7.27.2009

what matters more?



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.
What a powerful testimony it would be if the church embraced the call to "love thy neighbor" and put all of our time, energy, money and political clout into providing clean water in the name of Jesus to our neighbors around the world? But it's so easy to get distracted from our calling when we are spending our energies debating who can and who cannot be a part of our club.

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.

9 comments:

Gina said...

Awesome. I'm formulating my own soapbox about this also. It's funny how suddenly it means so much more to me now that the issue is more personal. I feel like I need to stand up because I see and hear the oppressed now. I see how the church has missed it. I see how things can be better. I just wish there were more churches(or any around SR) that saw this issue the same way.

Cazz Deluca said...

Great song. I think the language element is the dagger driven into the hypocrisy that we as a church like to treat like a red-headed stepchild. Very interesting.

rudy gonzalez said...

we just now started to carry a product that makes 7.5 gallons of drinking water out of the air. crazy for only $1500 you are right i am all about clean water in the name of Jesus
!

Thomas said...

Up to your old tricks again I see Jimmy. I like it when you blog.

Ok. I am so with you on this. But who isn't? Mellissa and I brainstormed for a minute and could thing of 0 preachers of some kind of notoriety who are preaching a pro-hate people because of their sexuality doctrine. I think we need to move on from this, and from my perspective it appears that to a large extent we have.

Now, I am sure there are crazies out there that are still bashing gays in Jesus name, but that is becoming as obviously ridiculous as bowing to the grand master dragon at a klan rally. Those people are the outcasts. Not the ones they hate.

I feel that Derek Webb, and Brian McLaren have set up a straw man argument. In the name of advancing an agenda (an open and affirming agenda), they have set up a straw man on the other side. Reading this I would assume there are two positions, those that believe in an open and affirming doctrine, and those that hate people of other sexual identities.

I propose that there is still some level of validity to an in between position. All people are to be loved, and respected, but all sin is to be hated. Call me cliche. I know. This seems to be what is orthodox among believers in my circles today.

Are things different in your neck of the woods? Is the church really bogged down in hating gays? Or are we saying the same thing?

jimmy said...

Hi Thomas, good to hear from you. This reminds me of our debates across the office.
I would say that there aren't any "pro-hate" preachers in our area, certainly nothing like Fred Phelps and the "God hates fags" people. (By the way, Derek Webb's album has a song on it written from God's perspective asking Fred why he does the things he does.) But I would say that there is a subtle way that most churches treat gay believers that makes them feel like second class citizens.
You mentioned, "love the sinner, hate the sin" but I think that the church is far too eager to point out homosexuality. I think it would be great if we were as accepting of homosexuals as we are of people who have gone through divorce (which God hates), or gossipers, or liars. See what I mean? The church accepts those people most of the time with no questions asked. If you were told to your face that you were accepted and then constantly reminded that you are a sinner would you feel loved?
I would also like to point out that the vast majority of gay people feel that homosexuality is part of their identity, not just an activity that can be judged sinful or not. Whether or not you agree with that stance, to remind them that they are sinners makes them feel like God hates them not for what they do, but for who they are.
I think that McClaren has a valid point, the African man in the chariot has many marks against him when it comes to being a follower of Jesus, but Phillip welcomes him with open arms when the African man asks "is there anything that can hinder me from being baptized."

I heard a story the other day about Billy Graham. He had been invited to a rally in support of Bill Clinton. This was shortly after President Clinton's sexual indiscretions and subsequent impeachment. Billy and his whole family were at this rally and a conservative Christian reporter asked him this question: "How can you support a man who cheated on his wife and lied to the entire country about it?" Here is Billy's response: "It's the Holy Spirit's job to convict, it's God's job to judge, it's my job to love."

Let's focus on loving all and leave the business of convicting and judging to God. God is highly effective at doing His job, I doubt he needs our help.

One thing that has been very helpful as I process these thoughts has been to see it from another perspective. I am friends with a gay Christian and I've talked through many of these things with him. The subtle ways that churches treat those with same sex attraction really come to life when you stop talking about an abstract people group, and you start talking about a real life person. i.e."this is the way that the church is treating gays" vs. "this is the way that the church has treated John."

If you're interested in exploring this further check out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBMbNSyqwkA

http://www.loveisanorientation.com/2009/part-1-the-barna-groups-research-on-glbt-spirituality/

and http://moremusingson.blogspot.com/

Thomas said...

I think you hit the issue on the head Jimmy. When you say that most homosexuals see it as their identity rather than their behavior I think you are accurate. That is what makes this such a difficult issue. This is what has drawn the line in the sand.

I truly believe that a believer can love someone even though they disagree with their behavior. But if I am told the behavior is their identity, it puts me in a really tough place. Yes, God hates all sin, but this act is unique in that no other sin is so embraced as an identity by those who practice it. It leaves me with the choice to say, I either love the identity of a person or hate that identity. That is a tough position to be in.

I pastor a church called restoration community and we had a homosexual man join us recently. To me it is a matter of treating homosexuality as other sins like you say Jimmy. We do accept and welcome people who struggle with all behaviors. But we will not make exclusions for certain sins, because they are considered an identity. Everyone needs restoration, and I believe it would be a horrible act of discrimination if I did not make God's restoration available to all.

This is hateful speech to some, but I believe homosexual behavior is detrimental to those who practice it. I will not deny homosexuals the restoration that is available to them by concluding it is an identity that God loves.

But I truly don't know. I am trying to figure this out too. In the end we are all doing our best to love people.

Rich said...

Acts 8:26-40 The Ethiopian,a eunuch, of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, ...... This man was not of any particular sexual orientation He was a man who had chosen service for His Queen and Country and submitted to becoming a eunuch as a condition of service in the Queens Court. It is deceptive to twist this mans honorable position and service for the purpose of justifying our own sin. I say "our" because if we do not warn of the danger of peril to those who are living in sin we partake in that sin with them and so are in that same peril ourselves. Be pure Matthew 5:8. Innocent of the blood of those we teach the word of God Acts 20:18-27.

jimmy said...

Jesus specifically mentioned three different types of eunuchs in Matthew 19:12; those born eunuchs (many scholars believe this to be synonymous with homosexual, or asexual men), those made eunuchs by men (castration), and those who chose to be a eunuch for spiritual reasons (celibacy). We are not told in the Acts passage which of these the Ethiopian Eunuch is.
The point that McLaren makes is valid whether the Ethiopian chose his current state or not.
His point is that he cannot change his current state.
If we are discussing how the church should behave towards someone who cannot change the way they are then the example that Philip gives us is a beautiful picture of God's amazing grace.

And, I'd like to point out, there have been several comments about sexuality and only one about clean water. Our generation is the first that has a real chance of making a world wide change that could provide clean water, carrying out the command to love our neighbors.

As the song says: "What matters more?"

Since 2004 Blood Water Mission has completed 617 water projects in 11 countries, providing clean water, hygiene and sanitation training to more than 460,000 people in Africa.

Katie and I are proud to support Blood Water Mission.
Learn more at: http://www.bloodwatermission.com/

Bob said...

Thank you all for the challenging thoughts. The "Church" has indeed alienated the gay and lesbian community and to some degree still does, if not overtly then just below the surface. I still am of the belief that homosexuality is not what God intended for us as his creatures and in that respect it still can be labeled a sin. No worse or better than any other. I don't like the phrase Hate the sin love the sinner because far too many so called Christians do too much hating. I don't have any good answers as to the cause of same sex attraction. I do know there are many contributing factors and when several are visited on someone there is the tendency toward this attraction. Several of my relatives are gay and lesbian and I work with 30 or 40 lesbian women, my manager included. I freely share my faith with those that listen and consider many to be good friends. The church I attend while not condoning the lifestyle, is very sensitive to the needs of the gay community. My question to all of you is this, If indeed God considers it a sin(to be determined) then where do you draw the line as far as loving the person in there struggles with everything in their life including this, and holding them accountable to fight against the desires of the old nature? I am not sure there is an easy answer to this but I know this for sure, God doesn't love the gay community any less than any other group on the face of this earth, and in light of how the Church has historically mistreated them there may be a little extra grace there. Also Derek's song touched my heart. It applies to anyone who wrongly judges those around him for being different. Thanks for the time,
Bob