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.