Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Here’s Why Your Pastor Didn't Say Anything About the SCOTUS Gay-Marriage Ruling

Three days have passed since the SCOTUS same-sex marriage ruling and the bloggers are a bloggin’ and the preachers are a preachin’.

Just not yours.

Sunday came and went at your church with nary a word about gays, marriage, SCOTUS or anything associated therewith. Pastor didn’t ask you to pray about the ruling, and there was no surprise homily from Romans 1. You keep checking the church blog and clicking on his Facebook page, but there's neither a rainbow filter on pastor’s profile picture, nor handwringing about the church losing its not-for-profit status.

Just silence.

It isn’t because he doesn't have an position. Trust me, he does. He has a carefully thought out opinion that he can persuasively articulate. Nor is it because she doesn’t study her Bible. She has. The fanciful theological convolutions that some scholars “recently discovered” - your pastor thinks them hubris. For recently minted seminarians to jettison two millennia of theology? The arrogance is offensive.

So why the silence? If your pastor has yet to articulate his or her thoughts on the subject, here are six reasons why your preacher might be sitting this one out.

Because she cares more about making a difference than making a point. 
Here’s the deal: your preacher really loves people. She believes that people matter to God - all people. And when someone is far from God your pastor wants - more than anything else - to help that lost soul find his way back to Jesus. Jesus is at the center of your preacher’s faith, and someone’s sex life - while not exactly peripheral - is something she’s willing to trust to the Holy Spirit. Not wanting to alienate someone who already thinks Christians are judgmental, your pastor trusts the Holy Spirit to convict people of their sexual sin because that’s His job, not hers. So rather than risk pushing someone farther away from God, she just shuts up.

Because he genuinely loves people and doesn’t relish the thought of hurting them. 
He doesn’t think about "the gays"; he knows gay people. He shuts up because he doesn’t want to hurt his college friend that has been in a committed relationship with her partner for the last ten years. He thinks about the two guys he met at the barber shop that have been together as long as he and his wife have been married. And while he doesn’t quite understand why some people experience same-sex attraction, he doesn’t hate the people who do, or think of them as perverts and degenerates. He cringes when he hears Christians use gay slurs, identifies with the pain that his gay friends have experienced, and chooses to show up as loving, not condemning.

Because he has dual citizenship in Heaven and on earth. 
Your preacher recognizes that, in a plural society, not everyone believes what he does. Because of that he is genuinely okay with two US citizens sharing property, making end-of-life decision for each other, and reaping the benefits of a lifelong commitment. He just doesn’t think it should be called marriage. For him, marriage is a word that is defined by a Deity in a throne room, not nine justices in a courtroom. The fact is, he was hoping that SCOTUS would find some third way; that the justices would recognize two persons’ rights to form a civil union while retaining the definition of marriage that has existed since it was instituted by God: the spiritual covenant between a man and a woman when they stand before God to commit to a lifetime together.

Because tension is hard.
It’s hard to wrap his brain around it. And it’s hard to talk articulate it. Your pastor recognizes the tension in grace and truth; that they are two sides of the same coin. Here's the truth: homosexual behavior is sin. Here's the rest of the truth: so is greed, selfishness, hate, lying, oppression, gluttony and on and on. Grace is bigger than all of that and your preacher knows that her sin is as revolting in God’s eyes as anyone else's. That’s why she clings to grace and that’s why she proclaims grace. For some, preaching about grace comes easily; for some, preaching about truth comes easily. But talking about grace and truth? That's hard for every preacher because it feels, sometimes, like they are diametrically opposed forces. Jesus was “full of grace and truth,” but your pastor feels entirely inadequate to proclaim them in the context go this subject.

Nobody wants a nuanced conversation anymore. 
Your pastor knows that most of the people he talks with about this don’t want a conversation; they want to conquer. They don't want to continue the discussion; they want to end it. They don’t want to talk about the social and spiritual implications of the ruling. And they for darn sure don’t want to recognize that “the other side” might be right - even if just a little. Dialogue means listening. It means hearing with the heart and the brain. And only then -  after really hearing - speaking. But this isn’t the time for that. This is the time for winning and that means someone has to lose, and since your pastor isn’t about people winning and losing, he just clams up.

Because he is grieving. 
Paul told the Romans “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” If your pastor is one of the majority of evangelicals that believes homosexual behavior is wrong, he mourns this decision. He grieves as he sees Americans, including many in his congregation, celebrating what was once thought to be immoral. When he sees the White House bathed in rainbow floodlights he aches. It feels, to him, like he is sitting shiva in the parlor, while there is partying in every other room of the house. When Facebook and Google are awash with gay pride, it feels like someone has died and he is expected to "just get over it!"

What now?
Truth be told, If your pastor is like me, I'm not entirely sure. Still, the path forward must wind its way through Paul's encouragement from Romans 12:
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.
Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.
Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.
Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.
Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. (vv. 9-13)
Disagree. Debate. Vigorously, even. But love each other, always keeping Jesus at the center.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

If your life depended on passing a Bible quiz . . .

If your life depended on passing a Bible exam, how would you fare?

A story out of the UK details how Australia is struggling to deal with their refugee crisis. Like America, Australia has become home to asylum seekers. Among those are Christians from China who are eager to escape persecution.

One such believer recently found herself the object of intense scrutiny when an Australian tribunal tested her knowledge of the Bible.

According to court records,
The Tribunal member began by asking questions about the applicant’s baptism, the significance of baptism for Christians and in particular Catholics, and what was the significance of the water and pouring of the water. After asking further questions in relation to the applicant’s baptism, the Tribunal asked whether the applicant read the Bible, whether she had her own Bible, when the applicant first started to read the Bible, whether the applicant knew the Old and New Testaments . . . 
A lawsuit on her behalf also details some of the questions she was asked to further authenticate her faith. In truth, most of these have the feel of trivia. Check these out and ask yourself how would you do if your life depended on answering correctly.

  1. What is the first book of the Old Testament?
  2. Who was Abraham?
  3. Who was Moses?
  4. Who was the longest living person in the Bible?
  5. According to Genesis, who was the first murder victim in history?
  6. What did the dove carry in its beak when it returned to the ark?
  7. What did God convey as a signal or message of his covenant with Noah and all living creatures?
  8. Which plague fell upon Egypt from the sky?
  9. What was Moses’ sister’s name?
  10. Who went with Moses to confront Pharaoh?
  11. Why was Jesus condemned to death?
  12. Did the crowd have anything to do with Jesus being sentenced to death?
  13. Where was the actual place of Jesus crucifixion?
  14. When Jesus rose from the dead where did her first appear to two of his disciples?
  15. How long after his resurrection did Jesus remain on earth before he was taken up to heaven?
  16. What were Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples before he was taken up to Heaven?
  17. What visible sign of the Holy Spirit did the disciples see on the day of Pentecost?
  18. What was the name of the garden in which Jesus was arrested?
  19. What is the second book of the Old Testament?
  20. What were the Israelis supposed to put on the doors of their houses to save themselves from the last plague in Egypt?
  21. How was Aaron related to Moses and what book is that in?
  22. How often does Jesus say we are to forgive someone?

The tribunal, which took place in two separate sessions, determined,
. . .  the applicant “provided considerably greater knowledge of Christianity at her hearing than she did at the time of her departmental interview.” Second, the Tribunal rejected the explanation the applicant gave for the improvement in her knowledge and instead found “the applicant’s testimony was rehearsed and memorised [sic] in order to achieve a migration outcome”. Third, the Tribunal found that “even after having ample opportunity to study up on Christianity, . . . the applicant’s answers contained numerous errors” and “her lack of knowledge of Christianity is demonstrative of the fact that she is not a genuine practicing [sic] Christian.” Finally, the Tribunal found that, overall, “the applicant’s testimony in relation to her knowledge of Christianity was at best superficial, and lacked spontaneity, particularly at her first hearing.”
Not a genuine practicing Christian?! You have to wonder. . . If you were required to answer the same questions in order to gain asylum as a Christian, would you succeed? Knowing God's word is important. But - and let's be honest here - knowing answers in the book isn’t the same things as knowing the author.

Still, I am forced to wonder how American Christians would do if forced to prove their faith through a similar quiz.