Homosexuality: Yes? No? Maybe?

Don’t underestimate the importance of the issue of homosexuality.

For the upcoming generation of Christians, this is going to be a very disturbing issue. The younger evangelicals are looking at faith with fresh eyes and listening to ideas with fresh ears. They are also growing up in both a post-Christian culture and a postmodern culture.

The post-Christian culture is less familiar with the Christian worldview. The postmodern culture is skeptical of anything that can be called an over-arching worldview. This coming generation has to deal the difficult issue of homosexuality as they also deal with post-Christendom and postmodernity. This is the world in which our young Christians are living. Most of them know someone who claims to be both gay and also a Christian. To simply state that the Bible says that homosexuality is sin will not do.

When California voted for Proposition 8 that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, many were shocked. They could understand states like Ohio doing so (as we did in 2004), but liberal California? What was truly shocking was that a majority of African Americans voted for the bill. The conventional thinking in our culture is that “Gay Rights” is just the latest in the progression of “Civil Rights.” So, how in the world could those who had suffered and had been liberated by way of one of the greatest civil rights movements in history be against gay civil rights? The San Fransisco Chronicle's John Wildermuth wrote, "Californians voted their religion, not their political party, when they pushed Proposition 8 to victory and banned same-sex marriage in the state, campaign officials and political experts said."

Open, honest dialogue must take place. The biblical texts dealing with homosexuality need to be carefully examined. Hard questions will need to be asked and answered.


Because we evangelicals have been wrong before: Look at how we used to defend slavery based on Scripture, or outlawed inter-racial marriage based on Scripture, or created theocracies that killed dissenters based on Scripture (as was the case in Calvin’s Geneva), or subordinated women based on Scripture.

We might be wrong again. We had better be sure, and give a very convincing argument for what we’re sure of, for young evangelicals who are skeptical of the status quo to buy in.

How should we go about talking about it?

Maybe we need to sit down and talk with people with differing views than us. We need not fear this; when our views are challenged, it can either result in sharpening why we hold our position or it can moderate our position as we seek the Lord on what is his truth.

Tony Jones, author of The New Christians: Dispatches from the Emergent Frontier and former national coordinator for Emergent Village, has taken a great risk and began a conversation with conservative blogger Rod Dreher on the issue. It was risky because Tony admits, "I now believe that GLBTs can live lives in accord with biblical Christianity (at least as much as any of us can!) and that their monogamy can and should be sanctioned and blessed by church and state." Dreher disagrees, and they have started a generous debate about it (they even have a video of the two of them talking about it).

I strongly disagree with Tony Jones on this issue, but I need to do so in a respectful way. And I need to listen and interact. Much in the same way that Rod is modeling. Recently, I commented at Bob Hyatt's facebook page inappropriately criticizing Tony for his views. Tony called me out on it, which I appreciated. I apologized for how I went about it, and he has forgiven me. It taught me a lesson: When addressing other brothers and sisters in Christ that we have strong differences with, we need to do so with grace and kindness.

For the next generation, homosexuality will be a major issue, and the heat that will rise from the frictional debate will inevitably cause some of us to say things we will later regret. Let's do what we can at the outset to enter the debates with humility and grace.


Radio Pulpits

Do this as an experiment:
Turn on your AM radio and find one or two of your local Christian radio stations. Listen for a while to the preachers there.

Because they are on the radio, they have your loyal attention. They are great at rhetoric. Rhetoric is defined in various ways – from the positive ("using language effectively to please or persuade") to the negative ("grandiosity: high-flown style; excessive use of verbal ornamentation") (Debating which radio preachers match more closely to the latter definition than the former is a discussion for another day!). Regardless of who you're listening to, most radio preachers have a weight to their words, an underlying authority. They claim to proclaim the only truth you need. They speak in a monologue seeking to convince you of how to think, how to live, and what to believe.

Once you’ve done that for a while, hit the "seek" button on your radio until you get to one of the many politically conservative radio stations in your community. As you listen to Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh, reflect on this: How is their rhetorical style similar to the preachers on the Christian radio stations?

They have the loyal attention of their followers. They are great at rhetoric, using grandiose language to effectively please and persuade their audience. They claim to proclaim the only truth you need. They speak in a monologue seeking to convince you of how to think, how to live, and what to believe.

They have successfully emulated the rhetorical style of the radio pulpit.

No wonder
so many Christians are so enamored with these guys.



The Dignity of Plants?

Colson's Misunderstanding of the Goodness of All of Creation

In today's Breakpoint Commentary, "The Silence of the Yams: The Dignity of Plants?", Chuck Colson laments how a new film and the parliament of Switzerland seem to be raising the dignity of plants up to the level of human beings.

"One country appears to have taken the threat from plants seriously enough to sue for peace with the plant kingdom. That’s Switzerland. How? By enshrining the "dignity"—their word, not mine—of plants in their constitution. A molecular biologist at the University of Zürich...had to satisfy government officials that (a scientific) trial 'wouldn’t "disturb the vital functions or lifestyle" of the plants.

Dignity? Lifestyle? Of plants?

...Last spring, the parliament asked a panel of “philosophers, lawyers, geneticists and theologians” to determine how this requirement applies to plants. The panel’s report concluded that people do not have “absolute ownership” over plants and that “individual plants have an inherent worth.” Therefore, they concluded, “we may not use them just as we please, even if the plant community is not in danger.”

Plant community?

Unfortunately, the damage from this worldview isn’t limited to making Alpine countries look silly or creating more paperwork for researchers. While some of the sought-after parity between man and the rest of creation is achieved by raising the status of animals and plants, most of it comes through lowering our status as humans.

That’s where the real danger lies. Research that could help feed countless millions is made more difficult and even impossible because of concerns over plant “dignity.” Even worse, carrying the logic to its conclusion, the sanctity of human life becomes a matter of what you can do, not who you are—that is, someone created in the image of God. (read or listen to the entire commentary here)

I respect Chuck Colson. I've been reading his books and columns for over 20 years. He was the plenary speaker at CCO’s Jubilee Conference last year.

He is certainly right when he says, “While some of the sought-after parity between man and the rest of creation is achieved by raising the status of animals and plants, most of it comes through lowering our status as humans. That’s where the real danger lies.”

The line of thinking that Colson is espousing is correct, as long as we remember not to swing the pendulum again in the other direction by LOWERING the status of animals and plants in our effort to RAISE the status of humanity. Historically, the Christian church has been guilty of exploiting the rest of Creation, using the "image of God" (imago Dei) as our rationalization – we have basically said that animals and plants do not have dignity because they do not have the imago Dei. This is a pendulum swing too far the other way.

The biblical worldview places humanity as the pinnacle of the Creation; the only created thing with the imago Dei. Absolutely.

However, the biblical worldview also at least implies that all of Creation has “dignity” in that it all declares the glory of God.

"The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world" (Psalm 19:1-4).

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse (Rom. 1:20).

“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being" (Rev. 4:11).

Further, the biblical worldview goes on to refute the idea that humanity is supposed to exploit the Creation. Rather, we have the duty of responsible dominion – instead of being lords over Creation, we are meant to be good stewards of the Creation.

As Cornelius Plantinga Jr. writes in Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living, “In the Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed, dominion is never ‘lording over’; it’s more like ‘lording under’ by way of support. In the Kingdom of God, to have dominion is to care for the well-being of others. To have dominion is to act like the mediator of creation. This means that a human steward of God’s good creation will never exploit or pillage; instead, she will give creation room to be itself. She will respect it, care for it, empower it. Her goal is to live in healthy interdependence with it. The person who practices good animal husbandry, forest management, and water conservation shows respect for God by showing respect for what God has made.” (p. 31)

The first ontological distinction that has so often been made by Christians has been that humanity is the special creation of God (the imago Dei), and that all else is irrelevant. How I’d like to hear this articulated differently is this: the ontological distinction is that we are a part of the entire creation, and God is the only one that is wholly different. We, however, are the pinnacle of the creation, meant to care for the rest of Creation because we are made in God’s image. God's purpose in Christ is to redeem not only humanity but the entire created order.

"For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross" (Col. 1:19-20).

"The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8: 19-23)

I am a supporter of the Evangelical Environmental Network, which has an excellent way of stating these things. They especially have a great statement answering the question, “How are we to treat non-human creation? Are not people more important?”

Again, to reiterate, Colson is correct that Switzerland is not basing their concern for plants on a Christian Worldview. However, I think that a Christian Worldview could also conclude that “plants have an inherent worth.” Contrary to the conclusion of Switzerland’s parliament, humanity does have the authority to “use them just as we please.” God has placed us in dominion over the plants to use for the good of all beings, especially for humanity. If we responsibly use plants and animals for the common good, for the shalom of the entire earth, then we are righteously operating dominion. However, we must never use our authority as a rationale to exploit the creation for our selfish desires - especially for our materialistic and consumeristic desires, as so often happens.


Evangelical Fear - Rise Above It!

Here are some wise words from Evangelicals for Social Action in light of this presidential election:

"My Tribe" by Bret Kincaid

I grew up a Roman Catholic but entered the Protestant fold when, as a college freshman on a secular campus, I fell into an evangelical conservative crowd calling themselves Campus Crusade for Christ. Through unconditional love and discipleship these new friends instilled in me a fresh and powerful desire for marinating my mind in Scripture and sharing my faith with others. Because at the time I felt a vocational calling to psychotherapy, they steered me to a Christian college and assured me that I would be better off learning Christian psychology rather than the psychology of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and B.F. Skinner taught at the secular university. I followed their advice, but at the Christ-centered college I attended, I unexpectedly came to face what they feared—i.e., the psychological theories of modern thinkers who started their thinking from non-theistic assumptions—and learned to love looking for truth wherever one can find it.

The last days of the 2008 presidential election reminded me of this fear-based approach to culture. I recently became aware of it when I watched an invocation given by an evangelical pastor at a McCain rally. Then Focus on the Family Action issued the “Letter from 2012 in Obama’s America.” Of course, I had already heard the rumors circulating in the evangelical camp that Obama is a Muslim, not a US citizen, is the anti-Christ, “pals around with terrorists,” and the like. Last week I received a DVD from my evangelical in-laws that cast Obama in a scary light. I haven’t bothered to look, but I’m sure this kind of fear is expressed throughout the evangelical Christian corner of the internet. And just last weekend a former evangelical pastor and relative of mine said he plans to move back to the Eastern bloc country from which he escaped in the 1940s because it is less socialist than Obama’s nation will be.
This reaction to an Obama presidency is rooted in fear, and as any good horror flick demonstrates, fear often distorts what is real. I believe president-elect Barack Obama and his administration will make mistakes, and he will push for or tolerate policies that many will find problematic, even repugnant. I also expect some of those policies will be just and some won’t be. But he is no more likely to be an ogre—or, in evangelical parlance, the anti-Christ—than John McCain, the boogey man of the radical left.

I used to be surprised by this political fear, but I’ve gotten used to it. Nonetheless, I never cease being severely disappointed in many of my tribe for being so predictably fearful rather than hopeful, especially in the face of what they believe will be a political disaster. Since evangelicals became a powerful political force in the US, we have become widely known as fearful rather than hopeful people. Yet, the most common command of Scripture is “Do not be afraid,” a command tethered to hope. When election races are tight we so often act as though 1) God is not sovereign over history; 2) when God intervenes in history, it is primarily through politics; and 3) few of us are working in organizations that help move civil society in a healthy direction. Instead, let’s remember that the US is so fortunate to have a strong, richly textured civil society, a bulwark against tyranny, and a potential vehicle for encouraging a just society. Through our faith-based organizations—i.e., churches, colleges, businesses, nonprofits, etc.—and through our memberships in the political parties and various interest groups, we have the privilege and opportunity to express our living, vibrant, and hopeful faith, which will naturally reverberate in ways God can use.

I offer this reflection in the spirit of Paul’s common admonition to be content and to be thankful to God, while rolling up our sleeves to live into the prayer “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

I've written before about how fear is all too often the rule for evangelicals.

Let's live with faith, hope, and love. Let's not give in to fear.

"God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control." (2 Timothy 1:7)

"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear." (1 John 4:18)




"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."


McCain or Obama ? - A Plea for Unity

Evangelicals and the Election, Part 3 of 3

No matter who is voted into office tomorrow, Christians must unite behind our new President-elect, and prayerfully move forward together with him as we deal with the major issues and crises that currently face our nation.

We should thank God that we live in a free Republic, in which we are able to hold our political leaders accountable by way of the electoral process. We should celebrate that we are allowed to vote any way we choose. And, as this series has attempted to show, there are good reasons for people (even evangelicals!) to vote for each of the candidates.

We also should celebrate that we have the right to freely speak – we can criticize and/or celebrate what our leaders are doing. But this is where things need to change…

As Christian citizens of the United States, we should see ourselves as a part of a society where people of different ideologies, religions, and political parties must co-exist and even work together for the common good. If your candidate does not win tomorrow, you will have to get over it and commit to working with the candidate that did win. Politics, by its very nature, is a give-and-take; it is about forging compromises so that we can make decisions for the country as a whole.

Special Interests are not what run the government. An interest group just pushes for one thing, regardless of how it affects other issues and people, and without ever having to deal with the demands that other people raise. Paul Marshall writes in his must-read book God and the Constitution: Christianity and American Politics, “A genuinely democratic politics means that decisions should, in principle and in practice, be accountable to all the population: Greenpeacers and forestry workers, New Yorkers and Californians, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and atheists.” The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Phil. 2:4). Evangelical Christians have mistakenly and haughtily believed that their current political interests are in the best interests of everyone else in the country. However, how many of the issues that we see evangelicals fighting for are actually more about protecting themselves from their perceived threats in a secular and/or pagan society? And, more telling, how can evangelicals be so pompous as to think that they have all the right answers? Our history has shown that we often get it wrong. A lot.

I am also sickened by how ugly our nation has become over politics. And what is even more sickening is how we evangelicals have been dragged down into the scum of it all. Radio talk show hosts and cable television talking heads spew the most hateful, disgusting, and slanderous lies, and instead of Christians separating themselves from such slander, some have embraced it and even emulated it. This should not be.

What I fear is that if Obama is elected, he will be demonized by the Religious Right, and if McCain is elected, he will be demonized by the Religious Left. This has got to stop. We need to quit buying what the hate-filled partisan sleaze machines are selling, and instead move above it, showing the character of Christ.

Partisan punditry not only hurts our Christian witness, it also hurts our country.

Read all three part of this series:
Part 1: Reasons Why Evangelicals Should Vote for MCCAIN
Part 2: Reasons Why Evangelicals Should Vote for OBAMA
Part 3: McCain or Obama ? - A Plea for Unity