Are you a Christian, Ignorant, or Evil?*

Studies keep showing that non-Christians mainly associate Christians with being intolerant, judgmental, and arrogant. Ironically, though not surprisingly, Christians rarely see how they are being intolerant, judgmental, or arrogant. Often they just assume they are being unfairly persecuted against.

But that’s because we don’t often think about the implications of what we are saying. We aren’t intolerant, judgmental, or arrogant on purpose (for the most part, of course, there are some spectacular exceptions), we are generally just unaware of the implications of our words, phrases, systems, and approaches.

For instance, we talked before about the cliche “Love the Sinner but Hate the Sin” and how the message being heard is you love part of me, but not all of me. Your love for me is not unconditional but compartmentalized.” That’s not what we meant for them to hear but, as the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. We can do a lot of damage with a lot of good intentions and a lot of naivete.

There are many more examples that I could mention.

But this post is about the trend to make Christianity more attractive to people by making it sound like it’s the most reasonable thing in the world. The point of this post is to say: by telling people that believing a man named Jesus was raised from the dead and that the Bible is written by God “makes a lot of sense if you think about it” or that it’s even “common sense” means that if someone doesn’t believe it they must necessarily either be ignorant or evil.

That is to say, when we make the truth of the Christian story obvious, largely to make ourselves feel better about believing it, we must explain then, if it’s so obvious, why so many other people don’t believe.

And if someone doesn’t believe something that is obvious and common sense, after a while, we Christians have no choice but to say that they are either ignorant, in the sense that they aren’t even capable of grasping the most common sense truths, or they are evil, in the sense that they know its truth but the “hardness of their hearts” keep them from accepting it as their own. If Christianity is obviously true, I am not sure of other options we have.

For instance, if you tell a man to do something that is “obvious” and “common sense,” like “Go pour your coffee in the sink,” and he pours it in your fake flower pot instead, what will you think? Either that he is so, let’s put it gently, dim-witted that he didn’t even understand what the sink was, or more damning, he did it on purpose as a malicious deed. Either way, the guy who didn’t follow the “obvious” and “common sense” instruction isn’t looking good. He’s either evil or ignorant.

We do the same with the Christian story. Armed with the belief that Christianity is “obviously true” (or that evolution isn’t), when people just don’t buy it, we implicitly (and sometimes explicitly unfortunately) make them out to be evil or ignorant.

Now, what about this wouldn’t give people the impression that we are intolerant, judgmental, and arrogant.

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On Gay Boy Scouts & My Christian Faith

As the Boy Scouts just decided to allow gay scouts but will still keep the ban on gay scout leaders, first of all, let me just say it takes guts to make a decision that doesn’t fully satisfy the desires of either side.

I know that many of my fellow Christians will immediately begin their ban on Boy Scouts for approving of such blatantly sinful behavior.

But let me say, regardless of your position on the sinfulness of gay sex: until the Boy Scouts of America ban every boy who openly sins, this is the most Christian decision they could have made. That is, if standing for justice and fairness is included in what it means to be Christian. If not, well then, I am not sure I want to be one.

And then there is that nagging question: why does someone sins disallow them to belong to a group?

Ironically, in the same chapter of Leviticus Christians use to show that homosexuality is an “abomination” to God, we have this: “When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Lev. 19:33-34)

Even those idol-worshiping (<–that’s a sin condemned hundreds of times throughout the Bible by the way) foreigners were to be loved as though they were God’s chosen people. If you are so convinced that the Boy Scouts are a Christian organization who should live by Christian principles, then perhaps we should acknowledge them as “aliens living with us.” We do not kick them out. We do not go find a new land. We live among them and love them as ourselves.

To be honest, I am typically embarrassed to admit how much time I spent as Boy Scout, doing those, let’s admit it, somewhat dorky things we Scouts did. But today, I am proud to be a Boy Scout and am proud that their Christian foundations led them to this decision.

Creating with the Creator

I have been wrestling with what it means for God to be Creator. According to my reading of Genesis, this does not mean that God creates something out of nothing but that he creates order out of chaos, beauty out of ashes. Creativity, in this sense, is redemption.

So, what does it mean to be created in this God’s likeness? Perhaps, yes perhaps, it means we were born to create. And perhaps being creative is deeper than just being good at art. Maybe creation is about redemption, taking ashes and making something new.

There are two lies I hear often enough that I must consciously refuse them:

First, that we are not all creative. As a Christian, I cannot believe this. We are creative if we are human because we bear the image of the Creator. We are creative if we take pain and create joy, take material loss and create relational abundance. Of course, this is what art does. It takes a mess of paints, canvases, personal stories, and creates beautiful portraits. It takes strings, words, heartbreak or triumph, feelings and fingers, and creates music.

Second, being creative is a waste of time. Perhaps, yes, in a cultural narrative obsessed with efficiency, productivity, and the bottom line, being creative is a waste of time. But that is a narrative in which people are workers for profit and working for men, not co-creators. But if God is the Creator, then we are workers for redemption and working for the Creator. If we are working for money and out of fear, then yes. But if we are working for relationships and redemption, then there is nothing more fruitful to be done with our time than to be creative.

It is no accident that both the Exodus and the promise of return from exile are filled with creation language, reminiscent of Genesis’ account of chaos, power, order, and beauty. There is a deep connection between Creation & Redemption, Creator & Redeemer.

I do not want to live in a story where being creative is a waste of time and where we are not all creative. And if part of God’s task is, in every generation, to subvert dehumanizing narratives, those among us who own their creativity might have a few things to teach the rest of us who only reluctantly, and uneasily, admit the image we bear.

The Christian Workarounds

In my work as a communications adviser, one of my primary tasks is to help people let go of their workarounds. Sure, it takes 10 extra steps, 3 more documents, and 1 sacrificed squirrel to get it done – but it’s what they know, it’s comfortable, and change is scary. I totally get it. I hate change too.

What I recognized early on as a pastor is that Christians have these workarounds too. At a “book study” one night at my house going through whatever popular Christian Living book we were using at the time, a new Christian asked: “Is it really this hard to be a good Christian?” She was referring to all the “simple steps” articulated in the book. Why does being a “good Christian” take reading all these books?

I had had enough. I looked at my group and said, in my overly brash/arrogant early 20s way, “No. It’s not that difficult to understand. Jesus says, “Love your neighbor. Defend the poor. Give up all you own.” But that’s terrifying. It requires actual sacrifice. So Christians in America have spent the last 50 years developing dozens of workarounds, ways to be “good Christians” without actually having to do the hard things Jesus talks about.”

Was I arrogant? yes. Was I wrong? I don’t think so.

As Kierkegaard says, “Being alone with God’s Word is a dangerous matter. Of course, you can always find ways to defend yourself against it: Take the Bible, lock your door – but then get out ten dictionaries and twenty-five commentaries. Then you can read it just as calmly and coolly as you read newspaper advertising. Can’t we be honest for once! It is only all too easy to understand the requirements contained in God’s Word. The most ignorant, poor creature cannot honestly deny being able to understand God’s requirements. But it is tough on the flesh to will to understand it and to then act accordingly. Herein lies the problem. It is not a question of interpretation, but action.” – For Self-Examination & Judge For Yourself 26–35

Some of us evangelicals have more of an academic bent, so we tend to create workarounds that involve defending esoteric doctrines that no one has ever heard of. Others of us evangelicals have more of a contemplative or pragmatic bent, so we tend to create workarounds that involve those aspects of our lives.

Are these bad practices in themselves? Probably not. As always, it’s about the heart.

Why do we defend doctrine rather than the poor? Why do we grow in learning to be kinder and more patient but not growing into solidarity with people who make us uncomfortable? Because the former increases our comfort and control while the latter decreases our comfort and control.

But to admit that we just don’t know how to love well would be devastating, our fragile egos often cannot handle it. So, we create a workaround. We create a new system where Jesus doesn’t really mean what he says and where defending doctrine is a wonderful substitute for defending the poor. All the reward without any of the sacrifice.

It’s like the Christian version of the diet pill, putting money in the manufacturers’ pockets & helping people find a solution for their dilemma of wanting to change without the pain that change causes. Sounds like a win-win. Is that bad? I am not interested in right or wrong, good or bad. I’m just saying that if we want to be like Jesus, increasing comfort and control doesn’t seem to be a good tactic. There is no Resurrection Sunday without the Death of Good Friday.

3 Christian Arguments Against Gay Marriage & Why They’re Inconsistent

In full disclosure, I am a Christian who supports gay marriage. An evangelical even. I’m also a professor of philosophy & ethics. That means, at least in part, I’d like to think I think pretty logically. So when I hear some of the arguments from Christians as to why they are against gay marriage, I often scratch my head. These are 3 arguments that, if taken to their logical conclusion, end in inconsistency, at best, and hypocrisy, at worst. At least, in my opinion.

1. The “It’s a Sin” Argument

This is probably the most popular. The argument is this:

I believe gay sex/marriage is morally wrong because the Bible is against it.
I do not think the government should allow what I believe to be morally wrong.
Therefore, I do not think the government should allow gay sex/marriage.

The problem with this argument is that it’s hypocritical. How so?

According to this argument, if I am going to be against gay marriage, I should also be against the freedom of religion.

Why? Because the freedom of religion says that anyone can worship any god they choose in this country. And what does the Bible have to say about worshiping other gods? Well, let’s put it this way, there are 11 instances (if we’re really generous) against gay sex and over 250 instances where idolatry is condemned. Oh yeah, and pretty much all of Israel is destroyed because of it. So, you’re okay with allowing our country to endorse something condemned over 250 times in our Bible but not something condemned 11 times? Of course, the main difference is that the former affects you & benefits you while the latter doesn’t. Sounds like textbook hypocrisy.

2. The “The Bible is Clear that Marriage is Between A Man & A Woman” Argument

Many people like to start in Genesis, as though God creating Adam & Eve and telling them they’re perfect for each other, now go have sex (which, interestingly, we aren’t told they do until after they are kicked out of the Garden), is somehow the beginning of the institution of marriage. But if the Old Testament counts as what God had in mind for marriage, gay marriage might be more at home there than in our culture. After all, the most common pictures of marriage we have are

One Husband + Many Wives (Polygamous Marriage) – This list includes Lamech, Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Gideon, Saul, David, Solomon, Rehoboam, Elkanah, Ashur, Abijah and Jehoiada. There are a lot more but they were the “bad guys” so I’m assuming they don’t count as much.

One (Dead) Husband + One Widowed Wife + One Brother-In-Law (Levirate Marriage) – the brother-in-law of a deceased husband should impregnate (Ruth & Gen. 38:6–10) the widow so that she has an heir.

One Husband + One Wife + One Slave – Abraham, the Father of our Faith (Gen. 16:1-6) & Jacob, his grandson (Gen. 30:4-5).

One Husband + One (or more) Wife + Some (or hundreds) of Concubines – Nahor (Gen 22:4), Abraham (Gen. 25:5-7), Jacob (Gen. 35:22

Do you notice how many of these are from the same book as Adam & Eve? What gives? Why don’t these count as “foundations for modern marriage”? After all, the Fathers of our Faith practiced almost all of them, with not a word of condemnation from Genesis.

But that’s not all. If we follow the law, which, after all says that gay sex/marriage is an “abomination to God,” then we should also adhere to the following laws regarding marriage.

One Husband + One Prisoner of War – Deuteronomy 21:11-14

One Rapist Husband + One Victim Wife – Deuteronomy 22:28-29 describes how an unmarried woman who had been raped must marry her attacker.

Of course, there is also monogamous, heterosexual marriage in the Bible, especially if you like arranged marriages.

3. The “Procreation Argument”

This argument is as follows:

Marriage was intended for procreation (making babies)
Gay sex/marriage can’t produce babies
Therefore, gay marriage is wrong.

Welp, okay then, time to condemn those poor couples who can’t or won’t have children.

What’s my point? I guess it’s that unless we are willing to be an opponent of the freedom of religion, to account for which examples of marriage in Genesis we should still hold to today, or deem illegitimate the couples who cannot have kids, we shouldn’t use these arguments.

Why I Stand for Gay Marriage as a Christian

It’s been a year since I first wrote why I was an Evangelical in support of gay marriage. This week seemed like a good time to reiterate my reasons.

So many Christians will use this time as an opportunity to “stand up for their faith,” while I will use it as an opportunity to stand up for people without rights. We will both have our arguments and our proof-texts. We will likely never agree. And that’s okay. We’re still family. But here are a few reasons why my faith in Jesus compels me to support gay marriage.

Number One: To Love is to Empty Ourselves of Power. We cannot legislate people into the Kingdom of God, we cannot politically strong-arm people into becoming Christians. To think we can is to misunderstand the emptying of God in Jesus Christ, the most powerful one who shows his power in powerlessness, the one who was God in his very nature but didn’t take advantage of that power but instead emptied himself and became a servant (Phil 2), even to his betrayer, even to the point of dying as a traitor to his state. Does love mean legislating a person’s morality according to a worldview they do not share? That does not sound like love, that sounds like a paternalistic power trip.

I would rather show people the love of Jesus by supporting them in their fight for equality, to stand with them, even if they are gay, hell, even if they are my enemies. My main goal as an evangelical Christian is to reflect the resurrected Christ and his Kingdom, not put it into law. It is to invite people in, not force them in against their will.

And while many Christians believe the “Christian” thing to do is to keep Christianity in power, I believe the “Christian” thing to do is empty ourselves of power, to give up our legislating and to take up our cross. I believe Jesus is on the side of those without power and his kingdom is one of equality, where no one is a second-class citizen, whether that be conservative Christian, drug addict, GLBT, atheist, or politician. We all bear God’s image in this story.

Number Two: When in Doubt, Go with Equality. Not many Christians realize that we were, for the most part, on the wrong side of the slave issue and, to a much lesser extent, the civil rights movement. The Bible was used regularly during the Civil War to support slavery as morally acceptable. It was so “obvious” that the Bible supported slavery. . .

And, lest we forget, it was a Christian culture that kept women from being able to vote until only 100 years ago. I am ashamed that a “Christian” culture didn’t support or even acknowledge the equality of women until . . . well, in some Christian circles, they still don’t. By the way, in many circles, the same oppressive structure presents itself with women as with gays. We love you emotionally and even personally, but not enough to actually give up my privileged position as the man/straight in power.

Number Three A: My Bible Compels Me. The way I see the text of the prophets, the life of Jesus, and the trajectory of the New Testament, I would much rather be held accountable to God for fighting for someone to have the same rights I enjoy (sorry God, I assumed I should fight for the rights of those who didn’t have them) than to be held accountable to God for excluding rights from people for the sake of religious rules (sorry God, I thought I was supposed to tell the world how sinful they are and that my government should privilege Christian culture at the expense of other people). For those who are thinking, “Yeah, but the Bible is against gay sex,” keep reading.

Number Three B: Supporting Gay Marriage is not Supporting Sin. I know it is hard to grasp, but this matter has nothing to do with whether or not homosexuality is a sin. If it did, then I still have to question your reasoning since you are very likely being prejudiced and inconsistent considering the fact that there are lots of things that Christians consider “sinful” that they do not legislate against. For instance, if God wants us as a nation to live by his laws, why are we okay supporting the freedom of religion? Shouldn’t we be out trying to ban other religions? If we are okay with freedom of religion,which is a law that basically mandates that our country allow for idolatry (according to the Christian), aren’t we being hypocritical?

Now, if this were about gay folks in church leadership or even church membership, we would have to address whether or not gay sex is a sin (which is another issue entirely on its own). But Paul seems to make it very clear that Christians have absolutely no place to judge the behavior of non-Christians:

9 I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral . . . . In that case you would have to leave this world. 11 But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sisterbut is sexually immoral . . . 12 What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. . . .” -1 Corinthians 5:9-13a

Instead of focusing on “judging those inside” and creating a “city on a hill,” evangelicals are very good at making sure people who are not Christians know that they are “breaking the rules” of Christianity. And as such, we have gained the reputation for being judgmental, a moniker well-deserved for the most part. It is God’s place to judge the world, it is our place to love it. And just like the story we find in Adam & Eve, when we put ourselves in God’s place, we make a mess of things.

I might be wrong. We all might be. I am well aware of that and take responsibility for it. But for now that’s a risk I am willing to take for the sake of people knowing that there are Christians who stand with them in their struggle to be seen as equals in the eyes of their government.

If the Church wants to keep marriage between a man and a woman because of their religious convictions, so be it. But I will not support using the government’s power to coerce powerless non-Christians into behaving like Christians. That, to me, seems thoroughly un-Christian. It is the Spirit of God who transforms the heart, not the laws of the powerful.

As always, I welcome all critiques and dissenters. I do ask that you present actual arguments rather than just emotional rants about how wrong I am, but I will read those as well if you feel you must.

On Chick-Fil-A, Starbucks, Gay Marriage, and Jesus

Last year, there was a media kerfuffle when Chick-Fil-A COO Dan Cathy said he supported “traditional marriage,” the codeword for being opposed same-sex marriage.

Well, believe it or not (<–sarcasm), there has been another media kerfuffle around a company’s stance on gay marriage. This time, it’s Starbucks, for being “committed to diversity,” the codeword for being supportive of same-sex marriage.

What I have witnessed around these two instances is just another affirmation that Christians have been drinking the Kool-Aid of American media polarizations. In response to the Chick-Fil-A stance, conservative Christians held “Support Chick-Fil-A Days,” where they would support a company’s stance on gay marriage by eating a lot of chicken nuggets (doesn’t that seem strange to anyone else?) and where progressive Christians boycotted Chick-Fil-A, protesting by not eating a lot of chicken nuggets.

The same cry has gone out this week. “Forgo your daily latte for the cause of traditional marriage!” “Learn your Starbucks-speak & order a tall, skinny, double latte for the cause of marriage equality!”

Leaving aside the fact that we live in a strange world where activism is reduced to whether or not we click a button a social media site, eat chicken nuggets, or drink lattes (#firstworldproblems), I am also troubled by how we are only presented with these two options, how polarized we are as a Christian community. Instead of the voice of conversation, dialogue, and a heart willing to listen and engage with people we disagree with, we just throw a tantrum, pick up our ball, and go home. Something tells me that’s not what Jesus meant when he said we should love our enemies.

Instead of engaging with the Other, we are told that the “righteous” thing to do is not to support people who disagree with us. Don’t give them our money. Don’t buy things from them. Forgive me if I am missing something really simple, and I mean that sincerely, but why not? I thought I was supposed to love my enemy, not try to hurt their business? Or, to put it another way: how is hurting the business of my enemy loving them? Why can’t I disagree with someone in a way that shows the world what it means to love our enemies? Why is the godly thing to do to give them the cold shoulder, economically and relationally?

I do not think that is the way of Jesus.

And so, I have decided, I will have my latte and eat my chicken nuggets too. Not for the cause of traditional marriage, gay marriage, or any type of marriage, but for the cause of Christ.

And yes, I do realize that might be the most bombastic, overly dramatic, two sentences I’ve ever written.