Four things you can do if you were disappointed by the SCOTUS ruling

If you aren’t one of the 26 million people who added a rainbow flag to your Facebook profile picture last week, this post might be for you. If you disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage, this post is definitely for you.

I won’t try to change your mind. I’m not going to tell you why I think you’re wrong. Instead, I want to offer four things you can do in the wake of Obergfell v. Hodges.

This list is for those feeling torn between their convictions about human sexuality and their desire to love people well.

1. Focus on marriage—starting with yours.

Do not be swayed by the Chicken Little prophets of doom. For most of us, nothing changed last week. Our society’s definition of marriage expanded (which is not in itself a bad or unprecedented thing—see Loving v. Virginia). Our definition of marriage did not narrowwhich means if you were already married, your marriage is just as it was before.

Your marriage is not weakened by someone else gaining access to the institution. Your marriage is what you put into it, period.

So if really want to “defend” the institution of marriage, the best way you can do that is by loving your spouse well, not by worrying about who else is able to wed.

2. Listen to the LGBTQ community.

Just about all of us know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, or queer. But it’s another thing to really seek to connect, engage, listen. As I’ve written elsewhere, it’s amazing what happens when we stop talking about people and start dialoguing with them.

So reach out… and just try listening.

You don’t have to debate. You certainly don’t have to try and “convert” anyone. You don’t have to get into an argument. Just listen. Ask them to share their story, if they’re comfortable doing so. Or, better yet, just talk about… whatever. Your heterosexuality is not all that defines you; their orientation is not the sum total of who they are, either.

Try to go the whole conversation without issuing a “just so we’re clear” disclaimer. You don’t need to say it. They don’t need to hear it. Chances are, they already know what you believe. Trust me, whatever you might say to try and prove them wrong… they’ve heard it before.

3. Reexamine your convictions.

“Test everything; hold fast to what is good.”
—Paul in 1 Thessalonians

Many of our convictions are inherited rather than intentionally cultivated. We arrive at them by default, more or less.

How much time have you spent considering the arguments for and against same-sex marriage? I don’t mean, How much time have you spent defending your particular point of view? or How much time have you spent reading those you already agree with to validate what you already believe?

That’s confirmation bias, not discernment.

What I mean is, How much time have you spent studying, reflecting, discerning, questioning—perhaps even praying about your convictions? How much time have you spent testing your assumptions? How open are you to the possibility you might be wrong?

Remember, as Cindy Brandt has written, certainty can be a form of idolatry.

Here’s a good reading list, if you want to familiarize yourself with the pro-affirming argument:

Don’t assume you already know what they’re going to say. Don’t assume their arguments are “nothing new.” Hear them out. You might be surprised.

And yes, you should spend time familiarizing yourself with the argument for a non-affirming view as well. A good place to start (especially for a rancor-free presentation) is Preston Sprinkle’s blog.

4. Find the places you can come together.

Even if you haven’t changed your mind about same-sex marriage, you may be asking how you can “love without being disrespectful,” as Ben Moberg put it.

Ben has some great ideas for how affirming and non-affirming Christians can work together for the common good…

Like tackling LGBT homelessness, for instance. As Ben writes, “Nearly 40 percent of the youth homeless population is LGBTQ.” The church has to own that. We’ve driven more than our share of kids into the cold because we did not understand—because did not WANT to understand—because we valued dogma over people. You don’t necessarily have to agree with last week’s ruling to realize we need to repent of this and do better for our kids.

Or how about we get serious about the bullying of LGBTQ students? Or what about employment discrimination? Is it really OK that a person can be fired for being gay in 29 states? (In case you think gays have all the civil rights they could ever want or need after last week’s ruling.)

We still have a long way to go before members of the LGBT community are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. You don’t have to shed your beliefs about marriage to care about that.

Or as Ben put it:

For those morally conflicted about same-sex marriage, there is literally zero moral risk in advocating for justice in these issues. There is an enormous moral risk in doing nothing.

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This matters because, like it or not, we are part of the same church. We have the same calling to love our neighbor as ourselves. And if we need reminding who counts as a neighbor, well, there’s a parable for that.

As Ben Moberg writes, “Good and godly people can disagree about the Bible.” And we will. Lots. Our disagreements may lead us to worship in different churches—some of us in affirming churches where same-sex unions are celebrated with joy, and some in non-affirming churches where marriage is reserved for heterosexual couples. Both sides can’t be right, but both sides can be more loving.

I’m not trying to suggest there’s some magical “third way” solution where we can all come together and pretend we don’t disagree. But disagreement doesn’t have to be the end of our story.

Again, as Ben writes, “There is so much work that needs to be done. The kingdom of God is at stake. And we can do this, together.”

Image by Ted Eytan on Flickr

An open letter to the gay community after SCOTUS

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Dear LGBT people:

I’m starting to worry that some of you didn’t get the memo. Or maybe you’re not as good at destroying civilization as we were told. Either way, we were promised an apocalypse and, well, I’m sorry to say… you’re just not living up to expectations.

I mean, it’s been two whole days since the SCOTUS ruling, and you STILL haven’t turned up at my door to make my kids gay or replace my lady wife with a dude.

How many churches have you shuttered for not doing gay weddings? How many pastors have you rounded up? What are you even doing with all your free time now that you’ve won? As far as I can tell, the signers of the Manhattan Declaration are still freely moving about, enjoying their lives as much as before. (Well, maybe a little less now that you’ve apparently ruined their traditional marriages.) They’re even issuing new statements in case, in all the flutter, we forgot where they stand.

Maybe your paddy wagon is in the shop (getting some fabulous new detailing, no doubt). But you really must get on with it soon.

Otherwise, people will start to think that your only agenda is to love and be loved.

Sincerely,

A disgruntled alarmist

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I don’t forgive Dylann Roof

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The world witnessed an astonishing display of forgiveness in Charleston last week.

Relatives of those gunned down by Dylann Roof got a chance to confront the terrorist who ripped a gaping hole in their lives. According to the Washington Post:

One by one, those who chose to speak at a bond hearing did not turn to anger. Instead, while [Roof] remained impassive, they offered him forgiveness and said they were praying for his soul, even as they described the pain of their losses.

It was a powerful, breathtaking sight. I affirm their right to forgive. I am, quite simply, awestruck by it. Someday I’d like to ask them if they could teach me how to be a Christian, because they clearly understand the way of Jesus much better than I do.

But let’s not all pile on the “forgive Dylann Roof” bandwagon yet. Some of us—most of us—have no place there. Specifically, if you are white like me.

It’s not my place to forgive Dylann Roof, for one exceedingly obvious reason: I am not one of his victims.

It’s not my place to tell others—least of all members of the black community—they should forgive Roof either. I haven’t experienced anything remotely like what they’ve experienced.

I have no idea what it’s like to live in fear because of the color of my skin. I don’t know what it’s like to be profiled, targeted, stereotyped, harassed, and threatened on a daily basis. Me and my ancestors have not had to spend our entire history “literally dying to be human,” as Carvell Wallace put it.

The choice to forgive an oppressor is the victim’s alone.

Forgiveness is central to the Christian experience—our salvation would not be possible without it. But it is not for the oppressor to dictate terms of forgiveness to the oppressed.

And let’s be honest: on the continuum from “oppressor” to “victim,” I am much closer to the former than the latter. I may not be Dylann Roof. I may despise racism. I may sign a petition to take down the Confederate flag. But every day I benefit from a system that privileges whiteness.

Perhaps the real reason it’s so tempting to join what Broderick Greer called the “white Christian rush to forgiveness” is because it lets me off the hook a little too easily. After all, if Dylann Roof can be forgiven for what he did—and he’s not even sorry!—then maybe I don’t have to feel so bad about my white privilege, my racial bias, and my failure to fully confront them. The rush to forgive Dylann Roof blinds me to the lesions of white supremacy that scar my own soul.

Finally, it’s not my place to forgive Dylann Roof (or tell others to) because by doing so, I risk misappropriating the very notion of forgiveness.

That’s what I learned from this eye-opening conversation between Mallory Ortberg and Carvell Wallace. (Warning: there’s strong language in the full piece, but frankly, if that’s what troubles you, then we need to have a chat about priorities.)

Many of us see forgiveness as closure, as the end of a story. Once forgiveness is offered, we can all go back to our lives. To quote Ortberg:

In the broad Christian context I grew up in, saying “I forgive you” was generally understood to be a complete act. You forgave someone when you were DONE wrestling through what they had done to you. And it meant that you were, if not over it completely, at a certain amount of peace, and that things were, generally speaking, “okay.”

That’s a problem, because forgiving Dylann Roof does nothing to address the systemic racism that poisoned his soul—and to some degree poisons mine as well. It does nothing to dismantle the structures designed to keep black people “in their place.”

Forgiveness may be followed by a renewed effort to combat racism. But forgiveness does NOT make the fight against racism unnecessary.

To quote Carvell Wallace:

A lot of people forget that forgiveness of racists among black people is something that WE DO IN ORDER TO KEEP OUR SOULS INTACT… We have to forgive the sinner because the accumulated resentment could destroy us, but that will never mean that we don’t fight tooth and nail against the sin.

It’s nothing to do with the offender and it’s not about granting a pass to anyone. It’s more about clearing your heart of hate SPECIFICALLY SO YOU CAN CONTINUE TO FIGHT.

America has a long history of raping, robbing, enslaving and killing people and then urging those same people to find and express forgiveness and peace. So when I hear “pray for peace” from a white person in the hours after Charleston, it lands very, very wrong.

I do not forgive Dylann Roof. Nor will I ask anyone else to. Rather, my responsibility is to find and name the unseen prejudice lurking in my own heart—to repent and seek forgiveness for the ways I have contributed, intentionally or otherwise, to an oppressive system.

Image: #StandWithCharleston by All-Nite Images on Flickr

In which you get to see me on video talking about my kids’ book…

A few weeks ago, my publisher, David C Cook, shot a few videos of me talking about why I wrote my book and how we can tell a better gospel story for our kids.

Here are the first two…

On why I wrote The Story of King Jesus…

On treating Bible stories as if they were isolated moral fables (and why we should read Scripture as a single story)…

Watch for a few more of these videos in the weeks ahead!

To learn more about The Story of King Jesus go here.

Matt Chandler, The Village Church, and the unresolved issue

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I mentioned the situation at The Village Church (TVC) in my previous post about patriarchy and sexual abuse.

(For those who don’t know, TVC tried to “discipline” a former member for annulling her marriage after she learned her husband was using child porn. Lead pastor Matt Chandler has since apologized. You can read more about the situation here.)

I believe Matt Chandler showed genuine humility and remorse in his response. He apologized publicly and privately to Karen Hinkley. He made amends. I respect him for that. His response was anything but the typical non-apology we’ve come to expect from celebrity pastors caught overstepping their authority. (For what it’s worth, Karen Hinkley showed tremendous grace in her response as well.)

At the same time, I believe the larger issue remains unresolved. TVC, like many churches, believe only men can lead, that women are intrinsically subordinate to men. For them and the other churches of the Acts 29 Network, this doctrine is “central and not peripheral.” It’s “primary and not secondary.”

And that is why they continue to be unsafe places for women—especially those affected by abuse. Which, let’s face it, is a lot of them, when you consider as many as 1 in 5 women experience sexual assault at some point—and more than two thirds of assault cases go unreported.

As long as we insist that a woman’s path to God runs through a man, as long as we insist she cannot discern God’s will for herself but must submit to the judgment of an all-male elder board—in Karen Hinkley’s case, to decide whether she should be allowed to end her marriage to a confessed child porn addict—then these abuses of authority will continue.

You can apologize. You can make amends. (And, to their credit, TVC did both.) But until you address the culture and theology that require a panel of men to “validate” a woman’s narrative in the first place, you will find yourself in the same situation again and again.

Patriarchy hurts women.

Patriarchy fosters abuse by treating women like property.

Patriarchy blames and belittles survivors.

Patriarchy enables and protects abusers.

Patriarchy trivializes the actions of abusers.

Patriarchy is the problem. Not just a few otherwise good-hearted men forgetting what’s important and overstepping their authority. It’s the fact that they won’t share authority. Until they do, we’ll continue to read about people like Karen Hinckley.

We’ll know we’re ready to get serious about abuse in the church when finally share leadership with women.

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Sexual abuse won’t stop unless the church puts women in power

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Bill Gothard.

Doug Phillips.

Sovereign Grace Ministries.

Bob Jones University.

Josh Duggar.

The Village Church.

Oh, and lest we think this is purely an evangelical phenomenon—or that fundamentalists are the only ones who minimize abuse, marginalize women, and harbor their abusers—John Howard Yoder.

There is no single, magic answer to the epidemic of abuse in the church, both Protestant and Catholic. But increasingly, I’m convinced of one thing: the abuse won’t end as long as men are the sole arbiters of power.

When a woman has to go before an all-male elder board for permission to end her marriage to a confessed child porn addict, that’s a recipe for perpetuating abuse.

Sure, they might apologize later for “not communicating clearly” or for being too “heavy-handed.” But if they don’t confront the root problem—men claiming sole power by divine right—then it’s just going to happen again. And again and again. Any theology that insists on a God-ordained “male priority” (yes, that’s the term they use) is complicit in the cycle of abuse.

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If you exclude women from leadership, who holds the men accountable when they abuse their power? Other men, just like them? A God who, to them, is essentially masculine—just like them? I don’t think so.

All-male leadership fosters an environment where men act with impunity.

This shouldn’t be hard to grasp, especially for evangelicals. Those who believe in human depravity should have no trouble imagining what happens when one group claims a monopoly on power—or worse, when they claim their right to do so was given by God himself.

Yet many Christians refuse to consider the one thing that could actually help stop abuse: giving women an equal share of power.

Of course, it’s easy to point the finger at those who wear the term “patriarchy” as if it were a badge of honor. The truth is, many of us who reject patriarchy haven’t done much better. We may accept the notion of gender equality in principle. But if the composition of our leadership is any indicator, we haven’t fully embraced it in practice. (Case in point: though the Episcopal Church has been ordaining women for almost 40 years, the active priesthood is still two-thirds male.)

It’s time for a radical overhaul to church culture and governance. A theoretical commitment to equality won’t do anymore. Token gestures—like putting a woman or two on the elder board—won’t cut it, either.

It’s time for women to have a truly equal share in the leadership of our churches. That means it’s time for some of us to relinquish our unearned privilege, to let go of our monopoly on power. It’s time for some of us to step aside. It’s time to practice what we preach.

When women share equally in the leadership of our churches, it will be harder for men to get away with trivializing and ignoring—and therefore perpetuating—abuse.

That day can’t come soon enough.

Image: The Pulpit by Bs0u10e0 on Flickr

6 ways mainline churches should respond to decline

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Christianity is dying!

No it’s not.

Yes it is.

It’s just a flesh wound!

Anyway, it’s mostly liberal mainline churches that are doomed.

Evangelicals are in trouble too.

All right… we’ll call it a draw.

That basically sums up debate over the Pew study on America’s changing religious landscape.

The rise of the “nones,” those who claim no religious affiliation, can be partly explained by the collapse of cultural Christianity, as Ed Stetzer argues. Mainline churches have been hit the hardest because we had the greatest share of “nominals”—those affiliated with the church for reasons other than a deep-seated commitment to Christ. Our churches once enjoyed disproportionate cultural influence, wealth, and privilege—which is why half of America’s presidents were either Episcopalian, Methodist, or Presbyterian.

Those days are gone. Christianity’s cultural dominance is waning, so there’s little reason left to be part of the church other than a deep-seated commitment to Christ.

This is not a bad thing.

But to suggest, as some conservatives have, that liberalism is to blame—and that conservative evangelicals have nothing to fear—is painfully shortsighted.

For one thing, evangelicalism’s share of the overall population is shrinking too. Attempts to explain away this decline aren’t convincing. If religion were a business—and let’s face it: we treat it like one, which is why we argue over numbers like these—then somebody’s job would be in jeopardy over the drop in evangelical “market share” the last few years.

For another thing—to echo Jonathan Merritt—if liberal drift is responsible for a 3.4% decline among mainline churches, how do we explain a 3.1% decline among Roman Catholics?

In the US, Christianity as a whole is losing influence—evangelical, mainline, Catholic. We’re all in decline.

However, that’s bitter comfort for mainliners who are currently winning the race to the bottom.

The reality is, evangelicals have no business gloating over the decline of mainline Christianity, and faithful mainliners should take no comfort that evangelicals are in the same boat.

We have bigger things to wrestle with—namely, what the future looks like for us.

I’m an evangelical-turned-Episcopalian. I want my newfound spiritual home to have a future—for my kids’ sake and for the world’s sake. I believe we have something profoundly meaningful to offer. But change is coming, and if we fight it, we will die.

Here are six ways I think mainline churches can turn a shifting landscape into an opportunity for renewal…

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1. Embrace the decline.

We don’t have the same cultural cache we used to. Good. As I’ve written elsewhere, privilege breeds complacency. The sooner we let go of it, the better.

It’s not the church that’s dying. It’s the edifice we’ve built around it. Let the edifice die. We’ve forgotten what church really looks like. The radically egalitarian movement intent on bringing heaven to earth is sometimes barely recognizable beneath the edifice.

As members of the group Episcopal Resurrection recently wrote:

We have a choice before us. We can continue, valiantly and tragically, to try to save all the rights and privileges we have previously enjoyed. We can continue to watch our church dwindle until it someday becomes an endowed museum to the faith of our forebears. We can continue business as usual until we lose our common life entirely.

Or we can lose our life for Jesus’ sake so that we might save it.

There is no resurrection without death. What are we prepared to let die so we can envision a better way of being the church?

2. Embrace the meaning behind the liturgy, not just liturgy for the sake of liturgy.

I love the sacraments. They’re part of what drew me to the Episcopal Church. I love the way the liturgy soaks into my being, the way it anchors my faith. Big-box Christianity feels like a desperate imitation of the culture; for me the liturgy is transcendent and countercultural.

We Episcopalians can be quite fond of our liturgy. But there’s a danger in becoming too fond of the thing itself, instead of what (or who) it points us to. This was brought home for me when I read Matthew Drake’s heartfelt post on why the sacraments aren’t enough to bring him back to church:

If you’re anything like me, you might view the sacraments and the liturgy as good programs that good people built after Jesus split. Programs whose faithful practice has helped people follow God through the ages. Programs which should be honored and cherished and used to this very day. But man-made programs nonetheless.

I’m cool with those programs until the minute their sacraments become sacred. When people start associating rituals (communion, baptism, the sinner’s prayer), leadership structures (prophets, priests, pastors), organizational structures (denominations, theologies, creeds), and morals (sex, marriage, crime, punishment), as fixed quantities that can be applied in homogeneous fashion… [they] become calcified idols which are now undermining the very deep truths of the even deeper mystery they were originally built to point toward.

For many of us who’ve stumbled into the liturgy, it’s become a lifeline. It’s rejuvenated our faith. But it’s not a magic bullet.

If we’re counting on an influx of disaffected Millennial evangelicals all because we’ve got some liturgy, we’re in for disappointment. It’s going to take more than that.

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3. Dust off our Bibles.

Sometimes I like pointing out to my evangelical friends that we read more scripture in a single church service than most of them do in a month.

If only we picked up our Bibles any other time of the week.

Outside of church, evangelicals are 40% more likely than mainliners to read their Bibles. We mainliners have a complicated relationship with our sacred text. We’ve seen others use it as a weapon to clobber people. We’ve seen the damage a simplistic reading can do. We’ve seen Scripture used to prop up anti-intellectualism and justify all kinds of evil—oppression, exclusion, discrimination…

But to say we should read the Bible more is not to say we necessarily have to read it the same way everyone else does. We don’t have to use it as a weapon. We don’t have to treat it as a flat book. We can read it for what it is: a sacred collection of books with diverse literary styles, themes, and perspectives.

We don’t even have to understand everything in it.

But we should try reading it more. There’s value in knowing where our story comes from.

As Rachel Held Evans shares in Searching for Sunday, it was evangelicalism that gave her a knowledge of—and presumably her love for—the Scriptures.

What if we could do the same for our kids?

4. Recover the Great Commission.

One possible reason why evangelical churches have fared somewhat better/less badly is because they are more evangelistic. (There are other reasons, too, including higher fertility rates.)

For many of us who grew up evangelical, the word “evangelism” conjures memories of a heavy-handed sales pitch, simplistic reasoning, and outright emotional manipulation. As with Bible reading, evangelism is something we should do more. That doesn’t mean we have to do it the same way as others.

But let’s be honest for a moment: We’ve forgotten how to tell the story of Jesus. We’ve become too passive and complacent. The Great Commission does not say, “Wait for people to come into your buildings, then make disciples of them.” It says “Go.”

Or as Episcopal Resurrection put it, “We can no longer wait inside our sanctuaries to welcome those who want to become Episcopalian.”

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5. Flatten our hierarchies.

Note that I didn’t say eliminate our hierarchies. Jesus chose some to be apostles. He gave them the keys to the kingdom—authority to “bind” (forbid) and “loose” (permit) on his behalf.

We need priests, bishops, and maybe even the occasional archbishop. But our hierarchies have grown top-heavy and bloated. We’ve lost sight of the fact that every member of the church is a minister, not just the ordained clergy.

If the post-Christendom church is to “travel lightly” (as the Task Force for Reimaging the Episcopal Church calls for), then we have to take another look at hierarchy. We have to streamline and simplify. We have to make it easier for people to do mission at the local level.

There’s an even bigger reason to flatten our hierarchies. Too much power consolidated into the hands of too few people invites abuse. If we are going to be communities where all are welcome and treated with dignity—where this is more than just an aspiration or a slogan on a church sign—then it’s time we take a paring knife to our power structures.

6. Welcome—really welcome—children in our worship.

One of the things I love about my church is the way my children are welcomed at the table. They can receive before they understand. Belonging precedes believing.

But we can go farther.

Recently I had a chance to participate in worship at another Episcopal church near where I live. The kids present were invited to gather around the altar for the communion liturgy. They helped lead the prayers of the people. They helped serve the bread and the cup.

It was chaos, and it was beautiful.

Children learn by doing, by participating. Children need to know they matter—that their presence in our sanctuaries is a blessing, not a burden.

When we exclude our children from our worship, we teach them that their presence is largely irrelevant, as Tom Fuerst writes. It’s no wonder Millennials are defecting from church in droves when they grow up.

If we want our kids to be part of the church later in life, let’s make sure we welcome them now as fully participating members.

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I’m not under any illusions about the challenges facing the mainline church (and our sisters and brothers in evangelical and Catholic churches too). None of these six ideas are magic bullets that will single-handedly reverse the decline or reset the cultural landscape. There is no going back to the way things were. But that can be good news—if we embrace this opportunity to reimagine what it means to be the body of Christ.

Images: khrawlings on Flickr, Forsaken Fotos on Flickr, le vent le cri on Flickr, [AndreaS] on Flickr

Stop praying for peace in Baltimore

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Last year I wrote a blog post asking privileged, white Christians like myself to resist shallow, self-serving prayers for peace in the wake of Ferguson. The problem isn’t that we long for peace; it’s what kind of peace we long for. Peace without justice. Peace without facing up to the malignant curse of racism. Peace without confessing how astonishingly short of justice we have fallen.

Five months on, little has changed. What was said about Ferguson can be said about Tamir Rice. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. And now Freddie Gray.

This is what I wrote about Ferguson at the time, updated to reflect the current situation in Baltimore. What’s sad is how little I had to edit—an indication of how little has changed since Ferguson…how little we’ve learned. 

Five months on, we’re still praying for peace. And we are still missing the point.

(Changes to the original post are indicated in red.)

—//—

I’m done praying for peace in Ferguson Baltimore. I can’t bring myself to do it.

Not when the word “peace,” uttered by those of us who still cling to our unearned privilege, means peace for us and our kind.

Not when peace means black citizens are told they must respond to yet another mockery of justice in ways the powerful and privileged deem “socially acceptable,” yet it’s somehow OK for law enforcement to come at them with tear gas and tanks and military-grade assault weapons.

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Not when peace means a return to the status quo, a resumption of normalcy—that is, privilege for us and discrimination for them.

Not if what peace really means is that I don’t have to face the implications of my privilege or the pervasive reality of systemic racism. Peace, as many have noted, requires so much more than the absence of conflict.

You want “peace” in Ferguson Baltimore—by which you mean you don’t want to see any more cop cars burning on TV—but you don’t want to do anything to fix a system where people have no other way to make themselves heard?

Then what you want isn’t peace. What you want is for your privilege to remain untouched.

When the privileged pray for peace—if it’s not accompanied by a commitment to justice, a willingness to lay down our privilege—then what we’re really saying is we’re OK living in a world where white mass murderers are apprehended alive, yet a young black man—whose only crime that day was fleeing an unlawful arrest—has his spine almost completely severed in the back of a police van.

What we’re saying is we’re OK living in a world where black male teens are 21 times more likely to be shot by police than white teenagers.

We’re saying it’s OK to have a 20-year life expectancy gap between neighborhoods just six miles apart. 

We’re saying it’s OK for blacks in Ferguson Baltimore to be routinely beaten by police—including a 15 year-old boy riding his bike and an 87 year-old grandmother. 

This is not peace.

As one pastor observed, it’s like trying to have the benefits of resurrection without crucifixion. Peace without justice. Reconciliation without owning up to the sin of oppression. Harmony without relinquishing any of our privilege.

It cannot be done.

Peace does not come cheap. As you watch the scene unfold in Ferguson Baltimore, as you mourn with those who mourn, do not pray for peace. Not until you’re ready to come to grips with what is necessary for peace.

Photos: Fibonacci Blue on FlickrInternational Business Times

When our kids are the ones sharing the gospel with us

My daughter has asked me to read The Story of King Jesus a few dozen times since we got our first copy. She can’t read yet, but she already knows most of it by heart.

These days, my book doesn’t make the bedtime rotation quite as often as it used to, but it still shows up every now and then. Except now, I barely read any of it to her.

She’s the one telling me the story.

(Yes, she is hamming it up for the camera.)

What if our kids knew the story of Jesus so well, they were the ones telling it to us? Imagine how it might change our approach to spiritual formation if even 4-year-olds knew the complete story—not just the fragmented, piecemeal, “pray this prayer so you can go to heaven when you die” version.

We have a tendency to oversimplify the gospel, reducing it to “four spiritual laws” or a handful of verses from Romans, because we’re worried our kids can’t handle any more than that.

I think we’re wrong.

I think our kids are up for the whole story. I think they’re up for more than we realize.

They’re so up for it, in fact, that pretty soon they’ll be the ones telling the story to us—way better than we ever thought possible.

A tale of two conversations

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L to R: Gabe Lyons, Debra Hirsch, Matthew Vines, Julie Rodgers, David Gushee, Dan Kimball

Let’s be honest. Yesterday’s Q conference got off to a rocky start—particularly for those from marginalized communities.

Q is one of the few Christian conferences I genuinely like going to. It has none of the flash of Catalyst. It’s not a heavy-handed sales pitch disguised as a conference. You can actually interact with presenters. (One of the highlights for me these year was getting to spend a few moments with Jefferson Bethke.)

Best of all, Q has a track record of bringing together voices from all over the map. They’re not afraid to invite speakers who will challenge their mostly conservative-to-moderate evangelical audience.

But there was also an important lesson in the difference between talking with those on the margins (or better yet, listening to them) and talking about them. At first, this year’s event seemed more interested in the latter than the former.

The culture wars have loomed large over the Q conference this year year, particularly the fight over same-sex marriage.

One of the first presenters, Rod Dreher, proposed a tactical retreat—what he calls the Benedict Option—in response to the advance of gay rights in our culture. His suggestion struck me more like Fundamentalism Redux. “The day is coming,” he said, “when Americans who believe in traditional Christianity [defined in this case as opposition to same-sex marriage] will see our lives involving some degree of separation from the American mainstream.”

Now, I agree we shouldn’t get too cozy with the American mainstream—especially when it comes to our culture’s glorification of violence, its objectification of women, rampant consumerism, etc. But none of these were top of mind as Dreher proposed a withdrawal from society. It was mostly about one thing: same-sex marriage. Near the end, he mentioned the recent uproar over Indiana’s RFRA law, calling it an “apocalypse” for the church.

Dreher assured listeners that the church would continue to “practice Benedictine hospitality to the stranger” while in its self-imposed exile. But this seems to be a passive hospitality—one exercised from a distance and only when pressed upon. Real hospitality—that which seeks and welcomes others, that which listens to and enters into other people’s stories—doesn’t seem to be part of the deal.

“What we are fighting for,” he continued, “is the right to be left alone”—a right Christians are told nowhere in Scripture to fight for. “We have to be prepared to be hated,” Dreher concluded. Fair enough. Jesus said as much. Only, let’s make sure we’re hated for the right reasons. And let’s remember how Jesus told us respond: by doing good to others, even those who hate usWe can’t do that very well from a distance, can we? We can’t do that by talking about those on the margins when we should be talking with them.

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Another presenter shared results from a survey measuring public perceptions of the church. It might as well have been titled “Why do they hate us?”

42% of Americans believe religious people are more part of the problem than the solution in our country. Half think that religion is not necessary for our society to do good, that “good works” would continue even without people of faith.

How did we get this reputation? What needs to change? These are the questions we should be asking. Instead, the presenter concluded that “the pendulum has swung against people of faith,” as if we’ve done nothing to deserve our deteriorating reputation.

It’s not easy to talk about our complicity in the growing antipathy toward the church. It’s a lot easier to play the persecution card than to consider those we’ve hurt, those we’ve mistreated, those we’ve pushed to the margins. We’d much rather see ourselves as the victims, as the persecuted minority.

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The conversation at Q that morning was almost entirely about gay people and not with them. Whenever this happens, it becomes too easy to see them as the Other. Even, perhaps, as the enemy. Before long, we’re not talking about people anymore but a “dilemma” to be solved.

But something changed that afternoon and the following day.

Real, live actual gay people were invited onto the stage. Julie Rodgers and Matthew Vines shared their experience being gay and Christian. The two have very different beliefs about what their identity means for them. Julie argued for celibacy; Matthew believes the church can affirm monogamous, covenantal unions. Both have experienced rejection at the hands of the church. Both have had friends leave the church and never come back.

Later, David Gushee (a recent convert to the affirming view) and Dan Kimball (a pastor representing the traditional view) debated sexual ethics. The following day, Andrew Sullivan shared the stage with Gordon College president Michael Lindsay.

As the conference wore on—and as marginalized voices were welcomed into the conversation alongside more traditional evangelical voices—something happened. The tenor of the discussion began to change. I don’t think anyone on stage or in the audience changed their minds. Gabe Lyons, the head of Q Ideas, didn’t attempt neutrality as he moderated; he was honest about his own convictions. But as the conversation shifted from one about people to one with people, it became just that—a conversation.

The dignity and humanity of everyone involved was affirmed. Participants treated one another with grace and respect—perhaps none more so than Sullivan and Lindsay. The conversation became less about the supposed persecution of Christians; instead, contributors on all sides began to acknowledge the harmful ways in which the church has treated LGBT people.

The conversation on the first morning was primarily about how LGBT issues affect us. It’s no wonder the presentations drifted so easily into a persecution mindset. But when we start having a conversation with those on the margins, we’re more likely to consider how these issues and debates affect them. We’re able to start seeing beyond ourselves. Convictions may or may not be altered—again, I doubt many people in the auditorium changed their views yesterday or today—but hearts, attitudes, and relationships?

That, I hope, is another matter.