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.

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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.

Gay Marriage & Our Young People

The numbers are in. The latest poll, conducted by the Washington Press/ABC News, says that 58% of Americans now believe we should legalize gay marriage in this country.

But there is another number.

“Among young adults age 18 to 29, support for gay marriage is overwhelming, hitting a record high of 81 percent  in the new poll,” says the Washington Post.

81%.

For many conservative Evangelicals this points to a failure on the part of the Church to educate our young. It points to biblical illiteracy and being too relaxed about the biblical moral code. It points, in essence, to a problem.

But for me, it points to possibilities. That perhaps God is up to something new and people too young and too idealistic to know any better, are following in God’s wake.

Sometimes God acts in ways that make us uncomfortable, as we see in Acts where it took literally an act of God for the Jewish Christians to see that maybe those unclean & pagan Gentiles could be the beloved of God. It took the Spirit of God working in the hearts of people who followed the letter of the Law to take a detour down the road of grace.

Maybe this is a moment for us to let go of our fear, our need for certainty, and see that there are people in the world who need good news. As I’ve said in the past, allowing gay people to get married doesn’t have to mean you “accept” their behavior, it just means we believe in equality, that we are made in the image of a God who “allows the rain to fall on the just & the unjust,” and that we follow Paul’s advice not to judge the behavior of others outside the church.

So for these 81% I say as Paul did to Timothy:

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faithand in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12)

Lead on young people. Bring fresh eyes and open hearts to a nation with a history of oppression and privilege, a nation that claims to follow the God of the stranger, widow, orphan, and foreigner. Do not give up following a God who breaks the rules to create spaces of belonging by giving up his own power and privilege in the person and work of Jesus. Do not give up!

The Evangelical Hangover

“People are watching you. They know how Christians should act.”
– The 4 different drunk middle-aged men & women
who have confronted me at different times about being a pastor in a bar
when I have visited my family in TX.

The more I write this blog* and the more experience I have living in different communities that are in different parts of the country (18 years in small town Texas, 7 years in Philadelphia, and 2 years in Phoenix) the more I observe what I call the “Evangelical Hangover” in certain communities.

What I mean by that term is this: in some communities (largely in the Bible Belt & Midwest, though that’s overgeneralizing) there seems to be an inherent cultural peer pressure to be a “good Christian.” In many of these communities, if you are going to hide something, it’s going to be your disbelief in Evangelical dogma, not your belief in it.

But in other communities (see the blue states for a broad geography) this peer pressure is absent. If anything, if you are going to hide something, it’s going to be your belief in Evangelical dogma, not your disbelief.

My point is that to we have to understand the difference and how it affects our representation of God in our communities.

In most communities in the South, “being a Christian” comes with a complex of concepts like: “doesn’t drink, “doesn’t smoke,” “doesn’t cuss,” “doesn’t watch Rated R movies,” etc. Or, to repeat the cute sing-song I learned in my hometown: “Don’t smoke, don’t chew, don’t go with girls who do.” In other words, to be a Christian means to be a “good person” or to “behave properly.” So, if you are drinking, smoking, or cussing, you aren’t “being a good witness for Jesus.”

But when I lived in Philadelphia, “being a Christian” comes with an entirely different complex of concepts, as evidenced by books like unChristian & They Like Jesus but not the Church. Things like “judgmental,” “conservative,” “hypocritical,” and “homophobic.” That’s what being a Christian means to a lot of folks in a lot of communities. In other words, being a Christian has nothing to do with Christ. And, to be honest, my not cussing, smoking, or drinking, would’ve contributed more to this negative view than my drinking and cussing. Luckily, I do both.

Well, which set of behaviors is right? If we agree that Christianity isn’t about rules, then I think that’s the wrong question. It’s more important to me that I ask “how can I represent Christ here”? And often, that involves clearing away any roadblock people might have between themselves and God. And as Evangelicals, boy have we created a lot of roadblocks. If you’re going to be a Christian we have a list of about 35 beliefs and behaviors you’d better come to real quick or else we’ll passively aggressively tell you things like “God accepts you where you are but he doesn’t intend to keep you there” (hint, hint, wink, wink) or “Christianity isn’t about works, it’s about grace. But that grace should create change in your life” (subtext: but based on your behavior, it’s not).

So, I spend a lot more time telling people what they don’t have to believe and what behaviors they don’t have to give up to be in Christ.

I guess my long-winded point is this: to my bothers and sisters, if your conviction is to keep not drinking and cussing for the cause of Christ, may you be blessed. But as for me, I’ll keep hanging out at bars, drinking my beer, for the same cause. And may Christ be lifted up in both.

*For example, in my post last year “Saying Shit for Jesus,” the negative/positive feedback was largely split based on geography. Those in less churched areas understood my point, those in the Bible Belt, largely didn’t.

On Why I Say Xmas*

“You know me, I am no fan of the term X-mas or X anything.
I make my kids play Christ-box 360.
And if they break a bone they get Christ-rays.”
-Stephen Colbert

If you haven’t noticed, I am very interested in the ironies of the Evangelical culture. As we enter into the season of the “Culture Wars,” we see an instance where conservative Christian culture undermines itself.

On the one hand, evangelicals often believe that one of the (if not the) most important part of the Christian faith is to win people to the Christian faith.

On the other hand, some evangelicals emphasize trying to “keep America a Christian nation” by protesting things like people saying “Xmas” or “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or by wanting to keep “In God we Trust” on our money.

Now, trying to accomplish both of things at the same time seems almost impossible, based on simple psychology: when you make an enemy of someone, they are not easily won over to your position.

If my goal is to make my country a place where everyone says “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” I, either on purpose or implicitly, make everyone who says “Happy Holidays” an enemy.

Think about it.  People say “THEY” are taking Christ out of Christmas? Who is this “THEY” anyway? Isn’t it just other people? That is, a group of people who say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas”? They are the enemy. They are “in the way” of accomplishing my mission of “Keeping Christ in Christmas.”

First of all, you are free to keep Christ in Christmas. As we’ve talked about before, holidays can be whatever we want them to be.

But more to the point, once someone thinks you have made them an enemy, the defenses go up. It becomes extremely hard for them to hear anything you have to say as a positive step in the relationship, no matter how well-intentioned it is. And so, Christians are increasingly perceived to be judgmental and intolerant, which is not a helpful moniker when you are trying to convert others to your position.

And so, I would like to propose that we do away with all culture wars, but specifically the “Christmas culture war,” which I think rests on three bad assumptions:

1. That saying “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” actually means you are a better Christian.
2. That we can coerce a culture into a relationship with Christ.
3. That winning this “battle” actually helps us win the “war.”

For the sake of space, I will make the bad assumption that numbers 1 & 2 are self-evidently poor assumptions. If you disagree, let me know in the comments and we can talk further. Here I want to further my argument against #3.

As we live in a culture that is increasingly post-Christian, my argument here, as I said in a previous controversial post, is that we have to be willing to concede some cultural “battles” to win the relationship “war.”

In fact, this is part of my life mission, to “concede” people into the Kingdom of God. This seems to be how Jesus reacted much of the time. It was his unwillingness to fight that was often the most powerful weapon in his arsenal (except for the religious leaders of course. He had no problem standing up to them). When Peter declared that it was finally time to “stand up for what we believe,” Jesus rebuked him and healed the person Peter lashed out against.

The point of Jesus’ mission in the world was to lose, not to win. It was in losing arguments that he won people. But that is often difficult for us to swallow. It seems so backward. But thus is the Kingdom of God. We want to do both. But in the process we never get to the point: Jesus.

Because of our need to win, we stop people before they ever get to Jesus. We stop them at whether or not they say “Christmas,” we stop them at whether they celebrate Halloween. We stop them at whether or not evolution is true. We stop them at whether or not the government should let homosexual couples marry. There are so many check-points, no wonder so many people give up before they ever get to Jesus.

In a world where Christians are labeled as being against everything in our culture, what a powerful argument for God when we confound their expectations, when we come to battle with a towel and basin full of water instead of a sword.

Why not sacrifice the less important (people saying Xmas) for the more important (people seeing X in me)?