L.I.T.W. – Race

The third installment of “Love is the Why” features the next great issue that American Christians must meet with love – or fuel with inaction.

Christians be like....

Christians be like….

Most Christians are not racists.

Which is, of course, a very good thing, considering that few things are so diametrically opposed to the Gospel as racism.

But there are some racist “Christians.” And some “Christians” who use Christianity to justify racism.

And many Christians are racenorant (too ignorant to be just racist, too racist to be just ignorant). And just about every single Christian (including this writer) suffers from some degree of subconscious racism.

American Christians live in a nation that is racist. And racial tensions are as high as they have been in some time. The last 300 days have seen the rise of a powerful movement of protesters that has especially focused on police brutality against black Americans. Their efforts have shed light on systemic injustices that go well beyond the guns of the police.

Race will be one of the most important issues in America in 2015 and beyond. And my heart longs for my generation be the one to finally be the change I wish to see.

American Christians are a part of this struggle. How will we acquit ourselves?

Because, so far, our participation in this issue has been pitiful. And unless we act, the 21st Century Church of AC will stand next to slaveholders and the KKK in a tradition of Christians that chose which people counted as their neighbor.

This topic, like gay marriage, is worth considerably more than a couple thousand words. Again I find myself needing to narrow the scope of my writing in order to take on something a little more manageable. In just the first 250 words of this post I have already set off numerous alarm bells and made many statements that might need clarification or justification.

First thing’s first: this Scandinavian-American perspective will comment on white American Christians and their place in this issue. Obviously black American Christians can also be racist and can also fail to live out the Gospel in race relations, but it’s not quite the same. I hope I don’t have to explain this any further.

Second, we can’t dwell on the history for now. It’s just important that you understand that, while the Christian message is unequivocally anti-racism, Christianity has in its history had some pretty big racial issues. Your idea of Christianity’s place in history might be just a tad misguided (for instance, John Newton didn’t give up slaving right after his conversion. Yikes.).

And, lastly, it’s important to understand that this is, in fact, a big deal/problem/thing/issue.

And it’s because many white American Christians either refuse to believe this is a problem or ignore the problem altogether that brings us to our place in this discussion.

Christians facing this issue have tended to use five different responses:

  1. “This is just a bunch of media fodder. There’s not really a problem to worry about.”
  2. “There’s a good explanation for all this.”
  3. “Those people have problems.”
  4. “Christ is the answer.”
  5. “My brothers, sisters, and neighbors are crying out in pain and I must listen and act.”

The fifth option is the only acceptable response. Walk with me here.

“There’s not really a problem….”

This the response in which the Christian avoids showing love by denying that an object in need of love even exists. The person who ignores this issue and pretends racism doesn’t exist somehow manages to be blithely ignorant of their surroundings. Or, they truly do live in a bubble that appears free of racial tension, and when some tension is introduced to that bubble, they react by playing it off as a non-issue. Because this is the most ignorant of the four responses, it is hard to call this type of response un-loving. But it is self-absorbed. I believe Christians should constantly have their ear to the ground. While we are supposed to have our beliefs and convictions, some of which we would gladly die for, we should also be always listening and considering the views of others. For an individual to think that their view of the Gospel, the Bible, God, and the rest of the world is the immaculately correct view is all sorts of obtuse. Christians should always be listening for voices that sound different from theirs, while also seeking close community with people echoing what they believe to be true. So, as a Christian, if you hear a black person saying “I’m being oppressed because of my skin color” or “The police are unfairly targeting me,” shouldn’t you take some time to listen and consider? Might there be a problem even if you hadn’t ever given it much thought?

“There’s a good explanation….”

It seems to me that white Christians are quick to explain away or justify racial injustices, perhaps especially when it comes to police brutality. Where is the love in rushing to the side of the people holding the power and the badges and the guns? How is it loving to use mental gymnastics to explain why the young unarmed black man lying dead on the street was in the wrong? Why does a crime make someone deserving of death? I wonder: if Jesus was walking through a park in Cleveland and saw Tamir Rice dying on the ground, what would he have done? I can’t speculate, but I don’t think he would have brought up how much the toy gun looked like a real one. I think he might have John 11:35’d.

“Those people have problems….”

This is the most unloving response that Christians seem ready to use. This line of thinking attributes the Baltimore Uprising to misguided anger, exploitative thuggery, moral depravity, cultural deficiencies, and urban brokenness. Essentially it seeks to bring up all the problems in the black community, and it uses those problems to mask the issues that protesters are bringing to light. Christians should have open hearts and minds. Rather than criticizing a black person for smashing a window, why don’t we ask what could have possibly made that person so mad in the first place? We can try to understand these things without condoning them. What is the Christian response? “Shame on those people. How dare they break the law.” Or “Those people are hurting and I don’t understand why they’re doing this but I want someone to help them.” Rather than creating this figure of the poor, uneducated, hip-hopping, drug-dealing, angry black person, why don’t we ask “What has made them so upset?” Why do we rush to the side of those in power? Why don’t we sympathize with the protesters?

“Christ is the answer….”

Yes. Of course Christ is the answer. I believe that with all my heart. But what does that look like? What do Christians think will be accomplished by only speaking the Gospel? I believe in the power of the Gospel, and I believe as Paul writes that the Gospel is to be proclaimed first and foremost, and I echo Lecrae’s sentiment “Lord kill me if I don’t preach the Gospel.” But since when does sitting around shouting “Jesus saves” solve anything? I am not, for a moment, minimizing the power of the Gospel and the Holy Spirit. I’m maximizing the ability of God to work through Christians who go forth and live out the Gospel in their actions as they preach it. The Gospel has equipped us to join in issues of social injustice with hearts full of love as we live to glorify the name of above all names. Sitting at home and in our segregated churches is not what preaching the Gospel is about. What is masked in this response is a desire to just keep things the way they are and avoid controversy. Where in Jesus’ ministry did he avoid controversy? And, if we are to keep things the same, how is that going to do anything but just make the issue worse? And, finally, being angry is not sinful. We as Christians should get angry when we see injustice. Not rageful or hateful, and our anger should not drive us to sin, but it is okay for injustice to make us angry.

“My brothers, sisters, and neighbors are crying out in pain and I must listen and act….”

“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Micah 6:8

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

If you are a Christian, you should be listening for the cries of the oppressed. And when you hear those cries, you should act. Perhaps this means acting against the government. Maybe it means causing a stir or creating controversy.

If you don’t think there is a race problem in America, you are tragically mistaken either as a result of colossal unawareness or close-minded unkindness. And if you recognize that there is a problem but decide to explain it away when it is inconvenient or just ostrich the situation altogether, then you are not acting in a loving manner.

To my brothers and sisters in Christ: please, please, make racial relations a priority in your life. Get educated in the history of black America. Seek out black perspectives. Become aware of your own racism. See the media’s racial bias. Recognize white privilege. And love. Not just those black people who wake up on a Sunday morning to get dressed up for church, but the ones marching and holding signs and even the ones who smash windows, run from the police, steal, or reach for the officer’s weapon. The Gospel message is so fundamentally opposed to everything racism stands for, and when we refuse to act against racism on the personal and systemic level, evil prospers. And to explain away or ignore an issue when fellow Christians of darker skin speak out is the type of self-centered Christianity that destroys church communities. If a Christian won’t try to believe a fellow Christian about an issue like this, there is something quite wrong.

The battle to defeat racism in America is intensifying and it will endure. No justice no peace. The movement lives. It will continue and, Lord willing, it will one day be resolved. If AC lives out the Gospel, and bears in mind the words of Micah 6:8 and Dietrich Bonhoeffer while trying to follow Christ’s example, Christians will naturally end up at the front of the charge that brings this reign of fear and hatred to an end.

But if AC continues in its current course, others will take our nation to a more progressive and humane condition while Christians waste time chasing other issues. Christians will have failed, but at least the racial situation will be better.

Or maybe the issue won’t get better. Maybe it needs Christians to heal racial wounds and bridge racial gaps with the love of the Gospel. And maybe, when white Christians are needed to step up, they will be nowhere to be found.

Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, perhaps Christians will carry on singing Chris Tomlin songs as the body of Black America hangs smoldering on a liberty tree.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

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L.I.T.W. – Gay Marriage

Following up “Sinning” in the series called “Love is the Why,” I delve into America’s most controversial sin. 

gay marriage

Let’s just get the thesis out of the way:

Christians should not oppose legislation protecting the right for same-sex couples to marry.

Approaching this issue can feel like walking into a cluttered room. A room much like I’m in now. I’m sitting on the couch in my family’s library. There are shelves filled with books ranging from John Piper to John Grisham. There’s a buffet table overstuffed with board games. There are old trophies, a record player, a fishing pole, a gun, old art projects, lamps, nick nacks, and stuffed animals. This room is also, temporarily, where I keep a lot of the things I’ve reintroduced to the house upon my return from college, and various items, clothes, and more books lay stacked around the room in all states of unpacked-ness. Approaching this issue feels like walking into a room like this with instructions to make it orderly. Only there are scorpions hiding in the room. And someone’s playing all the types of music I don’t like.

There is so much swirling around in the gay marriage vortex. It is perhaps the most devastating collision of religion and politics in the present day. In order to come up with any answers, so many different arguments, counter-arguments, world views, and ethical dilemmas must be accounted for. Relating general rules to individual cases and vise versa becomes a continuous game of gotcha that might inevitably lead to conflict. This tends to happen when, on one side, there are people bound by what they believe to be a God-given mandate and on the other side are people fighting to be appreciated for the way they believe they were born.

But this issue must be approached nonetheless, even if it isn’t fun or easy. Questions of gay marriage will continue to force themselves into our government as well as our dinner-table discussions until it is, in a sense, resolved. When my generation grows old, we will look back at the second decade of the 21st Century as the defining years in the movement for what I suppose you would call “marriage equality.”

So in order to avoid being swept away into 50,000 words in the vortex of questions raging within this issue, and in order to keep the focus on what is most relevant to my angle on this issue, I will approach this from a religious perspective, not a political one. By that I mean this: there are arguments that one could make against same-sex marriage without involving their religious beliefs, just as there are arguments to be made for same-sex marriage that can bypass legitimizing homosexuality. Though they are relevant to the issue, they are periphery matters when it comes to discussing this issue from the American Christianity lens. (And, because this is such a big topic and I cannot possibly cover everything, please feel free to comment if you have any questions about my perspective – religiously or politically – that you can ask with civility).

If you are a Christian, I think you should believe that homosexual acts are not pleasing to God. The Bible makes that plain.

If you are a Christian, I think you should love every human being. The Bible makes that plain.

If you are a Christian, I think you should be “angered” by all sin, not just homosexuality. The Bible makes that plain.

If you are a Christian, I think you should not feel like the government of your nation is your concern. The Bible, I think, and Christian history, I know, make that rather plain.

If you grasp all four of those statements, then I think you understand where I’m coming from.

According to Christian belief, homosexual acts are not pleasing to God. Whether or not you believe people are born gay (I happen to think that, undoubtedly, people are born gay) is not necessarily what’s important here. The facts are that there are some men who have sex with men and there are women who have sex with women. They have the desire to do it and they do it. And, for most of them, it is not something that they fight against – at least not after they have come out as being gay. It becomes a lifestyle of sorts – a homosexual man who continues to freely engage in sexual activity with other men is practicing homosexuality. According to Christianity, this is contrary to God’s plan for human sexuality and is thus a sinful desire of the flesh and displeasing to God. This is the lifestyle that Paul condemns multiple times in his letters. A young man trying gay sex with another young man is not condemned to hell for that one act, just as the woman who desires other women but resists the temptation is not punished just on the grounds of having the desire.

Like it or lump it, that is the Christian belief: choosing sin instead of God is wrong, and embracing fleshly desires without repentance will incur God’s wrath. Just like carrying on in adultery, fits of rage, drunkenness, thievery, deceitfulness, envy, or any other sinful activity, homosexual acts are part of the world of the flesh which Jesus died to pay the price for.

But, if you accept that teaching, where in those instructions does it say to treat homosexuals unkindly? Where does it say that the lesbian is any worse than the thief or the adulterer? Where does it say Christians are superior people? And where does it say that Christians should use legislative clout to try to stop people from being homosexual?

It doesn’t. Believing that homosexual acts are sinful does not, in any way, mean believing any of those things.

And yet, we still have God Hates Fags. And, even if there are only a few Christians saying that, there are more than a few thinking it. There are even more who just think gays are weirdos. And there are many, many, Christians who want to see the government prevent same-sex couples from marrying, despite the fact that the people of this supposed democracy seem ready to make homosexual marriages part of the law of the land.

I am not calling for Christians to support gay marriage. And I’m certainly not saying Christians should stop seeing homosexual acts as sinful. But I am saying that AC is creating an environment for homosexuals that shows a serious lack of love.

What sounds like a more effective plan for “fighting” against homosexuality?

1. Treat homosexuals like anyone else. Show them love. Share the Gospel. Hate their sin by loving their soul. Accept them whether or not they follow Jesus and leave gay sex behind.

2. Use laws that make it illegal for them to get married. And maybe just tell them they’re going to hell because they’re gay.

Option 1, right?

Because not only is Option 1 the kind, merciful, gracious, loving way that models after the life of Jesus, but Option 2 is ineffective, narrow-minded, and an overall waste of time and effort that leads to hate and causes Christians to be unnecessarily despised by the rest of the nation.

Christians are not called to run the government. This doesn’t work. And it’s not the way it was done “back in the day.”

It wasn’t until Constantine (300’s) that Christians had any real political power. And when Christians had a ton of power (1000’s) they did things like massacre Saracens, burn each other for being heretics, and nice things like that. Ironically, the most notable examples of modern religion-run-governments are Muslim nations, and I think it’s safe to say that Christians who hate gays hate Muslims too. And don’t pretend like America is a Christian nation. It never has been. The Founders weren’t Christians – they were Masons. America does not exist to legislate based on the teachings of Christianity. No government except church government is supposed to work like that.

This should not make Christians uncomfortable. Christians around the world are in situations where they are not only out of power, but are actively oppressed by those in power. AC should not feel wrong letting the secular world run the government. Those are the rules of the game. And, at any rate, legislation is not going to stop people from being homosexual or doing homosexual things. So AC should practice some neutrality and do nothing. Don’t stand in its way, but don’t feel like you have to champion its advancement either.

I used to be homophobic.

And when I was homophobic, I thought nasty things about gay people. I said nasty things about gay people. And I let my belief that homosexuality was at odds with God’s intentions for people obscure my need for radical love.

And now, as I move away from homophobia, I can see quite clearly how ineffectual and unloving AC’s approach to gay marriage is. People are at the heart of this issue. People who are hurting because they might have to hide who they are. People who are called awful things. People who are bullied and discriminated against.

People, who, like me and all of the other sinful wretches born into the flesh, need a savior. People, who, like me and all of the other sinful wretches, are loved by God and have access to salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Let the politics play out. Let democracy have the day. Christians should pick other hills to die on.

I still believe that homosexual acts are displeasing to God. But I also know the solution to this sin is written in Jesus’ blood and not the ink of politicians.

So yes, I would like if gay people were not gay.

But I would also like it if I never had a lustful or unkind thought. And I wish drunkards would stop drinking. And I wish thieves would stop stealing and killers would stop killing and liars would stop lying. Rather than fence in homosexuals as being a certain type of weird and yucky and different, I’ll open the gate to my own heart and let them, like all people, in. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and far be it from me to categorize the different sins and sinners.

I love gay people. Not in the single white girl with her gay groupies way (although I do enjoy some of the stereotypical gay guy attributes), but I mean the type of love that genuinely cares for and accepts a person as more than an evangelization project. A love that prays for a renewal of spirit but will love all the same no matter what. Although I will not turn a blind eye to their rebellion against my God, I will also not do something that causes gay people to be treated differently from other people based upon my religion’s understanding of their sexuality.

Come on, I’m an English Major. What would I do without the gays?

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter

Love is the Why

Gandhi and Christians

Much ado has been made about the findings of the Pew Research Center regarding religion in the United States. I recommend that you take a few minutes to look over the study to find a number of interesting trends that appear in this year’s survey, the first done by Pew since 2007.

Pew’s sub-title for the release of their research is, “Christians Decline Sharply as Share of Population; Unaffiliated and Other Faiths Continue to Grow.” There’s a clear story being told there: The number of people identifying themselves as Christian has seen a noticeable downturn since 2007, and the number of people claiming no religion – classified as “nones” by Pew – has increased substantially.

Furthermore, the decline has been caused, in large part, by the fact that while the older generations (read: people who are dying) are overwhelmingly Christian, millenials are not even 60% Christian and have significantly higher rates of “nones.” In other words, young people are moving further and further away from Christianity and religion in general.

Of course this has caused a stir in a nation where 7 out of 10 people identify themselves as Christian. And, without a doubt, it should provoke us to ask tough questions and have earnest discussions.

There are reasons why this happening. Very good reasons. And no, Bill O’Reilly, you can’t blame this on rap music.

And, while many Christians will use this as the reasoning, this is not about America’s moral depravity.

This isn’t about Jersey ShoreGame of ThronesFifty Shades of Grey, marijuana, social media, Lady Gaga, liberals, feminists, Richard Dawkins, Kim Kardashian, Obama, the gays, Muslims, or college professors.

It’s not about putting so much emphasis on the individual that our society neglects community. It’s not about everyone having it their way. You can’t blame entertainers, educators, religious thinkers, or “the media.”

This is about Christians.

This is about Christians failing.

People are leaving the Christian faith for a life of theism, deism, agnosticism, or atheism, because the church of American Christianity (AC) is failing. Having grown lazy and complacent in a position of power in the most prosperous nation in human history, numerous problems have taken root in AC and choked out the light of the Gospel. Legalism, moral superiority, homophobia, racism, greed, conformity, scientific ignorance, sexism, religious bigotry, isolationism, revisionist history, child molestation, God Hates Fags, financial scams, archaic adherence to tradition, the gun-toting pseudo-religion of American Christo-Patriotic Conservatism, and more have all contributed to the decline in AC’s adherents and the effectiveness of AC in general.

Why?

Love. Love is the why.

Faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

A religion built on love and mercy and grace has become built on being right and being successful.

Feeding the five thousand has become a means of creating dependency. Kill and eat has turned into trash the planet. The righteousness of foreign wars comes down to who happens to be in office. Finances, political ideology, and personal freedom have pushed away the priority of radical love.

Of course, AC is still doing a lot of great things and showing a lot of love. There isn’t a number that can measure the positive impact that Christians have had on their communities, whether that be organizing community projects, giving to the poor, or reaching out to touch the hearts of the broken and down-trodden. Locally and internationally, Christians are doing great things for people. There are, most certainly, many many Christians going hard for the Gospel and loving when it would be easier to hate.

But there isn’t one Christian who can’t do better. And many Christians are doing next to nothing for anyone outside themselves or their church community. If 70% of the country were as loving as the 1,000 most loving people in the nation, we’d live in a pretty amazing place. Because, and maybe this is the kicker, it’s not just people of faith who are doing great things in the world. Many of the most loving people out there doing things for their fellow human are people who do not claim any religion. I know many good people who are not Christians. So imagine if all Christians did what Christ calls them to do and joined their efforts with those who are concerned just out of being a decent human being.

And love is why I’m doing this. I’m not a doomsayer here to condemn the world of Christianity. I’m not looking to get a rise out of the conservative Christians that I know are going to object to some of the things I say over the course of the next couple weeks. I’m not here to make myself more superior, tout the rightness of Christians, or criticize non-Christians. Love is the why. I know that Christianity is not the religion of white supremacists, snake handlers, grandmas with kitsch in their front yard and living room, and Ned Flanders. I know it’s more than that, because, in a way, it’s less than that. It’s about Jesus Christ. And that means it’s about love, mercy, and grace. Jesus says that the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind. The second greatest, Jesus says, is to love your neighbor as yourself.

I want us to ardently pursue these two commandments. I want my fellow Christians to love God by loving their neighbor. I want them to assess their Christian life and accept that they might not be doing everything right. I want them to love. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “Your life as a Christian should make non believers question their disbelief in God.” The best way to hate the sinner’s sin is to love the sinner.

And I’m doing this because I love God and I love people, and I want all people to know God. I’m not out to crusade against non-believers and convert them with a doctrinal sword. I’m not here to shout fire and brimstone and demand that they turn from their ways and repent. Non-believer, I want you to know God because I love God and I love you. One day this world will pass away and all things will be made new. I want to dance with all of you in eternity. And I know that, as it stands right now, AC isn’t making a particularly compelling case to join the dance.

Allow me now to preface this series of posts that will be coming over the next couple weeks, as well as any religiously concerned posts that appear on this blog.

I believe I am right, but I would never claim to be inerrant. I’m open to being wrong. I may someday change my mind as I learn more. But I do have some theological training and I have read the Bible and kept up with modern Christian thought, so I know a few things. I have been a Christian most of my life, but most of 21 years is not very long. For what it’s worth, I am part of Evangelical Protestantism, the branch of Christianity that has, from a numbers standpoint, fared the best since 2007. In that time, it is the only branch of Christianity to have more converts than departures, although the overall number is slightly down but at a lesser rate than other branches. I certainly have room to grow too, a lot of room, as a Christian and as a human being that actively seeks to make the world better. Far be it from me to claim I’m any better than you. Most importantly, I implore you to seriously consider the things I say. Please do not outright accept or reject my ideas. Rather, carefully consider what I suggest, and carefully consider where your own heart and mind are.

Let’s do it.

Soli Deo Gloria

– Peter