the church

Weekly Wrap 4.17.15: The 10 Best Stories You Missed This Week

1. A Newsfeed of Fear: News, Social Change, and Resisting #FeedFear

When clickbait lures and controversy sells, what does it mean to read with the Bible in one hand and our newsfeeds in the other? Our series explores a question from the May issue of Sojourners: How do we unlearn our own attraction to scandal and sensationalism while still working for social change? 

2. Chef Invokes RFRA After Being Ticketed for Feeding Homeless in San Antonio

A Texas chef is using the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act in what might be the best possible way. Joan Cheever, whose nonprofit The Chow Train has worked to feed San Antonio homeless for the past 10 years, faces a $2,000 fine for not having an up-to-date permit during a recent stop in the city’s Maverick Park. Her defense? The state’s RFRA, which protects the free exercise of religion.

3. TIME Magazine’s Top 100 Most Influential People List: Our Highlights

There are a lot of interesting picks this year, and all are worth a read. But a few are worth a Sojo highlight, including: HeForShe campaign lead, outspoken feminist, and actress Emma Watson (written by Jill Abramson); criminal justice reform advocate and head of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson (written by Serena Williams); head of Mary’s Meals, which soon will be feeding 1 million schoolchildren across 12 countries, Magnus McFarlane-Barrow (written by Gordon Brown); and Afghanistan’s first lady, a Christian born and raised in Lebanon, who has vowed to improve living standards for the country’s women, Rula Ghani (written by Khaled Hosseini).

4. NYC to Acknowledge It Operated a Slave Market for More Than 50 Years

The historical marker is set to be unveiled on Wall Street on Juneteenth (June 19). “It will be the city's first acknowledgement on a sign designed for public reading that in the 1700s New York had an official location for buying, selling, and renting human beings.”

5. How Rachel Held Evans Became the Most Polarizing Woman in Evangelicalism

“I know that there’s a lot of people who feel like, ‘Well who is she? She didn’t go to seminary, she hasn’t cut her teeth as a pastor,’” Evans said. “I think some people feel like it’s a little bit of a threat to authority, that somebody can just be a blogger, and people will listen to what they say.”

 

An Apology to the Church

Basilica of the National Vow in Ecuador, Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

Basilica of the National Vow in Ecuador, Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

I have a confession to make. I have not always been very fair with the church, and for that I apologize.

In an effort to share my love and passion for my faith, I have picked and poked and criticized the church, and maybe that is a bit unfair. I have been a minister going on six years, and during that time, I have been the best and the worst that the church can offer.

I have a certain understanding of the way a church should operate, and when I do not see that being played out in the communities around me, it makes me upset: upset about the way God is presented, upset about the droves of people who will miss out on a life-changing relationship with God, and upset that I cannot change everything.

It's difficult for me as a young minister to slow down and be reflective in the face of impending decline and danger of closures for many of our congregations.

It's not easy being a minister today, and I guess it’s easier to take out my frustrations on the church instead looking for that 'silver lining.'

But I have a come to the conclusion that maybe all is not lost.

TIMELINE: LGBT People and the Recent Church

The recent history of the church’s treatment of LGBT people has been one of big abuses, big apologies, and gradual redemption. But, as leading evangelical ethicist David Gushee writes in “Disputable Matters” (Sojourners, January 2015),“this fight feels like it is reaching a crescendo. History will record who was on what side, and when.”

Recently, Gushee placed himself on the side of solidarity with the LGBT community. In the January 2015 Sojourners, Gushee explains why his theology shifted from scriptural condemnation of LGBT people to scriptural affirmation.

View this timeline to see a recent, abbreviated history of the church’s treatment of the LGBT community. Which side are you on? What about your church? Help expand upon the timeline in the comment section below.

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VIDEO: We Are Not An Issue

In the long-running “culture war” over whether or not to accept and embrace the LGBT community in the U.S., many evangelicals are switching sides. David Gushee, a leading evangelical ethicist, has recently become an outspoken ally of the LGBT community. In “Tackling the Hard Questions” (Sojourners, January 2015), Gushee explains that the welcome and affirmation of LGBT members of the church is both needed and biblical. “A new evangelical conversation should begin with Christian love and pastoral concern for all people, especially our own closeted adolescents and wounded exiles.”

It is essential that this conversation include LGBT voices. Recently, pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber of Denver’s House for All Sinners and Saints did just that.

When The Nines, an online evangelical church leadership conference, asked Weber to create a five-minute video discussing "the issue of homosexuality,"she turned the mic over to LGBT members of her church community, who quickly and necessarily reminded us that they are not an issue: They are the body of Christ.

Watch this video to begin or to continue engaging in the conversation about LGBT people and the church.

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The Disunion of the Church

imanolqs / Shutterstock.com

'The body of Christ is broken! And we are breaking it.' imanolqs / Shutterstock.com

One of the greatest sermons I ever heard on the subject of communion was offered by the head pastor of a Christian Missionary Alliance church in Princeton, N.J., back in the late 1980s. This pastor spent most of that sermon talking about the cross and how Jesus’ body was literally broken. I can still hear the crunch of the nails going into Jesus’ wrists that I heard in my mind’s ear that Sunday. And this wasn’t Easter week. It was just a communion Sunday.

Toward the end of his sermon, the pastor brought out a piece of saltine cracker that lay in the communion plate. He cracked it and then he said this: “Every time I take communion I hear the crack of the bread in my mouth and I bite and remember the crack of Jesus’ bones … and I remember that I did that.”

I wept as we took communion that day.

But isn’t that really about dis-union — the dis-union of Christ’s actual physical body? The cracking of his bones, the breaking of his legs, the piercing of his flesh; the cross seems to be more about a breaking apart than a bringing together of Christ’s body.

Right now when I see the lived reality of the church in our world, it seems we are more in a state of dis-union than communion.

6 Monumental Questions Facing Every Church In America

diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Churches continue to struggle with big questions, diuno/ Shutterstock.com

Christianity is a lifelong journey of learning new things, growing in wisdom, and interacting with a wide array of difficult topics. Boldly asking tough questions is essential to spiritual development.

Today, few questions are as important, impactful, meaningful, or divisive within Christianity as the following six:

1. Is homosexuality a sin?

While much of society continues to accept homosexuality as being a culturally and morally acceptable practice, many Christian institutions, organizations, and communities still consider it sinful.

Increasingly, Christians who publically denounce homosexuality are perceived as homophobic, bigoted, and on the completely wrong side of a major human rights movement. This results in the Christian faith being wholeheartedly rejected by a modern population that sees this type of fundamentalism as incompatible with modern ethics and conventional wisdom.

But other churches, denominations, and spiritual communities are changing — and some have fully embraced and supported gay rights.

Christianity currently finds itself facing four basic responses: 1) support homosexuality, 2) reject it as sinful, 3) accept it but still claim it’s sinful, and, 4) ignore the issue as much as possible.

Believers are deeply divided on the issue, and ultimately your stance on homosexuality defines much of what you think about God, theology, church, sin, and salvation.

This is one of the defining question facing today’s Christians, and many are still processing through what they believe and struggling to come up with an adequate answer.

Don't Ignore It: 5 Ways Christians and Churches Must Engage Michael Brown’s Death

Protests Aug.17. Photo courtesy Heather Wilson / PICO

Protests Aug.17. Photo courtesy Heather Wilson / PICO

I have so much emotions and thoughts in my mind, heart, and body – in light of the oh-so-much that is going on all around the world – including the utterly tragic, brutal, and unnecessary “death” of Michael Brown.

But I thought it would be helpful to share a few thoughts how churches, Christians, and leaders can be engaging the events of the past 11 days in their respective churches – now and in the future. I’m not suggesting that pastors have to completely alter their sermons or Bible studies, but to altogether ignore the injustice of Michael Brown’s death would be altogether foolish.

To be blunt and I say this respectfully,

The integrity of the church is at stake because when it’s all said and done, it’s not a race issue for me — it’s a Gospel issue. It’s a Kingdom issue. We shouldn’t even let isolated issues in themselves hijack the purpose of the church. The Gospel of Christ is so extraordinary that it begins to inform (and we pray, transform) all aspects of our lives. So, in other words, we talk about race and racism because we believe in the Gospel.

So, here are five suggestions for Christians, leaders, and churches.

The Church Has Left the Building

Federico Rostagno / Shutterstock.com

Federico Rostagno / Shutterstock.com

Last year I spoke at a missional church conference in Southern California. The guy who spoke before me asked every one of these missional pastors do a simple exercise.

“Turn to the person sitting next to you,” he said, “and tell them the names of your neighbors on every side of your house (or apartment) and share one story about their lives.”

The room went abuzz.

After a few minutes the speaker called the audience back and asked: “How many of you could share the names and stories of each of your neighbors on every side of your house?” No one raised their hands.

The speaker asked how many could share the names and stories of a few of their neighbors. Only about three people in an audience of about 200 raised their hands. This was a missional conference.

To A Dying Church: We Cannot Escape Our Mortality

Electrocardiogram, Eskemar / Shutterstock.com

Electrocardiogram, Eskemar / Shutterstock.com

Dear Church,

You are dying. I get it. Because so am I.

And, speaking as one of your pastors, I think this is a very good thing.

To be clear, I don’t have cancer. No doctor has told me to set my affairs in order. But each morning, I wake up feeling a little bit older. Each morning, I notice a few more crinkle lines around my eyes, a bit more resistance when I change what I eat or how I move. Each morning, I am reminded, whether I like it or not, of my own mortality.

I cannot escape my mortality. I will someday die. Scripture reminds us that “all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls” (1 Peter 1:24). I know that I am no exception to this rule; I am limited. And I live in a culture where the trend is to try to erase these limitations, where I can blur my wrinkles, try fad diets, renew my strength with the latest energy drink.

But these things are illusions. I am dying.

An Unexpected Journey

Illustration of community holding hands, STILLFX / Shutterstock.com

Illustration of community holding hands, STILLFX / Shutterstock.com

When our church receives new members, we share a covenant that includes the commitment to “journey together.” Often, we realize this can mean ‘journeying’ into unwanted, dark, difficult, or surprising places with each other. We have stood with each other as loved ones pass away. We stand with each other in the difficult role of being children of aging parents, or parents of growing children. We bear witness to the power of hope when someone we love struggles with depression. We celebrate commitments made, successes honored, and loves found. The Christian faith, we realize, is rarely about solutions; it is about the authentic and real journey of life and a common trust that our God walks with us, no matter what.

For a variety of reasons, a former bishop in another denomination found us in the immediate aftermath of a horrible car accident that resulted in the death of an innocent and lovely woman in a nearby community.

Rather than becoming a setting to explore the details of this accident, our congregation became a lifeline for him during the months he awaited his fate and eventual conviction of second-degree reckless homicide. Week in and week out, he attended worship, sang with us, prayed with us, and sought spiritual solace with us. His presence was quiet but consistent. He didn’t ask for special attention, indeed didn’t want to make us uncomfortable with his presence. As a person of faith on his own difficult journey, he simply wanted to be in worship with a community.

 

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