Category Archives: God, Church & Stuff

Gay Marriage: It’s Time for Christians to Move On

As last week’s Supreme Court decision and the ensuing reaction highlight, the conservative church is losing the debate over gay marriage.

Frankly, I welcome it.

For much of my life I’ve noticed the conservative church taking an approach to social issues that basically tells other people how to live. It’s judgmental, it forces beliefs on others and it denies people basic rights. I’m sure they don’t see it that way, but I think that’s how it’s coming across in the wider culture. What’s worse is that it gives the impression that blindly following a bunch of rules is what makes someone a Christian, that what is good and right and lovely in the eyes of God is wearing long skirts, not drinking beer and making sure people don’t get gay married.

I don’t get it.

I think it’s time for the church to stop expecting the world to follow our beliefs. You can’t legislate people into Christians. That’s not the great commission.

The church claims to be about love, but when all we do is argue about cultural issues and try to make people do stuff they don’t believe, we’re exhibiting the opposite of love.

It’s time the church figured out how to live in disagreement. It’s time churches figure out how to be the minority. Because guess what—that’s where we are.

Where this gets especially interesting is that the church itself is in deep disagreement. I used the phrase ‘conservative church’ above because not all churches condemn the LGBT lifestyle. Some churches are LGBT affirming and it’s interesting watching both sides try to navigate these waters. I think it’s time for the church to recognize the disagreement, let other people live how they want to live, and move on as brothers and sisters in unity.

Some other people have more eloquent things to say about faith and LGBT issues than I do:

Reading stories like these (and also browsing my social media feeds and seeing a lot more joy than dismay) gives me hope.

It’s Your Actions, Not Your Beliefs

Came across a great little blog post by Shawn Smucker. Who? I don’t know, but multiple people were linking to the post so I checked it out. Glad I did.

He argues that beliefs have become the litmus test of our culture. A week and a half before an election, that’s too true.

And it’s especially true for the church:

Taking the “correct” position on every issue imaginable has become our way of declaring the Good News. It’s no wonder church attendance is dwindling and the broader culture is becoming increasingly disenchanted with Christianity – when the message of Good News has been watered down to consenting to various positions or beliefs, the Good News transforms into the Right News. Which is actually rather annoying, and not much fun to listen to or to help spread.

So true. Any time we line up based on our beliefs it gets ugly. But when we’re able to look beyond our beliefs, we can come together and accomplish so much more (hmm… that’s sounds like the core idea of Anglicanism, maybe part of why I like my church).

The solution Shawn advocates: Action, not belief. It’s about loving people, not believing the right thing.

I think smart people would say this is the debate between orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right action). They’d also probably argue that you can’t have right action without right belief—otherwise how do you know what to do? I get that, but I think it’s a facade. You don’t have to nail down every belief to know how to love people.

Shawn ends with a painful question: “Are we Christians good for anything anymore?”

How we answer that—or rather, how the rest of the world (family, friends, strangers) answers that is the ultimate test.

Sidebar: I realize letting the rest of the world answer that seems like a reversal of the Christian position. Shouldn’t our worth come from God? Yes. However, if we’re supposed to love our neighbor then that love should play a major role in answering that question. If we’re not good for anything, we’re doing it wrong. Let’s confess and try again.

Billy Graham Gets Political

A story broke last week that the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (where I worked about a decade ago) had removed mentions of Mormonism as a cult from its website following a meeting between the 93-year-old Billy Graham and Republican presidential candidate (and Mormon) Mitt Romney. Then a spokesman said they did it because “we do not wish to participate in a theological debate about something that has become politicized during this campaign.” Uh, I think you just politicized it.

If you’re a Christian and you want to vote for Mitt Romney, go for it. But don’t suddenly change your views on Mormonism and say it’s not political. Not three weeks before the election. Can we at least be honest enough to admit this is politically motivated? And for what? Who’s going to change their vote over this? (Maybe people will vote the other way!)

It’s basic communication. And it’s why I’m plenty busy at Church Marketing Sucks (and now my long quiet Billy Graham blog, Billyspot).

Let me be clear: I don’t think Mormonism is a cult. It’s probably a good change the BGEA made. But the timing is just horrible. And the explanation is ridiculous. It seems unfair to call a religion of 14 million people a cult. That’s a loaded term and it has no place in the kind of loving outreach that’s defined Billy Graham’s ministry. Though we should also be clear that Mormonism is not Christianity.

Let me also say: I don’t think it should matter. The fact that we have to ask whether or not a Christian can vote for a Mormon is kind of disturbing. As Franklin Graham says, “Americans must remember that while our nation was founded upon godly principles, we do not have a state religion.” Of course then he goes on to say, “We need something like what Jerry Falwell did in the 1980s. We need a ‘moral majority'” Sigh.

Apparently evangelicals like Graham (Which one? Good question: Christianity Today explores Billy Graham’s recent politicism and Steve Knight wonders if Franklin is speaking for his father) will choose politics over theology when it works for them. All so they can somehow wiggle around the language and support a candidate who supports “God’s principles.” Never mind that it’s a rather different view of God. But not too different… we’re not supporting Muslims. Or atheists. Egads, no!

Meanwhile my generation has grown tired of religion constantly warring with politics. We’ve recognized that in the pluralistic society we’ve grown up in, it’s OK to work with, befriend, even vote for somebody who is different than you. And most of us don’t need to scrub our websites or write editorials to do so.

Why I Like My Church

Buddy KevinI was having a conversation with a new couple at church yesterday and the inevitable question came up: How long have you been attending Messiah? It’s been 11 years now.

That’s insane. Nobody my age commits to anything (much less a church) for that long. I’m already part of the old-guard. I remember the previous rector (that’s Episcopalian for pastor). I remember what the building was like before the addition. I’ve earned the right to protest, “But that’s how we’ve always done it!”

That conversation made me think about why we’ve stuck it out at Messiah for so long.

Relationships
Much of it has to do with the people. Some smart folks say that friendships are what keep people in church, and I’m inclined to agree. We tried to fit in at our previous church, tried to move beyond being college students to being regulars, but it never quite took. When we taught Sunday School and the parents didn’t know our names we decided it was time to move on.

But we found those relationships at Messiah. It helped that there were plenty of social dinners organized where you were encouraged to get to know people. I remember several rounds of dinners like that at various people’s houses that slowly pulled us in. It also helped when we were invited over for dinner on Easter Sunday. Who invites people over for dinner on Easter Sunday at the last minute? Really nice people, that’s who. People who understand a young married couple with no family in town.

Diversity
The other thing I like about my church is the diversity. Now I’ll be honest: We’re mostly a bunch of white folks. We don’t quite have the racial diversity. But that’s changing (it’s much more prevalent at the earlier service with an explosion of KaRen). But we do have other diversity. There’s a huge mix of ages (110 kids in 5th grade or under, in a church of 300!) and styles. On Sunday morning you’re sure to hear both an organ and an electric guitar. You’ll also see someone in jeans, a T-shirt and sandals next to someone in a suit and tie.

All that diversity in and of itself doesn’t mean a lot. But it does tell me that the people are able to value what’s different and get along despite disagreements. Nobody is up in arms over the drums or the 18th century hymns, demanding we change to suit their needs. That sounds ridiculous, but I grew up in atmosphere where it was common.

Liturgy
Finally, I was drawn to the liturgy. Growing up in an independent church less than 40 years old, there was no sense of history. There was no connection to the wider faith that went all the way back to Christ. We were somehow disconnected and adrift, which was painfully obvious anytime a pastor left. At Messiah, I was shocked when the rector left without any controversy.

But the liturgy, those words repeated by Christians all over the world and throughout time, well, you can’t avoid that connection. It’s deep. It’s powerful. There’s a danger of it becoming too familiar, but I’ll gladly take that danger than the disconnected prattling of someone in a suit trying their best to sound spiritual and only accomplishing saying ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ every few words.

 

I could go on. Everybody has their own reasons for sticking with a church, moving on, or giving up. But those are the ones that came to mind when I reflected on why I’ve been here for over a decade.

What about you? Why do you like your church?

Outspoken Releases

So I wrote another book.

Well, not just me. Tim Schraeder came up with this brilliant idea and asked a bunch of people to contribute. In this case, “a bunch” is defined as more than 60. I edited the book and contributed two chapters. And since I work for the organization putting the book out, I’m doing some of the promo work.

It’s been an incredible experience. The book is called Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication. It’s all about how churches can communicate better, which as you can probably guess is the heart and soul of the blog I run, Church Marketing Sucks. You can read an excerpt of one of my chapters over there.

The book officially launched today. I keep reminding myself to keep book sales in perspective. I’ve done two other major book releases and I’ve watched the Amazon sales rank rise and fall. Watching the numbers is folly. That’s what you tell yourself to feel better. But secretly I keep hitting refresh and watching that darn sales rank.

As I’m typing this, we’re at a high of #225. I don’t think Addition by Adoption ever went higher than 55,000. That means that of all the millions of books on Amazon, today there are only 225 selling more copies than Outspoken. If that’s not crazy enough, right now the book is #92 on the hot new releases list, #3 on the movers and shakers list, #24 on the best sellers in Christianity and #4 on the hot new releases in Christianity (right above Joyce Meyer and below Joel Osteen).

Crazy. I don’t know what that actually means for sales numbers yet (though it’s probably fewer than you’d expect). But what’s even better about all those sales numbers is that the book benefits the nonprofit Center for Church Communication and a portion of the proceeds will go to Creative Missions, a missions trip for creatives that actually helps churches communicate better. So by purchasing a book to help your church communicate better, you also help other churches communicate better. So cool.

Such a cool project to be a part of. Thanks to all the contributors who wrote for the book, the team that helped pull it together (and there are a lot of you!), the folks who have been promoting it and of course Tim Schraeder for having this whole brainstorm in the first place. I’m so excited and thankful that I get to work with people like this on projects like this.

You can buy the book on Amazon (where it’s even on sale!).

Good Friday

Today is Good Friday. It’s the dark day of death before the resurrection at dawn on the third day. There’s little good about it, as much as we make a case for its necessity. We can make the argument that it’s good, but it’s still a day of death most brutal. It’d the day they crucified my Lord.

O God, be merciful to me.

It’s gray and dreary today. Windy and cold, spitting rain, threatening darkness. Everyone is asleep in the afternoon. Napping. What else can you do? As days off go, Good Friday isn’t one to celebrate with loud acclaim. It’s one to be mourned.

Father, don’t stop prayin’. For this old world is almost done.

Good Friday is about waiting. Waiting for Sunday to come. Waiting for hope to break through. Waiting for light to shine. Always waiting. Humanity is plunged into the dark night of the soul, with nothing to do but wait. I grow so tired of the waiting. I want to plunge forward with reckless abandon, but it’s not in my power to do. I can only wait.

We nailed him on to a tree, but he never said a mumblin’ word. Not a word, not a word, not a word.

Good Friday is a paradox. Thankfully it escaped the Hallmark treatment. The Easter bunny and the eggs have left it alone, for what could you even do with it? This year it coincides with Earth Day, fitting to some and awful to others, but there it is.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on; And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on and joyful be.

It’s a day of quiet contemplation, a day to ponder these things that I’ve done. We are scattered and lost and in such desperate need of that Sunday morning. When will it come? When will it come? Christmas has the child-like expectation, but for Easter it’s something more. Something deeper. Something urgent.

Like a wayward child I’ve wandered… I have wandered in the darkness, and my path was lone and drear. But my Father did not leave me, he was watching ever near. Lord I’m coming home, Lord I’m coming home.

It’s supposed to be 60 degrees again on Easter—a return of Spring.

“I’m Not Anti-Muslim. I Just Don’t Like Muslims.”

So this whole “ground zero mosque” story is kind of incredible. It just keeps going. Makes me very weary of election years. No wonder nobody votes. I especially love how both sites throw out the ol’ “Anyone with common sense can see that,” argument. As weary as I am of talking politics, the way we talk about this issue keeps getting more interesting.

The other day I came across this blog post about a Washington Post article about Islamic critics, including blogger Pamela Geller. The short version is that folks like Geller are really mad that the Washington Post called them anti-Muslim. Incredulous, the blog post exclaimed, quoting some examples. It starts with Geller defending herself:

“I am not anti-Muslim. This is a slanderous lie. I love people. All people.”

But then Geller has also said:

“It’s the Muslims who are dragging the rest of the world with them, in their genocidal dreams of annihilating goodness, creativity, production, inventiveness, benevolence, charity, medicine, technology, and all of the gifts of the Jews.”

From a quick and dirty look at her site, it seems Geller likes to find examples of Muslim extremists and then blame all Muslims for their actions. The second quote above was about Arab youths attacking Jews in Germany, a shameful and despicable crime for sure, but not one my moderate Muslim neighbors are guilty of, no more than I’m guilty of picketing the funerals of U.S. soldiers because Christian extremists have done that.

Robert Spencer, another writer who resists the “anti-Muslim” label has also written:

“I have written on numerous occasions that there is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists.”

So he’s saying all Muslims are terrorists. Including, I’d guess, these Muslims in Minnesota who are teaming up with the Methodists to pack food for earthquake victims in Haiti. And somehow that whitewashing of an entire religion of 1.6 billion people isn’t anti-Muslim?

As bizarre as all of that is, I’m interested in something else.

What Message Are We Sending?
What Geller, Spencer and the like are effectively saying is “I love all people, but I don’t like what these particular people are doing.” It’s fine to say that, but when you make that statement about an entire group of people, you’re going to be labeled as anti-“those people”.

I can’t help but wonder if that sounds anything like the evangelical Christian response to homosexuality? It’s the old “hate the sin, love the sinner” axiom. It’s Christians saying “We love gay people, but they can’t have the same civil rights everyone else has.”

I’d guess Geller’s insistence that she loves all people sounds just as absurd as Christians who insist they love homosexuals while campaigning to undermine their rights.

A recent article from Relevant Magazine explores the next generation’s approach to gay marriage. It’s characterized by a lack of political fervor, a yearning for real conversation and plain old tolerance. I imagine that lack of rhetoric is what we need in the debate surrounding Muslims.

It’d be nice if in this debate we could find that tolerance and appropriately separate the extremists from the moderate Muslims. Let’s condemn extremist actions but celebrate religious freedom for the moderates.

And if you really want to revel in the Islamiphobia, you can check out Loonwatch.

American Mosques

I don’t like blogging about politics. I did a bit too much of it in the last presidential election and it left a bad taste in my mouth. People tend not to disagree well and it gets ugly. When you mix religion and politics it gets even uglier. But sometimes I feel compelled to talk about. Being quiet and looking the other way doesn’t help anyone, so we need to speak up.

How sad is it that I hesitate to post this because of our complete inability to have ideological differences? This is what extremism accomplishes.

I’m talking about the current controversy over the proposed Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City. You can already see the ideological sides lining up based on the language I used. I didn’t call it a mosque and intentionally noted that it’s “near” Ground Zero (two blocks away, in fact), and not “at” Ground Zero. (Now would that language be considered journalistically unbiased because it’s factual, or completely biased because it’s the language one side of the debate prefers?)

Personally, I don’t think an Islamic presence near Ground Zero is big deal. And a whole lot of folks have argued it better than I could, from Christians and Jews, to these couple defenses, to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to one of the women behind the project, to the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart.

In a nutshell, I think freedom of religion reigns. That’s what makes America great. If people want to argue that it’s too close and too painful and all the rest, I get that, but I respectfully disagree. There’s a difference between religious extremists who turn to terrorism and a worldwide religion of 1.6 billion people. Let’s not forget that non-terrorist Muslims died on 9/11.

And I think that’s where the problem begins. Some people don’t see a difference, and they see all Muslims as terrorists, or at least purveyors of a great evil. That’s why mosques across the country have been protested, including Temecula, Calif., Sheboygan, Wis.Murfreesboro, Tenn., and New Haven, Ct.

And if that’s the rationale—that freedom of religion doesn’t apply because Islam is evil—I don’t understand why these arguments are just coming up now. And perhaps those making these claims would say they’ve argued for this all along, but it just now seems to be catching on. If mosques truly are “jihadist recruitment centers,” isn’t that something for the FBI to sort out? (and it sounds like they’ve done that).

In the end, if someone truly believes that Islam is evil then there’s not much of a discussion to be had. And that’s perhaps why I hesitate to write this post—if any potential commenters believe that, then we’re not going to get very far. At the very least, let’s be up front about that (because too often we spend lots of time arguing before realizing our views are fundamentally divergent and we should just disagree and move on).

I find it depressing when Christians paint all Muslims with the same brush. Christian complain (loudly) when that happens to us, whether it’s the Crusades, the Inquisition or Westboro Baptist Church. And just as critics point to the Koran as proof of Islam’s ills, anyone can point to the Bible for all kinds of out-of-context horrors, be it perpetuating slavery or silencing women. Nevermind the flagrant accusations that Muslims are trying to spread their beliefs, claim political power or receive over-seas funding for new mosques. When Christians start using these arguments against Muslims, we don’t quite realize that atheists (or whoever) could employ the very same arguments against us (we forget how wacky our lingo sounds to those don’t agree with us).

It’s enough to work you up to a frenzy.

Which is why I love stories like this:

A small group of protesters took over a patch of grass across from the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley on Friday for a vocal but relatively tame protest against a proposed mosque, though they were greatly outnumbered by supporters from area churches who were there to support the Islamic Center. (LA Times)

Fourth of July Perspective

Native American pastor Jeff Yellow Owl shares a helpful perspective for the Fourth of July. He recalls attending a church service on July 4 and the pastor spoke about “the great sacrifice of the forefathers who established this country.”

“I was so angry,” Jeff admits. “I felt like a cold knife was plunged through my heart. All I could think of was, what about my forefathers and the blood of my people that has been spilled on this land?”

That’s a sentiment I’ve often felt as church worship strays from Creator to country. The freedom we have in America is worth celebrating, but it becomes dangerous when we whitewash our history in a red, white and blue frenzy. It becomes too easy to swell with pride and forget our failures. That kind of blind celebration becomes a slap in the face to those who endured injustice. As we celebrate our freedom we should remember our failures and steal ourselves to correct current and future failures.

The Fourth of July isn’t just an excuse to blow stuff up. It’s a chance to celebrate and move forward, towards a more perfect Union.

Jeff Yellow Owl eventually found the strength to do just that:

But forgiving the past was “a process and didn’t happen all at once,” he says. “That kind of forgiveness has to be supernatural.” …

He prayed: “I want to be healed from my anger. I don’t want this feeling in my heart anymore.”

Boobquake: Confounding Religious Insanity

Today is Boobquake. Funny story:

So an Islamic cleric and Iranian prayer leader was quoted in Iranian media as blaming earthquakes on immodest women:

“Many women who do not dress modestly … lead young men astray, corrupt their chastity and spread adultery in society, which (consequently) increases earthquakes.”

As if that claim wasn’t clear enough, Hojatoleslam Kazem Sedighi went on: “What can we do to avoid being buried under the rubble? There is no other solution but to take refuge in religion and to adapt our lives to Islam’s moral codes.”

As if to prove Sedighi isn’t an extremist, the minister of welfare and social security, Sadeq Mahsooli, backed him up: “We cannot invent a system that prevents earthquakes, but God has created this system and that is to avoid sins, to pray, to seek forgiveness, pay alms and self-sacrifice.”

So sin, and specifically women showing a little skin, causes earthquakes. Curious that Iran is among the world’s most earthquake-prone areas, and not, say, Las Vegas. Or Cancun during Spring Break. Also curious that these earthquakes are the fault of woman showing skin and not the men who lust after them.

A Modest Proposal
As if that little Pat Robertson moment for Muslims wasn’t entertaining enough, student Jennifer McCreight decided to put this ‘cleveage causes earthquakes’ theory to the test with Boobquake. Her modest proposal: Encourage women to dress as immodestly as they choose on one day and see if they can trigger an earthquake (McCreight is a vocal atheist and proponent of science over religion). She even set up a Facebook event. But when the event had 14,000 attendees she realized that what started as a joke was now something more (today the event has gone out to more than 1 million people).

What’s the Point?
So why am I talking about this? Because religious people too often insert foot in mouth and say something ridiculous. Sometimes it’s just a poorly phrased statement, sometimes it’s bad timing and bad taste, and in some cases (like this one) it’s just bad theology.

Boobquake is silly and juvenile (as the founder admits) and I’m not exactly on board with the pro-slut approach (we’ll save the appropriateness question for another time). But I do love the idea of confronting stupid religious statements. Drawing attention to the oppression women often face in the Islamic world is also worthwhile. It won’t change anything in Iran, but that’s not the point. McCreight’s point is that religion is stupid (I’m paraphrasing). My point is that our own comments and actions too often give people like McCreight permission and justification to think that way.

Religion doesn’t have to be the butt of jokes (the boob of jokes?). But that’s up to us.

Plus: Boob. [insert juvenile laughter]