Tag Archives: Politics

Who gets to tell the church no?

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

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

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

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

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

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You ARE better than this

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time for Conservative Evangelicals to Drop the Pretense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

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.