Friday, July 11, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 9): Not About Sex

This may come as a shock, but our conversation about homosexuality is not actually about sex. 
     I know sex is part of homosexuality.  It's right there in the middle of the word and in the middle of our thoughts.  But it doesn't belong in the middle of our conversation.

Photo Credit: Nick Sherman

    Our global culture tends to make desire our highest good - specifically fulfilling our desires.  17th century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza would be right at home in postmodernism: "Desire is the very essence of man."
     David Fitch (a leading missional theologian) recently argued that world has a universal underlying paradigm that "desire is innate, not shaped, cannot be changed, and is who I am."  He continues: "This ... is so much part of the water we swim in, it is rarely if ever challenged. It plays deep into the psyches of the sexually charged cultures of the young. It drives the sexual controversies in society at large and in the church."  He proceeds to challenge and to break apart that paradigm.  I'd like to echo and reframe his arguments here. 

First of all, despite our cultural expectations, desire ≠ right.  
 We believe desire = right (as in good).
    Elvis started it out: "It feels so right, so right.  How can it be wrong?  ...  I know that nothing can't be wrong that feels so right."  But recent singers have carried forward this philosophy: Ne-Yo ("How can something that feels so right be so wrong?") and Carly Rae Jepsen ("Wrong feels so right").
     We have a basic cultural belief that whatever we desire is right.  If we want it bad enough, it must be inherently good - or at least good for us.  Even if it's normally bad for others, it must be good for us.
    However, we know that desire is a fickle thing and not a faithful barometer for ethics.  My desire for five bratwursts in two days during was not a good thing.  One of the essential elements of criminal prosecution is proving that the accused had sufficient motive (desire) for the crime.  We know that desire can easily lead us astray.

We also believe that desire = right (as in having a right to something).  
If I really desire it, then I have a right to it.   The US Declaration of Independence has enshrined our right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" in our national documents, but the entire world has this motto etched on our minds.  Do not stand in the way between humans and our desires.  That is a good way to get yourself killed.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Helena the Hedgehog and Holiness (Janel Apps Ramsey)

This essay is part of the Renovating Holiness Project.  Janel Apps Ramsey is a staff member at Bloom Church Denver.  She graduated from NTS with an MA in Theological Studies.  She loves exploring topics of women and church, wholeness and healing, and techno music.  She lives with her husband Baird, cats Yao and Ty, and Helena the Hedgehog.  She loves waking up and seeing mountains every single day.

Photo Credit:

    The community where I serve expresses its vision as “cultivating gardens of resurrection.”  To explore this idea more fully, I’d like you to meet Helena the Hedgehog. A hedgehog is a softball sized insectivore with short sharp spines on her back and sides.  They have a soft furry underbelly and an expressive face with a cute button nose that wiggles from side to side.  Hedgehogs, in their native habitat, live in gardens and hedgerows in several parts of the world.
    Helena lives in a cage in the corner of my living room.  In a perfect world, I could train Helena to live in my garden during the summer and then bring her inside to protect her during the winter and spring.  (They hibernate and often die in the cold.)  But unfortunately, when she does what she was created to do, she isn't really thinking about the fact that I want her to stay only in my patch of garden.  Helena was created to tend the garden at large to help make all things new.
    Stewardship is in her DNA.  Eating bugs, stirring up the soil, and protecting the garden are all things she does naturally.  She is a kingdom creature, cultivating what is given to her.  However, when my cats want to play with her, or when she sees an arm come over her like the shadow of a bird, she takes a defensive posture.  She immediately curls up into a ball and puffs out her quills.  In this defensive posture, safety means keeping everything else out.
    For Helena, vulnerability comes when she is doing what she was made to do.  Moving around in the garden means that her belly is exposed and her defenses are down.  A few weeks ago, I let her out to roam the yard.  She was SO excited.  She walked the entire fence line, rambled through the raspberry bush, and foraged through the grass.  In her excitement, she got a little cut on one of her legs,which she barely even noticed.  I had to keep an eye on it the next few days and make sure she was okay.
    If I just put her in a cage with food, water, clean bedding, and a wheel to run on, she would be well taken care of.  But if I never picked her up and played with her, or let her run around outside, she would get bored, which would lead to several negative behaviors.  When bored with the world, hedgehogs will self-harm.  To release their energy and frustration, they will gnaw on their feet, sometimes until they can’t walk.  Second, if they get suspicious and paranoid, they will stop allowing you to tend to their needs.  From rolling into an indistinguishable ball of prickles to head-butting you when you are trying to care for them, they can become extremely difficult to interact with.  Even though I am trying to help her, to trim her nails so she can move around better, she butts me out.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Wesleyan Sanctification Encountering Buddhist Enlightenment (Musung Jung)

This essay is part of the Renovating Holiness Project.  Musung Jung is Assistant Professor in the Department of Christian Studies at Korea Nazarene University.  He studied at Yonsei University, Northwest Nazarene University, Korea Nazarene University (B.Th.), Emory University (M.Div.) and Asbury Theological Seminary (Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies).  Due to the format of this blog, the footnotes of this essay have been removed.



Photo Credit: Danielle Harms

I. The Korean Context
The two most dominant religions in Korea are Christianity and Buddhism. 

     According to the 2012 survey, 22.5% of the Korean population identified themselves as Christians whereas 22.1% confirmed themselves as Buddhists. This situation puts the Korean Church into an evangelistic challenge regarding how to effectively reach out to Buddhists.
     The fact of the matter is that the Korean church at large has engaged in aggressive evangelism to Buddhists with little concern and respect for their religious reality.  As a result, their antipathy to Christianity has increased, and their receptivity to the gospel has decreased. 

     To break out this vicious cycle, the Korean church needs a paradigm shift from triumphalist evangelism to dialogical one.  As Edinburgh 2010 rightly states, “witness does not preclude dialogue but invites it, and dialogue does not preclude witness but extends and deepens it.”  Such evangelistic dialogue with Buddhists requires that the Korean Church discover some meaningful points of contact between the two religious traditions.  In this regard the Korean denominations rooted in Wesleyanism can play an important role by exploring and presenting the correlation between Wesleyan sanctification and Dono-Jeomsu (a particular understanding of enlightenment within the Korean traditions of Buddhism).

II. Buddhist Dono-Jeomsu (Enlightenment)
Dono-Jeomsu was first proposed by the Buddhist monk Jinul (知訥, 1158–1210), the forerunner of Korean Zen Buddhism as well as the founder of the Jogye Order (曹溪宗), the largest Buddhist denomination in Korea today.  Dono (頓悟) signifies “sudden enlightenment,” and Jeomsu (漸修) denotes “gradual cultivation.”  Combined together, Dono-Jeomsu involves the unified idea of “sudden enlightenment followed and supported by gradual cultivation” in search of the purest and highest state of one’s mind, namely nirvana (涅槃).
     According to Jinul, any human being is a prospective buddha with the indwelling buddhahood.  (“Buddha” literally means “the enlightened one.”)  He explained: “Everyone is originally a Buddha…[and] possesses the impeccable self-nature…The sublime essence of nirvana is complete in everyone. There is no need to search elsewhere; since time immemorial, it has been innate in everyone.”

Friday, June 20, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 8): Not About Equality

Photo Credit: See-Ming Lee
     The conversation about homosexuality is not about equality.  Not just about equality.  Not simply that.  Equality is not the primary issue at hand.  Not for Christians.

     For Christians, the primary issue at hand is understanding how the Bible guides our lives.  Nothing supersedes that.  We use tradition, reason, and experience to help us understand the Bible, but still the Bible is the primary material for ethics and theology.  As we look at the whole spectrum of the Bible, the parts that speak directly to homosexuality, sexuality, and relationships and the parts that speak to the broader issues of God's movement in the world, what is the confluence of all of those texts? How does the overall story of the Bible speak to the specific issue of homosexuality?  That is the primary question at hand for Christians.
     The larger culture is in a broad push to affirm "gay equality" across all sectors of society.  A notable example is Obama's push for gay partners to have the same rights as straight partners in all areas of federal law.  His twitter feed called his latest effort "another victory for equality."  A great many business and organizations are making similar choices in their own employment policies.
     With this kind of wide-scale change, the questions relating to gay marriage can feel like a no-brainer issue of equal rights for all people.  The no-brainer rating of this issue increases as the age of the opinion-holder decreases, by the way.  But cultural change is not always good.
"Everyone's doing it" doesn't hold much weight logically or theologically.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Empowerment in Holiness and Feminism (Deanna Hayden)

    I set down the phone, dropped my face in my hands and slowly let the tears fall.  As my husband sat nearby, holding our baby boy, he waited for me to settle down enough to explain.   A year before, I had felt the Lord’s call on my heart to become a senior pastor.  Following months of communicating with districts around the country, I had finally interviewed.  The leadership of the church had been enthusiastic toward me, and - even as the voices of some were raised questioning the validity of having a female pastor - my responses seemed well received.  Several people told me they expected favorable congregational vote.  After the vote, however, those questioning voices had carried enough weight to turn down my opportunity to come as their pastor.  The apologetic phone call informing me of the decision left me heartbroken and confused.
    In a holiness denomination that has ordained women since its inception, how could women be refused the opportunity to fulfill their call simply because of their gender?  And from a broader perspective, what is it in the soul of the Church that seems inclined to deny the full equality of men and women?
Can the call to a life of holiness speak to the work of feminism? 
Are they two contrasting theories, or might they relate to each other?

Photo Credit: World Bank Photo Collection


Feminism Defined
    Simply defined, feminism is “the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.”  Looking through theological and biblical lenses, we could add “religious” to the categories of equality advocated by feminism.  In a variety of cultures, this term has taken on negative connotations.  Within religious circles including some areas of Christianity, feminism is often assumed to have specific political agendas, and is quickly written off as being irrelevant and even oppositional to a life of Christian faith.  The work of feminism is then something to be ignored, if not opposed.

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 8): Not About Whether We Believe in the Bible

Photo Credit: David Campbell
     "The Bible says homosexuality is wrong" - that's the starting point for many conservatives.  The greatest fear among both conservatives and moderates is that, if the Church accepts homosexuality in any form, then we are rejecting the authority of the Bible.  
     The whole debate about homosexuality is fraught with such heavy emotional baggage in part because it is attached to this larger issue of Biblical authority.  
For many, the question of gay marriage is simple: “Either you believe the Bible, or your don’t.”  
The great fear is that we Christians will lose our ethical bearings in the world and become lost in a moral swamp of squishy ground in which everything is personally debatable.  

     On one hand, this makes a lot of sense.  For Christians, the Bible is our moral compass.  The Bible is our guide for life.  Christians believe the Bible is inspired by God and actually alive with the Spirit of God.  The Bible is our supreme authority for understanding God and how God wants us to live in this world.  Of course, we also use reason, tradition, and experience to help us understand the Bible, but the Bible’s voice is always in the trump suit.  The Bible always has the authority to correct us.  The Bible is always the voice that moves the Church to reform when we have gone astray.  It is good and right for Christians to highly value the authority of the Bible.
     And when the Bible talks directly about homosexuality, it is always negative.  Accepting something the Bible seems to reject outright sounds like heresy to many.  It sounds like gay-affirming people are saying we get to pick and choose which parts of the Bible we believe in.  And of course, if we can pick and choose which texts have authority over us, then none have actual authority.   
If we are the filter of authoritative texts, then we are the real authority not the Bible. 

    Some advocates of gay marriage and other gay rights are perfectly fine with this conclusion.  
Whether Christian or not, they view the Bible as an archaic, mostly obsolete book.  
These Christians view it primarily as the story of God’s work in the world, but they see it as so heavily weighted with ancient cultural baggage that it has nothing meaningful to say about ethics in today’s world. 
     Another group of Christians prioritize Jesus’ teachings over all else, to the point of radically discounting both Paul and the Old Testament.  With all of their good intentions and honest love for Jesus, these genuine Christians are also practicing Marcionites.  Marcion was a 2nd century Christian leader who rejected the Old Testament and parts of the New Testament in favor of the portions that incline theology toward an all-forgiving God.  Marcion was ruled a heretic, and the global Church affirmed our commitment as Christians to the authority of the whole Bible.

     However, a whole other set of gay-affirming Christians remain Bible stalwarts.  They believe in the Bible with their whole hearts, and they are trying to shape their lives by the Bible’s teachings.  They remain deeply committed to the authority of the whole Bible - both Old and New Testaments.  And yet, as they understand the Bible, gay marriage is an acceptable option for Christians.  Even more, some of them feel that the Bible itself compels them to work for gay equality in the Church.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Renovating Holiness: A View from the Dutch Pews (Ank Verhoeven)

Editor's Note: This essay is part of the Renovating Holiness project.  Ank Verhoeven is a pastor in the Netherlands, and this essay reflects a series of dialogs with the people and pastors of Vlaardingen Church of the Nazarene, a church of some 1,700 people. 
Vlaardingen Church of the Nazarene
    Personally, I feel torn.  I love theology; I really do.  I love to talk about it; I love to think about it; I love to study it.  But I so hate how it can divide people.
 
    I just read a discussion on Facebook, of all places, about creation versus evolution. There are arguments to and fro, but all seem to be missing the point of the relationship between God and man.  In a loving relationship people are never testing the words of their significant other to be scientifically true, are they?  It just matters if everything that is significant for the relationship is true, and more importantly, trustworthy.  Why should God’s Word be treated so differently?
    In the present discussion concerning entire sanctification, it is no different.  
There are arguments against arguments, dividing people more than unifying them.  In my opinion, that should never be the purpose of the discussion.  Is the Church of the Nazarene not the place where tolerance for differences in interpretation should be most expected and even valued?  I cannot accept the fact that a theological difference could lead to division in our denomination.  That is why I wanted to participate in the project of the formation of this book.
    I put myself to the task of discovering how the people of my own congregation perceive the concept of sanctification, hoping to find points that would bind us, instead of divide us.
    The Dutch are Calvinistic from origin.  A couple of years ago, there was an internet test issued on how much people score on a Calvinistic attitude towards life, and even atheists (and Nazarenes) scored well above 60%.  Calvinism among the Dutch is often characterized by remarks as: ‘If you’re born for a dime, you will never become a quarter,” or “If your head sticks out above the wheat on the field, don’t be surprised if you lose it in the mowing.”  All of these sayings are trying to make sure that you remain a very humble person.  Success is in no way applauded as it is in the United States.  The possibility of being holy or perfect, even in the meaning of John Wesley’s “Christian Perfection” is, therefore, hard for us Dutch to wrap our brains around.

Friday, May 30, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 7): Not About Sodom and Gomorrah

“Where are the men who came to spend the night with you? Bring them out to us so we can have sex with them!” (Genesis 19:5).


www.freebibleimages.org

     The Biblical cities Sodom and Gomorrah have become idiomatic of wanton sinfulness.  In Genesis 18, God tells Abraham that God will destroy the twin cities of Sodom and Gomorrah "because their sin is so flagrant" (18:20).  
     Two angels then go into Sodom to investigate, and they eventually agree to stay in the home of Lot, Abraham's nephew.  That night, the men of Sodom surrounded Lot's house and demanded to have sex with the visiting men.  
     This story is often cited as a proof of the evils of homosexuality.  A traditional interpretation of the story is that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah were so sexually corrupt that God could not stand their presence on the earth any longer.  The text's depiction of men demanding sex with men is often seen as evidence of God's prohibition of homosexuality as a whole.  In fact, the word "sodomy" (having various meanings relating to "unnatural" sex) gets its meaning from the city of Sodom. 

      However, this is a gross misreading of the text.  Nothing in the Sodom and Gomorrah story says anything about modern homosexuality or gay marriage. 

Consider the following basic points. 

1. Sodom and Gomorrah is about rape.  The straight narrative of the story is that the men of Sodom try to gang rape Lot's guests and threaten to do even worse to Lot.  The issue at hand is primarily power and domination, not sexual desire.  Men raping men was a common form of humiliation against prisoners of war.  For some reason, the men of Sodom were trying to show their utter dominance over Lot and his guests.  This has nothing to do with consenting sexual relationships and even less for gay marriage.  

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Last Round of Contributors

The Renovating Holiness project is well underway.  Gen-X and Millennial Nazarenes from around the world are revisioning sanctification for the 21st century.  We have inherited a beautiful theological house that is in serious need of renovation. 
Photo Credit: "Nathan"
These are the topic summaries for our last round of contributors.

Christa Klosterman (Pastor, Idaho & Oregon)
For the last many decades, each denomination has had its own distinctive element of theology or practice, a way to be set apart from the others.  For Nazarenes it has been holiness and our distinctive doctrine on sanctification.  In these current days, the lines we once drew to separate us from each other have disappeared or have become blurry.  What might it look like for the people called Nazarenes to share holiness with the broader Christian community?  And what might Nazarenes learn about holiness from the broader Christian community?

Montague R. Williams (Eastern Nazarene College)
Holiness and Racial Reconciliation: Considering Possibilities and Limitations
Christians in the U.S. have been expected to participate in congregations that match them racially.  Because racial division is heightened among evangelical congregations, it is not surprising from a sociological perspective that one rarely hears about racial reconciliation in Nazarene churches and statements.  However, from a theological perspective, there is a great deal of space to consider the connections between holiness and the hope and practice of racial reconciliation.  Making use of insights from interdisciplinary sources, I would like to identify possibilities and limitations of leaning on the doctrine of holiness for racial reconciliation.

Chad Maxson (Trevecca Nazarene University)
God’s Church and The Lens of Christ
Martin Luther spoke of God seeing us through Christ.  Wesleyans have often discounted that notion of imputed righteousness.  In this essay, I will touch on Dunning’s four relationships (self, others, God, and world) to make the case that, rather than aligning the human will with God’s will, sanctification is about aligning our vision with God’s.  When we see ourselves, others, God, and the world through the lens of Christ, we see true. Thus we are restored to the image of God.  This process requires guidance, which means that God’s Church is vital to entire sanctification.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Reclaiming Entire Sanctification (Tim Crutcher)

     Tim Crutcher is a theology professor at Southern Nazarene University.  This is his contribution to the Renovating Holiness Project.

Photo Credit: Jaroslaw Filiochowski
     Just how “entire” is “entire sanctification”?  That’s always been a difficult question for me. On the one hand, I read in Scripture the call to “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt 5:48, NIV).  I have also inherited a tradition that tells me that God can completely and decisively “fix” the problem of sin, either by eradicating the root from which it springs (an American Holiness emphasis) or by filling the heart so full with love that there is simply no room for sin anymore (John Wesley’s emphasis).
     On the other hand, my own experience—indeed, the experience of all the people I know—tells me that the battle against sin isn’t something that just “goes away.”  Furthermore, it just doesn’t make sense to think that, in this world filled with distractions and pleasures, we could ever rise above the level of temptation and reach some state where sin is no longer an option.  After all, look at Jesus.  Surely he had no “root of sin” in him, and surely his heart was completely filled with love, and yet he was tempted. 
     And so I’m still left with my question: Just how “entire” is “entire sanctification” anyway?

Friday, May 23, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 6): Not about Individual Worth

When Christians start talking about homosexuality, most LBGT people feel that their personal identity is under attack.
Photo Credit: Axel.Foley
This is unfortunately understandable, but fortunately not true.

     It's understandable for several reasons.
     First of all, some Christians mistakenly paint homosexual practice as a super-sin.  They give the impression in more ways than one that homosexual sex is worse than heterosexual adultery, or almost any other kind of sin under the sun.
     Second, many Christians and other conservatives have developed somewhat of a conspiracy theory called "the gay agenda."  The idea is that there is an organized plot to liberalize America, to destroy "family values", to disenfranchise Christians, and otherwise to bring general moral corruption.  Somehow a great majority of the focus in this perceived cultural battle has focused in on homosexuality in general and gay marriage in particular.
     Third, as I said in a previous post, many LBGT people feel that their sexual orientation is part of their core identity as a person.  Therefore, when anyone says anything negative about that sexual orientation, the LBGT person naturally feels deeply threatened.  The message they hear - based on conversations with my gay friends - is something most Christians never meant to say: "Who you are as a person is fundamentally bad or sinful or evil." 
     Lastly, it seems that many Christians have drawn a line in the theological and ethical sand on the issues relating to gay marriage. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 5): Not about Nature vs. Nurture

     Are people born this way?  Or are they shaped this way by experience?
Photo Credit: McBeth

People often think the "nature vs. nurture" debate is extremely important.  

     For gay-affirming people, the argument for "nature" usually goes something like this.  
1. I was born gay.  I always knew I was different.  I knew from a very early age that I liked girls instead of boys.
2. If I was born this way, then God made me this way.
3. God doesn't make mistakes.  I am beautiful and good as God's beloved child.
4. My homosexual orientation is a good, God-given part of my nature.
5. I can live as a practicing homosexual and still honor the God who made me this way.

     For people who reject homosexual practice in all formats, the argument for "nurture" usually goes something like this.
1. Most gay people experienced some kind of abuse or poor parenting.  
2. Those experiences unfortunately warped the person's sexual desires toward homosexuality instead of their God-given heterosexuality.
3. Acting on those desires is a choice, and the gay person should pray and work for a reorientation to God-honoring heterosexual desires.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Sarmiento on THE POWER OF ONE

Christian Sarmiento, South America Regional Director for the Church of the Nazarene, is a few years too old for the Renovating Holiness project.  (To qualify as a full contributor, you must be born on or after 1960.)  However, he believes in the project and contributed this essay for the discussion.

     “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6, NASV).


     What does the “Power of One” mean? Is this a new “fad?” Is it another church program?
The expression, “Power of One,” points to God, Jehovah.
     He reveals Himself to Moses saying: “I am the Lord [Jehovah]; and I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty [El-shaddai], but by My name, Lord, I did not make Myself known to them” (Exodus 6:2-3).
     Jehovah means, “to be,” and it encompasses all the tenses: The God that was, that is and that will be; the eternal and only God. He is the “God Almighty” [El-shaddai], meaning the “most powerful” Being. He is the most sufficient, the most sustaining, the One that supplies more than what is necessary to have the highest realization of all. He is the “God of Power,” the God of creation, history, and salvation. His supreme call to Abram was: “I [am] God Almighty, walk habitually before Me, and be thou perfect” (Genesis 17:1, Young’s Literal Translation).
     Since God is who He is, he expects that His people “shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Friday, May 9, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 4): Not about Promiscuity

   The stereotype is that gay men are extremely promiscuous.  This aura of promiscuity plays into many Christian conversations about homosexuality explicitly or implicitly.  The idea seems to be that if we accept homosexuality in any form, then we are accepting wide-scale promiscuity: "Just go out and have sex with whoever you want in whatever bathroom you want." 

Photo Credit: Gary Bridgman

However, the promiscuity argument is fallacious.

First of all, quite a few studies flatly contradict this argument.  This list of six scientific studies finds that a minority of gay men are extremely promiscuous (18% with more than 20 partners, compared to 6% of straight men).  However, outside that very active minority, the rest of the homosexual population tends to mirror very closely the promiscuity and fidelity rates of the heterosexual population.

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 3): Not About an Orientation

Photo Credit: Umayyr
The conversation that the church is having is not about homosexuality as an orientation.  

     In a statement on homosexuality, my own denomination puts it like this:
The Bible says nothing about homosexuality as the term is often used today. Homosexuality is often used today to describe a person’s sexual orientation. The Bible does not address homosexual orientation.  What the Bible does talk about are homosexual acts. … Sexual orientation is not usually a willful choice.  …  It is amoral, neither moral nor immoral.  Sexual behavior is a moral choice.

     Being gay is not sinful.  Having the sexual orientation toward the same sex is not sinful or evil.  It is amoral.  Sin is in the action or intention, not in the desire or tendency.

True Confession: I am oriented to eating donuts by the dozen.
And whole pizzas, and vats of guacamole, and entire pecan pies.  I could eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream without flinching.  I am oriented to destructive overeating.  That orientation is not sinful in itself.  Camping out in Krispe Kreme is.  Sin is not in the desire.  Sin is in the action.  Holiness and health come in disciplining the desire for the sake of right action.

True Confession: I am a raging heterosexual.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 2): 4 Reasons We Need to Talk

One of the most common responses to this series so far is: “Why do we even need to talk about this?”  My conservative brothers and sisters feel that discussion is pointless because the Bible gives a clear prohibition against homosexual activity in all forms.  As one friend said, “Are we going to decide that God was wrong?”
Here are 4 reasons we need to talk about homosexuality.

1. Kids are dying.  LBGT (Lesbian, Bi, Gay, Transgender) teens and young adults are four times more likely to attempt suicide than straight kids.  When LBGT kids experience rejection from their families, they are eight times more likely to try to kill themselves.  No matter our theological position, we have an ethical responsibility to cultivate an environment that keeps our kids alive, no matter their questions and orientations.

2. The world is talking about this.  Not only are our collective opinions changing rapidly, but also as a culture, we're having this conversation openly.  Even people who don't identify as Christians or frequent a church are actively making religious connections in this conversation about homosexuality.  Consider this song by Macklemore and Mary Lambert:

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Better Conversation about Homosexuality (Part 1)



Photo by Burstein!
Obviously, homosexuality is one of the hottest and most controversial topics of our time. We have experienced rapid social change both in secular society and in the church. (See my discussion about World Vision for more on these changes.)  
However, it seems to me that we are not actually having this discussion with grace and wisdom. First of all, our debates are very muddy. We are arguing and arguing, but we are meaning different things with our words.  People are anxious and confused and angry on all sides, but most of us don't even understand what the real issues are and where the real points of debate exist. Secondly, because gay marriage is so polarizing, we tend to veer to extremes of both emotion and logic. We can quickly descend into name calling, judgmentalism, fear tactics, and personal attacks - often without even realizing how far we've fallen.
For the next few months, I'm going to write about how to have a better conversation about homosexuality within the church. I'm just one voice among many, but I feel compelled to add my voice - not to the debate itself but to the shaping of the conversation. When we have this conversation in the wrong ways:
  • We add to the polarization that is already ripping us apart.
  • We can push people away from Jesus and the church.
  • We can make people feel that we are attacking and condemning who they are as people.
  • We can unnecessarily divide and damage the church.
  • We can cause people to hate or to discount the Bible.

However, if we have this conversation in healthy, grace-filled ways, the conversation itself can do all kinds of good things:
  • It teach us respect for each other.
  • It can give us a fresh love and honor for the Bible.
  • It can teach us how to work through difficult issues while maintaining Christian unity (something the New Testament actually talks a lot about).
  • It can humble us by reminding us that our way of understanding life and the Bible is not always the only way an intelligent and holy person can understand the same things.
  • It can actually connect us more deeply with the God who loves us all.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Stolen


A poem in response to the painting, “Wagon Wheel” by Michele Wood in the I Lay My Stitches Down series on display in the Covenant Fine Arts Center at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, MI in April 2104.  In the painting, a slave woman is morning as a white man takes her daughter forcibly.  The white man's shadow has horns like a devil.

Stolen, stolen!
My baby’s been stolen.
She don’t belong to you.
She aint come from insite you.
She aint suck from yo teet.
You aint woke with her sick at night
Burning hot as blazes
Hot as the pot in the fire.
She my life.  She my blood.
She mine, mine, mine.

Stolen, stolen?
Why you wailin woman?
She don’t belong to you no ways.
You aint bought her at market.
You aint put meat on her plate.
You aint put clothes on her back. 
You stood waiting at market
Burning hot as blazes
Hot as the pot in the fire.
She my stock.  She my goods.
She mine, mine, mine.

Stolen, stolen.
He don’t belong to hisself.
He aint chose his own way.
He aint thought bout what he do.
He go to church and say his prayers
And do my will.
He work and work and work,
But I there all the time
Burning hot as blazes
Hot as the pot in the fire.
He my life.  He my blood.
He mine, mine, mine.

When the Bud Cracks?

Photo by Epsos.de

Does the bud hurt when it cracks?
When Life bulges out of its conical chocolate shell
In mint green then red or vivid pink,
Does the bud cry out in pain,
Why God? Why are you doing this to me?
Why can’t I remain a pretty little thing 
on the end of my branch?
Why must I always be giving way 
to something other, something more?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Value in Understanding "the Other Side"

Photo by: baejaar
Last week, I blogged about how World Vision shifted the center on the gay marriage debate, and naturally lots of people commented.  One particular train of comments merits a new post.

LL: As someone who is on the other side of this debate I would ask why homosexual marriage is supported but polygamy is usually not? Is everyone here pro-polygamy too?

Me: First of all, I'm not on a side in this debate. I'm just saying we need to have the debate openly and without burning people at the stake. Secondly, polygamy is not a debated issue in the church. Gay marriage is. Again, I'm just saying we need to be honest that this issue is in dispute among large portions of the Church and have an open and honest debate about all facets of this issue.

LL: I'm just not sure WHY it's a discussion in the church since Scripture speaks so plainly to the issue. "Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, will inherit the kingdom of God."
So, if their sin is going to keep them from the kingdom of heaven, then why would we not be pleading with them to leave their sin behind? Why would we encourage and support the sin that will eventually keep them from the kingdom of heaven?

Me: Short answer: if you don't understand why there is a debate about this, then you need to do more research. Read some (or a lot) of the material "from the other side." You don't need to agree, but you do need to understand how people can be sane, reasonable, intelligent, maybe even godly and bible-believing and still be traditional, undecided, or affirming. People can genuinely love Jesus and totally disagree on this.
Long answer takes way too much time for this forum (originally on Facebook).

LL: I really don't understand why there is a debate about this. If the Bible says that something is sinful and those who practice it will be left out of heaven, then what is there to talk about?  What more research is there to do?  Will more research show that God was wrong?

And here's my response: 

(1) The value in researching "the other side" is far more than trying to decide if their opinions are correct.  The value is in understanding how and why they believe what they do.  As I began researching the gay-affirming side on this issue, I changed from "they must be crazy or not-Christian or completely rejecting the Bible" to "Oh, I don't agree with everything they are saying, but at least I understand how they can believe that and think that and still be a faithful Christian."  Researching the other side is extremely important for compassion and Christian unity.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

World Vision Shifted the Center on Gay Marriage: Facts, Implications, & Questions


World Vision is blowing up the internet via gay marriage.  What's going on?

THE FACTS:
Just in case you've been living under a rock, let me update you on some of the basics.

1. Rapid Legal Change. The United States is experiencing radical and rapid changes in our cultural and legal stances on gay marriage.  At the beginning of 1999, no states allowed same-sex marriages or civil unions.  Now, 15 years later, 17 states have legalized gay marriage; 4 have legalized same-sex civil unions; and federal courts have struck down gay-marraige bans as unconstitutional in 5 states.  That's a total of 26 states in which gay marriage or civil unions are considered legal (at least by federal courts).  If you can do the math, that's a majority of US states.  Zero to majority in 15 years.  That's fast.  (See this map for a very helpful visualization of this change.)

2. Change within the Church.  Officially, a few large denominations have accepted gay marriages or unions or given room for local churches and pastors to make their own decisions (eg. Episcopals, some Lutherans groups, United Church of Christ, and Presbyterians).  Acting independent of their denominations, quite a few Christian leaders have come out in favor of gay marriage, and some pastors are performing gay marriages or blessing gay "unions" despite prohibitions from their denominations.  Furthermore, within the larger Christian Church, opinions "in the pews" are changing much faster.  According to this Gallup Poll, 66% of Catholics and 41% of Protestants say "gay/lesbian relations are morally acceptable."  Other studies show (like this one), those numbers skyrocket among people under 40 and even more for people under 25.  All of this is a drastic change in a very short time.

3. World Vision Changed Policy about Gay Marriage.  On March 24, Rich Stearns (WV's US President) announced that WV "will now permit Gay Christians in legal same-sex marriages to be employed" at WV.  (If you don't know, World Vision is one of the largest and most respected Christian charities in the world.)  Basically, they made a small change in their "Code of Conduct" to reflect the changes mentioned above - including gay marriage as a form of marriage.  They still expect their employees to abstain from any sex outside of marriage.  The rational was simple (even if bold).  WV has a simple mission: to reduce poverty around the world.  WV has consistently refused to take stances on divisive issues within the Church: divorce/remarriage, abortion, modes of baptism, women in leadership, evolution, etc.  Given the extreme debates currently happening, gay marriage is CLEARLY a debatable issue for Christians (as in it is being debated), and this issue is extremely divisive and emotional.  So WV was trying to take a neutral stance to stay out of the debate.  WV was trying to say, "Some of our partners think gay marriage is OK, and some don't.  We're going to remain neutral and let you guys sort that out yourselves so that we can all work together to combat poverty." Alas, that didn't work - see the next fact.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Thank You Thursday (#1)

 
 by woodleywonderworks
   OK, so I'm a day late, but I got the idea on a Thursday.
     Last night, Amy and Joe Jamrock invited Sarah and I to attend a fundraising/celebration dinner for Frontline Foundations - a fantastic Christian substance abuse treatment center based here in Chesterton, IN.  The keynote speaker was Tim Sanders - former Yahoo executive and author of Love Is the Killer App.   
     One of Tim's key points was the amazing positive power of gratitude.  Study after study shows that being grateful tremendously boosts our own attitudes, energy, and even health.  However, recent studies are also proving that expressing our thanks to others also acts as a huge boost to those around us.  That just makes sense.  We all like to get thanked, and we feel a little better when someone tells us that our hard work or little kindnesses are actually making a difference in the world.  Tim encouraged all of us to write one thank you letter a week to someone who has helped us.
     I love that idea so much that I'm creating a new thing (at least for me) - Thank you Thursdays.  Every Thursday, I plan to write and to post a short but specific blog or facebook post thanking someone for a specific way they have helped me or improved the world around me within the past seven days.

    So consider this my first Thank you Thursday note for Joe and Amy for inviting me to an awesome night with the Frontline crew.  It was great to hear their stories, to be encouraged by Tim, and to spend some time with you.  Thanks guys.

     Feel free to make this viral and start a storm of thank you letters on Thursdays.  Really, if thanksgiving is so good for us and everyone around us, why should we limit it to one Thursday a year?


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Contributions Round 5

Photo by morganlevy

We now have more than 130 confirmed contributors to the Renovating Holiness Project.  Having inherited our grandparents' theological house which desperately needs updating, we are faced with three options: resentment, rejection, and renovation.  Nazarenes from around the world (from at least 24 countries) are joining together to revision sanctification for our world and our time.
Here are the next round of introductory submissions.  Enjoy.

To read the previous submissions, click here: Round 1Round 2Round 3, Round 4.)

Ryan Quanstrom (Pastor, North Carolina)
Entrepreneurialism as Holy Living
I would be working off of Wendell Berry's The purpose of a Coherent Community and some work done by Peter Storey. Holy people don't let broken systems sin for them. We need people to be righteous with their purchases to do that, they need entrepreneurs. 

Janary Suyat de Godoy (Pastor & Asia-Pacific NYI Coordinator, Philippines)
Holiness and Small Groups
Is holiness an individual pursuit? I have been a part of a traditional church in my growing up years and was taught to go to church, attend all the services and programs, sit in Sunday school classes and have my personal devotional time. It is just in the last 5 years that I have been involved in small groups, and have experienced the richness it has brought to my understanding and pursuit of holiness.
My essay intends to present an understanding of holiness in a small group setting, that holiness is not just an individual affair, but something we share.

Arseny Ermakov (Booth College, Australia) 
Separation or Presence? Reimagining the Biblical Theology of Holiness
Holiness in the Bible is traditionally defined through the terminology of ‘separation’ or ‘withdrawal.’ This has a profound effect on the understanding of God (as unapproachable “Other”), the Church (as separate from the world) and the practices of sanctification (emphasizing withdrawal from the wider society and culture). 
I would like to suggest that separation is not a primary meaning of holiness in the Scripture. Depending on the context, holiness in the Bible may refer to power, glory, wholeness, perfection, goodness, morality, being set apart, and life. Moreover, holiness in the Scriptures has never been equated with God’s withdrawal or absence. On the contrary, holiness constantly indicates the presence of God in the human or heavenly realm. 
I strongly believe that in order to restore the balance in our theological universe, we ought to see holiness primarily as a concept of presence rather than one of withdrawal. This paper will demonstrate that holiness as powerful, contagious, transformative, and inclusive presence could be found in both Old and New Testaments. This notion of holiness forces us to reimagine the identity and the mission of the holy people of God in the modern world. We would have to move away from a static category of status of separation to a more dynamic and dialectical concept of holiness that embraces both notions of presence and being set apart.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Discovering the Values of Holiness [Grant Zweigle]


This is the first full essay submitted to the Renovating Holiness Project.

Grant Zweigle pastored in Kansas City, MO; Seattle, WA; and currently in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Grant and his wife Aisling are relocating to Manila, Philippines with their two boys in 2015. Grant is completing a Doctor of Ministry at Nazarene Theological Seminary. 


  My grandmother lived in a German Mennonite Brethren community in Southern Russia as a young girl. When her parents immigrated to Canada they made their new home in a German Mennonite Brethren community in Yarrow, British Columbia. My grandmother learned some English in school, but spoke German at home and in church. Her family maintained their cultural distinctiveness in their new home, even as they adapted to a new way of life in Canada.

  My mother spoke some German in home and in church, but English was her first language. Her parents brought her up in the German Mennonite way, but as a young adult she forged her own way and more fully embraced the life and culture of Canada than her parents did.  

  My mother never spoke German to me. When I was 2, my Canadian mom and American dad moved to the United States. I am culturally an American and an English speaker. I tried studying German in high school and college, but it didn’t stick. I’ve always known my ancestry is German Mennonite with a Canadian flavour, but it didn’t seem to have much bearing in my everyday life.

  Eight and a half years ago, I moved back to Canada to pastor First Church of the Nazarene in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Since coming back to Canada, I’ve been able to spend more time with my grandmother who is now 95. When I visit my grandmother, she shares stories with me about her childhood in Southern Russia; about why and how her family came to Canada; and about the joys and struggles of making a new life in a new land.

  Over the course of her lifetime, my grandmother has learned to adapt to the cultural changes taking place around her. Some of these changes were forced upon her, but some she willingly embraced. As I’ve listened to her stories, I’ve discovered that many of the values that are dear to my grandmother are dear to me as well. Some of these values transcend culture. These include hospitality, generosity, stewardship, courage, diligence, faith, hope and love. As a dad, I now want to instil these values into my two boys. I like to take my boys to visit their great-grandmother so they can hear her stories and be inspired by the values that have shaped our family.

  Our spiritual grandparents and great-grandparents in the Church of the Nazarene had to adapt to cultural changes taking place around them. Some of these changes were forced upon them, while others they willingly embraced. As the spiritual grandchildren of these holiness pioneers, we would do well to listen to their stories, and in doing so we might discover values that we can embrace and pass on as well. 

     Vancouver First Church of the Nazarene is a traditional Nazarene church in the midst of a rapidly changing urban context. Many of the core members of our church are of that generation of spiritual grandparents who lived a life of holiness in the midst of changing and challenging circumstances. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Renovating Holiness: Contributions Part 4

Photo by Want2Know
We now have more than 100 confirmed contributors to the Renovating Holiness Project.  Having inherited our grandparents' theological house which desperately needs updating, we are faced with three options: resentment, rejection, and renovation.  Nazarenes from around the world (from at least 16 countries) are joining together to revision sanctification for our world and our time.
Here are the next round of introductory submissions.  Enjoy.

To read the previous submissions, click here: Round 1, Round 2, Round 3.)

Oswald Vidal Cole (Pastor, Sierra Leon)
In my essay I will be sharing about how Christians understood holiness or what holiness meant to them in the days when evangelical Christianity was still in its early stages in our country (Sierra Leone). I will proceed to share how the concept of holiness also seemed to have disappeared on the scene because of other emphasis on different theological concepts. I will then share the present perspective and interest of Christians on the holiness concept and where this concept stands today in the church in our nation. I will not just share the perspectives but I will also shed light on certain happenings that led Christians to come the said perspectives and conclusions on this concept.

Frank Mills (District Superintendent, Ghana)
I want to talk about the way our holy God expects His ‘holy’ children to handle the injuries caused by the decisions and actions of others…whether caused by people within the church or outside the church. We still have many people within the church who are struggling with the practicing of true forgiveness of sins trespassed against us. There are Christians who still nurse their wounds because the wounds are so deep that they find it very difficult to let go of it. I will talk more on the biblical way of handling injuries caused by others. 
The above topic is my favorite because it all flows out of my past personal struggles and experiences and I have always wanted an opportunity to put it into writing for the sake of others who currently struggle with similar challenges.

Deanna Hayden (Pastor, Missouri)
While the topic of feminism has been at the forefront of our culture for decades now, it can sometimes be a taboo topic within the Church.  To broaden the idea a little, the concept of being “politically correct” is approached by many Christians as tongue-in-cheek at best, and completely absurd at worst.  We are sometimes comfortable supporting areas of feminism like equal rights in voting or education, but when we approach feminist theological topics like egalitarianism, female ministers, or even the feminine characteristics of God, our fundamentalist tendencies might tempt us to close ourselves even to conversation about it.  Our Wesleyan-Holiness theology not only calls us to open ourselves to this conversation, but to name it as valuable and vital to our faith.