MegaPastor’s “Stance” on Homosexuality Simply Not Good Enough

This month, Brian Houston, the senior minister of global megachurch, Hillsong, declared that his church is in “an ongoing conversation” about same-sex marriage — saying that it is appropriate “to consider the words of the Bible alongside the changing culture and the experience of people in the pews.”

While Houston’s stance might be seen as blasphemous to the extent that it is drawing backlash from several other evangelical leaders (read the comments on the Christian Post article here) and still many others are recognizing Houston’s stance as a progressive achievement (See the New York Times), I see it as the quickest way out without saying anything of value.

And it simply isn’t good enough

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Let’s be clear: Houston was correct in not speaking on behalf of the thousands of persons who attend Hillsong campuses around the world. That is not his job. His job is to speak on behalf of the scriptures and the evidence of God’s grace and justice throughout the history of creation not the opinions of his parishioners.

Asserting a need to re-“consider” the Bible based on cultural change incorrectly assumes not only that homosexuality is a new trend but also that the Bible has ever has changed her mind about homosexuality.

Although I can understand why Houston is reticent to dig deeper into his personal feelings considering the magnitude of the responsibility he carries to be all things to many people, I am baffled as to why he is not willing to dig deeper into the Bible.

There is a shift within Christianity that is becoming increasingly affirming of homosexuality. This should not come as a shock to anybody that is reading their Bible.

A quick look at Jesus’ encounter with the Centurion (found in Mark, Matthew, and Luke) who reached out to Jesus and broke social and political protocols to save his “lad” illustrates both Jesus’ compassion towards and inclusion of homosexuals. It also reminds us that homosexuality is hardly a cultural change.

At least not in the last 2000 years.

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I would have been satisfied with Houston calling for a re-examination of the Levitical laws that we now accept as irrelevant and outdated. I would even be willing to swallow down a little vomit as Houston called for a “Love the sinner hate the sin!” focus on inclusivity because at least Houston would have been fostering a conversation in the name of Christianity.

Instead, Houston gave a different answer. It was not Christian. It was political.

This is a cop-out. It refuses to acknowledge that an increasing acceptance of homosexuality suggests that Houston – and many others who believed the Bible was “Anti-Gay” – misunderstood the Bible.

It is not a cultural change that requires a re-examination of the Bible. It is the acceptance of an oversight on the part of the mainline Church to have for so long misread what the Bible has been saying all along.

It’s bad enough to prooftext biblical laws that were more appropriately applied to property than people. It is bad enough to ignore a gospel of love and justice for the sake of a couple of exaggerated Pauline comments. But to change his stance on homosexuality and fail to accept responsibility for it… that is simply unacceptable.

In his closing statements, Houston reiterated the Church’s challenge to stay relevant.

He’s wrong again.

In order to survive the Church needs to appeal to a generation that is asking more questions and not accepting political answers.

The Church does not need to be “relevant.” It needs to be honest.

And Justice for All

Jesus did not “come to die,” but to live and to teach humanity how to treat each other with justice and love.

Christians do not heed this message, but instead focus on the death of Jesus. This keeps them, and the societies whom they influence, from really understanding either justice or love.

In the United States today this is getting people killed in our so-called “criminal justice system.”

Justice” and “love” can seem like easy concepts to grasp. Most of us can agree that these are good things yet, because there are so many different interpretations of these words, our realities of justice, love, and faith are often limited by our (pre)conceptions. The American ideal of justice, as it stands now, is incomplete, inaccurate, and fundamentally flawed based on a weak misplaced value of Christian atonement.

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Justice is hard to define. As I have been learning from Rabbi Dr. Rachel Mikva, there can be procedural or legal justice when laws and policies are enacted; there can be distributive justice where resources are spread from pockets of communities into greater realms; there can be restitutional justice when criminals are required to pay a consequence; and there can be restorative justice as an effort to return the world to proper balance.

Christianity, at the moment, is in the middle of a tug-of-war mostly between an idea of restorative and restitutional justice that has been going on for over 2000 years ago.

Christians have been in dialogue about Jesus’ life and Jesus’ teachings, yet more than anything we have been obsessed with his death. It is no wonder that our violence-obsessed culture is infatuated with Jesus’ crucifixion but as a result, we not only minimize his life, we lock ourselves into a narrow atonement theory that assumes Jesus had to die.

What does atonement theory suggest about a God whose creation is incomplete so that an atonement is required? What does it suggest about a Creator who is out of touch with humanity and requires an intermediary to testify on humanity’s behalf? What does it say about the life of Jesus that the only matter of influence is his death?

This is important because how we understand Jesus’ death affects how we understand Justice. I do not believe Jesus came to make restitution but rather, to lead restoration.

Currently, well over half (32) of the United States have a criminal justice system where death is required. This number compiled does not even go so far as to assert that life in prison is a different yet equal kind of death. Are we as Americans more focused on providing a forum for restitution or a forum for restoration.

 

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Yesterday, Pope Francis addressed the International Association of Penal Law. According to Katie Zavadski, he had some pointed things to say about some of America’s favorite things — torture, the death penalty, and mass imprisonment -… calling on Christians and “men of good faith” to fight “not only for the abolition of the death penalty,” but also to improve prison conditions. “A sentence of life [without parole] is a hidden death penalty,” he said.

He’s right. We cannot allow ourselves to be so obsessed with violence and restitution that we take for granted the impact of life. We must work to educate our children, and our adults with criminal records to the extent that we are using grace, love, forgiveness and opportunity (the core of the gospels of Jesus’ life) as motivation, as opposed to death.

As we seek to understand and proclaim Jesus to be somebody whose life mattered significantly, whose way provided salvation, and whose teachings urged towards restoration, we must also work to provide a legal system that is fair and economic and social conditions that provide ample opportunities for citizens to choose their destinies so that their lives matter more than their deaths.

Death is not greater than grace.

Not 2000 years ago. And not today.

 

 

An Open Letter To Raven Symone

Dear Raven Symone,

I am sorry.

I confess that what I know about you entirely consists of that by which you do not want you to be known. I know that you are an actor, a black American, and after watching your recent interview I learned that you are a lesbian.

I am sorry.

In the past several days since you told Oprah Winfrey that you do not like being labeled, your preferences (both in lifestyle and semantics) have been analyzed, criticized and even applauded by those who don’t pretend to know you but assume to understand your responsibility as a celebrity, a person of color, and a woman in a homosexual relationship. That response has spread as wide as criticism from distinguished members of liberal academia to praise from perennial jackass Glenn Beck.

I am sorry.

Because I don’t think anybody is really listening to you. Very few people are talking about the struggles that you acknowledged just seconds before agreeing with the insinuation that you don’t like being labeled gay or African American. Nobody heard you say that as a 12 year-old, you did not have the language to locate yourself in terms of your sexual orientation and your most instinctual desires. Nobody seems to be talking about your lamentation that you don’t feel connected to any roots in Africa.

It is not my place to suggest to you whether or not you are responsible to the demographic identifiers such as “gay” or “African American” because my struggle with white privilege means that I do not often walk through stores, interact with my lover, or put myself in the sphere with the weight of having to represent an entire group of people.

However, what I am hearing from the words that you are not saying is that the labels that you have been given, the identifiers of certain traits that were endowed to you by the Creator, have been restrictive to you; and frankly, in disagreement with the majority of the Twittosphere, I don’t see where this speaks to you. These restrictive labels speak more to our failure to you as fellow Americans.

And with the understanding that each of us was created in the image of the Creator, I believe, that we as Christians have failed you too.

You see, I believe that our unique composition of various distinctions serves to illuminate more of the mysterious nature of God, and for any quality that shapes you to be restrictive is both a theological and syntax failure. I believe that the culture(s) that we choose to identify with enhance our communities and not to separate us.

As a result, I will be much more diligent to use adjectives with great sensitivity when working with young men and women are looking to understand, develop, and express themselves in the context of the many communities through which they may identify. And I pledge to be more sensitive to the language that each individual prefers as opposed to the language that is most comfortable to me. Further, I pledge to be patient to give the space that is sometimes needed to struggle with identity labels.

I see it as my responsibility to create environments where men and women are able to explore their own race and sexuality on their terms as they define them and I invite fellow Christians to join me in working for those environments., though I acknowledge we are not there yet.

And I am so sorry.