Why Are So Many Evangelical Leaders Clueless?

You might have noticed a post called “Why Homosexuality Is Not Like Other Sins” by Jonathan Parnell making the rounds today. This post is the latest in what I call the “Piper Pattern” that almost all writers associated with Desiring God blog or the Gospel Coalition unfortunately fall in to: create false black and white sides to an issue, take down both of these straw-man arguments, and then argue that you have the first true “third way” (all the while ignoring that viable third, fourth, tenth, even twentieth and fiftieth ways already exist).

Parnell starts right off the bat by saying that “homosexuality is celebrated by our larger society with pioneering excitement. It’s seen as a good thing, as the new hallmark of progress.” Of course, ignoring all of the mountains of research that prove that people who are of any sort of LGBT persuasion face more bullying, more discrimination, and more rejection than any other group. Apparently, moderate displays of decent LGBT characters on a few semi-popular TV shows now counts as “larger society.”

Next, Parnell decides to speak for all Christians – a task that even Paul was not willing to do (see Romans 14) when the church was in its infancy and it might have been possible to do so: “As Christians, we believe with deepest sincerity that the embrace of homosexual practice, along with other sins, keeps people out of the kingdom of God.” The problem is, there are many gay Christians that have been advancing the Kingdom of God, even leading many, many people back to Christianity (just read the comments section on anything associated with the Gay Christian Network).

Then Parnell says “The issue is sin. That’s what we’re against.” This is very true…. but it is also true of the Christians that believe that homosexuality is not a sin. Most of them are not walking around going “I know its a sin but I don’t care.” They believe so deeply in the problem of sin that they don’t want to call something a sin that isn’t. People like Parnell might not agree with that, but they at least need to be honest about what the issue really is.

So then Parnell starts to create his false black and white straw man sides. “There are the growing numbers, under great societal pressure, who praise homosexuality. We might call them the left.” Here’s the crazy thing about “societal pressure”: most people related to this issue don’t have to deal with it, if the numbers of people who are LGBT are true. Most people, like me, don’t really know that many people that are gay or transgendered or bisexual or anywhere else on the spectrum. Therefore, there is no one in our face trying to make us change our mind (and I am sorry, but intense media coverage or constant postings and arguments on Facebook do not qualify as societal pressure since most people don’t change their minds due to any of it). No one has ever pressured me on this issue. Most people I know who are LGBT never speak up about the issue. Those that do now live in states where they have marriage equality. No one has been in my face about the issue. I could easily just think “homosexuality is a sin” and keep it to myself and there would be no problems in my life. However, I have this nagging issue of respecting any written word enough to be completely honest with what it says, regardless of whether or not I agree with it or if it fits my personal outlook on life.

The current debate is plagued by this binary lens. Those on the left try to lump everyone who disagrees with them into that right side. If you don’t support, you hate.” Has Parnell actually been following the debate? Its never binary. What rock does this statement come from under? Technically, it is usually those on the “right” (as Parnell describes it) that bring the concept of “hate” into the conversation. Many times when they get accused of doing something “unloving”, they are the ones that say “how dare you accuse me of hate!” I see it happen all the time. For example, I could point out how it is not loving to mis-characterize and oversimplify the two sides in this debate. That is not saying it is hate. That is just saying that Parnell’s approach is not loving. If I were to say that exact statement, many of my right-side friends would scream :how dare you accuse me of hate!” How do I know this? Because it has happened many, many times. I’m not throwing out a theory here. I am recounting actual events.

Where is Parnell not being loving? With statements like this: “Distancing ourselves from both the left and the right, we don’t celebrate homosexual practice, we acknowledge God’s clear revealed word that it is sin; and we don’t hate those who embrace homosexuality, we love them enough to not just collapse under the societal pressure.”  You see, many of us have so much respect for the Bible that we are not collapsing under societal pressure, but rather investigating for ourselves and finding that it is in no way clear about this issue. There have been thousands of blog posts, comments, and books written about this very respect, yet Parnell chooses to either be ignorant of all of that or just wants to flat out misrepresent a side that he doesn’t agree with. That may or not be hate in your book, but it is not loving.

But Parnell is right in saying that homosexuality is not like other sins. Interesting tidbit about the word “homosexual” from Wikipedia:

“The first known appearance of homosexual in print is found in an 1869 German pamphlet by the Austrian-born novelist Karl-Maria Kertbeny, published anonymously,[29] arguing against a Prussian anti-sodomy law.[29][30] In 1886, Richard von Krafft-Ebing used the terms homosexual and heterosexual in his book Psychopathia Sexualis. Krafft-Ebing’s book was so popular among both laymen and doctors that the terms “heterosexual” and “homosexual” became the most widely accepted terms for sexual orientation.[31][32] As such, the current use of the term has its roots in the broader 19th-century tradition of personality taxonomy.”

So how did the word jump from the first century writings of Paul over 1800 years of society to never again be used until 1869? Well, that’s because it was never in the Bible in the first place. Where you see it used in the Bible currently is problematic. Paul was using some Greek words that are difficult to translate, with one even being a word he might have made up. The words that he does use are much more complex and sinister than our modern day word “homosexual”. You can read this post for a more detailed look at the difficulty many scholars have had in translating those words. Unfortunately, most translators caved to societal pressures themselves and used the word “homosexual” because they didn’t want to rock the boat in their own church circles. Either that, or their bias was so great that it blinded them to the inherent problems in the original Greek in the first place.

ecclesia-extraneus-avatarNone of this necessarily has to change your views on what the Bible calls sin, but it should at least show you that those who use the word “clear” to describe this topic do not respect the Bible enough to be honest about the complexities of the issue and therefore should not be writing about the debate. And that those of us that say that a Christian can be gay or lesbian or transgender or bisexual are not necessarily caving to social pressure in any way. We are just trying to take Romans 14 seriously.

This World Needs a Social Constructivist Enema

Several months ago I made a Facebook post that simply said “This World Needs a Social Constructivist Enema.” Some people probably thought I was just being funny with a Batman quote. Many probably thought I was being weird. I was really just stating a frustration I usually have with the typical Facebook debate.

We see it so often on Facebook: people get into back and forth arguments over some political or religious or parenting issue, with both sides spending most of the time telling the other side what they think that side believes believe. “You missed the point” “You don’t seem to understand” “Your point is invalid because” etc. We spend a lot of time telling people what their beliefs and misunderstanding are, while rarely trying to ask them to speak for themselves. We someone believe we are all carnival magicians that can read minds.

But the reality is, there is very little we can understand of another person without spending time to clarify, and when we assume we know clearly what they think before they even speak it, that makes it even worse.

ALL of our understanding of another person is socially constructed through communicative actions. That’s just the nature of the world. We can only understand what a person has told us, and if we misunderstand, we have to let them explain or else we are equating ourselves with God.

So what we end up with is an unholy amalgamation of empiricism and relativism. We think our view of Truth (with a big T) is the one right Truth, and all others are false. But then we treat all other “truths” that others believe as their own distinct, separate truth that only they can have – different, wrong, and completely separated from ours. We set up this weird system in our minds where everyone else has their own individualized system of beliefs that have NO bearing on our own, yet they are all wrong if they don’t match up exactly with ours.

Social constructivism is kind of the great egalitarian philosophical viewpoint in that we have to work together to define Truth and truth. Its not a dominating system like empiricism where there is only one Truth and if you don’t get it, you are just less than the others that do. Its not a seperativist system like relativism that says all truths are equal, but I don’t have to really care what your truth is an long as it doesn’t affect mine (nor do I even have to share mine if don’t I want to). Its an interactive philosophy of seeking to understand and be understood with the goal of coming to a mutual understanding that guides how we function as a society.

ecclesia-extraneus-avatarAnd yes, it can be applied incorrectly. But at times, I am convinced that we need to wash away our weird system of empirical relativism and replace it with a new communicative system built on seeking to understand and be understood through negotiation and discourse rather than to pass out pre-defined understanding.

Interchangeable Faceless Starving Children

Ever known a person that seems to take everything you say or do in the most negative context? Like, when ever there is any room for doubt, they assume the most negative option? Its even worse when you actually like the person that acts like this, but they are out to find the demon behind everything you say and do. I was trying to explain to a new friend the other day why I don’t seem to get along with our mutual acquaintance… but I just drew a blank. Sometimes its just a mystery.

I think we all have people in our lives like that, but today I was pondering how those types of people seem to signify a greater problem in our society. In drawing up lines of “us vs. them”, when tend to attach negative connotations to everything the “other” side says. It tends to blind us to the problems on “our” side, while magnifying the problems on the “other” side. I think 99% of all political articles fall into this category. But sadly, a huge number of religious/spiritual writings also take this tack. When 10,000 children were dropped by their World Vision sponsors when World Vision recently announced support for gay marriage… you have to wonder how that was justified. I would gamble big money that if any of those 10,000 sponsors were to comb through the theological stances of every World Vision employee, they would absolutely find who knows how many workers that don’t match their theological stance on something major – be it divorce, or spiritual gifts, or worship style, or the trinity, or something.

But for some reason, these differences seem to still get classified as being “on our side” by most evangelicals. You can think someone is going to burn in hell for all eternity if they don’t speak in tongues, but for some reason you will still support kids through an organization filled with people that don’t speak in tongues (and many that do, I am sure). But if they happen to be a gay couple? For some reason, many evangelicals have put the whole gay issue into a category of “other”, and no matter what they do, it is demonized.

ecclesia-extraneus-avatarI’m just baffled how some people will work with atheists, sexually active college students, blasphemers, and people with radically different views of salvation…. but just not gay couples. Its like they have characterized everything a person who is gay will do as “bad”, and therefore will not work with them. You are a Calvinist, while I am an Arminianist? No problem. Sure, we disagree on waaaay more scriptures with each other than we do with a gay Christian… but they are “other” and we are “right.” So, sorry starving kids. You are just an interchangeable faceless starving kid that we can just easily swap out for another interchangeable faceless starving kid at another organization like we would change out an inanimate battery.

This weird division should disgust us as a church. We can do better.

The Growing Ranks of Evangelical Ecclesia Extraneus

The past few weeks have brought a swell to the ranks of the Evangelical Ecclesia Extraneus – the Evangelical Church Outsiders. I’m not referring to this blog (people only seem to visit here to post “passionate” comments proving how “loving” they are of gay people), but the idea of being an outsider to a specific tradition in the church. When I started this blog, I was attracted to the name Ecclesia Extraneus despite having no idea how to pronounce it as well as it being hard to remember (can’t count the number of times I have typed it wrong myself). But in the wake of the World Vision schism in the evangelical church and many leaders along the lines of Rachel Held Evans, Jay Bakker, and others leaving evangelicalism, I am reminded again of what the title of this blog means to me:

The English word “strange” originated from the Latin word extraneus (from which the English word “extra” also originated) which meant on the outside i.e. “strangers” were “outsiders,” socially, religiously or politically, within one’s own nation – they could be one’s own countrymen just as easily as they could be “foreigners.”

We all seem to belong to the same “nation” of Christianity, but so many of us feel like strangers even among those that inhabit the section of that nation called evangelicalism. Some people don’t get why we feel this way. All I can offer is my explanation of the privilege of fitting in. When you fit in, you always get what is so wrong. When you don’t fit in, you don’t see how to make it work.

ecclesia-extraneus-avatarWhile many churches are focused on Revival, I have always found Reformation to be more intriguing. Revival seems to be a temporary emotional fix (that dies after a while), but Reformation seems to be a complete change of course. I pray that we are seeing the beginnings of a true Reformation and not just a temporary revival of diversity in the Church.

The Shocking Revelation of Real Love

Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like to be around when Jesus messed with people’s heads.

When Jesus pointed at the crowd and said “he that is without sin, cast the first stone”… that was not a normal event. It probably didn’t happen in any way like we have seen it portrayed in any movie so far. I image that some people almost feel over with mouths wide open. There were probably several audible gasps. People were probably acting like a freaking UFO landed in front of them.

Because that was how foreign the whole thing really was. It wasn’t just a new idea. It was a paradigm-altering, WTF?!?!, never seen this before, holy hell in a hand basket Batman kind of moment.

People met face to face with a shocking revelation of real love.

Yes, they could have stoned the woman to death. Jesus could have at least lashed into her in the same way He had lashed into the concept of adultery on other occasions. But he didn’t. We see that again and again in the scriptures. Jesus could have taken the commonly accepted road, but he pulled out his most shocking trick in His deck of tricks. Real love.

People probably felt like He had reached over and shattered their world with one small touch.

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Sure, Jesus argued with people a lot. People who that say Jesus never got into religious or political arguments obviously skip large swaths of the Bible. But when people’s lives were on the line? When hurting people were really asking for help? He ignored religion and politics and did a shocking thing: He loved.

ecclesia-extraneus-avatarSo that is why I think people are so upset about World Vision’s decision to allow married gay couples to work there. They are shocked by real love. It may not be politically or religiously correct to take that stance in certain circles, but it is shocking act of love that says that starving children are more important that religious dogma.

So I stand with World Vision. They look more like Jesus now than they ever have.

EDIT: Even if World Vision decides to reverse their decision, my thoughts about their original announcement will stay the same.

Yes, I Do Believe in Your Scripture De Jour, But….

Nothing gets certain corners of fundamentalism into a tizzy like being nice to gays. I’m sure by now you have heard the uproar over World Vision deciding to start hiring married people of the LGBT persuasion. Despite their best efforts to point out that this was a decision about letting churches decide theology, Christian leaders every where decided to become Christian mind and faith readers in attempts to condemn these actions.

Of course, none of these leaders spoke out about any of the sexually active unmarried LGBT workers that work at Chick-fil-a (since several spoke up during that controversy). I guess as long as you get a chicken sandwich from a “rebellious” gay teen its okay, but sponsor a starving child where a loving, committed lesbian accountant might touch your sacred money? Boycott! Condemn! Batten down the hatches!

What really gets me in these types of arguments is thinking like this:

Which was then retweeted by a professor at a theological seminary. I work at a university, so I thought they trained professors to recognize straw man arguments and not fall for them. Guess I should double check the hiring standards at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.

These arguments are usually made against Rachel Held Evans and Jay Bakker and any one of hundreds of leaders that have declared over and over again that they follow the Bible. Today its over gay marriage, tomorrow it will probably be over the equality of women, next week it could be over whether God Hates Shrimp. Its always a revolving doorway of scripture de jour that involves questioning whether someone is really a Christian or not based on how closely they come to your particular interpretation of a scripture. Sure, progressive Christians are sometimes guilty of this, but this generally seems to be a major tactic in certain evangelical circles.

I don’t personally know Evans or Bakker or any other leaders that were questioned over this issue, but if I were a gambling man I would place BIG money on them believing that I Corinithans 6:9-10 is true.  And anyone being truly honest would have to lean that direction, too. They more than likely have differing opinions on what the underlying Greek really says, and how we are to translate those words thousands of years later across dozens of cultural changes.

But, hey… who cares about that pesky accuracy thing when demonizing opponents?

ecclesia-extraneus-avatarOf course, the gross misunderstandings of developmental theory, educational research, and pure reality in the Gospel Coalition’s blog post about how children suffer in “non-traditional” marriages will have to be explored further in another post. But needless to say, exploiting starving children for a political point? Disgusting.

Kentucky Laws and the Right to Service

Seems that certain segments of our society are up in arms about the recent laws in Kentucky that would basically allow business owners to deny service to gay people because… well, just because they feel threatened by what may or may not happen in a gay person’s bedroom that night.

(kind of creepy when you use a bit of truth in advertising, huh?)

I’m not really referring to the liberal segments that are (understandably) upset about these laws. I am referring to the conservative sides that are coming out of the woodwork with the “What right does the government have telling any business who they can and can’t serve? We’re giving up too many freedoms to the government! These new laws are right and just!”

Government has every right to tell any business who to serve. And here is why. Every single business in America uses roads built by government funds to get supplies to sell. Every single business in America takes advantage of safe roads watched over by government-connected Police forces that keeps the supplies on those roads moving smoothly. Every single business in America uses phone and optic lines that the government regulates to conduct all kinds of business. Every single business in America takes advantage of governmental commerce laws to seamlessly conduct business across city borders, state borders, and international borders. There are so many more examples that I can’t go into here.

But does the government providing these services give them a right to tell business how to run their business? Not really. But where does the money come from to fund these governmental benefits for all businesses big and small?

Taxes.

Every single person in the U.S. pays for these services that businesses take advantage of. Legal citizens, legal immigrants, and even illegal immigrants (oh, what was that about taxation without representation? Whoops.). Since every single person in the U.S. is paying for these businesses to operate, the only fair thing is to require them to serve everyone. Don’t want to play fair like that? Then leave your toys in the sandbox and go play in another one.

ecclesia-extraneus-avatarSo, yes, the U.S. government does have the right to require the businesses built on the backs of every single tax paying person in America to actually serve every single person that funded the infrastructure that allows them to even operate as a business. Is it really just to tell a gay person that they can not eat at restaurant, when their tax dollars are tied up into almost every aspect of making that business successful? No, it is down right morally reprehensible.