Monday, July 27, 2015

Living the Gospel (A sermon on John 6:1-15)

A large crowd has been following Jesus and apparently they haven’t eaten in some time. When Jesus raises the question about feeding this great multitude Philip seems overwhelmed by the need – and the need is great: “Six months wages could not buy enough food.”

But then Andrew comes at it from a different point of view. He points out that while they don’t have much, they do have a little: “There is a boy here who has five barely loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

One could read Andrew’s question the way we read Philip’s answer. Or one could read Andrew’s question in a more positive, hopeful vein as I do: Well, the need is great but we do have something. 

And Jesus does indeed do something doesn’t he? He turns the little into much. Out of their scarcity comes an abundance, so much abundance that there are 12 baskets of leftovers.

John makes it clear that this is a sign of the kingdom of God, a sign of God’s will and way in the world. John says, “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This indeed is the prophet who is come into the world.’” From the perspective of John’s Gospel this is a sign of what God wants to do and can do with our little.

Let’s think about this. What sort of miracle would it take to feed the hungry of the world? Are there any signs pointing to what God wants to do and can do in our world today?

Can better economic laws and policies provide food and justice for the impoverished and disadvantaged in our country and in the larger world? There is no question that can help, but that will not solve all our problems and or alleviate all poverty and inequality.
But it would help and we should all do what we can in that regard – to push for more just and fair economic practices and laws.

What about a change of hearts? What if more people were to experience a kind of personal conversion that liberates them from the love of money? What if more people were set free from their desire for possessions, power, prominence, and prestige and were compelled to be more hospitable and generous?

That would certainly help wouldn’t it? But would that completely solve the problem? We need both of these components working together. We need a change of hearts and a change of systems. These are two sides of the same coin.

Certainly our economic distributive systems are flawed, just as our minds and hearts are flawed. So both our hearts and minds - our personal selves, as well as our social, economic, and political systems, must be transformed. It can’t be just one or the other, it must be both. It can’t be just personal conversion and it can’t be just social justice. It has to be both.

This means that if we are going to live into the gospel, if we are going to live into God’s kin-dom, if we are going to live into the flow of God’s eternal life, if we are going to be part of God’s will and way in the world, then God has to change our hearts and minds and we have to work with God to change the systems of injustice and inequality in which we all live and in which we are all complicit. For whatever God is able to do – in our own personal lives and in the systems we are part of – will not happen without our cooperation and participation.

The two inseparable components here are personal conversion and social justice. Both pieces are absolutely necessary if we ever hope to create a more equitable and just world. Our motives, desires, attitudes, wants, and dreams have to change and then energy must be expended and risks taken to change systems of inequity, inequality, and injustice into more just and holistic systems.

This means that we have to speak and act on our faith.

Let’s says a Christian group known for its racism and participation in racist structures and systems of oppression finally, after years of complicity confesses its racism. Is that enough? And let’s say this same Christian group, which supported slavery and the Jim Crow laws, does nothing to make amends or restitution. Let’s say this same Christian group does nothing to correct conditions that have resulted from their past involvement in racism. Has that Christian group repented of their racism? What do you think? Remember what John the Baptist of the Synoptic tradition told the Jewish religious teachers and leaders who came out to be baptized in the Jordan. He scolded them, “Who warned you to flee the judgment to come? Bring forth fruit worthy of repentance.” Repentance without fruit is not authentic repentance.

One of the eight core principles that guides the Center for Action and Contemplation founded by Richard Rohr is this: We do not think ourselves into a new way of living, but we live ourselves into a new way of thinking. You can substitute “believing” for “thinking” and it means virtually the same thing: We do not believe our way into a new way of living, but live our way into a new way of believing.

Rohr seems to intuit what James says his little epistle, “Faith without works is dead. James asks, “What good is it, my brothers and sisters if you say you have faith but do not have works?” Can faith save you?” Read “save” here as liberate, change, transform. Can faith liberate you? Can faith transform you? As we live the gospel, as we engage in the works of Christ, faith will thrive and flourish.

If we lack faith, we need not sit around and wait for it. We can engage in the works of faith, and live as if we have it. We can live into our faith even while we ask God to increase our faith.

Alan Bean is the executive director of Friends of Justice, an organization that, among other things, is committed to building a moral consensus for ending mass incarceration and mass deportation. At one time he pastored in the Texas Panhandle community of Tulia, Texas.

On the morning of July 23, 1999, 47 alleged drug kingpins were arrested on the poor side of Tulia and charged with selling little baggies of powdered cocaine to a single undercover agent by the name of Tom Coleman. Coleman had no evidence to corroborate his stories, but on the basis of his testimony alone local juries handed down the stiffest sentences allowed by law. One young man received six 99-year sentences, to be served consecutively.

Then they learned that Tom Coleman  had been arrested on theft charges in the middle of the 18 month undercover operation. And before taking the Tulia job, he had worked as a deputy in another West Texas town, leaving in the dead of the night owing local merchants $10,000. Bean called another West Texas sheriff who hired Coleman even further back. He said, “If I had people in jail on that man’s uncorroborated word, I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night.”

Well, Alan and his wife Nancy were at a crossroads. They could pretend nothing happened and get on with their lives or they could take a prophet’s stand. They decided to stand. They started holding Sunday night meetings in their living room where the children, parents, and loved ones of the sting defendants gathered to sing gospel songs, dance, read letters from prison, and plot strategy.

They packaged the story for journalists. They reached out to advocacy groups across the nation. They got in touch with the governor’s office and made repeated trips to Austin to visit with legislators, handing out brochures that read: Moses, the Apostle Paul, and Jesus agree: no one should be convicted on the word of a single witness.

Gradually their efforts were rewarded. Two sisters in New York published a documentary on the story. Two international law firms saw the documentary and signed on to represent the defendants on a pro bono basis. ABC’s 20-20 sent a team to investigate. Even Bill O’Reilly covered the story on Fox.

Then came the backlash. Nancy was shunned at work by her fellow teachers. The brake lines were cut on their automobile. Their phones were tapped. Denominational officials told Alan that he was too radical to recommend to their churches. They were betrayed by friends.

After four years of struggle, a judge ruled that Tom Coleman lacked credibility under oath. All charges were dropped, prisoners were released from prison and eventually pardoned by the Governor. Tom Coleman was found guilty on aggravated perjury and the defendants and their lawyers received millions of dollars in reparation payments. A law was passed by the Texas Legislature demanding corroboration for single-witness testimony. The Department of Public Safety replaced unaccountable, and often corrupt, narcotics task forces. But Alan says that he and Nancy, his wife were too beat up to celebrate.

That’s living the gospel sisters and brothers. That’s following Jesus in the way of the cross. That’s what it means to embody the good news of liberation and be partners with God in the creation of a just world.

In our Gospel story, I think it is significant that it was a little boy who gave what little he had. He gave it freely and Jesus turned it into plenty.

I supposed there are lots of ways our little can be multiplied, but it is not going to happen without our giving and sharing in a spirt of gratitude. Instead of lamenting what we don’t have, let’s just give what we do have gratefully and see what God does with it. Of course, we can give a lot more than just our money can’t we? We can give our time and our abilities and our compassion and empathy.

We can make ourselves available to be living expressions of God’s grace and kindness and we can become agents of change. Of course, we can’t force change. We can’t force others to change; we can’t even force ourselves to change.

In our Gospel story some wanted to force Jesus to be king, so he withdrew from them. This alone should cause us to question the theology that says that Jesus is going to return in power and force everyone to submit to his Lordship. That is so not Jesus. That’s not how Jesus works. God doesn’t force anyone to do God’s will. What God wills is our good and that cannot be forced. God cannot force us to love deeply and give generously and live each day in gratitude and humility.

The language here in this story echoes the language of Holy Communion. Jesus takes the bread and gives thanks, and then he breaks it and shares with his disciples. He does the same with the cup. He takes it, gives thanks, pours it and shares it. Every time we share Communion together it should be a reminder of how to live the gospel. We take what we have, we give thanks, and we share it with others. And that’s how we live the gospel.

* * * * * * *

Our good God, sometimes when we survey the need, when we see the inequity and inequality in our economic system and the economic systems of the world, the injustice in government and business, the greed and arrogance that is so prevalent at every level of society, it can be overwhelming. Help us, Lord, to not lose hope and faith. Help us to remember that we all are created in your image and have an inherent goodness and that goodness can be reclaimed. Help us to see in the midst of all this your Spirit at work in people’s lives. And may our church, and the church at large embody the gospel by being communities that can teach others how to give generously, share graciously, love deeply, and to live lives of gratitude and joy. 

Saturday, July 25, 2015

I don’t get it! What have Christians lost?

Should Christians who are celebrating marriage equality empathize with those who are grieving over the Supreme Court ruling?  

The call to empathy comes from a colleague in ministry in a recent post. He writes,  

“Whether or not you agree with those who weep, they are still weeping today. They are experiencing loss. The world that they anticipated living into has changed. It’s not going back. It will never be the same. I’m not making any arguments about whether that is good or bad. . . . What I want to say today is that there are those among us who are mourning. What are we going to do about it?”

My colleague quotes Paul who says to the church in Rome, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15). He claims that “our first responsibility is to try to empathize with each other’s experience,” but the thrust of his admonition is aimed at those of us who are celebrating, not grieving.  He challenges us to be “wounded healers” (Henri Nouwen’s phrase) to those who have encountered marriage equality as “a train wreck” and have experienced “genuine loss and trauma.” He points out that we are all members of the body of Christ and he encourages us to empathize with those hurting so we might be “avenues of healing and conduits of grace.”

So what is it exactly that our sisters and brothers who are weeping have lost? According to my friend they have had to say good-bye “to something that was supposed to be there for the rest of their lives.” It’s “the loss of a cultural structure that has been around for multiple thousands of years.” They are depressed because “deep is their grief about a world that is changing in ways that violate their world-view.” That’s about as close as he gets to actually naming it.

What sort of “cultural structure” has been lost that is causing such deep grief? The last time I checked heterosexual marriage between one man and one woman with all the protections our legal system affords such a union is still very much in place. What has been lost other than the right to deny same-sex couples the same rights, privileges, and protections under the law that heterosexual couples have long enjoyed?

Is this something Christians should empathize with and grieve over?

Can you imagine after civil rights legislation passed in the Supreme Court, some white Christian leader admonishing African-Americans and their allies to stifle their celebrations and empathize with those grieving over “the loss of a cultural structure” that enabled segregation, discrimination, and oppression?

It’s relatively easy to name what my friend side-steps. What is lost is the right to deny and discriminate against same-sex couples. And thankfully one very conservative Supreme Court Justice who recognized this decided to right the wrong.

What you or I or anyone else believes about marriage is irrelevant here. The issue is equal protection under the law for a minority group that has suffered much for many years. This marginalized group has been finally vindicated (in part that is, there is still much more work to do to get these rights extended into the workplace). That is the cultural shift that anti-gay proponents and sympathizers are lamenting.

Can you imagine one of the classic Hebrew prophets who railed against Israel’s unjust leaders and their followers for enslaving the poor and depriving the most vulnerable of basic needs, calling for empathy toward the oppressors simply because they were all one people in covenant with God?

What does it mean to be a conduit of grace in such a context? For healing to occur the disease has to be confronted. Empathy is not what is needed. Liberation is what is needed. The demon has to be named and exorcised.

Is it even possible to empathize with oppressors who do not see or acknowledge the oppression their actions cause? I can love them, but I can’t empathize with them

So, to all my Christian friends who want us to tone it down and curtail our celebrations over marriage equality – please, have some empathy yourselves!

Let your “No be No” or your “Yes be Yes,” but please, spare us the sanctimonious religious rhetoric that mistakingly equates frustration and anger over the collapse of a cultural structure of injustice with legitimate and genuine loss that deserves real empathy!

This post was first published at the Unfundamentalist Christians blog.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The God of the Ark and the God of the Earth ( A sermon based on 2 Sam. 6:1-15; Psalm 24)

In 2 Samuel 6 David is now king over Israel. David has successfully brought the northern tribes and the tribe of Judah together, and he has established Jerusalem as the new capital and wants to bring the Ark of the Covenant there. The Ark was Israel’s most ancient symbol of the presence of God among the people. It was a chest made of wood and plated with gold. Its lid of solid gold was called the mercy seat. Two cherubim, which were angel like figures stood at opposite ends of the mercy seat. The Ark had been shelved for a long time in the house of Abinadab and now David wants to bring it to Jerusalem.

The story in 2 Samuel 6 begins with dancing and ends with dancing, but in the middle there is mourning. God rains death on the parade when Uzzah is struck down trying to steady the ark on the cart and that stops the procession in its tracks. David is both angry and afraid. David tells everyone to go home and the Ark is stored in the house of Obed-edom. I bet he thought, “How did I get so lucky?” But the storywriter says, “and the Lord blessed Obed-edom and all his household.”

If we read this story as a historical memoir it presents a real problem. And by the way, the same can be said for the story of Ananias and Sapphira in the book of Acts who fall down dead suddenly by the hand of God. This doesn’t jive very well with the picture of God as longsuffering and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in loving-kindness does it? It’s hard to imagine such inconsistency in the character of God.

This story reminds me of the one about the man who was driving to his cabin on the lake when just as he crossed the bridge that marked the final few miles his car stopped. His cell phone didn’t work in that location so he decided to walk the rest of the way in. About half way there came a torrential downpour. By the time he reached the road that led to his cabin he was drenched. Then, as he drew near suddenly a bolt of lightning came shooting out of the sky, hit his cabin and it went up in flames. It burned completely down. He leaned up against a tree and cried out, “Why God, why?” A voice rang out of heaven, “There is just something about you that ticks me off.”   

I can confidently assure you that this story was not written by our biblical storywriter to show us how quick God can get ticked off and zap someone. So why was it written? Or even more importantly: What does it teach us? 

According to OT scholar Walter Brueggemann David’s act of bringing the ark to Jerusalem, which David is establishing as Israel’s the new center of power, hints at political calculation and manipulation. Brueggeman says, “David’s new regime in Jerusalem is a radical departure from the old order and as such is in urgent need of legitimation.” Brueggemann argues that this act of reclaiming the ark and establishing it in Jerusalem is part of “a powerful propagandistic effort to assert the new regime as the rightful successor to the old tribal arrangement.” In other words, David is making political hay out of this by bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. He may have been religiously sincere as well, but this is most likely a calculated political move.   

Interpreters have also pointed out that in transporting the ark Mosaic regulations were disregarded. It was supposed to be carried by Levites using poles inserted through rings attached to the Ark. Here David and Abinadab employ the latest Philistine innovation – an ox cart to transport the Ark. It seems that the spiritual significance of the Ark is being trivialized in the interests of legitimizing political and religious power. So perhaps the storywriter is warning us of the danger of trying to manage and manipulate God for our own religious or political purposes – whether that be for ourselves as individuals or for our particular group.

We can do this in any number of ways, can we not? Some can use God, the scriptures, and their religious traditions to legitimize a life of luxury while they do relatively nothing to address the poverty all around them.  

Others can use God, the scriptures, and their religious tradition as a way to assert their  authority over others and to try to get others to do what they want – to believe what they believe, vote the way they vote, support what they support.

Some use God, the scriptures, and their religious traditions to legitimize all sorts of death-dealing “isms” in our culture, like militarism, nationalism, sexism, racism, consumerism, materialism, and exceptionalism.

In the very first church I pastored out of seminary I had a deacon who told me that at the wedding supper of the Lamb (and by the way, he understood this quite literally I think) – so at the great wedding banquet at the end of time when the returning Christ claims his bride - then the church, the true church, the Baptist church will join Christ at the supper as his bride. The guests at the banquet, he said, would be other Christians who just happen to get in, despite their errant ways. I know this sounds like a fictitious character out of one of Flanner O’Conner’s short stories, but this was a real, live, flesh-and-blood, Baptist deacon who said these things and he was serious.

We have no claim on God that is any different than anyone else’s claim on God. Our God has no intention of only blessing Americans or Christians to the exclusion of other nations or religious groups. I encourage those of you who are in to bumper sticker theology – how about one that says, “God bless us every one.”

How can we guard against this tendency and temptation – that we all face – to use and manage and manipulate God, our scriptures, and our Christian tradition for our own religious and political ends and self-serving purposes?

Perhaps one way to guard against this is to take very seriously what our best intuitive, true, spiritual self tells us and what the Psalmist tells us in this Psalm – namely, that the God of the Ark is the God of all the earth and all that inhabits this earth.

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it,” says the Psalmist. I have recently discovered the wonderful world of Celtic Christianity that emphasizes God’s pervasive presence in the world and in creation. Celtic Christian spirituality understands that the land cannot be owned and the Spirit cannot be divided, that the earth and all its inhabitants belong to God and we are called to live in harmony and at peace with all that is.

Celtic Christianity emphasizes humankind’s original goodness and the goodness of creation over sin. Now the Celtic Christians do not deny sin or underestimate the power of evil to deceive, destroy, and do terrible things. But Celtic Christians would say that our sin and evil is not the deepest thing about us. They would say that at the heart of humanity is the image and goodness of God, an inherent goodness – and yes, it is easily marred and obscured and distorted, but nevertheless it is deeper and truer than anything else. The task before us is to reclaim this inherent goodness and let it shine through.

The Divine Spirit that is in each of us gets smothered and covered over by our negativity and self-serving patterns of sin, but it is present and if we will tune in to the Spirit’s voice we can know God and participate in the original goodness and harmony of creation.

John Philip Newell says that during his days at Iona Abby in the Western Isles of Scotland his family had a dog named Joe, which in Gaelic means “spark of life.” Joe was a border collie, and he was true to his deepest instincts the whole of his life. Jo lived and breathed to round up, and if he was not rounding up sheep, he would try to round up children or tractors or even birds in the yard.

Jo’s favorite day of the week on Iona was Wednesday, which was pilgrimage day. Some Wednesdays upwards of a hundred people would walk the seven-mile route around the island reflecting on their lives and their place in the world while praying for peace. Joe was excited from the beginning of the day. He knew it was Wednesday long before Dr. Newell would take his shepherd’s crook to lead the walk. Jo was delirious with joy all day as he rounded up pilgrims and circled endlessly in the heather.

Newell says, “But it was not frenetic running. His instinct was fine-tuned. It had a purpose, a goal that he was sensitive to. It was to hold us together. So as we approached in silence the hermit’s cell (a circular stone ruin) at the heart of the island . . . Jo quieted down, still attentive to anyone who might be straying or falling behind but intently quiet in his work.” Newell says that when they finally would all gather in the circle of the hermit’s cell for prayer, Jo would enter the cell, lie down in the center, and sleep. Someone told Newell once, “Of course he lay down. His work was finished. He had brought you together in a circle.”

Joe’s deepest instinct was to bring them together. It’s an instinct that had been particularly bred into border collies. But it’s also an instinct, says Newell, that comes from the Heart of Life, from the One from whom all things come.

It’s true. This longing for unity, for oneness, for reconciliation is deep within us all. It’s a sacred longing. It’s part of our true self. It’s the longing of the living Christ – the Holy Spirit who dwells within. There are many things that come into our lives that quench this longing and that stifles the Spirit’s whisper. But if we listen carefully we can hear it and the longing can be reawakened no matter how long it has been dormant. You understand – it can be reawakened.

The psalmist asks, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place?” This is a psalm of ascent and the temple is being referenced here, but as the Psalmist has already made clear – the whole earth is God’s temple. We may set aside a certain place for worship and call it a holy place, but really every place is a holy place.
I love the words attributed to Jesus by John in John 4. As part of a conversation Jesus has with a woman of Samaria, she asks Jesus about holy places, whether one should worship at the holy place on mount Gerizim or on mount Jerusalem. Jesus says that it does not matter – that God is Spirit, so all that matters is the kind of spirit that permeates and pervades our lives. Those who truly worship God, says Jesus, are those who worship God in spirit and in truth.

This is what the Psalmist says: Who shall stand, live, dwell in union with God? The answer: “Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, and who do not lift up their souls to what is false, and do not swear deceitfully.” That’s not complicated. God is accessible to anyone whose actions and attitudes, whose works and motives are sincere, authentic, true, honest, centered on the good, and not laced through with deceit or falsehood. So the pressing question is: Are we opening our lives to God in humility, honesty, and with integrity

One of the first theologians representing the Celtic tradition was Palagius, who lived during the time of Augustine. Because the theology of Augustine won the day, Palagius has been too often misrepresented by traditional church historians. Palagius put the emphasis on original goodness, not original sin. He believed that when you looked into the face of a newborn child you were looking into the face of God. In a letter to a new Christian, he said, “You will realize that doctrines are inventions of the human mind, as it tries to penetrate the mystery of God. . . . It is not what you believe that matters; it is how you respond with your heart and your actions. It is not believing in Christ that matters; it is becoming like him.”

We will become like him, we will grow into Christ’s likeness, when we stop trying to manage God or manipulate God and our scriptures and Christian tradition for religious and political ends and self-serving purposes. We will grow into Christ’s likeness, when we tap into our inherent goodness and honestly, sincerely, truthfully, and humbly seek God and pursue the good of creation and the good of our sisters and brothers no matter how different they are from us.

As we eat this bread and drink this cup as one people, may this remind us of the oneness of all people and all creation – so let us partake in gratitude for the goodness of our common life and may we renew our commitment to pursue and express this divine goodness in our care for the earth and for one another.

Gracious God, we celebrate your goodness, a goodness that is part of us, basic to who we are as humans. Whenever we hurt someone, or say something mean, or do something that is offensive help us to realize that that is not who we are. Help us to uncover our original goodness and live out of that goodness as we grow into your likeness. Amen. 

Monday, July 13, 2015

What Does It Mean to Be a Bible Believer?

Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan recently wrote a piece titled, “40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags.” He laments that some within his evangelical ranks (friends, family members, church members) are “giving their hearty ‘Amen’” to a practice he thinks is a sin and is bad for the country. He poses these questions to “Bible believing Christians,” whom he also calls followers of Jesus. Many of the questions he asks relates either directly or indirectly to his limited and restricted view of what it means to be Bible believing.

I am certainly a follower of Jesus, but in what sense am I a Bible believer? Whenever the term “believer” appears in the New Testament it refers to those who trust Jesus as Lord and are committed to following him, not people who believe that God’s way and will has been encapsulated and codified in a book, as sacred and helpful as that book may be. That book was not even assembled until several centuries later.

This past Sunday Hershel York, a professor at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville and a pastor in Frankfort, Kentucky where I pastor wrote a piece opposite mine in our local paper in response to the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. His was a curious piece in that half the article was simply about defending the Bible. He wrote,

“Other Christians [progressives like me] see the Bible as stained by human frailty and riddled with error, requiring more enlightened thinking to discern the good parts from the bad. These Christians are embarrassed by and denounce parts of the same book that they read in weddings and funerals, sermons and Sunday School classes as a model for faith and life. They see no contradiction in quoting Paul’s lyrical description of love in 1 Corinthians 13 while at the same time denouncing his instruction on gender roles in 1 Corinthians 11.”

York is right that I see no problem endorsing Paul in one place and denouncing him in another. But he is dead wrong in assuming that I am embarrassed by it. For unlike DeYoung and York I do not believe for a minute that the Bible is an answer book. The Bible is a book made up of many books written over a period of several hundred years in a predominantly patriarchal Jewish context. These books do not reveal God’s infallible will, but reflect how the Jewish community and the early Messianic communities understood God’s will in their day and age.

As such the Bible mirrors the human struggle to discern and fulfill God’s will. The Bible does not dictate God’s will, but rather invites us into the same human struggle engaged in by the biblical authors and communities to love God and love our neighbors. Some biblical texts move us three steps forward, other texts take us two steps back. There are wonderful, liberating, enlightened, breakthrough texts and there are other texts that are punitive, petty, and life-diminishing. There are scriptures that confront and challenge the destructive “isms” of our world like nationalism, elitism, sexism, racism, militarism, consumerism, and materialism. Then there are other texts that endorse these very things, which is why people have used the Bible to support polygamy, slavery, patriarchy, the oppression of women, greed, and violence. The biblical writers were as human and fallible as each of us and were influenced by the same biases, weaknesses, and limitations that characterize us all.

A common objection I often here when I talk or write about this is that I pick and choose. My common response is that everyone does.  And this brings me to my second point about the Bible. All scripture does not have equal authority or carry equal weight for our personal lives and faith communities.

Every Christian should acknowledge this. Every Christian I know dismisses large sections of the Hebrew Bible. Who takes seriously the biblical law that says a child who disrespects his or her parents should be killed or the law that says that a virgin is the property of her father until married, and then becomes the property of her husband? Some respond by saying that Jesus abolished the law for Christians, which is a point that Paul makes. That doesn’t solve the problem for the biblical inerrantist, however, who must account for the kind of God who would give such laws in the first place.

Biblical inerrantists engage in selective reading of the New Testament just like us progressives. I don’t know very many conservative Christians who take seriously the texts that tell women to be silent in church (1 Cor. 14:33b-36), to wear a veil in church (1 Cor. 11:5-6), and to refrain from wearing jewelry, expensive clothes, and braided hair in church (1 Tim. 2:9). I can’t think of one Christian who in actual practice attributes to all scripture equal authority in their personal lives or churches. We all – conservatives and progressives – selectively read and apply scripture. We can do this randomly and haphazardly denying that we are doing it, or we can do this wisely and intentionally fully aware of our biases and why we give certain scriptures more authority than others.

Lastly and most importantly I believe that all scripture should be read through the lens of the story of Jesus. When I brew my coffee tomorrow morning I will use a filter. The end result will be fresh brewed coffee in my pot and coffee grains to be disposed of. The sacred story of Jesus presented in scripture is my filter for discerning and judging the value of scripture for our lives. I am not advocating, though, that we cut out and dispose of these scriptures that don’t make it through the filter, because they too have something important to teach us. They teach us how we can get God wrong and show us how our biases and beliefs can be as destructive as they are life transforming.

I believe that historical-critical analysis should be applied to the Gospels in the same way it should be applied to all scripture. This reveals that redactions (alterations, changes, embellishments, additions, and deletions) to the stories that constitute the biblical Gospels occurred both in the process of oral transmission (when the stories were passed on by word of mouth) and at the time of final editing and composition. But I also believe that the overall story of Jesus presented in the Gospels is reliable. In other words, while there are literary and theological embellishments because the Gospels are first of all proclamations of the living Christ and not historical reports, they nevertheless each give us a trustworthy portrait of Jesus of Nazareth.

Because I am first and foremost a Christian – a follower of the way of Jesus – and not a “Bible believer” in the sense that all the Bible is infallible truth, the sacred, scriptural story of Jesus takes precedence and priority over everything else.

In addition to reading the rest of scripture through the filter of the Jesus story, I also apply this filter to my own personal experience of and communion with God (mystical experience). I believe God is accessible and available anytime, anyplace – that God dwells within each one of us and is equated with our true selves.

It’s interesting to note how Paul’s personal encounter and experience of the living Christ trumped everything. Paul based his apostolic authority, not on scripture, but his mystical experience of Christ (1 Cor. 15:3-11; Gal. 1:6-17; Philip. 3:4b-11). No belief or action functioned as a precondition to this encounter. He claimed that it was completely by grace and it changed him from a persecutor of Christians to a proponent and missionary of the Jesus movement. This is why some Pauline scholars describe Paul as a Jewish Christ mystic.

In addition, I have no doubt that Jesus’ understanding of God as Abba and as the indwelling Spirit who is as close and accessible as the air we breathe was rooted in his own personal experience of God.

I also filter through the sacred, scriptural story of Jesus my use of reason, common sense, and basic intuition of what is right and good to discern God’s will.

There are several examples in the Gospels of Jesus utilizing rational experience in his understanding of God’s will. For example, when he was accused of casting out demons by the power of Satan he reasoned to his critics that a kingdom divided against itself cannot stand. He responded to a number of entrapping questions by the religious leaders with reason and common sense.

In addition I read Christian tradition (interpretations, liturgies, litanies, hymns, creeds, confessions) and Christian praxis in various historical and cultural contexts through the sacred story of Jesus.

One example of how Christian tradition can be helpful in interpreting scripture is by knowing that many interpreters in the history of the church regarded the literal meaning of scripture to be the least important meaning. A number of ancient interpreters such as Origen and Augustin believed that the metaphorical, spiritual, or allegorical meaning of a text was more important than its literal meaning. They likened the literal meaning to the physical body and the spiritual or symbolical meaning to the soul that gives the body life.  

Interestingly in his column York claims, “We [biblical inerrantists] believe that the proper way to read the Bible is the same way we want our pharmacist to read our doctor’s prescription, discerning the author’s original intent rather than imposing any foreign meaning on the text.” This assumes that the biblical authors intended their writings to be understood literally, an assumption that many biblical scholars question. It also limits the capacity of the Spirit to use a text to speak to us in new, fresh ways. This is what interpreters mean when they speak of the Spirit’s inspiration of texts that invests these sacred texts with a surplus of meaning. The Spirit can breathe new meaning into these ancient, sacred texts. This belief that the literal meaning of the text is the primary meaning of the text is a belief that only came to prominence in the last couple of centuries.

By reading the Christian creeds through the filter of the story of Jesus we can assess the value of these past declarations. For example, it is helpful to know that while the Nicene Creed expresses doctrines that one might believe and nothing about what Christians should actually do, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s Gospel is all about what followers of Jesus should do and how they should live, while saying nothing about what Christians should believe.  

Then finally, I apply the filter of the Jesus story to my reading, evaluation, and appropriation of other religious texts and practices from other faith traditions.

Such texts are obviously less important to followers of Jesus than the Christian scriptures, but they can be helpful. Truth is truth wherever truth is found. There are perennial truths that transcend particular religious expressions of these truths. For example, the pattern of death and resurrection, of dying and being reborn is found in a number of religious traditions.

So do I believe the Bible? Am I a Bible believer? It all depends on how you use and what you mean when you employ the phrase. The Bible is my primary source for discerning God’s will today, but I am certainly not a bible believer in the narrow and restricted way DeYoung and York employ the phrase. I would never utilize that terminology, because what I am first of all is a Christian. I am a follower of Jesus. I strive to obey his teaching preserved in sacred scripture and listen to the contemporary voice of the living Christ (the Holy Spirit at work within me, the church, and in many other countless ways in our world) who inspires and invests these ancient texts with ever new, fresh, life changing meaning. 

(This post was first published as a Perspective piece at Baptist News Global.)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Seeing Is Believing (Sermon from Mark 6:1-13)

When President Obama spoke to the nation after the Supreme Court ruling that legalized same-sex marriage he urged respect for the opponents of same-sex marriage whose views are "based on sincere and deeply held beliefs." Then he said, “There is so much more work to be done to extend the full promise of America to every American. But today, we can say in no uncertain terms that we've made our union a little more perfect. That's the consequence of a decision from the Supreme Court, but more importantly, it is a consequence of the countless small acts of courage of millions of people across decades who stood up, who came out, talked to parents, parents who loved their children no matter what, folks who were willing to endure bullying and taunts, and stayed strong, and came to believe in themselves and who they were, and slowly made an entire country realize that love is love. What an extraordinary achievement, but what a vindication of the belief that ordinary people can do extraordinary things.” He concluded, "Those countless, often anonymous heroes, they deserve our thanks. They should be very proud. America should be very proud."

Ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Jesus is indeed doing some extraordinary things, though he is considered to be quite ordinary. He is healing people. He is liberating people from their demons. He is challenging the status quo and confronting the religious establishment.

The folks in Jesus’ hometown acknowledge this or at least some of this. They say, “What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands.” So what is holding them back? Why can’t they join in and be part of the movement that Jesus has inaugurated? Why can’t they participate with Jesus in what he calls the kingdom of God?

They say, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us.” Then Mark adds, “And they took offense at him.” They took offense. Why? Because they knew his family. Because he was a carpenter by trade. Because he was so ordinary. How could someone so ordinary be so extraordinary? And this blinded them.

The text says that Jesus was “amazed at their unbelief” and was limited in what he could do there. They could not believe because they could not see and they could not see because they couldn’t get past how ordinary Jesus was. They couldn’t get past their limited worldview, their narrow vision of reality, and so they couldn’t believe that Jesus could be more.

What is it that we can’t get past that restricts and limits our vision – that diminishes our capacity to see? It could be our unwillingness to forgive someone who has hurt us and we want to see them pay and so we keep playing these grievance stories in our minds over and over. It could be our unwillingness to pursue a path of forgiveness.

It could be what I mentioned last week - that which Richard Rohr calls “stinking thinking” - our way of processing and responding and relating to events and circumstances and other people who rub us the wrong way.

It could be our preoccupation with what 1 John calls “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” – our need for power, prominence, possessions, and prestige. There are lots of things that can limit our vision and restrict our capacity to trust and embody and share God’s love.

And it could be a particular issue that consumes us and blinds us to other realities. Dwight Moody, a former professor at Georgetown College who is now the President of the Academy of Preachers based in Lexington (and who spoke here on one occasion) wrote a good piece for BNG this past week.

In his post he calls attention to a colleague who is full of fear and angst and travail over the recent Supreme Court Decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Moody basically asks the question, “Why this?” Why are these Christians so alarmed about same-sex marriage that doesn’t harm anyone – it simply extends equal rights and protections under the law to more people – why are these Christians so concerned about same-sex marriage when they have failed to be alarmed about such concerns like racism, which is still very much with us as we are witnessing today. Or gun violence. In spite of all the recent violence in our country we can’t even pass common sense gun legislation that would call for background checks. There is a clear disdain for the poor among people of power in our country and resistance to government helping the disadvantaged. We have this huge income inequality that is greater in our country than anywhere else in the free world. Why hasn’t there been more concern over these pressing issues? 

Moody writes, “Why is gay marriage the decisive move that makes ‘Bible-believing people’ strangers in our own culture? I am already a stranger, an alien in a land where the wealthy get richer and the poor get poorer, where the alien among us is treated with contempt and anger, where war is the quick and expensive option to international disputes, where poor people are locked up, often on death row, because they cannot afford lawyers, where corporations rape the good earth and then pay ‘scholars’ to testify that they are not harming the earth . . . “

Moody calls us to wake up. He says, “Wake up, Evangelicals. Shake your neighbor in the pew next to you out of this fog of denial and despair. God is at work in the world, redeeming, lifting, saving, transforming, rescuing even the perishing, even if you cannot see it because of the bushel under which you are hiding.”

Well, that’s what we all need to do isn’t it? Even as I critique my sisters and brothers who are stuck on this single issue that blinds them to so much real injustice in the world I have to ask myself, “Where am I am stuck? Where am I blind? What is it that keeps me from seeing God at work in ordinary people doing extraordinary things that may on the surface of things look quite ordinary? What am I missing?” 

In our text the rejection of Jesus by his hometown folks is followed by Jesus sending out the Twelve who are given authority to do the very same kind of works Jesus was doing. These are just ordinary persons – fishermen, a tax collector, a former insurrectionist – common called by Jesus to engage in some very extraordinary works.

When you think about it, who are we to even say what is ordinary and what is extraordinary? Each of us are both. How very ordinary and extraordinary we all – each one – are, for we share in the same identity as Jesus.

I love the way the little epistle of 1 John puts it, “See what love the Father (our Abba) has bestowed upon us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world [the domination system] does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed” (3:1-2a). Don’t you love that? We are God’s daughters and sons right now! – there is nothing to earn, there are no hoops to jump through, no doctrines or religious creeds to believe, no rituals to perform, not even a confession to make – we are, right now, the very children of God in whom the divine nature, the Spirit of God dwells.

Now as we claim this reality and grow into this reality we will believe some things, we will confess some things, we will participate in some rituals and spiritual practices, we will engage in acts of kindness and work that promotes justice and peace, but we do not earn in any way our identity as the children of God. And by virtue of that identity we are of infinite worth and value. And that should be enough to set us on a path of healing and liberation from our low self-esteem, from our insecurities and fears, and from our false attachments and addictions that we use to fill the void in our souls that is present when we fail to see just who we are in Christ. And when we realize that everyone else is just as loved and just as valuable as we are then we are empowered to love our neighbor as ourselves – regardless of that neighbor is.

Public theologian and writer Fred Clark emphasizes how both parts of that are extremely necessary and important. He puts it this way: “You’re no more valuable than anyone else, and no one else is more valuable than you. If you believe that you are of infinite, inestimable value, but you fail to recognize that’s true of everyone else, too, then you’re headed to runaway ego inflation and the sin of treating other people as things. If you recognize that others are of infinite, inestimable value, but you fail to recognize that’s also true of you, then you’re headed for misery and the sin of mistaking yourself for a thing.”

Now, when we can see ourselves as a beloved child of God and everyone else too just as beloved, then we have a new platform for seeing reality and living that reality. Seeing is believing, and seeing is also loving. Whenever we do cruel or destructive or evil things to ourselves or others it is because we do not see. If we see we will love. If we do not love then we do not see and believe.

An old Indian lady from New Mexico shared this story: “Our parents never really taught us about prayer. We didn’t memorize prayers. But every morning, my mother would wake us up, and as little children we’d have to sit on the steps of our house facing east. And she’d say, ‘Be quiet. You have to be quiet while you sit here. You sit here and watch the sun come up.’ Me and my brothers and sisters would have to sit on the steps and watch the sun rise every morning. ‘As the sun comes,’ my mother would say to us, ‘welcome it. Welcome it to the world. And tell it, as it goes over the earth, it should drop its blessings on all people.’ That was our prayer every day.” This mother was teaching her children how to see. She was teaching them how to love.

What can we do to help us learn how to see and trust and love? Once upon a time a small Jewish boy went to his rabbi and said that he didn’t know how to love God. “How can I love God when I have never seen God,” asked the boy. The rabbi said to the boy, “Start with a stone. Try to love a stone. Try to be present to the most simple and basic thing so that you can see its beauty and goodness. Start with a stone.”

“Then,” said the rabbi, “try to love a flower, be present to a flower and let its beauty come into you. You don’t need to pluck it or possess it. Don’t destroy it. Just love it there in the garden.”

Next the rabbi singled out the boy’s pet dog and told him to love his dog. Then he said, “Try to love the mountains and the sky and the beauty of creation. Let its sights and smells sink into you. Be present to the creation in its many forms. Let creation speak to you and come into you.”

Then said the rabbi, “After you have loved the creation try to love a woman. Try to be faithful to a woman and sacrifice yourself for her.” Then said the rabbi, “After you have loved a stone, a flower, your little dog, the mountains and sky and creation, and a woman, then you will be ready to love God.”

What was this Rabbi trying to teach the boy? I think what the rabbi was trying to teach is that the way we enter into communion with God and the experience of God is through all that is, through all reality, because in some sense, in some degree God is part of all reality. And I sense too that the rabbi wanted to impress upon the boy that spiritual illumination and love come in stages and is part of our evolving journey. Learning how to see and how to trust and how to love is our evolving journey.

What may be keeping us today from seeing what is real, and trusting what is real, and loving what is real? We may need someone to believe in us and put their trust in us the way Jesus did with his disciples who he entrusted with the power and authority to represent the cause and way of God in the world. And just as we need others to believe in us, so they need us to believe in them.

* * * * * * * *

Our good God, thank you for our birthright to be your children. Help us to see how loved and worthy we are and how what is true of us is also true of everyone else. If we are stuck, if we are preoccupied and predisposed in ways that are blinding us and keeping us from growing in wisdom and love, then somehow and someway get our attention, make us aware, help us to wake up and see, so that we become the kind of daughters and sons who reflect real wisdom, faith, and love. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Why Christians Can and Should Support the Supreme Court Decision on Marriage Equality.

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision now makes same-sex marriage the law of the land which Christians can and should support. Here’s why.

First, Christians can support same-sex marriage because there is nothing anti-Christian about it. Some Christians speak of marriage as if there is a clear, consistent, unchanging biblical model. For example, ia statement issued by Ronnie Floyd of the SBC and signed by 16 past presidents they affirmed, among other things,

“What the Bible says about marriage is clear, definitive, and unchanging. We affirm biblical, traditional, natural marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant for a lifetime. The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable.” 

The problem, however, which more Christians are coming to see, is that there simply is no “clear, definitive, and unchanging” biblical view.

Consider how polygamy was practiced throughout the biblical world without a single bible verse condemning the practice. Abraham, Moses, David, all the great biblical heroes of the faith were polygamists. In fact, Genesis 2:24 was never understood in Israel as excluding polygamy. They believed that through the act of sexual intercourse a man could become “one flesh” with more than one woman.

In the patriarchal, biblical world marriages were often arranged and women, whom we would consider still children or youth, were wed to older men. Women were often given an economic value as one would assign to a commodity in the marketplace. In that world a man could not commit adultery against his own wife; he could only commit adultery against another man by sexually using the other’s wife. According to biblical law a woman was to be stoned to death if she was not found to be a virgin before her marriage (Deut. 22:13-21). There was no such law for men. Even New Testament instructions to husbands and wives commonly assumed a patriarchal worldview (see Eph. 5:21-33; Col. 3:18-19; 1 Peter 1:3-4).

Jesus says absolutely nothing about same sex relations or marriage, and his one specific reference to marriage is a quote from Genesis 2:24, not for the purpose of affirming some clear, incontrovertible, traditional law of marriage, but for the purpose of prohibiting divorce (Mark 10:2-9). (Why Jesus prohibited divorce is subject to various interpretations. In the Jewish world of Jesus’ day Jewish men could divorce their wives for any reason whatsoever, but Jewish women could not divorce their husbands. I suspect Jesus was trying to level the playing field.)

But while Jesus says nothing about same-sex marriage, in story after story in the Gospels Jesus crossed boundaries, tore down walls, overstepped social mores, and challenged scriptures, traditions, and customs that separated and segregated people into acceptable and unacceptable categories. He did this as a son of Abba and for the cause of God’s kingdom (God’s will and way) in the world.

There are only three specific texts in the New Testament that mention same-sex sexual relations in a judgmental way (Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10). The problem here, as biblical scholars point out (including a growing number of evangelical scholars) is that we don’t know what the biblical writers were condemning – male-boy sex, master-slave sex, temple prostitution, or indulgent sex by heterosexuals who engage in homosexual relations.

What is clear is that the condemnation in these texts relates to either exploitative or excessive sexual relations, not the kind of loving sexual relations that would characterize a faithful, monogamous same-sex marriage. That the biblical writers would have understood sexual orientation as a state of being over which one has no choice would have been about as likely as their knowledge of the function of atoms and electrons.

Because of these considerations Christians can support same-sex marriage.

Second, Christians should support same-sex marriage regardless of what one personally believes about marriage because treating same-sex couples with dignity and respecting their rights to have equal protection under the law is the right thing to do.

Conservative Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the hope of gay people intending to marry "is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right." 

Christians should distinguish between their own personal beliefs about what constitutes a Christian view of marriage and government recognized marriage as a civil union granting equal rights and protections under the law.

The threats some Christians are making about defying the law make no sense. What is there to defy? No federal, state, or local government agency will ever require Christian ministers to perform same-sex weddings. That too is a Constitutional right guaranteed by the First Amendment. Of course, there will always be ministers like myself who will perform same-sex weddings.

There are Christians today who celebrate the Supreme Court’s legalization of same-sex marriage across the country and there are Christians who agonize over it adamantly disagreeing with the interpretative points I made earlier, but there is no good reason why any Christian should not uphold and support the law. 

(This post was first published at Baptist News Global and the Frankfort State Journal).

Breaking Down Southern Baptist Rhetoric Against Same-Sex Marriage

While Southern Baptists have been vocally repenting of their support for slavery and Jim Crow since 1995, they have done virtually nothing to actually make amends. One of their own members, an African American pastor, noted that if the SBC was serious they would champion policies that would actually make a difference, such as criminal justice reform, education reform, and the alleviation of child poverty (and we could add others like immigration reform and confronting voter suppression laws).

So, did Southern Baptists make any attempt to bring forth fruits worthy of repentance when they met in Columbus for their annual meeting (the hate killing of the Emanuel Nine took place after their convention)? Oh no, it was oppositional energy that fueled the fire, not a vision for the common good.

Instead they passed a resolution against same-sex marriage asserting that traditional marriage is the clear teaching of Scripture. In a statement supporting the resolution issued by current SBC President Ronnie Floyd and signed by 16 past presidents they affirmed, among other things,

What the Bible says about marriage is clear, definitive, and unchanging. We affirm biblical, traditional, natural marriage as the uniting of one man and one woman in covenant for a lifetime. The Scriptures’ teaching on marriage is not negotiable.

Ronnie Floyd, addressing the Convention said,

Our first commitment is to God and his word – nothing else and no one else. And I want to remind everyone today, humbly, the Supreme Court of the United States is not the final authority, nor is the culture itself, but the Bible is God’s final authority about marriage, and on this book we stand. [emphasis mine]

In Southern Baptist rhetoric the Bible always trumps Jesus’ life and teachings in the Gospels when it comes to same-sex marriage. The reason is obvious: Jesus says absolutely nothing about same sex relations or marriage. Jesus’ one specific reference to marriage is a quote of Genesis 2:24, not for the purpose of affirming some clear, incontrovertible, traditional law of marriage, but for the purpose of prohibiting divorce (Mark 10:2-9). (Why Jesus prohibited divorce is subject to various interpretations. In the Jewish world of Jesus’ day Jewish men could divorce their wives for any reason whatsoever, but Jewish women could not divorce their husbands. I suspect Jesus was trying to level the playing field.)

There was no clear, definitive, unchanging law with respect to marriage in the Jewish biblical world. This is where Southern Baptist rhetoric is not only disingenuous but dishonest. Fox News pundit Cal Thomas recently made the same mistake. He argued that if the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage they would be going against scripture by making possible the legalization of polygamy and adult-child marriage. It’s a convoluted argument, I know, but my point here is that he assumes that the traditional marriage of one man and one woman is the clear biblical pattern.

What’s dishonest about this? It is clearly not the biblical pattern. Polygamy was practiced throughout the biblical world without a single Bible verse condemning the practice. Abraham, Moses, David, and all the great biblical heroes of the faith were polygamists. In fact, Genesis 2:24 was never understood in Israel as excluding polygamy. They believed that through the act of sexual intercourse a man could become “one flesh” with more than one woman.

In the patriarchal, biblical world marriages were often arranged and women whom we would consider still children or youth were wed to older men. Women were often given an economic value as one would assign to a commodity in the marketplace. The oppressive nature of biblical marriage is reflected in the fact that a man could not commit adultery against his own wife; he could only commit adultery against another man by sexually using the other’s wife. According to biblical law a woman was to be stoned to death if she was not found to be a virgin before her marriage (Deut. 22:13-21). There was no such law for men. Even New Testament instructions to husbands and wives commonly assume a patriarchal worldview (see Eph. 5:21-33Col. 3:18-191 Peter 1:3-4).

So do we really want biblical marriage? And where is the clear, unchanging, consistent biblical ethic on marriage?

In the statement signed by the former SBC presidents they say, “We stake our lives upon the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus.” This is the only reference to Jesus in the statement. If they truly claimed the life and testimony of Jesus then, I have no doubt, they would accept and affirm same-sex marriage. For while Jesus said nothing at all regarding same-sex relations or marriage, in story after story in the Gospels, Jesus crossed boundaries, tore down walls, overstepped social mores, and challenged scriptures, traditions, and customs that separated and segregated people into acceptable and unacceptable categories. He did this as a son of Abba and for the cause of God’s kingdom (God’s will and way) in the world.

The SBC rhetoric goes downhill from here. When the 2015 SBC Convention convened the Supreme Court had yet to make their landmark decision legalizing marriage in all 50 states, but SBC leaders seemed to anticipate that a decision favorable to same-sex marriage was coming. Ronnie Floyd called this “a Bonhoeffer moment for every pastor in the United States.” How crazy is that?

Bonhoeffer was the German pastor who opposed Hitler by forming the Confessing Church. Bonhoeffer paid the ultimate price for his opposition with his life. Quoting Bonhoeffer Floyd proclaimed, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak, and not to act is to act.”

I suspect that many progressive Christians like myself would call the SBC’s treatment of our LGBT sisters and brothers “evil,” but we surely wouldn’t use Bonhoeffer as our example. I have encountered some opposition from my conservative Christian sisters and brothers, especially Southern Baptists, because of my public support for same-sex marriage and LGBT inclusion in my conservative Bible belt town, but I am not persecuted. And neither are my SBC sisters and brothers. For Floyd to draw upon Bonhoeffer here is not only a real stretch, it is a disservice and dishonor to Bonhoeffer’s good name. Now that same-sex marriage is the law of the land I’m sure we can expect from the religious right another bombardment of extreme rhetoric about religious persecution.

Of course, no federal, state, or local government agency is going to make SBC ministers perform same-sex weddings. Same-sex couples will ask who they want to ask, and if by chance a Southern Baptist minister is ever asked, he (it surely wouldn’t be a she) can politely (or not so politely) say “No.” But think about it. What same-sex couple would ever ask a SBC minister to perform their wedding?

Now that same-sex marriage is legal, we can expect SBC leaders to raise their rhetorical thunderings to a new pitch. Some of it will be of the looney tunes variety, which would be amusing if not so sad.

(This article was first published at the Unfundamentalist Christians blog)