Archive | April, 2013

Bombs & Bombers

20 Apr

The last six days have been a whirlwind for most Americans, but especially for Bostonians.  The regrettable decision of two young men has forever changed the lives of so many.  I am truly grieved for those whose bodies have been broken and mutilated; for the husbands and wives who must now be spouse and nurse; for the brave individuals who ran towards the explosions and witnessed a horror which will be seared into their minds forever; and –most especially- for the families who are now mourning the loss of their beloveds.  It is truly a tragedy.

In the aftermath, the entire nation mourned with Boston, and rightly so.  Scripture calls us to mourn with those who mourn.  As of yesterday, though, the mourning ceased and the calls for justice began.  Justice is a good thing.  I am thankful to live in a country where people are held accountable for their actions.  Justice is also a biblical concept.  God administers judgment, and God does that perfectly.  I am afraid, however, that many people don’t simply want justice.  They want retribution.  That is not biblical.  Romans 12:19 says, “Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say, ‘I will take revenge; I will pay them back,’ says the Lord,” (NLT).

 These brothers did something terrible.  One has already seen to his own demise by initiating a shooting match and putting explosives on his own body.  The second is now in the custody of law enforcement.  He is responsible for the pain and suffering of hundreds of people.  There will be consequences.  It is right and just.  Yet, I still hold out hope for this man’s soul.  Since Monday my prayer has been for God’s justice and God’s mercy to envelop this horrible situation.  I am thankful he has been caught, but I continue to pray for his repentance and salvation.  This nineteen year old boy, however corrupt he may be, is loved and wanted by God.

There has been a lot of talk on social media about the shear evil of Tamerlan Tsarnaev.  I cannot disagree with this assessment.  His actions certainly were evil, but I wonder if it’s healthy or accurate to speak of this boy and his brother as if they’re in some kind of sub-human category.  It’s as if they’ve been moved out of the “person” box and moved into the “scum of the earth” classification right next to Hitler.  However tempting it is to separate men like Tsarnaev from the rest of us “good” people, the reality of the situation –biologically and theologically- is that Tamerlan Tsarnaev is a standard homo sapien- a human being.

And humanity is capable of great evil. 

Each and every one of us is guilty of some evil.  The hatred we spew against a person or people; the resentment and unforgiveness we store in our hearts; the material wealth we hoard out of selfishness; the hurtful words we use to slander those around us is all evil.  You and I are not as innocent as we like to think.  When compared to the rest of humanity, Tamerlan Tsarnaev is not that much guiltier- only less restrained. 

Humans have a great capacity for evil, but that’s because we also have a great capacity for love.  If we are to be free to choose the way of love, then we must also be free to choose the way of destruction in equal measure.  Tamerlan Tsarnaev is not the first person to commit his life to perpetrating evil acts, nor will he be the last.  In light of this, perhaps our response to this tragedy should be less consumed with making Tsarnaev pay for what he did, and more concerned with fighting the evil in our midst by living a life of great good. 

“Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” Romans 12:21

Reflections on the Marriage Equality Debate

4 Apr

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The debate about marriage equality has been heated in the USA for some time now, and it has naturally worked its way into the church.  Lines have been drawn in the sand.  The denominations which affirm the LGBT lifestyle are insisting they’re the only ones who love people (and are therefore in the right), while the other denominations are shouting back that they’re the biblical ones (and are therefore in the right).  Although I applaud the bravery of people who are willing to put their opinions into the mainstream- even unpopular opinions- it seems to me that the majority of Christians who have entered this debate have started from the wrong place.  The result has been a culture war in which everyone is a loser.

I would like to humbly suggest that we- as a church- consider two things before we make any statements about the rightness or wrongness of marriage equality.

First, I think we should ask ourselves:  Are my words being motivated by love for a person?  I don’t think it’s enough to say, “I am motivated by my love for the Bible”, or “I love the institution of church”(while it’s certainly good to love them both).  Jesus has called us to love God above all else, but also to imitate his actions and love other humans the way Jesus has loved us.  Almost everyone I know would respond, “Yes, of course I love people who are gay and lesbian.”  In fact, I don’t personally associate with anyone who would say otherwise (at least not openly), but the recent events on social media have led me to believe that many of my brothers and sister in Christ do not love individuals who are LGBT.  I don’t say that because some disagree with the lifestyle- that’s a valid position.  I say that because we seem to have forgotten a very important truth.  “That homosexual” is more than his sexual orientation.  His name is Ted.  He has two parents who he loves beyond words, a little brother who adores him, a degree in accounting, and a good job.  Ted really likes jazz music and his favorite book is O Cry the Beloved Country.  In his spare time, Ted grows tomatoes in his backyard and goes fishing with his favorite uncle.  Ted is a person.  What’s more, Ted is a human being who has been made in the image of God and is the beloved of God Almighty.  The minute we separate a human being from the image and love of God, we are in error and sin.

Perhaps it would be helpful, for those of us who wish to enter into this debate, to first know a person who identifies as LGBT.  I can tell you, I am writing this post with fear and trepidation because of the four gay people in my life who I love deeply.  I don’t love them because they’re gay- as if I’m trying to fill a quota- and I don’t love them in spite of being gay.  I love them because they are human beings, made in the image of God, and they happen to be really cool, funny, smart and brave individuals.  My love for them has shaped the way I approach this subject.  It has forced me to consider every single word and evaluate whether or not I am motivated by a holy love for people.

This same reproach can go the other directions.  Many of my brothers and sisters have come out as adamant supporters of marriage equality.  Their love for LGBT folks is evident, but their love for the community of faith is not.  Before we rail against someone else’s theological position, we must also stop and consider whether or not we are motivated by love for Christ and his bride.  The messages we have to share- whatever they may be- will never be heard until the message is seasoned with love.

Secondly, I think there is a passage of Scripture we- as the church- should revisit. 

“I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—  not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?  God will judge those outside. “’Expel the wicked person from among you.’”

– 1 Cor. 5:9-13 (bold mine)

Paul is a huge advocate for accountability and church discipline.  This passage is written in the context where Paul addresses some sexual immorality within the church.  Very often, my friends on the LGBT side will throw out the “judge not” texts.  Those texts hold true, but do not negate the role of accountability amongst believers.  We are called to both grow in holiness and assist our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.  Therefore, it is biblical and good for those within the church to hold other believers accountable, provided we are equal opportunity critiquers when it comes to sin.  A pastor I met recently named Kevin had some good words on this topic.  He shared with me that everyone comes into the faith at different places in their spiritual walks.  That’s a given.  Some people will progress faster than others.  He told me he is less concerned with where they are in the journey of sanctification than the direction they are facing.  If we are walking with the Lord and facing Christ, then the Holy Spirit will do the Holy Spirit’s job of sanctifying.  Our role in this process is to gently correct and encourage each other to follow the Holy Spirit’s leading.  Here is a link to a video by Dr. Ben Witherington III on this question for the believers.  I agree with his conclusions for the church.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HMHXH_xERL8

However, Paul makes it clear in this passage that he is not in the business of “judging” or holding those outside the church accountable.  God will handle that according to his perfect judgment and unfailing love.  It is not my job to be the morality police.  The whole premise that those who are outside the faith can/should be expected to live up to Christian standards of holiness is flawed to begin with because no one is capable of doing that. It is only through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit that we are made righteous.   Some people will point to John the Baptist’s rebuke of King Herod as justification for “calling out” the sin in government.  However, Herod was a Jewish King who was supposed to be leading God’s people according to God’s standard (Torah).   John was rebuking another member of the covenant community not an outsider.  I’m afraid I must hold to the same conclusion as Paul.  “What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church…? God will judge those outside.” God is perfectly capable of handling the eternal implications of every choice humans make- and I’d prefer to leave that job in God’s capable hands.

I know I will have upset some people with this post.  Some will think I crossed a line and others will think I haven’t gone far enough.  Honestly, my intention is not to upset anyone.  I desire unity within the body of Christ, but I am also deeply saddened by the fact that the gay couple at Panera chose to move their table when they realized I was reading the Bible.  Something is terribly amiss when Christians are known for their hatred of a sin rather than their love for human beings made in God’s image.  It’s breaking my heart- and I can’t help but think it breaks God’s too.