Looking Back on 2012: April-May

In March, I fasted from blogging for Lent. April and May of 2012 were dominated by thoughts about our United Methodist General Conference. There was also a series of violent tornadoes that John Piper decided to interpret as God’s wrath against America for homosexuality or abortion (I can’t remember which one). Since homosexuality dominated the conversation around General Conference, I wrote a few pieces about it, striving to be both faithful to scripture and faithful to people I love who are gay. I also preached a sermon comparing and contrasting the uniformity and top-down vision of the Tower of Babel with the chaos of Pentecost. So here are the 10 from April and May.

1) Don’t Hate Our Purple UMC
This was what I wrote after a lot of other young clergy were expressing disillusionment at the results of the General Conference and talking about jumping ship. I really believe as frustrating as it can be that the fact that we are not a “blue” or “red” denomination but a purple one is one of the most beautiful things about the United Methodist Church. We’re one of the few places left in America where Democrats and Republicans worship together.

2) Anxiety vs. Kingdom in the United Methodist ChurchThis piece questions the value of the Methodist tendency to obsess over numbers from someone who does obsess over my congregation’s numbers. I do not find that I am making more “fruitful” decisions in response to the data I pore over. It just makes me bitter and anxious and want to start over from scratch in a place where there are no !@#$%^&* soccer leagues. I take the naive perspective that the main thing I need to do is help my congregation see the kingdom, which is the same whether we’re blossoming or declining.

3) Biblical and Inclusive: Methodism Wrestles With Homosexuality
In this post, I try to wrestle with the homosexuality issue, taking the Bible seriously and also my exegetical responsibility to do better than proof-texting. Augustine’s hermeneutical standard is you have to be able to show how Biblical passages refer to the love of God or neighbor if you’re going to apply them prescriptively since Jesus says that all the law and the prophets hang on the two Great Commandments. Few Christians rise to this standard in their interpretation of the homosexuality “clobber verses.”

4) What Prevenient Grace Is and Isn’tThis was a response to the controversy when a vote was held at General Conference about nothing separating us from the love of God, and a sizable minority of the delegates voted against it (because they were paranoid that it was somehow secretly affirming homosexuality). My understanding of the doctrine of prevenient grace is that no sin can make God stop loving us, but sin does separate us from the love of God in the sense that we are blinded.

5) God’s Tornadoes: When I Stopped Taking John Piper Seriously
When a group of tornadoes devastated Indiana in April, Calvinist megachurch pastor John Piper decided to pronounce them to be a warning from God. Though I learned a lot from Piper’s book Desiring God, I can’t take seriously someone who says, ““We are not God’s counselors. Nor can we fathom all his judgments,” and then proceeds to make himself the spokesperson for the divine mystery.

6) What I Taught The Confirmands: The Sea of Wrath and the Island of Mercy
In this post, I shared a curriculum that I created for our church’s confirmation retreat the past two years based on a combination of Ephesians 4:14-16 and the questions that we ask at confirmation. I describe the journey of Christian salvation in three phases: rescue from the sea of wrath (prevenient grace), arrival at the island of mercy (justification), and thriving on the island of mercy (sanctification).

7) “I Desire Mercy Not Sacrifice”
In this post, I explain the basis for the title of my blog: Jesus words’ to the Pharisees in Matthew 9:13 when they criticized him for hanging out with sinners: “Go and find out what this means, ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice.'” I had a very powerful experience in the summer of 2008 with a homeless man who spoke God’s word to me about mercy; it was the only time I’ve ever heard God drop the f-bomb.

8) The Witness of the Sons of Hell
This post refers to the name that Jesus gives to the Pharisees in Matthew 23:13: “sons of hell.” I wrote about the notorious Westboro Baptist Church that protests military funerals with “God hates fags” signs. Their witness has been incredible and has probably done more to change public opinion about homosexuality (in the opposite direction of what they wanted) than anything else in our society over the past decade.

9) Trust Not Opinion
This post is about the way that many evangelicals think justification by faith is about having the right beliefs and opinions rather than trusting in Jesus.

10) Is God Against Hegemony? (The Question of Babel)
This was a reflection I wrote related to my Pentecost sermon in which I compared the chaos of Pentecost with the hegemonic uniformity of Babel.

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