Friday, July 3, 2015

On Same-Sex Marriage: Beyond the Courtroom and Closet to the Table



A gay friend shared with me today how delighted he is in the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage; he spoke of how the ruling brought validation to same-sex couples he knows who have waited for years for equal rights. Yesterday a friend on the other side of the issue shared her consternation. Many people with social conservative convictions fear that they and their views will be consigned to the closet, just like gays and lesbians in the past (See this article and video). I would assume many of you have friends whose emotions and convictions range across the spectrum on this issue. But how often do you and I sit down together with all of them to listen and share? We need to take the conversation from the court room and the closet to the table.

My friend and colleague Dr. Brad Harper is writing a book with his son, Drew. Like me, Brad holds to a traditional view of marriage based on our reading of Christian Scripture. His son Drew is a self-professed gay man, who recently penned an article titled “I Infiltrated an ‘Ex-Gay’ Group in New York City—And This Is What It Did to Me.” Father and son are writing a book together. Drew writes the following of his relationship with Brad, their book, and the “other”:
In the coming months, my father and I are releasing a book, Space At The Table: Conversations Between an Evangelical Theologian and His Gay Son. He and I don’t believe the same things. But we’ve found a way to maintain a loving relationship amid that. This is the kind of story I wish America heard more often. Recognizing the humanity of an “other” is something this discourse still lacks profoundly — from both sides.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Sermon on the Mount according to Congressional Jesus


Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For they can get a job at minimum wage.

Blessed are those who mourn,
For they made their bad decisions and must suffer the consequences.

Blessed are the meek,
For we can take advantage of them.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For we can promise them free food to get them to vote for us.

Blessed are the merciful,
For we will remove them from their positions for not being “tough on crime.”
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they are the most gullible.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they know how to make peace through war.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake,
For they will turn over secrets about their terrorist activities.

Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for this proves that you are standing up for the right things in the right way.


Desiring the End(s) of Salvation

J. Todd Billings

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. –C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, and Other Addresses

In my theology classes, I often assign works from 4th- and 5th-century theologians debating about Christ and the trinity. These theologians stand in awe before the reality of the Triune God – they stutter with words of poetry and praise as they worship Christ the Lord. They meditate on the astonishing scriptural truth that we have been made adopted sons and daughters of the Almighty King, through the power of the Spirit.
Reformed theologians do not hesitate in speaking about the uniting communion that we experience now – and will experience in fullness – in Christ.
In reading these sources, students are often surprised – even scandalized – to read statements such as “God became human so that we might become God.” Isn’t that … blasphemy? Don’t Christians believe that it is sinful to ascend to the place of God? I love it when they ask these questions. I point back to the text, the way in which the patristic authors clarify and unpack the phrase: that “becoming God” doesn’t mean becoming absorbed into the Godhead, like a drip of water into the ocean. In Christian teaching, it is not an attempt to usurp the place of the Creator by creatures. Rather, in a hyperbolic turn of phrase, the patristic writers point to the incredible way in which the ends of salvation are shaped not so much by the first Adam as by the second: God became human in Jesus Christ – the Son of God – so that we might become sons and daughters of the Most High. Salvation does not just “fix” sin and the fall. It is higher, bigger, more breathtaking than that: through our union with Christ, the Son, we come to share in his royal identity and inheritance, as adopted children of the King through the Spirit. We are “deified” insofar as we are able to be fully conformed to the glorified Christ, in blessed communion with the Triune God.


Wednesday, July 1, 2015

On Being On The Wrong Side of History



(Caveat: The argument I am about to make has nothing to do with promoting the agenda for or against the Christian support of Same Sex Marriage. It is solely about this argument that is often used to urge church support for it)

When someone tells me “we need to be on the right side of history” I look quizzical and ask whose history? Which history are you talking about? Has anyone been reading literature these past forty years (the beginning of postmodernity)? There is no one interpretation of history. There are multiple histories. To claim one history is right over another is an imperialist move of first order magnitude. Have we just reverted back to Enlightenment fascism? There’s only one history and we own it?
Usually by the time someone says something like this, the right side of history has already been determined. And, using this argument, I am being asked to make a decision between being on the right side and wrong side. The discussion is over. The whole discussion on being on the right side of history is a discussion ender. Who the hell wants to be on the wrong side of history? It’s another instance of Godwin’s law, that law that says when you bring up Hitler, all discussion ends. By the way, if there ever was a good example of the claim to be on the right side of history, it was the Third Reich and all the German churchmen that joined in with that believing this was God at work in history.

Most often people use the argument like this: The church was behind on the abolition of slavery. We were late on being on the right side of history. The church was behind on equal rights of women and women’s suffrage. We again were late on being on the right side of history. Let’s not make the same mistake now regarding Gay/Lesbian Marriage.
Huh? This is not the way I read this history.


Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I Believe in the Church

I believe in the church; I believe in the church in America.

Yet, I also believe that Stanley Hauerwas is correct to claim that “God is killing the mainline church in America, and we g$%d*#n well deserve it. I believe he is right about non-mainline churches as well.

I believe in the church though we have little more than a few glimmers of it here. You have to look hard to find it.

Yet I believe in the church, even here in America, because I believe God raised Jesus from the dead. And some have already surrendered to the death of church as we have known it opening themselves to resurrection and new life.

For God will not leave himself without a witness.

And that witness shines most genuinely when a people of God live in simple solidarity with the desperate and downtrodden, those who hunger and thirst for the bread of life and the word of God, those who are fearful of and hopeless in this world.

When cathedrals become shelters and feeding centers for the poor, our liturgy after the liturgy of worship, there is the church.

When we relocate among the neighborhoods of poor and working class people, to befriend and be friended by them, share the joys and struggles of life with them, to pray together with them, holding them always in God's gracious presence, resisting the injustices and inhumanities the powers that be foist upon us because we seem powerless to resist, and our lives take on cruciform shape, there is the church.

When outcasts and those bearing (holy) stigmata that leave them beyond the pale of social respectability and acceptance find a home with and among us, there is the church.

“Those are the people who go into underprivileged areas and form organizations to help nurture stable families. Those are the people who build community institutions in places where they are sparse. Those are the people who can help us think about how economic joblessness and spiritual poverty reinforce each other. Those are the people who converse with us about the transcendent in everyday life.” Thus David Brooks describes a hopeful future for social conservatives in the U.S. ( This too is a call the church-to-come in America embraces with all the diversity of its people and their gifts for ministry.

Yes, God is killing the church in North America. And we do well deserve it. But beyond death lies resurrrection and therein the hope for a (very different) future than it has heretofore known on this continent.

The Next Culture War

The Next Culture War

JUNE 30, 2015
Christianity is in decline in the United States. The share of Americans who describe themselves as Christians and attend church is dropping. Evangelical voters make up a smaller share of the electorate. Members of the millennial generation are detaching themselves from religious institutions in droves.

Christianity’s gravest setbacks are in the realm of values. American culture is shifting away from orthodox Christian positions on homosexuality, premarital sex, contraception, out-of-wedlock childbearing, divorce and a range of other social issues. More and more Christians feel estranged from mainstream culture. They fear they will soon be treated as social pariahs, the moral equivalent of segregationists because of their adherence to scriptural teaching on gay marriage. They fear their colleges will be decertified, their religious institutions will lose their tax-exempt status, their religious liberty will come under greater assault.

The Supreme Court’s gay marriage decision landed like some sort of culminating body blow onto this beleaguered climate. Rod Dreher, author of the truly outstanding book “How Dante Can Save Your Life,” wrote an essay in Time in which he argued that it was time for Christians to strategically retreat into their own communities, where they could keep “the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness.”

Monday, June 29, 2015

Hoping for Love


My friend Alan Jacobs, a traditional sort of Anglican Christian, wrote this the day after the Obergefell ruling:
Perhaps I am soft on sin, or otherwise deficient in serious Christian formation — actually, it’s certain that I am — but in any case I could not help being moved by many of the scenes yesterday of gay people getting married, even right here in Texas. I hope that many American gays and lesbians choose marriage over promiscuity, and I hope those who marry stay married, and flourish.
I know what he’s saying. I felt that too.
But I was thinking more today, What is that experience? For those of us like me who hold to a Christian view of marriage that contradicts the SCOTUS definition, what does it mean to be moved by scenes of gay marriage?
Well, for starters—and I’m speaking for myself here, not necessarily for Alan—I think that for many, many (not all) gay people in America today, the options have not been (1) belong to a healthy, vibrant Christian community in which celibacy is held in high esteem and deep spiritual friendships with members of the same sex and opportunities for loving service and hospitality abound or (2) be in a romantic relationship with a partner of the same sex. That has not been the choice facing many gay and lesbian people. Instead, for many (not all) today, the options have been (1) be ostracized (or worse) in church and effectively live without meaningful same-sex closeness of any kind or (2) be in a romantic relationship with a partner of the same sex. Listen, readers, this is the reality for many gay people who have had a brush with the Christian church in recent years:
So many people have been told (explicitly) that they aren’t welcome, treated as problems rather than persons. They’ve been disowned, had their trust betrayed and their confidences exposed, been kicked out of their homes and their churches, threatened with expulsion. They’ve listened as preachers proclaimed that people like them were destroying the church, that their desires were uniquely and Satanically destructive, that homosexuality by its nature cut them off from God; that their only hope for a faithful Christian life was to repent of their homosexuality, become straight, and get married. All by Christians who claimed that their actions were the result of their faith in Jesus.
And often this abuse—I know labels can obscure complexity but in this case I think naming the abuse is important—is inflicted on people who are trying to live out the full Christian sexual ethic. The treatment they receive would be unjustifiable even if (and even when) they reject Christian teaching on homosexuality, but what’s sort of amazing is that simply self-identifying as gay or even “struggling with same-sex attraction” will earn you condemnation and shame in many Christian communities. Your shame is treated as a sign of faith; any hints of self-acceptance are treated as rejection of God. It should come as little surprise that many of the people who receive this mistreatment eventually reject (what I believe to be) the Christian sexual ethic, and often reject Christianity entirely.
So, I think part of the reason I got a lump in my throat on Friday as I was scrolling through news feeds and seeing gay friends’ pictures pop up on Facebook and Twitter is because I know that for so many of these people, the alternative to their current jubilation has been a gulf of loneliness and marginalization. I persist in believing in the traditional Christian picture of marriage—what G. K. Chesterton once called a “triangle of truisms,” i.e., “father, mother and child”—but I know that when many people depart from it, they’re doing so after undergoing a significant amount of ill-treatment.
And that brings me to the other thing I want to say. The so-called Great Tradition of the Christian faith, the ecumenical mainstream, if you like, has always held, since the earliest days of the apostles (see the infamous Romans 1 passage of St. Paul), that sexual coupling between members of the same sex is immoral. But that traditional teaching has focused its condemnation on the sex acts themselves, not on the legitimate human desire for closeness that may or may not accompany those acts. In other words, traditional Christian teaching has said that gay sex misses the mark of the Creator’s design of human bodies and of marriage: it takes something intended for procreation and male-and-female spousal bonding and care and makes it about something else. (This was the point of Melinda Selmys’ recent post on concubinage.) But that same teaching certainly isn’t condemning all the things about “gay culture” that give us those weepy chills when we see them at their best. Historic Christianity certainly isn’t saying that gay people themselves or their partners are somehow irretrievably perverse and that all their longings and loves are any further removed from God’s design than their heterosexual neighbors’ are.