The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

In Over My Spirit: Faithful Dissent on Full LGBTQ Inclusion

My heart breaks. My head hurts. My spirit is broken on the question of LGBTQ inclusion in Christ’s church. In many ways, I am in right place in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). We affirm the central role of friendship in our life together. We believe in the freedom to hold diverse theological views in the spirit of renewal. Yet, to draw from Martin Luther King Jr.’s phrase, freedom has a dull ring for me on this topic. Not only have some in my church family questioned the right to hold a minority view on LGBTQ questions, they have questioned the spirit of dissent.

The faithful pursuit of deeper answers in conversation with Scripture generates enormous fear, and this fear is understandable. Talking about LGBTQ questions is divisive in the current climate. Many believe the church has clearly spoken on this topic. Those ecclesial groups who have engaged it have lost churches and people. Understandably, leaders want to avoid this kind of thing happening under their watch. Still, pastors and lay people are on the front lines of ministering with and to their LGBTQ members — some of whom are clearly gifted for ministry and should be working themselves as pastors.

I could cite stories of bullying, statistics on youth suicides, or examples of micro-aggressions directed at the LGBTQ community on a daily basis. The evangelical world knows this, however, and they still insist on debating the theology. So here is where I, as a Christian ethicist, underscore the importance of faithful dissent. Why? For starters, Jesus did it all the time, and yes, he drove a lot of people crazy. For reference, see Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The fact is, sometimes the majority view gets it wrong. We see it over and over throughout church history.

What does dissent look like? The ECC has a beautifully written report on biblical authority and Christian freedom that offers a set of reflections on the relationship between Scripture and the practice of theology. Five themes woven throughout this theological short and our archival documents offer helpful parameters for evangelicals discerning the parameters of faithful dissent. These five criteria offer up what I call “Best Practices for Faithful Dissent.”

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How Do Churches Address Alcoholism Among Their Leaders?

Here’s a sampling from some of the nation's denominations:

1. SOUTHERN BAPTISTS

The Southern Baptist Convention has passed more than 50 resolutions about the “deleterious effects of consuming alcohol,” said Roger S. Oldham, spokesman for the convention’s Executive Committee. The most recent resolution, passed in 2006, urged that “no one be elected to serve as a trustee or member of any entity or committee of the Southern Baptist Convention that is a user of alcoholic beverages.”

“In instances where a pastor may need treatment for substance abuse, he or his church would seek services in the same way other members of their communities would,” Oldham said.

2. ROMAN CATHOLICS

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Dean Smith: Amazing Grace

An early fellow Sojourner, Perk Perkins, reminded me this week that not long after we started Sojourners as a new Christian magazine for justice and peace, I came running into our little office one day and exclaimed, “Dean Smith is a Sojourners subscriber!” 

Here were young Christians in Washington, D.C., saying our faith called us to racial and economic justice, opposing the nuclear arms race, ending the death penalty, and supporting the equality of women. And the greatest college basketball coach in the country was reading Sojourners?! 

Dean Smith died on Saturday. He was 83 years old. 

Monday’s front page New York Times story — not just in the Sports section — was titled, “A Giant of College Basketball And a Champion of Equality.”  

ESPN and everybody else ran the numbers. But all the tributes and comments on the death of Dean Smith have quickly moved on from the numbers. Current UNC coach, Roy Williams, said his predecessor "was the greatest there ever was on the court but far, far better off the court with people." 

Player after player who were coached by Dean Smith, as famous as Michael Jordan to those who barely walked on to the team and hardly ever played, testified in the last few days to how much more than a coach he was to them — their “mentor,” “teacher,” “second father,” “role model,” life-long inspiration and guide.  

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Does Obama Owe Christians An Apology?

I’m very offended. Or so I’m told. As a believing Christian, I’m supposed to be deeply troubled by the remarks that President Barack Obama delivered at the recent National Prayer Breakfast here in Washington, DC. Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore had this to say:

The president’s comments this morning at the prayer breakfast are the most offensive I’ve ever heard a president make in my lifetime. He has offended every believing Christian in the United States. This goes further to the point that Mr. Obama does not believe in America or the values we all share.

Strong words. But what were Obama’s terribly offensive remarks? Here’s what the president said:

And lest we get on our high horse and think [religious violence] is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.

Wait… what? Why should I be offended by that? That’s a fact. That’s our history. Every Christian should be aware of what we are capable of when we turn our eyes away from the self-sacrificing love of Jesus and instead turn Christianity into an ideology that justifies terror, brutality, oppression, and war.

It should be impossible to study Western history without getting some glimpse into the terrifying possibilities that any religious system — including Christian ones — hold out for those who seek to dominate others. We humans have a long track record of twisting our most precious faith into a weapon of violence and hatred. This shouldn’t be a controversial statement; it should be a matter of ongoing repentance and prayer for people of faith everywhere.

So I’m confused.

 
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Poll: 1 in 4 Americans Say Islamic State Represents True Islam

More than a quarter of Americans and nearly half of senior Protestant pastors say the Islamic State terrorist group offers a true representation of Islamic society, according to a pair of new surveys by LifeWay Research.

The findings that indicate many Americans have a dim outlook on Islam come as President Obama sent a formal request to Congress on Feb. 11 to authorize the use of military force to combat the Islamic State. Meanwhile, police in North Carolina tried to determine whether the shooting deaths of three Muslim students were hate-motivated.

Forty-five percent of 1,000 senior Protestant pastors surveyed say the Islamic State, also known as ISIL or ISIS, “gives a true indication of what an Islamic society looks like.” Forty-seven percent disagreed with the statement, according to LifeWay, a Nashville-based, non-profit Christian research group. LifeWay surveyed only clergy who identified themselves as the top pastoral officials in their organizations.

The pastors had a much darker view of Islam than Americans at large.

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Pope Francis Wants ‘Absolute Transparency’ as He Pushes Vatican Reform

Pope Francis called for a Vatican that operates with “absolute transparency” as he gathered more than 165 cardinals in Rome for high-level meetings aimed at tackling one of the toughest challenges of his reformist papacy: overhauling the dysfunctional bureaucracy of the Roman Curia.

The goal, Francis told a lecture hall filled with the scarlet-clad “princes of the church, is to foster “greater harmony” among the different church offices in a bid to foster “absolute transparency that builds authentic … collegiality.”

“Reform is not an end in itself, but a means of bearing a powerful Christian witness,” Francis said.

That was a nod to the scandals that overshadowed the waning years of Benedict XVI’s papacy and undermined the Vatican’s credibility with the public and the dismayed churchmen who had to deal with the fallout.

The two-day gathering with the cardinals – including the 20 new appointees who the pope will officially elevate on Feb. 14– comes almost two years to the day after Benedict stunned the world by announcing that he would become the first pope in nearly 600 years to resign from office.

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Drones Make War Too Easy, Too Remote, Faith Leaders Say

For the Obama administration and the Bush administration before it, drone strikes kill terrorists before terrorists can kill innocents, and the strikes keep American soldiers out of harm’s way.

But for a group of faith leaders, drones are a crude tool of death that make killing as easy as shooting a video game villain, and they put innocents in harm’s way.

These religious critics — 150 ministers, priests, imams, rabbis, and other faith leaders who gathered at the Interfaith Conference on Drone Warfare at Princeton Theological Seminary in late January — have spent the weeks since drafting a statement that calls on the U.S. to halt targeted lethal drone strikes.

“There are enough problems with the current drone policy and the use of drones that we need a break,” said the Rev. Richard Killmer, director of the conference. “Drones have become a weapon of first resort and not last resort. It has made it a lot easier to go to war.”

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Parking Spat as Motive for Triple Murder? N.C. Muslims Don’t Buy It

Preliminary police reports describe a long-simmering dispute over parking as the motive for the killings of three Muslim students at a Chapel Hill condominium Feb. 10.

But many Muslims in the Raleigh-Durham community and beyond are not so sure. The triple murders in this usually harmonious university town immediately took on a larger narrative of hate crimes against Muslims and charges of atheists baiting Muslims.

On Wednesday, police charged Craig Stephen Hicks, 46, of Chapel Hill with three counts of first-degree murder.

They allege he shot Deah Shaddy Barakat, 23, and his wife, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha, 21, and Abu-Salha’s sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19, of Raleigh inside their condominium near the University of North Carolina campus in Chapel Hill.

 
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Why Christians Can’t Ignore the Mote in Their Own Eye

Despite the fuming of a former Republican governor, President Obama didn’t offend “every believing Christian in the United States” when he noted at a national prayer breakfast that we, too, “committed terrible deeds” in the name of our religion.

I, for one, was pleased to have us called back from the “high horse” that Christian religionists often occupy when criticizing other faiths while ignoring the mote in our own eye.

In our pursuit of religious victory, we Christians have at times been a scourge on civilization. We have slaughtered many, and not just centuries ago in a safe and distant past but still today.

We have served as apologists for slavery, apartheid, racial segregation, white terrorism of blacks in the South, suppression of labor, and repression of the poor and immigrant. Some of our misguided brethren are declaring war now on women and on gays, as if God’s promise to love all of humanity needed to be ignored.

We have winked at our own scandals while presuming to judge our neighbors for their flaws. We have sought special favors — such as tax exemption — and used the benefits to serve ourselves. With the world around us descending into violence and intolerance, we bicker about doctrine and property ownership.

Our hands are stained. Plain and simple.

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Are Foreign Aid Workers Unprepared for Violence Abroad?

The risk of foreign aid work, especially for young people, has again been thrust into the national spotlight after the death of 26-year-old Kayla Mueller.

Mueller, a foreign aid worker, was confirmed dead Feb. 10 after being taken hostage by Islamic extremists in 2013 in Syria.

Even as aid organizations have improved security protocols over the past several years, workers can be placed in war-torn areas where safety cannot be guaranteed, said Abby Stoddard of Humanitarian Outcomes, a research and policy group for humanitarian agencies.

And those who feel compelled to take part in easing human suffering abroad may put safety second.

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