Sunday, July 6, 2014

Our American Idol

Everything about this post challenges how I was raised. I was raised to be a good, patriotic, God fearing, American, Christian. I spent lots of time with my maternal grandparents growing up. They loved America. She'd been good to them since they'd migrated to California during the Dust Bowl. They eventually settled on the Monterey Peninsula where my grandmother worked on Cannery Row while my grandfather served in WWII. Once he came home, they started their family and my grandfather began a career of driving big rigs, eventually owning his own trucks and contracting hauls for Monterey Sand Company. I imagine he hauled for other companies before that, but that was the one I remember him hauling for because when I was a little girl I'd play in the sand dunes while he finished up and prepared for the next day's run. 

They decided to build a home and I've been told, that at the time, the Monterey Herald was offering residential lots with a subscription to the newspaper. The lots were on the north side of the bay, in the City of Seaside. My grandfather took out a double subscription and obtained two plots of land on Harding Street where he built their home. I can't say for sure if he actually got the land that way, but that's how it was told to me. Eventually, he and my grandmother bought a home in the nicer Del Rey Oaks neighborhood and my parents and I lived in the Harding Street home until they divorced. My mom and I lived there until she remarried when I was 9. 

My grandfather invested and paid cash for what he bought. He worked hard and saved and he was a proud Republican. I grew up assuming all Christians were as well and that all Republicans were Christians. Only lazy minorities collected welfare and affirmative action was left winged liberalism designed to punish hardworking whites. We hated Jimmy Carter and adored Ronald Reagan. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson told us how to vote, Biblically, to preserve our heritage as a Christian nation. America was God's and a blessing to all countries, bringing justice and truth to nations and territories in need. America was in charge of saving the world. God had blessed America.

I didn't have any reason to question the patriotism and political allegiances of my family. In fact, when my mom did remarry, my stepdad seemed to disagree with every political position my grandfather held and I didn't care much for my stepdad. It was easy to continue agreeing with what I'd been taught. I didn't have any reason not to. Not until middle school, at least. In middle school I figured out that most of my teachers were (gasp) democrats. And some of those teachers had earned my trust and respect. It was confusing. So I prayed for them to find Jesus, certain that was the explanation for their "communist" tendencies. 

Honestly, my political leanings remained much like those I'd gleaned from my grandparents for many years. Out of loyalty, I guess. And nothing in my life stirred a need to reexamine. Not for a while at least. Even after my grandparents died and I began to struggle with my faith, I didn't question which candidates a Christian should vote for. Ever. 

Then my life sort of fell apart. At 19 I was pregnant and uninsured and found myself forced to apply for government health coverage to obtain prenatal care and coverage for delivery. I struggled with shame over becoming pregnant out of wedlock and for finding myself at the welfare office, with the lazy people. I consoled myself with the fact that I'd refused to abort and maybe only needing health coverage wasn't the same as ACTUAL welfare. I mean, I WAS working. Right? 

And then I got pregnant again. And needed coverage again. And for a long time I held out on applying for food stamps or cash aid because I hated what I imagined my grandad would think. But life didn't get better. Drug use, job loss and some self examination, eventually, led to my growing awareness that I needed an education. And unless I took advantage of our government's welfare programs, that was never going to happen.

So, I got on welfare: cash aid and food stamps. My youngest son's grandmother, Maria, committed to supporting my goals however I needed (Which she did, without complaint.) I went back to school, spending two years in community college and finishing my bachelors degree at California State University, Monterey Bay, what was then the newest, and likely, the most liberal campus in the CSU system. I'd reclaimed my Christian faith but had found myself outside of what I'd been taught a good, Christian, young woman should be.

Day after day, for two solid years, I spent time working on a humanities major. I was studying issues of social justice, poverty, and white privilege. To say that my paradigm was being challenged doesn't begin to describe what I was going through and how my views were changing. And for a long time, I was afraid to talk about those things with my Christian friends. When I did share the ways I struggled to hold onto my conservative, republican, religious views, I was often met with resistance, or worse, insults. Even so, I couldn't go back and found myself wondering what Jesus thought of how we voted. Over time, I grew more convinced that the ways the religious right saw and addressed certain groups in America, the marginalized, was not at all how Jesus would instruct Christians to relate to them. "The least of these" as Jesus called them, weren't just in foreign, third world, nations. They were here, in America, and for them it was a much different America than I'd grown up in. 

By the time I finished and approached graduation, the Monterey Peninsula had become the country's most expensive place to live. I was facing leaving family housing on campus to look for a home for my family in an outrageously expensive housing market. My education wasn't going to make much change for my family with rent that I still couldn't afford. After much prayer and discussion with those in my life, I made the decision to move to Houston, Texas. 

We arrived on June 30, 2003 and I attended church the following Sunday, the Sunday this particular church honored the Fourth of July. I was totally unprepared for the patriotic vigor of the South. For all the implied patriotism expected of a Christian I'd grown up understanding, there was no implication in this service that Sunday. The message was explicit and clear: good Christians are good patriots and good (true and conservative) patriots were good Christians. I wondered if moving to Houston had been a mistake.

In spite of that, the boys and I came to love Texas as our home and I grew more comfortable to ask questions and challenge assumptions when social issues came up. I was passionate that the spirit of American individualism had clouded the vision of many Christians making it difficult to see that they were using politics as a way to avoid engaging the human beings behind the stereotypes political positions often perpetuate. And it was enough for someone to even quietly say, "I'd never thought of it that way." Even if that only happened on rare occasion. And Texas was rubbing off on me. The gratitude for America and even more so, Texas, was infectious. The disenchantment for America I'd gained in college was fading and I learned to listen more to the views of those I no longer agreed with. I often reminded myself of the culture my grandfather, and many of my new Texas friends, had grown up in. I forced myself to make earnest attempts to believe the best in people, even if I didn't understand them. Texas became home and we loved being here and I wasn't ashamed of my roots anymore. I remembered the blessing and treasure it is to be born in a country that protects my right to worship and speak my mind. Yet, America had changed and it seemed to keep changing rapidly. It wasn't the country my grandparents grew up and succeeded in. I doubted, and still do, that it would ever be the same. 

I've been in Texas for 11 years now and I can say without a doubt that I so far my prediction was right. Laws and policies are changing fast and what was the norm for American culture when I was a kid, doesn't look anything like what it's been for my kids, particularly my 8 year old. I didn't even know what a homosexual was until the Aids epidemic when I was in fourth grade. My son, however, was in the same class as one of three boys adopted out of the foster system by two men. I can't say for sure he's noticed or if it's just that he didn't think much of it. The reality of our own family is that of his three siblings, no two have the same parents. American families are different now. Even in our churches. Even in Texas, which will likely be one of the last states to legalize gay marriage. But it's coming, there's no avoiding it. Just recently, the city of Houston gave up it's distinction of being one of the last major American cities left without an anti-discrimination law on the books. And people here lost it because our homosexual mayor (apparently "single handedly") included that transgender Houstonians couldn't be denied access to the bathroom they gender identified with. Eventually that language was changed to appeal to religious conservatives, but what I couldn't stop wondering was, how in the heck did America's fourth largest city slip by until 2014 without equal rights ordinances in the law books? 

It's foolish to ask that though. Just a few minutes on social media suggests why. What we might otherwise filter or keep to ourselves altogether, we post and comment freely in a new kind of public square. One that gives us a false sense of anonymity. I'm not even saying that's all bad. I enjoy having a place to hash out my thoughts and opinions, myself. And I aim to do it in ways that are respectful and understanding. That's partly because I'm a storyteller and I want to know people's stories. It's also because so many of my own opinions and positions have changed that I expect a few more may follow. Yes, on a few things I'm unwavering, but, American culture and its politics are not among them. 

I don't fault those who are steadfast politically, even fighting for a return to America's past. I understand why some of what we've lost is important. I just don't think America will turn back the clock. And as a Christian, I have to explore what that means as to how to live in the culture we have now. America may have once been a "Christian nation" (although I think we may have romanticized it some since then), but the reality is, it really isn't any longer. It's a nation that is home to people from all over the planet and we represent many cultures, and many faiths. As the influence of the religious right becomes less relevant to up and coming generations, Americans are less and less defined by Christian traditions. And many American Christians are not at all happy about it. In fact, some are downright furious. 

I have to confess, I'm not angry. I'm not even shocked. Maybe that's partly because even though I spent a lot of time with my very traditional grandparents, I actually lived in a home that often felt like it was on the verge of disaster. Even though I believed my grandparents traditional way of life was good, it wasn't my reality. I also knew there were some ideas my middle class white family held to that were already behind the times some twenty years after the Civil Rights Movement. I've already lived through watching people go to war in order to keep things the same. It didn't work then, and I don't think it will work now. 

One common thread in this current fight against the new American culture is that we have to stand up for our freedoms. We can't let them take away our religious liberties. I wrote in my last post that I can see how the changes might, in fact, affect the ways Christians in America worship and do business. At the same time, we've seen recently that some laws and protections still stand. Yes, culture is changing, but it's not turning out to be all or nothing for us. And we aren't always the group in all this that's being bullied. It seems that at times, even when we are being challenged, we'd previously set the precedent ourselves. 

For example, we insist on protecting the freedom to worship as we choose, a freedom that is worth protecting for all Americans. Yet, that seems incongruent with insisting that we include references to God in a pledge said by people of all faiths, or none. There are infinite memes online tracing our country's depravity back to the removal of prayer from schools. Some even insist kids can't pray themselves at school or bring a Bible, which isn't true at all. I've worked in public schools and seen kids pray and read Scripture with my own eyes. Maybe not at football games or graduations any longer, but I'm not certain the religious right, if you will, understand the implication of returning to those traditions. If my Christian kid can get on the public school microphone, purchased with tax dollars, to lead a prayer to Jesus Christ, that means that his Muslim friend can use the same microphone and lead a traditional Muslim prayer when it's his turn. Going back to the roots we say we've turned away from would demand so. Otherwise we'd be violating the very Bill of Rights we now insist is failing us. Is it? Or has it just begun to protect others? 

Someone told me recently that Christians have a responsibility to fight for a commitment to holding our government accountable to the Constitution. They said, "It's right to fight for the Constitution because it affirms God just as the Declaration of Independence does when it says 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.'" (I do know that the Constitution doesn't mention God. I'm not sure most Americans know that, though.)

Wait, what?! Affirm God? God doesn't need to be affirmed. Not even by America. That's right, The United States of America could collapse tomorrow and it will have absolutely no bearing on God's authority. He doesn't need America to stay the same in order to protect His throne. Yet, even as those thoughts raced through my mind, I realized that many Christians in America may not believe that God's in charge because, in our lifetime, America always has been. 

Then my mind went to the phrase "certain unalienable Rights" and that, as my friend said, we must protect our rights because they were given to us by God. I'll admit that I do not have the entire cannon of Scripture memorized but I have read it all and some of it many times over. I began searching my memory for any account in Scripture that I could think of that supports the idea that God gave us "unalienable rights." I even asked other people if anything came to mind for them and went back to places in my Bible where rights of any sort are even mentioned. I could very well be completely wrong but unless I am, there isn't much in there about our "God given rights" nor any mention in the early church history of Christians promoting the Gospel by fighting for any rights at all. What did come to mind was the teachings of Jesus and of Paul that clearly require that believers LAY DOWN THEIR RIGHTS for the sake of the Gospel. 

In fact, the very essence of the Gospel is that God in the flesh denied Himself His rights, as King of all Creation, to come and die a criminal's death on behalf of human beings who didn't even want Him. Early Christians submitted to the governments that sought to murder them so that Jesus might be known. And those governments did murder them. Brutally. As many still do today. 

Not in America, though. Americans have "unalienable rights." And a very large portion of Americans who claim to follow Jesus believe that to be true. They believe the poetic words of our Declaration of Independence (which really only applied to some people when it was written) give greater weight to what we're entitled to than Scripture does. I believe it, too. Somedays I find myself insisting on my own rights at the expense of treating others with God's kindness and often it's over petty preferences that have no bearing whatsoever on my ability to worship Jesus. Like our obsession with making sure all Christians say "Merry Christmas" lest they be accused of denying Jesus and giving immigrants and atheists "their way" instead of making sure they do things our way. Does it seem to anyone but me that we've used our identity as a "Christian Nation" to enjoy living somewhere that doesn't even cost us anything to follow Jesus? How can we call that following Christ at all? Jesus told us it was going to be costly. He said it would cost us everything. 

I AM NOT saying that we should pull out and forgo our current right to participate in the political process as our conscience dictates. We should exercise the rights we do have in an effort to be His kingdom here on earth. But, when those rights trump the sacrificial servitude Christ exemplified and calls us to, we've made them an idol. It's like we've added those historical documents to the revelation of Scripture because we believe they protect us. God is our protection. Only God. Any protection we've been under as Americans has been authored by God. 

No party or president, no law or right, no traditional definition of any institution created by God can be mistaken as our protection. The book of Romans instructed believers to submit to the governing authorities as they were appointed and ordained by God. This was written to them at a time when Christians were being fed to lions by the Roman government for the entertainment of its citizens. Our brothers and sisters who died as martyrs did not put their faith in their country or its leaders. They put it in Jesus and the power of His resurrection. When Paul insisted on exercising his rights as a Roman citizen it was ONLY in an effort to have another audience to preach the Gospel to. He and the other disciples were relentlessly pursued by the authorities and time after time they were imprisoned and beaten for their refusal to deny Jesus. And the laws against preaching Christ did not keep the Gospel from spreading. In fact, it seemed to be exactly part of how God planned for it to spread. 

I hear and see every day that America has turned her back on God by the tolerance and acceptance we insist be shown to all people. I cannot agree that's how we've turned our backs on God. In fact, Jesus would have shamed us in our resistance to being tolerant, not to mention insisting that we are extended the same courtesy. He was hated and scorned and yet showed genuine love to the drunks and sinners. The religious leaders of Israel did not tolerate Him for it. They plotted His murder. It's not turning our back on God when we offer sacrificial hospitality to foreigners as Scripture dictates. It's not turning away from God when we spend time getting to know people who sin differently than we do so we might be granted the privilege to point them to the Cross. That's not denying Christ. He was discounted for hanging out with the low life's, the immoral. Tolerance is not how we deny Him.

American Christians deny Jesus when we insist that we need America to protect us in order to worship Him. When we fear being without the protection of our government, we make it our god. When we fear our way of life will be threatened if we don't get certain leaders of the "right" party into office, we make them our god. When definitions need to remain traditional to protect the sanctity of what we claim God created, those definitions are our god. When we insist that the Declaration of Independence carries more weight than Scripture in determining what we are entitled to, it is our god. And those documents are written on paper that burns and in ink that fades yet we bow down to them. Putting our hope in them is how we, the Christians in America, have turned our backs on God. 

I'm not making many friends I'm sure. My own grandparents, whom I loved and respected more than anyone, would have been indignant maybe. Quite likely, even. Unless...unless they loved Jesus more than they loved America. And I believe they did. I knew their stories and the many ways they had been changed by Him. They lived in their time and followed Jesus as He equipped them to then. 

This is our time. This new culture in America is where He's appointed us to follow Him. And we are a changed people by the power of a mighty God who raises the dead, He can be known through us no matter how America changes. Is America still the best nation to be fortunate enough to live in? I think so. But America didn't save me from the penalty of my sin against God. Jesus did and Jesus has the same power today to grow His Church in America no matter how the culture changes. I want to step into being part of that now and figure out how to be Him to a society that is offended and hostile towards Him and to me. I want to love my enemies. My "gay rights activist" enemies. My illegal immigrant enemies. I want to love my socialist agenda promoting enemies. Or how about my "fundie gay hating enemies?" Don't leave out the "right to bear arms" enemies. And even my God hating atheist enemies who want to erase any trace of Him from our history. Because He can't be erased. He doesn't change even when laws do. His ways and glory will never fade away even if America one day does. 

American Christians, let's all of us give God His throne back. Let's turn to Him again and trust the only One who can protect us because He will. We may be afraid but He isn't afraid. He's not even surprised. And He promises that no matter what, He will be victorious and the only justice that cannot fail will be served. 

We can trust Him. We've just never really had to before. Maybe it's time that we do and rest in the confidence of Who He Is instead of what we want Anerica to be. Who He is is all that matters and American culture, and the changes we're seeing, does not have any effect on that. 

I do love America and I'm so grateful to live here. It's just not my final destination and I will not accept that America is the best God has to offer. Our King is coming and bringing the fullness of His kingdom with Him. Let us eagerly await His return and serve this nation by loving like He did no matter what it costs us. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

I'm Coming Out: What I Really Think About Homosexuality

This is a lengthy post. If you're not interested in reading it through, I completely understand. However, I hope that those who do read it all will come away, at the very least, feeling that I did my best to approach something so sensitive as gently and clearly as I poosibly could.

I had promised this post would be light after my first post lamenting the brokenness of the Body of Christ. I wanted to make fun of my blog's title alluding to the catch phrase so many of us shudder at when mentioned. I'd recently had someone throw it at me in an attempt to challenge advice I'd given.

"WWJD? Or is it WWKD?", they said with contempt.

It made me laugh then, but after some reflection, I concluded that I'm really only qualified to consider "What Would Kim Do?" and I do that all the time. May as well own it.

I wanted to have more fun than that on the heels of that heavy post I'd written just a couple of weeks ago. Particularly because those words reflected what's really driving this blog, a passion God's put in me for unity among believers. Unity isn't easy, though, and talking about it isn't always fun. You can spend five seconds on my Twitter feed and see that.

Even so, I am a super fan of social media. I use it like I used the telephone as a teenager. But now, I can talk to many people at once. Even people I don't know. And I'm convicted that my faith dictates that I use social media respectfully and see it as an opportunity to share my love for Jesus and His love for others, with people who don't share my beliefs. And I'm aware of what they've seen. And heard. And a whole lot of that hasn't been pretty. Some of it has even come from me.

Some time ago, I'd determined that the best way to be open with my faith, and the least offensive approach possible, was to remain neutral. That means that I avoid politics and hot button issues, particularly those that have been championed by the "religious right." If discussions come up I attempt to engage, assuming the best of others and with a mind open enough to just admit that I'm not the God I say is so amazing and uncontainable, so I probably don't have it all figured out. Even when I think I do. And while my goal of promoting open dialogue is important, my decision to be neutral in public was, at it's core, about the actual people in  my real life who needed to know more about my love than my feeble opinions. I did not want to be that friend or family member whose posts let my people know that I'd already decided what I thought and didn't need to know their hearts. Christians included. Because what matters most is how we consider people's hearts.

I tend to go further than neutral, though, with those in my feed who do claim to share my faith. I make efforts to respectfully challenge the ways that some confuse politics with their faith. I also have a pretty messy past that included being a young single mom who went from drug use to college when Jesus rescued me. I didn't pull myself up by my bootstraps. I couldn't even afford boots because I was on welfare. Those pieces of my story have allowed me to speak into the often polarizing opinions of my fellow believers because if they know Jesus, if I do, then we should all welcome the challenge to engage respectfully because we carry His Name.

But before I had a chance to tell you more about me with some levity, before I got to throw up another neutral flag, people all over America, calling themselves Christians, went completely crazy on each other and the unity I had written about seemed so far from so many people Tweeting and blogging that day. Actually, it was most of last week and was the result of World Vision's first announcement of the plan to extend employment to celibate or legally married homosexuals. People cheered and people wept and some called people names and sponsors decided not to fund World Vision and LGBT folks decided they would and the Christian Right said people were soft on sin and the Left said the Right cared more about hating gays than loving children. Many on both sides said they couldn't even accept that the other side worshipped the same Jesus. 

I made an attempt to address a post I saw on Twitter and, in keeping with my neutral position, I just mentioned that their post came off as hateful. The whole strand became one insult after another and I felt like my commitment to peace here in the neutral zone was interpreted as defense of the actions that were making so many angry. And then I read Jen Hatmaker's blog bringing the sort of validation and understanding that I had been hoping to achieve in the first place. As I read, I felt so glad for her reasoned words and thoughtful attempt to keep us from turning on each other. 

Then came the comments. One after another, I saw that many people didn't appreciate her post at all. Over and over again was the accusation that she wasn't standing on the "right" side, but that accusation was coming from all sides. And I realized what that meant, there is no neutral. Homosexuality is THE issue defining the American Church and we are all going to have to pick a side. Because if we don't, hurt people, who are acting in anger, are going to pick one for us. 

I thought back to those actual people in my real life and had the fear that my silence and neutrality left them with the same impressions. In an effort to protect those relationships I'd opened myself up to misunderstanding and misinterpretation. I began to pray for the courage to stop being neutral and pray that I would still be invited to the table in my honesty. That's the cry of many in all of this. At least it was. 

Then World Vision changed it's mind. And what had already been such a hard day became worse. Unless you were standing on the Right and cheering in victory. But my Twitter feed was flooded with disgust and hurt. And I saw that for many of them, it was just another moment with the Church that was like all the others they'd had. Just one more time Christians had said, "You're too different to be one of us. Too gay."

I was convinced. I knew that my burden, for the division in the Bride of Chrsit, was too important to be lost in this supposed nuetrality. My attempts at peacemaking were shut down because by refusing to commit to a position in a climate of extreme distrust, I'd been assumed to be the enemy. Of everyone. And I wasn't fooling anyone. I'm not neutral on this. Nobody is. 

So, I'm here now, attempting to correct that. 

It's hard to describe something so complex without being long winded. And I've got Pentecostal preacher DNA in me so I pray you stick with me. My views on homosexuality are informed by some very personal experiences and I don't want to be misunderstood. If my thoughts make you angry and you want to comment and discuss I welcome that. The comment will be more meaningful, though, if you read it all. Don't put a label on me without hearing me out, please. And as I describe my heart on this, I'd appreciate it if you'd respect that it is from my very tender heart and is deeply connected to a faith and community I hold dear. A faith that we may not define identically and a community that is as messy as the varied understandings of God, but one we all claim to love. 

Having said that, I need to tell you something many will be tempted to attack me for even daring to suggest. I'm not going to pretend that's not true. Just don't stop there, please. That's all I ask. It's for everyone to read, but because of where I'm coming from, my words are directed to Christians in the LGBT community. Please allow me to tell my story. 

I relate to your experience as a Christian who is gay. I don't want to insult you by insisting my experience has been identical, but I do ask that you hear what my experience has been and remain open to considering that my hurt has been so much like yours that I anticipated much of the response I saw. I understood where it was coming from. 

I'm hoping that my evangelical tribe will also enter into this willing to consider that what seems to be a simple sin issue is often the  symptom of something so far below the surface that focusing on behavior leaves many feeling hopeless and rejected. 

And I know how that feels. I don't know, but I do know, how it feels to be gay in a conservative Christian church.  An evenagelica church. A church so far to the right that mainlines blush. And I mean to tell you that I do know. My personal experience has felt like what you've described. 

I'm not saying I know people who've told me how it feels, although I do. I even taught in a Christian school where parents were hoping their kids would repent of their gayness and I'd think, "Why would a parent send a gay kid here?" So, I understand how that experience looks for the LGBT people who've been there and those in my life, who've shared their stories, all contribute to my thoughts. But I am clearly telling you that I understand the experience homosexuals describe of being in a church that says they "love the sinner and hate the sin" and show that "love" by reminding the sinner of the unacceptable nature of that sin. I heard people say that all sin was equal but understood by what they said to me, that that didn't include mine. My sin was worse.

But, you're probably shutting down because I'm not gay. I have no right to assert that I know how it feels to be gay.  

Ok. Agreed. I don't know how if feels to be gay. But I know that your stories, those I've been reading and the stories poured out to me in person, they're your's, but they sound like mine. 

I get it. Please don't be quick to discount what I'm saying. I know how it feels to be someone whose very nature, from conception, directed them to behaviors that the Bible calls sin. I know what it's like to be treated like my actions were simply "backsliding rebellion". I know what it is to live two lives. One away from church and one in it. I know what it feels like to be shamed for my thoughts and struggles and the ways my behaviors repulsed those who said they loved me. And many did love me. But some made it hard to believe. 

Like the Sunday night, in a circle of people chatting about where to eat, my pastor's wife turned the conversation to holiness and before I realized it, she'd taken a step towards me with her finger aimed to my face and said, "And if you'll behave like that in public, WHAT WILL YOU DO IN PRIVATE."

And I know more. I know how it feels to have that deep hatred for yourself that comes from knowing that no matter how much you wanted to not be who you were, so you could never sin that way ever again, it wasn't  going to happen. I know how it feels for my sin to be everyone's bullseye. And I know the stigma of being the wrong kind of sinner. I know the pain of sharing something so deep and awful only to be told you haven't prayed enough or read the Bible enough or you'd have stopped thinking those things. I know what it's like to wonder if God was big enough to save me. I've wanted to know if what was in me, who I am, from conception until now, was even something He could love. 

I know how that feels.

I know that because I have a mental illness.

 DO NOT jump to the conclusion that I am saying homosexuality is a mental illness. 

I'm not saying that. Please. Don't. 

And don't discount my experience as a ridiculous comparison until you take an honest look. As poorly as Chirstians have handled homosexuality, they've not done any better with the mentally ill. Can you just step into my story for a bit and hear that what I've heard sounds a lot like what the LGBT community has heard. I've heard that I was choosing to be depressed, unstable, emotional, dramatic and that doesn't even touch the ways that my diagnosis wired me to crave drugs and engage in promiscuity. To be clear, I'm not making the claim that the manogomous sex of homosexual couples, who are legally married, is the moral equivalent of drug use and fornication, and I will get  to where I am on those things, but I am saying that when I was growing up and doing what I felt powerless to stop, when I was a mom and a wife attending week after week, hiding how outrageous I was behaving in private, wreaking havoc on my home and fearing each day would be worse than the last, at all those times I heard the message that I was choosing who I was and could change it if I really wanted. 

If I REALLY loved God. And I'd wonder if I did love Him, because I couldn't behave in a way that evidenced that. Even though I tried and begged Him to make me something less wrong. 

And could you lean in a little more to hear me say something else? There isn't any word study or question about translation nor cultural context that says my behaviors aren't what the Bible meant to define as sinful. I'm not trying to tell you that those lenses that interpret Scripture in ways that support affirming homosexuality are invalid either, I'm not qualified to do so. What I'm telling you to consider is that there isn't a church in America that will contextualize my behaviors in a way that says they aren't sin. Yet, it's still coming out of who I am. I was born with my disorder. I did not choose it. It makes sense to me when the LGBT community tells us their orientation is not a choice, I've lived that experience. But, the fact that it makes sense just doesn't lead me to the next step that says if it isn't a choice, it can't be sin. I want it to, not just for you, but for me. It just doesn't lead me there. And I do recognize that my propensities manifest differently and I'll give you that your monogamous homosexual marriage doesn't have much to do with my life. I just need you to hear that my own experience validates yours and I stand with you when you say you didn't choose this. I know how you feel when people deny that and condem you in response.

What was so prominent all over the Interent last week, though, was that "evangelicals are gay haters who are ignorant to believe it's a choice." Some might be. I just know many who aren't. Many who've been personally involved in sorting these things out with a friend or a child. I can tell you that for some people very close to me, I've prayed many hours that God would let me be convinced by the arguments presented to affirm homosexuality in a monogamous relationship or even a marriage, as we know will become the case in our country. This isn't going away.

But that's the root of the problem in all this division caused by the single most important issue in the Church in our lifetime. We can't be unified if we assume hate. It's not a hate issue. Don't allow yourselves to become the image of the same intolerance you've felt by jumping there. 

It's a Bible issue. American Christians disagree about the Bible. And in America, of all places, that should be ok. 

It's not about people splitting hairs over "six little scriptures." That blatantly overlooks that for the community of Christians you're labeling as hateful, there is no insignificant number of scriptures in the Bible. They all matter to the Christian who's cornerstone is "Sola Scriptura." Many on the Right don't care as much about homosexuality as they do about the inerrancy of the Bible. And yes they know, we know, yes I know, that the Bible says all sorts of things that we don't currently apply. But, there are theological reasons and supports delineating why we apply some things today but not others and it's not valid to ignore the reasoning in order to pretend that the commitment to Biblical authority is simple minded and rooted in intolerance. It's a larger discussion than that.

We hear that there are theologians and academics who've shown how to understand the Bible in a way that affirms homosexuality, among other ideas that challenge deeply held traditions. I've personally looked at those arguements as I've prayed. I've wanted to believe them. But, there are theologians and academics that ascertain the Bible to be reliable and trustworthy. There's so much work out there that's been done on this, and so much that's very compelling. We need to be honest enough about that to quit ridiculing people who've fallen on the side opposite of ours. I've got a side. The arguments that convinced me won't let me throw out what's troublesome. How I wish. 

I've been most challenged by the focus on the words Jesus said and the liberty of giving less weight to the other contents. Clearly, Jesus' words carry a certain authority that surpasses any other contributor to Scripture. But the "evangelicals" you're rejecting (as you've been rejected) believe all of the Bible to be inspired by God, Himself. They're not dying on the hill of homosexuality or gay marriage. They are on the hill of the inerrant, authoritive, Word of God. And even when I go back to Jesus' own words, I don't have much hope for myself. There's so much about the Sermon on the Mount that is the antithesis of who I am and although I'm specifically talking about my behaviors attached to my mental illness, we all fail miserably at living up to that passage. 

So I find it hard to understand why it's so important for me to conclude that the scriptures that are about this cultural divide can be read and understood as irrelevant and unimportant. Insisting that a tradition that can be traced back two thousand years, turn to deny the authority of what they believe to be God's Word, in order to affirm reading Scripture with what feels like ambiguity, is disrespectful and intellectually dishonest. Can you go there with me? Can you, in what you believe, just respect what I believe and can we quit saying that believing what we blieve can be the damming evidence of hate and bigotry? 

Because even in believing that, I don't stand on opposing gay marriage or gay rights. I believe we are all image bearers of God and even though I think those six scriptures are relevant, I can't conclude that imposing limits on people's personal lives is loving. Because someone in my life, whom I care for deeply, went to New York to marry her girlfriend. This is a couple we've spent time with in our home. And then the marriage failed. In Texas. After acquiring property. So someone I love doesn't have any idea how to get a legal divorce and settle the matter because Texas won't honor the petition for the divorce of a marriage is doesn't recognize. If Texas facilitates this divorce, it'll set the precedent for recognizing gay marriage here. I really have heard all the arguments for the sanctity of marriage and why  I need to protect it. That just really starts to break down for me when people I love are not able to get their lives in order because legalizing gay marriage means America is no longer "saved". It's not as important to me that our government affirm my understanding of Scripture as it is that people who claim Jesus, affirm His claim that we would be known by our love for each other. I also have complete confidence in the God I serve, and the Holy Spirit who lives in those who know Jesus, to be completely capable of saving and revealing sin to anyone at any time under any circumstance. And I don't think that He needs America to reflect Christian values as much as He commands that Christians reflect Him. 

And I say that knowing that there are hateful bigots out there who really just want America to stay the same. And there are some who want that, but don't hate. Just like I know that I sat in a sanctuary, and heard another pastor's wife, include in her study of the Bible, that no Christian should ever need psychiatric medications. And that school of thought is still rampant. The stigma I deal with when people find out my truth is an obstacle for me. I understand what it is to be the kind of different that suggests to others they have permission to not count me. I've had a Christian tell me that my coming to her about an offense, an offense others validated was actual, was trouble making and unfounded. She said any hurt I had was born out of my own wrong thinking rather than her actions and people she'd shared the conflict with had wondered with her if I was saved. So please don't attempt to minimize my clear understanding of being marginalized by mean people claiming to do it in the spirit of WWJD. 

I just also know that we are all image bearers of God and reflect the diversity and complexity of Creation. But we also live affected by sin, so those complexities often hide under pride and anger. Sometimes they are covered by hurt and raw defensiveness. Like that Christian who can't see her own behavior through the distraction of my diagnosis. And it does hurt me and make me angry. I do distance myself from people who respond to me in that way because it's not a healthy reflection of the Grace Jesus so willingly died to give me. But I can't forget he died that same death for her. She gets the Grace, too. Even when she can't recognize she needs it. 

It's hard to accept that. I want to turn over the tables and crack the whip like Jesus did. But I don't get to turn over any tables unless they're mine. I set my table up to evaluate the humble offerings of sincere worshipers along with the other money changers. I've got my own way of telling people that what they bring isn't right or worth enough. That's what the money changers were doing. That's why Jesus swept through there to shut it down. Because only He has the authority to value or reject what we offer Him. And that Christian who can't validate that my thoughts have worth, because of her limited understanding of mental illness, is still sincerely bringing her own humble offering to Jesus. I must force myself to see that in her just as I desire people to see that in me. 

Not doing so makes me a Pharisee. Its so easy to simplify what it means to be stuck in dead religion based on a caricature we draw from Scripture. But being a Pharisee is demonstrated by elevating your own laws and measurements, as proof of knowing God, above those of God, Himself. And Jesus' words were that we would be known by our love for one another. That means that just like evangelicals shouldn't use homosexuality as a determination of a person's salvation, the open and affirming community shouldn't use the commitment to the inerrancy and authority of Scripture to determine a lack of salvation either. And while I agree that the Church should be THE champion of human rights, as an individual Christian, who heard Jesus say that I'd be hated because I love Him, I HAVE GIVEN UP MY RIGHTS. 

We are a nation of people who exercise our rights by voting, promoting and protecting the rights that seem good to us. But Jesus says we are not Americans first. We are followers of Jesus before any other identity. That means we care more for the rights of others than our own. Even when those rights may encroach on ours, but particularly when rights affect those who are marginalized. Because Jesus laid down His rights when we had been marginalized from God by our sin. 

"We are now seekers of justice and correctors of oppression" I've heard it said to describe our roles. All of us. 

If we take that idea to the furthest extreme, and based upon Jesus' extreme response to our own oppression we should, we cannot avoid asking if insisting that America affirm my definition of marriage is really the best way to represent Him. So maybe evangelicals should lay down their swords on something that's inevitably going to change as our culture has. We're waging this battle out of the wrong identity. It's damaging relationships with people who don't know Christ and it's a battle that will NOT BE WON. Gay marriage will become legal in every State in America. And it will also become illegal to exclude legally married homosexuals from employment. At what point do we let go of a culture that is gone and start learning how to navigate the culture we actually live in? 

And the Christian LGBT community isn't off the hook either. Because if following Jesus is less about our own rights than the rights of other's, you have to be willing to ask if forcing churches and vendors to facilitate weddings for homosexual couples is about following Jesus or about being an American with rights. If we do what He said, then we should be advocating for the rights of those whose views of the Bible might collide with affirming ours. In fact, it's what He did. He advocated for our rights, though we were undeserving, and in doing so, totally and completely laid down His life. If the pressure to vilify evangelicals continues and gains more and more momentum, you will be marginalizing and oppressing the very group you say marginalized you. 

That's not the way of the Cross. 

And even that step forward in unity is really myopic and all about us. Because when we understand that "we are seekers of justice and correctors of oppression" we will turn away from this infighting and encourage each other to do want God has called us to do. And we will be like the very first believers in Acts, who held each other accountable in what they did and did not tolerate division. Even in conflict, Paul and Barnabas agreed to disagree and stayed the course of the Gospel. People aren't always going to follow Jesus in a way that makes sense to you. As long as we are all doing so respectfully and are really and truly rooted in love, we need to submit to the instruction of Paul and quit condemning one another over the differences in our convictions. 

And I can already hear my evangelical friends many of whom are REALLY uncomfortable that I'm even leaving room for another view of Scripture. I assure you that I'm convinced and committed to trusting in the inerrancy and authority of the Bible. I'm just confident that I can firmly believe what I believe and still engage with another believer, whose view is different, with respect. It's not possible to tell someone that what they believe is invalid and expect them to feel respected. I'm also, like I said, not equipped to make a thorough defense of my belief because although I've explored the subject and am convinced it's true, I'm not an expert. Add to that the constant ways the Holy Spirt moves to sanctify me and I am assured He's moving the same way in others.  I've walked with Jesus for a long time and I can tell you that my faith now, looks nothing like it did when I first met Him. Every day I'm humbled as I am more aware of my flaws, not less. I don't need to insist I'm right because doing so often lead to doing wrong and I serve a God who always is right.  

The ugly is out there. I know it with you. It's just not coming from everyone who doesn't agree with you. People are more complex than that. Even the hateful ones. Remember how it feels to have people fixate on the surface level instead of going deeper to see the heart. There are Christians who are probably scared because culture is changing fast here and we don't always find our refuge in the only comfort that sustains. American Christians are facing a real change in the country they grew up in and many are worried they'll lose their right to practice their own faith. So they're hanging on to laws and stigmas they're comfortable with in the hope that protecting those things will protect themselves. But,  there is no opinion or law or stigma or judgement beyond the power of the Gospel even when we forget that and sometimes see those things as part of it. 

Which is what it's really all about. Let's just all gather at the feet of Jesus, on that mount, as he teaches. It's moving and inspiring to think of what He's saying our lives should be like. But it's also crushing and hopeless because deep in our hearts we KNOW we cannot do it. It's not who we are. We have no illusions that we can pull that kind of love and humility and forgiveness off all day every day never considering ourselves first. It's devastating. 

But, Jesus, the author and deliever, not only of the sermon, but the very truths it describes. Jesus could live like that. And he did. Because we couldn't. We can't. 

But, Jesus, wept for us, and He prayed for us to be this beautifully messy unified Body, and then He gave up His life to pay the penalty for our failure to live that which He said was required. And at the foot of the Cross the blood drips over all of our imperfections, and even who we are, to save us. And there are people there who don't like each other. And the blood drips on that, too.

But, Jesus, He rose to remove any doubt about Who He Is. 

Because that's all that really matters. 


Friday, March 7, 2014

We Need To Talk

I'd like to quickly welcome you to my new blog and I give you my word that a more formal introduction will come in the next day or so. Tonight, though, we've got to come to the table and have some hard conversation. I hope you'll pull up a chair. 

When I was sixteen, my grandfather, the patriarch of our family, died. It was devastating to lose him and particularly so for me, as he was my father in my own dad's absence. He meant the world to me and I to him and I knew it deep in my core. It was a tremendous loss for our family. 

And then it got worse.

My mom and her sister and brothers began fighting over the details of his will. One of my uncles had been left more than the others and also refused to relinquish funds from accounts that listed him as the beneficiary. My memory of it all is faded and I was young and not nuanced in estate matters so it's possible, and likely, that my recollection is not entirely accurate. Regardless, the family I had grown up believing to be close and connected was suddenly splintered, angry and behaving outrageously towards one another. 

Even as young as I was, I did my best to refuse to take sides. It was painful for me to hear what they all said and thought of one another and they often tried to cajole me into running interference between the two camps. I can remember my mom becoming angry with me for not shutting out her brother who was just ten years older than I and very much like a brother to me as well. She interpreted my desire to love all of them as betrayal and insisted that he'd stolen from me when he stole from her. I remember thinking that it was impossible to steal something from me that wasn't even mine to begin with and told her then that all I wanted was my family back. 

Eventually, I realized that my grandparents had held our family together and once they were gone there really wasn't much left at all. I had no idea how it could have ended up that way. But, it did and even when everyone calmed down and began to behave civilly again, it was never far from my mind that we probably didn't love each other much at all. 

When all was said and done, all I inherited from my grandfather was his worn Bible that he'd made no notes in and a page was marked with a small piece of paper where he'd written "Pray for my children: Carol, Joan, Stan and Mark." I felt actual pain in my chest when I saw the note for the first time. How much it would have hurt him to see us all now?

I'm feeling that way again lately. Not in my own family here in my home and not with extended family scattered from here to there. God's redeemed so much and given me bonds in my home to heal the fragile bonds that had been broken. Those who don't live near but mean so much are just a phone call away and it's like we didn't miss a moment when we can chat and catch up. My family, as in those I am related to, is mostly life giving these days and the source of so much joy. 

But, I'm a member of another family. According to Scripture I have been adopted into the family of God by the sacrifice made for me on the Cross. And it's not just me, but millions of people worldwide have been adopted into my family. We are children of God, they are my brothers and sisters. God went to great lengths to adopt us all into His family. He loves us so much to have done that. I can only deduct that He desires for that love to flow between His children as well. 

The problem is, I've recently observed some really ugly behavior in my family. Sometimes we act more like that splintered family I grew up in than one in which every member is filled and led by the Holy Spirit. It's like we forget who we are. We seem to prefer rivalry over love. Sometimes we are just embarrassing. 

And let me be clear, my frustration with my family in Christ isn't so much about how it makes me feel, although it does effect how I feel. It's about WHO we represent when we behave like entitled children fighting over which one of us is most important. 

And even more than how we represent Him, my burden is for how our sinful quarrelling and backbiting must grieve the very heart of Jesus who prayed that we would be "one as We are one." In John 17, Jesus prays for us, all of us, and not once or twice but rather FOUR times in that prayer he prays and even pleads with His Father that we would be one. And do you know when he prayed for us to be unified as one? He prayed for us to be one body like He and the Father are on the night he was arrested when the rest of us would have been praying for ourselves standing face to face with our own coming murder. That's what was on the heart of Christ just before he was led away to his brutal death. Us. We were His burden and, specifically, how we treat each other. Dripping with his own sweat and blood, there in the garden, my Savior prayed that I would love ALL the people He brought into His family. Please, let that sink in. 

You may wonder what's brought on such strong emotions for our unity. It's not like it's new to the Bride of Christ to be destroying herself, refusing our own the love we claim to want to bring to a hurting world. Nope. We've been doing that since the beginning. We carry around our denominations and theologies and political positions like membership cards to the "right thinking" club as if temporal and feeble thoughts from the human mind can somehow enrich our solid identiy in Christ. We cling to our own image of what we think our brothers and sisters should look and act and even teach and think like. We seek to connect with those who reflect our own pridefully constructed images rather than focusing on the only image that matters, that of God. Yes, those petty constructions, and how they sort us into groups we prefer for our own comfort, are divisive and completely undermine what Jesus prayed for. That's all true. It just seems to be getting worse or maybe it's just become so obnoxiously public. It's so ugly and completely opposite of who we follow but we just keep on airing our grievances towards one another right in plain view. 

I have no idea who will read this post, but I'll tell you that anyone who knows me can affirm that I'm not afraid to have my thoughts and beliefs challenged. I'm also a naturally curious person and I've always loved learning about the different denominations and sects within Christianity. I don't agree with all of them. I've got my own theological positions and I stand on certain sides of various political issues based on such. It's just that I'm always reminding myself that while I may be right and maybe even landed squarely in the place of the exact theology God, Himself, designed, it's far more likely that I could be dead wrong. Only God knows how all our differences and views come together to tell His story perfectly. He's going to settle it all and makes things clear someday. And we will all, every last one of us, be so humbled by how wrong we were in our understanding of Him, that we won't even notice if we got any of it right. 

Can we just agree on that? 

And if we can, why do we act crazy about these differences in the most public ways we can think up? Remember that family on your block, or maybe you were like me and it was your family, the one that was always yelling and going completely nutso on each other? And remember how you were so glad it wasn't your family or prayed that one day it wouldn't be? People, WE ARE THAT FAMILY.

Almost every day on Twitter I see fellow Christians tearing down other Christian traditions, theologies, and practices. Sometimes I see my brothers and sisters tearing down INDIVIDUAL PEOPLE WHO ARE IN THEIR SPIRITUAL FAMILY, SEALED BY THE BLOOD OF JESUS, AND WE SHOW THE WHOLE WORLD WE ARE DOING IT. What's worse is that the guns are usually aimed at someone they don't even know personally. Yet, still a brother or sister. Still someone Jesus prayed we would be one with. 

Dear Family, this ought not be so. What is happening to us? 

And, please, before I get bombarded with accusations of suggesting we should not call out sinful behavior or heretical teaching, just stop. That's not what I'm talking about. 

I'm talking about being able to tell when an otherwise thoughtful blogger doesn't like a certain pastor by what they post about him. On more than one occasion I've seen some serious mountains made out of far less than a speed bump and attempts made to inflate such nonsense to support serious accusations of fraud and abuse. And, no, I'm not suggesting that we avoid calling wolves out for the protection of the flock but just because we don't agree with a teacher doesn't mean that they are a wolf. And just because we have some sort of sick need to see a brother fall into sin because we don't like him, doesn't mean that he has. It does, however, mean that we have fallen into sin by wanting such a thing. 

On one occasion I saw a Tweet that said, "I'm just over evangelicalism." What the what? First of all the term "evangelical" is defined in a myriad of ways so I'm not even sure what that Tweet meant. Secondly, that's a whole segment of the body, however you define it, that a believer had publicly devalued and dismissed with a single sentence. How are we justifying such behavior? When did it become ok to marginalize our own in order to avoid risking being considered one of them? Y'all! We are one of them! We didn't adopt ourselves. We don't get to decide who's in the family. God does. 

And Jesus prayed that we'd all be one. He prayed passionately for his body to be unified. What we are doing to each other, we are doing to Him. 

It's not love, dear siblings. Shoot, it's not even civil debate that unbelievers manage to achieve daily. Our culture is one of diversity and every single day people of all faiths and backgrounds have to figure out how to navigate that respectfully, but here we are, supposedly the "light of the world", and we can't even celebrate and respect the diversity within our own body. Aren't we supposed to be modeling Jesus so the World will want to know Him? Is it any wonder that many unbelievers in America have zero interest in investigating our faith when we can't even treat our own family like we matter to each other? It's shameful. Our disdain for each other is a larger obstacle to the Gospel than any ideaoligy you may disagree with. 

Listen, I've argued and back stabbed with the best of them. I still have to watch my tongue and check my judgmental tendencies regularly. I'm speaking to myself in this, too. I'm not an innocent bystander. Often the things that get under my skin end up revealing the sin in my own heart before I speak up about something. And it makes me angry that some brothers and sisters whom I genuinely consider thoughtful and challenging are becoming so arrogantly judgemental of members of our family that I just quit following them. I'm not angry at them for the divisive behavior, I'm angry that the valueable conversations they otherwise bring to the table are being drowned out by ugliness and intentional discord. And I don't want that to happen to me. I want to be heard because sometimes God graciously allows the right words to come out and people hear His love for them. When that happens, I want them to believe me, believe Him. 

Again, I'm so open to healthy discussion and enjoy respectful debate. I am not afraid of any thought or opinion. I just sincerely believe that in every instance those thoughts and opinions can be shared respectfully, even in love. And not every thing we think needs to be said or posted on the Internet. Particularly about other people in general, certainly about your brothers and sisters in Christ. We're not obligated to retweet everything we see. In fact, quite often, we're likely bound by love not to. 

And before you think I'm not for accountability and justice you should know that those things are deeply ingrained into who I am, even more so because I am a Christian. I don't want leaders in our faith to get away with sinful behavior. I just know that I serve a big God who is capable of disciplining His children and trust that most of us respond better to rebuke when it's handled privately amongst people who love us dearly. If you're not one of those people in the life of someone you feel is in need of correction, you're probably not who God planned to do it through anyways. 

I'll leave you with this...we ALL roll our eyes when we see the posts and tweets from those recounting their own personal drama that would likely benefit from an actual conversation with whomever they're in conflict with. We all know that's tacky. Let's not do that with our own family. Let's honor that passionate prayer of Christ and His own command to handle conflict in the body in person with people we actually know. Anything less cannot be rooted in love.