Gay People Wrecked My Life

I hung up the phone, paralyzed from what I had just realized. I was 18 years old, and getting ready to start my freshman year of college, and I’d just spoken to my first room mate. He had the gay voice (he didn’t, by the way, but since I was unfamiliar with accents from Albemarle, NC, I didn’t know better at that time). I was going to room with a gay guy.

While this probably wouldn’t phase most people, I had a few years of Evangelical preconditioning which had already taught me everything I needed to know about those people. I panicked, full of self-righteous judgement and severe homophobic paranoia. I had accepted Christ a few years back, and had converted from an atheistic little teenage punk rocker into what my mother called a “born-again Republican,” and while I was never the sort that considered homosexuality to be a choice, I did think it was sinful, immoral, and wrong. Every tool the Evangelical church had equipped me with to study the Bible told me the same. I had no way of looking at the issue any differently. The Bible was clear, static, and unmovable on the issue- homosexuality was a sin.

As I type this, I’m not so sure what I was afraid of, but I guess that’s the point of growing up. At the time I was petrified. I was about to room with someone who God’s Word called a abomination, and he would probably try and seduce me on the spot (I was pretty hunky back then, after all). I called my Teaching Fellows director and tried to get another assignment, and I almost succeeded, but she (a much more seasoned Christian than I), persuaded me to give the guy a chance and not worry so much. Fortunately, she turned out to be far wiser than I realized.

Then came move-in day. I arrived first, got settled in, but had internally resolved to get my roomie to leave on his own accord…by being terrible. I couldn’t act terrible- I’m way too passive aggressive for that. No, I needed to send just enough signal so he wouldn’t want to be around me. Immediately I made sure my desktop wallpaper was a crude comic of “marriage = 1 man + 1 woman,” and changed my screen saver to say the same, and I turned off sleep mode so one of the two would be lit up continuously. I put my Bible open-faced to Leviticus on my desk and waited….until eventually I heard the door open.

Well, he’s not black (as I’d also assumed) and he looks pretty normal. Those were my first thoughts. His mother came in with him and noticed my background and Bible, but they didn’t say anything, and truthfully she didn’t seem surprised at all. In retrospect, I’m certain she was terrified, but by now I realize they had probably become accustomed to such abuse. Abuse. I was inadvertently engaging in abuse already by making sure he knew one thing: I don’t want you here. It’s difficult for me to type all these things, especially since the man I am now is so opposed to them, and because I grew to love Robbie over the course of the academic year, but if you really want to see the scope of how God transformed me, you’ve got to know exactly how horrible I used to be. I’m so sorry, Robbie. Please forgive me. I was wrong.

Fast-forward to the end of the year and everything had started to change. Robbie was wonderful, funny, caring, and truly had grown into a friend almost as close as a brother. His stories about how Christians had bullied him and made him feel less than human pierced my petrified heart and began to warm it in ways I couldn’t have foreseen. By the time the year ended, I specifically recall a moment of silence as we both quietly packed our things. Man, it feels like we’re going through a breakup, I thought to myself. No sooner than I’d thought that, Robbie blurted out “It feels like we’re getting a divorce,” and we both dropped our bed sheets and had a good, long hug. I loved this man. I didn’t have the tools yet to discern it, but this moment was one God engineered for my own good, and I’m forever grateful for it.

Then there was Lindsey. I met her along similar circumstances as Robbie. She and I were both in the NC Teaching Fellows Program (RIP), and I quickly realized she frequented Campus Rock, a contemporary Christian ministry that seemed pretty seeker-friendly (which I would later disavow for being too “soft” on sin). She played the drums, and loved Jesus. She had a warm smile and an even warmer heart. She was welcoming, caring, hilarious, and embodied so many qualities Jesus tells us to emulate- love, respect, peacefulness, compassion, I could see Jesus written all over her. She absolutely glowed.

I remember when I really put it all together (somewhere in the middle of my journey with Robbie above), Robbie, Lindsey, and myself were waiting in line for an event, and Robbie had mentioned getting a hotel room with an out-of-town guest for the weekend. “Who you got coming?” Lindsey asked with a devious grin. “Oh, it’s my friend (insert male name which escapes me at the moment).” Lindsey nodded, “Ah, I see.” She paused for a moment, then leaned in and whispered something. I’ve never actually asked them what they said, but his response was “I never would have guessed that about you!”

Shit. She just told him she’s a lesbian.

I don’t know how I knew, I just did. She might have said something else entirely, but if she did then I’m a hell of a psychic. We never actually talked about it, after that, it was just something I acknowledged.

How, though? Didn’t she know the Scriptures condemned her lifestyle? How could she embody so many qualities found in Jesus and be living in deliberate rebellion against Him? It genuinely didn’t make sense. Sure, I never assumed that being gay was a choice, but, as the Evangelical line goes, they chose whether or not to act on those urges, which should have presented a barrier between her and God. How could He not be punishing her? As I type this I see how arrogant and judgmental I was, but again, remember at the time I had never been given the tools to think otherwise. With Robbie, I came away from everything still believing the traditional biblical perspective on homosexuality, but saw homosexuals in a completely new light, starting my journey. With Lindsey, however, my beliefs about God, the Bible, and everything were challenged. I couldn’t handle that, so I sat on it and just opted to not talk about it anymore.

Then came employment at Walmart, possibly the worst experience of my life to be fair. I had just graduated from WCU, and I had been unable to secure a teaching job up to this point, so I went to the one place in town that would take me. They put me in the back with basically a band of pirates. No, for real, but it was the most incredible time, and my first major break out of my conservative evangelical bubble and into the real world. I met some amazing guys, and although the working conditions were horrible, the crew made it worthwhile. That’s where I met Sebastian and Kaleb.

In 1 Samuel 18, the author describes the relationship between young David and the King’s son, Johnathan in the most intimate way. “The soul of Johnathan was knit to the soul of David, and Johnathan loved him as his own soul.” So close was their relationship that many historians and proponents of Queer Theology today speculate they were involved romantically. I don’t necessarily buy it. I believe it’s possible to love someone so deeply it’s far more than friendship, but not necessarily romantic, but whatever the case, the intimacy written about in 1 Samuel is the same vibe I got from Kaleb and Sebastian. 

Both trans-men, I remember not even being aware until a casual comment made by Sebastian during a smoke break. We had all been discussing how much the GM at our Walmart got paid, and as he took a long drag from his cigarette and exhaled, he replied, “you know how many sex-change operations I could afford with that?” 

I’ll be honest, my first instinct was shock. I had no idea. C-Bass, as we called him, had always been that- just one of the guys. I’d been told transgender people had mental disorders and were basically all perverts, but here were two of the most caring individuals I’d ever met. Kaleb dedicated LONG hours to humanitarian causes, and C-Bass had even bought me groceries a couple of times upon learning my wife and I were going through a tough time financially. They were absolutely lovely people, and they were absolutely men. Nothing about them suggested anything female whatsoever. These were men if I’d ever met any. They fit right in with the rest of the pirate crew, and we had nothing but wonderful experiences together. Despite still holding on to traditionalist interpretations of homosexuality in terms of being sinful, I came away from this realizing I could no longer support any law or political party infringing on LGBTQIA rights. I left the Republican Party, and the following year I’d cast my vote for Barack Obama, not Mitt Romney.

These were humans. They worked hard, loved their friends and families, and I could no longer treat them as an abstract “issue.” These were people, and although my heart told me they were created by God just the way they were, my head, full of evangelical biblical methods of reading the Bible, couldn’t catch up, and I spent a few years battling this inner-conflict between head and heart.

Fast forward to Spring 2016. By now I had long since left the Republican Party, I’ve lost several close friends due to my support for Bernie Sanders, gay marriage, anti-discrimination laws, etc, but my heart and my head were still at odds with one another, I’d just resolved to not bring up “the gay issue” anymore. 

Then my wife happened, and this was one of those moments where everything about it is forever etched in my memory, down to the way the sunlight was coming into the car. We were at Arby’s, a place known for bringing people face to face with who they really are, going through the drive thru on the way home. I can’t recall what we were talking about before, but my wife made the comment, “well, there are gay Christians.” 

That was it. Finally my heart/head controversy was at wits end, and I found myself growing INCREDIBLY angry that she would even suggest such a thing. I mean, I was literally shaking…and I couldn’t figure out why. In retrospect I realize it was because I was wrong- and the Spirit within me would allow my wrongness to go any further. The God I serve, the God who set captives free, who healed the sick and raised the dead, this very same God people have wrestled with for thousands of years, was doing the same thing in my heart that he had always been doing- making all things new. 

It troubled me to no end, and I went to bed that night uneasy. I didn’t talk to my wife much, and I used having to get up early to take the car into the shop as an excuse to go to bed early. I recalled years ago seeing something online called “The Great Debate,” a debate between gay Christians about whether God blessed same-sex unions or if they were called to celibacy for life, so when I left the house for the auto shop, I took my Bible with me, having already googled my way back to the right URL. 

It was going to be a long wait, and I sat down in the middle of the waiting room, grabbed a cup of coffee, pulled out my Bible, and pulled up Justin Lee’s essay which makes the biblical case for why God would bless same sex marriages, why homosexuality is NOT contrary to biblical teaching, and examined the translation of the “clobber verses,” the passages in the Bible commonly used to clobber the LGTBQIA community.

As I sat there reading through it, checking verses along in my own Bible, and cross-referencing his use of Greek and Hebrew using the methods taught in my very conservative seminary, I found myself grinning like an idiot. I couldn’t help it. I was tearing up at every paragraph, smiling uncontrollably, and at several passages chuckling out loud, not because it was a humorous article, but because I finally had peace. Everything my heart had felt for so many years was FINALLY aligned with my brain’s ability to interpret Scripture and God. Homosexuality wasn’t a sin. 

It all made sense, and Justin Lee’s methods were consistent with even conservative standards for biblical translation and interpretation, which satisfied the scholarly, analytical part of my brain, but also was consistent with the loving, caring, compassionate God found in Jesus Christ. What’s even more, when I changed the lens by which I viewed Scripture, the entire New Testament made more sense.

One of my biggest problems with Evangelical Christianity was the disconnect between how angry, judgmental, hawkish, and militant many can be when compared to the character of Jesus Christ, and these inconsistencies with the pacifist Jesus never set right with me. My wife and I have routinely done drives to raise money for Charity Water, a phenomenal organization that brings clean water to those around the world without access, and due to their business model being so awesome, 100% of donations go directly to service, not administrative costs. We do this drive every year, but have historically had very poor luck getting our Christian friends to donate (since it’s not a religious organization) but our non-Christian and LGBTQIA friends have always gladly partnered with us, and in fact all of my gay or trans friends are simply more loving people than most of our Christian friends. Issues which in my rendering of the New Testament should be no-brainers for Christians- supporting refugees, amnesty for immigrants, equal rights, anti-discrimination laws, or healthcare for all, became points of division between myself and my conservative Christian friends, while my liberal and non-Christian friends were FAR more likely to support programs which bring aid to the poor and an end to suffering, even when they had nothing to gain from it.

Jesus said that we would know those who were His by the fruit they bear, and even told a parable about two sons whose father needed help with their fields. One son said he would help but then never did, while the other said he would not, but later went to do the work anyway (Matthew 21:28-32), then asked “which one did what the Father wanted?” If I’m just looking at the fruit in someone’s life? Hands-down my LGBTQIA friends have repeatedly been more loving and charitable than my conservative friends, and I can’t help but wonder to myself, “which ones are doing what the Father wants?”

Of course, coming to these realizations has severely altered the course of my life. I was previously seeking ordination in the Wesleyan Church so I could become a good conservative Evangelical pastor. Everything in my life had been built to do so, years of hard work, sacrifice, repeated failure, and just after I had my auto-shop revelation, I had the chance. A Wesleyan Church had asked me for an interview to be their Senior Pastor, and the District Superintendent for the Church had basically told me I would be a shoo-in. But there was a catch- Wesleyans don’t affirm same-sex marriage or support it as a lifestyle. It’s still a sin to them.

Furthermore, I had already been told that I had no chance of being ordained or hired by a Wesleyan Church without upholding “traditional” views of marriage, and was even told to interview for a youth pastor job opening at a church we had moved cities just to attend, only to then be told I didn’t get it because we had a Bernie Sanders bumper sticker, so if I wanted out of the seemingly unending loop of poverty and hardship we always found ourselves in, this was my chance, I was about to get the life I’d always wanted, I just had to sign the dotted line underneath the part where I agree to basically lie about who I am.

To put it plainly, Gator don’t play that. I absolutely couldn’t stand the thought of having just received so much joy and peace, only to throw it all away for what? A better paycheck? Jesus said in Matthew 16:26, 

And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?

I reflected on all the people God had used to help me find the peace I now had- Robbie, Lindsey, Sebastian, and Kaleb, and so many more. These were such wonderful people, people who loved more genuinely than anyone I’d ever met within the Church, living proof humanity  is truly made in God’s image. In their friendships, I saw and experienced Jesus in tangible ways I couldn’t have imagined before, and even though I knew standing with these people would wreck my life- at least the life I had planned on having, I knew I couldn’t go back. Jesus was very clear- 

If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it. (Matthew 10:39)

I walked away, and now that it’s been nearly a year, I cannot imagine having to pretend I don’t accept LGBTQIA people just as they are. I’m thankful I can look myself in the mirror today without regret, and I’m thankful I have the privilege of helping show the love of Jesus- the real Jesus, to my friends who have generally had only horror stories to share when asked about Jesus or the Church.

So there you have it. God used a handful of gay people to absolutely wreck my life, and they wrecked it in the best possible way. I’m still not a pastor, and we left the Wesleyan Church shortly after my revelation experience, but that’s okay. I know when God wants put me in a pulpit, it will be one where I can hold my chin up high, preach the gospel, and worship fully and freely alongside my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters, sharing the truth- that God made them to be gay, trans, etc, and wanted them to be that way, that He blesses their marriages and calls them good. Most importantly, that they too can be a part of His Church, His family, and His love just the way they are

I love you all, and thank you so much for putting up with me as I’ve journeyed from one side to another. Thanks for totally wrecking my entire life- it was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I love you all so much. 

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Built On Hope

For those of you who don’t already know me, I’m kind of a psycho. No, really- just ask my therapist. My head doesn’t quite work the way it’s supposed to, and as a result I’m prone to intense bouts of hopelessness at the drop of a hat. Good thing I’m not waking up each day to news of increasingly unprecedented policy shifts at the hands of a tyrannical government, right?

Wait…..

Every single day I find myself more and more surprised, shocked, appalled, and outright scared of what I’m seeing on the news. As a former history teacher, it’s incredibly hard not to see parallels between 1930’s Germany, Italy, Spain, and the USSR. The recent ban on immigrants, the removal of the Joint Chiefs from the National Security Council only to be replaced with admitted alt-right ultra-nationalist Steve Bannon, all of these things are absolutely alarming, especially since I have Muslim and undocumented friends

These aren’t abstract concepts to me. In genuinely afraid because I can see the potential outcomes for all of these developments. It’s not so far-fetched to see the expanding of military and bans on immigration into full on surveillance and registration of all Muslims, which has been suggested already. When similar initiatives are taken in other countries, it’s not long before those who stand up for the discriminated are branded as political dissenters, then profiled and registered as well. We all know where it goes from there, and it’s not pretty.

Yesterday I’ll be honest- it all got the best of me. I have four children, and my oldest is only 5. As I sat in the kitchen talking to my wife about everything, discussing all of our friends who would be adversely affected by all these policies, I was almost in tears. How could this be happening? In MY country? What’s going to happen to my kids? Should we stay? Should we spend all of our tax-returns getting passports for everyone so we can leave quickly? Should we stay and buy a house so we have the ability to hide immigrants? Everything was swirling through my head, it felt like things were simply never going to get better, all I was trying to do was make a damn spaghetti-bake without screwing up the seasoning.

But then something happened. Late into the night, attorneys from the ACLU successfully convinced a federal judge in Brooklyn to grant a stay for peremant residents and refugees who were in transit and detained upon trying to enter the country legally, and the White House couldn’t do a damn thing about it. Sure, it was a small victory, but it was a victory nonetheless. Today as I left church (which is also work) with my kids, I saw thousands across the country protesting the ban, shouting “let them in!” Airports across the country are currently, as I type this, bustling with pro-bono attorneys fighting the legal battle against this senseless and vile order, and men, women, and children are chanting “THIS IS WHAT DEMOCRACY LOOKS LIKE” and dissenting against tyranny. 

My favorite sign, which I’ll warn you now does indeed contain profanity, read, “First they came for the Muslims, and we said NOT TODAY MOTHERFU**ER.” Not today. When she made that sign she was referencing the “First they came for the Muslims, but I wasn’t a Muslim so I remained silent,” poem that gets tossed around social media in various renditions, and everyone is familiar with it. What made it special for me to see what many would consider a vulgar sign is its message: everyone recognizes what’s happening, but rather than repeat the steps of our forefathers (if our foremothers had been in charge we’d have flying cars by now), we’re not going to take it. NOT TODAY. It’s absolutely beautiful, and as I’ve seen these things today, I felt something I didn’t feel yesterday- hope

Paul wrote  about hope in the midst of hardship in Romans 5:3-5, 

We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. 4 And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. 5 And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

Hope will not lead to disappointment. Now I take a much more holistic view of God and how He operates in the world. When I read “given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love,” I don’t think it’s some magical invisible injection of emotion into my otherwise depressed soul. That’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility, but that never happens in the Bible. Throughout all of Scripture, God repeatedly uses people to spread His message, to set captives free, to build relationships with others, and, yes, to give people hope

Without even realizing it, the Spirit moved thousands of people to throw themselves between innocent immigrants/refugees and harmful authoritarian policies, it moved countless lawyers to set up makeshift legal offices on the floors of airport terminals in the middle of the night, and moved Attorneys General in 16 states to openly condemn the entire executive order earlier today. Through all of those things I can definitively say yes, they gave me hope.

Hope is a profound thing, really. It’s infectious in the best sort of way. Suddenly my entire outlook has shifted. We CAN do this. We DONT have to just accept it, and YES our protests and our checks and balances can work. Resisting bigotry, racism, Islamaphobia, and nationalism is hard, and perhaps every single day for the next four years might require outright rebellion, and that thought might seem exhausting. It’s easy to imagine after six months of this many might begin to lose heart, and the zeal of resistance that comforted me today might easily fade away as many who are unaffected by these hardships become dismayed and too tired to keep going, our privilege tempting us to just be silent observers.

But that’s where hope comes in. Hope isn’t a guaranteed victory, nor is it a detailed battle plan. Hope is just that- hope. It’s the optimistic view that in spite of everything giving you a reason to be afraid, you press on for the sake of something greater because you know you’re on the right side. You know even if you fail you’re not going to do so without a fight, and you begin to know that, despite evidence to the contrary, we might just win this. 

I ended my last post with “rebellions are built on hope,” but it didn’t resonate with me as personally at that point because I had not yet fully lost hope. After yesterday and today, it means so much more. Hope Is how you wake up every day and fight like hell against evil, and how you carry on a rebellion against all odds for four years when four days feels unbearable- because rebellions really are built on hope, and hope will not lead to disappointment.

We can do this. Call and write your senators and representatives every week. Show up for protests and make your Sacred Dissent known to our leaders. Sign petitions. Share credible news sources that hold this administration accountable. Reach out to Muslims, Latinos and every other group targeted by this administration and show them love- make it known they are valued by you. If you have the means, donate to any number of groups fighting for the oppressed, such as the ACLU. If you have the ability, hide the undocumented or provide them with necessities for survival. Commit to praying every day for the ban to be lifted, for more refugees to be admitted to the US, and for the safety of those whose lives are in danger because our country refuses to help, and then, in the name of everything Sacred, vote Democrat in 2018 and especially in 2020. Sure, they make mistakes too (registered Independent here), but it’s not about getting a perfect candidate, it’s about getting rid of the ones that are currently destroying any ounce of morality left in our government. 

We can do this, folks. We can keep fighting like this every day for the next four years if we have to. How? Hope. I’m choosing to build my rebellion on hope, and I’m choosing to keep marching until the day I’m hauled off in a black bag. 

We. Will. Win. This is what democracy looks like. 

No, We Can’t Just “Come Together.”

Last Saturday I experienced something absolutely incredible. I recall I had slept very, very little, hitting the sack around 3 A.M., which is par for the course when you have four children ages 5 and under. Despite the intense head-fog and nausea that comes with disrupting your REM cycle, I tore myself out of bed, put some coffee on to brew, and returned to the bedroom and nudged my wife slightly so as to wake her without waking one of the boys, “Sweetie, wake up. Its time to go march.”

What we experienced at the Women’s March on Asheville, NC was incredible. Men, women, and children from all walks of life and demographics were there, most of them holding signs for a litany of causes. Some read “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights,” while others read “BLACK LIVES MATTER,” or “Support LGBTQIA Equality.” One simply said, “Free Melania,” while I think the one which impacted me the most read, “Please, God, Don’t Let This Be The New Normal.”

But despite the vast array of differences represented throughout the march, the one common theme that unified everyone there was this: love. Women marched because they loved both themselves and womankind enough to defend their access to healthcare and to protest normalization of sexual assault. Men marched because they loved women enough to care about their well-being, the well-being of society as a whole, and because they recognize that when one group is oppressed, all are oppressed. LGBTQIA community members marched because they loved one another enough to take action in the face of societal regression against their extremely hard-fought for rights. Sure, there was plenty of anger, but not the sort of anger we’re seeing from the White House. This was a righteous indignation, the sort of anger which filled Jesus Christ upon walking into His Father’s House and seeing it filled with loan-sharks, extortionists, and con-artists. He turned over tables and brandished a bull-whip, causing a commotion, He poured out their basins of coins all over the floor and scolded them sharply for turning what SHOULD have been a house of prayer and worship into a business (take note, Paula White). The best part of this exchange, depicted in John 2:13-25, was that Jesus was completely justified. He was not acting sinfully, and He was not doing anything wrong- He was correcting a wrong, answering an injustice against His people, and sanctifying the Name of His Father.

That same sense of anger, the sort of anger one feels because they love so deeply, ran through all of our veins as we gathered together for the largest peaceful demonstration in our nation’s history last Saturday, and it was as spiritual as any worship service I had ever experienced. Marching alongside the marginalized, the oppressed, the broken, and the scared, I felt a stronger connection to the Holy One than I had in quite some time. My beautiful bride leading in front of me, we marched in the steps that Jesus had laid out for us before we were even born. While on earth, Jesus always sided with the oppressed, and He stood up for the broken, and He commanded His followers to walk as He walked, a command I proudly upheld as I marched in solidarity with sisters of every race and faith whose very lives are threatened by corrupt men playing political games with the lives of men, women, and children everywhere in exchange for profits, influence, and power.

Its no secret, however, that Jesus’ bold statements and refusal to compromise didn’t earn him many friends from the opposite side of the aisle, so to speak. The ruling religious class, the Pharisees (priests) and Sadducees (scribes- who guarded the biblical texts and copied them word for word all day, every day), absolutely hated Jesus. They often belittled Jesus, spread false information about Him, and fought tooth and nail to  delegitimize everything He said and did. “He casts out demons by using demons,” the claimed. “He’s a threat to the security of the Empire!” they convinced the Romans, slandering Him further until they were given the choice: set Jesus free, or set a renowned murderer, Barabbas, free. Their response? Give us Barabbas!

Strikingly, throughout all of His trials, and despite repeatedly offering forgiveness- even to the Romans who were hammering spikes into His wrists, neither Jesus or His followers were ever recorded compromising with the Pharisees. If a Pharisee came to his senses and began following Jesus, He didn’t stop them, but never did Jesus feel the need to soften His rhetoric or His calls for social justice and spiritual holiness. He is never recorded “giving them a chance.” Nobody told Jesus, Peter, or Paul “Stop being divisive and come together.”

No. The very act of preaching the Gospel is divisive, and Paul’s missionary trips recording in the book of Acts are filled to the brim with his arriving in each town and causing an uproar, dividing the town and in some instances leading to riots ending with his arrest. These men and women weren’t trying to cause trouble, but in order for them to “come together” with their opponents and detractors, they would have had to disobey their calling to remain true to Jesus. This wasn’t an option then, and its not an option today. “I have not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Jesus said.

Believers today find themselves in very similar circumstances. In less than a week, Donald Trump’s administration has managed to essentially declare war on women, science, the LGBTQIA community, Latinos, Muslims, poor and lower class families, those who oppose torture as public policy, and essentially anyone who dares to live a life of compassion. I know Jesus, and I know my Bible, and neither the Spirit within me nor the Scriptures on my desk permit me to be a party to these sorts of things. “What fellowship is there between light and darkness?” Paul asks in 2 Corinthians 6:14b. One can follow Christ, or they can follow Caesar. There is no in-between. We’re called to be holy, and the very word in both Hebrew and Greek means to be set apart. We are not called to follow blindly, and we are not called to a kingdom of earthly reign. We are called to something greater. We cannot just “come together” with racism, sexism, bigotry, misogyny, nationalism, torture, xenophobia, and isolationism. We cannot just “come together” because its more than just politics. The differences between political parties are no longer how to best appropriate taxes and spending, or the role of government in the market. Those days are gone.

The State is committing heinous crimes against all forms of morality from every faith and religious tradition (or non-tradition). Its bad, and we as believers are called to take up the cause of the oppressed (Isaiah 25:4). We are called to practice holy resistance. We cannot simply “come together” with those who follow Trump and his administration’s policies any more than the disciples could simply “come together” with the Pharisees or the Roman executioners. We can preach the truth, and if any of them come around we should lovingly welcome them, as Jesus and His disciples did, but we cannot compromise. We cannot hide the fires that burn inside of us, but instead must hold them high during these dark times, showing the warmth of Jesus to those pushed out into the cold by those with power.

Its a war, make no mistake, and things will get much harder over the next four years. Before long the walls of oppression will begin to press people into horrible situations, and you’ll see good men and women begin doing uncharacteristically bad things when they start seeing their children suffer, and I don’t know what will happen then, but if history is any indicator, it could potentially get quite ugly. Those who are oppressed will need to know the Cross is a symbol for them. They need hope, and its up to us to help give them this hope by standing up for them, by suffering with them, by hiding them when the authorities come for them. We must become agents of hope in this new era of resistance and rebellion against tyranny and oppression.

Rebellions are built on hope, after all.

 

Today We Fight. Today We Resist.

crowd_people

First of all, I have not written on this blog since my initial post in July 2015. At the time, the “Josh Duggar” scandal had just happened amidst the recent legalization of Same-Sex Marriage across the country, and my drafts all included strong rebukes of the Church at large for praising and protecting sexual predators while dismissing the rights of the marginalized, in this case women and the LGBTQIA community. But, despite my  best efforts, full-time seminary, kids, work, etc, ultimately stole my time away from writing, and the drafts sat incomplete.

Then 2016 happened, and judging by the paragraph above this one, I should have seen it coming.

Turns out the writing was on the wall the entire time and I completely missed it. Sure, at that time the GOP clown car was packed with over 15 potential candidates, and Trump was one of them, but nobody from any sphere of life took him seriously. What’s more, Trump had begun delivering sound-byte after sound-byte of what would have been political suicide in virtually any other election. Calling Mexican immigrants “rapists,” then making fun of Sen. John McCain for being a prisoner of war in Vietnam, then when he openly mocked and imitated a journalist with cerebral palsy- each time these things happened I thought to myself, “its over. There’s no coming back from this.”

But, each time, I was proven wrong. Again and again, multitudes of hate-filled vitriol erupted across social media praising Trump and demonizing legitimate candidates, both conservative and liberal alike. Even when Trump’s now infamous “Locker Room Talk,’ became public, where he ADMITTED TO ROUTINELY COMMITTING SEXUAL ASSAULT, more and more on the right- many of them females, rose to his defense. “Boys will be boys,” and “real men talk like that,” became the lines everyone was given. Experts from every field of science, warfare, education, spirituality, economics, and healthcare presented heaps of data illustrating the disaster that was coming if Trump was elected, but none of it mattered. Tens of millions refused to listen to reason, and as a result I just watched the very same man who said and did all the atrocities above place his hand on the Bible- the Lincoln Inaugural Bible mind you,  and take the oath of office, becoming President Donald J. Trump.

Where was the Church during all of this? Divided. While there were large segments of the Church which stood in ardent opposition to bigotry, sexism, racism, homophobia, patriarchy, and normalization of sexual assault, there was a much more political, hateful, and influential wing of the Church which rose to the challenge each time there was an opportunity to do so, and united their adherents across the country to skyrocket Trump’s success: the Evangelical Church.

Whether it was the die-hard pro-life supporters who automatically vote Republican without even glancing at the ballot, or the president of Liberty University, Jerry Falwell Jr. who publicly endorsed Trump early on, Evangelical support for Trump was at an all-time high. Excuse after excuse was made for Trump which wouldn’t have flown with anyone else. “We’re not voting for a pastor, we’re voting for a president. Its different,” or “he may say some bad things, but Killary supports murdering babies” (which she doesn’t, by the way). The Evangelical church was willing to turn a blind-eye on absolutely every single one of their principles- the laws of mercy, grace, and love championed by Christ Himself in the Gospels and in the hearts of true believers to this day, all for a shot at what, a few more years of political muscle? For a few more years of cultural influence?

However you want to look at it, the Evangelical church’s refusal to put Christ above their absurd obsession with ethnocentric-nationalism has done two things: empowered waves of sexism, racism, bigotry, and sexual assault across the country, and, most devastatingly of all, dragged the name of Jesus Christ through the dirt and so badly marred the message of Life that it will take years of tireless work to reach those who have been pushed away from the Church during this past election. The former I can lay most of the blame on the individuals themselves. The hate in their hearts were there from the beginning, Trump just gave them the guts to start acting on it. The former, however, is unacceptable on any metric.

Jesus came to offer life. He came to bring healing, to make all things new. He came to teach us how to love our enemies and to pray for those who would do us harm. He came to show us that Christians should be marked not by their political power or mighty military capabilities, but by their love for God and for one another. He taught us to stand up for those who could not stand on their own, and when those who cannot defend themselves face the prospect of persecution, marginalization, and even execution, to throw ourselves  between them and the guillotine, offering ourselves instead.

He was never cruel. He never belittled anyone. He never insulted anyone. He never struck anyone. He never boasted, nor was he proud. He was humble, meek, and made himself the company of sinners, crooks, hookers, and frauds. He threw Himself into situations where He would encounter people from the most marginalized fringes of society and culture, and He offered Free Grace to any an all He encountered, a trend which He continues today.

If you’re having trouble reconciling the above two paragraphs with the character of Trump any many of his supporters, you’re not alone. In fact, by biblical metrics alone he is more aligned to some of the wicked kings of the Old Testament than he is with any of the righteous ones depicted.

But he won. He is the president now. His party and followers hold all the cards now, and its going to be a bumpy four years at best. So what can we do? What can genuine Christians who love Jesus and desire to make His presence known throughout the world do in the face of such overwhelming odds? What we’ve always done.

We fight, and we resist.

We fight against the notion that Donald Trump and his party are anywhere near aligned with the values presented to us in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We fight against racism, sexism, and bigotry. In BOTH prayer and deed, we speak out against injustice when we see it, be it on Twitter or at Thanksgiving dinner. We fight against homophobia and discriminatory laws which bar our fellow humans from access to basic human rights, protections, and care by engaging in conversation, by educating ourselves, by getting out of our comfort zones and making new friends. We organize and lobby our elected officials at every turn, emailing and calling their offices and demanding justice. We take out our debit cards and commit to donating to organizations which fight against injustice and protect the marginalized from oppression. We fight against the notion that women don’t deserve an equal say in life, the church, the home, or the government, and we fight against the notion their reproductive health should be determined by the government.

Crucially, in addition to our fight against injustice, we must also be mindful of how we are resisting societal ills as well. This looks different for all of us. As a straight white Christian male, I must resist the temptation of using my privilege as an excuse for inaction. We resist turning a blind eye to injustice at the federal, state, and local governmental levels, and we resist the draw of simply accepting things as they are. We cannot allow the Trump-era to be marked by the normalization of everything Jesus preached against. Most importantly, we must resist the urge to give hatred, bigotry, sexism, homophobia, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and prejudice a seat at the table. Contrary to what many may think, not all ideas deserve equal representation, and we DO NOT have to tolerate them. Shut down dialogue with these things, because any effort to find a “common ground” won’t be improving the atrocities they are, it will simply be lowering our standards of what is good, and that is simply unacceptable.

My standards are Jesus Christ. My standards are mercy, forgiveness, compassion, sacrifice, goodness, and justice. I will tolerate absolutely no compromises on this. Evangelical Christians have made their voice heard loud and clear. Now its time for Progressive Christians to become even louder. We’re out there, and over the next four years it will be more important than ever before that we make our voices heard. Literally millions around the world are watching what will happen now, how things will turn out. They’re looking for answers, and many are scared beyond belief, and its up to us to go into the world and become the pierced and bruised body of Christ, throwing ourselves between them and their attackers. Lace up.

-R

A Different Side of Jesus


If you’ve ever read the Bible at all, you’re probably familiar with Jesus. How could you not be? He is, after all, the One constantly prophesied about in the Old Testament, and He plays the lead role in the New Testament. I’ve never sat down and checked, but I’ll wager there’s not a single page in my Bible’s New Testament that doesn’t mention His Name at least once.

Being the Author and Perfector of our faith as He is, you’d think most of the Church would know exactly who Jesus is. We call Him our King, our Savior, and our High Priest. When we picture Him, it’s almost certainly the Crucifixion (and most likely Mel Gibson’s version), or we flashback to any number of picturesque images of a white Jesus preaching atop a tranquil grassy knoll, or praying earnestly in Gethsemane.

Ethnicity notwithstanding, all of the above scenes are true, and they’re all reflections of events written of in the Gospels. But this is only one side of Jesus- the side Who did  something for us. This is an incredible Jesus Who came down from Heaven, Who taught us about Himself and the Love of the Father, and Who loved us so perfectly that He took the fall for our sins by dying In our place on the Cross.

But there’s another side to Jesus, one which apparently the Church has forgotten about: the Jesus that loves Sinners. This is the Jesus that first engaged us, that called us to follow Him. This is the Jesus who wooed us into committing to spend the rest of our lives with Him, the Jesus we fell in love with because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Yet no sooner than we were welcomed into His Kingdom did we apparently either forgot about our former sinfulness, or we forgot just how much Jesus loves sinners still. It’s not as of He changed. He is still the friend to Sinners, and even as He continually shepherds His people, His modus operandi is still crying out, Come to Me to a world of broken, fallen, sinful humans who are all in desperate need of His mercy and forgiveness. He didn’t finish the task of saving the lost just because we finally responded. Instead, He now recruits the rest of His Church to join with Him in accomplishing the work of not only spreading the Gospel and making disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:19), but also to join with Him in the work of loving sinners.

Consider this passage from Matthew 9:10-13

“And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

A quick once-over gives most the general idea of the passage- Jesus came to save all of humanity from sin, not just those who seem to already have their lives together. But to stop there does a major disservice to the scope of the passage. As with any passage of Scripture, a two-second glance as you power through it may help you reach your goal of X amount of chapters per day, but you’ll miss out on much deeper truths conveyed from careful meditation on the passage.

Consider exactly what Jesus was doing. He’s not teaching in the temple, nor is he engaged in any other priestly duty, but is in the house of what we would consider a crooked accountant, surrounded by sinners. Think of what this would have entailed- liars, cheats, prostitutes, etc…, the absolute worst in their society.

But the thing I really want to focus on is who is sitting with him- His disciples. They’re all eating and drinking with sinners, and it’s the disciples of Jesus who are the first to catch flak from their religious contemporaries for their Master’s actions. Why are they sitting there too? Because being a disciple of Jesus Christ means doing the things He did, including loving sinners.

Note that nowhere in the text does it imply that they did the things which these sinners did, nor does it explicitly say what their table conversation was about, but if the rest of Christ’s ministry is any indicator, then it probably involved a loving but straightforward account of the Father’s love for humanity, but also a stern call to repentance and holiness. Obviously He wouldn’t have beaten around the bush about sin- the same sins which would soon nail Him to a Cross, but He also doesn’t seem to have ever been harsh with anyone about their sin either. In fact, in the entire gospel, the only people Jesus seems to ever be overtly “harsh” on were the religious leaders of the day (see Matt. 23). For everyone else He looks at them and has compassion on them, seeing them like lost and confused sheep without a shepherd, lovingly extending the hand of free grace to any and all who are willing to take up His yoke and learn from Him (Mark 6:34).

So what does this look like in 2015? Maybe it’s easier to say what it doesn’t look like. It doesn’t look like pickets and rallies protesting…well, anything really. Jesus never commanded His followers to rally against the pagan practices the Roman government ordained, most of which make America in 2015 look modest by comparison. It doesn’t look like treating homosexuality as the unpardonable sin and treating homosexuals like untouchables who just need to get their act together.

A great example of what NOT to do.

It doesn’t look like side-stepping the homeless, cracked-out beggar on the street because you’re convinced he’ll spend the handouts he’s asking for on drugs, and it doesn’t look like living a pleasant, safe, and overly homogeneous  middle-class  lifestyle going to and from work everyday, playing golf in the weekends, attending church on Sunday, and simply living a nice, quiet life. Nothing about what Jesus calls us to is nice, quiet, or disassociated from the sinful world in which we live. Sure, we are called to be “in the world, not of the world,” but we’re never called to pretend the rest of the world isn’t there.

Instead we’re called to do exactly what Jesus did- love sinners, and share the Gospel. He didn’t back down from His principles of holiness, but He didn’t shy away from engaging the culture, from sitting down over a cup of coffee with His atheist or homosexual next door neighbors to tell them about the Love of the Father. So too are we called as well. The scene here in Levi’s house is supposed to be the norm for us today- it’s where we engage the culture and world around us, not giving in to worldly ways of doing things, but where we stand out as a light shining in the darkness, like beacons of truth calling the lost and wayward back to safe harbor. It’s where those still trapped in brokenness and bondage can come to be set free, and where the untouchables can finally experience the warmth of their Loving Savior’s embrace.

The catch is, though, it’s hard to do any of that when we’re stuck inside our comfort zone, and it’s awfully difficult to teach someone about Jesus when we don’t have anything to do with them. The saying goes, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but too often we’re seeing an abundance of hate the sin, without any regard to loving the sinner. Let’s rember the side of Jesus who not only abhors sin, but who actively engages the sinner in meaningful and compassionate conversation about Truth; the side of Jesus that sees the world as sheep without a shepherd, because the stakes here are eternal, and if there was ever a time when the Lost needed the Church to show them how much Jesus loves them, it’s now.

-R