Tag Archives: Gospel

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.

Advertisements

Let’s Discuss a Few Things

AM17-logoWith the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting starting this week I’ve been more active than usual on social media recently in an effort to raise awareness regarding the negative impact that the Convention’s position on LGBTQ issues has on LGBTQ people. While I am pleased to see organisations like Faith in America taking a very bold approach to directly engaging the Convention on this problem, I have also seen concerns raised by Christians as to just what those of us who support the LGBTQ community are trying to accomplish in raising these issues with the Convention. I wanted to take a few moments to address those areas in hopes of clarifying a few misunderstandings.

Area # 1 – We Want to Rewrite Scripture

The issue here, as I understand it, is that as the Bible calls homosexuality sin (see Leviticus 18 and 20) and we want the Convention to treat LGBTQ people in general, and LGBTQ youth in particular, with the same openness and respect they show to everyone else, we must therefore want to rewrite Scripture in order to remove these passages and any others similar to them.

Speaking for myself, I have no desire to rewrite Scripture and I would not support anyone who does. I have spent the last year praying and searching through the Scriptures in order to find room there for LGBTQ people as they are and for who they are and in a positive light. We have room in a “Christian” worldview for everyone else, so why not them, too? It’s a sad commentary on our Christian culture today that I had to do that, but I am grateful for the experience because it’s given me the confidence I need at times like this to speak out. I wanted to be able to love them for who they are and as they are without trying to force them to change anything (because I strongly believe they don’t have to) but at the same time I wanted to remain rooted in the core tenants of my own beliefs (such as respect for the authority of Scripture). For me, it was Romans 1 and 2 and Genesis 1 that opened my eyes. In addition, there are interpretations of Scripture, valid interpretations, that provide positive room in the Christian worldview for LGBTQ people. Again, it’s sad that we even need to be told this, but there you have it.

I’ve heard it said many times in church, “Come as you are.” We even have worship songs along that line. All we’re asking is that the Convention take LGBTQ people as they are, no strings attached, without trying to force them to change or trying to convey the idea that they even need to.

Area # 2 – God Said It So It’s Binding

I’ve heard this one repeated often in the last few days, and it honestly pisses me off. The gist of it is that God has said in His Word that same-sex attraction is a sin and sorry but if we’re going to obey Him than we have to tell LGBTQ people that who they are is sinful in God’s eyes and they need to repent of it.

If you ever have the privilege of meeting and getting to know members of the LGBTQ community, you’ll find very quickly that they have been through hell. Many of them have spent years coming to terms with who they are and how they feel. Some have spent most of their lives doing so. And once they have come to terms with it, they’ve given up everything to live as who they are.

When we come across a person like this, who’s quite likely been rejected by everyone close to them, the best, most-loving response we have is, “I’m sorry, but I’m bound by obeying God to tell you that He hates who you are?” (Or something to that effect.) I mean, really, that’s the best we’ve got? Not an ounce of compassion or understanding or even the slightest effort to see life through their eyes? Not even the tiniest attempt at respecting them enough to say hey, maybe you are born this way? If that’s the best we have then I fear we’ve become no better than the Pharisees of old, who “load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46 NLT) The really sad part is that we actually think we’re being loving when we do this.

In Conclusion

If we really want to be loving, if we want to really represent this Jesus we claim to know, then we need to change the Convention’s policies to let these people into our churches as they are and without trying to force them to change. Talk to them. Get to know them. See life through their eyes. They are truly beautiful people, made in God’s image just the same as you and me. Any response we make that values the legalities of Scripture more so than the heart of the person in front of us only makes us more into Pharisees (the one group in the New Testament, remember, that Jesus opposed more than any other; not a group I want to be a part of).

Now that we’ve clarified a few things, what’s stopping us from loving and accepting these people as they are?

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

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?

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.

A Call for Civility and a Little Good Faith

Common Ground Venn Diagram Shared Interest Agreement Compromise

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.

The Last Few Weeks

hqdefaultSeveral weeks ago, I published here an open letter to the Southern Baptist Convention on the subject or our treatment of the LGBTQ community. In that time, I have forwarded this letter to every Baptist organization I can think of that is in the public eye and therefore in a position to do the most good (including, among others, the North American Missions Board, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, and the Baptist Press). Given how touchy we Christians can be on the subject of homosexuality, I expected to get a flurry of responses. What I got instead was silence. Our stance that the concerns of the LGBTQ community do not represent a civil rights issue is causing nothing but hurt and we don’t even want to talk about it.

When I finally did get a response from the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC), I was able to understand better the logic and the reasoning behind our position as a Convention on the civil rights issue, the so-called “bathroom debate,” and trans people in general. I have to say that from a theological standpoint, I found little to fault with it. It fits the theological worldview that many Baptists share. That being said, the Convention’s position has one major flaw. If you’re an LGBTQ individual reading this, you’ll know better than anyone that you don’t share that worldview. You approach this entire subject from a completely different angle, so to speak. And that’s fine. The flaw in the Convention’s position is that we don’t even bother to acknowledge that difference. We have our reasons for seeing things as we do, we want you to come around to see things our way, and that’s that. For example, I read through one article that was provided to me by the ERLC about how feeling like your actual gender doesn’t match your physical gender is a diagnosable medical condition called gender dysphoria, and it’s our job as Christians to love you through that struggle until you come to a place where the gender you feel you are matches the gender you physically are. So this thing which you say makes you who you are, well, as the Convention sees it, it just means you’re confused. Basically, you’re mentally ill.

Without being too blunt, like I said I understand the theology behind the Convention’s position, but how the hell are we supposed to love and respect you, to be ambassadors for Christ and show you that he loves you enough that he died to get you back, if we can’t even acknowledge and respect where you’re coming from?

What we have here, in essence, are two completely different cultures (something else I think we as Christians have a hard time understanding). It’s long been an issue in church history that it’s not enough for us to try to share the Gospel but we have to bring along our culture as well. The Apostle Paul dealt with it in the New Testament. He wrote the Letter to the Galatians to oppose those who believed it wasn’t enough simply for Gentiles to believe in Jesus but they also had to keep the Jewish law (including circumcision). And 1500 years later, when church missionary efforts were headquartered in Europe, those who brought the Gospel around the world were notorious for bringing European civilization along with it. In short, we have a bad habit of believing that in order for you to be acceptable to God, you also have to become like us. What we forget is that every time we try that, all we do is hurt people. That, more than anything else, is what I think is driving the Convention’s position in this area.

And I know there are those who will read this and say that how we treat the LGBTQ community is not a cultural issue at all, that Scripture is very clear on this matter and that pretty well determines how we interact with you. Our job is not to enforce our beliefs on you, or to try to convince you to come around to seeing things our way. Our job, as representatives of Jesus here on Earth, is simply to take you as you are and love you as you are in hopes that through that you see his love for you. Anything that gets in the way of that not only hurts you but also stops us from being about the very thing that we are supposed to be about here in this world.

Please hear me when I say that taking you as you are does not mean for me that you are confused or mentally ill. It also does not mean that I view the reality of you being gay, or lesbian, or trans, or whatever, as a reality that only exists inside your head. It means that I will love and accept you as gay, lesbian, trans, or whatever. As a Christian I can do no less.

Why Reach Out at All?

bf12cf208fe99c47d926428de6a91562So the question has come up several times in the last few weeks as to why I am so committed to reaching out as I do. Why reach out to the LGBTQ community at all, especially living in the South where being Baptist and talking to them at all virtually guarantees I’ll never have a pastorate of my own? I mean, am I gay myself? Do I plan on “becoming gay”? On the other hand, am I simply trying to get LGBTQ people to change, to “repent” of being gay (or lesbian or whatever) so they can go to heaven when they die? I wanted to take the time to clarify, both for myself and for others reading this, as to just why this ministry is so important. That first question is really the one I want to answer, but let me start with the others first.

Am I gay? No. I am happily married to a beautiful woman and quite content with that. Do I plan on “becoming gay”? No. Again, if you missed it the first time, I am happily married to a beautiful woman and quite content with that. So why reach like this? Am I trying to get LGBTQ people to “repent” so they can go to heaven when they die? Yet again, no. I am not. We get the idea that they even need to from passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, which reads, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Seems pretty straightforward, right? If you’re gay, you don’t go to heaven unless you stop being gay. The problem with that interpretation comes when you look at the other categories listed in this passage. In Matthew 5:27-28, Jesus equates adultery with lust, meaning  if you’re guilty of the second you’re also guilty of the first. I’ve known a lot of Christian guys over the years who’ve struggled with that one, and if you apply the same logic to lust that we just applied to being gay, well, they’re not going to heaven, either. And that’s a problem, because in Hebrews 10:12 we’re also told that Jesus’ death on the cross was enough to pay the price for all sin. Period. End of sentence. You can’t add to that sacrifice, meaning nothing else is needed for eternal life. So in a roundabout way, no, I am not reaching out to the LGBTQ community because I believe that your sexuality is something that has to dramatically change in order for you to be acceptable in God’s sight. 

So why, then? If what the Bible says is true (and I understand that there are a lot of people reading this who disagree with that and that’s fine; just hear me out), then we as Christians have the hope within us that changes everything. The hope of life after death, the hope of a relationship with the one who made you and gave his life so that that relationship could be restored. You see Christianity isn’t just about being loving or accepting others as they are or even fighting for your civil rights (although it is all of those things). It’s about that relationship, and sharing that with you so that you can come home to the one who loves you as you are, whether you’re straight, trans, gay, lesbian, or whatever. He calls to us through our desires and our hopes and our dreams. He wants us back.  And if we as Christians treat you the way that we have historically, then you don’t see that. You don’t want anything to do with that. And for me, that’s a problem. You can read what I’ve written, you can examine the claims of Christianity, and you can think the whole thing is a crock and go on with your life and that’s fine. We all have free will. We all get to make that choice. However, if you can’t even look at what the Bible says because of our actions as Christians, well, that’s not so fine. That’s our fault. The only thing that keeps you out of heaven is what you decide to do with Jesus and what he offers (Matthew 7:23). So why do I do what I do? I want you as members of the LGBTQ community to have a fair shot at making that choice. You deserve it.

An Open Letter to the Churches and the Leadership of the Southern Baptist Convention

Following the Pulse massacre in Orlando last year, I reached out to the LGBTQ community through an open letter published here. The deaths of those 49 people prompted a flood of support from the Christian community as a whole, but I had trouble with the actions of my fellow believers both because it took the deaths of almost 50 people to get us to show love to the LGBTQ community and because, not long after the event had faded from the headlines, we returned to our usual less-than-charitable stance towards this community as a whole. So I reached out then, and I have continued to reach out, to try to show these people who Jesus really is and that they matter to Him. It has been a difficult thing to do, at times, as we as Christians have caused them a great deal of hurt. I was, however, privileged to get to know various members of the LGBTQ community through social media, and even more privileged to be allowed in to begin to understand their hopes, fears, and hurts. With that as a background, I now want to reach out to the denomination in which I was ordained.

The conversations I have been privileged to be a part of have given me much to ponder. Our two groups can and do disagree on much, yet a constant theme was the pain that we as Christians have caused. In responding to that pain I was forced to reflect on my own worldview, and that process has brought me to examine the Southern Baptist Convention’s official position on these issues. It is to that position which I would like to now speak. To put it bluntly, I am concerned that in being so zealous to defend the authority of Scripture we are in reality making mistakes which cause us to fail the very lost people we claim to be most concerned about.

I disagree with much of the Convention’s official position on these issues (can we, as but one voice in this culture, really say that the government’s adopting our beliefs on same-sex marriage is for the public good?).[1] There are two mistakes in particular that I wish to address. The first mistake we are making illustrates the real-world consequence of the overzealous commitment to Scripture which I believe we as a denomination have at present. Before examining that in detail, however, I would first like to state that I share a commitment to Scripture as the inerrant, infallible Word of God. That being said, when such a commitment is devoid of compassion for the lost it does little more than turn them off to the Jesus we represent. Allow me to explain. In a resolution published in 2012 entitled “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ and Civil Rights Rhetoric,” representatives of the Convention stated, “we deny that the effort to legalize ‘same-sex marriage’ qualifies as a civil rights issue since homosexuality does not qualify as a class meriting special protections, like race and gender,” and furthermore, “[we] oppose any attempt to frame ‘same-sex marriage’ as a civil rights issue.”[2] These statements are rooted in an error on judgement on our part. 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. That alone makes same-sex marriage a civil rights issue, one that we refuse to respect. I have to contrast this stance with our stance on religious liberty, which as the same resolution outlines we do see as a civil rights issue and are willing to fight for. In short, we appear to be willing to fight for our own rights but not those of others, and that is a problem. (The Golden Rule apparently doesn’t apply anymore.)

I have to also say that, while I explicitly disagree with that stance, I understand why we take it. Putting homosexuality into the same protected category, so to speak, as race and gender would put us into a theological quandary that we would very much like to avoid. If one can be born black, or born female, then adding homosexuality to that list implies that we believe on can be born with same-sex attraction, and even suggesting such an idea gives most of us pause. The biblical evidence points us to the conclusion that same-sex attraction is a choice, and if Scripture is wrong about that then what else is it wrong about? And so out of fear of that slippery slope, we avoid the issue altogether and double-down on our biblical argument, all the while either not caring about the hurt we cause or being unaware of it.

I say unaware of it because that’s what I believed at first. In the conversations I’ve had with members of the LGBTQ community, the question, “Why do you people hate us so much?” has come up a lot. Truth be told I didn’t really have an answer for it. Christians do attack the civil rights of these people, that much is clear, yet those actions do not reflect the Jesus that I know and so after stating as much in these conversations I would usually conclude to myself that the Christians involved are well-intentioned but very badly misguided. And then I came across the resolution mentioned above, where the country’s largest Protestant denomination spells out the logic behind denying a group of people basic human rights. If that’s not hateful, then I don’t know what is. We are not unaware of what we are doing. We’ve thought it through, enough to make it part of our official position on the matter, and that’s scary. In no manner could our position ever be construed as representing the Jesus of the Bible.

The second mistake we’re making has to do with what we are communicating to the world regarding LGBTQ individuals in general. Article III subsection 1 of our constitution states that “churches which act to affirm, approve, or endorse, homosexual behavior would be deemed not to be in cooperation with the Convention.”[3] Furthermore, our list of position statements also states that “homosexuality is not a ‘valid alternative lifestyle.’ The Bible condemns it as sin. It is not, however, unforgiveable sin. The same redemption available to all sinners is available to homosexuals.”[4] Two aspects of this position are troubling. First of all, to sum up, if a group of believers is at all nice to homosexuals then they can’t possibly be a part of the Southern Baptist Convention. We hate these people so much that not only do we not want them as members in our churches but we’ll kick out anyone who disagrees. Secondly, we are communicating to a group of sinners, the very people Jesus came for, that in order to be accepted by Him they must change who they are. Nothing in all of Scripture supports such a belief. In fact, the exact opposite is true. There is nothing any of us can do or change in order to make ourselves acceptable to God, and that is why Christ’s work on the cross is so necessary. In short, we can’t save ourselves no matter how much we change. The LGBTQ community, however, apparently needs to change in order to be saved. As Paul tells us in Romans 5:8, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Jesus takes us as we are. Why can’t we do the same for LGBTQ individuals?

My goal in raising these points is not to start controversy or to simply criticize the Convention’s position but rather to encourage Southern Baptists to think through how what we communicate to the world hurts those we are supposed to care about. And if you can show me from Scripture that my perception of the Convention’s position as outlined above is in error, by all means please do so. Too often in the last few months I have had to apologize for the actions of my fellow Christians. I would much rather be able to explain that we as believers are not actually doing the things we have been accused of. Sadly, however, my fear is that I am not wrong in this. My fear, ultimately, is that we are failing the very lost people we should be looking to bring to Jesus. (And please hear me when I say that I am not asking us to change our worldview simply to suit the beliefs of others. If, however, aspects of that worldview bring us to cause pain to others, and not because “they are blinded from the truth” or some other biblical excuse but simply because we have taken things too far, then that is a problem with our worldview and one that needs to be addressed.)

We as a Convention can do better in how we treat the LGBTQ community. Simply respecting their position on civil rights would be huge start, and one that does not have to pose any theological quandaries for us. How hard is it for us be respectful even while we may disagree? Just as importantly, we can act to welcome these individuals to fellowship in our churches and ensure that we no longer disown those Christians who try to treat them with love and respect. The people who make up the LGBTQ community are just that, people, like you and me. If for no other reason than that we owe them respect in our behavior. There is no Scriptural justification for doing otherwise.

In Christ,

Pastor Mike

 

[1] “The Southern Baptist Convention Passes Resolution on Gay Marriage,” Denny Burk, last modified June 16, 2015, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.dennyburk.com/the-southern-baptist-convention-passes-resolution-on-gay-marriage-sbc15/.

[2] “On ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ And Civil Rights Rhetoric,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2012, accesed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1224/on-samesex-marriage-and-civil-rights-rhetoric.

[3] “Constitution,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/

aboutus/legal/constitution.asp.

[4] “Position Statements,” Southern Baptist Convention, last modified 2017, accessed January 30, 2017, http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/positionstatements.asp.