Why you may want to check your beliefs

"For centuries, gay people  were thrown out of their families, thrown out of their churches. We were jailed. We had hormones inflicted on us. We went through unbelievable trauma in the 80s and 90s, in which 300,000 young people died. Where was the church?" –Andrew Sullivan

Evangelicals are starting to acknowledge the harm they’ve done to the LGBT community.

For example, at this year’s Q conference in Boston, Gabe Lyons told those gathered that the church ought to repent for how it’s treated gays and lesbians. Then he went a step further, offering a public apology to Andrew Sullivan (in response to the above quote).

Megachurch pastor David Whiting began a recent sermon on homosexuality apologizing for the “hatred, anger, dislike, and disdain” churches have shown to gay people. With visible remorse, he acknowledged that “Christians have gotten a reputation for being homophobic because many Christians are homophobic.”

Reflecting on the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli called on evangelicals to repent of homophobia, fear, and prejudice.

Atlanta pastor Dewey Smith took heat for a recent sermon in which he compared the dehumanization of gays to the experience of blacks at the height of the slave trade. “We have done what the slave master did to us,” he told his parishioners.

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What we’re seeing is more than just a “few bad apples” in the church. People are starting to realize this is more than just the sin of those who wave homophobic signs at funerals. The church’s woeful track record belongs to otherwise respectable evangelicals, not just the fundamentalist fringe.

Each person mentioned above maintains a traditional view of marriage. Each believes Scripture unequivocally prohibits same-sex intimacy.

With each apology or acknowledgement of wrongdoing, they went on to reaffirm their traditional beliefs, almost as if to say, “Please don’t judge our theology by our actions.”

Which should lead us to ask…

At what point does a widely acknowledged pattern of unloving behavior indicate something more than just the faulty application of your beliefs?

At what point is it no longer possible to separate a particular set of beliefs from its fruit?

What if our catastrophically misguided treatment of gays points to a deeper issue?

If your theology leads to behavior that is unloving or unkind, chances are there’s a problem with your theology.

Belief informs behavior. Your actions are shaped in part by your theology.

In which case, the ultimate test of any rule or doctrine is not, “Does it cohere intellectually?” but, “Does it encourage me to be more loving to others?”

If “love is the fulfillment of the law,” then any law which does not lead us to be more loving is not worth fulfilling.

For ages, Christians argued slavery was OK. They had Scripture on their side. They had history on their side. The inhumane treatment of blacks was proof enough they were wrong.

For ages, Christians argued women were inferior. They had Scripture on their side. They had history on their side. The degrading, humiliating treatment of women was proof enough they were wrong.

In both cases, a lack of love exposed a faulty belief system.

In the present debate over sexual ethics, it might matter less which side can line up the most proof texts or which side can make the best appeal to history. It might matter more which side proves itself to be the most loving, the most compassionate, and the most hospitable.

As Peter Enns wrote recently:

The best apologetic isn’t having a better intellectual system. The best apologetic is… how Christians live positively toward others. What difference this “belief system” makes in our global community.

We are the apologetic.

If you affirm the traditional view but lament the church’s treatment of gays and lesbians, you can resolve to be more loving. That in itself would be a good and holy thing.

But maybe we should go one step further and ask if there’s a connection between our convictions and the way we treat others—and then resolve to bring both into alignment with the Great Commandment.

Photo by Sancho McCann on Flickr

Why I would rather err on the side of life

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I’ve seen the Planned Parenthood video. I’ve also watched some of the raw footage. So I know the more widely viewed version was selectively and misleadingly edited. I know it doesn’t say what its producers want you to think it does—namely, that Planned Parenthood “uses partial birth abortions to sell baby parts.”

I know Planned Parenthood does a lot more than provide access to abortion—97% more, to be precise. They offer many genuinely pro-life services to women—cancer screenings, disease prevention, access to contraception—services that some self-described “pro-lifers” seem decidedly uninterested in providing.

I know the video is being seized upon by those who care more about advancing an agenda than being “ambassadors for life,” as Matthew Paul Turner put it so well. We’ve known about fetal tissue collected from abortion for decades. So why are some just now getting worked up about it? Because they have a politically charged video they can exploit?

I also know that many of the vaccines I received as a child—and many of the vaccines my children and yours receive—were made in cells that were cultured from fetal tissue obtained through abortion. And I’m not going to stop giving these vaccines to my children.

I know all this, and yet the video still troubles me.

If you believe there’s nothing wrong with abortion, and yet the sight of someone casually discussing the particulars over a glass of wine bothers you too, then maybe it’s worth asking why.

Perhaps, as one person suggested, it’s simply because we find “a lot of surgical and medical procedures… icky.”

Maybe that’s all it is.

I would certainly be grossed out by the sight of an open-heart surgery or an autopsy. But my response to the Planned Parenthood video was something different. It wasn’t the “ick factor” that troubled me. It wasn’t even the knowledge that human tissue is being collected for scientific research. (As others have pointed out, we do this all the time with organ donors—the difference being, there’s usually a distinction between the act that terminates life and the collection of tissue.)

It’s what precedes the collection of tissue that troubles me—the targeted “crushing.” It was the thought of something like this happening to my son around the time we were having an ultrasound to discover his biological sex.

I know personhood is not exactly synonymous with biological life. I know some pro-lifers engage in a misleading and misguided attempt to conflate the two—for reasons that have more to do with politics than principle.

I know that personhood, unlike biological life, is an ethical and moral concept—one that’s a lot more difficult to pin down, one around which there’s no consensus and, let’s face it, a lot of speculation.

I’m not sure we should attribute personhood to a zygote. But neither do I think we should wait until birth, as if personhood is something the baby grabs hold of on their way down the birth canal. The answer is probably somewhere in between—and a heck of a lot more mysterious.

Yet regardless of how we view personhood and its origins—regardless of whether we ground our concept of personhood in a religious presupposition like the “image of God” (as I do) or in something else—we all agree that personhood matters. People have value. Life is something to be cherished, nurtured, and protected.

And hopefully, we still agree that people have value regardless of their ability to “contribute,” regardless of the extent to which they live up to society’s definition of what it means to be a “healthy, normal” person.

Those of us labeled “progressive” speak out against racism, homophobia, and the oppression of the poor precisely because we believe that personhood matters. Those who are conservative resist what they perceive to be an intrusive government because they believe in the individual liberty of each person.

Personhood matters. Yet none of us really know when or how it begins.

At what point do we ascribe the intangible value of personhood to a member of society? Can it be taken away? If so, by whom and under what authority?

Most of all, if personhood is so intangible yet important, shouldn’t we err on the side of caution when it comes to anything that might harm or destroy it?

The reason I want churches to embrace our LGBTQ brothers and sisters is not because I’m 100% convinced I’m right in my interpretation of the Scriptures. I could be wrong on this or any number of issues. It’s because if I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side that I believe to be more loving, more compassionate, more life-affirming.

The same is true for abortion. I could be wrong about when life begins, or when the threshold from “biological life” to “personhood” is crossed. The fact is, I have no idea. But I would rather err on the side that protects, nurtures, and celebrates life.

Of course, some will point out—and rightly so—that it’s not always that simple to choose which path is the most “life-affirming.” It’s not that simple when the life or health of the mother is at stake. It’s not that simple when a women is raped and becomes pregnant by her attacker.

The fact that some of these scenarios might be relatively rare does not give us the right to ignore them. To do so is demeaning to the personhood of the very real women affected by them. Besides, some of these scenarios—namely, pregnancy due to rape—might not be as rare as you think.

Like Matthew Paul Turner said, if my wife were in any of these situations, “I’d want her to have the power to make a choice.” And I’d want it to be a doctor, not a legislator, helping her make that choice.

But if we have reached a point where we can discuss the extraction of fetal body parts and remain untroubled, perhaps we don’t value life as much as we should.

I do not think there’s an easy answer for each scenario that leads a woman to have an abortion. I will not presume to lecture or pretend I know better than those who’ve had to make this immensely difficult choice. And I will not let the pro-life movement off the hook for failing to uphold a truly consistent ethic of life beyond the womb.

But I cannot be silent and pretend that a fetus has no value—or that we are the life-affirming culture we ought to be.

Better to be an alive atheist than a dead Christian (Joey’s story)

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Today I’m featuring a guest post from my friend Jessy Briton Hamilton, about his friend Joey and his experience being shunned by the church for his sexual orientation. 

Shortly after reading Joey’s story, I saw Julie Rodgers’ post describing her experience of rejection. It astounds me that some traditionalists were not more supportive of Julie, if what they say about holding their convictions with love is really true. As a celibate gay Christian, she’s played by their rules. She’s done everything they ask. Yet her experience at the hands the church has forced her to ask some difficult questions:

The fire I’ve come under (publicly and privately) as I’ve sought to live into the traditional ethic causes me to question whether this is about genuinely held beliefs or straight up homophobia. I say this with nothing but sadness: the kind of discrimination my friends and I have experienced as celibate gays makes me lean toward the latter.

Neither Julie nor Joey deserve to be treated this way by the church. Their stories should be a wake-up call, prompting all of us—affirming or otherwise—to pause and reflect.

So to my non-affirming friends: Are you sure you’re not at all guilty of the “straight-up homophobia” that Joey, Julie, and others have experienced? In other words, are you as loving as you think you are?

And to my affirming friends: Is it good enough to declare our churches “open and affirming”? Or to feature a rainbow-themed avatar on our Facebook pages? What are we doing to actively serve LGBTQ members of our churches and communities?

With that, here is Joey’s story, as told by Jessy…

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Chillicothe is a small piece of 1955 trapped in Ohio’s forgotten Appalachian hills, at the place along the Scioto River where the rapids of poverty swell and begin to rage toward the Kentucky border. Typical of small Midwestern towns from Youngstown to Nowhere, Kansas, it’s the kind of place most people are proud to be from… but wouldn’t want to live.

Joey is an exception, embracing the raw experience of rural life, while most of his peers have already punched their tickets to Chicago, Columbus, or some other city that looks like every other city to a small-town boy. The 19-year-old college freshman studying agricultural science at the local branch campus of Ohio University has lived in these parts all the days of his life. He winces at the thought of severing his bond with the soil from which he came, but knows at the back of his pretty little head that economic factors may someday take him far from this sleepy Rust Belt ghost town.

Joey talks to me with dizzying excitement about any topic that comes to mind: cherry vanilla ice cream, his dream of someday buying back the family farm from the corporate agribusiness that pulled the deed out from under his grandfather, and his hope for a family of his own—a husband and 2.5 little Joeys, all working on the farm, of course. We talk about the president, fruity drinks with miniature umbrellas his friends want him to try, and his fear of being caught if he does. Joey talks and I mostly listen. Ultimately, I don’t care what we talk about—I’m just happy Joey is alive to wrestle with which pop star to rock out to on the way to class, or which teenage indiscretion he should or shouldn’t experience tonight.

Joey and I first met on a smartphone chat application that uses GPS technology to tell gay and bisexual men where other gay and bisexual men using the app are located. It was two weeks after his failed attempt to overdose on a cocktail of pink and yellow pills that his short profile statement caught my attention: “No longer Christian. HMU.”

One of the ministries I engage in involves the utilization of smartphone apps to find the Joeys of the world—younger LGBTs from Christian backgrounds at risk for suicide. My message to them is simple: God loves you, there is nothing wrong with you, so let’s chat. There are a sea of them, but only one of me.

My experience with Joey, and countless others has taught me that many LGBTs go through a series of stages in the evolution or disintegration of their faith. The church through spiritual violence has traditionally played the role of hastening the destruction of faith among LGBTs, as those who ultimately arrive at a crisis of faith are confronted with the reality that a fixed-facet of their being—their sexual orientation or gender identity—is said to be at odds with nature and contrary to God’s will. This crisis of faith is resolved by one of three methods:

1. LGBTs with the emotional ability, and a deep well of spiritual resources will initiate a life-long journey to unlearn the internalized homophobia inherited during their early spiritual formation.

Having undertaken the hard work of untangling God’s love from the cruel words and deeds of God’s people, they will arrive at mature spiritual conclusions, acknowledging their status as a child of God, made in his image. A personal theology that allows them to live both a life of faith and a life of integrity evolves over time. In my experience, this rarely happens the first go-round. Ideally though, this is the direction faith communities steer LGBTs. At best, however, many spiritual and lay leaders simply ignore the crisis of faith. Others unwittingly lead LGBTs to resolve the crisis via options 2 and 3.

2. LGBTs who cannot find it in their experience to separate the institutional church from God himself—and who see Christianity as a single tyrannical monolith, but know that sexuality is a fixed facet, unchangeable and good—will reach the conclusion that the existence of a loving God and their own existence are mutually exclusive.  

God simply does not exist—or if he does, he is unworthy of worship. In my experience, most LGBTs initially resolve the crisis of faith this way.

3. Those who cannot separate the institutional church from God himself—and who see Christianity as a single tyrannical monolith, but have bought the lie that their sexuality is sinful and changeable—will make several attempts at becoming that which they cannot.  

After several failures to conform to heteronormative expectations, they will either return to pursue options 1 or 2, remain in a state of perpetual spiritual torment, or having exhausted all known options, attempt to end their lives.

After a series of twisted events that began with reading an article on his denomination’s latest public rejection of LGBT’s, followed by a conversation with his fundamentalist pastor, Joey decided suicide was the only option that remained.  This was the latest episode in a never-ending nightmare of spiritual violence aimed at Joey from the people who claimed to love him.  He couldn’t see any other way—it was preferable to be dead than to be gay.

Fortunately, Joey’s attempt to take his life failed. His mother found him lying a pool of his own vomit (it’s common for the body of those who overdose to reject the attempt), and he was taken to the hospital, where he eventually became conscious.

Today, in an effort to save his very life, Joey has resolved his crisis of faith with option 2: “No longer Christian. HMU.” He can’t wrap his mind around the idea that there may be other ways of approaching God that include living a life of integrity as an openly gay man. He asked this week what I thought of his choice to give up on Christianity as he understands it. While I hope that someday Joey will reconcile his sexuality with his faith, until he has the resources and support to do that, it’s better to be an alive atheist than a dead Christian.

There are too many Joeys. And only one me.

What is your faith community doing to identify the Joeys in your midst, to help them to navigate their crises of faith and arrive at a place where they truly know the love of their Creator?

Jessy Briton Hamilton lives in Denver, Colorado, and does consulting work with faith communities through his firm, Solutions by J. Briton. He attends St. John’s Cathedral, Denver.

Photo: Chillicothe by Ohio Redevelopment Projects on Flickr

The only question worth asking

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Here is the full quote from Yale New Testament professor Dale Martin:

I have tried to illustrate how all appeals to “what the Bible says” are ideological and problematic. But in the end, all appeals, whether to the Bible or anything else, must submit to the test of love.

To people who say this is simplistic, I say, far from it. There are no easy answers. “Love” will not work as a foundation for ethics in a prescriptive or predictable fashion—as can be seen by all the injustices, imperialisms, and violence committed in the name of love.

But rather than expecting the answer to come from a particular method of reading the Bible, we at least push the discussion to where it ought to be: into the realm of debates about Christian love, rather than into either fundamentalism or modernist historicism.

We ask the question that must be asked: “What is the loving thing to do?”

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The context for this quote is a lengthy but illuminating piece on the meaning of two Greek words, arsenokoites and malakos, both of which occur in 1 Corinthians 6, a passage many read as condemning all same-sex intimacy.

Martin demonstrates convincingly (for me, anyway) that modern scholars read too much—or perhaps too little, depending on your perspective—into the meaning of these words. But at least in the case of malakos (unfortunately rendered “sodomites” in the NRSV), the correct meaning is no less troubling. It introduces just as many interpretive problems as it solves.

(Spoiler alert: Martin argues the correct translation of malakos is “effeminate,” adding weight to accusations of misogyny laid at the apostle Paul’s feet.)

In the end, Martin concludes that we can’t resolve every interpretive difficulty in Scripture—nor should we try. No matter what our view, conservative or progressive, and no matter what our approach to Scripture, fundamentalist or historicist, we all run into difficulties when reading and applying the Bible. It doesn’t always work to just “do what the Bible says.” It’s not that simple. Which is just as well, because sometimes the Bible says to “annihilate” people.

Nor do interpretation and application suddenly become easy once we cross from the Old Testament into the New. We are still 2,000 years removed from its context. We are still listening in on one side of conversations that took place in a much different world.

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The good news is, the apostle Paul (yes, the same Paul who rather unfortunately suggested that “effeminate” people will not inherit the kingdom of God) gave us the key to answering the age-old question, “How should we live?” And the answer is not, “Line up as many Bible verses as you can find on a given topic and try to make them all say the same thing.” Because sometimes that doesn’t work.

The answer, according to Paul, is to obey the one command that fulfills all the other, sometimes conflicting commands:

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  

He also says, “If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other,” proving that sometimes, the application of ancient Scripture to our context IS rather straightforward.)

Another way to put it is, as Dale Martin did, is to always ask one question, no matter the issue: What is the loving thing to do?

Original photo by Abhi on Flickr

Three reasons I’m really, really excited about our new Presiding Bishop

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The Right Revd. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop-elect of the Episcopal Church, closed out the 78th General Convention with a powerful address on Friday. His sermon was effectively a call to return to the Great Commission. For those of us who want to see a renewal of discipleship and evangelism in the Episcopal Church, the choice of Michael Curry seems, well, inspired.

There are many, many reasons I’m excited about the election of Michael Curry, including the historical precedent it represents. Here are a few more…

1. He knows the biblical story.

In his sermon, PB-elect Curry read from Isaiah 40—a well-known passage that’s often quoted without reference to its context. Anyone can recite a few verses of Scripture. To use the text well, however, you have to know the story.

PB-elect Curry knows how to paint the biblical landscape. He knows how to tell the story behind passages like Isaiah 40. In his brief sermon, he seamlessly connected this text to Israel’s story—in particular, their painful exile in Babylon—and to its eventual culmination in Jesus.

He knows the songs Israel sang in exile.

His knowledge of Scripture runs far deeper than the ability to rattle off a few Bible verses. He knows the story.

This matters, because if we are to know where we should go—how we should live—we have to know where we’ve been. The biblical story cannot be an afterthought when discerning where God is leading. We need to be soaked in the narrative. We need prophetic voices like PB-elect Curry who know how to connect the ancient story to our world today.

2. He can speak to—and challenge—both progressives and conservatives.

Often, PB-elect Curry sounds like someone who’d be right be at home among evangelicals. He reads Max Lucado. He watched Son of God. (Well, the trailer, at least!) He even worked in a mild jab at Darren Aronofsky’s film Noah (which, incidentally, was better than most of the criticism it got from evangelicals, but that’s for another day).

At the same time, PB-elect Curry marches in the Moral Monday protests. He’s an advocate for justice and inclusion. He understands that reconciliation in Christ has profound social implications. He challenges us to be a prophetic alternative to the “nightmare of the world”—that is, the nightmare of injustice, oppression, and exclusion—because of the gospel of Jesus.

PB-elect Michael Curry defies evangelicals’ caricature of Episcopalians as Christians-in-Name-Only who say the Nicene Creed with their fingers crossed. His faith is robust, vibrant—it’s the fire in his bones.

At the same time, his full-throated gospel proclamation should challenge progressives to embrace—and share—a full-orbed good news. God’s justice cannot be separated from the salvation achieved by Christ, or vice versa.

3. He’s got a big gospel.

We need a big gospel. We need a gospel that can lift us out of the pit. We need a gospel that proclaims reconciliation with God and with each other. We need a gospel that is more than a “get out of hell free” card and more than a blueprint for social activism. We need a gospel that transforms individuals, communities, and whole societies—a gospel that liberates captives from spiritual and economic oppression, from alienation and exclusion.

This is the gospel PB-elect Curry proclaimed in his sermon:

God came among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth to show us the way to be reconciled with God… and reconciled with each other. He came to show us how to become more than simply the human race—that’s not good enough. He came to show us how to be more than a collection of individualized self-interests. He came to show us how to become the human family of God.

This is a gospel for everyone—liberal and conservative, traditionalist and progressive. This is the movement into which all of us were drafted at our baptism, and it is a movement that transcends every other divide:

I don’t care whether your label is traditionalist or progressive; if you’ve been baptized into the Triune God, you’re in the Jesus Movement. I don’t care who you are, how the Lord has made you, what the world has to say about you. If you’ve been baptized into Jesus you’re in the Jesus Movement and you are God’s.

This is the mission of the church. Bishop Curry’s election gives me hope that we will renew our commitment to this mission in the years ahead.

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Images: The Episcopal Church; Hannes Flo on Flickr

3 things to remember on July 4th

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This is an updated version of a post I shared last year on the Fourth of July… 

I’ve already written about my discomfort with the commingling of Christianity and nationalism in this country. I’ve expressed strong reservations about the way we invoke God’s name to glorify our revolutionary past—and our all-too-violent present.

There are many good reasons for ambivalence on our national holy day. Kurt Willems has pointed out the Revolutionary War didn’t even meet the criteria for a “just war,” as spelled out by Christian thinkers like Augustine and Aquinas. Carson T. Clark has observed that the revolution pitted Christians against other Christians. Instead of gathering around a common table to receive Christ’s sacrifice, Christians sacrificed one another—in clear violation of Jesus’ teaching. (You can’t very well love someone if you’re trying to kill them.) And Mark Charles has perhaps the most damning indictment of all: that our founding documents bear the unmistakeable marks of systemic racism, listing among America’s enemies the “merciless Indian savages.”

He writes:

How can a declaration that begins by stating “All men are created equal” go on to include justifications that dehumanize the Indian tribes and peoples who were already living in this land? Clearly the founding Fathers had a very narrow definition of who qualified as human.

There is much to say about the idolatry of nationalism, about the syncretism of churches holding patriotic (and often overtly partisan) worship services.

The truth is, I am not immune to these blind spots. I may hesitate to wave the flag, but I never stopped to looked at our national celebrations from the point of view of a Native American until I heard Mark Charles speak at Q earlier this year.

This Fourth of July, I want to share three things I hope we’ll remember and live into more intentionally. Doing so could help us tap into the very best of our nation’s heritage, while enabling us to confront the less commendable parts of our story.

1. May we remember that our nation was built on a commitment to share power.

This may be one of the greatest legacies of the founding fathers. After his triumph over the British, George Washington did something unusual. He resigned his commission as commander-in-chief. Legend has it he was invited to become America’s king—a legend which may or may not be true. Either way, Washington walked away from an opportunity which he could have exploited for his own gain.

Years later, Washington stepped down after two terms as president. His reasons may have been more practical than principled—he was yearning for retirement. But once more he set the extraordinary precedent of voluntarily walking away from power, rather than clutching it until the blood ran cold in his fingers.

In addition, the United States was built on the idea that the majority should not have absolute power. The rights of minority “factions,” as they were called, must be protected against the tyranny of the majority. As James Madison wrote in The Federalist Papers: 

It is of great importance… to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part. If a majority be united by a common interest, the rights of the minority will be insecure. In a free government the security for civil rights must be the same as that for religious rights.

Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature.

Of course, the founders did not embody these values consistently. They conveniently excluded some groups—namely, the indigenous population. We haven’t done any better. Far too often, we dehumanize and exclude those with whom we just don’t want to share power—blacks, women, gays, immigrants. Instead of celebrating when one group achieves new rights for itself or attains some measure of power, we lash out. We stoke fear. We cry “persecution” when what we’re really experiencing is the loss of our monopoly on power.

But a better way has been laid out for us. We can embody the values of our founders—values even they failed to live up to—and ensure that everyone has space at the table.

2. May we remember that it’s possible to disagree without resorting to violence—verbal or physical. 

The White House has changed hands between rival political parties 24 times since Washington left office. Only once did that change lead to revolt, when the pro-slavery Southern states seceded after Lincoln’s first election. The idea that someone can transfer power to their rival without bloodshed was remarkable 230 years ago. And while we may not resort to physical violence today (most of the time), we have a tendency to polarize every disagreement.

The effect of polarization today is to draw us into increasingly hostile forms of conflict with each other. We start viewing every liberal as an existential threat to civilization. We start to see every conservative as a racist, warmongering bigot. We get so caught up in paranoia about the “gay agenda” or some “right-wing conspiracy” that we fail to see the people behind the ideas.

When we start viewing those with whom we disagree as threats to society, we have, in effect, given up on the American experiment. Americans have always disagreed with one another, sometimes vociferously. If you think Fox News is a new phenomenon, you should see some of the partisan newspapers from the late 1700s and early 1800s. But we must always remember our common humanity and refuse to be enemies—even with the most radical liberal or the most hardcore conservative.  

3. May we remember that God loves America as much as he loves every other nation.

God loves America. Or perhaps more precisely, God loves every single person in America. But as Christians, we should never lose sight of where the biblical drama is moving. The trajectory goes from “one nation” to “all nations.” Even when it was “one nation,” that nation’s job was to bless all the other nations (Genesis 12).

There is no such thing as “American exceptionalism” in God’s eyes. For a church that’s been called to make disciples from “all nations,” American exceptionalism is heresy.  

America is not a new Israel. There is nothing in scripture to even remotely suggest that we are “special” in the way that Israel was special during the pre-Jesus part of the biblical drama. To suggest otherwise is to move in the opposite direction of the Bible.

God’s kingdom transcends and encompasses every nation. America doesn’t matter to God any more than Eritrea. But we don’t matter to him any less, either. God cares deeply for the people of this nation—and that’s something to be grateful for this Fourth of July.

Photo: Timo Kohlenberg on Flickr

40 answers for Kevin DeYoung

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Dear Kevin,

I read your “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags” with interest. I don’t have a rainbow-themed avatar, but I have a good deal in common with those you were addressing.

Besides, as you say, it’s always good to “slow down and think.”

You describe your questions as “sincere, if pointed.” I took this to mean they were designed to elicit a response. So respond I have. As much as possible, I’ve tried to follow your lead—offering what I hope are sincere, if occasionally pointed, replies.

A few of your questions seemed redundant (e.g. #2 and #3, #29 and #30). In such cases I did not bother to repeat my answers. For you, each question may have had its own nuance, but I felt the same answers applied, at least broadly speaking.

One last point before diving in… I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that what we’re cheering for is definitely not “the sexual revolution,” if by that you mean an “anything goes” approach to sexual expression (which is what people usually mean by that term). I believe our sexual ethic should be shaped by Scripture, even if we occasionally have a different understanding of what that looks like.

All right. Onto the questions…

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1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

I’ve been wrestling with the relevant questions and issues for the last 4-6 years.

2. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

Well, given that “verses” are an artificial construct imposed on the Bible in the 16th century… none.

For me, it started with a friend who came out on Facebook. Then I reconnected with a relative who’s gay. I happen to think they were the best possible reasons to reassess my views. They drove me back to the text—not to see how many proof texts I could amass on one side or the other, but to see whether I could discern a broader ethic or principle, showing how God wants us to relate to his LGBTQ image bearers.

(For what it’s worth, I did revisit some of the popular proof texts, as well.)

3. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

“It is not good that the man should be alone” may not only be true if you’re straight.

“Better to marry than to burn” may not only true if you’re straight.

But mostly, I would say this:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

(Here’s more on how I see “love your neighbor” as the Bible’s sexual ethic.)

4. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

The same verses you would use to show that marriage between two opposite-gendered persons can adequately depict Christ and the church. (I’m pretty sure gender is not the main point of Paul’s analogy, since the church is not literally, anatomically female.)

5. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?

I don’t think most first-century Jewish rabbis ever had the opportunity to imagine such a thing, much less decide how they felt about it. That’s not a category into which homosexual behavior typically fell back in the first century. But if Jesus had been incarnated into our world today, I think he may well have been okay with it…or at least, almost definitely not as bothered by it as some of his followers are.

6. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

Why do you use a passage in which Jesus is clearly talking about divorce to make a point about homosexuality? Context.

7. When Jesus spoke against porneia what sins do you think he was forbidding?

In light of his audience and the examples he specifically mentioned—namely, a man and a woman divorcing on grounds of porneia, women serving as pornai (prostitutes)—I think he was most likely addressing illicit forms of heterosexual sex.

8. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

As part of a rhetorical device Paul used to convince his fellow Jews they were just as guilty as Gentiles before God.

9. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

Yup! As long as we understand “sexual immorality” (porneia) correctly. (See #7 above.) And as long as by “heaven” you mean the renewed creation.

10. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

In the case of Revelation 21:8, the key word is pornois (a variant of porneia). Refer to #7 above.

As you know, 1 Corinthians 6:9 uses a relatively obscure term, arsenokoitai (literally “man bedders”), the precise meaning of which has been lost to history. But given where it shows up in other “vice lists” from the early church era, it probably referred to some form of “economic exploitation by means of sex.”

William Stacy Johnson suggests it’s a reference “the hedonistic homoerotic practices that were widespread in the Roman Empire” and “were almost always performed by social superiors on social inferiors.” In which case, I’m not sure 1 Corinthians 6 is applicable to two people of the same gender in a covenantal relationship characterized by mutual affection and equality.

On the other hand, the fifth-century saint John the Faster thought arsenokoitai referred to heterosexual anal sex. So there’s always that option.

Are we really going to hinge such an important question on the meaning of one obscure, notoriously hard-to-translate word?

11. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

Augustine failed to grasp that sex is basically a good thing, that it’s a gift from God to his creation.

Luther failed to grasp that Jews and peasants are people too, and ought to be treated with respect.

Pretty much all of them failed to grasp that slavery is bad. So what exactly is your point? Just because a belief—one which, we should note, is not contained in any ecumenical creed or confession—has long been held by the church doesn’t mean it gets a free pass.

No, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss something Christians have thought to be true for centuries, especially when it comes to core tenets of orthodoxy—one of which this is decidedly not. But neither should we act as if our predecessors were infallible. It’s the task of each generation to discern how best to embody God’s intended reality in our world, knowing we will always do so imperfectly.

12. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

You seem to be suggesting that it’s imperialistic for us to commend the affirming view to our sisters and brothers in the majority world. Question: did this aversion to imperialism stop your fellow evangelicals from promoting anti-gay legislation in places like Uganda—legislation that exposes lesbian and gay Africans to harassment, imprisonment, and in some cases death?

Have you considered how imperialism tainted early missionary efforts in the majority world, the introduction of the Bible there, and how people were taught (primarily by white Westerners like you and me) to interpret it in the first place?

13. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

No. But I don’t think most people who hold the traditional view are motivated by “personal animus and bigotry” either. Just because someone opposes same-sex marriage does not mean they’re a bigot.

At the same time, just because you’re not a bigot doesn’t mean you don’t have room to become more loving. We all need to grow in our compassion and understanding.

14. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

What if one of them is abusive? Are you suggesting that’s better than two gay dads who provide a loving, safe environment and don’t abuse kids?

15. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

“There is no evidence that the development of children with lesbian and gay parents is compromised in any significant respect relative to that among children of heterosexual parents in otherwise comparable circumstances.”
–Patterson, “Children of Lesbian and Gay Parents,” Child Development, 1992

“Children raised by lesbian women do not experience adverse outcomes compared with other children.”
–Anderson, Amlie & Ytterøy; “Outcomes for Children With Lesbian or Gay Parents: A Review of Studies From 1978 to 2000,” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 2002

“Extensive data available from more than 30 years of research reveal that children raised by gay and lesbian parents have demonstrated resilience with regard to social, psychological, and sexual health despite economic and legal disparities and social stigma.”
–Perrin & Siegel, “Promoting the Well-Being of Children Whose Parents are Gay or Lesbian,” American Academy of Pediatrics, 2013.

16. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

In my opinion, the state does have an interest in prioritizing the placement of children in households with two parents—though there are also loads of single parents who are wonderfully qualified to adopt. As I’ve indicated in my responses to #14 and #15, I’m not nearly as convinced as you are that gender is the critical factor here.

Churches, on the other hand, have every right to advocate for whatever arrangement they find most compatible with their understanding of Scripture. If we’re talking about faith-based adoption agencies that receive federal funding, then the answer is a bit more complicated. (And I won’t pretend to know what it is.)

17. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

Sure. Marriage is a stabilizing force in families and communities.

Marriage can also be a powerful tool for regulating sexual activity—providing an appropriate context for healthy sexual expression and discouraging harmful sexual activity—e.g. limiting (one hopes!) the number of sexual partners someone has and thereby reducing the transmission of disease.

Some of us just don’t see how these ends and purposes have anything to do with the gender of the participants.

18. How would you define marriage?

Depends if we’re talking civil or sacramental marriage.

Civil: a state-sanctioned union of two people in which they share a common household (finances, property, etc.).

Sacramental: a divinely sanctioned union of two people in which they covenant to love each other exclusively, serve one another, nurture one another (socially, emotionally, spiritually, and physically); and form a family with one another (which may or may not include children).

19. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

No, gross. The negative effects of inbreeding are well documented.

20. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

Yup. As Jon Stewart said, nobody is born a polygamist.

Besides, if anything opens the door to polygamy, it’s patriarchy, not homosexuality.

21. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

On the basis of responsible legislation which excludes inbreeding and polygamy (as well as marrying your pet goat) from the legal definition of marriage.

22. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

Of course. Marriage still requires consent from both parties. Kids cannot consent to being married—or be held to just about any legal contract, for that matter.

23. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

Well, my 4-year-old might think so, given how many times she’s asked to “marry” me. But most reasonably intelligent adults understand this is not the case.

24. If not, why not?

Because same-sex marriage is about one previously excluded class of people being given access to the institution; it does not fundamentally alter the nature of that institution. Marriage is still at its core two people uniting in an intimate relationship and forming a common household. The idea that gays getting married somehow renders the institution meaningless is silly.

25. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Yes, absolutely. The Supreme Court was weighing in on the fourteenth amendment, not the first.

Caveat: please don’t mistake public disagreement for persecution. Christians who oppose same-sex marriage have the right to not be persecuted for their beliefs. None of us have the right to not be criticized.

26. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

Yes, if there is genuine persecution or discrimination taking place.

For example, if Coca-Cola fires someone because they signed a petition supporting traditional marriage, I would strongly object. If they fired someone for relentlessly badgering their LGBTQ coworkers, not so much.

On accreditation… I don’t wish to see Christian schools punished for maintaining a traditional evangelical view on homosexuality. But please bear in mind that accrediting agencies are private organizations. They have the right to set their own criteria. If they choose to rescind a school’s accreditation over its policies on homosexuality, it’s not necessarily valid to play the “government persecution” card.

Related question: if a wedding photographer has the right to refuse to serve a gay couple, shouldn’t a private accreditation agency have the right to refuse to serve a college it considers anti-gay?

27. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

Bullying is bad, period.

But are you really going to equate the bullying of evangelicals and Catholics with the bullying of gays and lesbians? Especially when 40% of the homeless youth population is LGBT? Especially when LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to attempt suicide?

Who’s the bigger bully here?

28. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

I hope churches that marry same-sex couples will offer premarital counseling beforehand, mentorship opportunities with older married couples, counseling for those in struggling marriages, etc. In other words, pretty much the same kind of support they offer to heterosexual couples.

To your point, perhaps this is an opportunity for all of us to commit ourselves to strengthening marriage.

29. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

LGBTQ members of the church should be held to the same standard of sexual ethics (fidelity within marriage) as heterosexual members.

30. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

See #29.

31. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

Preach and teach God’s Word as they always have. (They’re not all Bible-burning liberal apostates.)

32. If “love wins,” how would you define love?

I would define love as an active, robust commitment to the flourishing of others—a reflection of God’s commitment to our own flourishing.

Also, as all that’s necessary for the fulfillment of the law (see Paul in Romans 13)

33. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

Probably the same ones that you would… 1 Corinthians 13, Romans 13, etc.

34. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

Love is obedience to God’s command, according to both Jesus and Paul. If you love God and love (i.e. seek the good of) your neighbor, you are obeying God.

35. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Yes. We do it all the time. (Albeit badly.)

36. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

Sure. Once I changed from being an Arminian to a Calvinist, but it didn’t stick.

As much as you might want to uncover signs of a slippery slope, the truth is, everyone’s understanding of faith changes over time—or at least it should.

Or are we so bold to assume we have everything figured out already?

37. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

It hasn’t.

My passion for the historic orthodox faith—as expressed in the Nicene Creed, which I say every week without crossing my fingers—is unchanged by my perspective on gay marriage.

Well, perhaps that’s not entirely true. I hope I’m even more motivated to proclaim the good news of a God who loves everyone and wants everyone to know him.

38. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

There are plenty within my own tribe, the Episcopal Church, who are deeply committed to orthodoxy and evangelism. (Though we have room to grow, especially with respect to evangelism.)

At the same time, many of us would argue that making our churches more welcoming is an essential part of evangelism. Most gays and lesbians would never come and hear the gospel in your church, because they wouldn’t see it as a safe or welcoming space for them.

Removing barriers between people—barriers that shouldn’t be there in the first place—is an important step toward gospel proclamation. Not the only step, to be sure. In my context, our challenge is to make sure we take the next step after that. Your challenge is to take the first step.

39. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Yes, yes, and yes.

40. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

I think Paul had in mind the general sinful condition of all humanity, as demonstrated by his rhetorical turn in chapter 2.  Paul’s point in Romans 1-2 was that we are all guilty of idolatry (worshiping the creature instead of the Creator). Morgan Guyton observes that the vice list in chapter 1 was “intended to elicit disgust” from Paul’s Jewish audience, just before he dropped the rhetorical boom (“You, therefore, have no excuse…”).

Paul also said the people he’s referring to were “filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.” So, as Morgan notes, when you encounter gay Christians who clearly don’t rise to this level of depravity, you have to ask whether “same-sex marriage is evil” is really the point Paul is trying to make here.

—//—

Food for thought, I hope. I don’t expect anything I’ve written will change your mind. But I hope you’ll reconsider your assumption that those of us who see things differently than you are “swallowing everything the world and Facebook put on our plate.” Many of us have wrestled with, thought about, and, yes, prayed over these issues for a long time—especially those among us who are LGBTQ, for whom this is so much more than an “issue.” I hope, out of respect for them, these questions will become a conversation-starter instead of a discussion-killer.

—//—

Finally, some other responses that are well worth reading:

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, good news! 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 now able to wed.

2. Listen to the LGBTQ community.

Just about all of us know someone who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, 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 or gender identity 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.

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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 LGBTQ 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 LGBTQ 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.

—//—

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.”

Images by Ted Eytan on Flickr; A Guy Taking Pictures 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