“Letter from SEATTLE” – (response #1)

[Response #1 from SEATTLE – Part 3 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey, MISSISSIPPI:

Thanks for your note!  It is just great to hear from you guys.  Tania showed me some pictures of your kids and I can’t believe how big they have gotten.  Crazy!

Sorry it has taken me so long to respond.  My life is a little hectic right now.  Ministry is going completely awesome, but between all the work there and learning to be a dad it feels like I don’t have time to just sit down and “be” sometimes.

Anyway, your response was a little involved and in order to take it seriously, I needed a little bit of time to answer.  This is really the first time I have sat down since I first read it, and had time to respond.   So, all that to say, sorry it took so long. ☺

In regards to your concerns, I suppose I have a few thoughts.   First, I think I understand where you are coming from in being confused with apparently opposing points-of-view.   In fact, that is why I think these discussions are so important and that our views should be held with a degree of humility.  These are very complicated issues, involving real people and not abstract theology.

I have read a great deal on the issue of homosexuality (from a biblical perspective and otherwise) from many different authors from many different backgrounds.  And in that reading and research of my own, I have probably found myself more confused, not less.   There are genuinely good reasons that people argue over this stuff.  I used to think that the matter was rather cut and dry (homosexuality in all forms is sin), and like you, I assumed that those who argued against it were more motivated by political agenda than honest struggle with God’s truth.   However, I now think it is more difficult than that.

This argument exists in large part because there are legitimate reasons (at least in my mind) for disagreement.  For instance, there are word choices that the Apostle Paul could have chosen that would have made it much more clear (i.e. in Romans 1 and 1 Cor. 6:9-10, etc.), but unfortunately he didn’t.  And the Greek words he did use carry more ambiguity than I am comfortable with.   I encourage you to look into it yourself, of course, but I’ll be the first to admit that I end up more “confused” for the research, to use your terminology.

All that said and despite what I consider legitimate dissension, here is where I come out personally on this issue…  I still believe that as best as I can tell, homosexuality in all its forms is normatively sinful.  Hahahahaha!   And you thought I was going all crazy on you!

Anyways, there are lots of reasons for me ending up here, but this response will be long enough as is.  LOL.

However, even though this is my conviction (and what I will stand up for and teach), I have learned to hold that conviction with as much humility as I can.  Philosophers speak of a term, “epistemological humility.”  It means being humble about what you think you know and believe, because history it seems is full of well-meaning people who were passionately convinced on many issues (slavery or women’s rights to name just two), but on the wrong side of justice as we look back at them now.

And so, I live in this weird world where I hold to my convictions and teach them unapologetically, but try not to hold them so tightly that they define me more by what I’m against than what I am for.

Interestingly enough, most of my non-Christian friends already knew the troubling spots about homosexuality in the Bible before I did.  And, in my experience, they have become much more open to my understanding of homosexuality since I became humble in my dialogue with them about it.   It‘s as if they trust what I have to say more now that they perceive that I’m not just proverbially “drinking the Kool-Aid” of Christianity, but willing to think critically and openly.

And in that sense, I have learned to be a little less scared of the “slippery slope” theology that I think you expressed in your response.   It’s that feeling that Christians today buy into little things that might seem harmless; things the culture tells them is ok, but in the end is a slow start to a fast decline in the righteous path of God.

Now, I do feel scared about that at times.  But more often than not it is about things that are much more subtle, and in my mind, much more dangerous.  Things like consumerism, misplaced patriotism that becomes synonymous with faith in God, or spiritual pride.  That could be a whole response in itself!  LOL.

And to some degree I think issues like homosexuality are like that as well.  It concerns me greatly that a person would simply accept homosexuality as a normative behavior without wrestling with God’s word.  But it also concerns me that someone would condemn it without doing the same diligent work.   We tend to be lazy.   Lazy in our study of God’s Word and lazy in our dialogue with God and each other about what that Word might mean.  And in that sense, I think there are a lot of people out there that are sliding into either total relativism or total elitism, and I believe both slopes are equally slippery.

In terms of [The Mega-Pastor], I suppose I was a bit hard on him.   I looked into the graphic that you mentioned.   I actually didn’t put that in the blog myself;  I had an assistant who did that for me (I’m not all that tech savvy).  FYI — That photo isn’t from the [mega-pastor] protest, but is apparently a famous parody of those types of protests.  And in that way, I agree it may be misleading.  [Note to reader:  I have left it posted as it was for the purpose of this conversation].

In any event, I talked with people close to [the mega-pastor] and I think I understand his point-of-view in holding the protest.  I understand that he is protesting not the event but it’s placement in the educational system.

My problem with the protest was not with his concerns but with his methods.  There is definitely some pro-gay agenda to that event.  No doubt.  But several things are important here, 1) it is an event put on by students, not adults coming in to “indoctrinate” them.   Had it been a planned school event, hosted by the district or its employees, I think [mega-pastor] would have a better argument.   And 2) the effective end to his method was all my non-Christian friends (and everyone in Seattle) seeing Christians standing up for what they are AGAINST again.  All they saw was Christians protesting gay people.   And in that way, [mega-pastor] could have been right—and even won the battle—but because of his methods, lost the war for those people’s hearts.

Now, maybe that isn’t what [mega-pastor] wanted to communicate, but I don’t think that really matters.  That IS WHAT WAS COMMUNICATED.

So, how would I respond better?  I’m not sure.  I’m thinking it through for this year.  But, what I think would be more powerful is for Christians to EARN the right to speak into these students lives by showing up and RALLYING around the parts of it that they can support—such as the protection of the weak and vulnerable.   And even if they know there is an underlying gay agenda, to show up and demonstrate that they are FOR things like love, compassion, and grace too.

It’s an issue of language.  [Mega-pastor] didn’t speak a language that reached those students or that community.  He held a protest that made him and his followers FEEL GOOD about themselves and their convictions, but in the end, it didn’t reach a single person (that I know of) with a life-changing opportunity of faith in God.   He stood up for his rights, when he should have laid them down.  He asserted his beliefs by force, when he could have sacrificed his time and pride with unconditional love.

And in that way, I do believe that an act can be “violent” without actually being “violent.”  Well, maybe that’s not the real problem.  Maybe it was simply that it didn’t demonstrate “ultimate Jesus-like love.”

Listen, I know this is counter-intuitive.  It seems like exactly the opposite of what we should do when culture presses in on us.  It seems like we should fight back.  It seems like we should protest and pass legislation and speak loudly.   It seems ridiculous to be right but not ask for your rights.

But, I’m absolutely convinced that even though it makes no sense, it is the way of Jesus.   I think what Jesus came to teach us is that the “power-over” model of persuasion belongs to the world and not us.  In some strange way, it is the “power-under” model of love and sacrifice that wins the day.  That love wins.  Not protest.  I mean, that was Jesus’ own life model, wasn’t it?   He didn’t protest prostitutes, he loved them and forgave them.  He didn’t pass laws on greedy tax collectors, he went and ate dinner with them.   He didn’t even fight back when he was accused on trumped up charges, He choose instead to die for those who brought the charges.

Somehow, I think we have bought into the model of the world and tried to fit Jesus into it, rather than just follow the example of Christ.   And when we do that, we may very well win the battle for being “right”, but lose the hearts and souls of many people as collateral damage.

Anyway, that is a long answer to your questions, I know.  But you did ask, and I would feel bad blowing you off with some trite answers rather than the thoughts of my heart.  I only hope that I have clearly answered what you were really asking.

At any rate, it is discussions like this that I think Christians would be best served having right now.  Especially in light of new California laws and retaliations.   It may be that we have much to still learn in how to live with this righteousness “not our own.”

Give my best to your family.  I pray that you all are still enjoying Mississippi and of course that you will decide it isn’t for you and move back to Seattle!  Have a great Thanksgiving!

Grace and peace,

SEATTLE.

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#1)

[Letter #1 from Mississippi – Part 2 of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hi SEATTLE,

[A recent] post on your wall inspired me to go to your blog since I hadn’t been there in quite a while. I’m always up for some deep thoughts to pass the time.

Well, going down and reading the earlier posts about all the embarrassed feelings towards outspoken anti-gay-rights Christians, has gotten me thinking. I just wondered about your current take on things considering the gay marriage news and protests in response to that. I am having a hard time finding the truth in the middle of everyone’s viewpoints.

I see a pendulum swing going on within the church.  We’re trending away from the unpopular, judgmental version of Christianity, and to the extreme at times of appeasing the culture at all costs.  This is a culture saying that standing up for or even speaking the truth is equivalent to “hate.” I know Jesus said that the world would hate us because it hated Him. But we don’t have to accept the world’s premise that the truth IS hate.

As long as Christians are not literally hating or holding signs that are hateful towards individuals (and I realize that goes on and it’s not cool), but if they are speaking out on the truth (marriage is sacred, gay relationships are not of equal moral value with marriages) in a non hateful way, what do you think about this?  Some people consider it hate although there is not hate involved.

There is a battle in today’s culture over having good defined as good, vs. sin being defined as “good” and to be celebrated. Yes, everyone sins and we do love the sinners, regardless of their sin.  But I don’t think we remain silent on what is good and right, and what is not.  We may not be able to live up to God’s standard but it is important for us as God’s people, the light of the world, to acknowledge that standard.

I researched this Day of Silence protest and tried to find signs or statements made by Hutch or his supporters that were hateful, and I couldn’t. Is the photo in your blog from his actual protest? Do they represent his views? It seemed that he was interested in protecting the educational rather than indoctrinational nature of schools.  He said he would be fine with them doing something like this before or after school; but not during school when students who didn’t support the movement would be penalized for not participating. Considering there is (rightly) nothing like this required by the schools in the support of Christian or other groups’ rights, doesn’t he have a point? You know he doesn’t think it’s right for gays to be harassed and bullied…this day of silence protest has to represent more than that.

I think there would be an implicit accusation that those who think homosexuality a sin ARE the oppressors and bullies, whether they harass anyone or not.  And everyone is standing in solidarity against them.  Against Christians and their hateful, judgmental, oppressive beliefs.  As a 9th or 10th grade Christian I can see where that might be intimidating and I might not want to be at school that day.

I totally get where you are coming from and your concerns as to what Christian is starting to mean in our culture. But I am just really having a hard time discerning the proper take on things like this.

I wouldn’t bother asking your thoughts if I didn’t respect where your heart is on this as it comes across in your words. I disregard what a lot of people think about this because I don’t think their hearts are as pure as they are politically motivated. So don’t take any of this as criticism (like that would bother you anyway!) but rather just a question, tell me more about what you think especially in light of recent events. Maybe you could blog about it.

Thanks for reading. I would have posted as a comment if the post weren’t 6 months old, and my point of view offensive to Christians our age, nowadays.

By the way Paytyn is adorable, and it looks like you guys are just totally sucked in! Congratulations. I think back to the days where you would get a freaked out look on your face at the idea of having kids and just have to smile. I hope you are well!

MISSISSIPPI

A Conversation Between Seattle & Mississippi

I have to sing a song to spell MISSISSIPPI correctly.  Just seems like there are a few too many “S’s” in there, doesn’t it?   But, I’m sure it is a beautiful state.  And anyway, I received a facebook message from a friend who lives there a few weeks ago.

It was great to hear from a friend I hadn’t communicated with in a while.  Isn’t Facebook great?  Ahhh, cheers to you, facebook people!

But, it started an ongoing conversation that has been one of the more rewarding and fascinating conversations that I have had in a long while.   One that I think is too valuable to keep to ourselves.

And so, with her permission, I have decided to let you over-hear our conversation.  Now, you should know from the beginning, that we don’t agree on a few things.   And I think that will become obvious as you read.  But, you should also know that we DO agree on a great deal.  Not the least of which is our love of God, our love of people and our commitment to friendship.

You should also know that though we have different perspectives on some things, I highly regard and respect her both as a person and a thinker.  And whether you agree with my perspective or hers or neither, I hope that you respect our friendship as well.

And lastly, you should know that the conversation you are about to listen in on, is a dialogue in process.  Though I can’t totally speak for her, I can say that God is continually reforming my thoughts on these areas and that where I am today may evolve by tomorrow.  And in that way, you are not reading our hard and fast thoughts, but our attempts to discover what we believe out loud, in conversation, with each other.  It is more vulnerable that way, but more rewarding, I think.

And so, I will post our comments back and forth to each other over the next few days.  “Letters from Seattle” will represent me.   “Letter from Mississippi” will represent her.   And it is our prayer that no matter where you come out on these issues, that it would cause you to think, to stretch, to grow, and to maybe start your own conversation.  Or in some way join into ours by leaving a respectful comment here.

Maybe the time for distasteful arguments is done and the time for constructive and respectful conversations is finally here.   God, may it be so.

To have the proper context, however, you must have read an earlier blog I wrote several months back.  And so I have re-posted it below.  I will follow with the first “Letter from Mississippi” in a few days.

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Mega-Pastors can be Mega-Wrong

I think i’ve discovered why the church can too often be found on the wrong side of major issues. In fact, how it can many times be found on the exact opposite side of even God on major issues . . . Church Leaders.

I drove home from the gay bath house last week [see my previous blogs about Gay Bathhouse] and came home to a startling news story. Well, it was actually just a news teaser for the 11-o’clock news that night during a commercial break during “The Office.” But, nonetheless, it startled me.

“Mega Church Pastor Protests High School Students.”

Headlines like that tend to catch my eye. So, i tuned into the local Seattle newschannel website to read up on what it was all about–after “The Office” was over, obviously.

The basic story was that each year, high schools in my area (and probably elsewhere) celebrate a day called “day of silence.” It is an event sponsored by the “gay, straight alliance” that encourages students to not talk all day in order to bring awareness to and solidarity with potentially gay students among them that are treated poorly, made fun of and often don’t have a credible voice.

A local mega-church pastor, who lived in the community of one such high school, decided to organize a protest of the event. So, in front of many news cameras, he called for 1,000 members of his church and other Christians to come down and picket and protest outside of the school for the whole day, chanting their anti-gay views and “correcting” the sin of a few through the personalized and compassionate forum of a billboard sign.

Now, in one sense, i realize that “day of silence” probably has a pro-gay agenda to it. But, as i read the article, i couldn’t help but wonder, “what is so wrong about not wanting gay students to be made fun of, physically abused or emotionally taunted?” In that regard, as a follower of Christ, i whole heartedly agree with the sentiment of the day. And on any level, what does picketing a bunch of high schoolers really accomplish?

My problem was i had just come home from sitting inside a very promiscous gay bath house in Seattle, where i had been sitting with my friend Rick handing out condoms and information to everyone who walked in. We didn’t personally know any of the guys that came in that night. We didn’t have any signs. We weren’t chanting anything. We simply handed out latex.

And as i sat at home reading the news story, the dichotomy of events perplexed me. On the one hand there was a mega church pastor that many people know, calling for Christians to protest teenagers attempting to humanize homosexual people that are often treated otherwise. And on the other hand, there was an everyday Christian that nobody knows, living with AIDS, sitting in a place most don’t know about and would never want to go to, handing out medical prevention (though not perfect) to oppressed adult addicts.

Both men agree homosexuality is not God’s ideal. The issue isn’t the morality of the lifestyle, but of the morality of our response. And because morality is a fuzzy term, let me define it this way. At issue is not whether Jesus approves of homosexuality as God’s ideal, but how Jesus would respond to people that are homosexual.

And in this case, the Mega-Pastor is Mega-WRONG. What the MP (mega-pastor) fails to realize is that protest without relationship is simply verbal violence. What the MP doesn’t understand is that compassion for people who don’t agree with you is “loving your neighbor as yourself.” What the MP has mistakenly accepted is that if you yell loud enough Jesus’ voice will be heard, when Jesus himself yells only at the religious pharisees and whispers grace to the sinner.

And what this reminds me is that, apparently, you can have everything RIGHT in your theology, but not be RIGHT. You can worship God in all the RIGHT ways, but not be RIGHT.

And as far as i can tell, Jesus never organized a protest of anything (unless you count his little tirade against the religious leaders in the temple), he simply went and ate and spent time with people who’s lives missed the mark of God’s ideal, calling them to something more fulfilling. He loved them to “abundant life.” There was no place for protest.

And so, Rick sits in Seattle at a gay bath house. No signs. No chants. He hopes that he is making a difference. Is a condom the answer to the problem? No. The problem is much more complex that what simple latex can fix. There are emotional, spiritual and mental issues that must be addressed. A holistic answer is needed.

But in the vaccuum of that answer, it is the only thing Rick knows to do. And so he does it.

It makes me wish that when people thought of Christians they thought of people like Rick rather than the blow hards that get all the news headlines like our local mega-pastor last week.

It makes me think that if Jesus were here today, he’d probably look more like the average guy, Rick, than the news bite mega-pastor any way.

I often ridicule Christians, mostly because we are such an easy target. But, i really don’t think all Christians are bad. I am one. Or that church is bad. I’m a part of one.

But, what scares me is that there is a vocal minority giving my faith a bad name. No, not my faith, my God. People hear words like they did last week and think that they are God’s sentiment or God’s words. And they never have been. The mega-pastor is simply wrong.

So, here is to you, out-spoken mega-church pastor. I’m pleading with you. Please examine your response to people with the life of Jesus before you speak and act in ways that shame Him and us.

I’ll even keep using the name “Christian,” if you’ll start acting like one.