This week, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial named Frank Schaefer for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict. While I understand the rationale and practical limitations that necessitate this approach to justice, I do not think it does justice to justice. The promise that we receive in scripture is that God judges according to the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” Continue reading
Thomas Frank, the guy who wrote our textbook on United Methodist polity, has made a plea for UMC bishops not to put pastors on trial who conduct same-sex marriages (like the 50 who did so last weekend). I had been trying to lay low on this issue for a while. My position has been to honor what the Discipline says for me to do while being obediently prophetic regarding God’s truth as I have encountered it. I was actually going to write a post stating that if pastors engage in civil disobedience, then the consequences are part of the witness. However, I realized as I read Frank’s plea that the paradigm I was applying to our gay wedding crisis is to presume that United Methodism is appropriately analogous to our broken secular democracy: a two party majoritarian system with lobbyists, caucuses, and hyperventilating pundits.
Jesus’ woes against the Pharisees in Matthew 23 should be mandatory daily devotional reading for American evangelicals. It’s incredible how much we resemble the religious insiders who crucified Jesus. One of the things that Jesus says about the Pharisees in verse 4 is that “they tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others.” We are living through a time in which many Christians measure their “faithfulness” to God according to the weight of the burdens that they tie up for others to carry, the prime example of course being the homosexuality issue. What’s farcical is when Christians act as though they are making some great sacrifice and bearing some great cross on account of how strict they are in their consideration of what other people do. Continue reading
If there ever comes a time when evangelical Christians are known for something other than their opposition to homosexuality, maybe today’s Supreme Court ruling will help. We have been living through an era in which Christian morality has been almost exclusively focused on sexuality. Within the Christian community, the gay marriage debate has helped to delineate two entirely different visions for Christian holiness. Do we understand holiness primarily in terms of correctness, or fidelity to a set of commandments? Or is holiness primarily a state of the heart in which we have been emptied of all obstacles to loving God and our neighbor? How you understand holiness determines how you will read scripture and how you think about homosexuality as a Christian.
It’s not often that something I read on Huffington Post gives me “hopey-changey” goose bumps. But CampusPride director Shane Windmeyer’s post about “coming out” as a friend of Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy is one of the most hopeful things I’ve read in a long time. I challenge you to put your ideology aside for a moment, whatever it is, and consider the witness of love that has happened between these two men. Continue reading
I was surprised to see President Obama take a public stand supporting gay marriage this week immediately after the North Carolina landslide referendum against it. I don’t question Obama’s sincerity, but politicians never make public pronouncements without a cost/benefit analysis, which leads me to wonder whether Obama’s campaign is taking a calculated risk to bait the culture warriors into unleashing an unprecedented fury that will alienate the independent voters they have already terrified by gobbling up Obama’s bait in the contraception battle. As an evangelical Christian, my focus in all circumstances is on building the kingdom of God and sharing the gospel with everyone I encounter. Any political stances I take are strategically driven by this primary focus. So I am very worried that my fellow evangelicals are going to lunge after Obama’s latest bait and cause tremendous collateral damage to our Christian witness. As Rachel Held Evans wrote on Wednesday, if Christians get swept up again into culture wars leading up to this election, then we will continue to poison our witness and lose young Americans to the gospel. We cannot keep absolving ourselves of responsibility for our witness by blaming the “liberal media.” I’m not at all saying that we need to conform our values to whatever the secular consensus degenerates into, but the Bible is not silent about how we should conduct ourselves in the world in which our primary investment should always be our witness. And many Christians have failed to exude a Christlike spirit in our contributions to public discourse. Continue reading
Two weekends ago, our church’s men’s retreat examined and discussed one of my favorite scripture passages, 1 Peter 3:15-16: “Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have; yet do so with gentleness and respect.” This verse summarizes for me
what evangelism is supposed to look like. Our men covenanted to live so that people in our lives would have a reason to ask us about Jesus and then have an answer for them when they do. It is out of this fundamental concern for
evangelism that I am most troubled by North Carolina’s Amendment 1 initiative. I just can’t see how a legislative initiative to permanently revoke the rights of people whose lifestyle many Christians disapprove of is anything like the model for public witness that Peter gave us. When did legislation replace evangelism as the Christian means of building God’s kingdom?