jonathan merritt

The Specter of 'Normalization'

Image via Rene Bach / Flickr / RNS

In the fight over gay rights, conservative Christians have a new enemy. No, it isn’t a politician or activist or organization. It isn’t a noun at all, but rather a verb: normalize.

In Albert Mohler’s forthcoming book, “We Cannot Be Silent : Speaking Truth to a Culture Redefining Sex, Marriage, & the Very Meaning of Right & Wrong,” the president of the flagship Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., discusses the normalization of same-sex relationships a whopping 39 times.

“The normalization of homosexual relationships and the legalization of same-sex marriage” is, in Mohler’s words, “the debate of greatest intensity of our time.”

Why I Accept Mark Driscoll's Apology ... And You Should Too

Pastor Mark Driscoll says he’s sorry for inappropriate comments made in 2000. Photo: Mars Hill Church Seattle/Flickr

Well, we’ve just concluded another week in American evangelicalism. Which is to say, we’ve witnessed another Mark Driscoll blunder.

This has for sure been a rough year for the Seattle-based mega-church preacher. He was accused of plagiarizing in multiple books, which resulted in a tepid but public apology. He embarrassed himself by crashing a conference hosted by another pastor, John MacArthur. And former staff and church members spoke out about the oppressive environment at Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church. These gaffes join a legion of others. After the flood of criticism he received, Driscoll quit social media and has retreated from the public eye.

But another shoe dropped last week when Christian author Matthew Paul Turner posted a series of discussion board comments by Driscoll under the alias “William Wallace II” in 2000. Driscoll’s opinions, though 14 years old, were nothing short of vile. In addition to being expletive-laden, they were misogynistic and homophobic (and I do not use either term lightly).

In response to the furor his comments created, Pastor Driscoll apologized yet again, saying his statements were “plain wrong” and he “remains embarrassed” by them. His apology was predictably rejected by the growing gaggle of Driscoll critics, a group that has become evermore vampirical in their thirst for Driscoll’s blood. But I accept Driscoll’s apology and other Christians should too.

Why I Shared My Sexuality Story

Photo: Audrey Hannah Brooks

A story penned by Jonathan Merritt goes viral. He reveals why he decided to share it now. Photo: Audrey Hannah Brooks

“When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability … To be alive is to be vulnerable.”

These are the words of Madeleine L’Engle, and this week I’ve been reminded of the wisdom they contain.

This weekend, Christianity Today posted an excerpt from my new book, Jesus is Better Than You Imaginedin which I share a story about childhood sexual abuse and my adult struggle to understand my sexuality. Many have asked why I would do such a thing.

This wasn’t a career move or a brazen attempt to sell more books. Being open about these experiences as an evangelical writer leaves me, like so many scarecrows, exposed. I do not plan to become a spokesman for any of the issues addressed in this article. The events shared are a part of my story, but they are not the whole of my calling. Today, I return to my job as a columnist committed to exploring the interface between faith and culture and helping foster difficult conversations that others may be unwilling to have.

A Faith, Broken: When Inclusion Evokes Christian Ire

Fallen church, vietnamphotos / Shutterstock.com

Fallen church, vietnamphotos / Shutterstock.com

I have great respect for religion writer Jonathan Merritt, even though we disagree on a lot of social and theological issues. He evoked a maelstrom about his article suggesting the Arizona law allowing businesses to deny service to LGBTQ people was less than Christian, and yet he stands behind his words.

Basically, many prominent voices from the Baptist and Neo-Calvinist camps went berserk about his call for tolerance; never mind that he didn’t even take on the moral issues surrounding LGBTQ identity itself. It was simply enough that he called for equal treatment of all people as fellow human beings, period. But he broke rank with the conservative Christian rank-and-file, which depends heavily on uniformity of voice and position on key issues.

Merritt took a risk, knowing full well that he’d likely suffer for it. And he did. In a small online forum of fellow religion writers, he expressed dismay both at the aggressive, hateful nature of peoples’ response from the right, as well as the relative palpable silence from the center and left.

For that, to the degree that I can speak for myself and others like me, I’m sorry, Jonathan. When someone steps out like this, putting himself at risk, we should rally to support him, as much as those on the right rally behind causes.

White People Need a Non-White Jesus

Attila Jandi/Shutterstock

Christ is in every person Attila Jandi/Shutterstock

In the wake of Megyn Kelly’s statement that “Jesus was a white man,” critics have quickly and unanimously responded that Jesus was not a white man. Here at Sojourners, Rev. Laura Barkley has debunked Kelly’s statements, noting that Jesus “was a Palestinian Jew in first-century Nazareth.”

In his article over at The Atlantic, Jonathan Merritt argues that Jesus is not only not a white man, but that scripture is mostly quiet about Jesus’ racial makeup. Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., who once said, “The color of Jesus’ skin is of little or no consequence,” Merritt agrees with historian Edward Blum, who draws from King’s statement that “Jesus transcends race.” Ultimately, Merritt points to the universality of Jesus, focusing on Christ’s availability to all, to individuals from “every tribe, nation, people and language.”

Yet in pointing to the universality of Jesus, it is easy to pass over his particularity to a certain time and place.

Only 19 Percent Are Women

Photo: Blend Images / Shutterstock

Last week, a controversy erupted over Twitter when it came to light that a prominent evangelical conference with 110 speakers only had four women on stage.

Journalist Jonathan Merritt, did a quick informal study and discovered that out of 34 prominent evangelical conferences, only 19 percent of speakers at plenary sessions were women.

This is a problem.

As a white male evangelical and a black female evangelical who spend a lot of time speaking at conferences, events, and college campuses, we know from experience this is a problem.

Conference spaces have become one of the primary discipleship spaces for evangelicals. These are the spaces where evangelicals go to learn all that it means to be a follower of Jesus.

Christian Leaders Respond to DOMA Decision

Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners.

Supporter of the LGBT community stood outside the Supreme Court yesterday. Photo by Katie Anderson/Sojourners.

“DOMA is dead.”

Such were the chants heard outside the United States Supreme Court yesterday when it was announced that the highest judicial body in the nation voted 5-4 to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). That’s right. As of yesterday, there is no longer a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and woman.

Of course, not every American is roundly rejoicing. Responses from the Christian community, which has become more divided over the issue in recent years, are mixed. Conservative Christians seem mostly despondent while the progressives among them are mostly celebrating. I spoke with several prominent Christians from across the political spectrum today to get their reactions to the Court’s decision:

A New Way of Being Christian in the Public Square

Three decades ago, the evangelical faithful was galvanized by public debates over abortion, the size of the federal government, the future of the traditional family, and religious liberty. Many responded by following divisive leaders into the culture wars with the promise that voting for "moral" leadership would end abortion, protect traditional marriage and put our country on the right track.

How did that work? Not so well, it turns out.

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