Friday, September 19, 2014

Things that keep me outside the camp

Some time ago, a friend of mine at church expressed surprise when I told him that I don't consider myself an evangelical.

I guess I can see why he might feel that way. I follow Jesus Christ. I think a commitment to faith is important. I read the Bible regularly. I was on the missions field for about two years, from 1992-94. Still, all that said, I often find myself outside the evangelical camp -- originally pushed there, but now here of my own volition -- for a number of reasons.*

1. I don't see the Bible as inerrant. If you want, I can even supply some pretty glaring inconsistencies.

2. I usually vote Democratic. Often I am stumped how a person of faith can support many of the social and economic policies of the GOP.

3. I regularly find myself appalled by the bloodthirstiness and bizarre sense of justice practiced in the Bible. And don't get me started on the subject of genocide.

4. I've never read anything by Rick Warren, and am wary of megachurches, particularly once they have radio stations.

5. I think the earth is 4.5 billion years old. Evolution fits into my faith just fine, and makes more sense to me than six-day creationism, both scientifically and theologically.

6. When somebody escapes injury or misfortune and says, “Wow, God was looking out for me today," I want to ask about the other people not so fortunate, and whether God had it in for them or just wasn't paying attention. Athletes giving credit to God for their wins just make me roll my eyes.

7. I ask a lot of annoying questions. Once when I was told to stop asking questions and just have faith, I ended my membership in that church.

8. I have issues with authority. I have a hard time heeding it in people who don't have or who have lost my respect. This includes a lot of evangelical leaders, past and present.

9. I mislike altar calls, which I find emotionally manipulative, especially for children.

10. As I read the Bible, I can't help but feel that sometimes the people who wrote it, just got it wrong.

11. I support gay rights; I'd even officiate at a gay friend's wedding if she asked.

12. I don't have a problem with Islam the way I do with Christians who vilify Muslims and mock their beliefs.

13. With notably few exceptions, I don't listen to Christian music, watch Christian movies, or read books from a Christian bookstore, because (aside from those few exceptions) they all stink, horribly.

14. I think there's room to criticize Israel, and I do.

15. I don't think Jesus is the answer to all my problems. Good planning, good health care, and good friends go a long way too.

I suppose the thing that drives me nuts the most is the evangelical approach to sharing the faith. Jesus proclaimed that the Kingdom of God had arrived, and set about healing the wounds of this world. Rather than follow his example, the evangelical approach is to spend so much time trying to convince people that they're sinners that in the end all they're convinced of is that we're jerks.

Still, to be fair, I should say what I find nice about evangelicalism.

1. By and large, evangelicals take the Bible seriously.

2. Evangelicals often provide the backbone financially and personally for world missions, including medical care, infrastructure and economic development in the developing world -- and this quite often is done without an eye toward gaining converts.

3. Stereotypes to the contrary, evangelical Christians aren't ignoramuses. A creationist is probably going to know more about the details of evolutionary theory than your average college graduate.

4. Evangelicals often have a sense of the immediacy of God that I wish I had more of.

5. There are signs that younger evangelicals are pushing the movement to the Left and taking a broader, more socially responsible view of things.

* N.B.: I want to stress that this post reflects my thoughts on evangelicalism itself, and not a critique of evangelicals qua believers. As a movement, evangelicalism historically has been a much broader, more encompassing movement than it is now, one that allowed for a wide range of doctrine and views. My prayer is that it would return to those roots. and shake off the narrowness that has defined it for the past thirty-some years.

Tip of the hat to Rachel Evans

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Remembering the forsaken

Let me tell you about Jackie. I don't know the young woman personally; I read about her recently in a recent article from Rolling Stone.

Judging by what the article has to say about her, Jackie seems like an impressive young woman. She's a hard worker who graduated from high school at the top of her class. She's a respectful and dutiful person, religiously devout, and resourceful. Active in school. Active in sports. During her sophomore year at college when she told her parents she was gay, none of that mattered. Her credit cards? Canceled. The phone? Turned off. Her car? Leave it at a certain drop point, or it will be reported stolen.

And the thought of coming home and seeing her family again? Let's not even go there.

The Rolling Stone article interweaves Jackie's story with those of other teens and young adults in her situation. Of an estimated 1.7 million homeless teens nationwide, the Rolling Stone article notes that an estimated 40 percent of those teens identify as LBGT when they seek services. There's no way to know how many of them have stories that parallel Jackie's, but those who do are the shameful legacy of the church from the past 30 years.

For the past 20-plus years, the church in America has beat the drum and steadily raised its voice ever louder to denounce the increased social acceptance of homosexuality.

There have been ominous warnings about the homosexual agenda and the grave danger it poses to the American family, vicious and unfounded stereotypes about gays preying on young children. And as gay marriage has gained acceptability in society, it hasn't been enough for the church to lament a moral decline in the nation, we've also had to claim that gays are persecuting us by asking the state to recognize their unions and for businesses to treat them like any other customer.

This sort of talk, and this sort of fear, don't exist in a vacuum. They have a cost.

These youth are paying that cost. They are our legacy. When we use words like "abomination" so loosely, we teach people that they are worth less if they are gay.

When we call gay marriage an assault on marriage itself, we cast gays themselves as the enemy of marriage.

When we talk about "the homosexual agenda" driven by liberals and the media, we divide the nation and even families into opposing camps, the "good" side of us, and the "evil" side of them. Kids trust and respect their parents. What kind of message is that to receive your entire childhood?

When we wield Scripture like a club to settle an argument, we make ourselves secure in the rightness of our cause, but we also tell people that they're going to hell because of an instinctive attraction that they have no control over. Everyone else can see how self-righteous that is. Why can't we?

When we "hate the sin and love the sinner," what we really are doing is hating the sinner too, but glossing it over by saying that we'll show them that love once they stop doing what we object to. God's response is to pursue the sinner; ours is "to hand them over to Satan" and drive them out lest they corrupt the whole batch. (To our collective shame, this is exactly what John MacArthur advocates we do with our gay children, and he is a respected minister.)

People make a big deal over the silence of Jesus on the subject of homosexuality, but here's what it really boils down to. We don't know where Jesus stood on the moral nature of homosexuality. He never said. What we do know is that he stood firmly on the side of human dignity and respect.

It is entirely possible (though not, all things considered, very likely) that one of my daughters may at some point come to me and say, "Dad, I'm gay." The only response acceptable at that point is to say "I love you" -- because, in the end, that's what people need to hear.

That message is not one often shared in church the past 27 years, and people like Jackie are paying the cost.

Copyright © 2014 by David Learn. Used with permission.