If you spend any time in Christian circles, which I assume you do if you’re reading/following a blog like mine, you may have heard a bit about the recent “culture war” with the LGBTQ community. That may be an understatement. In some circles it’s an all-out war, while others take a more stealth approach.
In the PCA world (that’s my denomination, for better or worse… for now) there has been a new wave of attacks on attempts to engage and figure out how to engage well with the LGBTQ crowd. These have come about because of a conference called ReVoice, a conference specifically tackling the tough questions of same-sex attraction, alternate sexualities, and other related topics … get this… WITHIN the church. No one can argue (well some can, I’m sure) that the Church has done a pretty terrible job at inclusion and caring for (ahem) “those people” – partly because that’s how we have felt about “them” historically, and partly because we are so HELL-bent on mortification of sin, which apparently means sticking everyone else where it counts multiple times until they fall over and yield. You know, war. And medieval at that.
Personally, I can’t say I’m shocked by any of this because people are people. They are arrogant, self-absorbed, threatened/threatening, and just plain pigheaded. On all sides. We’re a fun group. And the PCA community is not an exception, sadly… we’ve certainly had our share of incivility and unkindness, hurling words like weapons, and blogs like bullets. We’ve struggled with what to say and when (well, some of us have – while others seem to have no struggle with this at all) and we often err on the side of complete and utter silence.
I am sorry. First of all. I am sorry that I haven’t been more vocal on this – and really many – issues pressing at us from all sides. These days it is so hard to find people who are willing to let go of their personal agendas, to take the time to LISTEN in order to understand. So few want to engage in actual discussion, heated though it may be, and not become defensive, bulldozing through conversations like they’re playing Atari Combat instead of talking with actual image of God people. (This does apply to millenials although they may not have ever played Combat.)
So here are a few of my thoughts. Not in any order. And certainly worth revisiting again in a few days/when the conference is over.
- Are you looking for a fight?
I really tend to believe that some folks, particularly the kind of people attracted to the PCA and specific to the role of Teaching/Ruling Elder (gulp), are actually more alive when they are fighting something. Yeah, I said it. If they aren’t arguing against something “out there” then they feel like they’re not doing their job. What is their job anyway? This type of person would say that it’s to defend the faith and wall up against slippery slopes. IE, man the battle stations and clean the weapons. I’ve done a bit of reading up on what it means to be a pastor/shepherd/teacher/elder and you can argue that those things are on the list, but you’d be hard pressed to successfully argue that they are high. I mean, Love Thy Neighbor high.
- Are you looking for love in all the wrong places?
Jesus came for the lost. The sinner. The broken. The sick. The wounded. The one looking for him without even knowing it most of the time. The one not looking for him at all but he’s been chasing after them. Are we? Are we about our father’s business? Are we seeking high and low for those who need rescuing? Or are we finding them so we can stone them? Maybe the command to love is wrapped up in helping people see Godly, healthy boundaries in their lives but we’re so busy setting up boundaries that we miss the part about helping them and they’ve scampered back off into the highlands because we’re just downright scary.Or maybe we’re so busy needing our own affirmation – I mean, I’m right, right? Right? – that we get lost in the biblical exercise of finding all the scriptures pointing out how wrong you are. Maybe we’ve skipped over the parts that convict us of our lack of love and the forgiveness of sins, that love covers a multitude of them. We want the love of those who are like-minded and we call it “gospel confidence” and we forget the notion of preaching to the choir while the congregation has all left the building and have hit the bar. Let’s go to the bar. Let’s find that one sheep who so desperately needs to be healed.
- Is your Holy Spirit broken?
We say we believe in the power of the Spirit, yes, even Presbyterians say that. The Frozen Chosen. I think we even sing a song or two that might reference the Spirit. I kid I kid. In all humility and earnestness, I BEG of all of you to remember how God has promised – He who began a good work in you – to work and COMPLETE all those who believe, those who seek the ways of God through Jesus Christ and the power of His Comforter who has come. I have every confidence in the people who organize and oversee this conference that they are filled with the Spirit and I pray with them for such an outpouring of love and grace and wisdom and purity that it will astound us all.If that happens, will you be listening? Will you be the ones who stand amazed by God’s work in teaching us, growing us, challenging us, to be more like him, to seek and save the lost? Or have you already made up your mind that the Spirit is not at work here and God will not bless it? If so, have you ever been wrong about that? And has anyone ever lovingly corrected you? What did that look like?
And NOW the word on identity.
Some of the talk has centered around how we, as Christians, should identify ourselves. The controversy has been around “Gay Christian” as a label people use for themselves. The argument against being that they shouldn’t identify themselves with something they know to be sinful. (Putting aside the argument on whether or not these alternate sexualities are actually sinful in these contexts.) It would be similar to “Drunk Christian” or “Thief Christian” or “Arrogant, Complaining, Bitchy Christian.” (I’d like to see a conference on that last one.) Do we primarily see ourselves, and therefore talk about ourselves, as sinful?
On one hand, I believe the more we see and talk about our sin the better. Repentance comes from the acknowledgement that I sin and turning from it to Jesus’ grace. The question is what order do all of those things have to come in? And is acknowledging a struggle I have something that disqualifies me from receiving God’s grace? How can that be?
I’m always struck by encounters common people had with Jesus in the accounts of his life. There is almost always a forgiveness of sins before the person even really says much at all. As far as we can tell, Jesus says in this order, Forgiven… then sin no more. Two things from this is that Jesus knows the heart and knows true repentance. He also knows that it is impossible for us to “sin no more.” Does this negate any of our standing with God, the Holy One? Does this change anything at all? Is Jesus being cruel to us? Yeah, let’s see if you can pull this off?
On the other hand, you have folks so very concerned about sin abounding. Afraid of a more antinomian stance that says don’t worry about any sin. It’s covered. Like some people have a “crunch all you want, we’ll make more” attitude. Sin all you want. God’s grace is enough.
“What shall we say, then?”
The question of identity has been one of millennium. It isn’t new to us in the 21st century. We aren’t wrestling with new ideas. Sometimes I think some people forget that. Who am I? Where did I come from? What is my purpose? When we answer these questions, we tend to use more than two words. Boiling it down to two words is troublesome on its own – but with context, with stories, with conversations, it’s the start. It’s trying to summarize a book by saying “Once upon a time.” It isn’t the whole story. It’s the very start. And it takes you to a time and a place that isn’t where you are now, it may not be where you end up, and it will probably be a long, winding road along the way. “Once upon a time” doesn’t stop you from reading the story. It starts you. It engages you. It brings you in and gives you a comfy chair by a roaring fire and the perfect reading glasses that make you see clearly. (You know, for those people who need glasses… maybe me. ahem.)
So I say, give your introduction. See it as an intro to your story. Those who are intrigued and engaged and pleased and relieved and eager to know you will be grateful for the two words you choose. Let the naysayers be reminded that it isn’t the whole story. It isn’t an historic marker. It’s a jumping off point. It’s a context. It’s a sign of the work of the Spirit. It’s a boasting of weakness. It’s a rallying cry. It’s a hope and a lighthouse. It may not be your lighthouse. There are many in the raging seas. Don’t be the one to knock out the light. How many more will perish without it? How many more will just hide in the caves or wander lost at sea without direction or guidance and hope?
I get a mental image of some PCA TE/REs standing a whack-a-mole with their Bible hitting people on the heads when they pop up. Let’s not do that. Let’s do better. Let’s listen to those who dare to pop up, even knowing they are getting whacked down from the people who refuse to put down their mallets. Let’s listen to the ones who have a story to tell and a comfort and an encouragement, and maybe even a better, more engaging and loving admonishment or two.
These are my thoughts. Praying now for the frontlines.
For more info on the conference:
Thu-Sat, July 26-28, 2018 in St. Louis
Livestream available for general evening sessions.