“Third Way” Thoughts

Tony wrote this: Why There’s No “Third Way” on Gay Marriage

Al Mohler agreed

Zach Hoag disagreed with them both and wrote this: Yes, Al Mohler (and Tony Jones), There IS a Third Way

Pete Rollins wrote this: Gay people? North Korea, Hillsong and the Denial of Denial 

Ultimately, I think I resonate most with Tony’s conclusion, 

What I’m saying is that a church or an organization can study the issue in theory, and they can even do so for years. But this isn’t really a “third way” or a “middle ground.” Instead, it is a process. And at some point, that process has to end and practices have to be implemented. At that point, there’s no third way. You either affirm marriage equality in your practices, or you do not.

The distinction between a “third way” and a “process” is an important one. Calling what your doing a “way” indicates permanence while identifying that you’re in a process indicates a temporary arrangement. At some point, the official policies of a church need to be the markers for what kind of community it claims to be. To suggest a possible third way is to welcome gay brothers and sisters while not ever getting to a place where they can get married in the church or become church leaders….that’s not a sustainable, healthy way forward, in my opinion. It is just a conservative position dressed up as “welcoming” and “inclusive.”

One other troubling item from these posts is where Zach Hoag suggest that “genuine” inclusion can take place in churches and denominations that deem homosexuality a sin:

Beyond the theological/ethical position a church or denomination may take on gay relationships, there must be an affirmation of the existence of LGBT Christians and a loving support of both equal rights under law and genuine inclusion in the church. That is, a church or denomination may choose not to perform gay weddings. A church or denomination may even conclude that being in a gay relationship is sinful. But what a church or denomination must not do is conclude that LGBT Christians who disagree with that position are not genuine Christians. They must not do what Al Mohler (and Neo-Fundamentalists in general, like TGC, etc.) are aiming to do: close the gate of evangelicalism (really, “true Christianity”) to all open LGBT people, absolutely. 

 This, in my opinion, is a major stretch. What Hoag is asking for here is a baby step for fundamentalist church groups while branding it as “genuine” inclusion. Imagine belonging to a community of people who think your marriage is a sinful arrangement and see if in any way that would feel like real, authentic, genuine inclusion of you and your family. This might work for folks who insist on being celibate or straight regardless of orientation and that’s fine….but it’s not genuine inclusion of our gay brothers and sisters by any stretch of the imagination. 

 

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The Best Song We Never Released

In my mind, even though we never released this tune, I think it’s one of my favorite Jimmy Eat World songs of all time. We recorded this song during the Futures session but took it off the album because it just didn’t really fit the vibe with the other tunes and after that, the timing never really felt that good to release it. Maybe because the song had already leaked and we never felt that motivated to officially release the tune.

But looking back on this song, we busted our ass getting it to the point of where it ended up. It sounds like a simple song but we recorded it many different times with several different arrangements, tempos, keys, etc… It was nuts. Gil Norton was the producer and we were having the album mixed by Rich Costey at Cello Studios in Hollywood. While Rich was mixing, we were tracking Jen in studio 3 at Cello which was famous for recording Pet Sounds and some Mammas and Pappas albums. We didn’t have any of our gear in town so I rented a kit and ended up using a ludwig acrolite that Chris Testa (grammy winning engineer who ended up engineering Chase This Light) had in studio A when he was tracking the band Gratitude (who coincidentally were friends of ours and ended up opening up for us on tour). While we were tracking Jen, Brian Wilson was in studio 2 working on a project and at one point, poked his head into the door of the control room of studio 3. “Holy shit!! Brian Wilson just walked into our control room!” That was incredible.

Anyway, that’s the basic story of Jen. We nearly killed ourselves recording a song we never released.

God

Tony Jones has issued a challenge to liberal/progressive folks to write a substantive statement about God. I’m really glad Tony has pushed the issue here. I say a lot about what I think God is not without declaring much about what I DO believe about God. So here it goes:

For whatever reason, I’ve been given a capacity to experience life. I have a physical body and inside my body there exists a consciousness, an observer, that experiences the universe. When I dwell on this ability to inhale, exhale, watch the birds, kiss my wife, go on hikes, give my kids hugs, swim in the ocean, look at the stars……I feel an overwhelming gratefulness to whatever force or energy that gave me this capacity, this gift of life. It is also in these moments (unfortunately rare moments) when I realize that the difference between existence and non-existence seems so razor thin, the gift seems all the more precious and fleeting.

For various reasons I’ve ended up naming this force God. There’s a lot about God that I’m unsure of but by virtue of my ability to write this sentence and conceptualize these ideas, I feel a deep appreciation for what God has done. Before any discussion about the nature of God could be had, it might be helpful to realize that it could very easily be the case that we would have not existed to have any discussion at all. This maybe overly vague or lacks substance but it’s all I got. Thanks Tony!

Why Homosexuality is Different than Alcoholism, Drug Addiction, Murder, Adultery, and Stealing

“It is as unloving to hold out hope to those who embrace a homosexual lifestyle as it is to assure idolaters, murderers, adulterers, and thieves that they are safe and secure from all alarm.”

That is a quote from a recent article written by Michael Horton. In the article Horton attempts to make the case that homosexual behavior is a symptom of “human depravity” in the same way other sin such as murder, adultery, and theft.

I can see how Horton is putting together his argument based on some verses in the Bible but I don’t think that’s a very effective way to form an argument. Based on his same treatment of scripture, I could make just as strong an argument that women should not be able to speak at all during church services. I could also make the argument that if a Christian man is not an elder, he is free to marry more than one woman. Both of those arguments are silly and could lead to all kinds of unfavorable outcomes but are equally as strong as the argument that Horton makes in this article.

The primary issue with Horton’s position is that it is not observable in a conclusive way that homosexual relationships are any more damaging or hurtful to human beings when compared to the other sins he mentions. When an alcoholic stops drinking, the general trend is that their life is improved. When a drug addict gets clean, they typically go on to lead more productive, happier lives. Marriages typically have a better chance of being healthy when adultery is avoided. If someone can fight off the temptation to steal items that don’t belong to them, they will have a much better chance of avoiding jail time which I think we can all agree is a good thing, right?

But what about homosexual behavior? Let’s compare the general experiences of homosexuals who have found acceptance and support from the ones that either repress their orientation or who are marginalized because of it. In my experience, I find those who have been accepted and supported by their friends and loved ones to experience much better outcomes. For those who experience rejection, who are encouraged to repress their orientation, to essentially be cut off from the prospect of deep, meaningful love with another human being…..we typically observe much worse outcomes. Horton writes about his own personal encounter:

At the end of his rope, a young man called me at the suggestion of a mutual friend. After a summer of discussing these questions and building new categories, with the support of a good church, he returned home. He told his parents that he was neither “gay” nor “straight.” Secure in Christ’s sufficient work, he was a Christian struggling with same-sex attraction yet who rejects the gay lifestyle. It was not a category for these folks. After his pastor informed him that he was one of those Gentiles whom Paul refers to as “given up” by God to their depraved desires, this friend and brother committed suicide. Superficial views of sin can be deadly, especially when the lethal weapon was a misuse of Scripture.

What’s particularly interesting about this article is that Horton doesn’t seem to think that he is any way complicit in the tragic ending of this young man’s life. Of course not, right? It was that other pastor who’s superficial view lead to it all. I’d beg to differ and suggest that anyone along the way who didn’t accept this young man’s orientation has blood on their hands. It’s a shame.

Celebrating Hell

Here is this church’s response that they posted on their website:

5/30/12 – The Pastor and members of Apostolic Truth Tabernacle do not condone, teach, or practice hate of any person for any reason. We believe and hope that every person can find true Bible salvation and the mercy and grace of God in their lives. We are a strong advocate of the family unit according to the teachings and precepts found in the Holy Bible. We believe the Holy Bible is the Divinely-inspired Word of God and we will continue to uphold and preach that which is found in scripture.

I wonder how this church reconciles it’s exhuberant jubilation for an entire group of people going to hell with its expressed hope that “every person can find true Bible salvation”? While the bigotry of this church is apparent and disgusting, there’s something going on here that I think often gets lost in this issue. The reality is when no one’s looking, fundamentalists don’t really care all that much if homosexuals don’t get into heaven. Not only do they not care, but it’s critical to their sense of salvation. For the fundamentalist, if people who they deem unworthy of heaven’s reward could potentially be allowed into heaven, it would diminish their sense of salvation and even self-worth. Put more simply, if a gay person can get into heaven then heaven isn’t quite heaven any longer.

This is the true dark side of fundamentalism that often gets airbrushed on church websites. Publicly they’ll use bullshit cliches appear more loving than they truly are but when they don’t suspect their true feelings will be published to the outside world, the idea that millions of gay individuals will suffer conscious, eternal punishment is a cause for great celebration and dancing. Isn’t that lovely?

Thoughts on the Future of Mars Hill

My good friend Shane Hipps announced this past weekend that he will be leaving Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI. He explained the circumstances of his departure on his blog. First I’ll just say that Shane is a friend and so I don’t pretend to be an objective observer here. Secondly, I’d like to say that the sky is the limit for Shane. Wherever he ends up is irrelevant. He has a great deal to offer others and I’d bet the farm that will not change.

Third, what has gone on over the past year at Mars Hill illuminates an inherent tension that we all encounter- Change is difficult. Beginning with Rob Bell and continuing with the addition of Shane Hipps, Mars Hill has been a community led by a spirit of provocation, pushing boundaries, and asking questions that often lead to a profound disorientation of “what we know to be true.” The teaching ministry of Mars Hill has been the oil in the lamp of a global community of people who have rejected the status quo carried on by the rusty, inactive propositions of conventional Christian belief.

It’s no secret that while the teaching coming out of Mars Hill has had an immeasurable impact in the lives of many, the church’s organizational structure has not been smooth, to put it nicely. Staff turnover is a regular occurrence and there’s really no point in time where you could say they’ve found their institutional groove.

The reality is that provocation and evolution don’t play nicely with stability and organizational harmony. I encounter this very tension in the balance between art and business. While churches and rock bands are entirely difference fields, the tension is very much the same. The more you push boundaries, the more disgruntled folks you will encounter.

As a community led by a provocative spirit, Mars Hill has struggled organizationally and that’s shouldn’t be a big shock. It’s simply hasn’t been in it’s nature to be a consistent, well-oiled machine. But that’s forgivable in light of the impact the teaching has had for many. But maybe after the departure of Bell, this organization is looking to minimize the very spirit that birthed their community for the sake of efficiency and stability. How else do you explain the move by the church leadership to go from their previous structure of Rob Bell, along with Shane Hipps, leading the community and shaping the vision through their teaching to the placement of a full-time teaching pastor under the authority of an executive pastor? And what teaching pastor who delivers anywhere near the caliber of teaching that Mars Hill is used to will accept that role? I’m curios to see how it shakes out and I sincerely hope they stay true to the spirit of provocation that has blessed so many.

The Intersection of Politics and Christianity

There’s an interesting story at NPR regarding the proposed GOP budget. Is the GOP budget that slashes assistance to the poor something that is in line with the Christian calling of hospitality and caring for the poor? Here’s an excerpt from the article:

After the House passed its budget last month, liberal religious leaders said the Republican plan, which lowered taxes and cut services to the poor, was an affront to the Gospel — and particularly Jesus’ command to care for the poor.

Not so, says Wisconsin Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee. He told Christian Broadcasting Network last week that it was his Catholic faith that helped shape the budget plan. In his view, the Catholic principle of subsidiarity suggests the government should have little role in helping the poor.

“Through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities — through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community — that’s how we advance the common good,” Ryan said.

The best thing that government can do, he said, is get out of the way.

Scot McKnight responded to Paul’s quote with a review of the scriptures,

“1. Some folks are poor. They deserve, in most cases, our empathy and our compassion and our help — both as relief and as a path to employment.

2. Scriptures teach God’s people to care for the poor, and when God’s people ignores the poor, God makes it known that he is on the side of the poor. (Let’s not debate the specifics of the “preferential option for the poor.”)

3. Scriptures don’t emerge from either socialism or from free market enterprise, and those who think they do are making a gross historical error. It requires historical finesse and hermeneutical nuance to move from that world into our world. Turning the Bible’s laws into eternal laws is great example of biblicism and will land you in trouble most of the time.

4. God’s people responded to the poor in a variety of ways, including distribution — ever read about Moses in Egypt? And Jubilee? And the laws of gleaning? These are divinely-commanded and governmentally-administered required donations designed to help the poor.

Sometimes God’s people responds individually and locally to care for the poor. Ever read about Paul ad his collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem? (Which, by the way, was a Christian concern for fellow Christians, was an offering and not a tax, and which is not a good set of texts for how democratic societies care for their poor.)

5. The Church’s teaching traditions are worthy of serious exploration, including how Christians have helped shape public policy in a variety of countries in order to make sure the poor are cared for.”

As I read NPR’s story and McKnight’s response, two thoughts jumped out at me.

First, whether we like it or not there is a commonality in the mission of the Church and the purpose of local and federal government. Both seek to alleviate suffering. Both seek to help solve the problems that riddle our society. While there are big differences between the two and how they go about doing their work, there is an obvious overlapping.

Secondly and most importantly, Paul’s logic really does not add up. He says that government should play little if no role in assisting our poorest citizens and puts the responsibility for doing so on churches and charitable organizations to “advance the common good.” The government should “get of the way.” If Paul and the rest of the GOP are truly concerned with the level of poverty in the U.S., they have an interesting way of showing it. It seems to me that Paul’s budget makes idealistic assumptions about how the poor are cared for. Why assume these other organizations are going to pick up the slack when the the government pulls back? If anything, in a struggling economy, Churches and other non-profits are struggling to keep up much less expand their operations. In a perfect world, Paul’s plan would be defensible. Churches and other civic organizations wouldn’t need government assistance in caring for the poor. It sounds great but it’s never been the case and there’s no reason at all to believe it will be the case anytime soon. So the question becomes why the GOP would draft a budget proposal that anticipates a set of circumstances that we’ve never seen before? My guess would be that the current level of poverty in the U.S. is acceptable to GOP and won’t really matter if their policies make it a little worse.

A Sign of Unfaith

“Hardcore Calvinists shouldn’t really care about (e.g. be saddened) or debate on blogs about doctrinal error.

They shouldn’t debate it because only the grace of God can lead one out of error. Achieving truth isn’t a work of human effort or intelligence. Thus, what is the point of arguing or trying to use logic in a debate to convince others?

Relatedly, they couldn’t care because if God has left me in error (and bound for punishment) that is all to His glory. Thus, my error is a display of God’s sovereign will and choice and, thus, should be cause for praise and worship. My error only shows how great God is in enlightening the minds of the elect.

Thus, to care or debate is a sign of unfaith. Or, more likely, a sign that the Calvinist doesn’t, in any practical way, actually believe what he is saying.”

— Richard Beck in a comment on his blog Experimental Theology Read the his original post here.

Christian Leadership Shouldn’t Be A Dude Soup

“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother. Second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male. God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head. Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel. And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female.”

John Piper

There are a lot of things that could be said about the quote above and many have responded. Rachel Held Evans has been curating some responses over on her blog so if you’d like to read more, click here. Here are a few of my own thoughts….

It’s odd to me that while Christianity in the West on a fairly steady decline, Christian leaders would spend their energy making these kinds of observations and distinctions between gender. But then again, maybe these kinds of observations are the very reason Christianity is on the decline. Either way, I think it’s important to point out few very obvious points.

First, the Christian church needs more good leaders. Second, not all men are good leaders. Third, there are many women in the church that possess fantastic leadership qualities. Fourth, if your response to all this is that it isn’t biblical then show me a jpeg of all the the women in your church wearing head coverings and a youtube clip of every women being completely silent during the worship service and in sunday school while washing the feet of saints. If you don’t have any of that shit (since it’s ALL biblical as well), then I don’t want to hear it anymore.

Thanks,
Zach

Allowing Our Anxieties to Teach Us

What must be sacrificed, and it will fee like a sacrifice, is the attachement and the strange satisfaction that problem-solving gives us. Don’t you feel good when you’ve solved problems at the end of the day? We say to ourselves, “I’m an effective, productive, efficient human being. I’ve earned my right to existence today because I’ve solved ten problems.” I do want us to solve problems; certainly there are plenty out there to solve. But not too quickly. We mustn’t lead with our judgments and fears. We shouldn’t lead with our need to fix and solve problems. This is the agenda-filled calculating mind that cannot see things through God’s eyes. We must not get rid of the anxiety until we have learned what it wants to teach us.

— Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs

If you’re like me, an 8 on the enneagram, these words are difficult to swallow.

Enneagram