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.

When God Comes Calling

This is a story about me and God. I realize that this opening sentence is enough to put some readers off right away, but I hope that they will bear with me for just a little longer. I am not trying to write an evangelistic piece. I never was good at that sort of thing. This is a very personal account of a very personal relationship that exists between myself and someone who many people don’t believe is real. That is all right. I don’t ask for anyone to believe in God in order to enjoy this story. It’s all about me anyway, so how can you go wrong?

I was not raised in a religious family. Apart from a period of probably less than a year I do not remember seeing my parents in a church. My mother was apathetic about the whole thing and my father thought that only the simple minded could believe stories about lions that didn’t eat people and furnaces that didn’t burn people up. Perhaps my father was on to something; we could debate the Bible as being literally true or symbolic all day long, but that is not the goal of this tale. The point is that I had little reason to believe in the Christian God or any other god, and therefore no reason to direct my life based on any such belief.

That one year, more or less, that my family attended church happened when I was nine or ten years old. It would be a lie, more than simply a stretch, to say that the experience made much of an impact on me. I managed to dodge many of the sermons by artful means but could never escape Sunday School. That eternal and, to me, infernal hour was spent fidgeting on my hard folding chair and thinking more about how much I wanted to get my squished and aching feet out of the too-small leather shoes I was forced to wear at church than the patterns made out of felt that were being used to tell Bible stories. At school I could wear “tennies”, as athletic shoes were then called. During most of the year when I was not at school or church I wore no shoes at all. I grew up in San Diego after all.  But for that one hour of trial and pain I had to squeeze my poor feet into shoes that I was too big for and would have hated even if I wasn’t.

So from my pre-teen years I emerged with little to recommend me to the faith, and it remained that way until the tenth grade. That school year I had the good fortune to sit next to the most beautiful girl in Hoover High.  I thought so anyway. This angel was bright and pretty and friendly and asked me if I wanted to go with her family to a Billy Graham Crusade.  I had never heard of Billy Graham, but would have agreed if she had asked if I wanted to walk over hot coals and eat live slugs with her and her family.  I was not at all accustomed to girls, beautiful or otherwise, asking me to do anything with them, so I agreed in a heartbeat.

At the crusade I actually liked what I heard and went forward, identifying myself as a Christian, and began to attend the same church as the Beautiful Girl. I really did believe what I was taught and continued to attend that church even after it became abundantly clear that pigs would fly before the Beautiful Girl would ever look twice at me in a romantic fashion. Eventually however I simply lost interest in the church and for my last year and a half of high school my focus returned to girls, who continued to be generally unimpressed with my overtures, and hanging out with my friends in the neighborhood.

I had the misfortune of graduating in 1966 at the height of the Vietnam War, and the military was casting a broad net to procure men enough to fight that war while still holding the Soviet Union at bay in Central Europe and Communism in general elsewhere in the world. I was not married, had no aspirations to enter college or become a police officer or firefighter, and so the only option seemed to be to join the Army before it joined me.  This was quickly accomplished and I spent the next three years in the U.S. Army, with two of them in Vietnam where any and all restraint against indulging my own personal pleasure in any way and in any form that I could find it was removed.

This is not a tale about my dirty laundry; I’m writing a story, not a book.  My belief in the story of the Bible had deteriorated into a belief that two thousand years ago an unmarried teenager had gotten herself pregnant (no miracle there) and cooked up a story about how God did it and, to my utter astonishment, people believed it!  The crafty conniver in me, one of my Army nicknames being Weasel, did admire that scam just a bit. The Old Testament was simply a collection of Jewish fairy tales and life after death would be if my friends would remove my head after I overdosed on something and used my skull for a planter to grow a marijuana plant in.  My friends could then point to the weed growing out of my unused cranium and state “there’s Glenn, still getting his head.”

This was the condition that I was in when one day I decided to ride my bicycle away from most of the nearby habitation and smoke a joint in the open sun. I lived then in El Cajon, just east of San Diego, and nearby was a road which climbed the hills east of that city up to a town appropriately named Crest. It was a long and fairly steep hill and I rode my bike about a quarter of the way up when I decided that I had gone far enough. I walked my bike through the low, sparse chaparral and perched myself on a pile of large rocks under the warm sun. I could see a house several hundred feet down the hill and nothing else anywhere near me. Feeling safe I pulled out a book that I was reading, lit a joint, and settled in for what I expected to be a pleasant hour or two of relaxation.

The joint was long finished and the book engrossing when I heard my name called. That’s all it was:  Glenn!  I jumped a little and looked around to see who had found me in what I thought was an isolated location. There was nobody anywhere to be seen. I looked down at the house and saw nothing stirring but a dog trotting across the yard. I knew that that this voice could not have come from there because it was too far away, there was nobody in sight, and nobody there, including the dog, knew my name.  I tried to account for this experience by thinking “I’m just stoned,” and went back to my book. I was unsuccessful however. I had been stoned before; a lot more stoned a lot of times before, and I had never had any experience like this. Contrary to most Hollywood representations of drug-induced hallucinations I never believed that any of mine were real. I sat on that rock a short while longer but my uneasiness continued to grow until I stuck my book into my back pocket and walked my bike back to the road. I pedaled home and then proceeded to forget about the experience as quickly as possible.

Thirteen years, two businesses, two marriages and two children later I found myself in a very small rental in Washington State. My family was still in San Diego, as I had graduated and taken my first job as a vascular technologist and had gone ahead to prepare a place where my family could join me. The last several years had been extremely difficult for me. My first marriage had dissolved painfully, and for most of my second I was struggling to provide, first by working in construction and then by working in a pathology lab while attending school full time. The stress was terrific and for a short while a doctor had me on mild antidepressants. I had long since quit using any sort of drugs, legal or illegal. I felt an urge to find peace in a non-chemical way and began to read everything I could get my hands on that might help me to make sense of life; everything except the Bible that is. Been there, done that. I read about Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. I read Plato, Aristotle, and other guys whom I couldn’t make heads or tails of. I finally stumbled on Alan Watts and was drawn to the Tao, an ancient Chinese spirituality. I still could not fully buy into the Tao because of its airy-fairy (to me) nature, and so I graduated with a degree in vascular technology but no degree that could explain why it was worth it to stay alive.

During the two months between graduation and my first job the pressure inside my head continued to grow. Externally I continued to do the things that made daily life seem to work; get up, got to work, watch the kids while my wife went to work. But inside I could feel my stomach tied in knots and a tension in my neck and shoulders that wouldn’t release, no matter how much I tried to will myself into some kind of rest.

My wife at that time attended the church which I had once attended with the Beautiful Girl. That girl had long since gotten married to a very nice guy and moved away to start a new family. My wife had a Bible which she would sometimes read and frequently it would be lying on a table in the front room when I returned home from work. I would get home at about 11:30 PM and my wife would be lying in bed, waiting to hear my key in the lock before she could relax and fall asleep. At some point during those two months I picked up that old, leather covered Bible and started reading from Genesis 1. I found it familiar and comfortable, although I still couldn’t believe it and had no intention to read about that Jesus stuff. I read through the first two books but stalled out badly on Leviticus. I put that old Bible down and didn’t pick it up again for the rest of my stay in Southern California.

When I received my first job offer I was ready to leave the rat race of Southern California. A couple of weeks later I was alone in the Northwest with no family, no friends, and nothing familiar to anchor my miserable self to. The result was muscles so tense and a stomach so knotted up that I could barely eat or sleep and the bridge over the Columbia River which I crossed twice each day began to look more and more like a good place to make a one-way visit.  Only two blocks from my rental there was a very large Catholic cathedral. I had only the smallest knowledge of the Catholic version of Christianity and had no idea why I would walk into that building. I was so miserable however that I was no longer able to figure out why I should do one thing or not do another. Rather than making a rational decision that I would walk into that large, ornate building I instead found myself walking in that direction as if I was watching from outside of myself. I walked up the stone stairs and through the massive doors, and stood inside to see what could be found there. There were a few people sitting in the wooden pews and someone kneeling at a rail up at the front. There was a great deal of art on the walls and I began to walk slowly around the inside of the building.

That was when it happened. I felt God all around me. How do I explain that? It wasn’t like being in a room with one person you really like or love; it wasn’t like being in a stadium with a hundred thousand fans watching your team seal a victory. The closest that I can come to describing it is a warm and comfortable sense of peace and rest for my agitated nerves that completely surrounded me and even seemed to press into me. More than that, I knew more certainly than I knew my own name that this feeling was nothing other than the presence of God, whom fifteen minutes earlier I didn’t even believe in. I stood there in that place marveling at this experience and expected it to go away. It did not go away. I began to walk again slowly around the inside of that building while the sense of the presence of God continued to work it’s way through my exhausted mind, body and soul until finally I was convinced that this was real and even if that feeling departed, which it eventually did, my mind knew beyond a doubt that the God responsible for it was real and eternal and would always be there for me regardless of the bumps and bruises that life would continue to bring me. I stayed in that cathedral for at least an hour and finally left to go home to get some sleep before I had to go to work the next day. That night I slept pretty good, and the next day I crossed the bridge without any thought of taking a short hike off the middle section where the bridge is highest.

The third meeting which I had with God occurred a couple of years later. I was now a regular church member and learning more about what it means to be a Christian. I have slowly learned that it is not at all what non-Christians think it is, nor what most professing Christians think it is either, but that’s meat for another story. I determined that I would read the Bible cover to cover and was diligently engaged in that pursuit one evening while lying in bed when once again I heard only my name: Glenn!  This time it was a little different however, for the voice that I heard was easily recognizable as my dad’s. Dad, at this moment, was sound asleep 1,500 miles to the east in Kentucky. I knew instantly who it really was, and the fact that the voice was my earthly father’s made it just that much more comfortable and welcoming. I felt like that one word was an affirmation that God and I were on a journey together that would take me places that I never expected to go. That is how it has turned out and it has been a hard but completely satisfying ride.

So there you have it. I know that many people will not believe that these visitations were an actual encounter with a benign supernatural entity of any type, much less the God of the Bible. I do not blame anyone for that and will not think one bit less of them if that is the case. I would not have believed such a tale if it was told to me before I had experienced it myself.  It is sufficient for me to write that this is what I have experienced and is therefore worthy of writing as one of the stories of my life. I hope that you, reader, can take it for what it is worth and enjoy the story, even if only as a story. For my part, every word of it is true.