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

The Theology of the Devil

“No longer is there any sense that we might perhaps all be more or less at fault, and that we might be expected to take upon our own shoulders the wrongs of others by forgiveness, acceptance, patient understanding and love, and thus help one another to find the truth. On the contrary, in the devil’s theology, the important thing is to be absolutely right and to prove that everybody else is absolutely wrong. This does not exactly make for peace and unity among men, because it means that everyone wants to be absolutely right himself or to attach himself to another who is absolutely right. And in order to prove their rightness they have to punish and eliminate those who are wrong.”

— Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

Why You’re Religious Regardless of What Your Bumper Sticker Says

Definition of RELIGIOUS

1
: relating to or manifesting faithful devotion to an acknowledged ultimate reality or deity
2
: of, relating to, or devoted to religious beliefs or observances
3
a : scrupulously and conscientiously faithful

It interesting to observe folks in the Christian culture who’ve made it a kind of religious practice to minimize “religion.” The common refrain we hear is that the Gospel is not religion or that Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. When I see people make this distinction I want give them a dictionary with the word “religious” bookmarked for their convenience. It’s clear they’re operating with a flawed meaning.

Ken Wilber, in his book The Sociable God, made observation that might be helpful here. He writes,

“It has recently become commonplace to differentiate “religion” and “spirituality,” which is yet another interesting definition. According to this view, “religion” is institutional, rigid, dogmatic, and authoritarian, whereas “spirituality” is alive, vital, experiential and personal. This judgment, common among Baby Boomer writers, may contain a degree of truth, but it often tends to obscure more than illumine, because it soon becomes apparent that “spiritual” here simply means a religious truth or experience that is true for me, but if that spiritual truth gets passed on to another person, and certainly if it gets passed on to another generation, then it must by definition become institutionalized. It soon becomes apparent that individuals who use the distinction between “religion” and “spirituality” are pointing to a spiritual truth for themselves, but they haven’t given much thought what happens if they wanted to pass this spiritual experience or truth on to another human being, because as soon as they do so, their “spirituality” starts to look a lot like “religion.” In other words, in most cases of how these words are used, “spirituality” is simply religion for me; once my spirituality is shared with another, or passed on to another generation, then I am faced with all the same problems of “religion” that I temporarily avoided by introducing the distinction.”

Once we begin to establish a shared journey with others in order to seek out truths about who we are and who God is, we are participants in religious activity. Let’s say you meet every Sunday with some of your friends and family to worship and learn about your God, you are being religious. Let’s say every week or once a quarter you take communion. You nibble on bread and drink grape juice which are symbols of Christ’s body. Sorry to break it to you but that’s a religious practice. If you decide to adorn your back windshield with stickers indicating to your fellow drivers that you’re “saved by grace” and that Christianity is “not a religion but a relationship,” you’re ironically engaging in a religiously motivated activity.

This distinction seems to be motivated by folks who have objections to the worship practices that are different from their own. You might hear from these folks that religion is this while the Gospel is that. As a person who was raised in a Baptist church, I’m well aware of this anxiety. When I visited a Methodist church as a kid, I was totally thrown for a loop. “What’s up with that dude’s robe,” I thought to myself. “This isn’t how WE take communion!” or “What the fuck is Lent?” The worship practices of others can be unsettling for some but that doesn’t mean they should be demonized. The reality is that we are all religious while our methods of worship vary and that’s something we should all be thankful for. The Gospel can’t be reduced to religious activity but we can’t communally reorient ourselves to truth of God’s message without being religious. Thank God we have Baptists and Episcopalians and Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox and everyone in between.

Why Mark Driscoll Is So Compelling

Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on twitter would know that I like to poke fun at Mark Driscoll, lead pastor of Mars Hill church in Seattle, WA. Before I get into why I think Driscoll is such a compelling figure for many Christians, let me say some good things about him. First, the dude is smart. There’s no question he’s a sharp guy. Secondly, he’s pretty damn funny. He’s certainly got a “dark humor” streak that often times lacks pastoral maturity but that doesn’t mean what he’s saying isn’t funny, even if he’s poking fun at people like me. Third, he’s an effective communicator which isn’t a stretch considering the fact that’s he’s both smart and funny. Ok, with the nice stuff out of the way it’s time to consider the reasons why Driscoll so attractive and repelling to many in the Christian world. Here’s my theory:

I start with the observation that Calvinism is a strange theological system. It may not seem strange to those who consider themselves Calvinists but if you ask Joe Blow on the street what he thinks about the notion of a god who creates billions of human beings knowing beforehand that they will suffer eternal torment in a place called hell because he chose not predestine their good fortune…..you’d probably get a blank stare. Now I get that Calvinism is trying make sense of the problem of evil and the Fall of mankind and so it goes on to frame a way in which it all goes down and I appreciate that, but on the face of it, it seems odd. Fair or unfair, it’s hard for people who don’t find themselves devoted to Calvinism to see how it doesn’t make God into a kind of controlling monster that loves all humanity but not enough to predestine them all for reconciliation.

While I’m sure Calvinists would object to my characterization of their beliefs, I’ve never heard a reply of theirs that made God seem like less of totally soveriegn being who allows a vast majority of his created beings to be tortured endlessly. Because of this peculiar view of the nature of God, I suspect there is a burden a Calvinist might bear. There is an uphill battle for any Calvinist attemtping justify this view of God to the outside world. Instead of carrying the full weight of this understanding of God, at times it might seem easier to skim over these harsh realities about God, just be “missional,” be nice and talk about God’s grace and sovereignty and conveniently leave out the part where God creates souls for the purpose of eternal pain and suffering. When I put myself in their shoes, I can relate to what that burden might feel like.

So imagine you’re a philosophically weary Calvinist, tired of tip-toeing around the one-two punch of God’s ultimate sovereignty and his limited atonement. In walks Mark Driscoll into your life and you see a guy who doesn’t beat around the bush when it comes to the oddities Calvinism. Not only does he not beat around the bush but he doubles down on every Calvinistic eccentricity other teachers with the same view might conveniently skip over. He’s bold and he’s brazen and he’s exactly what a weary Calvinist might desperately be searching for. He’s a cold drink of water in the desert of philosophical exile. He’s the big brother that comes with you to school to confront the skeptical bully on the theological playground. If I were a Calvinist I’d be eternally grateful for what Driscoll does and I’d be the first in line to dismiss the criticism aimed his way as a result of all the crazy shit he says.

But the reality is I’m not a Calvinist. I simply can’t accept Calvinism as a theological concept because it points to a nature of god that I find unpraiseworthy, but that’s just me. With that said, Driscoll is a compelling figure to me because he’s the perfect embodiment of the pathologies of Calvinism. Certain statements he makes remind me of what some call an “overshare”. Other Calvinists voices might choose to avoid telling people that “God personally and objectively hates you!” even though that’s an accurate depiction of what their theology reflects. But not Driscoll. He doesn’t leave the crazy out. He doubles down with confidence and boldness. These kinds of extreme declarations from Driscoll represent a bubbling up to the surface the pathologies of Calvinism. With his declaration that “God hates some of you,” Driscoll is simultaneously relieving the burden of weary Calvinists and providing shining examples for critics to use as evidence that the underpinnings of Calvinism lead to dangerous and hurtful outcomes.