Knock, Knock, Knockin’ on Kevin’s Door: Kevin DeYoung and Gay Exclusion in the Kingdom of God

Kevin DeYoung of Gospel Coalition fame has recently published a small book entitled, “What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?” Russell Moore, current head of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, states on the back cover of DeYoung’s book “Every Christian should read this book.”

After reading DeYoung’s book I cannot say I share Moore’s enthusiasm. Although the book does give one a simplistic overview of the Conservative stance on same sex relations and exclusion of sexually active Gays from inclusion in the Kingdom of God, it is disappointedly lacking in sound Biblical exegesis.

DeYoung criticizes Progressives (Liberals) for building their arguments on silence (Jesus does not directly address it), yet, like Preston Sprinkle in his recent book, “A People to be Loved,” bases a great deal of his argument on the assumption that egalitarian same sex relations had to have been known to Paul and Jesus therefore Jesus did not have to mention homosexuality directly in his condemnation of pornea (fornication). Likewise, Paul must have known about egalitarian same sex as well, therefore his condemnation must have included all types of SS sexual behavior. This assumption is based itself to a large degree on silence.

Starting off, DeYoung bases his argument on the Levitical Holiness Code of the Old Testament: Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 “you shall not lie with a male as with a woman.” Two Greek words are used in the Septuagint translation: arsenos and koiten. Paul combines the two separate words to coin a new phrase used in 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy literally meaning bedders of men.

First off, DeYoung, in tying Paul closely to Levitical Law, reflects a general trend among conservative Christians of creating a hybrid of Mosaic Law and Gospel Grace. Despite Paul’s general rejection of The Law in favor of the inward working of the Holy Spirit, conservatives like DeYoung seem honor bound to cherry pick favorite verses from the Pentateuch to point out the sins of others.

Did Paul, in addressing the church at Rome, have all same sex relations in mind, as DeYoung declares, or was he addressing a unique situation? Curiously absent from both DeYoung’s and Sprinkle’s assessment of Romans 1 is the inclusion of verses 29-37. In these verses Paul further clarifies the character of the of the men and women who “committed shameless acts” (v.27) and were therefore “worthy of death” (v. 32) and anchors the entire passage into a unique period of Roman history.

The omission, I am sure, is intentional, as it weakens both Preston’s and DeYoung’s argument considerably. Verses 29-37:
“They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” (ESV)

Likewise, the switch to the vocative that Paul uses beginning in Romans chapter 2 is not discussed, which is odd as the whole context of chapter 1 hinges on Paul’s condemnation of those who pride themselves on not sharing in the Roman licentiousness. Something conservatives should take note of: “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” Some scholars see Romans 1:18-32 as evidence of an early Jewish polemic against Gentiles rather than Paul’s own thoughts. (1)

Paul’s description reveals a justifiable, deep revulsion of what we know of Roman sexual practices. His extreme indictment would seem out of place leveled against today’s Gay Christians or those in the LGBTQ community trying to live loving, committed lives in a society that has been historically hostile towards them. If Paul was indeed including loving committed SS relations, as DeYoung states, then we have a problem with perjury, or bearing false witness.

Likewise, in a few other passages, Paul includes SS activity placed among a list of other sins, but there is no indication that he has now switched gears to talk about committed “Gay” relations. Indeed, the severity of some of the sins, slave sellers, liars, murderers, etc., indicates he still has the same individuals in mind as described in Romans 1.

What the Religious Right, Preston Sprinkle and Kevin DeYoung have attempted to do is take a unique circumstance out of its historical context and make a universal application that transcends time and place. Did Paul have a personal aversion to committed SS relations? Since we have no written record from him addressing that, we simply do not know. What I have seen time and time again is the Right basing their assessment of homosexual behavior on the belief that Paul’s description in Romans 1:29-37 accurately describes Gays today. Hence the references to “abomination” by luminaries of the Right like Falwell and Robertson, and hate groups such as Westboro Baptist and their “God Hates Fags” signs.

Like DeYoung, in “A People to be Loved,” Preston Sprinkle has presented Evangelicals with a roadmap to continue to discriminate against the LGBTQ community, yet feel better about themselves in the process. Discrimination without guilt, stone throwing but with softer words of condemnation. Sprinkle covers no new ground in this book, which was disappointing.

While repeatedly admitting the church’s failure to be loving towards Gays, Sprinkle fails to admit the underlying presuppositions about Scripture that plague Neo-Fundamentalists and bog them down in 19th century attitudes about the relationships of God and man. His is not a Cruciform theology, but one bound to an inerrant, infallible Bible. The unspoken and taken for granted assumption is that God has spoken definitively, once and for all time, through Scripture, how mankind is to structure itself socially. What traditional marriage proponents, like Sprinkle have given us is first century marital codes filtered through Western 19th century Victorian standards of propriety.

I hope to address in a future post the underlying hermeneutical problems of fundamentalism and it’s odd blending of a wrathful God and a loving God. The failure to consistently interpret the God of the OT through the lens of Christ continually hamstrings conservatives from worshipping a truly “Christlike God.” (2) rather than the Gospel being “good news” it ends up being an alternate legal system replacing the Law of the OT.

(1) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2013/10/romans-126-27-a-clobber-passage-that-should-lose-its-wallop/
(2) See Bradley Jersak, “A More Christlike God, a More Beautiful Gospel,” and Gregory A. Boyd, “Crucifixion of the Warrior God.”

The Nashville Statement and Patriarchy

The recent Nashville Statement (1) on human sexuality is the latest attempt by the Religious Right to position male-female complementarianism, patriarchy and gender stereotypes as the Biblical norm for today, based largely on the ancient cultural norm in which male dominance and female subservience was the norm. One of the main problems with the belief that the Bible paints a clear picture of “one man, one woman,” is…that it does not. The truth is conservatives must carefully pick and choose their verses to support their thesis, conveniently overlooking the much more numerous passages that portray the ugly side of patriarchy and submission.

Contrary to most evangelical thinking, while the NT gives us excellent advice on loving our enemies and our neighbors as ourselves, the Bible, as a whole is a mixed bag on the issue of “Biblical Marriage.” With Biblical marriages involving polygamy, concubines, maid servants, spoils of war, sisters-in-laws, rape victims, etc., conservatives must do a lot of cherry picking to come up with a definitive view of marriage.

So, the basic quandary behind the Religious Right’s rejection of non binary human relationships and identity is the question of whether or not the “Biblical” model of sexual relationships is culturally informed and outdated, or whether strictly male-female complimentarianism and male headship (2) should be the cultural norm for moderns. As evident from the Nashville Statement, most evangelicals believe the latter, although headship is not specifically mentioned here. The traditionalist stance presented in the Nashville Statement is based, in large, on a specific biblical hermeneutic that is literal and believes the Bible is without error. But pushing for a literal, inerrant understanding of the texts poses problems for the definition of Biblical marriage. If one would follow the various examples of marriage in the Bible religiously and consistently, Christian marriage would differ little from that of Islamic fundamentalism. What conservative evangelicals have done to soften the hard edges of this fact is to couch male dominance in the language of “complimentarianism.” In other words, men and women have separate but equal clearly defined roles. We have heard “separate, but equal” used before and it never truly means “equal.”

This is not to say that all evangelicals hold to a strict male headship relationship of human sexuality and gender role. The minority model I grew up with was “mutual submission,” which is more egalitarian and follows a much more Christlike attitude of serving one another. It also follows the broad outline of Paul’s discussion of marriage in 1 Corinthians 7 and Ephesians 5.

Behind the language of the Nashville Statement, is a history of a cultural shift from evangelicalism to fundamentalism within the Southern Baptist denomination. As David Gushee points out, fundamentalists within the denomination waged a fierce battle for control of the Southern Baptist convention between 1979 and 1993. What resulted was a decisive string of victories within the SBC that put fundamentalists firmly in control. In, turn, these men made sure that women and moderates were forced out of teaching positions within Baptist colleges as well as diminishing the role of women within the denomination. (3) Prior to 1979, Christian fundamentalism’s primary hand-wringing involved the Civil Rights movement and resistance to Black equality and the “mixing of the races.” But as Gushee puts it, “by the late 1970s, a different strategy was developed on the conservative side, focusing especially on traditionalist Christian discomfort with the women’s movement, the sexual revolution, and the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision on abortion…This proved a more appealing agenda for conservative Christian consumption than directly attacking progress in racial integration and black empowerment.” (4)

The shift from outright racism (which is still very much alive among fundamentalists) to “family values,” i.e., anti- feminism, anti-Gay, anti-abortion, is very much based on a traditional male headship model, as presented in scripture. One would wonder why evangelical and fundamentalist men would be so upset by Gay marriage, but the answer is simple: non binary individuals fall outside the control of male headship. They don’t fit into a patriarchal scheme of human sexuality. Which begs the question, in an egalitarian society, where an individual’s self worth and purpose is not based on their genitalia, exactly what value does male headship bring to the table? If divorce rates among evangelicals are any indication, the answer is, none, as the rate of failed marriages mirrors that of society as a whole.

The tragedy of the Nashville Statement is that it closes the door to dialogue about human sexuality, and attempts to rigidly compartmentalize gender stereotypes, ignoring the realities of gender and sexuality. It also closes the door to further understanding and reform amongst evangelicals. The door too has been shut on careful consideration of the Biblical passages themselves, preferring a inerrant, literal hermeneutic that does not take into consideration a great many things: culturally bound materials, story as opposed to historical facts, and a general inability to differentiate Kingdom principals from cultural mores. It has sadly become all too apparent that fundamentalists favor law over Grace, continuing over a century of vigorously defending indefensible attitudes towards race, women, violence and sexual minorities. This needs to stop.

1. https://www.scribd.com/mobile/document/357531494/The-Nashville-Statement
2. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarianism
3. David P. Gushee, “Still Christian, Following Jesus out of American Evangelicalism,” see chapter 3.
4. Ibid., p. 32.

Why Autocrats Fear LGBT Rights

I ran across this very insightful article this morning posted on Facebook. I thought it presented a clear statement of the underlying reasons for homophobia in the world. The article is by Masha Gessen and can be found here:
http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2017/07/27/why-autocrats-fear-lgbt-rights-trump/

“July 26, 2017, was a personal anniversary for me: one year earlier I had written a piece in which I argued for setting aside the idea of a Trump-Russia conspiracy (yes, this idea was with us a year ago) for the much more important task of imagining what a Trump presidency might bring. I wrote that Trump would unleash a war at home and while it was difficult to predict the target, “my money is actually on the LGBT community because its acceptance is the most clear and drastic social change in America of the last decade, so an antigay campaign would capture the desire to return to a time in which Trump’s constituency felt comfortable.” This was a thought exercise; even as I made an argument that I believed to be logical, I could not believe my own words. On Wednesday of this week, one year to the day since I made that prediction, President Trump announced, by tweet, that transgender people would no longer be allowed to serve in the US military—a policy reversal that would directly and immediately affect thousands of people.

Many commentators immediately branded this move a distraction, an attempt to draw attention away from the Russian-conspiracy story, the health care battle, or anything else they deem more important than the president’s declaration that a group of Americans are second-class citizens. This is not only a grievous insult to transgender people but a basic failure to understand the emotional logic of Trumpism. This is a logic that Trump shares with most modern-day strongmen, and it was this logic that made his attack on LGBT rights so predictable, even while he was literally draping a rainbow flag over his body last year.

Trump got elected on the promise of a return to an imaginary past—a time we don’t remember because it never actually was, but one when America was a kind of great that Trump has promised to restore. Trumps shares this brand of nostalgia with Vladimir Putin, who has spent the last five years talking about Russian “traditional values,” with Hungarian president Viktor Orbán, who has warned LGBT people against becoming “provocative,” and with any number of European populists who promise a return to a mythical “traditional” past.

With few exceptions, countries that have grown less democratic in recent years have drawn a battle line on the issue of LGBT rights. Moscow has banned Pride parades and the “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations,” while Chechnya—technically a region of Russia—has undertaken a campaign to purge itself of queers. In Budapest, the Pride march has become an annual opposition parade: many, if not most, participants are straight people who use the day to come out against the Orbán government. In Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey, water cannons were used to disperse an Istanbul Pride parade. Narendra Modi’s India has re-criminalized homosexuality (though transgender rights have been preserved). In Egypt, where gays experienced new freedoms in the brief interlude of democracy after the 2011 revolution, they are now, under Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s dictatorship, subjected to constant harassment and surveillance and hundreds have been arrested.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel is a telling exception to the rule: the government has touted its record on LGBT rights precisely to assert its otherwise tattered democratic credentials—a tactic the writer Sarah Schulman has termed “pinkwashing.” In other words, queer rights are anything but a distraction: they are a frontier, sometimes the frontier in the global turn toward autocracy.

The appeal of autocracy lies in its promise of radical simplicity, an absence of choice. In Trump’s imaginary past, every person had his place and a securely circumscribed future, everyone and everything was exactly as it seemed, and government was run by one man issuing orders that could not and need not be questioned. The very existence of queer people—and especially transgender people—is an affront to this vision. Trans people complicate things, throw the future into question by shaping their own, add layers of interpretation to appearances, and challenge the logic of any one man decreeing the fate of people and country.

One can laugh at the premise of the Russian ban on “homosexual propaganda”—as though the sight of queerdom openly displayed, or even the likeness of a rainbow (this claim has been made) can turn a straight person queer. At the same time, in Russia queer people make an ideal target for government propaganda because the very idea of them serves as a convenient stand-in for an entire era of liberalization that is now shunned. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, queerdom was unthinkable. Afterward, it became possible along with so many other things: the world became complicated, full of possibility and uncertainty. It also grew frightening—precisely because nothing was certain any longer.

This fear cuts across geographic borders; it feels much the same in countries that were never Communist and in societies that were never apparently closed. The precipitous loss of economic security, the disappearance of lifelong careers, the rising sense of a world transformed by the movement of people across borders have all coincided with the growing visibility of LGBT people. In America, too, the sight of a queer person can conjure the fear of change.

Trump’s campaign ran on the word “again,” the promises to “take back” a sense of safety and “bring back”  a simpler time. When he pledged to build the wall or to fight a variety of non-existent crime waves (urban, immigrant) he was promising to shield Americans from the strange, the unknown, the unpredictable. Here, too, queers can serve as convenient shorthand. By tweeting that he has decided to ban transgender people from the military, Trump shows that he is the autocrat that he was elected to be: he can control people by issuing an order. The order juxtaposes the military—the symbol of Americans’ security—with transgender people, who make so many Americans feel so anxious.

Looking at a person who embodies choice—the possibility of being or becoming different—can be like staring into the abyss of uncertainty. In this sense, seeing a Pride march or a trans person can make a straight person feel very queer: it demonstrates possibility, making the world frightening. It speaks to the modern predicament the social psychologist Erich Fromm wrote about in his book about the rise of Nazism, Escape from Freedom: the ability to invent oneself. One is no longer born a tradesman or a peasant, or the lifelong resident of a particular quarter, or a man or a woman. This freedom can feel like an unbearable burden. No wonder the most notorious piece of American anti-transgender legislation—the North Carolina bathroom bill—focused on the birth certificate as the most important document. In mandating that people use public bathrooms in accordance with the sex assigned at birth, the law created a situation where some people who looked, acted, smelled like—who identified and lived as—women were required to use the men’s bathroom, and vice versa—but it established that one’s position in the world was set from birth.

For the last half-century, the American LGBT movement has bent to accommodate the belief that a person’s identity is already present at birth. “Born this way” has been the mantra that has enabled many of the political advances and much of the cultural acceptance for LGBT people, even as it has pushed out of view many queer people’s lived experience of choice. But no amount of reassurance that LGBT people “can’t help it” can alleviate the anxiety brought on by the spectacle of people transgressing gender roles. This is the kind of anxiety Trump addressed as a candidate and has addressed again with his apparent promise to purge transgender people who are already serving in the military. This is no distraction: it is the very heart of Trumpism.”

Human Sexuality and Corporate Worship: Just the Tip of the Iceberg

What does human sexuality or sexual preference have to do with church worship services you might ask. But this is exactly the question Hillsong faced 2 years ago. There were a couple of talented Christian men leading worship at the New York campus. When it came out that the two were “courting” each other, all Evangelical hell broke lose. Outrage, condemnation and questioning of the denominations commitment to Christian principals. In other words, everything that conservative Christians seem to do best.

This is from an older Sojourner’s post that I contributed a number of comments to and interacted with some pretty upset Christians.

https://sojo.net/articles/why-gay-couple-barred-leading-worship-will-keep-singing-hillsong-church

The problems that conservative American-flavored Christianity faces in our post-modern society revolve around the conservative conflict with pluralism, diversity, inclusivity, freedom of individual expression and a world view that rejects legalism. The handwringing over SSM and inclusion of our Gay and Queer friends and neighbors incorporates all of these conflicts.

Predictably, the comments used in the post against SS relationships fall under the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah, comparisons to drunkenness, bestiality, incest and an appeal to God’s “moral law.”
The following excerpts from the Sojourner’s post’s comments illustrates this.

Cindy: “You do not know your Bible. Please go read it. GOD is very, very clear on this. It’s an abomination unto him. He destroyed the cities Sodom and Gomorrah because of its practice and other evil deeds. The men in that city were actually going to gang rape the Angels that were sent to tell Lot to get the heck out of there! Of course you can do the research yourself to find it throughout the Bible where it goes against the very nature, essence, Word, and obedience of GOD.”

Me: “Cindy, where in the Bible does it say S & G were destroyed because of homosexuality? Look as hard as you like, the Bible simply does not make that claim. The view that these cities were destroyed because of a bunch of Gay men is a presupposition first promulgated by the Western (Catholic) church and is not supported in Scripture. The men of those cities broke ancient rules concerning hospitality of strangers/foreigners in one’s town and the Bible clearly states as much (Ezekiel 16:48-50), as well as adultery and lies (Jeremiah 23:14, 49:17-18, 50:39-40, Lamentations 4:6) and in general, shameless sinning (Isaiah 1:9-10, 3:9, 13:19-22). Note Isaiah is comparing Babylon to S & G for sin in general, no mention of same sex interaction.

One must look at the socio-political situation in those cities at the time Lot and his wife and two virgin daughters moved into Sodom. In general the various cites in the plains were aligned with various different kings, who were at odds with each other. Things were dangerous and hostile. At one point S & G were taken captive as spoils of war and treated brutally. Then the tide turned and they won their freedom again. So when the angels arrived in Sodom, the men of the town did not recognize them as being on their side and assumed they were enemies. In ancient Semitic times what you often did with your enemies was rape them, not for sexual pleasure, but to show dominance, to disgrace them by treating them as a woman.

Note too, that Jesus describes the sins of towns that treated the disciples poorly as greater than the sins of S & G (Matthew 10:1-15, Luke 10:1-12), no mention of SS interaction but those towns rejection of the Gospel. Now, if you want to make it about homosexual behavior you will not find support in early Jewish thought but can find support within the Quran, which ties it to homosexual rape in particular.

It is curious, that within Jewish culture, where there were so many constraints on sexual behavior that they “missed” an opportunity to clearly define S & G’s sins as sexual, but did not.”

Christian: “You sound like a Democrat…” (honestly, he got me on that one)…”What does Christ say???” He then produces a list of “sins” from the Old Testament, claiming because Jesus and the Father are “one,” the list is Jesus’s list!

Me: “Christian, I am not quite sure why that is your name as you are obviously Jewish. You have quoted exclusively from Levitical Law. As a Gentile Christian I never was, nor will be under those laws. They were a covenant between YHWH and the Jews, read the Pauline letters to get a better grasp of this Kingdom truth. If you are Christian, then it seems to me that you have erroneously created a new set of Laws to follow, borrowing heavily from the old ones. Kingdom living under the New Covenant is not based on legalism but on a relationship with God built on love, not rule keeping. Now, if you want to understand SS relationships from a Christian standpoint you really need to keep to the New Testament.

Paul talks about SS relations in a few passages, but only in Romans does he go into detailed description about who these people are who engage in SS activities. He starts by clearly addressing Pagan Rome and its idolatry v. 18-23, God delivered them over to sexual impurity v. 24-15 (Roman orgies come to mind). Next Paul describes a downward spiral that includes SS activities v. 26-27. But, watch closely. Verses 28-32 describe who these people are. They do not acknowledge God, filled with unrighteousness, greed, evil, wickedness, envy, murder, quarrels, deceit and malice. Gossipers.slanderers, arrogant, proud, inventors of evil, unloving,etc..

Now if you can make a blanket accusation that all Gays are these things then you would be guilty of breaking the 9th commandment, bearing false witness. Modern day Gays are quite normal in most regards so the accusation of Paul’s does not fit. He was addressing a particular group of people at a particular time who were behaving quite badly. The problem for conservatives is that they take a specific situation that had specific people in mind, then generalize it to apply to all Gay people, regardless of their decency. We have seen that done repeatedly by conservative leadership such as James Dobson, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. This is shameless slander on their part, and quite unchristian.

But Paul doesn’t end there. Chapter 1 was setting the stage for the following chapters where he lambasts the Jews and their legalism and self righteousness. Understand that Paul makes no distinction between sexual orgies and religious self righteousness! In Paul’s thinking, both are equally displeasing to God. In fact, chapter 1 is not even his main point! Legalistic, religious self righteousness is, and he goes to some length to discuss it. The fact that so many conservatives stop with the passage on SS activity, just underscores my belief that they fail to understand that chapter 2 is actually addressing them!

Hopefully I have given you a new perspective to ponder. God bless.”

Joe: “So, are you saying that Paul is saying that homosexuality is sin as well as the other sins that he mentions. The people who condemn the homosexuals are also addressed as being sinners themselves. It just proofs the point, doesn’t it? Homosexuality is sin and unless you repent from it, including all the other sinners, and follow Christ as Master and Lord they will ALL die and burn in hell forever.
The hypocrite included. So, we are in agreement, liars must repent, receive Christ as Lord and allow Him to deliver you from lying/stealing/adultery et.
There is no such thing as a Christian murderer, liar, adulterer et. “Go and sin NO MORE”.”

Me: “Joe, I think you’re not getting my point. Paul is describing a particular bunch of people, involved in very bad specific behaviors that don’t fit today’s LGBTQ community. What the church has been guilty of over the centuries, is taking a specific incident in the Bible directed at a particular group of people at that time and generalizing it to apply to different people than it was originally intended to describe. The average Gay person simply does not fit the description in Romans 1, although some conservative leadership attempts to do so.

What conservatives like Preston Sprinkle and Kevin DeYoung have attempted to do is acknowledge the extreme perversion and abusive sexual activities involving the orgies, young boys and slaves, but attempt to throw committed, loving SS relations into the mix as well, because Paul must have known about them and therefore have had them in mind too. Besides being conjecture, thus would not fit the extremely negative description Paul gives of these people. They do this with Jesus as well, only somehow have turned his silence on the issue into a condemnation of Gays!

But bear in mind, as I have pointed out, the purpose of Romans 1-3 is not to point out homosexuality as bad. Paul used the corruption and degradation of Rome, well known to his readers, to criticize the legalistic, unloving behavior of the conservative religious people of his day, something that, ironically, seems to be totally lost on Evangelicals in their dealings with Gays.”

(Note: In my use of Romans 1 I have followed the traditional view that it is Paul speaking. More recent scholarship questions that view and sees the 1:18-32 as Paul quoting a popular Jewish polemic against Roman culture which he then turns into criticism of the Jewish religious leadership for their lack of charity and their self righteousness. I am leaning towards that understanding now because of the curious change of the Greek grammar between the first and second chapters, going from third person to second person use of pronouns.)

A few concluding thoughts. I keep running into Christians who compare the loving consensual relationship between two same sex adults as equal to bestiality, incest or alcoholism. Why do Christians make this comparison? They are not the same, are they? But in doing so, it makes the condemnation of a loving relationship somehow more justifiable, doesn’t it? It’s really a straw argument used to justify hatred for others who are different.

The Bible as a book of rules to follow for all time, (it’s actually many books by different authors written to different cultural circumstances). When Christians start with the assumption that the Bible is a “book” written by God that lists a number of things to do or not do to garner God’s favor one is thinking as a primitive, never quite sure what side of the scale they are on. So the task becomes to determine that you are on God’s good side, then condemn everyone else as being on His bad side. The easiest way to do this is follow the example of the Jews: create laws that divide the sheep from the goats. It is an outgrowth of tribalism, not the inclusive nature of the Gospel and is counter active to the universal trajectory of Scripture in general.

Finally, and Southern Baptists in particular hate this argument, the example of slavery and the Bible. The Bible permits slavery in both the OT and the NT. The SB denomination was created when the Baptist denomination sought to condemn slavery. SBs still have a hard time facing racial bigotry and hatred as illustrated by the difficulty recently coming to a consensus disavowing the Alt-Right. (1) Was the church wrong about slavery? The answer is apparently, yes. What Christians find harder to admit, is that the Bible was wrong about slavery. “Wait, what? No, we simply interpreted the Bible wrongly. The Bible can’t be wrong, it’s God’s Word.” No. The Bible is clear. There is nothing inherently wrong with owning another human. It’s actually more clear about this issue than that of SS relations. So the problem arises, what do you do with scripture that conflicts with Christ’s teaching? That conflicts with what we know about the love of God? We grapple with Scripture, seeking to interpret and apply it in a manner that fits the over-all trajectory of Scripture. This is what the church ultimately did with slavery and now needs to do with SS relations.

(1) http://www.cnn.com/2017/06/14/politics/southern-baptist-convention-alt-right/index.html

InterVarsity Fellowship & The Thought Police

Last October InterVarsity Fellowship (not to be confused with InterVarsity Press), released a 20 page document further clarifying its 2012 statement of beliefs. In this new document IVF required staff to not only agree with the over-all mission statement and moral conduct of the organization, but to not hold any private reservations about the theological statements of IVF. Generally speaking, para-church organizations have adhered to broad doctrinal statements due to the nature of being inter-denominational, but this was not the case here.

By requiring its employees and volunteers to not only adhere to a certain code of conduct but to “think” a certain way as well, IVF forced a number of dedicated staff members to resign. These staff members were trusted friends and confidants of at risk young adults from the LGBTQ community. By doing so Gay teens and college age adults were left wondering if IVF cared about them, or understood their needs and fears. Although Gay marriage was the intended target the church will inadvertently suffer as a result as well. When the church cuts off dialogue and “faithful questioning” (Derek Flood) the result invariably is weakened, not strengthened faith.

A few thoughts on the subject:

First, egalitarian marriage is a Kingdom Principal. In Christ there is neither male nor female. Submission and headship, when applied as a male-dominant theme is neither Christ-like nor does it represent a one-size-fits-all plan for marriage. If it helps, think of Paul’s admonition on marriage as what a “good” Christian marriage looked like in the first century, but that times have changed. Egalitarian marriage has not only been resisted by a patriarchal society historically, but has continued to be vigorously attacked by the church even as Western society has moved on and recognized a woman’s equal worth.

Traditional marriage proponents rely as much on traditional and historical sexual mores as they do on Scripture and it is, indeed, those mores that influence their understanding of Scripture. Conservative Christianity has, for centuries, tried to replicate and keep alive the “household codes” of first century Christians.

Secondly, in building their argument against Same Sex Marriage, IVF, in their literature, refers repeatedly to Wesley Hill as a shining example of the Gay Christian’s “proper” lifestyle of celibacy. Having read “Washed and Waiting” I can assure you Mr. Hill is not necessarily representative of Gay Christians, nor does he deal exegetically with the texts. In fact, the over-all take away for me in reading his book that this poor man is dealing with a great deal of loneliness and unnecessary anguish heaped upon him by well meaning but ignorant Christians unaware of the toxicity their peculiar views on Scripture have on others.

In using Wesley Hill as an exemplary Gay Christian, IVF makes a mistake common to conservative Christianity, that of taking a specific person or circumstance and reapplying it to the whole. This over-simplification of people by assigning them to one group and making broad assumptions about them is why so many moderns refer to conservative Christians as bigoted.

Thirdly, IVF has lost the ability to deal with the emotional and spiritual needs of LGBT youth in a pastoral manner, instead treating these individuals as a theological problem that needs to be fixed. Ultimately this dehumanizes, demoralizes and cuts off communication with a group of individuals who have historically been demonized by Christians.

Lastly, IVF is seeking unity through forced conformity, a mistake the church has made for centuries. This is by far, I believe, the most damaging precedent set here for IVF. Historically the reason Protestants split from Catholicism is that the Catholic Church was unable to allow itself to be questioned. By attempting to control even the thoughts of its staff members, IVF has effectively stifled any opportunity for change, or as Derek Flood says, “unquestioned obedience” takes precedence. This may work well if we were building an army of clones, but when dialogue is stifled in the church it is hard to see how our individual gifts can be used. We need to be able to agree to disagree, yet come together for the furtherance of God’s Kingdom. There is unity in diversity, something that IVF seems to have misunderstood.

Although, historically, IVF has taken a broad non-denominational stance on things like women in leadership, recognizing that various denominations that have a high-view of Scripture can differ significantly from each other, on same sex marriage they have made the decision to draw a line in the sand. This reflects the new test of orthodoxy within the far Right of Evangelicalism. It is my hope, that, in time IVF will reconsider its decision and allow more diversity of thought within its ranks so that it may present a more beautiful Gospel.
http://time.com/4521944/intervarsity-fellowship-gay-marriage/

http://religionnews.com/2016/10/11/intervarsity-authors-and-alumni-protest-policy-terminating-employees-who-support-gay-marriage/

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2016/october-web-only/intervarsity-asks-staff-to-choose-stance-on-sexuality.html

https://sojo.net/articles/roots-intervarsitys-line-sand-homosexuality
Justin Lee’s response to the IVF decision and critique of its “inconsistency problem” with the LGBT community:

The Gospel of Coercion

In a recent Christianity Today article: CT, Evangelical leadership rejected any form of compromise with the LGBTQ community regarding “any legal efforts to protect sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).” While Mormons were able to work out a compromise, leading Evangelicals were not. This not only does not bode well for sexual minorities but will also hurt Evangelicals in the long run.

In an election year where White Evangelicals were seen as self-serving, homophobic, Islamophobic, mysogenistic and isolationist, this could not possibly help their cause. The reticence to agree to afford basic rights to sexual minorities stems from the belief that

“SOGI policies attempt to impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy with respect to human sexuality: the belief that marriage is merely a union of consenting adults, regardless of biology, and that one can be male, female, none, or both, again, regardless of biology. SOGI laws impose this orthodoxy by punishing dissent, and by treating as irrational the beliefs that men and women are biologically rooted and made for each other in marriage.” (Heritage Foundation research fellow Ryan T. Anderson and Princeton University professor Robert P. George)

“The Colson Center’s statement shares their position:
We have seen in particular how these laws are used by the government in an attempt to compel citizens to sacrifice their deepest convictions on marriage and what it means to be male and female, people who serve everyone, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, but who cannot promote messages, engage in expression, or participate in events that contradict their beliefs or their organization’s guiding values.”

The irony of this belief is that Christianity has a long history of attempting to “impose, by force of law, a system of orthodoxy on Americans. I just read through the section on Prohibition in America in Stephen Prothero’s “Why Liberals Win The Culture Wars” https://www.amazon.com/Liberals-Culture-Wars-Even-Elections/dp/0061571296 You would think Evangelical Christians would have learned by now, forcing compliance to conservative Evangelical beliefs is not how you spread the “Good News.”

To define the issue as “religious freedom” is misleading. The Religious Right has become so thoroughly enmeshed in Conservatism as a philosophy it becomes increasingly difficult to detect the “Christianity” in it. There are many other sometimes subtle, sometimes not so subtle agendas going on in the Evangelical mind. I know, I was for many years an Evangelical.

First off, there is a dogged determination among White Evangelicals to regain a mythical past when America was Great (meaning White and Protestant). It is hazy when exactly there was a time when it was “great” for everyone concerned. Jews, Catholics, Mormons, Blacks, women, Native Americans, Atheists, Asians, all have been targets at one time or another of conservative Christianity. So there is a fear that America is losing the “White edge” we’ve had in the past.

Secondly, and this is a biggie, Evangelical theology dehumanizes people. Evangelicals may talk about salvation by Grace, but in practice grace leaves via the back door when doctrinal certitude takes precedence. I see this over and over in the forums and on Facebook. Evangelicals talk about how we are all sinners, but have very little ability to walk in another’s shoes. It is what happens when dogma collides with love. Case in point, Beth Moore stated the following when speaking to a large gathering of 18 to 25-year-olds in Atlanta during the 2017 Passion Conference:

“You will watch a generation of Christians — OF CHRISTIANS — set the Bible aside in an attempt to become more like Jesus. And stunningly it will sound completely plausible. This will be perhaps the cleverest of all the devil’s schemes in your generation. Sacrifice TRUTH for LOVE’s sake. And you will rise or fall based upon whether you will sacrifice one for the other. Will you have the courage to live in the tension of both TRUTH and LOVE?” https://serendipitydodah.wordpress.com/2017/01/12/moms-of-lgbtq-kids-respond-to-beth-moore/

Did you catch that? Doctrine trumps love! You end up not seeing people or their pain, you withhold unconditional love and administer correction instead. If this sounds like legalism to you, guess what, it is. Oh, and guess who gets to decide how to interpret and administer those rules? Yep, right again! White Evangelicals like Beth Moore.

It boggles my mind that a Christian could even say that in light of the sacrifice Christ made, not because we deserved it, but because he loved us in spite of ourselves.

Thirdly, nativism and bigotry disguised as patriotism. Sticking an American eagle clutching an American flag on the window of your pickup truck and posting “Like” if you support our troops on Facebook does not make you patriotic. Supporting individual rights, supporting more freedoms rather than refusing them, allowing others to have a say in Democracy, these make you patriotic. The Religious Right has always, always historically been about removing the rights of others. Freedom among conservatives, including Evangelicals, is far narrower than the concept among Liberals.

Which brings me to my final point. Liberty in America faces a far greater danger from the Right than from the Left. It is far easier to imagine a populist rightist movement promoting a sort of Christian fascism taking control of government than the Atheistic communism that Billy Graham warned us about. The ease by which Evangelicals came to support Trump is frightening. Not only did it reveal the hypocrisy of much of the Religious Right, but completely destroyed the credibility of the claim that Liberals adhere to situational ethics and the “ends justifies the means” while Evangelicals hold to a higher standard. What a bunch of BS!

In conclusion, I would like to state that even though my post might seem a bit harsh or bleak, the future of Evangelicalism is a big unknown at this time. There are small glimmers of hope here and there. A new generation of millennials, that identify as Evangelical, are coming up that are much more inclusive and skeptical. It is my hope they won’t listen to the likes of Beth Moore or Jerry Falwell, Jr., but think for themselves with their hearts as well as their minds.

Suggested Reading:

“American Apocalypse” Matthew Avery Suttton
“God’s Own Party” Daniel K. Williams
“Why Liberals Win the Culture Wars” Stephen Prothero

The Most Revolutionary Thing a Woman Can Do…a Response to Bethany Jenkins

Yesterday a Christianity Today email touted the 2017 CT book awards list, so, always looking for new books to read, I went online to CT. A sidebar add for Bethany Jenkins, The Gospel Coalition’s Director of “Every Square Inch,” caught my eye so I checked out her blog on CT’s Christian Living channel. The post I read was entitled “The Most Revolutionary Thing a Woman Can Do.”
https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-most-revolutionary-thing-a-woman-can-do

Bethany started her post by talking about women’s apologetic nature, that perhaps they apologize too much. Then she referred to a fellow female author and popular Christian speaker Glennon Doyle Melton as being unapologetic in her recent revelation that she is in a romantic relationship with another woman. Referring to Melton’s Instagram post
https://www.instagram.com/p/BMxd_1rBbfF/?hl=en Jenkins then proceeds to analyze Melton’s statement about her newfound love, and her not being concerned about what others think of her choice.

In the article Jenkins goes on to talk about the human need for outside approval, and that human approval is not what we need, but God’s approval. In doing so she criticizes Melton’s attitude of “self-approval,” that Glennon didn’t feel a need for outside approval. What follows is not particularly bad theology, but is applied in an unloving manner:

“But there is no peace in self-affirmation, since we’re not reliable sources. We’re fickle, vacillating daily between accusing and affirming ourselves. Our hearts are deceptive, seeking ways to embrace our selfish desires. Like Eve, we crave the words of the serpent: “Make yourself happy. Don’t worry about what anyone says. Do it your own way.”

We need someone—someone outside of us, someone who isn’t fickle or deceptive—to tell us who we are, what we need, and that we’re okay. In short, we need God. He is the only one who tells us that we’re far more broken than we think, but far more loved than we can imagine. His stamp of approval is the most affirming, since it is the most accurate.”

“Since God is coherent, life is not arbitrary. Following personal truths is cheap. Seeking revealed truth is costly. It requires the hard work of discernment, weighing alternative truth claims and counting the cost of discipleship.”

Bethany continues with a typically Evangelical appeal to the Absolute Truths of the Bible as opposed to Glennon’s “personal truths.”

I don’t follow either women, so I am not all that familiar with Bethany Jenkins. I am somewhat familiar with The Gospel Coalition, having read two books by members. I am also all too familiar with Bethany’s holier-than-thou preaching presented here. Bethany exhibits what is typically wrong with the Evangelical interaction with “the World.” She judges. Here we have a situation where a popular Christian female author and speaker has the courage to come out as Gay amongst a group that has a history of Gay-bashing, of turning on their own when they dare come out of the closet. Glennon is in a particularly vulnerable position. She may say she does not need outside affirmation, but her career, her livelihood, her friendship base, all are on the line. She needs affirmation! She needs support. She needs those, even those who disagree, to do the Christian thing and come alongside her.

Instead of offering love, Bethany offers correction. The fatal flaw in Evangelical interaction with others revolves around their “traffic cop” mentality. Being a “witness” usually devolves into some sort of speck-out-of-my-neighbor’s-eye plucking. It is why “love the sinner, but hate the sin” is so ineffective. Once you’ve defined another by their “sin,” you’ve objectified them and they’ve lost their humanity and worth. The fact that Glennon is a woman who’s world fell apart when she found out her husband was cheating on her seems to have no bearing on Bethany’s post. Glennon’s pain is not the important thing here, correct theology is.

Bethany, I am disappointed in you. You’ve selected to take a cheap shot at another woman, all in the name of theological certitude. The most revolutionary thing a woman can do is offer another unconditional love.