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.”

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 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.

Evangelical Absolution

In the wake of the recent raucous, hateful election we have all watched a divided nation’s reaction to the events. Some jubilation, but quite a bit more sorrow and anger. Of particular note this time was the extent of dissatisfaction with both candidates. As my Evangelical friends were quick to point out, both candidates had serious character flaws. What was telling though was that 80% of White Evangelicals choose to vote for a wicked person. Does that seem to be a harsh assessment of Mr. Trump? Or, lets be honest here, a truthful statement of Mr. Trump’s character?

While it is true that the percentage of Progressive or Liberal Christians who voted for Mrs. Clinton was probably similar to the Conservative Christian vote for Trump, there are glaring differences between the two candidates messages. Clinton’s message of racial equality, care for the poor, protection for minorities, etc., was much easier to align with the message of the Gospel. In contrast, Trump sounded harsh, bombastic and sought to find scapegoats among illegal immigrants, refugees, Muslims and the press. He denigrated women, our military, the handicapped, not a day went by in which he didn’t try to offend someone, yet 80% of Evangelicals voted for him.

Evangelical leaders like Falwell Jr., James Dobson and Franklin Graham bent over backwards to excuse Trump’s behavior, much to the horror of more moderate Evangelicals like Phillip Yancey. The result was that a group of popular Evangelical voices swayed 80% of Evangelicals to vote for a wicked person. How was this possible? How did a group of people so incredibly obsessed with the sins of others, the sins of society and the sins of Liberal Christians manage to overlook their own sin in this matter?

While there has been some short shrift given to economics: the usual tax benefits to the big corporations and the wealthy (a conservative policy that is also hard to square with the Gospel), the most obvious reasons given for their choice revolved around fear: “Make America Great Again” was about the fear that the old ways of privilege were slipping rapidly away. Over 8 million people with brown skins have managed to sneak into our country over the last 30 years. Non-Christian refugees have poured into European countries recently and the fear is that it will be repeated here. The SCOTUS decision to make SSM legal was a shot across the bow of conservative Protestantism’s past attempts to force society’s compliance with the Evangelical view of a “Christian America.” Fear that Evangelicals would not be free to force their own agendas on society but would be forced by our own Constitution and Bill of Rights to treat others fairly.

I will mention abortion briefly, as it is perhaps the only justifiable moral concern mentioned in the Evangelical list of reasons to vote Trump. 600,000 to 700,000 abortions a year in the US I think all would agree, is not a good thing, not cause for celebration. It is not the sign of a healthy nation. The problem for Evangelicals is not the desire to end abortions, but how to go about it. As is often the case with Evangelicals, men like James Dobson call the shots for women and create scapegoats to blame. Women become the guilty ones here and Evangelicals seek to punish them for their decisions to end pregnancies. This is terribly counter-productive and shows a lack of compassion and understanding of the underlying social-economic problems that lead to abortions in the first place.

But the real head-scratcher following the election has been the Evangelical attempts at absolving themselves form moral culpability in their choice of Trump. No sooner had the final results of the Electoral College come in than the Scriptural excuses began to saturate social media.

“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Rom 13:1

“He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” Dan 2:21

This use of Scriptural “snippets” is nothing new, and reflects a general use Scripture by Evangelicals that seeks to find Scriptures that support their suppositions while ignoring passages that do not. But what is disturbing here is how easily a group of moral individuals could throw their support behind a terribly immoral person. This should be a red flag to all Evangelicals. Yes, I know a lot of Evangelicals claim it was a hard decision, a choice between two evils, blah, blah, blah. Really?!! Come on, the minute Trump opened his mouth the choice became apparent, not this man! He does not reflect our values as Christians! It should have been a no-brainer!

Instead, feeling guilty, Christians try to excuse their actions with verses taken out of context. How sad and frightening. It is easy to see how the spirit of the antichrist could fool, if possible the very elect (Matt 24). 2000 years ago people had little say in who became rulers, who was in power. Today we have an unprecedented influence on the choice of our leaders. Evangelicals, own up to this, take responsibility, don’t make excuses and don’t seek to absolve yourselves for sin. Absolution requires confession and repentance. I am seeing neither.

Social Agendas are not the Gospel Message

As the weekend approached I was mulling over writing a post critical of the recent political events in which White Evangelicals played a huge role. The fact is, I had been thinking about it for over a week and just couldn’t seem to find peace about it. Something was off. I was missing something. Then I read an excellent article by Vance Morgan on his website:

“The ever-present danger of Christian political advocacy is that, due to the necessarily public nature of such advocacy, it is very possible for the advocate to mistake a set of political positions or the elements of a social agenda as necessary and universal hallmarks of being truly Christian. It is very easy for the advocate to confuse her or his own purposes and agendas for the message of Christ. The “true message” of Christianity then quickly becomes something to be argued about in the public arena by persons equally convinced that their own agenda best matches up to the demands of Christian faith, entirely undermining the description of early Christians in the Book of Acts as remarkable because of how much they loved each other. The best firewall against this is to always keep in mind that the “message of Christianity” is the lives lived by those persons who profess the Christian faith in their daily private and public lives. Christianity is a way of life that is not reducible without distortion to a political or social agenda. We are the Christian message.” (Vance Morgan)

The article stopped me dead in my tracts. Vance raises a lot of questions and has started some serious soul searching on my part. For over a 150 years Liberal and Conservative Christians have quarreled in a very public display of animosity and ungraciousness that has done nothing but sully the reputation of Christianity. I realize I too, have been a part of this debacle. At times on Facebook and the Patheos site I have been like a big-rig driver having seizures!

Having lived within the Evangelical “bubble” for 60 years I have inherited some good things mixed with some bad habits. One major failure is my belief in intellectual/spiritual certitude. You believe the right things, you’re a Christian. Believe the wrong things, you’re not. Its Evangelical 101. Guess what, its also Progressive 101! And I’ve been guilty of it sometimes…well actually quite often!

As I blog and enter into discussions with other Progressive Christians it is easy to get caught up in a shark feeding frenzy. There’s a Fundamentalist! Get him! Likewise, when I wander onto Evangelical sites, I end up being chum, although I don’t go down easy! Every once in a while I will get into a long satisfying discussion with an Evangelical where there is respect and good listening skills present on both sides. The fact is, neither of us have all the answers. It is ok to have questions, even doubts. The Bible is a very complex series of books. It doesn’t always speak with One Voice, but in truth, exhibits many voices. Its human nature to pick out the voices we best identify with. Refusing to listen to the other voices just creates deaf Christians. This election has not proved Evangelicals are wrong any more than it has proved Progressives are right. But it has shown how poorly we, as the Church, communicate with each other. People brandishing pitchforks and torches are out to destroy something, not build something beautiful.

Another thing I am realizing now, is that, although I identify most with the Progressive Christian “tribe,” theologically I am a “mutt.” My DNA includes strains of Evangelicalism, Pentecostalism, Methodism, the Charismatic Movement, Anabaptist/Mennonite, Neo Orthodoxy, Egalitarian Theology, Progressivism and a dash of Reformed theology. In some ways this has its advantages. Mutts live healthier lives than pure-breeds. It should, however, if I were more intellectually honest, allow more careful listening to each voice, each tribe, to listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice in each of these traditions. Just how these revelations will work out in my life remains to be seen. Will I stumble, will I offend? I will attempt to minimize those, certainly, but I am excited. Seeking God is a journey, and an exciting one at that.

Defending Our Earthly Kingdoms and the Kingdom of God

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

I recently wandered onto the blog of an atheist because the topic interested me. The author had posted a rather vehement video of a fundamentalist Christian ranting about transgender bathrooms. The comments that followed were legitimate criticisms of Christian lack of charity towards others. I share some of their views on the issue so I posted a few comments. But this post is not about those concerns, but about building and defending kingdoms.

You see, as I interacted further I was honest about being a theist. I admit some of my interaction was clumsy, and I ended up apologizing a few times, but my intentions were good. However, it soon became clear that I was not trusted, that my presence threatened the space they had created for themselves. They had it all figured out, and really didn’t need my input. I ended up being barraged by negative comments about my theism, asked countless times to “prove” my belief set (I am a post-evangelical Pentecostal), and in general was lectured as though I was a child.

What is it about human nature that we feel the need to create our own “kingdoms,” then vigorously defend them from outsiders? Is it a primitive clan mentality, a residual behavior from prehistoric times? A fight rather than flight instinct? One reoccurring criticism of Christianity is its “cliquishness,” the seemingly endless schism and building of different religious kingdoms within the broad umbrella of Christendom, yet here was an example of a similar kind of kingdom building, but among atheists! As a philosophical minority their kingdom in the West has faced a great deal of pressure and animosity from the various religious kingdoms, as they were quick to lecture me on. Of course, just the opposite holds for Russia, Cuba, North Korea and China where atheism holds court and religious kingdoms are systematically persecuted.

One of the immediate attractions for me of Progressive Christianity was its openness. It was a broader stream of thought than what I was used to in Evangelicalism. Less about theological certitude, and more about the work of the Kingdom of God. What turned me off to much of conservative Christianity was the similarity to the attitudes presented by those atheists on that blog. “I’m right, your wrong, if you want to play with us, you have to think like us, use the same lingo and hate what we hate.” In other words, I didn’t see much difference between the atheist blog, than say, the rantings of John Piper. Petty kingdoms had been built, and were to be defended.

Jesus called us to build a radically different kind of kingdom. A kingdom where the rules of mankind’s thinking were turned upside down. Where the poor were lifted up rather than oppressed, where greatness was not determined by wealth or prestige, where weakness could be strength, where everyone, no matter what their talents, plays an equal role. This is the inclusive kingdom I am striving to learn more about and become invested in.

In the posts that are to follow I hope you will join me as I attempt to explore this upside down Kingdom of God and what I believe it means for us today 2 millennia after Christ’s resurrection. I hope to learn from our interaction and grow as a ethically responsible Christian in a world where the Good News is not always portrayed as Good News.

God Bless,