God, World Vision, and the Culture War

The recent uproar surrounding the decision by World Vision to hire married homosexuals, and then the decision a couple of days later to reverse that decision, has begun to recede from the social media just a bit, but there is still plenty of opinion being thrown into the arena.  I was initially reluctant to add my two cents’ worth because, really, is one more crackle of static in a wall of white noise going to matter?  After a while of wrestling with that question I have decided that it probably won’t matter at all, but I am going to do it anyway.

The shouting match seems to break down into a contest between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’, and who is being true to Jesus and the Bible.  Or to slice it more thinly, who is being true to the Whole Word of God and who is being true to the Heart of Jesus.  It is probably much more complicated than that, but with my limited abilities that is how I see it.  If I am not mistaking this too badly, many conservatives believe that guidance for every circumstance in life and society is explicitly provided by the Bible, and if that guidance was followed to the letter our society would look a lot like White America in 1955.  It is only fair to point out, and I do so with joy, that many conservatives do not believe this.  Many liberals, on the other hand, appear to me to believe that what the Bible teaches on a wide array of issues is secondary to what is perceived to be What Jesus Would Do, and that Jesus would generally do other than what conservative American evangelicals would do.  In the best tradition of sitting on fences and marking out territory in the middle of the road let me say, with feet dug in and a backbone of iron, “you’re both partly right and you’re both partly wrong.

Let me begin this discussion by stating that my personal inclination is towards the conservative.  If you ask a half dozen conservatives whom I know about that they may beg to differ, but it is I who gets to say what I think that I think and not them.  It is, then, with a heavy heart that I say that the presumed Golden Age of America back then was not as golden as one might think, and that if you are pursuing that model you may not be living the Bible that you say that you love quite as much as you think.  Nineteen Hundred and Fifty Five Ano Domini was not a good time to be in America if you were Black, Native American, Latino, homosexual, or a woman with aspirations to be other than a housewife, secretary or nurse, to mention just a few groups of people.  The church which is supposed to love above all else had little love to spare for those who did not conform, and especially those who did not conform to the All American Family (fictional, mostly) stereotype.  I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s and knew only one family which even came close to that model, and I have no idea what transpired behind their doors when my friend Jeff and I went to our respective homes after playing together for the day.

And what about the family that many conservatives believe to be the only correct model?  How does that family look in too much of America today?  Men either dominant with wives playing a submissive and subordinate role or men absent by overwork or simply sitting in their chair and checking out on their responsibilities while women are stepping up to fill their absence.  Or perhaps women demanding to be the boss and place their needs, which are largely defined by the surrounding culture and not scripture, above that of the family.  The children, pretty much neglected and their silence bought with electronic toys or whatever else is important to their peer group at the moment, feel little connection to the adults with whom they live or anything, frankly, that these adults believe.  And the divorce rate among those married Christians is no different that that of the surrounding culture.

In my opinion a Christian marriage is one in which the husband and wife love and positively affirm each other, even when they don’t like each other sometimes, and children are included squarely in the middle of the family with love, respect, and guidance (even when that guidance is not welcome; it will be appreciated later).  This marriage weathers the hard times which are inevitable.  When American Christian marriage and families more nearly achieve that Biblical standard and divorce becomes a rarity resorted to rarely and under unique and very valid circumstances (we all know what they are), I believe that we will have a platform from which to preach on the subject to the culture at large.

In short, I believe that many American Christian conservative evangelicals are confusing the culture of America in the mid twentieth century with the gospel of Jesus Christ functioning on Earth, and are waging a war of culture, not of Christ versus the world (the one He came down to from heaven to die for and save).  Jesus Christ is not now and never has been at war with the world.  He loves His creation, and He tells us to love it too; all of it, if we have ears to hear.

And that brings me to those who feel that they must leave the evangelicals because there is no place for them there.  Their Jesus is more than just the Bible, and they want to be Jesus followers and not Bible followers.  What the Bible says about God’s view of the right life of His creation is of less importance to them than Jesus, who just happens to be the same God who inspired the Bible that they give lesser importance to.  I’m not sure that I get that.  We don’t even know anything that Jesus said or did apart from the Bible. The New Testament was written by people who knew Jesus; walked with Him, listened to Him, and then wrote of their remembrance.  Even Paul knew about Jesus and probably heard Jesus preach, although he would not acknowledge Jesus as Lord and God until a bit later.  All of these writers of the New Testament were Jews who knew the Old Testament faithfully, and when they write that Jesus said “every jot and tittle is true” they knew what they were writing about, and that has weight with me.  And why would’t Jesus say that about the Old Testament?  He, as God, inspired it after all.

If I am being asked to put aside the proposition that biblical marriage is between one man and one woman because Jesus said to love my neighbor I say “No”.  The commandment to love my neighbor does not negate the Bible’s formula for proper marriage arrangements in any way.  In my opinion, in a civil society homosexual people may marry as much as they want and they may enjoy all of the tax and inheritance benefits and physical and emotional neglect and abuse and divorce rates that many modern Christian marriages enjoy.  I have neither obligation nor desire to throw bombs at unbelieving homosexual couples.  Quite the reverse, I have an obligation to treat those people with justice and with the love of Christ as He commanded.

The marriage of homosexual believers is another and more sticky matter.  As I wrote earlier, I am conservative.  I believe that the Bible; all of it, even the symbolic and not literal stuff, is the inspired Word of God, who is Jesus, remember!  While some of it can get twisted into some certified weirdness, such as the Prayer of Jabez, there is little wiggle room on the topic of God’s view of homosexual activity.  I will not bother you with the verses; most of us interested in this topic already know them.  And I will not be diverted by suggestions that David and Jonathan were homosexual lovers.  The Bible does not say anything like that, and it is in my opinion a fantasy and a rabbit hole intended to divert the discussion from the facts.  And the facts are that both Testaments, and especially the Old, do not endorse and in fact seek to discourage homosexual activity.

I would emphasize that the Old Testament is not less valid because it is old.  If the prophecy of the coming of the Christ was not proclaimed throughout the Old Testament then jesus was just another slightly demented windbag with a sandwich board crying “The End is Near” on a street corner.  It is the truth of the Old Testament which points to the truth of Jesus, and it does the world no favor to pick and choose truths to support some cause du jour.  I would have no problem being pastored by a celibate homosexual male or female, and I have no problem calling a homosexual person my friend and a person loved by God and myself.  I cannot however ignore that for a person who claims to believe in the Bible and in the Christ whom the Bible proclaims from start to finish, homosexual activity is not viewed with favor by God and cannot be endorsed by His church.  I simply do not believe that we get to pick and choose what we do and don’t believe in God’s Word according to our convenience.

All that being said, I have no heartburn with World Vision hiring married homosexuals.  If God has given that person a talent which will help me to help clothe, feed, minister health to and educate the ‘least of these’, then I am worse than an unbeliever in my opinion if I deny that hiring, and I am a very demon from hell itself if I would allow a child to be denied those benefits because of some culture war that I am certain makes Jesus’ heart break and makes me want to puke.  And that, I suppose, is my two cents.

Goodbye, Mr. Phelps

I read in the news today that Fred Phelps, founder of Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas, is close to death.  Westboro Baptist, if you have not heard of them, is extremely opposed to homosexual people and anyone else who varies from the heterosexual norm.  I looked at their website and discovered not only that “God Hates Fags” but also “God Hates Islam”, “God Hates The Media”, “Jews Killed Jesus”, etc., etc.  Reading their homepage I was reminded of a quote, I believe it was by Anne Lamotte, that goes “It’s a sure sign that you have created God in your own image when he hates the same people that you do”.  If Anne didn’t actually say that, it sounds like something that she would have.  I believe that Wesboro Baptist is as clear an example of that quote as can possibly be found.  My intention in writing this article is not to bash Westboro however.  As much as it pains me to see the word ‘church’ llnked with the positions and actions of that group of people I will have to let a complete rejection and denunciation of same await another day.  Westboro founder Fred Phelps is near death, and I am writing to grieve that fact.

What was that?  How can I mourn the passing of such a perversion of the Christian faith?  Don’t I know that Fred Phelps and his followers picket at funerals for fallen American servicemen, condemning their service to a “fag loving nation” and celebrating the fact that they were killed?  Yes, I know all of that.  I have been told that they are a very small congregation and make the majority of their income by provoking outraged mourners into punching them out and then suing them.  It is very unlikely that I will be relocating to Topeka any time soon and applying for membership at Westboro Baptist Church.  I’m certain that I don’t know the half of their positions and activities and that I would be in danger of losing my breakfast if I did.  Nevertheless, I still read of the predicted demise of Mr. Phelps in the near future and I mourn.

Death, you see, is not natural.  Death is much more of a perversion of nature than is anything or anyone targeted by the Westboro bunch.  Death was not created at the same time that life was.  Life and the universe and everything in the universe was created and it was declared to be good; very good in fact.  It was not until sin corrupted humankind that death entered into the universe; that death became the reality that has now attained a level of certainty that is equal to that of taxation.  Death is the foundation of a universe which is still awaiting restoration by it’s Creator, and I cannot bring myself to rejoice over any evidence that rebellion still rules and restoration and reconciliation are not yet accomplished.

Mr. Phelps is a person created in the imago Dei, the image of God.  God had a plan for Mr. Phelps that would have blessed him greatly, and that through him the world would have been blessed greatly too.  Mr. Phelps did not follow that plan and the world has suffered for it, but the fact remains that within the core being of Mr. Phelps there is a man made to love God and love his neighbor; a man who loves peace, kindness, forgiveness, gentleness and humility among other godly virtues.  For reasons I don’t know Mr. Phelps was bent and twisted into a person filled instead nearly to the top with hate and unforgiveness, strife and pride.

But before I pick up and throw the first stone I must examine myself.  Do I hate?  Yes, I do.  Do I lust and have I, as Jimmy Carter once famously put it, “committed adultery in my heart”?  Again, the answer is yes.  Have I lied?  Cheated?  Gossiped?  Slandered?  Uh-huh, all of the above.  That being the case, how can I measure up to the qualification that “He who is without sin cast the first stone”?  I can oppose everything that Mr. Phelps seems to have stood for, but I cannot with a clear conscience celebrate his or anyone else’s death.

Mr. Phelps is very certain that a small number of people, mostly just like him, are going to ‘get in’ to heaven.  Fags and ‘Fag Enablers’ are just a few of the vast bulk of humanity who will not ‘get in’ because God hates them.  The news that will come as a shock to Mr. Phelps is that God is not hate, and God does not hate.  1 John 4:8 says “Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love”.  Love and hate can no more coexist than can light and dark, matter and antimatter, the Seahawks and the 49rs.  God very much loves Fags, Muslims, people described by The N Word, and even white trash like me.  Of course, that’s a blade that cuts both ways.  God loves Mr. Phelps too.  It seems that nobody is destined to be happy here.

So Mr. Phelps now lies on his deathbed, afflicted with some unknown disease and preparing to meet his God.  All of this was not supposed to happen.  Mr. Phelps was never supposed to die.  Mr Phelps was not supposed to hate and lead others into hatred.  Mr Phelps was not supposed to cause anguish and grief among the objects of his hatred.  In short, Mr Phelps was a beautiful creature made in the image of God and loved by God who was twisted into a monstrosity by sin and will soon die an unnatural (they all are) death.  And for that I grieve.

Megyn Kelly, John Stewart, and a White Jesus

I have been disappointed and saddened by a news event that has been circulating lately.  Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly has apparently said that Jesus of Nazareth and Santa Claus were white.  It was reported in a related bit of news that John Steward “layed into Kelly” for making such a comment.  I did not hear the comment nor do I know the context.  The comment is being used nevertheless to make the point that Ms Kelly is stupid and, by extension, so is her employer Fox News, and by further extension all conservatives and conservatism itself.  This really does make me sad.

The reason for my sadness is as follows.  Ms Kelly is not stupid.  I would not dare to engage her in a debate, just as I would not debate Mr. Stewart.  Both of these individuals are extremely bright and intelligent people.  The statement by Ms. Kelly that Jesus and Santa Claus are/were White could easily be defended, if one felt that the issue was important enough to need defending.  Jesus, born in what is now Palestine, probably looked a great deal like Palestinians look today according to most scholars who deal with that area.  While one could hardly call Jesus and Palestinians Nordic, the fact is that they are, by and large, White.  If a Palestinian walked up to a Woolworth’s lunch counter in Arkansas in the 1950’s and ordered a burger and fries he would have been served.  Of course there are nuances, and “White” has come to mean a great many things other than simply skin color.  Still the fact remains that within the broad, merely physiologic sense of the word, Jesus was White.

As to Santa Claus, this character was based upon an extremely generous person named Nicholas who lived in what is now Turkey in the fourth century and was probably ethnically Greek.  This ethnicity also falls into the category of “White” by physiologic criteria.  The mythical character with the unhealthy body mass index who somehow wriggles down chimneys, even in houses which do not have chimneys, has mostly been white too.  I don’t know how many hundreds of years that the Santa Claus myth has persisted but I would say that for at least 99.99% of that time Santa has been White.

If Ms. Kelly was saying that it is wrong to depict Santa as being other than White, or that there is some theological harm in portraying Jesus as being Black or Asian or Hispanic or Eskimo or anything else, I would disagree with her.  My Christian view is that all on Earth are made in the image of God, and Jesus is God, so any human on the planet is in the image of God.  Therefore, if Jesus appears to be Black to a Black person, Asian to an Asian person, etc., etc., that would be fine with me (and it doesn’t actually have to be fine with me, and I know that).  In the case that Ms. Kelly or anyone else was arguing the contrary  I would be willing to debate them, regardless of their intelligence or accomplishments.

The main problem for me is how very easy and natural it is to label those with whom we disagree stupid or worse.  That makes it much easier to dehumanize and then hate them.  We disagree with George W. Bush so we label him stupid.  Now we can hate him and no insult or injury to him can bother us in the least.  Or we may disagree with Barrack H. Obama and, since it is hard to call him stupid, we call him evil.  Now we can more easily hate him and no insult or injury to him will bother us as well.  The news media with journalists like Kelly, the quasi news media with commentators like Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews, and pseudo news media starring entertainers like Stewart, live on this division.  And when Congress shows itself bitterly divided with one side unable to work with the morons and dunderheads on the other side of the aisle, how are they different from all of the rest of us?

My summary position would be this:  We cannot as a nation hope to ever lift our society up while we call each other evil, stupid, racist, greedy, etc., and then go on about our own evil, stupid, racist and greedy business.  Labeling as stupid those with whom we merely disagree places them in the status of “the Other” whom we hate or exclude almost as a duty while feeling comfortably superior in the process.  I doubt that our nation will ever heal until it tires of such labeling and chooses to agree or disagree with each other in a more agreeable fashion.  As Jesus, whatever color he was or anyone would like for Him to have been said, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”  Reconciliation and peace were important to my Jesus, whom I would worship if He was a Martian.

I cannot change the actions of a single person in this nation, although I hope that at least one person will read this and consider if a more charitable opinion towards their opponents might be worth trying.  In the meantime I suppose that I will begin my campaign to change discourse in America on the only field where I have any leverage at all:  myself.