Monday, April 14, 2014

Why the Evangelical “Obsession” with Homosexuality is Good

            Evangelicals are obsessed with homosexuality.  At least, that’s what popular blogger Rachel Held Evans thinks and she’s leaving evangelicalism, as a result.  Evans said she “watched with horror” as evangelicals dropped their support of World Vision after the organization announced it would hire people in gay marriages.  She was similarly horrified when World Vision reversed its decision.  “The situation,” Evans argued, “put into stark, unsettling relief, just how misaligned evangelical priorities have become.” 
Now, I could argue that evangelicals didn’t initiate the recent gay marriage controversy.  World Vision forced the issue by announcing a policy completely out of sync with the beliefs and values of the majority of its supporters.  But, let’s say I concede Evans’ point – that evangelicals are obsessed with homosexuality.  My question is, what’s wrong with that? 
Evans and the Christian Left seem to miss that if Christians capitulate on gay marriage, they concede much of the Christian faith.  You see, gay marriage is not merely a moral issue.  As the cover story for The Nation argued prophetically in 1993, the gay cause is rooted in an entirely new cosmology.
According to this cosmology, God didn’t created male and female to image a Triune God.  Rather, gender simply evolved into lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trangender and questioning – and has zero meaning.  Furthermore, sin is not the true cause suffering and the cross the means of liberation.  No, denying human desires causes suffering and people can liberate themselves by identifying with and asserting every sexual desire.
This is why conservative author Rod Dreher writes that “(g)ay marriage signifies” not just the triumph of the Sexual Revolution, but  “the dethroning of Christianity.”  For Christians like Evans and World Vision President Rich Stearns to assert that Christianity can in any way co-exist with gay marriage is patently absurd.  This is not some peripheral issue, as some argue, because Jesus never mentioned homosexuality.  Jesus’ entire mission on earth presupposed a Christian cosmology.   His died to liberate us from sin – not to help us embrace it.
Christians need to realize that gay marriage is deconstructing the very foundation of their faith.  We aren’t just losing some culture war.  If the church continues its capitulation, we may just lose our faith. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Women Feel “Betrayed” By Their Bodies

(I recently participated in a panel discussion on feminism for Moody Radio's Bring to Mind podcast, which relates to this post.  To listen to the discussion, click here.)

            Why would a woman feel “the oppressiveness of her biology” and “betrayed by (her) body” simply because she’s pregnant?  Okay, I admit I rarely experienced morning sickness, so my perspective is probably somewhat skewed.  But even so, I always delighted in my pregnant body.  Sure, it had its challenges, but those were nothing compared to the joy and anticipation of new life. 
            But, times have changed and so has women’s view of themselves and their bodies.  So, Rachel Willis, a guest writer for Christianity Today’s “Her-meneutics” blog, writes: “My first pregnancy made me feel gendered as a woman, trapped by my female body, in a way that I had never before experienced.  Until then, I always felt my body . . .  never restricted me to any so-called woman’s role. . . . I saw my education, my right to vote, my career opportunities, and my husband folding laundry, and I said, ‘It is good.’” 
            You see, one of the major tenets of feminism that most women have embraced – often uncritically – is this idea of role interchangeability.   That is, that women can and should assume all the roles traditionally assigned to men.  But, our bodies prove a major impediment to this goal.  As Willis writes, morning sickness and pregnancy-induced back problems made it impossible to do her job competently.  And, let’s be honest, after childbirth, these impediments only grow larger.  Our babies and toddlers demand more and more of us.  And, try though they may, daddies and nannies often prove poor substitutes for mom. 
But, rather than embrace our natural functions, we fight them in an effort to gain control.  This is why feminists demand abortion and contraception and label any restrictions on them a “war on women.”  In reality, though, women are warring against themselves.  Decades ago, we delighted in our inherent femininity and embraced motherhood as a privilege.  Now, we view these things as barriers to our self-actualization.    
Yet, I appreciate the honest question Willis asks at the end of her piece:  “How does God want me to think of my body?”  See, if we feel betrayed by our bodies when they’re simply performing their designed function, perhaps we’re the ones betraying our bodies – not to mention the One who designed them. True, sex roles don't necessarily have to be as rigid as society once held, but they're not fluid either.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Why Pastors Should Get Political

            "Can you imagine if (Abolitionist William) Wilberforce said, 'I don't want to teach about the slave trade. I don't want to be political. I might turn off someone who needs to hear the gospel'?" So challenged New York Tmes best-selling author Eric Metaxes at an event about a week ago at Moody Church.  Both he and Moody Senior Pastor Dr. Erwin Lutzer were comparing the church in Nazi Germany to the American Church today.

            You see, just like the church in Nazi Germany refused to speak out against evil and injustice some 70 years ago, so the American Church is shirking its responsibility today.  How often have you heard a pastor justify his silence on issues of abortion, gay marriage or state infringement of religious freedom by saying he doesn’t want to get political?  What that pastor is really communicating is that he’s compartmentalizing his Christian faith.  He’s fine with preaching a gospel that offers souls forgiveness and eternity in heaven. But, he refuses to preach a gospel that confronts sexual perversion – or resists a government that requires Christians to violate their consciences. 

            “(W)hat kind of gospel do you want to lead them to?” Metaxes asked.  “Some kind of spineless, toothless gospel?’”

            But increasingly, that is the American gospel.  We’re afraid of offending liberal Christians.  We’re afraid of offending seekers.  And, we’re really afraid of losing our tax-exempt status.  But, as Metaxes stated, “If every pastor were near the edge where he’s afraid he’ll have his 501c3 revoked . . . there’d be radical cultural change.” 

            The American church is losing battle after cultural battle.  But, instead of becoming more bold, we’re becoming more timid.  Just this week, I learned that the IRS is plowing ahead with plans to clamp down on conservative and religious non-profit groups.  Yet, will pastors urge their congregations to resist?  Will Christians bombard the administration with demands that the IRS cease its unlawful discrimination?  I doubt it.  But, as Pastor and Prophet Dietrich Bonhoeffer astutely observed, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”  For once, the church should learn from its history, not repeat it. 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Lent or No Lent?

          Like most evangelicals, I grew up viewing Lent as goofy at best and legalistic at worst.  Most of the kids I observed making Lenten sacrifices didn’t seem the least bit concerned about honoring God; they were just rotely following some church tradition.  Some even made Lent into a joke, giving up only distasteful things like liver or homework.  Of the few kids who actually took Lent seriously, most seemed to be trying to earn God’s favor.  They viewed salvation as a reward, not a gift.
Yet, over the years I’ve grown to appreciate Lent.  For one, I can see how following the church calendar keeps us on track – sort of like a spiritual fitness program. Left to my own devices, I tend to drift from God and succumb to spiritual vices like sloth, jealousy and bitterness.  But, the church calendar helps me stay on course.  As one pastor put it, it’s “like your doctor saying, ‘Here are the things you need to be healthy: eating, diet, exercise and rest.’”  It provides necessary structure for a wayward soul.
But, why Lent – 40 days of denial, penitence and confession?  The practice actually originated in the early church.  New believers were assigned a time of fasting and penance to prepare for their baptisms at the Great Easter Vigil.  You see, the early church didn’t necessarily take a convert’s confession at face value.  It waited and watched to see if a convert’s actions would follow his confession.  But, it didn’t do so as an aloof observer.  Instead, many in the church showed solidarity with these new converts by choosing to fast with them.  And, that’s where we get the practice of giving up something for Lent.
This is a hard practice for us Americans to embrace.  We’re attracted to the benefits of following Christ, not self-denial.  We prefer crosses to crucifixes.  We love Easter; we ignore Lent.  But, just like John came before Jesus, urging people to repent, Lent comes before Easter preparing our hearts to receive and rejoice at Christ’s resurrection. 
Living in a society of plenty, I tend to become like the church at Laodicea.  I think I am rich and don’t need a thing.  But, Lent reminds me I am “wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  It reminds me I need Jesus – His salve for my eyes, His clothes to cover my nakedness.
I’ll admit Lent isn’t fun.  But, like diet and exercise is good for the body, Lent is good for the soul.  


Saturday, March 1, 2014

Remembering Our Heroes

          My 11-year-old daughter recently had to pick her personal hero for a school project and she named the late Sim Isocrates McMillen.  You’ve likely never heard of Sim, unless perhaps you’ve read “None of These Diseases” – a best-selling book he wrote about 50 years ago.  Yet, that’s not why Sim is my daughter’s hero.  It’s because Sim, as my daughter put it, “brought Christianity to our family.”
You see, Sim was born into a God-hating, abusive family headed by angry drunk.  In fact, that’s how Sim ended up with such a strange name.  You see, Sim’s parents never bothered to name him.  So, at age eight, Sim named himself – Sim Isocrates McMillen, so his first name and initials would be one and the same. 
When he was a teenager, Sim’s sister, Oneida, led him to the Lord.  She had been kicked out of her parents’ house when she decided to follow Jesus at age 17. But, that didn’t deter her a bit.  She soon joined the Wesleyan Church and became an evangelist in the poor areas of Appalachia.  My grandpa used to accompany Oneida on her missions.  And, that’s where he met my grandma who, like Oneida, deeply loved the Lord. 
Despite the profound abuse and neglect my grandpa suffered as a child, he eventually became a medical doctor and served many years as a medical missionary in Sierra Leone, West Africa.  He and my grandmother had one child – my mother who, like them, grew to love Jesus too.
When I recall my grandpa’s story, I realize he’s my hero too.  But, I have several of them – men and women who have blessed me beyond words simply because they were faithful followers of Jesus Christ.  My guess is if you’re walking with the Lord, you have some of these heroes too.   
Hebrews 12 says, “Therefore since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”   
Today, I encourage you to remember your heroes of faith – and then run your race with renewed passion.  Who knows, by simply being faithful, you may encourage someone to overcome obstacles, resist sin, or endure suffering.  And someday when you’re in glory, you may find yourself the hero of your 11-year-old great granddaughter.