Human Rights

In Over My Head: Freedom and LGBTQ Inclusion

Head contour with rainbow flag in the shape of a heart. Image courtesy bymandesi

Head contour with rainbow flag in the shape of a heart. Image courtesy bymandesigns/

I am in over my heart on the LGBTQ situation and the church. I am also in over my head. As a Christian ethicist who believes Scripture is the measure for matters of faith, doctrine, and conduct, I have to say my head hurts to the point that it aches. It aches because I know that how evangelicals have taught me about loving LGBTQ Christians is myopic, and we need to think through many questions anew.

There are themes I am clear on: the place of love, the importance of family, the image of God, the mystery of bodies, the centrality of children. When it comes to faith, doctrine, and conduct, I plan to occupy myself for a long time on these themes to engage the questions that I am still unclear on. These include: What is the ideal marriage? Who is deemed family? What kind of sex reflects the character of God?

A few years ago, my then 7-year-old son was flipping through a children’s Bible during church when he came to a picture of Jacob and Rachel. He looked up at me and challenged, “What’s this? One wife? Where are the rest of them?”

Clearly the illustrator had an interpretive lens for choosing not to portray the messiness of the patriarch’s family and children. Our world simplifies and sanitizes marriage and sex to the point that we evangelicals endanger the kind of complex thinking on family structures that Scripture itself narrates.

Fortunately I am in a church where questioning over your head is okay. Formed by people who first called themselves Mission Friends, the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) was birthed as a renewal movement in the late 1800s. We affirm our freedom in Christ to breathe life into our faith and ground our wisdom in the midst of complex ethical questions. The New Testament’s word on freedom sets the tone. John’s gospel tells us that if we continue going back to the word, we are his disciples. Those who receive Christ and have faith in his name are free to become children of God (John 1:12). Paul emphasizes that those who love Christ are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). Galatians reminds us that freedom to live a new life is evidenced by such fruits as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:16-25). The letter to the Philippians promises that what God has begun will eventually be completed (Phil. 1:6).

In the midst of this celebrated freedom, the ECC acknowledges that it is a fragile gift. One of our forebears called this gift of freedom in Christ a “turtle without a shell” — how free it is to live unencumbered, yet how vulnerable to lose one’s protective layer. While I don’t want to say we Covenant evangelicals always use our freedom well, we do have historical precedent for thinking in morally complex ways.   

When Love with Limits Isn’t Love at All: Thoughts on Exclusion in a Time for Inclusion

A door opens to light. Image courtesy Peshkova/

A door opens to light. Image courtesy Peshkova/

I’ve always cringed when I hear someone say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”

In the end, I don’t quite know how to do that. I get the sentiment, and I think it basically comes from a well-intentioned place. Essentially, when someone says this, I think they’re trying to be kind and caring for the person above and beyond any kind of vice or sinful deeds that person has committed. You know: Man, I really love Steve but I hate his alcohol addiction. Deborah is a wonderful friend but her tendency to gossip is really not so wonderful. James has a heart of gold but I just can’t condone his adultery.  

We love and affirm people but we don’t affirm the things they do that hurt themselves, others, or are an affront to God’s dream for them and their God-given potential.  

But sin is not just the things we do (or do not do — there are both sins of commission and omission). Sin is something we can’t quite shake. While we’re first created good, as Desmond Tutu has reminded us, we certainly fall short (always be sure to remember Genesis 1:31 as the first word and Genesis 3 as the second).

Sin is a reality of our brokenness this side of Jesus’s return and that fully realized realm of God where there will be shalom and no one will hunger or cry anymore. Sin isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. So many want to make it out to be a laundry list of "don’ts" along life’s way — our faith, in the end, teaches us that it’s so much more than that.  

I reject the whole notion of love the sinner but hate the sin — it misses the Gospel point that we are more than our inadequacies or things that we’ve done or not done that have missed the mark. We are better than our sin — we are created in the beautiful image of God.  


Christians Strip on Court Steps to Protest Detention of Asylum Seekers

Image courtesy Louise Coghill, photography and Adam Elovalis, design.

Image courtesy Louise Coghill, photography and Adam Elovalis, design.

A group of Christians protesting detention for asylum-seeking children stripped off their clothes on the steps of the magistrate's court in Perth, Australia on Wednesday.

The group, Love Makes a Way, had just pleaded guilty to trespassing in Foreign Minister Julie Bishop's electorate office in December, where they had staged an eight-hour peaceful sit-in and several members were reportedly strip-searched.  

From the court steps, National Director of Common Grace and Sojourners contributor Jarrod McKenna quoted from the book of Matthew before he and others in the group began stripping off their garments — this time, willingly. 

We Need to Talk About Modern-Day Slavery

Freedom concept. Image courtesy frank_peters/

Freedom concept. Image courtesy frank_peters/

In his annual State of the Union address last week, President Obama began his foreign policy focus by saying, “If there’s one thing this new century has taught us, it’s that we cannot separate our work at home from challenges beyond our shores.” 

Unfortunately, an insidiously prevalent challenge and hugely profitable crime facing the world — modern slavery and human trafficking — was not mentioned in the President’s list of current global concerns facing the U.S. on Tuesday night. To be fair, he has given a major address on the topic before. But no president has ever raised the issue in his big annual address.

That needs to change.

Incidentally, the President just finished a multi-day trip to India, home to almost one-half of the world’s enslaved people. In a surprise and welcome development, he brought up the topic in his last speech there — a pointed one on human rights — saying, “Together, we can stand up against human trafficking and work to end the scourge of modern-day slavery.”  

Raising the issue in this context is an important step in naming the problem. Indeed, one of our country’s most effective tools for fighting slavery — the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons report — consistently pulls its punches specifically on India, declining to hold them fully accountable for the massive level of human exploitation there. Given India’s size and wealth, our larger foreign policy apparatus deems it more important to avoid “risking” other geopolitical concerns with the diplomatic fallout that could come from telling the truth on slavery. 

In Over My Heart: Friendship and the LGBTQ Church

Hearts together making a rainbow. Image courtesy Yulia Grigoryeva/shutterstock.c

Hearts together making a rainbow. Image courtesy Yulia Grigoryeva/

I am in over my heart on the LGBTQ situation within the church. As a Christian ethicist, life-long evangelical, and devoted Christ-follower, my heart aches to the point where it’s breaking.  I have friends, students, and family who are gay or lesbian, and my faith in Christ would be worse off without them. Among other things, they witness faithfulness to God amidst exclusion and persecution.

Fortunately, I’m in a church where being in over your heart is a good thing. Now called the Evangelical Covenant Church, my denomination’s founders called themselves Mission Friends at the outset. We began as a renewal group in Sweden around the practices of reading Scripture and hospitality. We began out of a love for spiritual formation, and we countered the dominant culture by allowing all people to be readers of Scripture.

Scripture reading in rural Sweden developed as a subversive practice. Though they were few and poor, lowly and insignificant, our Covenant forebears enacted justice by crossing prohibitive lines of class, gender, and age. Three things sustained them: the Jesus of the word; a new spirit of freedom and joy; and the word of God and the sacraments. As a result, these faithful groups gained the capacity to hear God’s word through the hearts and minds of individuals who differed from one another.

This practice of diverse interpretation amongst lay people forged ahead through the strength of friendships. The name “Mission Friends” grew under the Psalm 119 banner, “I am a friend of all who fear thee,” and the people of the movement treasured friendship and unity in Christ above any doctrinal or confessional statements. They believed that friendship is not only the method of advancing the gospel — it is the heart of the gospel. Friendship reflects in the simplest terms the way that the Evangelical Covenant church does ecclesiology, or life together.


Did Jesus Really Never Say Anything About Homosexuality?

A gay couple holding hands. Image courtesy EpicStockMedia/

A gay couple holding hands. Image courtesy EpicStockMedia/

In the realm of biblical arguments in support of same-sex relationships, I’ve always found one — “Jesus never said anything about homosexuality” — to be particularly weak.

After all, Jesus also never said anything about rape, molestation, bestiality, torture, cyber-bullying, insurance fraud or elaborate pagan rituals involving self-mutilation and child sacrifice. That does not, by default, earn any of those things the Lord’s unconditional seal of approval.

What’s more, I’m not sure if the argument’s underlying premise is even true. Because, in the Gospels, Christ may indeed have failed to specifically broach the topic currently preoccupying the American Evangelical church, but he did address the subject, in a manner of speaking, in Matthew 22 and Mark 12.

In those two brief, but pivotal, passages of scripture, Jesus captures the essence of the Christian ethic, mission, calling and faith in an incredibly simple and beautiful way. And he did so, interestingly, not as a standalone teaching, but in answer to a question from his critics.

It starts when a group of Pharisees, taking the tag from the Sadducees — who had been silenced in the previous back-and-forth — descend on Jesus, with the goal of ripping open a can of good, old-fashioned pwnage, first-century style.

The Torture of Our Hypocrisy

Solider in isolation painted with an American flag. Image courtesy CURAphotograp

Solider in isolation painted with an American flag. Image courtesy CURAphotography/

We remain bound to such a torturous future, because we continue to condone what we condemn. Over the past several decades our U.S. State Department has condemned Iran, North Korea, Libya, Saudi Arabia, and numerous others for their use of torturous techniques such as waterboarding, stress positions, forced standing and nudity, threats of harm to person and family, sleep deprivation, use of loud music, prolonged solitary confinement and the seclusion of prisoners in small spaces. But the recently-released U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) detention and interrogation program revealed that the U.S. has done exactly to others what we have so adamently condemned of others. In other words, if hypocrisy is a mask, then not only does our nation seem to wear one, but our faces have clearly grown to more fully fit into it.   

Five Gifts for Your Favorite Faithful Feminist

Woman at work. Image courtesy Nadezhda1906/

Woman at work. Image courtesy Nadezhda1906/

With Christmas less than a week away, the time for last-minute gift shopping is now. Sojourners’ Just Giving Guide has detailed a variety of ways to shop in a socially-conscious manner. We’ve gone one step further and highlighted some unique purchases from organizations that directly impact the lives of women and girls internationally and domestically. Check out the links below for creative gifts that make a difference for female empowerment.

Torture, the Bible, and America's Faith in Violence

Blood over the image of a cross. Image courtesy Markus Plank/

Blood over the image of a cross. Image courtesy Markus Plank/

Does the Bible describe a God of love or a God of genocide? How are we to reconcile that the apparent answer to this question is that it describes both? As people of faith, we need to face the sobering fact that some parts of our Bible command us to love our enemies, while other parts command mercilessly slaughtering them. If the Bible is God's Word, how can it present such starkly contrasting visions of who God is, and what faithfulness to God entails?

The typical response among conservative Christians is to seek to justify violence as good in an attempt to defend the Bible. This tendency to defend violence becomes especially relevant in the wake of the Senate report on the CIA's use of torture. While the report was met with shock and outrage in some quarters, it was also defended by a good number of conservative Evangelical Christians. In fact, a 2009 Pew Research poll found that 6-in-10 white Evangelicals support the government's use of torture.

Politicians defend torture in the name of "justice" and "defense," while conservative Christians speak in the more religious language of "God's will," citing biblical texts for support. In the end, however, the same point is being made. Whether it is described in the vocabulary of religion or more "secular" terms, violence — and in the case of torture, shockingly inhumane violence — is described as a necessary means for bringing about the good. This logic is at the heart of all religious violence, and it is a view that is alive and well today.

On the other hand, the typical liberal Christian response to the violence in the Bible is to act as if it were not there. One speaks of Christianity as a "religion of love," and points to the many parts of the Bible that speak of caring for the poor and the stranger.