Did God Send Tornado to Warn Church about Gays?

We’ve only got a little bit more to go in our discussion of non-violence, though really the conversation could continue for quite a while.  I’ve got another guest-blog on the way and some concluding remarks of my own.  I appreciate your willingness to stay with this topic through the dog-days of summer.  Hopefully you’ve found something here that is helpful or interesting.

ELCAToday, though, I just got home from vacation and read an interesting news story and then blog and thought it was worth mentioning if you aren’t aware of it.   The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) was discussing this last week the role of homosexual congregants in church and leadership at their convention in Minnesota.  Coinciding with this conference, a few tornadoes appeared in the area causing damage to parts of the city.

tornado-mn-8-25-06As commentary to these two events, John Piper (who I’m not a huge fan of for a whole list of theological reasons) wrote a blog entry proclaiming it as the divine judgment of God.  It is as irresponsible and backward a commentary as you can imagine, but you need to read it for context.

You can read his blog HERE.

Now, while I have read multiple other blogs from a wide variety of writers addressing Mr. Piper’s thoughts, our last guest-blogger, Dr. Gregory Boyd, wrote an excellent response.  In fact, he sums up my own feelings on the events so well, I’d like to direct you to his blog.  If you aren’t already a reader of his blog, you will want to add it to your favorites.

You can read Greg’s blog response HERE.

Anyway, check out the story and the blogs.  Very interesting conversation.  And incidentally, it is vaguely related to our non-violence discussion, though it deals with more the idea of whether God Himself uses “physical violence” to achieve His own means rather than our mandate to use it or not.

We’ll finish the rest of our non-violence discussion over the next few days.   Have a great end of the summer!

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Love Connection – 3/22/09 – Part 2

Ok, this may be the most “scandalous” blog that I have written to date.  Wait, a minute… probably not.  The “Gay-Bath House” series was a bit scandalous too, huh? (Gay-Bath House article).

love-connection-jpgOh well, apparently my lot in life is to get involved in the dirty, messy and controversial subjects.   So, let’s jump right into the final question for this week, which almost gave me a coronary attack as I read it knowing I’d have to answer it!  Thanks everybody…  Let’s just get back to asking questions that are “safe,” huh?  LOL.


Question #3:
What are your views on masturbation?  Is it okay?

Wow, so we’re gonna go THERE now?  Ok.  I guess I should have known that we would eventually get here.   This question doesn’t necessarily have to do with relationships, however it is an issue that could impact relationships on many different levels.   So let’s go ahead and discuss it.

This is a very difficult question to answer.  On the one hand, many people believe it is wrong.  But, on the flip side, many Christians believe it is not.  Either way I answer I do two things:  1) I make half of everybody angry.  2) I assume that I actually know the answer.  (LOL)

So, let me give you my best effort at an answer.  It may not be perfect, but for better or worse, it is what I believe by faith right now.

First, the Bible has nothing to say directly about this issue.  The word “masturbation” is not in the Bible at all.  It is a subject, like dating, that isn’t discussed.  And without making too much of an “argument from silence” it does at least gives us a little bit of flexibility here.

However, there is one Bible text that has been used to condemn the behavior and it is worth mentioning here because its often use in this manner is not only unwarranted but flat-out coercive and wrong.

onanGenesis 38:8-10:  “Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.  But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother.  What he did was wicked in the LORD’s sight; so he put him to death also.”

Wow!  How’s that for a little provocative Bible reading?  Just tell your parents: “Hey, you wanted me to read the Bible.”

Now, when I was a teenager (like 100 years ago), this verse was quoted to me as God’s ultimate word against masturbation.  The line went like this, “See, Onan wasted his seed  (sperm) and God’s punishment for him was DEATH!!”

Nothing like a little fear that God will strike you dead to keep you from masturbating!

However, this story has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING TO DO WITH MASTURBATION.  It is a story about a strange, but merciful Jewish law that took care of widows and passed on family inheritance.

In the Jewish culture, if the husband of a woman died, his brother was required to marry her and save her from widowhood.  And if she did not have a son to pass the deceased husband’s land and assets to, then the brother was required to father a son with her.   This son would not be considered the brother’s son, but the deceased husband’s son and thus he would inherit the land.   It was God’s way of providing for families in crisis and ensuring rightful land inheritance.

In this text, then, God is not addressing masturbation at all.  He is punishing Onan for purposefully being disobedient and not taking care of his brother’s family.

So, if the bible doesn’t directly address this question, than what are we to make of it?  Is it okay?  Is it a sin?

Well . . . to say that it is a sin goes beyond what we have God directly saying to us in the Bible.  Because of this, theoretically, I believe that the act itself is not sin.

looking with lustHowever, while this makes sense theoretically, there is a very practical reality to consider.  Maybe most compelling are the inevitable thoughts that go along with this act.   And while no Bible text deals with masturbation, per se, Jesus does have some pretty radical things to say about our thought-life.

“You have heard it said that you should not commit adultery.  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  — Matthew 5:27-28

What Jesus is saying here is that our “thoughts” are as important as our “actions.”   The intention behind what we do or don’t do is as crucial as our actual actions.

Now, even if theoretically, masturbation isn’t a sin, think of all the thoughts that usually invade your mind during those moments.  I would say that it is extremely rare that one engages in that action without some sort of impure thoughts about another person, whether you know them or don’t know them (in the case of most pornography).  And these thoughts are IMPORTANT, because they affect our relationships with other people and how we see other people.  Particularly for guys, this type of visualization reinforces “objectification” of women–seeing women as “objects” to possess rather than people to be honored and loved.

Couple that with the fact that masturbation is about selfish gratification (as opposed to sexual intercourse which when performed “in love” as intended is done as much for the other person as for you) and you at the very least have a less than beneficial activity.

So when it comes right down to it, I’m not sure I can make that judgment call for you.  I don’t know what goes on in your head.  Only you do.  And I don’t know what God’s Spirit convicts you about.

But it might help as you think through this issue for yourself to be reminded that sin is not primarily a legal infraction.  Sin is not like a speeding ticket.  God isn’t necessarily keeping track of all your tickets and waiting for you to “pay-up.”

Instead, I believe sin is more like an infection.  It is something that messes up your relationships with God and other people, like an infection messes up the way your body is supposed to work.

With this in mind, I don’t think God is going to kill you for it and you won’t be sent to hell for masturbating too much.   However, it may warrant a bit of caution.  Just because something may not be sin, doesn’t necessarily mean that it is good for you or for your relationships with other people.   And if this issue causes problems between you and God or you and other people, you would be wise to listen to that prompting of the Spirit and choose differently.

Ok.  Hope that helps.

By the way, for those counting at home, I said the word, “masturbation” nine times.  Oops, make that ten.

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#3)

[Letter #3 from MISSISSIPPI – Part 6  of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hello again SEATTLE,

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!

Sitting in church listening and thinking, I have come up with more thoughts for you on this conversation.

First, I have also experienced the desire to let people know that not all Christians are like “that.”  I’ve spent time and energy trying to convince some people of that, and finally realized that as long as I believed the Bible was exclusively true, and not just a nice story, they thought of me like “that” anyway.  So I guess I have gotten burned by that type of motivation….I also came to realize that pride was at least part of it.  “If you knew ME you might have a better view of Christians, I’m not THAT kind of (ignorant, stupid, prejudiced, kooky, crazy, homophobic, racist, redneck, protesting, abortion-clinic-blowing-up, hateful or judgmental) Christian.”  I really thought that those adjectives were the problem. And for some people, maybe they are.  Let’s make sure we aren’t doing the damage ourselves, however, by misrepresenting our brothers and sisters as actually being this way, if they are not…(dishonest protest picture).

Second, I mentioned that Jesus promised the world would hate us.  Not that we should seek that out from the world, but that we shouldn’t have a problem with the world hating us or hating Jesus because of us.  It’s just not true that “we must be doing something wrong if people hate us.” In fact, considering what Jesus promises, a more appropriate question would be, are we following him with integrity if no one hates us?

You interpret “the world” to mean other Christians. This gets into a really common attitude today.  People love to say that Christ’s biggest enemies were the religious people of his day…implying therefore, if He came back today, WE would be his enemies.  Todd Agnew’s popular song, “My Jesus” says: my Jesus would never be accepted in my church / The blood and dirt on His feet might stain the carpet / But He reaches for the hurting and despises the proud / I think He’d prefer Beale Street [bars/nightclubs] to the stained glass crowd….

Back then “religious” people were completely different than they are today.  They were an orthodox group with special status…not just any common person could believe and become “religious” the way they do today.  For the most part, those who are “religious” by today’s definition are not modern-day Pharisees, but rather his disciples!  His disciples were sinners who changed their entire lives after encountering him.  The “sinners” he loved too much, gathered around to hear him speak the good news.  They loved and believed in him.

The Pharisees’ problem was not that Jesus loved too much, it was his message that sinners-become-disciples had equal or greater spiritual status than the Pharisees.  The prodigal son who comes home and the man who begins work at the 11th hour receive equal rewards as lifelong rule-keepers.  Rather than the pious and self-righteous, pure-blood Jews who had always been in charge, every day “sinners” had equal access to eternal life.  This offended those in charge, because they wanted to be saved for what they were doing, not for believing in Jesus.  My point is that Jesus will be hated by those who do not believe in him, whether they are sinners or happen to call themselves “religious.”

I also think you made a false statement about the world we live in.  You said, “If people who DID believe thought Jesus loved too much, how much more those who don’t believe?”  First, like I said, I don’t think it was those who believed, and I don’t think it was loving too much, it was not wanting everyone who believed in Christ to be saved.  But, my real problem with this statement is that it misrepresents our culture.  Tolerance, acceptance and affirmation are the gods of our age.  I would be shocked if “the world” would ever hate anyone for loving too much today.  So I really just don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about here.

Finally, I thought about Sodom & Gomorrah and Lot’s attitude there, and that he was praised as a righteous man…He did not engage or accept the culture there.  In fact he was accused of “judging” them simply for not wanting to aid them in their sin.  You mentioned Jonah…whatever other points might be made, the message he was sent by God to preach to total strangers was, repent or be destroyed.  That was the message, and it worked!  Even though he didn’t love them first or at all, even though they had no relationship with him and no reason to listen to him.  Verbal violence?  God was pleased that he was able to spare Ninevah (I am sure they were thrilled too) and that would not have been possible if not for Jonah’s message.  In Revelation and the letters to the churches, tolerating the sinful, immoral and idolatrous among them is an incredible offense against Jesus; not tolerating or even hating the wicked is seen as a virtue!  In Romans 1, Paul talks about people knowing that sins deserve death but that they not only continued sinning but also approved of those who did, implying that something other than approval was needed.

Intolerance for sin seems to be biblical….but it’s pretty much the worst thing you could display in our culture. So I think that’s a pretty good reason why the world might hate us. I never said we should be hateful or that we should not love sinners, but I don’t think that we should turn against other Christians who feel called to speak the truth.  We don’t know that someone might not be saved that way.  Who’s to say that but God?  One of my old churches decided to not try to bring anyone to church but just offer free water or carwashes on Saturday so they could be loving like Jesus.  That’s good for the church members, but I’m sure it won’t help anyone else’s soul.  And frankly, as long as there is just 1 wacky church out there to make the news, our PR with the world is never going to be improved anyway.  That seems to be the wrong tree to be barking up.

Like I said, I’m not condoning hate and I do realize there are hateful Christians out there.  I’m also not saying that having these meaningful, loving relationships with the lost is wrong.  I don’t think that, I think it’s awesome.  I’m glad there are Christians out there doing that but I am also glad there are Christians out there willing to speak the truth in a culture where that is one of the only things considered to be “wrong.”  It’s a shame that believers are hating you for what you’re doing, but I also think it’s a shame that believers have joined the world in hating the others for their message.  Because I think that’s what we are all supposed to be about, in a united way, now more than ever.

Many more thoughts to follow…. I have started rereading the NT through this lens.  It is strange that I would consider something so important and basic, a new way of thinking.  But for me, a lot of these questions and considerations really are new.  I suppose what is new, is the postmodern statement that protest without relationship is verbal violence, along with the presumption that publicly speaking truth is “protest.” But whatever the prompting, I think the question is important and deserves to have time spent on it!  So, thanks again.

MISSISSIPPI

“Letter from MISSISSIPPI” – (#2)

[Letter #2 from MISSISSIPPI – Part 4  of “A Conversation between Seattle and Mississippi”, a chronicle of honest discussion between two friends.]

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Hey SEATTLE,

Superb response!!  So good to hear back from you.  I love how much time you spent responding and how thoughtful and helpful to me this is.  I agree with you about the attitude of humility, and this is something I can learn from….of course.

I’m relieved to know that picture wasn’t from the actual protest and wasn’t actually a picture of real Christians protesting.  Putting it in your blog about Hutch is really misleading (I’m glad it wasn’t you) and it illustrates my feelings pretty well.  I do agree that there was likely a better way for him to go about this.  But for the sake of argument, let’s say that he didn’t do this to make himself feel good or hold on to any rights but because he prayed about it and genuinely thought his message needed to be heard by a hurting, lost world.  Maybe more as a prophet. The picture which is not even from a real event, somehow ends up illustrating his message. Fair?  No.  But maybe that is the very picture of what Jesus did, in laying down his personal rights to popularity, to being liked or loved, to not being a target for persecution and murder; I think he had to lay down those rights in order to speak the truth to people who didn’t want to hear it. Yes, he did it lovingly and through sacrifice but his message of repentance was never absent.

I think being persecuted for speaking truth is also a Christ-like way of laying your personal rights down, not keeping silent about the truth so people will look more favorably on you and your beliefs.  I just don’t think we can be caught up in how we might be represented in the media, in a world that is hostile to Christ.  If you’re angry at the picture of Christians that gets portrayed in the media, you should actually be angry with the media.  They ignore all the good that churches and Christians do and focus on the few cases they can find that misrepresent Christ; or they distort the actions of genuine Christians themselves, kind of like that fake protesting picture being shown in the context of Hutch’s protest.  But since Christ was treated no better, maybe we shouldn’t be angry at all—maybe we should expect others to see us this way and continue on faithfully, not bending our message to suit the fancy of those who are convicted by it and don’t wish to be.

I’m not so worried about the slippery slope, or keeping intact a culture that recognizes the moral truths that have produced a wonderful society.  I understand that Christianity has thrived more in cultures that are hostile to it.  My thinking is all about how and what Christians are saying about the truth.  Are we ashamed to be recipients of his grace, to know the One way and the One truth? Are we ashamed of the privilege and blessing of being saved, of telling others they need saving too? Are we ashamed of the material blessings God has given us, as we have lived faithful, generous, disciplined lives, and as we use it to bless others in ways that no other group of people does?  I hear this “Christian guilt” everywhere I turn and have a hard time squaring it with Scripture. “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes;” Rom. 1:16

It seems that more often than not especially with Christians our age, there is a public bashing of Christianity, and of those who would preach the Word or call sin what it is, and many of us are changing the message or watering it down because the world sees it as intolerant.  The world feels condemned in the presence of truth, but truth is not the problem.  The world WILL see our message in a very negative way if we are at all true to it.  Jesus promises exactly that.  We have to be true to the Word and let that be seen by the world—as much as they may then hate us, or Jesus for it (He promises us that too).  Only then will the hurting lost people who are actually looking for an answer, see any difference between our message and that of the world’s message of moral relativism.  To do otherwise is to hide our light under a bushel.  Obviously, there are more and less effective ways of doing this but I have to say I am weary of hearing Christians say that we should apologize to non Christians and never ever tell them the truth about their lives.  I’m not saying we should cast stones by any means, but we go so far as to agree with the lies the media is spreading about who we are!  Talk about doing something because it makes us feel good…I’m pretty sure no one is going to want to throw rocks at our heads or crucify us for such statements.

Anyway, that’s my concern and where I’m coming from.  I hear what you’re saying too & have read Miller, Claiborne, Camp, Wallis etc.  I have really enjoyed this dialogue b/c usually people get kind of uptight, over serious or angry and I can almost hear your laughter and smile coming across through cyberspace. God has blessed you with a beautiful compassion for the lost and hurting in our world and no doubt, if all Christians were like you then I do think our message would have a lot more weight.  I do.  So, you have been a really good example and given me a lot to think about with your blog and email.  Thanks so much for taking the time to read all this and respond.  I will be thinking about what you have said and pray about my understanding of these times and our role in them.

Have a great Thanksgiving!

MISSISSIPPI

“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