I've been following the controversy regarding Derek Webb's latest album, "Stockholm Syndrome" and especially the song "What Matters More". The record label threatened to shelve the album, and Derek went on a viral campaign to get the music out there. He actually released segments of tracks of the songs so that die hard fans could piece together the music! Brilliant! Anyway, the controversy at first seemed to be about adult language in one of the songs, but when I finally heard the first verse of "what matters more" I knew that there was more to it than that. Here's the first line of the first verse.
"You say you always treat people like you like to be
I guess you love being hated for your sexuality"
Whoa! Can of worms.... opened.
Let me point out that this song is not discussing whether or not homosexuality is, or is not a sin, this song is talking about the the priorities of the church.
I am of the opinion that the church invests way too much energy, time, and money into issues that just serve as a distraction from our calling. Our God is a God who hears the cries of the oppressed, and as His people our calling is to hear that cry and answer. We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, taking His healing touch to those who are weary. We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and give water to the thirsty.
According to the World Health Orginization 1.1 billion people have no access to any type of improved drinking source of water. As a direct consequence:
- 1.6 million people die every year from diarrhoeal diseases (including cholera) attributable to lack of access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation and 90% of these are children under 5, mostly in developing countries;
- 160 million people are infected with schistosomiasis causing tens of thousands of deaths yearly; 500 million people are at risk of trachoma from which 146 million are threatened by blindness and 6 million are visually impaired;
- intestinal helminths (ascariasis, trichuriasis and hookworm infection) are plaguing the developing world due to inadequate drinking water, sanitation and hygiene with 133 million suffering from high intensity intestinal helminths infections; there are around 1.5 million cases of clinical hepatitis A every year.
As I was listening to the song and thinking about the calling of the church I began loooking around the internet to see what kind of response this song has been getting. One of the responses that I found fascinating was Brian McLaren's take on Acts 8 as it relates to the issue of how the church should treat those with same sex attraction. Here are Brian's words:
"For many years, I was like thousands of Christians: uncomfortable with the conventional approach to homosexuality - namely: it's a chosen lifestyle, and it's a sin. (I was also uncomfortable with the "anything goes" approach that was often - and falsely - presented as the only alternative.)
I knew from my many years as a pastor that sexual orientation was not a choice; I can't count the number of people who "came out" to me over the years, and never once did I have a person say, "This is a choice like any other sin issue. I'm just choosing to rebel, and if I repent, I will be different." They all had gone through months or years or decades of intense struggle and shame before coming to the point of saying, "This isn't a choice. It's a fact of my make-up. It's integral to who I am."
So, I was uncomfortable with the conventional approach, but I was unsure how to construct an alternative that was equally faithful to Scripture and faithful to the reality I saw in human beings who came to me as their pastor, friend, and family member. Over many years, that alternative has become more and more clear, and surprisingly (to some), it was a passage of Scripture that opened the way for me to see it.
While people have vigorously and sometimes viciously debated isolated verses in Leviticus, Romans, and 1 Corinthians (versus which, I explain in the book, may have very little or nothing to do with contemporary understandings of sexual orientation) ... Acts 8 was waiting with a story that is more powerful than many have realized.
It's a story about an African man who because of his race can never fit into the Jewish nation, and because of his sexual identity can never fit into the traditional family. As a eunuch, he can never be "healed" to become heterosexual. So now, through no choice of his own, he finds himself an adult who can never be categorized in traditional sexual roles. He has come to Jerusalem to worship God, but has, no doubt, been turned away - first because of his race and second because of his sexual identity: the Hebrew Scriptures explicitly excluded both Gentiles and people in his nontraditional, not-part-of-the-created-order sexual category.
Returning in his chariot to his home in a distant land, he is reading the prophet Isaiah. One passage seizes his attention. It's about a man who was led like a sheep to slaughter or a lamb to the shearers, despised and rejected, a man who would not have physical descendants, a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. A disciple of Jesus named Philip runs alongside the chariot and asks the man if he understands what he is reading. The man invites Philip into the chariot and asks if the writer was writing about himself or someone else - a question that suggests this man feels the prophet is talking about him in his sexual otherness: he too will have no descendants; he too has been rejected, misunderstood, despised, shamed ... he too has been brought like a sheep or lamb before people with cutting instruments.
Philip explains that this passage can be read to describe Jesus, and he shares the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God. As they pass a body of water, the man then asks if there is anything that could hinder him from being baptized. Anything that could hinder him - his race? His sexual identity?
Imagine what Philip might have said: "I need to contact the authorities in Jerusalem to get a policy statement on this issue. Maybe we should wait a few centuries until the church is more established. Baptizing you could cause real controversy in our fragile religious community. In the interests of not offending people back home, I'll have to say no. Or at least not yet."
But Philip doesn't answer with words; he responds with immediate action. They stop the chariot, and Philip leads him into the water and baptizes him.
Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. As early as Acts 8 in the story of Jesus and his apostles, the tough issues of race and sexual identity are being addressed head-on. But as we all know, as the years went on, both issues once again became obstacles. It's only in my lifetime that we have truly begun to put racism behind us - although even there, we still have a long way to go. Now, it's time for us to remove the second obstacle. Not in spite of the Bible, but because of it. We've lost a lot of ground since Acts 8. That's why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip's even more ancient church tradition."
I appreciate Brian's gentle and grace-full approach to this most sensitive subject.
I hope that the church can embrace our brothers and sisters that are attracted to the same sex, I hope that we can love them unconditionally, I hope that we can pray for God's best for them, I hope that we can see that we are all on level ground, at the foot of the cross, sinners, looking to Jesus as the only means of our salvation.