A few months ago, First Things ran a post critiquing emergenty evangelicals like me for dabbling in the theology and sacred ambiance of high church traditions like Orthodoxy and Catholicism without being willing to submit to the hierarchy. Whether it’s inconsistent and incoherent and irrational, there’s something that causes Christians like me to have one foot in the Occupy camp with the irreverent hooligans and one foot in the cathedrals that enchant us. Two images have grabbed my heart over the past few weeks: when the Russian Orthodox monks stood praying and risking martyrdom between the cops and the protesters in Kiev, Ukraine, and when the anarchist girl punk band Pussy Riot got whipped by Cossacks for recording a punk video in Sochi this week. Half of my heart belongs to Russian Orthodoxy and half belongs to Pussy Riot; it’s just the kind of Christian that I am. Continue Reading
David Brooks has done it again. This time he wrote a column about how America’s class divisions are illustrated by the parable of the prodigal son: “We live in a divided society in which many of us in the middle- and upper-middle classes are like the older brother and many of the people who drop out of school, commit crimes and abandon their children are like the younger brother.” The point of his column was to exhort the “older brothers” not to be snobby moralists but to have compassion on the poor people who are like their “younger brothers.” Except that by making this blanket statement about why poor people are poor, Brooks becomes the snobby moralist he’s supposedly critiquing. Continue Reading
A couple of weeks ago, at Wheaton College, a very interesting dialogue happened. The campus had organized a speaking event for ex-gay activist Rosaria Butterfield whose story of converting from a leftist lesbian university professor to the homeschooling housewife of a conservative evangelical pastor has made her very popular in the conservative evangelical speaking circuit. LGBT-supporting Wheaton students held a “demonstration” outside the talk that they said wasn’t a “protest.” They held signs saying things like “We’re all loved by God,” “Rosaria’s story is valid, mine is too,” and “I’m gay and a beloved child of God.” Their demonstration was called “More than a single story.” After Rosaria’s presentation, she talked with the LGBT students. Both sides were able to respect and show grace to each other. It was a beautiful witness.
The past several years of my life have been building up to a three and a half hour stretch of time this morning from 8:30 am to 12:00 pm: my interviews for full ordination as a United Methodist elder. I have anticipated this moment with dread, paranoid about getting torpedoed by someone with a chip on their shoulders over one of my blog posts. What actually happened was I sat in a room with human beings who love God, who pray, who have made mistakes and learned from them, and who genuinely seemed to want the best for me and for our church. They not only took seriously their duty to evaluate my effectiveness in ministry but also acted the way that pastors are supposed to act in making me feel loved and safe in their presence. I don’t want to diminish the legitimately troubling experiences that other pastors have had in the ordination process. Neither do I want to minimize the injustices in our church. But experiencing the peace of the Holy Spirit when I expected to face a firing squad, God put it on my heart to say to my fellow Methodists that I think we’re going to be okay.
It made me really sad and a little bit frightened to read about the latest gun tragedy: a man getting shot and killed in Florida for texting his three year old daughter during the previews of a movie. I’ve definitely had my phone out during the previews of movies before, but I always put it away before the movie. I know I would get angry responses and it’s not going to change anyone’s mind to talk about whether people should be allowed to carry guns into movie theaters and whether you should be able to cite the “stand your ground” law as a justification for killing somebody because you “felt threatened.” If that were applied consistently, no gang violence could ever be prosecuted. But let’s talk about this in terms of sin, because hopefully we can agree that sin happened in the theater regardless of our views about gun regulations.
The amnesia of America culture always fascinates me particularly with regard to the things that are perceived to be “threats to the American family.” When anti-gay Christians are asked why they make a big deal out of homosexuality, the standard response is to say that the gay people were the one who made it a big deal and they simply offered a “Biblical” response when asked. There are many different legitimate personal stories that overlap in sociological phenomena, but it’s simply not accurate to treat the “gay marriage” battle as a stand-alone historical issue; it’s one battle in a larger war that has been waging between conservative Christianity and the feminist movement for the last half-century over the meaning of gender. The “gay marriage” crisis of the seventies and eighties had a different name: the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made any gender-based discrimination illegal, which was successfully defeated by conservative activists under the leadership of Phyllis Schlafly. Continue Reading
The Institute of Religion and Democracy just published a letter from a retired professor Walter Benjamin to a sitting bishop whose identity wasn’t named. Though portions of this letter got me churned up, I thought it would be a helpful test of my New Year’s resolutions to see if I could engage it in a loving and truthful way. Dr. Benjamin’s letter reflects the fact that he grew up in a very different time than I did. I disagree with many things about his perspective, but I’m going to try to do so in a way that is respectful and charitable. Continue Reading
Erick and Marlise Munoz were both paramedics. They were both around life-and-death situations on a daily basis. After Marlise went through her brother’s tragic death, she told Erick that if anything ever happened to her, she didn’t want a machine to keep her body alive. Sure enough, the unimaginable happened. Marlise had a pulmonary embolism that left her brain-dead on November 26th. She was also pregnant. Erick wants to let nature take it course, but Texas has a law that pregnant women have to be kept on life support if there’s any chance their fetus might survive. This is a case where the pro-life movement has literally gone Frankenstein. [UPDATE: The hospital has been court-ordered to take Marlise Munoz's dead body off ventilation. Pray for her family as they continue to grieve their loss] Continue Reading
It was so great to fast from my blog over Advent. The only thing I regret about it is that I was offline when the Duck Drama hit the fan so I didn’t get to ride the tidal wave to a bazillion hits like all the other eager bloggers (all of whom opened with obligatory apologies for writing about it). I presume that everything I have to say has already been said, but since we’re traveling today, I needed a topic that didn’t require a lot of critical thinking, so here goes.
My wife and I watched “12 Years A Slave” this weekend. Needless to say, it was a hard movie to watch. As a pastor, what pained me the most were the parts where the slave-master would read self-serving passages out of the Bible to his slaves to put the stamp of God’s word on his authority as a master. I remember reading in Frederick Douglas’s autobiography that the crueler a master was, the more scripture he would quote. It made me wonder about the theological legacy we’ve inherited in white American Christianity from our slave-holding ancestors.