Friday, 21 November 2008
Guest post submitted by ChrisRusso
The Blogging Dangerously Series, Mark V
Follow-up post to the previous letter. What, did you think I was going to let you off that easily?
Dear Disciples of Jesus (and various claimants thereof),
Hello. You may know me, or you may not. Chances are, I have attended church with you. I may have gone to parachurch organization retreats with you. You've possibly seen me at CCM rock concerts: I was either the youngish guy down in the mosh pit near the speakers, or the older (and deafer) guy sitting near the back. I've collected your tithes. I've taught your children at VBS (often while dressed like a pirate/spaceranger/knight). And, depending on where we were, I was probably either the most "conservative" Christian in the room or the most "liberal" Christian in the room. (Funny how that works out, eh?) You and I may agree on almost everything, or we may not agree on very much beyond the personhood of Christ.
Either way, we need to talk, you and I.
See, if you consider the teachings of Scripture or apostolic tradition/early church teaching to still be relevant today (as I do), chances are you believe that homosexual sex is a sin. And recently, several states have passed constitutional amendments defining state-granted marriage as being only between a man and a woman. Some of you may consider this a victory (I don't wholly agree, but that's a topic for another post).
But now, you're hearing about all these people who are angry about the banning of same-sex marriage, and who are protesting--sometimes interrupting or vandalizing--churches. (I'm thinking specifically of incidents such as the alleged mid-service raid of Mount Hope Church by organization Bash Back!, or the vandalizing of Mormon churches by the same, or the breaking up of a worship meeting in the Castro district of San Francisco). This might make you concerned. You may even feel afraid.
I'm seeing all these Christians talking or blogging about it. Some are saying things like "The Persecution has begun!" Others, upset about church vandalism, are talking about arming the security guards at their churches. (Churches have security guards?) I hear talk about the "homosexual agenda" being upgraded to talk about "homosexual fascism." And I get worried. Let's clarify some things.
1) This Is Not Persecution
I know--we have persecution hard-wired into our faith. Jesus told us to expect it, even to rejoice when it happens because it means we're on the right track.
But let's be honest. I think it's a commentary on how sheltered the American church has become if a few burned Bibles and tossed condoms are considered persecution. This is social pressure, perhaps; this is a hostile reaction to a Christian belief, sure. But persecution? Crack Foxe's Book of Martyrs sometime, and you'll see persecution. Visit an underground church in the 10/40 window, and maybe you'll see persecution.
Even when you get to something like Swedish Pastor Ake Green, who was only arrested (and acquitted) for "hate speech" when he preached from the pulpit that homosexuality is a sin, you're still only toeing the threshold of what persecution really is. George Scherter, beheaded and then burned. John de Boscane, held under the water in a bathtub and stabbed with a dagger. The bishop Basil of Constantinople, who was "torn every day in seven different parts, until his skin and flesh were entirely mangled." These are persecution.
Notice this: at Mount Hope, after members of Bash Back! held their invasive protest, the Eaton County Sheriff's Office and Attorney General's office cooperated with the church to investigate the disturbance. Notice this: in Castro, the police came and both protected the worship group during their service, and escorted them safely out when the situation escalated. In both cases the State protected the rights of Church members. If this was persecution, that would not be the case.
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people." --Jesus of Nazareth
2) Moderates vs. Extremists
I'm noticing that the Christians who get really upset about the invasive protests start to talk about "the homosexuals" as though they are a monolithic group who all think alike, vote alike, protest alike, ect.
In contrast, I've encountered diversity within the gay community. Some are hostile towards Christians, some consider themselves Christians. Some talk in terms of violence and "fighting back" against those they see as their oppressors, while others talk in terms of pacifistic protests and civil disobedience. Some are angry enough that they agree with what protesters like Bash Back! have done; many more disagree with Bash Back!'s methods and don't want to be represented by that group. (Bash Back!, in fact, is often at odds with the larger LGBT community, which it considers to have sold out into a "heteronormative" paradigm.)
I'll let you in on a secret. The sort of homosexual who, as a form of protest, rushes into a church to throw condoms everywhere... the sort of homosexual who burns Bibles on the steps of Mormon churches... That sort is a minority within the gay community. I don't know exactly how much of a minority--but the more that the larger moderate segments of the gay community speak out against violence and invasive protests, the more we see just how small a minority it is.
You don't have to be so afraid of the gay community. Most of them are not out to get you.
I'll give you an example from the Christian side. Do you remember Fred Phelps? Pastor of Westboro Baptist "Church"? (Membership: 90, mostly Phelps's children and grandchildren.) He's the one that protests outside of military funerals, saying that God is killing American soldiers because we have gays in America? He's the one whose church's website is godhatesfags.com?
Do you want Phelps representing Christianity to America? Do you want people to think of Westboro Baptist Church when they hear the word "Christian?" Of course not. Phelps and his ilk are vile, sick, hate-spewing people, and very much a minority within Christendom.
But can you imagine if the world thought all Christians were like Phelps? How frightened of us they would be! How do we as Christians let America know that hate is not what Christianity is all about?
We speak out. We denounce Phelps and his hateful words for the lies that they are. We drown him out with our collective denial of his methods and tactics. We as Christians must do this, or else by our silence we are giving consent to Phelps' protests. Speak out!
I've already encouraged the gay community to denounce the violent tactics and invasive protests of groups like Bash Back! But it's long past overdue to be our turn. We need to denounce the violence and invasive protests of extremist so-called Christians who shout hate--or worse, practice hate--towards homosexuals. And hopefully, as we learn to see that not all homosexuals are Bash Back! members, they will learn to see that not all Christians are WBC members.
In summation: Saints, please denounce or continue to denounce hatred and violence towards homosexuals that is done in your name.
3) Pleased To Meet You, Mister Ambassador
You are a Disciple of Jesus. That means that you've studied under him, trained with him, and ultimately are expected to be qualified to represent him to others.
Are you reacting to this social tension in a Christlike manner?
No, really. Ask yourself. Reacting with fear? Not a good sign. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and a sound mind. Lashing back with anger? Watch yourself. Be angry if you must, but don't use it as an excuse to sin. And don't let your anger simmer and fester within you.
Understand this: every event, every instance, every heartbeat of life is a God-given opportunity to express Christ's love. Expressing his love doesn't mean you go soft on the issues--Christ was very clear when someone was in the wrong, and he didn't excuse sin. But he could "speak the truth in love," as we should be able to do. Guard your tongue; be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Careless comments you make on someone's Xanga have the potential to turn someone off to Christianity for years to come.
You are representing Jesus to this world. Make sure you represent him well.
When the incident at Mount Hope happened, after the protesters fled the church (leaving condoms and banners everywhere, apparently), the pastor regained the pulpit and led the congregation in prayer. They prayed for the protesters that had just left. That, in my humble understanding of Christianity, was a far more Christ-like action than "arming the church security guards" would have been.
"But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you." --Jesus of Nazareth
4) How To Preserve The Sanctity of Marriage
I talked in an earlier post about the differentiation between State-marriage and Church-marriage, and how I believe Proposition 8 should never have been an issue. Chances are, many of you disagree with me. But let's put that aside for the moment, because no matter which way you lean on Prop 8 I hope we can agree that there are better ways than constitutional amendments to preserve the sanctity of marriage.
Do you want to preserve the sanctity of marriage? Then show us a godly marriage through your own.
If you believe (as I do) that true marriage is not a merger of bank accounts but a God-blessed (possibly sacramental) union of souls, that has to be according to God's plan and will in order to reach its fullest potential, that's an excellent start. Now show us. Show the world what marriage is supposed to be like.
See, the thing is, we American Christians have dropped the ball. We want to cry out about how allowing homosexual marriage will destroy the sanctity of a sacred institution. The problem is that we've already destroyed the sanctity of our own sacred institution. The divorce rate is higher--HIGHER!--among Christians than it is among the general populace! How many Christian marriages are broken, empty, loveless, commitmentless? We can't complain that the newcomers are tracking mud on the carpet if the carpet is already dirty!
Forget for a moment about trying to prevent false forms of marriage--show us its true form instead. Make your marriage so true, so real, that those who see it will no longer be satisfied with cheap knock-off brands.
Are you with me so far, Disciples? We have a lot to do, and an ever-shortening time to do it in. There's no room on the To-Do list for sitting in fear or for stewing in anger or for struggling against some amorphous vague demographic for control of society. That's low on the priority list, people, if it's on there at all! (We wrestle not against flesh and blood, remember?)
There are hurt and broken people out there. If you really believe that there is healing in our God's name, then we need to get out there and reach them. And when (real) persecution comes at last, we may be so busy about our Father's business that we scarcely notice.
This post is just in case I wasn't flamed enough for the last one...