Louie and the Prayer (that wasn’t)

Last week it was announced that Louie Giglio would deliver the benediction prayer for the upcoming Presidential Inauguration.

The following day Thinkprogress ran a story titled, “Inaugural Benediction to be Delivered by a Pastor Who Gave Vehemently Anti-Gay Sermon.”

This set the interwebs ablaze with questions regarding whether or not Louie would still give the prayer.

Giglio, if you don’t recognize the name, was one of the founding pastors of the Passion movement (which greatly shaped my own life over a decade ago) and is now the founding and lead pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta.

Then, two days after the announcement of Giglio’s selection, and a day after the “anti-gay sermon” stories ran amuck, Giglio informed the White House that he would “respectfully withdraw my acceptance of the President’s invitation.”

And I don’t know how I feel about it, yet.

But for now, here are 6 thoughts that come to mind as I sort through this morass.

1) Hey, that’s OUR litmus test, not yours!

Sometimes I get the feeling that some Christians in the more conservative end of the spectrum want to be able to utilize the issue of “homosexuality” as a litmus test for who’s in and who’s out, but if people on the OTHER side suggest a similar move, then all hell breaks out.

For instance, here’s some excerpts from a blog post from Albert Mohler on the Giglio situation:

The imbroglio over Louie Giglio is the clearest evidence of the new Moral McCarthyism of our sexually “tolerant” age. During the infamous McCarthy hearings, witnesses would be asked, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

In the version now to be employed by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, the question will be: “Are you now or have you ever been one who believes that homosexuality (or bisexuality, or transsexualism, etc.) is anything less than morally acceptable and worthy of celebration?”

The Presidential Inaugural Committee and the White House have now declared historic, biblical Christianity to be out of bounds, casting it off the inaugural program as an embarrassment.

By its newly articulated standard, any preacher who holds to the faith of the church for the last 2,000 years is persona non grata. By this standard, no Roman Catholic prelate or priest can participate in the ceremony. No Evangelical who holds to biblical orthodoxy is welcome. The vast majority of Christians around the world have been disinvited. Mormons, and the rabbis of Orthodox Judaism are out. Any Muslim imam who could walk freely in Cairo would be denied a place on the inaugural program. Billy Graham, who participated in at least ten presidential inaugurations is welcome no more. Rick Warren, who incited a similar controversy when he prayed at President Obama’s first inauguration, is way out of bounds. In the span of just four years, the rules are fully changed.

*cue the eye rolls*

Singling out one issue as being a sort of litmus test to determine if you’re ‘in’ or ‘out’ is infuriating. So with that said, perhaps on some level I DO see what Dr Mohler is saying, and I semi-sorta-agree (ouch! please don’t quote that…) with the principle behind his words.

Because this is precisely what happened to me. And ironically it was precisely on this issue. And even more ironically, perhaps, it was those who would stand in solidarity with Mohler who executed the same sort of litmus test.

I was fired from my pastoral job because I don’t hold to what Mohler says is “historic, biblical Christianity” on this issue. Interesting that “they” (and I use that term loosely) can use this issue to determine who is ‘in’ or ‘out,’ but if the OTHER side wants to employ similar tactics? Well, then, it’s the new Moral McCarthyism! How dare they!

Interesting.

2) I wish people on the “left” would relax a bit.

I type these next words with great caution: Might I suggest that those who are fighting for LGBT rights and equality perhaps lighten up a bit on this?

Don’t get me wrong. I totally disagree with the sermon that Giglio gave 20 years ago. He was wrong, and his words were/are very damaging to many people and they perpetuate very damaging theology. So of course the LGBT community and us straight allies would stand up and say, “that’s not okay!”

But for one, that sermon was 20 years ago. And for two, the dude is doing some pretty amazing things in this world.

Are any of us in the same place on this issue (or any issue, for that matter) as we were 20 years ago? I understand that he hasn’t necessarily come out and renounced anything, or said he thinks differently. But that’s his own prerogative and he has to calculate that carefully for himself, his ministry, his vocation, his family, etc.

I just have to believe that many of the same people who were appalled that this guy could be chosen by the President to say a prayer because of what he said 20 years ago, might not ALSO have a history where they believed radically different about homosexuality decades ago. Let’s proceed with caution any time we use someone’s own words against them when they came from two decades prior.

Furthermore, does Louie receive any good graces for the work he has done to help eradicate sex slavery? The sex slave trade is a stain on our planet, and Louie and his ministries have worked tirelessly for years to fight against it. One need not be theologically accurate in the areas of sexuality to DO good work for the Kingdom. And evidently it was primarily on this basis, because of Giglio’s amazing efforts, that inspired the President to even extend this offer.

So sure, he’s not “your kind of guy,” but relax.

3) I wish people on the “right” would relax a bit.

People from the LGBT community and other straight allies are NOT ridiculous for being opposed to Louie Giglio’s selection. The President has made some significant strides towards equality for all, and it feels a bit counter productive to enlist a guy who seems so opposed to such equality. So it’s only natural for some people and organizations to stand up and say, “hey, wait a minute… the President chose WHO?! What the… do you all KNOW what he said about gay people?! That’s not cool… and we don’t think he should’ve been chosen by the President. It communicates something different than what he has been saying.”

This is not some sort of attack on the First Amendment. Louie has not been denied his freedom of speech (for a great write up on that, see Rachel Held Evans’ blog, Four Myths about Louie Giglio’s Inauguration Prayer).

Like Rachel says in her post, if the President would have chosen, say, Bill Maher to say the benediction, chances are that many on your side would be up in arms as well. And that’s your right to do so. Just as it is Thinkprogress’ and others rights, as well.

The world is not ending, and Christianity won’t become illegal… even IF that might be the best thing to happen for us.  ;)

4) Let’s not lose sight of the OTHER people scheduled for the Inauguration

All this brouhaha over Louie seems to be at the expense of celebrating the other people scheduled to participate in the Presidential Inauguration.

Like the President’s selection of Richard Blanco to be the Inaugural Poet.
He is Latino… oh, and also openly gay.

Or what about who is scheduled to do the prayer of invocation? Myrlie Evers-Williams, 79, is the former chairwoman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the founder of the Medgar Evers Institute in Jackson, Miss. She is the widow of Medgar Evers, who was murdered by a white supremacist in 1963. She’s not clergy, either, marking the first ever non-clergy to deliver the invocation.

So I kind of  feel like adding in a white, evangelical, decently conservative pastor actually created a pretty beautiful and diverse balance for this historic and sacred event. And choosing to focus so much energy on trying to get Giglio uninvited, or on crying about how Christians can’t be in the public arena anymore if they’re anti-gay, is really an adventure in missing the point.

5) I wish Louie and Obama would have stuck with their plan.

When I was fired over my theological differences, I desperately wanted my pastor to stand up to the church and say, “This is my friend, Colby. And we agree on a LOT of things, and have done some great work together these past 5 years. Recently, I’ve learned that we disagree on a few things. And although those issues we disagree on are, in my opinion, pretty significant issues, they are not cause to break fellowship over or to break Kingdom partnership over. So I invite us all to lean in to this moment and practice unity. Focus on the things that unite us, not divide us.”

Or something like that, anyways.

And I guess I feel like this could have been a really cool opportunity for something like that as well.

6) This issue isn’t going away, so we’re going to have to learn to dialogue about it.

The issue of same-sex marriage in our nation, and gays in the military, and the theological discussion of God’s feelings towards gay people are not going away any time soon.

The world is changing. The church is changing.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I think we’ll look back on these years with a sort of frustration… like, “how in the world could we have been so wrong, and what TOOK us so long!?”

But in the meantime we are going to have to learn to talk about it. And even more importantly, to listen.

This invitation-that-got-accepted-then-rejected moment is just the latest, and trust me there will be more on this issue. So let’s do our best to stop lobbing fear grenades over the wall at our opponents, and start laying down our own agendas from time to time in an effort to find peace and a way forward.

__________________

What about you?

What are YOUR thoughts on this whole thing?

From Name-Dropping God, to Dropping God’s Name

In case you haven’t heard, Democrats are godless s.o.b.’s.

Headlines this week were quick to announce: DEMOCRATS DROP GOD FROM PLATFORM! Leaving readers to gasp in horror at the audacity that some Americans would commit such an atrocity. Conservatives for years have accused Dems of wanting to destroy Christianity and run America into the godless-ground.

And this week we got confirmation that those liberal hippies once and for all declared their anti-religious sentiment, and just ripped the Divine right out of the very document that communicates who they are and what they stand for.

Yes, they took God out of their platform.

Last election season, in 2008, God got name dropped one time.

This election, God’s name just got dropped.

In case you haven’t actually seen it yet, here’s how the paragraph from the 2008 platform read that contained the single reference to “God.”

“We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.”

Hmmm… I’m curious. Was your reaction the same as mine?

Based on the headlines and the talking heads, I was expecting something, I don’t know, much more substantial. A statement that, perhaps, clearly indicated that the Democrats were firm believers in and acknowledgers of “God.”

I was expecting something more along the lines of, “we as democrats believe in the Almighty God.”

Because then I could understand why people would express such an outrage that a sentiment like that was dropped.

That would be significant and worth discussion.

One election season the party states in its platform that it believes in God.

And then the following election season the party no longer states such a thing. It drops it completely.

Okay, at THAT point, it makes sense to wonder if Democrats are truly the godless party.

But THIS is not THAT.

Last election’s platform only mentioned God one time, and even then it was almost in passing. It was acknowledgment that humans have potential to do stuff, and that potential comes from God. “God” was used more as an adjective than as an object of belief and surrender. And isn’t it true, anyways, that not everyone in American even believes that our talents are God-given?

Nonetheless, here is that same section as it was rewritten for this year:

“We gather to reclaim the basic bargain that built the largest middle class and the most prosperous nation on Earth – the simple principle that in America, hard work should pay off, responsibility should be rewarded, and each one of us should be able to go as far as our talent and drive take us.”

This time around the section just says, “our talent and drive,” instead of something similar to last year like, “our God-given talents and drive.”

The word “God” was dropped.

But let me ask you this: if you had just stumbled upon this second paragraph in any blog or piece of literature, would you AT ALL think to yourself, “wow, this sentence really is missing something… it’s really missing a God-component. Whoever wrote this must be a godless person.”

Not a chance.

It’s actually a very nice sentence. Pretty much every person would see value in it, and possibly even agree with it.

The only problem people have (or “problem they are creating”) is that this section in the Platform previously acknowledged God as the supplier of talents. It used to have the word “God” in it. And that word is very important to many people.

But still, the point remains. Ultimately this “dropping” of God is hardly a momentous thing when you consider the context that it even existed in the first place.

Furthermore, it’s not like “God” was mentioned 10 or 15 times and then all of sudden nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Again, THAT would be understandably jarring. But just going from one very casual mention of the name “God” to no mention at all (even though the exact same sentiment is communicated) is hardly worth the nationwide freak out that ensued.

To make matters worse, though, the Democratic Convention Chair awkwardly tried to poll the delegates on Wednesday in an attempt to possibly put the word “God” BACK in the platform language. Three times Antonio Villaraigosa wielded the gavel and attempted to discern the “ayes” from the “nos” before finally deciding that the majority was voting in favor of reinserting “God,” even though evidently it wasn’t clear at all. All of this was because of the backlash they received from dropping “God.” (and the ensuing pressure put on them by the White House BECAUSE of the ridiculous backlash)

Sigh.

I wish they would have simply taken the time to A) anticipate the ridiculous overreaction, and B) actually have an articulate reason WHY they chose to word this one section differently.

Instead we had to watch awkward and cringe-inducing moments like this, because the party wasn’t adequately prepared to handle the backlash.

But, the world we live in is all about headlines and news cycles. And the headline “GOD DROPPED FROM THE PLATFORM” is really, really interesting. The shock factor works. And the majority of people won’t bother considering what it actually means.

For me, I have no problem with the original wording (God-given talents), nor do I have any problem with the re-write. The language of the Democratic Platform is ripe with values and principles that clearly indicate a shared value with the Creator. Needing to have the word “God” put in there is sort of trivial in my mind. And to freak out just because it wasn’t “used” this year is even more petulant. (Sidenote: anytime you talk about “using the word God,” you should probably hesitate. Perhaps God’s name isn’t meant to be “used.” For what it’s worth.)

What I have a problem with is how the conservatives freaked out and decided that this was proof, once and for all, that Democrats are godless people who want to destroy faith in America.

What I have a problem with is how we are addicted to creating problems and making mountains out of mole hills.

What I have a problem with is the fact that this following statement is ALSO in the Democratic Platform, and it’s beautiful, and full of God language and faith language, but it is completely ignored because a certain three-letter word was left out of a different section. Read this and tell me if you think it is written by godless people who want to destroy faith in our country:

“Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires. Faith- based organizations will always be critical allies in meeting the challenges that face our nation and our world – from domestic and global poverty, to climate change and human trafficking. People of faith and religious organizations do amazing work in communities across this country and the world, and we believe in lifting up and valuing that good work, and finding ways to support it where possible. We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests. There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution, and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country.”

If you read all that and STILL think it’s the end of the world that the English word “God” is not listed somewhere at some point, then I’m not sure what to tell you. Perhaps your own insecurities and fear are the real issue.

What do you think?

Were you bothered by the “dropping” of God?

If so, does it make a difference to you now that you know HOW it was even used last year?

Were you glad that they didn’t “use” God this year, and bummed that they were pressured back in to it?

Fire off in the comment section.

And Yet It Moves

BLACK SHARPIES AND WHITE SHEETS

Two years ago, while still working at The Grove, I attended Catalyst West Coast with the other pastors. One of the things the folks at Catalyst like to do is set up an interactive arts area in the chapel for people to spend time meditating, reflecting, worshiping, and doing some hands on interactive stuff. While wandering through the chapel two years ago I was drawn towards a large display of three sheets that created a three-walled box. One side of the ‘box’ was open so that you could walk in and be surrounded by three giant white sheets. Scattered throughout the display were black sharpies, and participants were encouraged to write out a ‘confession’ anywhere on the sheet. There were super bright lights that back lit the sheets and made the box translucent, so that you could read all the confessions from outside the box, but they were all backwards. You had to go IN the box to read them properly. I decided to pick up a sharpie and participate.

Just moments before I visited the interactive stations in the chapel I listened to a keynote address by Dr John Perkins who had marched with Martin Luther King Jr in the Civil Rights Movement. His speech reminded me that the stain on our nation’s history of segregation is still so fresh. People are still alive and walking around who witnessed first hand a country who treated African Americans like second class citizens. I found myself weighed down by the gravity of that thought.

We want to believe we’ve come so far as a nation. But we haven’t.

We want to believe we’ve come so far as a church. But we haven’t.

Sadly many, many conservative churches supported segregation. And prior to that, supported slavery. The Bible was even used to buttress such absurd positions.

And I got to thinking that afternoon of how many followers of Jesus there were during the days of segregation that knew it was wrong, knew that we should not discriminate against people because of the color of their skin, but did nothing about it.

Stayed silent.

And if those people are still alive today (which I’m sure many are), oh how their hearts must break at the stain on their own history. Could you imagine being 80 some years old and having to live with the reality that you were adamantly opposed to racial segregation but you did nothing and said nothing about it back in the 60’s?

I imagine the weight of that guilt and shame would be crushing.

Or, imagine those who were in favor of discrimination at the time (because their church told them to be, or because they interpreted their Bibles so poorly). And now that we “know” how wrong we all were, they must also be crushed under the pain of knowing they allowed a few verses in the Bible to trump their human capacity for reason, compassion, and love.

Anyways, so all those thoughts were fresh in my mind when I walked through the chapel, made my way to the white sheet art installation, and picked up a black sharpie.

Without really thinking much about what I was going to write, I popped off the cap, found a spot high up on the wall (benefit of being almost 6’3”), and followed the lead of my inner spirit as I wrote:

God, I do not want my future self to be ashamed of my present self. I do not want to remain silent and do nothing about discrimination towards the LGBT community. As the world continues changing and we look back on these times 50 years from now and wonder how we could have gotten this issue so wrong, I do not want to have been one of the fear-filled silent ones.

I stepped back from what I wrote and cautiously (fearfully?) turned my head from side to side to see if anyone else saw what I wrote. I don’t know why, but writing that out was somehow a formative moment for me. Even though I only told a white sheet how I felt, it seemed as though this gesture was significant. To actually externalize something like this, to put it out there, outside of simply my own heart and mind, somehow made it more real.

And I realized I couldn’t turn back from that moment.

Even though no one at my church and none of my family or friends knew how I felt on this issue, suddenly I was willing to put this out there for complete strangers to read.

I’m not even certain I knew that I felt this way until I entered that three-walled white sheet box and popped off the cap of that lone black sharpie.

It became evident in that moment that a significant crossroad had not just presented itself in my life but that I had also already chosen the path down which I’d follow.

Why do I talk about this issue so much?

Because I could never live with myself if I didn’t.

I believe with all my heart and mind that history will show the church to be on the wrong side of this issue just like it was with segregation, women’s rights, slavery… heck, we even swung and missed on astronomy! It is imperative that future-Colby is able to look back on these days, when so much is at stake in the LBGT community and people are finally beginning to lessen their grip on homophobic behavior and actions and legislation, and be able to look his grandkids in the eyes and say, “I helped fight for this. I spoke out when it wasn’t popular. I challenged people’s assumptions and helped educate their ignorances. I took an honest look at the Scriptures are realized how badly we’d missed it. I opened my eyes to the discrimination that had run rampant against our brothers and sisters and stood with those who said ‘no more.’”

AND YET IT MOVES

In 1514 the German astronomer, Copernicus, proposed the idea of heliocentric cosmology (which is the view that the Sun is fixed in space and the planets orbit around the sun). This was the complete opposite of geocentric cosmology (which was the view held up until that point, that the Earth was the center and fixed in the universe and the sun orbited Earth).

100 years later the Italian physicist/mathematician/astronomer/philosopher named Galileo agreed with Copernicus’ assessment. The Sun was indeed (and scientifically proven to be) fixed, and it was in fact the Earth that moved in space.

Unfortunately for him, the Bible says otherwise.

According to Scripture, the Earth is fixed and does not move. (Psalm 93:1, 96:10, and 1 Chronicles 16:30, just to name a few). Therefore the official position of the church was geocentrism. So for Galileo to suggest the opposite was heresy.

In 1633 Galileo was summoned to Rome and stood trial by the Inquisition for writing literature that revealed the truth about cosmology. He was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life in house arrest while all of his writings were banned. (quick side note: lest we just blame the Catholic Church for suppressing the truth and silencing people like Galileo, the Reformer himself, Martin Luther, also rejected the evidence of heliocentrism in favor of the above Bible verses.)

Legend has it that, after his recantation in front of the Inquisition, he muttered the phrase, “and yet it moves.”

As if to say, “though I’m forced to reject what is true because of your insistence on a few clearly misunderstood Bible verses, that does not change the reality that the earth moves.”

Fine, we can all participate in this cosmic comedy of errors… and yet it moves.

Sometimes that which is true has a way of hiding itself for centuries. And when it is uncovered, should it threaten the way we’ve always thought/believed about something (or, even more dangerously, should it threaten a few Bible verses), we find ourselves poised in a difficult place. Forced to make a choice between three paths.

Do we, like the Religious Elite, dig in our heels and insist we have not been wrong. Insist that the Bible clearly says such and such and so all other evidences of logic, reason, science or alternative interpretations must be wrong. Insist on protecting the “truth” as we’ve always known it.

Or, do we, like Galileo, open up our hearts and minds to the possibility that we’ve gotten it wrong. We develop new convictions that reject what we’ve always known to be true even though it could be dangerous. But, like Galileo, do we ultimately acquiesce to the powers that be. Do we ignore our conscience, ignore the guiding of the Spirit inside us, and stick our heads in the sand. Not wanting to rock the boat. Not wanting to invite the wrath of the Inquisition. Fearful of what might be lost.

Or, thirdly, do we choose the path of people like Descartes, Keplar and Isaac Newton who boldly moved forward in life within the newly revealed “truth.” Regardless of the cost, there were those that knew that the Bible was wrong (or, more accurately, had been wrongly interpreted) and weren’t afraid to support heliocentrism. Weren’t afraid to speak out and do their part to move the conversation forward.

Homosexuality is not a disorder.
It is not a choice.
It is not something that can be cured or reversed.
A loving, committed, monogamous same-sex relationship is not forbidden in the Bible.
Gay people are not abominations.

These “truths” have been hiding for centuries but have now been uncovered.

The “church” is doing what it has often done throughout history: dig in its heels and insist it is right. Clinging to archaic science. Insisting on weak interpretations. And threatening anyone who dares oppose it.

There are many Christians who have taken the route of Galileo. They have been exposed to these “truths,” have met actual gay people and heard their stories, read material that challenged what they’ve always believed, and discovered how wrong we’ve been. And yet they remain silent. They would rather remain in house arrest, imprisoned within their own consciences, if it means they don’t have to endure the wrath of the Inquisition. Or lose their job. Or lose relationships.

I won’t do that. I can’t do that.

People’s lives are at stake with this issue. This is way more important than the order of the planets and stars. This is about the livelihood of our fellow brothers and sisters. About their mental health and inner happiness. About the rights that have been denied them that all straight people enjoy. About the destruction of their souls as they’ve been told over and over again that they are rotten sinners who invite the wrath of God on their lives and on our nation. This is about saving the lives of thousands of young people each year who would rather kill themselves than face this world that hates them, fears them, tells them they cannot love or be loved, tells them they are broken and deformed, tells them they have failed in their efforts to surrender to God.

IT’S NOT THE SAME, BUT IT IS

I understand that people don’t like comparing the LGBT movement with the Civil Rights Movement. I get it. It’s different in some ways.

But at the same time there are enough parallels, I think, that render it apropos to take principles from one and apply to another. However, even if you disagree and think they don’t belong in the same comparative sentence together, then I still want to ask you this question: imagine you are living back in the mid 1960′s and a friend of yours was spending all her free time at Civil Rights rallys. They were writing their local paper and calling out for equality. They were attending churches and begging people to re-read their Scriptures. They were focusing enormous amounts of time and energy in to ending discrimination in our country. Would you say to them, “hey friend, I know you’re passionate about this, but can you scale it back a bit? It’s like all you ever talk about anymore. I know it’s important, but there are other things in life that are important, too.”

I don’t think, looking back through the lens of history, you would say that.

You would root them on. You would tell them to not shut up until blacks were considered equal with whites. Until all people could eat in the same restaurant and drink from the same fountain. You would encourage them to never give up.

Well then, if you agree with me on some of the issues relating to the LGBT community, then I propose to you that this is THAT important. And I think future YOU would want to say to present ME, “don’t give up. Don’t stop talking about it until gays are considered equal with straights. Until all people can know the same basic rights. Until churches start to open their doors and their hearts to the gay community, and come to see how wrong they are.”

And if you disagree with me on these issues then perhaps you could step back and respect the fact that I, and many others, think this is THAT important. You may not understand it, but you can choose to respect it.

If you’re not tired of reading yet, I invite you to go here and read this amazing blog post from Richard Beck called “The Fence of Matthew Shepard.” He also discusses the commonality between Civil Rights, the Holocaust, and events like the killing of Matthew Shepard. He says this at the end,

Let me tell you what keeps me up at night. My deepest fear in life is that I’m going to end up on the wrong side of God’s history. Like so many Christians before me. My fear is that a moment will come when I am asked to stand up for those hanging on the trees, literally and symbolically, and I’ll respond with “That has nothing to do with me. That has nothing to do with the church.”

UNDERSTANDING MY PRIVILEGE

I am straight. And white. And a male.

These are three things that are true about me, and three things that grant me certain privileges that I did not earn nor ask for. But I have them nonetheless.

Those who have done study in the world of “privilege” have remarked that those in the majority position (i.e. myself) can speak out for minority positions without the immediate assumption or critique that we are speaking out of self interest.

While I certainly don’t want to take away or replace the “voice” of the LGBT community, I must acknowledge the “privilege” that I have in this arena. I can speak out against discrimination of gays and NOT be waved off simply because “I am gay.”

I don’t deserve and didn’t earn this privilege, but I have it nonetheless.

And for whatever reason I have gained a very tiny sliver of influence over an even tinier sliver of people in this vast universe. I have a platform (regardless of how small it is), I have white/straight/male privilege, and I have the firm conviction that we the church have been wrong on this issue for too long. My voice is needed in this conversation. For every 20 people that wave me off as a heretic there might be one young gay guy or lesbian girl who discovers that they are a child of God. Who learns for perhaps the first time that the Bible does not condemn them, that they are not an abomination. And even though they’ve felt that or tried to say that for years, now they have someone else who is saying it with them… for them.

I won’t be like the person who never stood against racial segregation and lives their remaining days in shame.

I won’t be like Galileo who knew the truth about cosmology but chose to renounce it and live alone.

The earth MOVES, people. It MOVES! And I’m not going to utter it under my breath as I walk away in fear. There are too many hurting people in this world for me to sit by and do nothing. Say nothing. Not use my privilege, my influence, my study, my voice.

Why do I talk so much about this issue?

Because it is moving… and I’m moving with it.
While also telling you its moving.
And inviting you to move with it.

I don’t want to be on the wrong side of God’s history.
And I don’t want you to be, either.

Why I Support Our NC Apology Billboard

Earlier this month, as you may know, I joined Missiongathering Christian Church as their new Pastor of Worship & Arts here in sunny San Diego, CA. One of the main reasons that Katie and I were so compelled to join MG is because of their commitment to loving Jesus and to spreading the Good News of Jesus’ love that is available and open to all.

Close to the heart of MG is a commitment to loving, caring for, respecting, valuing and welcoming gays, lesbians, bi-sexuals and transgenders (commonly referred to as LGBT… sometimes there’s a Q at the end for ‘queer’). If you’ve followed Kate and mine’s journey over the past few months then you can imagine what a great fit we are for MG and vice versa.

So, after only being here a few short weeks, I’ve already got to participate in a radical and bold statement of love towards our LGBT brothers and sisters. I’m referring to the billboard that we put up this week in Charlotte, NC, right on Billy Graham Parkway, offering an apology to those who recently had rights and equality further denied them by the passing of Amendment 1. The billboard says:

Missiongathering Christian Church is SORRY for the narrow-minded, judgmental, deceptive, manipulative actions of those who denied rights & equality to so many in the name of God.

Here’s a pic…

As I’m typing this, the above picture of the billboard is currently going viral on Facebook (heck, even Keith Olbermann shared the photo!). Thousands of people are sharing the photo, passing it on, commenting on it, etc. It currently is #3 on Reddit.com. Multiple news organizations and blogs have already picked it up and written about it. It’s kind of exciting, really!

Now, as with all things that are even remotely semi-controversial, the internet can be a cess-pool of haters and lovers. Discussions abound between those who think it’s the best thing ever, and those who think Armageddon must be moments away.

We’ve received, as was expected, much criticism. Generally they have fallen under one of the following three categories:

-  Why are you all up in our biz-ness! (North Carolinans don’t like Californians, I guess?)

-  Why would a church go against the Word of God! (the tired old argument that there is only one interpretation of the Bible with regards to homosexuality)

-  Why the harsh language? (people, it turns out, don’t like when you call them things like narrow minded or judgmental… or at least, when they THINK you are calling them those things)

Some of my own friends and family have also questioned why I would put up this billboard, or support the putting up of such a message. And so I wanted to share some thoughts here to address some of the criticism surrounding our billboard and its message.

Primarily I’ll address the First and the Third Criticism above (for my thoughts on the Second Criticism, I invite you to follow along my current and unfinished-as-of-yet blog series titled “UnClobber: A Survey of Homosexuality in the Bible”)

So Why ARE We All Up In Their Biz-ness?

(actually, it would help if you went here, to our Givimo page, and quickly read the brief history of our Apology Billboard. This is actually the SECOND time Missiongathering has put up such a billboard. The first time was in 2008, here in San Diego, in response to the passing of Prop 8.)

Many states over the years have passed anti-gay laws (specifically relating to gay marriage), so why North Carolina, and why now?  Amendment 1 gained national attention recently, and when it passed something interesting happened. A photo of our original billboard (the one we put up in 2008, here in San Diego, as a response to the passing of Prop 8) re-surfaced online and went viral. People from all over the country (and even other countries) saw the photo and contacted us “thanking” us for putting up the billboard. When we started returning people’s emails and phone calls to tell them “thanks, but that picture was taken four years ago,” we began asking the question, what if we did it again? What if we made a new billboard and put it up, not here in California, but on the other side of the country in North Carolina? 

We received a few gracious donations to get the ball rolling, launched a campaign on Givimo.com, and decided to just go for it. Let’s take this message and show people on the other side of the country that we stand with them and we will stand for them.

What IS that message?

Here’s what I (and we, as a church) believe: when you strip away everything, the heart of the Christian faith is Love.

Fundamental to this Love is the understanding that it is open to all people, regardless of whatever adjective may be used to describe them. For too long the LGBT community has been, at best, marginalized and ignored, and at worst, oppressed and discriminated against. These postures do not represent Love. They do not represent the message of Jesus. They do not represent the heart of God.

Sadly, much of the marginalizing and discrimination has come at the hands of churches, and this breaks my heart even more. Therefore, when moments like Amendment 1 happen, I instantly hurt with those who hurt. My soul is heavy with the thought of gays and lesbians being reminded, once again, that they will never be allowed to marry the person they love.

It is important, I believe, that those who identify with the LGBT community know that not all Christians believe in the messages delivered through devices like Prop 8 and Amendment 1. The point of our apology, then, is to say, “we recognize that people have used the Name of God to defend their positions that deny you rights and deny you equality. We recognize that people who identify with the Christian Faith have told you that you are, in some respect, a second class citizen, a miserable sinner, a danger to society, and/or an abomination. But please hear us when we say that NOT ALL FOLLOWERS OF JESUS feel this way. Please believe that God, as we understand it, loves you and created you just as you are. And for those who tell you differently, for those who treat you differently, for those share the same “faith” as we do, we apologize. It’s not okay. And on behalf of (some) Christians, we want to say SORRY.”

Billboards are big, and are designed to make big, bold statements. The statement we are making is big and its bold. It is a message we are passionate about sharing. Knowing how well it worked here in San Diego four years ago, it made sense for us to try it again in Charlotte. It is our passion for Jesus and this message that fuels us to reach as many people as possible.

This message isn’t for the churches or the “Christians,” per se, in North Carolina.
It is for those in the LGBT community who feel like they are standing alone.
Those who were handed yet another blow, another reminder that they are second class citizens in some people’s eyes.

So if our billboard can function, in any way, as a message of love, of support, of encouragement or hope, then praise God.

But Why Such HARSH Language?

I think this is fair criticism, to be honest. I think it is okay for people to push back and question why we would use the words we did. They are jarring, no doubt. And they have caused quite a stir.

Let me offer three thoughts on the choice of our wording:

1.)  It is important to note that our billboard uses the above harsh language to describe the ACTIONS of people, NOT the people themselves. It would be entirely different to say, “we are sorry for the narrow-minded, judgmental, manipulative and deceptive PEOPLE who denied you rights… etc.” I agree with what many of our critics have said, that “name-calling gets us no where.” I hope, though, that people can understand the difference between calling out someone’s ACTIONS versus attacking them as people. There is a difference, and we are not interested in putting up billboards that call people names.

Sidenote: here’s where I readily acknowledge it can get sticky. That sentence I just typed, “I hope that people can understand the difference between calling out someone’s ACTIONS versus attacking them as people” is a sentence/concept/idea that many people I’ve come in contact with ALSO use when articulating their stance towards gay people. The argument goes like this: I think homosexuality is a sin, and gay people who practice that lifestyle are living in sin. I love that PERSON, but I am against their ACTIONS. Or, to put it bluntly, ‘love the sinner and hate the sin.’ And if you’ve read anything I’ve written (like during this 142 comment long FB post, for instance) then you know how I’ve combated that position vehemently. My belief is that you cannot disconnect a person’s sexual orientation from them as a person, and so you cannot (or rather, it doesn’t “work”) to actively “hate the sin” but still proclaim you’re “loving the sinner.” When you condemn a gay or lesbian for living out their sexuality in a healthy and God-fearing way, you are by nature condemning them. (If you don’t believe me, go find a gay person and tell them “I hate what you do, but please know, I love you!” Let me know how that works out. Furthermore, a person who takes the “love the sinner hate the sin” posture generally has zero space in their worldview for healthy, appropriate, God-honoring expressions of same-sex love. So any and all expressions of same-sex love are viewed as sinful. They will easily grant distinctions for heterosexual actions, and have categories for “good actions” and “wrong actions,” but they cannot or will not allow those distinctions in the same-sex world. I think what God is interested in is a standard of healthy sexuality for ALL types of people, that is consistent and honoring to all people.) So then, am I stuck in a double-standard? Am I saying that “I” should be allowed to separate someone’s actions (narrow minded, judgmental, manipulative) from them as people, and be allowed to call out those actions as wrong while simultaneously contending that I’m not judging/hating/condemning them as people, but NOT allow YOU to separate someone’s actions (living gay) from them as a person, call out those actions as wrong, and still contend that you don’t judge/condemn/hate that person? In short, yes, I’m saying just that. But I don’t agree that this is a double standard. I believe they are fundamentally different, and that difference makes all the difference. To elaborate:

A) Being gay is not a choice. Being narrow-minded and judgmental is (even that, though, I imagine is debatable. Do you think that this kid really has a CHOICE to NOT be narrow-minded? Guh… so sad.) But for the most part, I think it’s safe to say that one can CHOOSE to be more open minded and less judgmental, but one cannot CHOOSE to be not-gay. Maybe you could say this: you may judge me or call out my actions if I am obese, because that (for the most part) is something I can choose to be or not be, but you may not judge me or call out my actions for being tall… sorry, I cannot control/choose/change that. This is not a double standard, this is different standards for different realities.

B) A person may be a non-narrow-minded person, or a non-judgmental-person, but still take part in narrow-minded and/or judgmental actions. Just to commit the act (or to hold a certain narrow-minded or judgmental belief) doesn’t necessarily or automatically make that person, by and large, a narrow-minded and/or judgmental person. SOME of the people (maybe a lot?) who participated in voting yes for Amendment 1 might just be downright judgmental and/or narrow-minded people. Others very well might not be. But in THIS case, in THIS action, in THIS instance, they are. I don’t think that necessarily implies they ARE that type of person. So if I call you out for doing or saying something that is narrow-minded, that’s not to say you are a narrow-minded person. It IS to say that you did a narrow-minded thing.

C) These sorts of actions and behaviors (narrow-mindedness, judgmental, manipulative, deceptive), in my opinion, are inherently wrong and morally bad. Being gay is not inherently wrong or morally bad. Living in a God-honoring, respectful, loving, committed relationship (be it same sex or opposite sex) is not inherently wrong or morally bad. Therefore I feel it is a different thing altogether to separate a person from their actions and “judge” or “call out” those actions if they are evil actions and remain free’d from the accusation that you are judging or condemning the person. (The story of Jesus and the women caught in adultery comes to mind. He called out her actions, “go and sin no more,” but did so while simultaneously NOT judging/condemning her as a person, “then neither do I condemn you.”) But this isn’t a viable option when referring to a ‘love the sinner hate the sin’ posture towards LGBT folk. I understand that you (or someone reading this) may THINK it is a viable option, because you BELIEVE that any expression of same-sex relationship is wrong and sinful. But I reject that, therefore I reject this as a viable option.   …. phew! That was probably overly convoluted. And I understand if you didn’t follow me all that well. But I gave it my best shot! End of Sidenote.

2.)  While it may be true that we could have communicated our message by JUST offering an apology without also calling out the actions that led to the passing of Amendment 1, the reality is that for us that doesn’t go far enough. It isn’t enough to simply say, “it’s not okay and we’re sorry.” The beliefs and actions of those who perpetuate the postures of marginalizing, oppressing and discriminating must be called out, must be held accountable, and must be challenged.

I believe it is NARROW-MINDEDto deny rights to gay people, to treat them as second class citizens. To say that only straight people are allowed to marry the ones they love.

I believe it is JUDGMENTALto think that God did not create gay people and love them just as they are, and to deny them rights simply because of their orientation. To contend that they are terrible sinners living in perpetual animosity towards God.

I believe the efforts of those who were pushing Amendment 1 (and Prop 8) were fraught with DECEPTION. They gave mis-leading information and used scare tactics. Many people were unclear as to what the amendment actually WAS, and what the implications of it would be. Dated and ignorant information was used to demonize or criminalize the LGBT community.

I believe it is MANIPULATIVE to invoke the Bible, God, Jesus, the Christian Faith, etc, as weapons to rally support. To isolate passages of Scripture (the Clobber passages) that have been incorrectly and poorly interpreted to create a theology against gay people (just like the Bible was used against slaves, against women, against “colored” folk, etc).

For me, the actions that led to the passing of Amendment 1 were not representative of what I believe are the heart of God and the message of Jesus, and certainly not indicative of how all Christians believe. As such, I feel called to speak out. To be a voice of love (hence the apology) as well as a voice of truth (hence the calling out of the actions).

Though they are jarring and harsh, I stand behind each of the four adjectives used to describe the actions.

3.)  I understand that one of the risks of putting this message out there like this is that we might alienate some of our Christian brothers and sisters. We might be viewed as being divisive, causing further division in the Body of Christ. However, I feel it is mostimportant that we love the unloved and defend the discriminated.If, in the process, we ruffle the feathers of fellow Christians, perhaps that is an okay price to pay. Perhaps those feathers need a little ruffling. By no means do we want to cause division in the church, but sometimes that cannot be avoided. Especially when ideologies collide like this.

Imagine This

Imagine life in the South just 50 years ago during the heat of the Civil Rights Movement. And imagine a state in the South voting to amend their constitution to say, for instance that marriage is only legal between one man and one woman of the same race. Or perhaps they vote to require blacks and whites use different restrooms, eat at different restaurants, receive different pay, etc etc.

Now picture a church who believes it is fundamentally wrong to say interracial marriages are illegal, wrong to deny rights to non-whites, wrong to segregate. That church decides to act on these convictions and puts up a billboard in the state that says something like: “_________ Church is sorry for the narrow-minded, judgmental, manipulative and deceptive actions of those who deny rights and equality to non-whites.”

Certainly there would be those in the Christian faith who would be angry. Who would accuse that specific church of name-calling, and judging, and being divisive. There would be those that would take issue with being accused of being narrow-minded and judgmental. The church would probably have to defend the usage of their language.

But what do we know NOW about those issues?

Viewing non-white people as second class IS narrow-minded.
Segregating because of color of skin and denying interracial marriages IS judgmental.
Using the Bible and the name of God to deny non-whites equality IS manipulative.

No one argues these things. We would look back at that church, and their billboard, and their language, and no one would question it. Most, in fact, would be in full support of it. While we grant that not all people want to relate the civil rights movement with rights for the LGBT community, I see too many similarities NOT to. And I believe our language is (and will be found to be, through the lens of history) appropriate, accurate, and true. One day I believe most people will agree that it is narrow-minded to view gays differently, judgmental to call them sinners and abominations, and manipulative to use select Bible passages as weapons against them.

What I am NOT Saying

Lastly, let me say this: I do not believe that every person who voted yes for Amendment 1 or Prop 8, or that every person who believes marriage should only be between one man and one woman, is a narrow-minded bigot, or a judgmental jerk, or takes part in deceptive campaigns, or manipulates others with the Bible.

I know many good hearted followers of Jesus who deeply love God, love people, and cherish the Bible, but who also cannot agree with same-sex marriage. These people have wrestled with the issues, studied the Scriptures, prayed and sought council, and have just simply landed in a different place than I (and many others) have.

Just because you disagree with me on this does not mean I think you are narrow-minded or judgmental. And I can honestly understand how our billboard would cause you to feel that that is what I/we are saying.

So to those family and friends of mine who felt attacked or snubbed or were offended because you felt I was calling you names, I apologize.

That being said, I cannot apologize for my commitment to fight against the theology and worldviews (and the actions that flow from them) that view LGBT folk as less than who they are.

I cannot apologize for my conviction that Jesus has invited me to follow him down this journey of being a straight-ally.

I cannot apologize for those moments when my soul aches on behalf of the marginalized and discriminated.

And I cannot apologize for ultimately hoping that one day you will change your heart and mind on this issue. I respect the fact that you may disagree with me, and I would never let that tarnish a relationship.

I hope you can understand where I’m coming from, too. And if not understand, than at least respect.

Thanks for reading.

Why Can’t Politicians Change Their Minds?

I’m no political expert, and try to tread carefully when making any sort of statement or opinion on political matters, but here is something that has always bothered me about the political climate: Politicians are not allowed to change their minds. Ever. Throughout the course of their political career. And if they do, they get nailed for it. Criticized. Hammered. Accused of being wishy-washy and hypocritical.

But why?

I’ve preached a few sermons so far in my relatively short ministerial career, and hopefully I’ll preach many more. Right now, I’m fully aware that I am still growing and maturing. Still learning and discovering. And I know that I will never, never, reach a point where this journey ends. Where I can cease learning, discovering, questioning and growing.

I can guarantee you that years from now I will teaching things very well may be different from what I might say today. Does this make me hypocritical? Wishy-washy?

I can promise you that, as I grow, I will find myself reevaluating things I’ve previously held to me true. Hopefully, whatever community I am in at the time, will give me space and grace to say, “you know what, I used to believe this… but now, looking back, I think I was wrong.”

But politicians simply aren’t given this space.

It is expected, I presume, that they figure EVERYTHING out at a certain age (before they enter politics?) and then NEVER waiver from their positions. Ever. For if they do, they will be criticized, pulverized, scrutinized, and other things that end with -ized.

Sad.

Sure, there’s something to be said for the gal/guy who is consistent with their voting record and unchanging with their positions. But isn’t there also something to be said for she/he who can acknowledge “this was what I used to think. This is how I used to vote. And you know what, I can see now that that was the wrong choice. I have grown and become more aware and educated, and evolved in to a new position.”

That’s something I think I can respect.

Tonight was the Arizona Republican Presidential Debate, and I thought Rick Santorum might take this posture when he was attacked for “No Child Left Behind.” I guess he voted for it back in the day, and now that it has proven to be disastrous he is against it. And people are attacking him for it. If Santorum could have just acknowledged that it was a bad decision , that he’s grown and moved beyond that, and that he’s changed, then I think it would have come across way better than, “hey, politics is a team sport… The President needed me to vote for it… blah blah blah…”

I may be alone on this, but it doesn’t bother me much when politicians change their mind as a result of growing, learning, broadening, etc.

And I hope it won’t bother the people I pastor if/when it happens to me.