to spend 18 months praying through issues just to be able to treat them with basic respect and human dignity is pathetic. The reality that we as a Convention continue to refuse to do this is even more so. We are marginalising an entire group of people in this country because we can’t entertain, even for a moment, the thought that they might be people to, just as they are and without having to change to be accepted by God. (It should go without saying that no one should feel they have to change to be accepted by God because no one can be accepted by God on the basis of their own efforts.)

So here’s the deal. As messengers attending the Convention’s annual meeting, you have the opportunity to change that. Southern Baptist churches are largely autonomous, yes, but on an issue like this they will not act without the support of the Convention. Change our policies. Let these people into fellowship in our churches, just as they are and without any conditions. Stop pursuing religious liberty at their expense. Stop trying to take away their rights. The Church is now largely irrelevant in today’s culture. You want to change that? There’s how. And I am not asking you to go against Scripture. I am simply asking you to treat your fellow human beings, created in the image of God just like you and me, with the respect and love they deserve. You can chose to act in a way that gives hope to this community.

You can also choose to double down on our traditional positions. Our stance is such that for many of us the questions raised by the LGBTQ community are ones we’ve never even had to consider. This can be a scary thing, one that keeps us from engaging with those we’re supposed to love the most. I would plead with you not to let that fear continue to drive our actions. If our God is who He says He is, what do we really have to be afraid of? If you choose this route, however, be aware that you will not only shatter whatever little credibility we have left in this country but you will also inflict even more hurt on those who have already endured far too much suffering at our hands.

The choice is yours. I can only hope and pray you will make the right one.

In Christ,

Reverend Mike Shewfelt

On National Day of Prayer and Religious Freedom

I want to apologise in advance if you don’t agree with the views outlined below. Church for Misfits remains a place for people of all views and backgrounds, and that will never change. I see the church as a whole in the U.S. acting in ways that hurt a lot of people. No one within it seems to be speaking out. In short, I feel that someone has to. Again, my apologies if this offends unnecessarily. 

National Day of Prayer was last week and you had to be living under a rock not to have heard something about the religious freedom Executive Order that President Trump took the opportunity to sign. For many it’s probably old news, but I wanted to wait to voice my thoughts on the matter because it’s an issue that has raised strong emotions in a lot of people, including me, and a little perspective is never a bad thing.

What I want to know is why as Christians we think we need something like this. The main focus of the order, as I understand it, has to do with the Johnson Amendment. Basically, it prohibits churches and other non-profit entities from speaking out on political issues. They can’t endorse candidates, for example, without risking their tax-exempt status. While the President can’t eliminate or modify the Amendment without having Congress pass legislation to do so, what he can do is instruct the appropriate government agencies to not enforce the Johnson Amendment when it comes to churches. This is exactly what the President has done, and in his own words he touts it as “giving our churches their voices back.”

Again, I wonder why we need something like this. I’ve lived in the U.S. off and on for 7 years now, meaning I’ve been here through a number of elections at all levels of government. As far as I can remember, I have never heard a pastor say, “I’d really like to tell you who to vote for but I can’t because I’m not allowed to,” or something to that effect. Without fail what I’ve heard from the pulpit has always been something along the lines of, “I’m not going to tell you who to vote for because that’s not my job. God gave you free will and a conscience. Vote as you feel led to.” The pastors may have voiced their personal opinions in private conversations but they never came up in the pulpit. Granted there are tens of thousands of churches in this country, so my experience shouldn’t necessarily be taken as the norm, but that being said as a pastor myself I agree with those sentiments. As ministers that simply isn’t our job. Furthermore, churches have spoken out on issues of public importance in this country for decades. Sometimes it seems like that’s all we do, whether we’re right to do so or not. I can’t recall churches being told they’ll lose their tax-exempt status for doing so.

In addition to wondering why this is even a good idea, I also see several dangers inherent in an Executive Order such as this. First of all, the Johnson Amendment still exists and will continue to do so until such time as Congress passes legislation either modifying it or eliminating it entirely. What that means, especially if Congress cannot do so, is that a future administration can simply opt to enforce the full weight of the Amendment against those pastors who have used the opportunity created by this Order. In short, Christians in this country are once again quite possibly shooting ourselves in the collective foot.

The greater danger, however, is to those we continue to marginalise. We are not so slowly turning our churches into little more than the religious wing of the Republican party. What will we do when, for example, our churches support Republican candidates but the people we are supposed to be loving and serving don’t? As I’ve written before, our credibility as Christians in this country is pretty well gone. Supporting an Executive Order such as this one simply removes all doubt as to where our priorities truly lie.

Separation of church and state exists in this country and even as a pastor I’ll be the first to say that it does so for a reason. Our job as Christians is to engage with those around us, to love them and to serve them, not to use the government to our advantage at their expense. This Order does not, as many feared it might, give Christians a license to discriminate. That being said, when discrimination does occur, given the strong language supporting religious beliefs found in the Executive Order, who do you really think the government is going to support?

We are, once again, fighting the wrong damn battle in this country.

That Post-Easter Let Down

Easter in the South is a funny thing. Pretty much everybody is in church Sunday morning. It’s a relatively true stereotype that Easter and Christmas are the two days in the year when everybody is in church whether they want to be or not. We actually didn’t go this year (I know; shocking). Part of it was that we still haven’t found a church we want to call home, and part of it was that after working til almost 4 in the morning two nights in a row at my second job I was ready to sleep. So my only exposure to the whole Easter Sunday church thing was through my Facebook feed, where it seemed like everybody, whether they live down here in the South or back up north in Canada, had this “He is risen!” status going on. The Resurrection of Jesus, if you believe in that sort of thing, is what Easter is all about for us as Christians and it was good to see everyone happy and celebrating.

Thing is, not everyone was celebrating. I follow a number of different groups and pages of people who have been hurt by us because of who they are. And on Easter Sunday, they were angry. Frustrated. Resentful. “Happy Zombie Day!” was about the most polite status I saw. It makes me sad… most of us as Christians have no idea these people exist. It’s all wonderful to celebrate Easter and post statuses about it and go to church and do what we’re supposed to do, but when it comes to actually engaging with the world around us, to actually responding to the hurt in this world (especially the hurt that we’ve caused), we… we don’t. We sit in our little bubbles and we offer to pray for people and then we go on about our day.

We have a problem. We’re supposed to be ambassadors for Christ and yet the only message we seem to be giving out to many people is that they don’t matter. They’re evil. They’re living in sin. What is it going to take for us to actually get to know these people? To love them for who they are and not for who we think they should be? What is it going to take?

So About Beauty and the Beast…

Beauty-Beast-2017-Movie-PostersCan we all just chill out? My wife and I saw the movie this past weekend and even now I’m still trying to figure out just what it is that Christians are so enraged about. The entire “gay agenda” in the movie comes down to maybe 12 seconds of screen time. And you know what? If there hadn’t been such a huge uproar about it, I wouldn’t have even known LeFou was gay. And this is why we called for a boycott of Disney? Give me a break. This is why no one takes us seriously anymore.

A Question of Culture

I have to apologise. Starting this post on my laptop and then finishing it on my phone caused WordPress to lose the last third of it. I hope it’s not too convoluted; I failed to type it up in Word first like I sometimes do. Anyways, enjoy!

GodsNotDead2PosterSo we watched God’s Not Dead 2 last night, and I have to say that I think it shows more than anything that we as Christians are in the middle of a culture gap. One of the best scenes in the movie gets at the reality that Christianity is offensive and has been for the 2000 years of its history and why should we change who we are or be forced to change who we are just because people get offended. There’s a lot of truth in that, but it’s easy for us to forget that there’s a flip side to that. We can get offended just as easily as anyone else, and in attempting to protect our right to do so while at the same time avoiding any consequences of it we can be guilty of the very controlling approach that the movie portrays in such a negative light.

Our cultural ineptness actually doesn’t come as much of a surprise to me. As a Canadian living in the South, for example, I know firsthand how easy it is for a given culture to be painted in a specific light that may or may not be true. When I first came down here to visit my wife 7 years ago now, it came as a shock to find that most of the people in this neighbourhood own at least one firearm. I suppose it shouldn’t have, given the reputation that Americans have back in Canada for having a “gun culture,” but it did. Over time, however, I found that gun culture really had little to do with it. We live out in the country, away from the big cities, and it makes sense to have something to defend yourself with if the need arises. It may be an oversimplification but there’s a lot more to gun ownership down here than simple love of firearms or a legacy of the Old West, but that’s something you only come to learn through living in a culture and interacting with it.

As Christians, we’re not always big on doing that. We’d rather preach than converse and learn. I’ve touched on the subject before, but throughout history our approach to other cultures has sadly been that it’s not enough just to be like Christ; you have to be like me, too. There’s one case study from my Global Ministries course in seminary that I’ll never forget. It had to do with missionaries from a Western country reaching out with the message of Christ to a tribal culture in Africa. The gist of it was that the Western missionaries approached the issue from their own philosophical background. It’s probably another oversimplification, but we in the West tend to base much of our thinking on Descartes’ maxim “I think, therefore I am.” I think, I make decisions, and I have a life. In short, we value the individual. There are cultures around the world, including this hypothetical one in Africa, where the maxim is not that but rather “I participate, therefore I am.” The culture depends on the group for survival, and therefore the individual matters only so much as they contribute to that end. It thus came as a surprise to the missionaries to find that their efforts yielded not a number of individual responses to the gospel but rather the group leader deciding to accept Christ on behalf of the community, and this left the missionaries at an impasse.

Salvation being an individual thing, how were they to respond? Given the size of the community, it’s likely that not everyone present agreed with the leader’s decision and may therefore think they have responded to the gospel when really they haven’t. Should the missionaries push the issue on an individual level, knowing full well that doing so will likely alienate the entire community and prevent any further possibility of relationship? Or should they leave it as is, trusting that their respect of the culture will keep the door open for the relationship to continue?

Which would you have chosen? I know what we tend to go with, and it’s not really respectful. My own inclination is to go with the latter option. Meeting people where they are at means delivering the message in a way that they will actually hear. The Apostle Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 9 when he talks about “becoming all things to all men.” He came across in a way that people could relate to and understand and this changed depending on who he was dealing with at the time.

Our cultural ineptness colours our relationship with the LGBTQ community perhaps more than it does with any other group at present. We tend to think that because they live in the same country as we do that they are simply an extension of our own culture and as such they can be preached to as ones who, even if they don’t understand where we’re coming from, will at least respond to it as we did. In doing so, we forget that there are multiple cultural groups within this country and that not all of them see things as we do. (If you’re reading this as an LGBTQ individual, I am not for a moment trying to suggest that what makes you who you are is something as subjective as a cultural difference. I am simply trying to point out to my fellow Christians that in projecting our own preconceptions onto others we can alienate the very ones we’re supposed to care about the most.) In my interactions with the LGBTQ community over the last year, I have found that by and large they just want to be who they are. Many of them have spent years trying to sort out just who they are and coming to terms with that, and then they’ve had to fight for the right just to be that person. Every time that we as evangelical Christians have interacted with them, as far as I can tell, we have completely and utterly failed to acknowledge that. In doing so, we have alienated them as surely as our fictional missionaries would have done so had they pushed their own views on that African culture. What they want from us is the freedom to come to Christ as LGBTQ individuals if they so choose, and then to not have to change that just because they’re not a follower of Christ.

I know that last paragraph made some of my readers cringe a little. Let me explain. I am aware that there are those who will point out that respecting where LGBTQ individuals are coming from is not something we as Christians can do. Cultural differences are one thing, but the Bible calls same-sex relationships sin and we should, too, and that’s that. As a minister and a student of theology, I am very much aware that there are passages in the Bible which call it a sin. Now despite being a minister and a student of theology, I have to admit that I have no idea what to do with these passages. On the one hand, my respect for Scripture and my own research into biblical history means that I can’t dismiss these passages as some have recommended, seeing them as translation errors or as a modern concept read back into an older text. On the other, I am not about to go to someone who has struggled for years to figure out who they are, and dealt with all the fallout that goes with that, and say sorry, that part of you isn’t good. It has to go. I have too much respect for people who struggle to do that. And where’s the love in that? Paul’s example in 1 Corinthians 9 is to be “all things to all people,” not have all people be what I think they should be. (That also leads to a host of other questions, like is it possible for people “to be born that way”. Speaking again as a minister and student of theology I believe that it is, although I cannot yet defend that position from a scriptural background as well as I would like. The bottom line is that they’re people, too, and worthy of our respect. Too often we forget that.)

Having said all of that, I am aware that there are also those who will object that even if a gay, or lesbian, or trans person can become a Christian (and there’s absolutely no reason why that’s not possible), that part of them still has to change once they know Jesus. My response to that is simply to ask, why? It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin (John 16:8), and if he doesn’t do that with these people then who the hell are we to take up that task on our own? He works with each of us in different ways on different levels, and if he can show his glory through a trans Christian, or a lesbian Christian, or a gay Christian, why can’t we just let that be?

One of the lessons that my Global Ministries course emphasised again and again is that the gospel message transcends culture. No one culture has a claim to it, and you don’t need to belong to a certain culture in order to be acceptable to God. That being said, we are guilty, I think, of equating “American” culture with “Christian” culture. How much of what we as Christians share with differing groups is the gospel itself and how much of it is our own cultural baggage? “You have to be like me, too.” It is well past the point where we need to look hard at our beliefs and work to separate the one from the other. Only in answering that question of culture will we be able to see that those we call different really aren’t all that different at all.

When will we learn?

In taking the time to reach out to the LGBTQ community over the last few months, I’ve learned that we as Christians can often have a skewed idea of what those who disagree with us are trying to achieve when they disagree with us. We tend to look closely at what we stand to lose if they were to gain a more dominant voice in society than we have, and then we combine that analysis with our own fears and conclude that these people are the enemy and must be opposed no matter the cost. The end result is that we come off looking kinda stupid given what we profess to believe.

I was reminded of this last week when I stumbled into a Facebook discussion of whether or not Christians in the U.S. are actually being persecuted for their faith at present. The general consensus was that it can and does happen but that more often than not what we term persecution is simply those we disagree with responding in kind to how we’ve treated them. Buried in that discussion was what prompted me to write this post. One gay man made a statement that stopped me in my tracks. I’ve heard many different perspectives from other Christians as to what, in general, LGBTQ people want. There have been some who honestly say it’s about civil rights, others who say they’re trying to force their agenda on us, and still others who say that it’s about indoctrinating everyone who disagrees with them. What no one has said before was what this man pointed out, that all he really wanted was for those who disagreed with him to respect his right to live as he sees fit. He was aware that people out there may never actually see gay marriage in a positive light. While that did hurt, he said the important thing was not necessarily to change their minds but rather for them to respect his right to hold the views that he does and to live by them. In turn, he would treat them based on whether or not they did.

As a Christian, that made me think. It’s such a simple thing. As we believe in a God who gave us free will we should be the first to show respect when others exercise that free will even if we don’t agree with how they’re doing it. And yet we’re not. Too often we’re the least respectful people involved. Why is that? Are we afraid? Have we forgotten the God we claim to know? How hard is it really to do something as simple as respecting the choices of others? And when will we learn that doing so will be a far greater testimony to Jesus than any impassioned defense of traditional marriage will ever be? What saddens me even more is that we can’t even see that this is in our best interest as well. If we can legislate in discriminatory ways based on our beliefs, the LGBTQ community can do likewise when the political winds shift. And yet we can’t even see that.

In Luke 6:31, Jesus says, “As you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” We’re sending a hell of a message by our example right now. We treat others like crap,  I then cry persecution when they treat us as we treated them. When will we learn? Not, I’m afraid, before it’s too late for those we are supposed to care about the most (and quite possibly for ourselves, too). In the end, what they are trying to achieve is nothing more than to have the very respect we already owe them.

It’s Not Over Yet

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One of my all-time favorite TV shows is The Last Ship (I’ve quoted from it before in case you missed it). I’ve been slowly working through it as I find the seasons for sale at my local 2nd & Charles. Anyways, early on in the second season there’s an episode where the crew finally make it home to look for their families. If you’ve never seen the series, the USS Nathan James has spent the first season looking for a cure to this global pandemic and now that they’ve found it and fought off those who want it for themselves they get to go home to check on their own families. Many, obviously, don’t have families to go back to, but for Captain Chandler it’s different. His family, minus his wife who died before he could rescue them, is on the ship with him.

For Captain Chandler the questions are different than they are for his crew. Going home is only supposed to be temporary while they refuel and resupply. His wife died because he wasn’t there to save her and he blames himself, meaning he wrestles with the guilt he feels and whether or not he should go back to sea with his crew. What happens to his kids if he doesn’t come back this time? Given how badly his crew has been hurt so far, he isn’t just playing the what-if game. How can he justify that risk?

Chandler is not the only one in the episode who struggles, either. His Executive Officer, Commander Slattery, hasn’t had much word from his family since the show started. In short, he has no idea where they are and no one would really blame him if he left to look for them. He’s torn between leaving to look for them or staying with the ship.

Life can get that way for us sometimes, too, can’t it? You finally get to where you want to be in life, whether it’s in your career or with your family, and you start thinking your job is done. Or maybe you start to think that you’ll never get to where you want to be in life, so why bother, right? Maybe you’re one who follows Jesus and you get to where you want to be and so you say to him, “You do what you want. I followed you this far but I like where I’m at right now so I’m just going to stay here.”

For the characters of The Last Ship, the job isn’t done yet. Their mission, that of putting the world back together, is in many ways just getting started, and both the Captain and the XO belong with their ship. It’s a good thing, too, because greater threats await them when they do go back out.

I know how that feels because I’m there myself. My position right now is a curious mix of both. For one thing, I’ve been job hunting for so long that I’m starting to wonder if I’ll ever find something that affords us greater financial freedom. On the other, we’ve spent years longing for a place of our own and now that we have it I’m really not sure what I’m supposed to do next. There are many days where I just want to take it easy. The battle’s over, right? I mean, we got what we wanted. And as one who follows Jesus, there are indeed days when I do just want to tell him that I’m good where I’m at so can we please just pause life here for a while? Let the world get on without me for a while.

Here’s the thing. We have the freedom to make that choice. We can duck out of life if we so choose. That being said, if you’re reading this you’re still breathing, and that means your life isn’t over yet. That, in turn, means you’re not done yet. There is more to do, and I don’t mean that in terms of religious obligations of some kind. I mean there’s more to see, more to learn, more times to be there for those closest to you, and more opportunities to choose intimacy with Jesus. And if you don’t know him, there’s more time to listen to his tug on your heart.

Will it cost us? Yes. Not everyone who goes back out with Captain Chandler is still around come the end of the season. The very thought of what that might mean in my own story makes me hesitate. Do I really want to go back out there again? Problem is, what we have to do in this life matters. It really does. And if not me, then who? If not you, then who? It’s your story, and it’s not over yet.

A Call for Civility and a Little Good Faith

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It’s been longer than I planned on since I posted last. Part of that was accidental and part, I have to admit, was deliberate. With all the controversy surrounding LGBTQ issues I wanted to step back and take a breather. Clear my head, and try to understand where this whole reaching out thing is supposed to go from here.

Social media being what it is, that’s been easier said than done. I follow a number of both conservative and LGBTQ sites on Facebook, for example, and with the Trump administration removing guidance on the Title IX protections, the Supreme Court sending the Gavin Grimm case back down to a lower federal appeals court, the increase in states pushing anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the gay character in the new Beauty and the Beast movie, my Facebook feed has been fairly full. I’ve also had a front row seat to the hostility both sides have directed towards each other, and it is to this hostility that I want to speak.

Reading through the comments on a number of different LGBTQ posts, you quickly get the sense that everyone who disagrees with them is a hateful, homophobic bigot that needs to accept reality and get with the times. Conversely, on Christian and conservative sites, you quickly get the impression that the LGBTQ community is trying to shove their beliefs down our throats, normalize behavior that isn’t normal, and put their feelings above the rights of the rest of the country. (Franklin Graham called for a boycott of Disney, for crying out loud.)

Here’s the thing. Once you get past the emotions tied up in all of this (and I’ll grant you there’s a lot of that on both sides), much of what each side accuses the other of just isn’t true. I know a number of Christians, for example, who are good, loving people yet who oppose same-sex rights. Are they intentionally bigoted and hateful? From what I can tell, no. They’re just coming to terms with an issue that they’ve never had to address in their worldview before. Sometimes in thinking through these things we say and do hurtful things without realizing it and sometimes we may come across as hurtful without meaning to. I know a number of of people, for example, who have expressed anger at Disney for the gay character in Beauty and the Beast not because they are ardent homophobes but rather because Disney has gone and changed a character they’ve known and loved for years. Now I am definitely not defending the actions we have taken that have been deliberately hurtful and in which I am very much convinced we know exactly what we’re doing (see my letter from January for more on that). All I am saying is that there are many Christians out there who are simply trying to come to terms with LGBTQ rights. I can tell you from experience that this is not an easy thing to do. I’m a Christian and as ardent a supporter of LGBTQ rights as you’re likely to find in the South, yet it’s taken me almost a year of reflection on my beliefs to get to this point. Many of these people I’m referring to have have held these views for years, in some cases far longer than I had, and such things are not always simply changed.

On the other side, as I’ve interacted with members of the LGBTQ community through social media I’ve come to realize that the vast majority aren’t guilty of the things we accuse them of. They’re not trying to shove their beliefs down our throats and neither are they trying to put their feelings above the rights of the rest of the country. (Even if they were, the rights that currently exist in this country wouldn’t exist at all unless someone had felt strongly enough to ensure they were protected.) They simply want to live their lives the same as you and me. They want to exist. They’ve fought for years to have the same rights we do and they are understandably hurt and pissed off that we try so hard to take those away.

What, I wonder, would happen if each side simply set aside the fear and emotions and simply took the other side in good faith? I’m not denying the hurt that does exist. All I’m saying is that a little understanding and civility might go a long way towards opening up the lines of communication that we so badly need. We’re all human, after all, and all deserving of the dignity and respect that goes with that. Furthermore, as Christians it might be the only way to share Christ’s love in this whole mess, which is the very thing we’re supposed to be about as God’s people in this world. We ask for faith as part of our dealings with others around us. Maybe it’s time we showed a little, too.