On Sexuality, Target, the Church, and True Courage

If there’s one thing we see evidenced throughout human history, it’s that human beings have a great propensity toward fearing that which is different.

And if there’s one thing we see evidenced throughout Church history, it’s that Christians are really good at justifying and legitimizing that prejudice by claiming it is God’s will.

The fact we are so quick to ascribe to God our own discrimination and bigotry is cause enough for mourning and repentance. But watching the pain, destruction, and death it causes as it is played out in real life is a million times worse.

Laws regarding transgender people – and specifically their use of public restrooms – have been all over the headlines the past couple of weeks. And the Christian response to these laws and headlines have largely been predictable and awful.

Those who claim to follow Jesus have sadly flocked to sign petitions and join boycotts over bathroom policies — as of this writing, over a million people have pledged to not shop at Target because the store decided to be inclusive and tolerant. (Given the history of success of Christian boycotts, I guess we can expect Target to soon become the world’s #1 retailer.) Like all knee-jerk reactions, however, people decrying transgender rights – especially in the name of God – simply do not understand what they’re opposing.

The initial reaction most people have is something along these lines: guys have penises and girls have vaginas. Somebody who has a particular body part and claims to be the other gender is gross and weird; therefore, it is wrong and we should fight against “normalizing” such behavior.

It seems pretty cut and dry. I’ll readily admit: up until a few months ago, that was how I viewed the issue as well. Then, I did a crazy thing: I actually started listening to people’s stories. I heard and read their experiences. And suddenly, “transgender” was not an “issue” any longer – this became about people.

It’s so easy to be against an idea. It’s infinitely more difficult to be against a person.

The Church does a phenomenal job of holding these sorts of discussions at arms’ length, of ensuring we don’t personalize them too much. It’s a lot like how the military trains soldiers, actually: dehumanize the enemy, and you have a lot easier time taking them out. For instance, it’s so comfortable to sit back in our privilege and say gay people shouldn’t be allowed to express their love through marriage; it’s a hell of lot harder to sit across from a gay couple, listen to their story, see the love they have for one another, and tell them they don’t deserve to be able to marry one another.

The same is true with transgender rights now as well. Dudes “pretending” to be chicks (or vice versa) instead of what they “really” are is gross, and therefore is wrong. Nobody should do it. But once you shut up and start listening to people and their stories, things begin to look a lot different.

(Side note: when it comes to discussing the transgender journey, we need to drop phrases like “pretending” and what somebody “really” is out of our vocabulary. Stat.)

After hearing and being affected by people’s stories, I went and checked out the science that explains what many of them are experiencing. Guess what? There is an actual, scientific difference between sex, which is biological, and gender identity, which is how people identify themselves. Biological sex and gender identity develop separately from one another in the womb. Hormones affect the development of reproductive organs in a fetus at different times and in different ways than they affect the development of gender identity in the brain. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the two end up in the same place. Every once in awhile, they don’t – and as a result, someone’s sex doesn’t match their gender.

(Another sidenote: this is known as gender dysphoria — and not every transgender person experiences it, but it is a useful place to begin our discussion and understanding.)

If we can understand this, it might stop us from the crude, snide, and mocking comments that have infuriatingly become the norm in the discussion on the “Christian” side of things.

In fact, we could say that gender dysphoria is no different than, say, depression — there isn’t something “wrong” with someone; this is simply something that happens to people. It should not be stereotyped or crudely joked about.

Which makes it all the more maddening and shameful that Christians are doing just that. I had multiple Christian friends over the past week or so share an article from a Christian satire site which mockingly intones, “Target Announces Senior Discount For Anyone Who Self-Identifies As Age 60 Or Older.” Not only does this article betray the author’s lack of understanding, and completely misrepresent the transgender community by inferring that they simply choose which sex to be for personal gain, it invites us to have a laugh at the expense of an oppressed and hurting group of people.

The more I saw this shared on Facebook the more sad I became.

I have wrestled with this topic for a couple years now, ever since meeting and talking to two transgender women in our church (both of whom were born biologically male), and I have come to this point in my own understanding: I see nowhere in Scripture proclaiming that being transgender is a sin. And I certainly do not see anywhere in Scripture that says using a bathroom based on your gender identity is a sin. Oh, sure, there’s the verse from Deuteronomy that says women can’t wear men’s clothes — but not only are we not under the Law any longer (let’s put this verse up alongside the ones about not wearing clothes with more than one kind of fabric or the ones about having to put tassels at the corners of your clothing and see which ones we want to pick and choose), folks who quote this verse don’t ever examine the purpose for this law or the cultural considerations that went into codifying it thousands of years ago.

The best anyone has ever done explaining to me why being transgender is a sin is this: gender is fixed at birth and transgender people are choosing to not be who God made them, therefore they are sinning. Even that philosophy is rich with irony, though: transgender people would say all they are trying to do is to embrace their gender identity and to be who God made them to be.

But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that somewhere in some hidden book of the Bible God clearly said that accepting your gender identity was wrong and being transgender was a sin. (Again: nowhere have I found where the Bible says this.) But what if it did? Would that make the jokes and the mockery and insults – the awful, horrific insults – shared in the name of Jesus any more okay? Would that make it okay to call transgender people monsters? Sexual predators? Deviants? To tell them that God detests them?

I cannot force myself to believe that response is the way of Jesus or the dream of God for this world.

To make matters worse, we hide our bigotry and fear behind a banner of supposed child safety. Christians sadly make the claim, either implicitly or in many cases explicitly, that “transgender” = “child predator” or “rapist.” I want us to pause and really let the hurtful nature of this argument sink in for a moment.

There has been no increase in public safety issues in cities with anti-discrimination laws that protect transgender people. On top of that, a coalition of 250 organizations who work with sexual abuse survivors are begging people to stop using that argument. It is nothing but fear-mongering divorced from reality. Besides, we all know how much criminals care about the law. (I find it ironic that the same people who say we can’t pass gun control because criminals would get guns anyway fail to see the same argument here that criminals will enter restrooms whether it’s legal or not.)

Beyond that, it’s pretty clear opponents of anti-discrimination laws haven’t really thought this thing through anyways. For instance, I can’t understand why somebody would want to force a person like Brae Carnes, who was born biologically male but identifies as a woman, to use the men’s restroom:

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And I can’t understand why somebody would want to force Michael Hughes, who was born biologically female but identifies as a man, to use the woman’s restroom:

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(Irony alert: opponents of anti-discrimination laws would undoubtedly try to stop Michael from using the women’s restroom, when it was their own bigotry that forced him into the women’s room to start with.)

Brae deserves to use the women’s room. Michael deserves to use the men’s room. And infinitely more than that, both of them deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. Sadly, a lot of Christians these days appear to be incapable of such a simple, foundational thing.

What makes this all even worse is watching Christians congratulate themselves for these sorts of responses. I’ve seen so many replies that essentially pat someone on the back for their “courage” (this seems to be the word du jour) in taking an anti-transgender or anti-gay stance — and not just for taking that stance, but for belittling, attacking, and demeaning other human beings.

That’s not courage. There’s nothing courageous about hate.

Standing “against culture” by attacking and mocking a group of hurting people isn’t courageous. And before you say, “disagreeing with somebody doesn’t mean you hate them,” what we’ve witnessed from Christians the past couple weeks goes far, far beyond a simple disagreement. It goes straight to an utter lack of compassion, a lack of desire to even listen or know or understand, and a complete disregard for somebody else’s dignity and humanity.

You know what is courageous? Standing up for love. Standing up for equality. Standing beside people whose suicide rate is ten times the general population because of the shit that gets dumped on them – including and especially from “Christians” – and loving them. Helping them. Welcoming them. Accepting them.

Young people who are transgender are oftentimes bullied to the point they end up hating themselves so much they try to kill themselves. (So yeah, tell me again how teenage boys just say they’re transgender so they can get into the girls’ locker room — it sounds like a real party to be transgender.) You know what takes real courage? Coming out as transgender. That’s courage. Christians should be leading the way in protecting those on a transgender journey. Instead, we’re oftentimes the ones causing the most pain.

Look, it’s simple: one of the foundational themes of Scripture is a choice between life and death. That choice is presented a host of times throughout the pages of this story. In the Torah, God lays out the choice: “Look! I am presenting you today with, on the one hand, life and good; and on the other, death and evil… I have presented you with life and death… therefore, choose life.” Through the prophet Jeremiah hundreds of years later, God lays out the same choice: “And here is what you are to tell this people: ‘Adonai says: “Look! I am presenting you with the way of life and the way of death.'” The book of Hebrew Proverbs is full of contrasts between choosing life and choosing death. We are specifically told that our words carry the power of life and death. The story of a Tree of Life and a Tree of Death in the Garden, and the death which Adam and Eve chose, is reimagined through the lens of Jesus all throughout the New Testament. This choice of bringing life or bringing death is a central tenet of our faith narrative and who we are as a people.

How incredibly sad, then, that we have willingly and zealously chosen the way of death – bringing death both figuratively and literally, and too often physically – when it comes to gay and transgender people.

Once again, the Church has chosen bedroom (and now bathroom) issues as a hill to die on. When will we move on from our obsession with sex and truly just love people? We’ve gotten really, really good at saying, “I love you, but…” I love you, but this is a sin you have to change before I will fully love you. I love you, but you can’t have the same rights as I do. I love you, but I cannot accept who you are. I love you, but only if you conform to my preconceived notions.

I’m so ready to instead just say, “I love you.” Period. Or, perhaps, “I love you, whether…” I love you, whether you identify as a male or female. I love you, whether you choose to transition or not. I love you, whether your biological sex matches your gender identity or not. I love you, and that means I will walk with you in this struggle as far as you want me to. I love you, and I support your fight for equality and a life free of bullying and abuse and pain. I love you and accept you and there is no “but.”

And to those of us who claim Jesus, I’m begging you: choose life. Bring life. Stop talking, stop hurting people, stop mocking, and listen. Learn. And love.

Actually, Homosexuality is a Gospel Issue

After World Vision announced its decision to expand their employment practices to include married gay couples, a lot of Christians lost their ever-loving minds.

Thanks to this whole uproar over World Vision, the hypocrisy of the modern, western Christian majority has been laid bare for all to see – and the resulting chaos is not pretty.

Here’s why: after World Vision announced their policy change, thousands of Christians canceled their World Vision child sponsorships. In the first day, over two thousand people abandoned children. In the following days, thousands more followed suit. In other words, conservative Christians were so upset about gay people serving children, they more or less said: children need clean water, education, food, and medical supplies. Unless those things are provided by gay people. In that case children don’t need anything.

The counter argument from the conservative evangelical camp was quick: just because we are giving up on these specific children doesn’t mean we can’t go sponsor other children through other organizations. That logic, of course, is faulty, distant, and remarkably impersonal — as shown by several bloggers who pointed out that children are not merchandise, like cell phones and used cars, that we have the luxury of simply “trading in” for a different model.

Not only did Christians treat children – children! – as merchandise, they also treated them as bargaining chips, pushed to the middle of the poker table in order to force World Vision to fold. Entire denominations of churches, including the Assemblies of God and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, threatened to pull child sponsorships if World Vision continued on with the new policy.

Facing this incredible backlash, World Vision blinked and reversed course. Many evangelicals expressed their happiness at the reversal. Russell Moore, President of the Ethics Committee at the SBC, even declared it time to “rejoice.”

Now that the dust has settled a bit, let’s take a look at the scoreboard. Gay people: demonized. Children: dehumanized. Evangelicals: celebratory.

That pretty much sums up what’s wrong with the western “church” – and why so many prominent authors, speakers, and leaders have publicly divorced themselves from evangelicalism after this train wreck. I can’t blame them. A big part of me wants to as well.

The idea of abandoning a child who needs support over a doctrinal difference with those providing the support is unfathomable to me, and I still cannot understand at any level of humanity where anybody would think that was okay… least of all people who claim to be following Jesus. My wife and I supported a little girl named Ivis for several years. We chose her because she shared a birthday with one of our sons. We received letters from her, pictures from her, drawings that she had made. She told us about her life, her family, her home. She asked us about our pets, our boys. We developed a relationship with her. When we found out she no longer needed support, we switched our support to another little girl named Lizzi and have been supporting her for several months now.

I cannot fathom a universe in which we would walk up to Ivis or Lizzi, look them in the eyes, and tell them, “Sorry. I know you need food and medicine and schooling and clean water. But the people who give those things to you? They hire gay people now. So we’re going to have to take those things back — oh, and this relationship? It’s over.

This whole uproar has conclusively proven something that I have fought so hard not to believe for the past several years: apparently, Christians can be as big of jerks as the world says we are. Apparently, a wide swath of us actually do care more about doctrine than people, more about purity than love. And apparently, there are a lot of Christians who just cannot get over their obsession with sex and what happens in other people’s bedrooms.

The Gospel Coalition and the Southern Baptist Church both put out statements on the issue, declaring homosexuality to be a “gospel issue” and therefore, non-negotiable. To bend or compromise would be to negate the gospel itself.

The argument, of course, is ludicrous. But here’s the surprising twist: in what may be the first and only time I’ve agreed with anything written over at the Gospel Coalition, I actually do think that homosexuality is a gospel issue. Just not exactly how they meant it.

The gospel is infinitely bigger than simply separating the world into sinners and saints, the hellbound and heavenbound. The gospel is about all of creation being put back together, with agape love holding it all together and redeeming everything. Therefore, how we treat gay people (and all people!) is very much a gospel issue.

If we think whether or not someone is gay is more important than whether a child eats…

If we stand idly by and watch as a segment of humanity is demonized and persecuted, or worse, actively participate in those actions…

If we do not stand up for gay teenagers, among whom suicide rates are skyrocketing because of the abuse they face from their peers as well as from religious groups…

…then we are not only not living out the gospel, we are denying the very thing we claim to be defending.

If we do not possess the ability to even extend common human decency, then we are far worse than unbelievers – for even the “sinners” do that. We are called to do so much more… to extend the very selfless love that Jesus extended to us.

I say this all as someone who still believes that homosexuality is a sin. I’ve read all of the arguments and contextualizations and articles explaining why it’s not, but I can’t convince myself that I can take that leap and remain intellectually honest. But I also understand this: believing something is a sin does not give me the ability, the opportunity, or the right to be a douchebag.

Jesus has called me, called us, to love. Unconditionally, without pause, without question and without demands. His earliest followers declared that loving other people (which requires us to first see them as people!) to be the fulfillment of His “law.” And therefore, I concur: the complete and utter inability of the Church — a large or at least highly vocal portion of it — to truly love gay people is a gospel issue. And it’s one that must be resolved.

The Battle is Over… What’s Next for the Church?

When President Barack Obama announced his change of view on gay marriage last year, it was understood to be less of a principled stance and more of a realization of the new reality facing American culture: people are okay with gay marriage now. The cultural winds are blowing in favor of marriage equality, and Obama, to his credit, was one of the first prominent leaders to recognize the shift and jump on board.

It’s not just liberals like President Obama who are supporting gay marriage now, though. Staunch conservative stalwarts such as Dick Cheney and Rob Portman have announced their support for marriage equality as well (Portman did so just three days ago). In both cases, the change of heart came as a result of wanting the best for their openly gay children.

It goes beyond parents of gay children, too. For instance, last weekend Republicans held their annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), designed to fire up the red-meat loving base of the GOP. Even in that deep red conference center one could tell things were changing drastically: a session hosted by the National Organization for Marriage, a group which opposes gay marriage, played to an empty room. Meanwhile, a session by the pro-gay marriage group GOProud drew a packed audience. Once upon a time — like just a few years ago — that would have been unheard of. The dichotomy of empty and full audiences led media outlet Buzzfeed to declare “At CPAC the Marriage Fight is Over.”

Really, it’s more or less over all across America — and the rest of the developed world, too. It’s just recently that we’ve seen rather seismic shifts in public sentiment with regards to this issue. Opinion polls taken of American adults from the early 1990s through 2005 show remarkably stable results: approximately 30-35% of Americans were in favor of gay marriage while roughly 65-70% opposed it. In the past eight years, however, we’ve steadily changed our minds.

According to a recent CBS News poll, 53% of Americans now support the idea of gay marriage with only 39% opposing it. The most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll found support for marriage equality at 51% and opposition at just 40%. The Gallup Poll found similar results: 53% in favor, 46% opposed. The numbers are all the same, within a few percentage points margin of error.

Even more remarkably, an ABC News poll completed just last week showed another large jump in support for gay marriage, up to 58% support (with only 36% opposed).

For the first time in history, a majority of Americans support gay marriage. (Of course, that sentiment merely brings this country in line with the dozens before us who have already legalized gay marriage.) And that trend is largely due to generational perceptions — as commentator Michael Barone notes, age is at play here: “Young people, including many Republicans, heavily favor same-sex marriage. Elderly people, including many Democrats, heavily oppose it.” Polling bears this out as well. In the Gallup poll noted above, a full 70% of people aged 18-34 think gay marriage should be legal. 53% of those aged 35-54 believe it should be.(Only 39% of those 55+ say it should.) Indeed, even a true majority of Republicans under the age of 30 say gay marriage ought to be legal.

In other words, the rest of the world has dragged our country into modern times: gay marriage is now accepted by the majority of Americans, and that majority shows all indications of growing by leaps and bounds in the coming years and decades.

I say all of that to say this: the Church has some very important choices to make in the very near future when it comes to the topic of homosexuality.

Ten or twenty years from now, we will look back on this whole homosexuality debate and most of us will say, “What in the world was all the fighting for? What was the big deal?” Except, perhaps, for one institution: the evangelical church.

According to Pew Research, the final remaining religious group in America who refuses to accept gay marriage is evangelical Christianity. Majorities of Catholics, mainline protestants, Jews, atheists, and non-affiliateds all support gay marriage. But standing in stark contrast to that, by themselves, are white evangelicals (with only 19% support) and black evangelicals (with only 35% support). The world is passing us by and rendering us largely irrelevant on the subject of sexual identity.

And is it any reason why? We’ve managed to take one of the most complex issues known to man — human sexuality — and turned it into a simple, black-and-white choice. You’re either “straight” or your a “sinner”. The rest of the world has decided to explore and dialogue and try to come together and understand, and we have dug our heels in, refusing to go along.

And therein lies the rub: some will say that is exactly how it should be while some will say that is exactly how it shouldn’t be. Some will say we are standing athwart the cultural tide a la Noah, and holding fast to God’s truth in a sinful world. Others will say we are failing in our God-given responsibility to advance the causes of justice, mercy, inclusion, and reconciliation in his Kingdom. The fact that we cannot agree even on that illustrates just how messy of a battle this is going to be within the halls of evangelicalism over the next generation.

Religiously speaking, we may well be witnessing a similar trend as we saw in the realm of politics, though. Just two months ago, Steve Chalke, a Baptist pastor and one of the most prominent conservative evangelicals in Britain, announced his support of gay marriage. Just two days ago, noted emergent/liberal evangelical pastor and author Rob Bell joined Chalke in support for gay marriage. Both couched their support in the language of love — love for the people who are being turned away from and turned off by the modern Church:

Steve Chalke:

Why am I so passionate about this issue? Because people’s lives are at stake. Numerous studies show that suicide rates among gay people, especially the young, are comparatively high. Church leaders sometimes use this data to argue that homosexuality is unhealthy when tragically it’s anti-gay stigma, propped up by Church attitudes, which all too often drives these statistics.

I believe that when we treat homosexual people as pariahs and push them outside our communities and churches, when we blame them for who they are, when we deny them our blessing on their commitment to lifelong, faithful relationships, we make them doubt whether they are children of God, made in his image.

So, I face a hard choice; a choice between the current dominant view of what scripture tells us about this issue, and the one I honestly think it points us to. This is why I seek to speak and write openly and, I hope, graciously, to encourage a compassionate, respectful and honest conversation that might lead to our churches becoming beacons of inclusion.

Rob Bell:

I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture that was told “we’re gonna change the thing” and they haven’t. And they actually have turned away lots of people. And I think that when you’re in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it’s very painful. You sort of die or you adapt. And if you adapt, it means you have to come face to face with some of the ways we’ve talked about God, which don’t actually shape people into more loving, compassionate people. We have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we’ve done it in the name of God and we need to repent.

Bell’s detractors will, of course, load this up as further ammunition that he is, in fact, the apostate liberal they’ve always thought he was. Clearing away the loaded rhetoric, however, these two men from both ends of the spectrum actually make very salient points, even if you don’t agree with them.

Anti-gay sentiment is on the decline. The culture wars are over. Folks who stand in opposition to gay marriage and the gay lifestyle in general are dying out, both figuratively and literally. So, as the Church representing Jesus Christ, we are faced with a choice of where to go from here. And I wonder: what is the best way forward? I know which way I’m leaning (if it wasn’t obvious from the tone of this piece), but I still struggle to reconcile that with the traditional interpretations of Scripture. I know that the Bible is more of a narrative than a collection of proof texts, and many of the same anti-gay sentiments being expressed today echo the pro-slavery and anti-civil rights sentiments expressed by many pastors and Christians throughout our history. But I also know it is difficult to simply explain away some sentences and thoughts in that story. I wonder if it is even possible to have the compassionate, respectful and honest conversation that Steve Chalke is calling for, given our lines in the sand and heels in the dirt. I wonder, if it is possible, how would we even go about that? And what would the end result be? I wonder what it looks like to live full of both grace and truth, and I wonder if our idea of “truth” really is all we think it is. I wonder if there might not be a third way in all of this, somewhere to land between the picket lines and the gay pride parades. I wonder if we shouldn’t have a much better reason for our opposition to gay marriage and gay people than just “The Bible says so.” And I wonder if I’m not just a huge hypocrite standing in the middle of it all, trying to figure it out. After all, I believe gay people should be able to get married if they want to. (There, I said it.) I’m just not that into laws that don’t have the power to save, or legislating morality on people (see 1 Cor 5:12). But at the same time, I don’t personally want to perform one of those marriage ceremonies. So where does that leave me (besides pissing off everyone on both sides of the issue)?

So to all of you who are on this journey as well, whether or not you know Jesus, I want to know your thoughts from all sides of the issue. How does the evangelical Church move forward from here? If we do not embrace homosexuals and heterosexuals and everyone in between on the crazy continuum that is human sexuality, do we become an irrelevant cultural relic? Will we lose our impact and ability to bring people into the Kingdom? Or, if we do embrace them, are we somehow giving up a piece of truth or weakening the gospel? If so, how much does that matter? How many details do we have to get right in order to be saved – or to save other people?

In short, where do we go from here?

Controversial Post Time

I’m just going to throw this out there without an extended narrative explaining my thoughts in any great detail – there is much I could write about this topic, but my goal isn’t to explain myself this morning. My hope is this makes you think, and I want to hear your thoughts.

Pictures of these two ladies have been passed around the internet for a little while now. Phyllis and Connie were the first gay couple to be married in New York after that states’ marriage equality law was passed:

My only comment: if the fact that these women have a piece of paper saying they are married somehow threatens your relationships or your heterosexuality, then you have deeper issues to deal with than gay marriage.

But tell me your thoughts.

Not That There’s Anything Wrong With That

Up until now, opposition to gay marriage in America, largely driven by the evangelical church, has taken aide from the fact that a majority of Americans as a whole oppose gay marriage. It’s decently easy to argue your case against allowing something to take place when 70% of Americans agree with you.

But that 70% opposition was back in the mid-90s. Ever since then, that number has been steadily declining as support for gay marriage ticked upwards. And now, in 2011, we have reached the point where the tables have officially turned.

ABC News and the Washington Post were the first the break the news in one of their polls back in March: for the first time in history, a majority of Americans support gay marriage — to the tune of 53%. Forty-four percent remain opposed.

Then in April, a CNN poll confirmed the results, coming in with 51% of Americans now supporting gay marriage.

And just last month, Gallup became the third pollster to confirm the trend. They showed a very similar 53/45 divide between support/opposition for gay marriage.

Don’t miss out on the immense importance of this moment, this turning point in the debate and discussion about gay marriage. Evangelical Christians had actually been losing the battle against gay marriage for decades — the only people still opposed to gay marriage are the older age ranges surveyed. Every subsequent generation became more and more accepting of gay marriage, unswayed by the passionate arguments from the evangelical community.

Why is this important? Because it should stand as a wake-up call to the Church, and to those who believe the Church ought to be in the culture war business. There are entire generations coming up now who have precisely zero interest in fighting the culture wars; they are so far removed from the 50s, 60s, and 70s that they have no framework within which to process culture war issues. What they do value is acceptance, equality, and justice — and will fight for the right for gays to marry on those grounds.

And really, I have to admit — even as a Jesus follower, their argument for love, equality, and justice kind of resonates with me more deeply than angry appeals to a certain interpretation of a deity’s moral code. “God said it” doesn’t exactly have the heart behind it that real people, real messy humanity, has.

I’m not saying I think gay marriage should be legal. Maybe it should be, maybe it shouldn’t be. Honestly, I am so torn on this issue — more than any other issue I can think of. But I do know that at a minimum, the Church has to change the way we approach gay marriage.

We are no longer preaching to the choir where 70% already agree with us. We are being left behind and rendered irrelevant by a generation who has a better story to tell than we do.

It’s compounded by the fact that 91% of folks outside the Church describe us as being “antihomosexual.” Not just antihomosexuality, but antihomosexual. We would do well to admit the whole “hate the sin, love the sinner” shtick has failed miserably, and spend some time in honest reflection about what we truly value.

I don’t have any answers to this… but I feel like opening the dialog is of vital importance. So it’s your turn now: how should we, as a Church, approach the issue of gay marriage? How do you feel about a majority of Americans now supporting gay marriage? Why do you think you feel that way?

And perhaps most importantly, how can we carry out God’s message of love and redemption to the gay community?

You tell me…

*The title of this post, of course, comes from one of the funniest episodes of Seinfeld ever, The Outing.

What Have Our Hands Wrought?

In the wake of recent high-profile incidents where at least three gay teenagers have committed suicide and others have been subject to horrendous harassment, the Church has stepped in and extended its hand in love and grace to the homosexual community – offering a haven of hope to an ostracized and persecuted population.

Oh, how badly I wish that sentence was true. But it isn’t. Not even close. And I despair over that fact.

Instead, the Church, especially those in the evangelical tradition, is offering little in the way of help or hope in the aftermath of these tragedies.

Gay and lesbian groups held a “Day of Silence” where gay and lesbian students were encouraged to remain silent between class periods as a way of bringing attention to the issues of bullying and harassment directed toward them. Churches urged Christian students to boycott school on that day.

Legislators and families are suggesting anti-bullying legislation focused especially on ending the bullying of gay teens. Christian groups and churches are fighting against this legislation because they say it legitimizes homosexuality as a lifestyle.

Seriously, Church – is this what we’ve become?!?

It legitimizes homosexuality? How about standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves? Whatever happened to protecting and caring for the distressed and outcast?

Church, it is time to take a good long look in the mirror. This is a potential tipping point for society. Gays are being bullied, persecuted, and driven to commit suicide, and meanwhile we sit back and offer nothing positive.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute reports that 65% of Americans believe the messages coming out of the American church about homosexuality contributes to high suicide rates among gay teens and youth.

Let me say that again so it sinks in.

65% of Americans believe the messages coming out of the American church about homosexuality contributes to high suicide rates among gay teens and youth.

72% say the message coming from the Church contributes to negative views of homosexual people.

Is this what Jesus came for? Was this his message? Was this his intended consequence – to drive people to kill themselves because of what we are teaching?

5% of Americans give churches an “A” grade for how they are handling the homosexuality issue.

Five percent. On the other end of the spectrum, 42% give churches either a “D” or an “F”.

Meanwhile, of those of us who are a part of a church, nearly 30% say we deserve an A for how we handle homosexuality. Almost another 20% say we deserve a “B”.

So 42% of culture give us failing grades, while 50% of Christians give ourselves an A or a B. And therein lies the problem. Church, are we listening?

Maybe it’s high time to admit that our confused message of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is having quite the opposite of its intended effect, and shift gears. I would suggest that the world is quite aware of what we believe about homosexuality. So maybe churches can follow some of the best advice our moms used to give us – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

But it’s got to go so much further than that.

I envision a world where Christian groups and Churches are leading the charge to enact anti-bullying legislation to protect gay teens, not fighting against it. A world where Christians don’t boycott Days of Silence, but participate in it with their classmates and friends. A world where we actually live out the message of Jesus – compassion, love, kindness, gentleness, peace, and redemption – in our everyday lives, instead of preaching some watered-down version of hate from our pulpits on Sunday mornings.

I can see the comments that are coming now: Matt, don’t you believe that homosexuality is a sin? It’s actually more loving to call a spade a spade so people can find forgiveness in Jesus and change their sexuality.

First of all, I’m not sure what I believe about homosexuality. If you forced me to pick a side, I’d end up saying yes, it is a sin, but I’m pretty much on the fence when it comes to that particular issue of doctrine.

But I believe firmly — even more firmly after reading about these teens who have committed suicide and the Church’s response to these events — that our doctrinal statements about homosexuality are not going to solve anything or contribute any hope to the situation.

We are talking about people’s lives. What good is it to cling so tightly to a doctrine that you’re so sure about when it’s contributing to the problem rather than the solution?

Teenagers killing themselves because of how the Church is dealing with homosexuality is not part of Jesus’ desire to see creation redeemed and shalom restored. I don’t know how I can say that more clearly.

Doctrine isn’t going to save these teenagers. Christians standing up and taking action on the front lines is. So Church, let’s get out there and live the message of Jesus together. We can start by encouraging anti-bullying legislation. By participating in the next Day of Silence. By befriending and loving and accepting the people around us – not with any ulterior motives, but simply because they too, like us, were created in God’s image and because we are filled with a God who is love.

What Have Our Hands Wrought?

In the wake of recent high-profile incidents where at least three gay teenagers have committed suicide and others have been subject to horrendous harassment, the Church has stepped in and extended its hand in love and grace to the homosexual community – offering a haven of hope to an ostracized and persecuted population.

Oh, how badly I wish that sentence was true. But it isn’t. Not even close. And I despair over that fact.

Instead, the Church, especially those in the evangelical tradition, is offering little in the way of help or hope in the aftermath of these tragedies.

Gay and lesbian groups held a “Day of Silence” where gay and lesbian students were encouraged to remain silent between class periods as a way of bringing attention to the issues of bullying and harassment directed toward them. Churches urged Christian students to boycott school on that day.

Legislators and families are suggesting anti-bullying legislation focused especially on ending the bullying of gay teens. Christian groups and churches are fighting against this legislation because they say it legitimizes homosexuality as a lifestyle.

Seriously, Church – is this what we’ve become?!?

It legitimizes homosexuality? How about standing up for those who can’t stand up for themselves? Whatever happened to protecting and caring for the distressed and outcast?

Church, it is time to take a good long look in the mirror. This is a potential tipping point for society. Gays are being bullied, persecuted, and driven to commit suicide, and meanwhile we sit back and offer nothing positive.

In fact, a recent survey conducted by Public Religion Research Institute reports that 65% of Americans believe the messages coming out of the American church about homosexuality contributes to high suicide rates among gay teens and youth.

Let me say that again so it sinks in.

65% of Americans believe the messages coming out of the American church about homosexuality contributes to high suicide rates among gay teens and youth.

72% say the message coming from the Church contributes to negative views of homosexual people.

Is this what Jesus came for? Was this his message? Was this his intended consequence – to drive people to kill themselves because of what we are teaching?

5% of Americans give churches an “A” grade for how they are handling the homosexuality issue.

Five percent. On the other end of the spectrum, 42% give churches either a “D” or an “F”.

Meanwhile, of those of us who are a part of a church, nearly 30% say we deserve an A for how we handle homosexuality. Almost another 20% say we deserve a “B”.

So 42% of culture give us failing grades, while 50% of Christians give ourselves an A or a B. And therein lies the problem. Church, are we listening?

Maybe it’s high time to admit that our confused message of “hate the sin, love the sinner” is having quite the opposite of its intended effect, and shift gears. I would suggest that the world is quite aware of what we believe about homosexuality. So maybe churches can follow some of the best advice our moms used to give us – if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

But it’s got to go so much further than that.

I envision a world where Christian groups and Churches are leading the charge to enact anti-bullying legislation to protect gay teens, not fighting against it. A world where Christians don’t boycott Days of Silence, but participate in it with their classmates and friends. A world where we actually live out the message of Jesus – compassion, love, kindness, gentleness, peace, and redemption – in our everyday lives, instead of preaching some watered-down version of hate from our pulpits on Sunday mornings.

I can see the comments that are coming now: Matt, don’t you believe that homosexuality is a sin? It’s actually more loving to call a spade a spade so people can find forgiveness in Jesus and change their sexuality.

First of all, I’m not sure what I believe about homosexuality. If you forced me to pick a side, I’d end up saying yes, it is a sin, but I’m pretty much on the fence when it comes to that particular issue of doctrine.

But I believe firmly — even more firmly after reading about these teens who have committed suicide and the Church’s response to these events — that our doctrinal statements about homosexuality are not going to solve anything or contribute any hope to the situation.

We are talking about people’s lives. What good is it to cling so tightly to a doctrine that you’re so sure about when it’s contributing to the problem rather than the solution?

Teenagers killing themselves because of how the Church is dealing with homosexuality is not part of Jesus’ desire to see creation redeemed and shalom restored. I don’t know how I can say that more clearly.

Doctrine isn’t going to save these teenagers. Christians standing up and taking action on the front lines is. So Church, let’s get out there and live the message of Jesus together. We can start by encouraging anti-bullying legislation. By participating in the next Day of Silence. By befriending and loving and accepting the people around us – not with any ulterior motives, but simply because they too, like us, were created in God’s image and because we are filled with a God who is love.

Pint and a Pipe Thursdays: Jennifer Knapp and Homosexuality

If you’re wondering what Pint and a Pipe Thursdays are all about, check out this post – and join in the conversation!

First of all, I wrestled with what to title this week’s Pint and a Pipe topic. I couldn’t boil it down to a single question. It earned its own separate post because it’s such a complicated issue. And when it finally came time to title this post, I was torn.

It’s not just about Jennifer Knapp. And it’s not just about homosexuality. It’s about both things. But what pains me about the title as it is now is that Jennifer Knapp is about so much more than her sexuality. She’s not just a lesbian. She’s a human being. She’s a musician. She’s an artist. She has hopes, fears, dreams, faults, talents, and beauty. And God uses her.

I want to start this post by pointing that out because that is what we so often lose sight of in this whole mess of a debate about homosexuality and the Bible and following Jesus. It becomes cold and impersonal – parsing verses, arguing about ancient Greek words, finding proof texts… and anytime something becomes impersonal I have to believe it absolutely breaks God’s heart. Because God is the God of relationship. Because he will do anything, to the point of allowing his own Son to die on a cruel torture device, to restore our relationships with him, with his creation, and with one another to what they were meant to be.

I don’t believe Jesus died and was resurrected so that we could sit here and argue about literally just half a dozen verses out of a narrative story with such great richness and depth (a story that encompasses over 31,000 verses in its entirety).

The story of how the Church has completely and utterly botched this issue is well known and can be found in a few short seconds anywhere on the internet or on the lips of the people it has affected. So let’s skip that part and talk about where we go from here.

I’ll be honest with you: I wish the Bible didn’t say anything about homosexuality. I really do. I’d love for that to be the case. But the Bible does say things about it and we’ve gotta deal with that.

What I do know is that the six or so verses that people in the Church use to hate on gays and lesbians are not nearly as clear-cut as they’re made out to be. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about a lack of hospitality and lack of concern for the poor way more than it is about sex (check out Ezekiel 16). The couple verses out of Leviticus are rightly thrown in with other “detestable abominations” such as eating shellfish and fortune telling. The verses in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and to Timothy use words that are pretty ambiguous in the Greek.

But I also know that some of the explanations offered to explain away those verses don’t make much sense, either. Like crying “shellfish!” every time someone brings up the verses in Leviticus. Something doesn’t become any less wrong just because you argue that we ignore other rules, too. The better conversation to have is whether or not we’re under the Law any longer, and what role the Old Covenant plays in our current relationships. And that still leaves the New Testament to deal with, and it seems to me a fairly humongous stretch to say Paul was talking solely about pagan temple prostitution towards the beginning of his letter to the Romans.

So I don’t find the arguments on either side entirely persuasive. Go figure. Maybe that’s the way God intended it to be, though. Maybe we’re supposed to wrestle with this issue. And maybe people like Jennifer Knapp help us to rethink where we stand on these sorts of things.

Because Jennifer Knapp loves God, and she makes incredible music. When I say God uses her, I’m not talking in some broad, generic feel-good sense like you tell high school graduates (“God’s going to use you! He’s got great plans for you!). I’m talking specifics. He uses Jennifer Knapp in my life to draw me closer to himself. Even the music she wrote after she came out as a lesbian.

What Jennifer does is put a face to the debate for many people. This issue is fun for conservative evangelical preachers to rail against from the pulpit when it’s faceless. But when your best friend or beloved teacher or son or daughter reveal that they are gay, well, that complicates things.

I don’t know many gays or lesbians. I don’t know any of them well. So maybe Jennifer Knapp is doing for me what a dearly loved friend or family member has already done for you: personalize the issue.

It reminds us that life in the Kingdom is all about relationships, not some faceless set of doctrine and rules. It reminds us that life following God is messy. It reminds us that we might not have everything figured out and that we still have a long way to go on this journey and a lot to learn. And, I dare say, it reminds us that the world doesn’t end when someone is gay.

What would I tell Jennifer if I could tell her one thing? Easy: God loves you. The infinite God of the universe is bursting with pure and passionate love for you. That, and I would tell her that she makes amazing music that draws me deep into the heart of God. I think since she’s human, she’d appreciate the encouragement.

Anything beyond that can come from people she’s actually in relationship and community with, because it’s not about who’s right and wrong and who has the better doctrine. It’s not about convincing a human being that has wrestled and struggled with this issue on an intensely personal level for a decade that everything she’s come to believe is wrong.

It’s about relationship.

The better we do at remembering that, the better and more God-glorifying our responses to this issue (and many others) are going to be.

——————————-

Now it’s your turn! Put your post up on your blog (including a link back to The Welcome Matt), and then add your voice to the conversation by filling out the Linky below. (Include your blog name in the title of your post so people will know where they’re going when they click on it!) Read everyone else’s and leave some comment love for folks.

Thanks for participating in Pint and a Pipe Thursday, and enjoy the dialog.

Pint and a Pipe Thursdays: Jennifer Knapp and Homosexuality

If you’re wondering what Pint and a Pipe Thursdays are all about, check out this post – and join in the conversation!

First of all, I wrestled with what to title this week’s Pint and a Pipe topic. I couldn’t boil it down to a single question. It earned its own separate post because it’s such a complicated issue. And when it finally came time to title this post, I was torn.

It’s not just about Jennifer Knapp. And it’s not just about homosexuality. It’s about both things. But what pains me about the title as it is now is that Jennifer Knapp is about so much more than her sexuality. She’s not just a lesbian. She’s a human being. She’s a musician. She’s an artist. She has hopes, fears, dreams, faults, talents, and beauty. And God uses her.

I want to start this post by pointing that out because that is what we so often lose sight of in this whole mess of a debate about homosexuality and the Bible and following Jesus. It becomes cold and impersonal – parsing verses, arguing about ancient Greek words, finding proof texts… and anytime something becomes impersonal I have to believe it absolutely breaks God’s heart. Because God is the God of relationship. Because he will do anything, to the point of allowing his own Son to die on a cruel torture device, to restore our relationships with him, with his creation, and with one another to what they were meant to be.

I don’t believe Jesus died and was resurrected so that we could sit here and argue about literally just half a dozen verses out of a narrative story with such great richness and depth (a story that encompasses over 31,000 verses in its entirety).

The story of how the Church has completely and utterly botched this issue is well known and can be found in a few short seconds anywhere on the internet or on the lips of the people it has affected. So let’s skip that part and talk about where we go from here.

I’ll be honest with you: I wish the Bible didn’t say anything about homosexuality. I really do. I’d love for that to be the case. But the Bible does say things about it and we’ve gotta deal with that.

What I do know is that the six or so verses that people in the Church use to hate on gays and lesbians are not nearly as clear-cut as they’re made out to be. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is about a lack of hospitality and lack of concern for the poor way more than it is about sex (check out Ezekiel 16). The couple verses out of Leviticus are rightly thrown in with other “detestable abominations” such as eating shellfish and fortune telling. The verses in Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and to Timothy use words that are pretty ambiguous in the Greek.

But I also know that some of the explanations offered to explain away those verses don’t make much sense, either. Like crying “shellfish!” every time someone brings up the verses in Leviticus. Something doesn’t become any less wrong just because you argue that we ignore other rules, too. The better conversation to have is whether or not we’re under the Law any longer, and what role the Old Covenant plays in our current relationships. And that still leaves the New Testament to deal with, and it seems to me a fairly humongous stretch to say Paul was talking solely about pagan temple prostitution towards the beginning of his letter to the Romans.

So I don’t find the arguments on either side entirely persuasive. Go figure. Maybe that’s the way God intended it to be, though. Maybe we’re supposed to wrestle with this issue. And maybe people like Jennifer Knapp help us to rethink where we stand on these sorts of things.

Because Jennifer Knapp loves God, and she makes incredible music. When I say God uses her, I’m not talking in some broad, generic feel-good sense like you tell high school graduates (“God’s going to use you! He’s got great plans for you!). I’m talking specifics. He uses Jennifer Knapp in my life to draw me closer to himself. Even the music she wrote after she came out as a lesbian.

What Jennifer does is put a face to the debate for many people. This issue is fun for conservative evangelical preachers to rail against from the pulpit when it’s faceless. But when your best friend or beloved teacher or son or daughter reveal that they are gay, well, that complicates things.

I don’t know many gays or lesbians. I don’t know any of them well. So maybe Jennifer Knapp is doing for me what a dearly loved friend or family member has already done for you: personalize the issue.

It reminds us that life in the Kingdom is all about relationships, not some faceless set of doctrine and rules. It reminds us that life following God is messy. It reminds us that we might not have everything figured out and that we still have a long way to go on this journey and a lot to learn. And, I dare say, it reminds us that the world doesn’t end when someone is gay.

What would I tell Jennifer if I could tell her one thing? Easy: God loves you. The infinite God of the universe is bursting with pure and passionate love for you. That, and I would tell her that she makes amazing music that draws me deep into the heart of God. I think since she’s human, she’d appreciate the encouragement.

Anything beyond that can come from people she’s actually in relationship and community with, because it’s not about who’s right and wrong and who has the better doctrine. It’s not about convincing a human being that has wrestled and struggled with this issue on an intensely personal level for a decade that everything she’s come to believe is wrong.

It’s about relationship.

The better we do at remembering that, the better and more God-glorifying our responses to this issue (and many others) are going to be.

——————————-

Now it’s your turn! Put your post up on your blog (including a link back to The Welcome Matt), and then add your voice to the conversation by filling out the Linky below. (Include your blog name in the title of your post so people will know where they’re going when they click on it!) Read everyone else’s and leave some comment love for folks.

Thanks for participating in Pint and a Pipe Thursday, and enjoy the dialog.

Homosexuality

If this post was called “poverty,” would it elicit the same emotional response as the actual title did?

I happened across an incredibly thought-provoking article entitled “Coming Out of the Judgmental Closet” on how the church deals with homosexuality yesterday and wanted to share some of it along with my comments.

The jumping off point is an elder in a local church who doesn’t believe he can walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day – because she’s a lesbian. The blogger then offers these thoughts on the subject:

I think churches have a very good understanding of morality. With hawk-eyed perception we distinguish right from wrong, which is, in its own right a very good thing. But here I want to incorporate compassion with our morality, which in the end might change everything but that’s what compassion does . . . it changes things. If you’ve been around the church at all then you know that non-judgmental compassion is delicate work. Few do it well. To see something wrong with someone and still have compassion for them is an art. Jesus and a few saints throughout history are about the only ones to do this with success. I am suggesting that in general that we have floundered in our response to sin…

Why do we have so much religious fervor against homosexuality and so little in regards to social injustice and poverty? Poverty alone is mentioned more than two-thousand times in the Bible. And yet for the most part we are un-jarring in our resistance to homosexuality. It should be just as nauseating to us when we see someone starving and shivering down on Burnside as it is when we see two men holding hands in the mall, or cuddling on a couch…

It is easier, safer and cleaner to stand aside and call a spade a spade, than it is to enter into that spade and transforms it into, let’s say, a heart…

No doubt about it homosexuality is as old as we are. And in the book of Romans chapter one Paul explicitly mentions homosexuality amongst a grotesque list of sin – read the list – we are all guilty. But remember that Paul doesn’t only tell the Romans that they are screwed-up, no, he goes on further and offers an apostolic remedy to the human problem of sin. After accurate spade-calling Paul reminds them of what changes people’s hearts. Paul bolsters that the only thing worthy of repentance is the kindness of God (2:4). And as imitators of God, I think Paul wants Christians everywhere to respond to sin with tenderness, patience and compassion…

It appears as a no-brainer to me that the homosexual community will always be convinced of where the church (in general) stands on this issue. And I think it would be absurd for Dan and Laura to think that their daughter would some day wake up and think, “Mom and dad and the Church now accept my lifestyle.” That’s absurd. The point has been made and the point is clear. The church has belabored her stance on this…

[L]et me quote C.S. Lewis when he says that Plato was right after all when he said that “Eros (love), turned upside down, blackened, distorted, and filthy, still bore the traces of his divinity” (Surprised by Joy)…

Those are some frighteningly and scandalously grace-filled thoughts that threaten to shake the foundations of the conversation regarding homosexuality. But putting those thoughts into practice requires even more courage. At the end of the article, the writer shares the advice he gave to the couple whose daughter was marrying her partner:

“I encouraged them to attend and even attempt to help plan the wedding. I want to see her face when she turns around wearing her dress or tux and sees her slightly reluctant but loving father with an arm extended down the aisle. The Kingdom of God is swiftly advancing and it is because of acts like these that it will continue.”

Now that I have children, I have to wonder: if one of them chose to be gay or was born gay or whatever the case may be, how would I respond? Would I go to a wedding like that? Would I help plan a wedding like that?

There are parts of me that scream absolutely not. But there are increasingly larger parts of me that would like to think I would. This is still an issue that I am deeply torn and confused about, because it escapes the narrowly defined black-and-white ideas that people on both sides present it as.

The part that caught my attention the most, however, was this line: “It appears as a no-brainer to me that the homosexual community will always be convinced of where the church (in general) stands on this issue. The point has been made and the point is clear. The church has belabored her stance on this.”

I think it’s time to belabor grace now. I just don’t know exactly what that looks like…