All You Disaffected Evangelicals should Become Lutheran

I never thought I would write a post with this title.

However, I suspect a lot of you are already thinking about it, so let me say out loud what you might be thinking.

Image source - http://cyberbrethren.com/whats-a-lutheran/
Image source – http://cyberbrethren.com/whats-a-lutheran/

“Maybe checking out a nice Lutheran church wouldn’t be so bad.”

Over the past few weeks, the Evangelical world (read: media, twitter, blogosphere) has been full of drama, so much so, that I wrote about how it reminds me of High School drama. There have been those who are just tired out. Those who have resolved to quit fighting about the drama with other disaffected folks. Those who are advocating for schism. Those who are breaking up with Evangelicalism.

Meanwhile, Lutherans in the US elected a Presiding Bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, who is a woman. Nadia Bolz-Weber (our own little rock star) wrote an incredible book worth reading. Lutherans have a strong history, we have leaders like Dietrich Bonhoeffer who have found renewed followings among many Christians. Lutherans have been doing alright.

Let me be clear though. I am not saying you should become Lutherans because we are awesome (because we are not), and I am not really into sheep stealing.

In fact, Lutherans have a lot of flaws and we may not seem, at first, like what you are looking for.

Most Lutheran churches can seem kind of boring. We don’t create cults of celebu-pastors. We are pretty calm and subdued in worship, when people smile at a joke told during a sermon it is a really big deal. We generally do liturgy, but we are not as good at it as the Catholics or Episcopalians/Anglicans. Lots of us try the praise and worship thing, but we are still stuck in 1992 when it comes to music and style. We sometimes try to get involved in our communities and with helping the poor, but our churches don’t have big outreach budgets and many of our folks are burning the candle at both ends. We do have strong aid organizations like Lutheran World Relief, but we are not like the amazing Mennonites. For youth, we have 2 years of church school (confirmation) for 12-14 year olds – we do not do youth group like the Baptists or Pentecostals.

Of course, Lutherans have drama too. We fight about all kinds of things that churches fight about, from theological understandings of human sexuality to worship styles to carpet colour to budget deficits.

churchsignBut here is the thing you disaffected Evangelicals might appreciate. We Lutherans are pretty sure we are wrong and imperfect. Plus we like to name it.

Most Sunday mornings, we begin by confessing our sins. Together. We admit to God and to each other that we haven’t got things right and we won’t in the future. We remind ourselves that we are all pretty screwed up.

Then we hear God’s forgiveness. Given to us, freely, generously, graciously, without condition.

And we go from there. We begin with confession and forgiveness, and then we preach grace.

Real grace. Grace that is God’s action and not ours. Grace that is entirely God’s responsibility, not ours.

Lutherans might not be the best at liturgy, music, social justice, outreach, youth group, or promoting celebu-pastors. But we are the best at grace.

In fact, I am going to go out on a limb and say Lutherans have the best theology of justification – bar none. We get this grace stuff and we drill it into each other a lot. Lutheran theology and preaching at its best provides the clearest distinction of law and gospel, of what our problem is and what God is doing about it, in all of Christianity. Lutherans churches at their best will boldly declare that we are not the ones saving ourselves, that our theology, our pastors, our liturgy, our music, our youth programs, our celebu-pastors… our good works… don’t meant squat to God.

God has already decided how God feels about us. Any pastor, any Christian who tells you otherwise hasn’t read enough Martin Luther. Or enough of the Bible.

God loves all of us, and not because we earn it or deserve it. God loves us because God is just really cool that way.

This is why I think you disaffected Evangelicals need a little more Lutheranism in your lives. Because we know how to be broken, marginalized, tired out, sinners, and we do it honestly, without pretense. And we know that we will be okay. We know that God is really good at working with our brokeness, working with us at our worst. That is what grace is all about.

That is what I hear you needing. That is what I see coming to odds in Evangelicalism. The need to be right, the need to do it all, the need to have it all together, the need to do God’s work all on your own. The need to be prefect little bible believing Christians coming to odds with the reality of all suffering, sin and death in the world.

Now, before I tell you to become a Lutheran, let me explain one thing. Yes, Lutherans are named after Martin Luther, but Luther named himself after something else. Martin Luder changed his name to Luther, which is derived from the greek work ‘eleutherius’, meaning one who has been set free.

Lutherans are followers of Luther, but we are also ones who have been ‘set free.’

So all you disaffected Evangelicals. Become Lutherans. Become set free.

Become ones who  are set free by God’s grace.

So who wants to become a Lutheran? Is this an option for disaffected evangelicals? Share in the comments, or on Facebook or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

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12 Reasons Why it is Good to Be a Church Bully

If you have spent any amount of time attending church, it’s likely that you have encountered a church bully. It is even more likely that you have come across church bullies if you have been involved with church leadership. Of course, bullies are everywhere in the world, and are not limited to churches. Bullying is hot button issue these days, and bullying is something many people are trying to draw attention to so that it can be eliminated. Yet still, bullying can be hard to identify. It isn’t just the big kid on the playground stealing lunch money. Bullying can be psychological, emotional and physical.

Image Source - http://thebravediscussion.com
Image Source – http://thebravediscussion.com

Church bullies have a special advantage, though. Most church people have been taught to be nice and kind, to refrain from stirring the pot or rocking the boat. Church bullies know that often people will not stand up to them, and that they can get away with just about anything.

Some of you may have seen my post from a few months ago, 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better. In that post, I linked a Louis C.K. clip where he talked about White people. He said white people are not better, but being white is clearly better. (Warning, this video contains offensive language).

Church bullying is the same. Church bullies are not good, but being a church bully is good business these days, and here’s why:

1. Being a bully is the easiest way to get what you want. Churches are groups where people usually have to work together, and work out how to live as a community. That means give and  take, compromise and collaboration. Bullying, however, means you can get anything and everything you want. You can bend people to your wills and desires without giving anything up in return. And as a bully, you don’t have to work with, consider or respect others. Bullying is the easiest way to get what you want.

2. Bullies can offer anonymous feedback. Churches are already pretty good at not requiring people to stand behind what they say. We send out surveys and feedback tools that remain anonymous. But bullies have it really great. They can send anonymous emails to leaders. They can give in-person feedback with the qualifier, “people are saying.” Bullies never have to own the criticisms, and so are free to criticize anything they want to.

3. Bullies often have gossip clubs. Bullies are often supported in a small group that likes to keep up on the latest church gossip. This kind of group can meet for coffee during the week or lunch on Sundays or any number of places. As a bully, you can find allies who are ready to support you, who will offer behind-the-scenes support to your behind-the-scenes bullying. It is always easier to bully when you can be confident you are supported by, or acting on behalf of a club.

4. People will worry that challenging bullies is unkind or unchristian. The vast majority of church members worry that their behaviour could be perceived as unkind or unchristian. You know, Jesus never stood up to anyone and never challenged bad behaviour. So as a bully you know most of the time you can be confident that other church members won’t stand up to you, lest they be thought of as creating conflict or being un-Christ like.

5. You can use your anxiety against others. Human beings don’t like anxiety, we don’t want to be worried or fearful if we can avoid it. Anxiety and fear are contagious. Use this your advantage. As a bully, if you can get others to take on your worries, your fears, your issues, your anxiety, most people (especially church people) will do almost anything to relieve you (and therefore themselves) of your fears. Use this to your advantage.

6. You can use the other’s anxiety against them. As human beings we have often been taught that we have two responses to anxiety – Fight or Flight.  Bullies know that this isn’t true. There are 3 – Fight, Flight or Freeze. The best bullies know that freeze is the most common response. If you can make others anxious, you know that their first response will be to do nothing. It is pretty easy to bully people when they don’t do anything or say anything to stop you. Make them anxious.

7. You don’t have to be open or transparent. Bullies know this tactic well. It is much easier to bully from the shadows than in the open. Write anonymous letters and emails that you can deny came from you. Ambush your victims when others aren’t around to catch you. Make life miserable for people in private, and be an angel in the open. Most people won’t even know that you are a bully. Hide in plain sight.

8. You can play the victim card when caught. So what do you do when someone actually calls you on your bullying? Why accuse them of being the bully, of course! Most people will get so worried that they are bullying you that they will forget all about the fact that you were bullying them first. You never want to defend your own actions, so make other people defend theirs – play the victim card.

9. The stakes are low for you but high for others. One of the great things about being a church bully is that the stakes are pretty low. What could happen to you? Churches will rarely kick you off the membership list. Pastors have jobs to keep, leaders have to tend to running the place. As a bully the worst that could happen is people get annoyed with you, but really that’s good for you (see point 6).

10. You don’t have to change. Change is hard. Growing up and being mature is really hard. Bullying means you can stay the same. You don’t have to accept new ideas or learn new things. You can just impose your will on others, make them do what you like, and complain if they don’t. Don’t change, be a bully instead.

11. The congregational system (read: family system) will often work to keep you in power. Great church bullies know that individuals might challenge them, but the system will work to maintain the status quo. Bullies don’t change, and therefore don’t challenge the system. Intelligent individuals will cease thinking straight in a group and will seek to silence those who oppose bullies (and therefore advocate change in the system) since is it easier to maintain the norm. Feel confident that almost all of the group behaviour in a church is there to support your bullying.

12. You don’t have to care about anyone but yourself. This is the best part of being a bully of course. You can claim you are speaking for the wronged, the victimized, the silent majority or minority, but really it is all about you. That’s the whole reason you can bully in the first place, because your issues come first. Your needs, your wants, your feelings, your ideas. You are numero uno, and thinking about others only gets in the way of taking care of you. So put yourself first and you will be a great bully.

_________

All snark aside, bullying is a major issue in society, one that often seems to paralyze those in authority. Bullying happens because most bullies know to use our anxiety, our fears, and our emotions against us. Most of us would much rather just avoid conflict altogether, and it is much easier to give in to make the bullying stop than to challenge it.

Bullying in the church makes me crazy. I have zero tolerance for it, but I have watched as colleagues and friends deal with church systems / family systems where bullies are protected. Upsetting the bully would cause so much stress on the church, that their behaviour is permitted, condoned even.

EDIT: Some commenters here and on Facebook have mentioned that Pastors can be bullies too. I want to be clear that anyone can be a church bully. Regular members, pastors, bishops, leaders, etc…

It is time for the bullying to end. But it won’t be easy. Standing up to bullies means recognizing our own anxieties and need to be liked. Standing up means risking being unpopular, it means risking the wrath of the system that protects the bullies. Standing up means knowing all the advantages that bullies have to lose (see the list above), and not underestimating how far bullies will go to retain their power and privilege. Standing up means that we all participate, even  unknowingly support bullies, when our own anxieties about change prevent us from moving and growing into healthier ways of being.

Ending bullying means change. Change is hard. Sometimes it might land you on a cross.

But God knows something about that… in fact, change is one of God’s favourite tools to work with –  crosses are God’s speciality.

Are church bullies the worst? Been bullied at church? Share in the comments, on Facebook or on Twitter: @ParkerErik

The Gospel According to Downton Abbey

Around New Years, my wife and I jumped on the Downton Abbey bandwagon and binged-watched the whole series in about a week. For those who don’t know, Downton Abbey features an aristocratic household in the early 20th Century, following the lives of the Lords and Ladies who live “upstairs” and the servants who live “downstairs” at Downton Abbey.

Downton’s appeal is that it is like a view into a time that our world can almost remember. My grandfather born in 1919 would have been a baby just around the time the show takes place. It is almost memorable for us but still so very different.

Now, I promise no spoilers.

Downton-Abbey-CastOne of the main themes of the show is change. The early 20th Century was much like the early 21st Century is now. There was a technological revolution taking place, and it is funny to watch the characters of Downton deal with the newness of very old technology. Electricity, phones and automobiles were transforming the way people communicated, traveled and worked. There were new jobs which required new skills, while old skills and jobs were being made obsolete. Communication over long distances was now instant and ubiquitous, with phones being installed in houses. Cars allowed people to travel farther and faster. Medicine was being revolutionized with anti-biotics and surgical procedures. And of course, warfare became more deadly with inventions like machine-guns and tanks.

Alongside this great technological change was social change. The established social orders were unravelling, the servant class looked forward to new opportunities, while the upper class watched as their power and influence eroded. While the show hasn’t made it as far as the Great Depression, this event would become a seminal moment of this era, leading into a very different middle 20th Century. Communication and technology were creating a new democratization of opportunity. The social playing field was levelling.

The technological and societal changes were evolving a world for the young adult generation that was very different than the world of their parents and grandparents, causing generational tensions.

This all sounds somewhat familiar doesn’t it?

I don’t think Downton Abbey would have worked as a show 10 years ago. Yet, today we can equate the experience of a phone in every house with a smart phone in every pocket. We can understand the experience of new ubiquitous instant telephone communication like new social media connectivity. We experience clear class distinctions with our growing economic disparity and inequality. These mirrored experiences with our great-grandparent’s generation make the show appeal to our present.

However, as a pastor, there is one thing that makes my hair stand on end, episode after episode.

Throughout the show, characters often talk about how “everything is changing.” Even though it isn’t always clear what this new technology and these new social attitudes will mean for the world, everyone carries a deep sense of change. Some embrace the change and look forward to this new world. Others grieve it and lament what these changes will mean. In particular, the privileged upper class is generally fearful of what they will lose and often work to prevent or slow the change. The servant / working class generally embraces the change, looking for what they can gain and attempt to hasten the arrival of this new world.

The experience of “change” that the characters are having is uncannily like the experience of change that so many churches are going through today. In fact, there are moments in the show that feel so much like my day to day life in ministry, as those around me have the same deep sense of the “changing” world of our time. The image of our contemporary church that Downton presents is not lost on me for a second.

As these once great aristocratic families wander about this great house, this great mostly empty Abbey (or church), bemoaning the change going on about them; they have no idea how they got to where they are, they do not know how to react or what to prepare for. As it becomes clearer that their traditions and social standing are no longer relevant or guaranteed by society itself, the upper class holds on tighter and tighter to what they once had and long for a return to earlier times.

Just to make sure there is nothing missed, the completion of the mirror image comes in the grief the upper class carries for their loss of privilege.

No, the image that Downton presents of present day Christianity, especially mainline Christianity, is not lost on me at all.

Downton Abbey should become required watching for churches today.

It would serve us well to see just how blind we are to our entrenched societal privilege. It would serve us well to see how our traditions are viewed by those forced to attend to them rather than benefit from them. It would serve us well to see how our privilege is not going to last forever, in fact, it will probably not even last the decade.

As our privileged position of being the state and social religion, of being the dominant culture and moral system, of being able to discriminate for “religious reasons” is coming to an end, it can only be a good thing for us.

This is where the gospel part of Downton Abbey comes in. The privileged class sees only the loss of their position and power in the world, but the under class starts to see the beginning of something new. They see hope for a different world.

As a millennial, I only have the foggiest or vicarious memory of the glory days of Christian privilege. As a pastor, I don’t remember being a well respected authority figure in the larger community. I don’t remember churches having much, if any, influence over society around us. But like the young aristocrats of Downton Abbey who are far more comfortable with this new world, and who are far more comfortable interacting with the lower classes, I am ready to be – and to lead – the Church into this new world.

It is very tempting to lament our loss of privilege, we could just wander about our big empty churches wondering how we got to where we are, but the Good News of Downton Abbey is that our privilege is being stripped from us. It is Good News because the barriers that prevented the under-privileged from integrating with us are falling down. It is Good News because we can now begin to play on a level playing field, a democratized playing field where people can choose us, rather than be forced to adhere to us. It is Good News because, like the aristocrats of Downton Abbey, it is time for the world to stop serving us and for us to start serving the world.

Besides, I think serving the world was kind of big deal for that guy we like to follow… Jeeves was it? Or Juan?

Oh right… Jesus.

So are you a fan of Downton Abbey? Experienced the Church’s struggle with change? Share in the comments, on Twitter: @ParkerErik, or on Facebook

More posts about change:

Why Christians have lost the argument for faith before it started

Old and New: Thanks about the World Differently

Bill Nye and Ken Ham: Why the Bible convinced me Young Earth Creationism isn’t science

So there is this big ‘debate’ coming up. Bill Nye is debating Ken Ham. Bill Nye the Science Guy I watched and loved as a kid, I even watched him on Stargate: Atlantis and The Big Bang Theory (yes, I am that big of a nerd). Ken Ham is a big Young Earth Creationist… from what the internet tells me. I haven’t watched anything with Ken Ham in it.

The two are going to debate evolution or something like that.

Now, I am a nerd, but no science whiz. If science tells me that I flip the switch and light turns on – great! If the science dudes say evolution is how it works – awesome! Well, okay, maybe I am not that unaware, but I trust the scientists to be the scientists.

There is a reason, however, that I know that Young Earth Creationism isn’t scientific. Nor is Day Age theory, nor Progressive Creation, nor Intelligent Design.

That reason is the Bible.

You see, the creation that the bible actually describes happens very differently than the Young Earth Creationist version.

First of all creation happens twice. Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 are different stories, they are not one unified entity. Read them again. Draw what you see. They will look different. Even more than that, the two accounts are written with different style and genre, they have different qualities and different ways of describing God, EvCr1and most importantly they describe a 3-tiered universe (see picture).

They are poetic stories from the oral tradition. The ancient people who told them and then wrote them down never wanted them to be understood as science.

Genesis 1 uses Hebrew poetry to both help tell the story and help EvCr2the teller remember the sequence of events. Days 1,2,3 the space for the stuff of creation is made. Days 4,5,6 the things that go in the space is created. You only need to remember the order to 3 things.

Now there is a lot of textual, literary, historical, aspects of the scholarship that I won’t get into, but I think you get the point: Genesis 1 and 2 are not science text books and nor were they ever meant to be.

When I was in university, I took classes on science and religion from Prof. Denis Lamoureux. He is an evolutionary biologist and a theologian. His courses were designed for science students and fundamentalists alike to better understand the “Science vs. Religion” debate. But the thing that most students didn’t know, he was actually using the science stuff to teach basic introductory hermeneutics and biblical scholarship.

I took two classes with Denis. The second was a seminar where we had guest speakers representing different views on creation. One class he invited the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society to speak to the class. She was a woman with a PhD in botany. She came and presented all kinds of the same kind of “scientific” ideas that Answers in Genesis does. Of the 15 of us in the class, I was the only humanities/theology student. My classmates were all science majors. During the Q&A time, they debated the science, they asked questions of genetic expression, geological record, quantum physics and offered smart evolutionary evidence. This woman had answers for all of it.

Then I asked my question. I asked her what she thought about canonical development, and how that affected divine inspiration. I wanted her to explain how those early church councils determined what they accepted or rejected as the canonical books of the bible. I wanted her to explain how divine inspiration worked with books written 300 to a 1000 years previously.

She had no answer for me. In fact, she entered into what seemed to be a state of cognitive dissonance and told me over and over again that my question was “silly.”

She was the president of the Alberta Young Earth Creation society and she couldn’t answer a basic question of biblical scholarship.

This is the Achilles heel of Young Earth Creationists and their kin. I am surprised that those who debate these folks don’t use biblical scholarship against them more often. I am surprised that atheists like Richard Dawkins don’t do some homework on real biblical scholarship to use against the fundamentalists he is so fond of debating.

Creation pseudo science will always sound convincing enough for fundamentalists. They aren’t looking for real answers, they are looking for evidence that will support their biblical claims. If I were to talk to a Young Earth Creationist I would deal only with what the bible actually says, in Greek and Hebrew, in context, and with an understanding of ancient cosmology. I would make them deal with what serious biblical scholars have been talking about for centuries.

If I was Bill Nye, I wouldn’t even bother talking science with Ken Ham. I wouldn’t legitimize his pseudo-science by making it seem debatable. Ham will have an answer for everything, and that is the only foothold he needs to sound plausible – to have Nye, a real scientist acting as if Ham is worth debating. Evolution is still a big puzzle being put together, even if we can now tell what the picture looks like. Creation science is a neat little set of pseudo theories and logical fallacies meant to prop up poor biblical understanding.

If I was Bill Nye I would ask questions like my canonical development question. I would ask why  St. Augustine wouldn’t convert to Christianity until Bishop Gregory told him that much of the bible was allegorical. I would ask why Roman Catholic Priest and Physicist Georges Lemaitre could propose the Big Bang Theory and still be a faithful Christian. I would ask why Genesis and all of scripture is pretty clear about a 3-tired universe. I would ask about Hebrew poetry and oral tradition.

And then I would ask, why most biblical scholars, theologians and mainline denominations accept evolution with no problem at all.

Bill Nye could challenge Ken Ham with questions like these. Bill Nye could really make a statement about what Young Earth Creationism and biblical literalism is about. Bill Nye could pop Young Earth Creationism’s intellectual bubble and challenge the idea that the bible is a science text book.

Most christians who study the bible seriously  figured out centuries ago that Genesis is not science. We figured out that Genesis is not making a scientific point, but a theological one. Genesis is not telling us how creation happened or what it happened with.

Genesis is telling something though. Genesis is telling us who created it all (God) and why (out of love). Genesis is reminding the faithful of the most important things to know about creation… about why we are here at all.

Many christians have known this truth about Genesis for a long time. Many christians have understood that an allegorical Genesis is not a threat to our faith, even though Young Earth Creationists are ready to stake their faith in Jesus on whether Adam (the mud creature) was a real dude 6000 years ago. And creationists do this because it is intellectually easier.

Understanding the truth about Genesis would mean doing a lot less pseudo science, and instead doing some scary biblical scholarship and asking some scary questions about God and Christian History. It would mean revising stances on gender issues, sexuality issues, economic issues, and theological ones. It is really inconvenient to revise one’s theology like that, and to be prepared to do it often. But the Church hasn’t crumbled with its greatest theological minds being totally okay with an allegorical Genesis, and we won’t be crumbling any time soon.

Most importantly, we haven’t crumbled because many of us have understood the bigger issue at stake here:

You can take the bible literally.

You can take the bible seriously.

But you cannot do both.

So what would you say to Bill Nye or Ken Ham or me? Share in the comments, on twitter: @ParkerErik or on Facebook

Why I should have spoken up for LGBT rights in the church.

This week, some blog comments have been getting to me.

I have been reading too many comment sections on blogs, Facebook and too many tweets. In fact, this article about blog comments by Popular Science, and why they aren’t doing them anymore has been one of my most retweeted shares.

I have an internet rule:  “Don’t read the comments.” I regularly break it. But when you run your own blog, you have to moderate, even when random people get into arguments over things unrelated to your writing, like on this post.  However, this week I spent some time over at Micah J. Murray’s post, “Why I can’t love the sinner/hate the sin anymore.” and Rachel Held Evan’s post “When Evangelicals Support Phil Robertson.” The comments on those posts bother me too, but not because they are bad, but because they say out loud what I have not.

Image source -http://confessionsofadevoted.blogspot.ca
Image source -http://confessionsofadevoted.blogspot.ca

Until now, I have never really have said much publicly about my position on LGBT issues and rights in the church. Maybe it is time that I should. Maybe I should have a long time ago. Maybe I am partly bothered by my own sitting on the sidelines as brothers and sisters in Christ fight to be seen and heard as equals in the body.

It occurs to me, that I really have no reason to say nothing or to be afraid of saying something.

I live in a country where any two people can be married, regardless of gender, and it is has been the law of the land for nearly a decade.

I serve in a denomination that recognizes the diversity of human relationships, sexual orientations and gender identity. Since 2011 we have allowed anyone to be a candidate for ministry regardless of sexual orientation or gender, and pastors are permitted to marry according to the laws of province in which they serve (which means same-sex blessings are permissible).

These policies and social statement have been in place for nearly 3 years, and still I haven’t spoken up. 

And there are more reasons why I should speak up. I also understand the biblical witness full well. I know the scripture passages that refer to marriage, sex and homosexuality, and I understand their context. I understand the hermeneutical methods, the greek, the historical situation. I know that biblical marriage is a messy idea based in chattel contracts, polygamy and incest.

I know that Abraham married his half-sister and consistently gave her up, to Kings and their royal harems, to save his own skin. I know Tamar pretended to be a prostitute so that Judah would impregnate her, as was his duty. I know the only scandal was her pregnancy, not his paying for sex.

I know that in Mark, Jesus’ prohibition of divorce was for the protection for women, so they would not be cast off like damaged property at the whim of their husbands. I know that Matthew was uncomfortable with this and added the unchastity clause.

And I definitely know that homosexuality in the bible is even murkier. I know that homosexuality was more about conquering armies raping their enemies, about older Greek and Roman men “mentoring” young boys, about teaching foreigners a lesson or two for wandering too far from home. I know that sex in the bible is far more about power and pleasure, about the god-like power to create life, and not so much about love, respect and commitment.

I know that the bible has little to say about gender identities, sexual orientation and homosexuality as we understand then today. I know that the bible also has little to say about romantic love and marriage either.

I know all this stuff, I have two university degrees in it after all.

And yet I still haven’t spoken out in favour of LGBT rights in the church. 

I grew up in a congregation full of wonderful people that loved me and I them, but who made a point of “standing up for the biblical definition of marriage.” They left my denomination shortly after I became a pastor. It was messy, it was painful, it was ugly. I have lost colleagues and friends because they simply couldn’t go along with what our denomination was doing.

And I knew they were wrong. I knew my colleagues understood the hermeneutics enough to be okay with women’s ordination, which is the same hermeneutical step to understanding that the bible is talking about a different homosexuality than we mean today. You can’t accept one and not the other.

It made me angry that pastors were leading churches out of fellowship, and into sketchy situations with little denominational support. I ranted and complained to friends about these colleagues.

And still I didn’t speak out. 

In my first parish, as the decisions regarding same-sex blessing and LGBT candidates for ministry were coming to our national church, we discussed what it would mean for our congregation. My church council had the most beautiful discussion of the issue that I have ever witnessed.

They were a generations-old farming community. Salt of earth, practical, hard-working people. They started out the conversation saying things like,

“That’s not the way I grew up.”

“I am just not comfortable with it.”

“My parents and grandparents would not want to see two grooms in our church.”

“That’s not what our community believes in.”

But without any prompting from me, they worked through the issue out loud,

“We wouldn’t want strangers coming to get married here, but what if one of our kids or grandkids came? What would say to them?”

“Would we really tell some of our children that it is okay for them to marry here, but not all of them?”

And then, as I still sat and listened, they agreed,

“Well, when the time comes, we know we will have to change our minds.”

They didn’t know that they already had changed their hearts.

That was 3 years ago, and still I haven’t spoken up for LGBT rights in the church. 

And yes, all along the way I have had questions. Questions more to do with evolutionary biology, and with the deep brokenness, alienation, estrangement and distortion of this condition we call sin and the impact it has in our lives, including our very genetic and biological makeup.

But I know the question don’t really matter in real life, and especially not to God.

And so it is better late than never right?

Maybe now is the time to speak up. 

And maybe now is still the time because there are Phil Robertson’s, Mark Driscoll’s and dudes on Facebook making idiotic comments.

And maybe now is the time because I am an ordained pastor and theologian of the church who has been called to say things about people, about the gospel, about the bible, about God.

And maybe now is the time because in a few months, my wife will have our baby and I will be a father. I will be a father who wants my child to know that I love him or her no matter what, no matter who they are. I want my child to know that his or her father believes strongly that all people – regardless of sexual orientation or sexual identity, or race, or class, or gender – are loved by God.

I want my child to know that there is no sin too great for God to forgive, especially the sin of “being different” that human beings loudly condemn, but also the more quiet sins of being bigoted, or failing to speak up.

So let me speak put now:  I support LGBT rights and equality in the church.   

Have more to say on this issue? Share in the comments, on Twitter: @ParkerErik or on The Millennial Pastor Facebook Page

Why Christians have lost the argument for faith before it started.

argumentsThis week, a blogger I respect, Tony Jones, wrote a post “Why Are You Still a Christian?” It was an open and honest piece about his personal struggles with doubt and faith. His basic assertion could be characterized as saying that he is a Christian because most people believe in God. Not the best argument in my mind.

He was also unfavourable towards Atheists. A prominent Atheist blogger then shared the post and the comments started filling on Tony Jones blog with arguments against faith.

Tony Jones tweeted that he was feeling a little beat up after it all.

A post like that, trying to give his reasons for his faith, was destined to fail in the face of “rational” scrutiny. But the point of the post wasn’t to give THE argument for God, it was to share what he is clinging to at the moment. However, the responses in the comment section cannot really be faulted either.

The problem is ‘Christendom’  and how Christendom’s argument for faith and for God has been playing out over the last several decades. Now, bear with me for a moment as I try to explain.

I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber last fall in Winnipeg, and one of my favourite “Nadiaisms” that she uses to describe her church, House for All Sinners and Saints is:

We are high commitment, low obligation.”

Theirs is a culture that allows people to participate in planning and leading as they are able, people can come and go as their interest and availability changes.

Sounds like great system, if you can work with change and chaos.

But the issue of obligation vs. commitment is one that has been rumbling about my brain for months, and I am starting to realize it is much more than a quaint idea for a little mission congregation.

Obligation vs. Commitment is at the heart of Christendom’s argument for faith.

Or more precisely, Christians have been trying to obligate society to observe, defend, practice, uphold, and respect Christianity. Then while society pushes back against being obligated in such a way. As a pastor, I get to hear the lament of failed obligation attempts pretty regularly. The lament is for a loss of privilege:

“They used to say the Lord’s prayer in schools, pastor!”

“Stores used to be closed on Sundays so people could come to church.”

“Kid’s play sports on Sunday mornings, and that is why our Sunday School is so small. It never used to be like that.”

“The cashier at (insert name) store said “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.””

“People need to start coming to church to fill our pews and give offering! People should be here.”

“This is a Christian nation founded on Christian values.”

“They took the 10 Commandments down from the courthouse, what is the world coming to?”

I cringe when I hear these statements. I would be willing to bet they bother me as much any non-Christian. But they bother me for a different reason.

We have lost of the plot when we think that we can obligate belief or faith.

This is why Tony Jones, who did not set out for a debate, lost before he even began. Christendom got in the way of his point. Christendom has been trying to obligate faith for decades, and people who don’t want to be obligated anymore are rightfully protesting. It is pretty hard to make an argument for faith and for people not to hear the Christian attempt to obligate everyone to follow our religion.

But the bigger issue is for those of us who are Christians.

Is forcing everyone to say a Christian prayer in school or to say ‘Merry Christmas’ or to come to church because the rest of the world is closed on Sundays really a valid evangelism or discipleship method?

I think it is time for Christians to give up trying to reclaim the obligations of Christendom past.

I think it is time for Christians to say sorry to the world for trying to legislate our faith into their lives.

I think it is time for Christians to stop trying to argue people into believing in God. 

Even if there was some argument that could once and for all prove that God is real, and the Trinity is that God, and that everyone should believe… it would be the worst idea in the world to use it. What good is a Christian who has been forced to faith?

I actually don’t like it when people who think they should be there, come to my church. I don’t want people to come to church or be Christian for the sake of filling pews and saving souls.

I want people to want to come to church. To want to become Christians. To want to have a relationship with the Body of Christ.

I want people to feel like church is something they need, not something forced upon them. 

You know who makes my heart leap for joy at church? People who can’t imagine being anywhere else on Sunday mornings. People who choose church over the other options.

But we can’t all feel that way every week. Even the most devout Christian cannot want faith enough sufficiently every day, every week, every month.

And that is where I come back to Tony Jones’ post.

“Because everyone else is doing it,” is simply not a good reason for faith. Yet, I didn’t hear that in his post.

“Because on the days when I don’t have enough faith on my own, my brothers and sisters in Christ will have enough faith for me” is what I did hear. This is one of the most important theological, ecclesiological, liturgical reasons that I can imagine for why most of us are still Christians.

Because we are committed to each other, because we commit to share our faith and to share our doubt as a community, because everyone is else is doing faith WITH me. This is one of the most important reasons in the world.

Our desire to obligate people to faith is a desire to preserve Empire, but Christians, the Body of Christ, cannot be about Empire anymore.

The Body of Christ does not obligate you, me or anyone to faith. The Body of Christ commits you, me and all creation to God.

This idea changes everything. Wanting people to believe in God is one thing, but what if Christians strived to help people to want to have faith? We would be a different Church if we tried that.

Have Christians lost the argument for faith?  Is there a defense for faith that will help? Share in the comments or on twitter @ParkerErik or on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/millennialpastor

Want more drama? Check out the high school drama of Evangelicalism.

Evangelical drama needs Mainline experience

high-schoolThese days, Evangelicalism makes me feel old. And tired.

The week that Phil Robertson was suspended, I was preparing for the funeral of a 16-month old girl killed in a car crash. The week he was re-instated, I was preparing for a funeral of man who took his own life, leaving 3 young children behind.

Throughout the last few months as a famous pastor was accused of plagiarism, as the Pope was called a marxist, as the issue of the role of women in Evangelicalism continued to rage, as the war on Christmas rolled into full force, it just made me tired.

I watched as progressive Evangelicals bemoaned the state of their tribe. As some called for schism, as others resolved to quit fighting about it, even others thought about leaving altogether,  and still others spoke thoughtfully into the cacophony that is Christian twitter, blogs, and media.

All Christians in North America, if they are paying attention, are forced to watch the Evangelical tribe as it rumbles and quakes about whatever is the issue of the day is. And I cannot help but see it all as some grandiose high school drama.

________

There is the usual cast of characters:

The Football Team (Mark Driscoll, John Piper, John Eldredge). The crowds love them, but most cannot see that they are also the bullies. They are pretty sure the football is only for boys, and the only sport for girls is cheerleading.

The Rich Kids (Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer). They are generally oblivious to the fact that there are other students at the high school. No one really likes them, but many want to be like them.

The Valedictorian (Rachel Held Evans). She is bright and well-liked, but constantly at odds with the football team for pointing out girls can play sports and the football team is getting too much money.

The Hipster School Newspaper Reporter (Micah J. Murray). He is interested in the truth and real stories. The football team can’t stand that he keeps writing about girls and the glee club.

The Debate Team (Zach Hoag, Tony Jones, Fred Clark, Benjamin Corey and others). They are passionate and articulate, and even agree about almost everything. But they often sound like they are fighting.

The Misunderstood Artist (David Hayward/Naked Pastor). Everyone loves his work, even if they don’t quite get it.

The Foreign Exchange Student (Sarah Bessey). Many love her, but the football team is suspicious because she has introduced this thing called “Jesus Feminism.” This new idea is causing quite the stir.

The Activist Club (The Junia Project). They are a group of passionate students, working to get their message out, and the football team is ignoring it at all costs.

(There are certainly more characters and roles than I have named here).

And there are us non-students. Those of us who are part of the story, non-Evangelical Christians, but not central figures.

There is Grandma (Roman Catholicism) and she has long been loved by the football team. Grandma used to knit scarves as Christmas presents for the team, but this year she decided that instead she was going to give goats and wells to poor people in their name and they didn’t like that at all. But the valedictorian, newspaper, activist club and debate team loved it.

And there is the star Substitute Teacher (Nadia Bolz-Weber), and the students think she is cool and hip, even members of the football team think she is badass. The students hear what she has to say as if it is fresh and new, but the same stuff the rest of the teachers have been saying for years.

(Again there are more characters than I can name.)

___________

So yes, I watch this drama and it is tiring, but there is no choice. As a young Lutheran pastor and a Mainline Christian, I know that many in my tribe feel the same, Evangelicals tire us out. They tire us out because we are the frazzled teachers and haggard parents to these high schoolers. We brought them into the world, and so we bear some responsibility for their drama. Yes, we can seem remarkably like their Grandma, but she and us had a big fight long before the high school students can remember, and we haven’t totally got past it yet. But as their parents and teachers, most of them find us uncool, irrelevant, wishy washy, out of fashion, and boring. There are a few who are starting to find us interesting and worth hearing out.

Still, Evangelicals need us. They need our experience, our wisdom, our calmness. They need our depth, our ability to see the grey areas of faith, our comfort with the tensions. They need us because we have been where they are going as they grow up. After our big fight with Grandma, we started fighting with each other, armies got involved, and people died. We have had our drama too.

And we need Evangelicals. We need their drama. We need their drama to remind us of how important this faith business, how important Jesus, is. Their drama reminds us of the passion we once had 500 years ago, of our own willingness to fight for every inch of the gospel. The high school might rumble and quake, and we will get tired of how loudly each mole hill gets argued over. But they keep us from getting apathetic, from getting too comfortable, and too familiar.

Hopefully, they will eventually come to see how they need us. Maybe they can stop looking for our flash when we offer rootedness. Maybe they will stop hoping for our strong declarations when we offer complex responses. Maybe they will stop seeking our innovation when we offer submission to the traditions of the faith community over time. Maybe they can stop wishing for big personalities from our pastors, when we offer professionalism and education.

Evangelicals, with their drama AND passion, need the Mainline.

Hopefully, we will accept that we need them. Maybe we can stop looking for their traditionalism, when they offer creativity. Maybe we can stop hoping for institutional cohesiveness for them, when they offer a grass roots touch. Maybe we can stop seeking them to honour what has “always been”, when they offer excitement for what is new. Maybe we can stop wishing their pastors will fit the mold, when they offer dynamic leadership. Mainliners, despite being tired AND experienced, need Evangelicalism.

In the meantime, despite myself, I will continue watching the high school, being exasperated by the drama and walking with my Evangelical brothers and sisters… because the Mainline needs them.

What do you think? Is Evangelicalism high school drama? Share in the comments or on twitter: @parkererik or on Facebook

Want more drama? Read: 12 Reasons Why Being a Male Pastor is Better