Tag Archives: Religious Liberty

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.

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We Don’t See It Coming

986e4e52caf224f30f5dc6d8c7fb1adaAs Baptists and as Christians we don’t really seem to give a rat’s behind about the hurt that we’re causing LGBTQ people. Our position is what it is, it’s based on biblical “truth,” and if it causes harm oh well, that’s not our problem. Seriously, most of the people I have reached out to on this subject over the last few months refused to even entertain any position that would value these people as they are and for who they are. So in today’s post I want to try something a little different. If we don’t care about the hurt that we’re causing others, maybe we’ll care about the hurt we’re causing ourselves over this.

Since Trump was elected we have pursued a number of different pieces of religious liberty legislation. The idea is that we’ll protect ourselves by making it illegal to discriminate against Christians in this country. (We say we’re protecting people who hold religious beliefs, but the way these things are worded suggests we really only have one religion in mind.) Texas, Mississippi, and Tennessee are three of the states where we’ve succeeded in this effort to one degree or another. What we may not realise is that with these so-called victories we have provided a legal precedent for denying the rights of one group in order to protect the rights of another.

Here’s what I really don’t get. That precedent will come back to haunt us in the future, and we don’t see it coming. We act as though the current political climate in this country will continue forever. Either that, or by the time it does change that religious liberty protections will be so entrenched in the law of this country that they’ll be untouchable. Neither one of those assumptions is valid. There will be another Democrat president, if not in 4 years then in all likelihood in 8. And given the new found presidential love of executive orders, nothing is set in stone anymore. How hard will it be, given the precedent we’ve provided, to argue that in order to protect the rights of LGBTQ people the rights of Christians must be limited or denied?

There will be a backlash, and we don’t see it coming. Think I’m wrong? Look at it this way. One of the most repeated statements I’ve heard conservatives make regarding the transgender community in particular is that it’s all in their head. It has no basis in reality so why should we entertain their beliefs? How hard would that sentiment be to turn around and apply to us as Christians? We follow a man who, if he existed at all, lived and died some two thousand years ago and yet we say we can talk to him whenever we want. How hard would it be to argue that that is all in our heads?

We are setting ourselves up to lose everything we’re so afraid of losing, and it’s all because we’re afraid. We have this place in society (at least as we see it) that we don’t want to lose. We have institutions that we’ve spent decades building up, if not longer, that we don’t want to lose. We have this vision for this country that we don’t want to lose. And that leads me to the underlying cause of all this. We’re afraid because we’ve made this world the goal. We’ve forgotten that we don’t belong here, not really. We’ve forgotten Jesus’ statement in John 17:16, referring to us, that “they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” And in John 15:18, “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.”

And so we’ll lose everything we’re working so hard to protect, and we’ll cry persecution when it happens and claim that it’s only happening because we’re not of this world and that’s why they hate us. The truth is we’ll have only ourselves to blame. The sad part is even then we probably won’t see it.

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.