Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Invitation to Repentance

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 2 Chron 7:14

I am going to do something on this blog that I have been considering for awhile now. For those who read this, I invite you to join me in corporate repentance on behalf of the Church and the nation.

Father, I need to confess and repent of my actions, and my complicity with the actions of others. I also bring this confession before the homosexual community. On behalf of my nation, my church, and myself:

I have harbored evil thoughts and opinions of homosexual people. I have gossiped, disparaged, vulgarly joked, condescended to, and committed violence against gay people. I have ridiculed who they are, and considered myself better than them, often with unsubtly veiled references to "sin," "unnatural behavior," "impurity," "Sodom," and "abomination," not to mention a number of degrading slurs. This though you have said "consider others better than yourself."

I have believed the worst about the motives and heart dispositions of homosexuals. I have attacked their "agenda" as if they were merely and primarily a political entity seeking to usurp my personal moral stake in the way this nation governs itself. I have used slander, hatemongering, and righteous disapproval to gain political ground and the moral approval of my church and political constituents. I have contributed to the building of a worldly principality within the church that is set against homosexuals and even bent on their destruction, with hatred and rejection as its method. Together, we have made unholy use of the name of God to justify our own socio-political agenda.

I have insisted that homosexuals can and should change their behavior, though I routinely refuse to change my own. I have not allowed gay people to be who they are. I have identified them chiefly as a lifestyle instead of as humans. I have insisted that they change themselves in order to earn my friendship. I have canonized my beliefs about homosexual acts and put myself in the place of you, Father, with respect to moral judgement of their behavior. I have made the assumption that it is a matter of simple choice for them to do things my way, and that all should conform to my opinion, as if it were the word of God. Furthermore, I have placed on a pedestal those who have abandoned the homosexual lifestyle, and paraded them around as if it were the norm, and that all someone needs to do in order to change is to get into the right program, say the right prayer, start going to church, or any of a number of other superficial acts. I have also expected that it be taken for granted, and without the conviction of the Holy Spirit, that this lifestyle even should be changed. I have tried to show people a "correct lifestyle" and a set of laws instead of showing them the Living God. By confusing these two, I have committed idolatry.

I have refused to allow homosexuals the same legal rights I expect for myself. I have denied them housing, jobs, equal treatment under the law, and a number of other luxuries that I enjoy. I have felt entitled to these things because my life is "cleaned up," and I am "right with God," or because I am "walking with the Lord," or "holy." By concerning myself with the likes of gay marriage bans and sodomy laws, and I have merged my understanding of God's law with my demands for the law of the land, which is idolatry, and thus have sought to impose a moral standard on others that we do not agree upon. I have blamed them unjustly for the moral, political, economic, spiritual disaster that this nation has succumbed to. I have made a golden calf out of this nation, its laws, its moral center, its political/spiritual roots, and the church that is closely linked with its governance.

Father forgive me. I bring these confessions to you, and to the gay community everywhere, and humbly ask forgiveness. By your grace I commit to renouncing this Godless ideology, and I will throw away the righteousness that is gained through moral behavior in exchange for the righteousness you give me as a gift, and I want to view homosexuals in light of this righteousness. I want to change my lifestyle. I would rather have you near than be morally upright.

Father, help me commit to revealing Jesus to homosexuals by extending kindness whenever possible, declaring your love and favor upon them, opening my home and my church to them, speaking out in defense of them when they are unjustly attacked and degraded, doing away with political principalities that threaten their safety and freedom, and to serving them without qualification or expectation. But I will need your help, Father, for your ways are not my ways.

For you said if the church does away with the yoke of oppression, the pointing of the finger, and malicious talk, then her light will rise in the darkness, and her desert will turn into a well-watered garden.

Return to us, oh God.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

The Balance Myth

I would like to kill off a silly notion that runs around among modern Christian discussions. Sorry for the violent sounding approach, but I've heard the rhetoric of war used rather frequently in church. So.

The myth appears, like the bogeyman and the abominable snowman, to have been devised in order to scare young adults away from drinking and having sex. It involves grace, the much defined, often talked of concept that Christians stake their faith on. We seem to have this spectrum of grace. The idea runs that on one end of the spectrum, we have legalism- the absence of grace, the worship of law and rules, the refusal to forgive. On the other end of this spectrum, we have license- a cavalier approach to behavior, too little regard for the law, the attitude that "it's okay to sin a little because grace covers it." Supposedly the ideal is to be somewhere in the middle, to strike the correct balance.

The problem is, the spectrum is a complete fabrication. The picture is misleading. And the illustration is found nowhere in the Bible, and certainly not in the red letters. But before I begin dismantling what I consider a distorted view of God's character, let me sum the whole thing up quickly: Pursue balance, and you will get neither balance nor God.

I can think of three traps that the spectrum model sets. There may be more.

1. If sanctification is summed up as a delicate navigation between Scylla and Charybdis, we perish because none of us can sail the ship properly. Painting the "spectrum" picture squarely saddles the Christian with the burden of performing his way to sanctification, simply another denial of grace.

2. We begin worrying that not enough grace will cause us to look like crotchety old fundamentalists, so we start tacking things onto our lives that are an excuse to say "see, everyone? I have grace." So we get rid of dress codes and start serving coffee at church. We make our music sound contemporary. Clearly we have undergone a radical transformation of the spirit. Likewise, too much grace will lead to license, thus the mindset of "a certain amount of grace, but no more." Which of course means that God only has "a certain amount of grace" with me. Which means I better get cracking and fix myself. Which is the road to a very well-intentioned hell.

3. We must then concoct a recipe- a dose of law here, a dose of grace there. Maybe they'll even each other out like frequency cancellation. So we guilt-trip occasionally, and then occasionally give vaguely defined inspirations about God's love and forgiveness. This allows us to avoid the substance and purpose of both law and grace. Because we're terrified of reality: that we're hopelessly beset by a sin nature which we cannot defeat, and that God has fully and unqualifiedly washed our feet in the most eternal way.

The real issue, as always, is less visible, and more selfish. I embrace the balance doctrine in order to feel better about my balanced-looking yet joyless life, and to condescend to those who don't meet my qualifications for sanctity.

Perhaps if we knew what grace was, we would be able to talk about sanctification in a way that helps someone, instead of giving us more of the world's poison. Grace is not the forgiveness of sins. "Unmerited favor" is flavorless and finite. The gift to us that the transcendent-imminent God has made of Himself. That embodies the bigness of the concept, while leaving room for its mystery.

Put a pivot point at the middle of the spectrum, and swing the ends around to meet. Now you have something more accurate. Legalism and license are really two names for the same thing- the refusal of God's transforming gift of Himself. His gift is the cure, and sits opposite both these feared ideologies. License equals a shortage of grace. Legalism equals a shortage of grace. If we need to have spectrums, how about "God's order in which all things are submitted to him, via grace" at one end, and "all other orders" at the other. Because the original spectrum absurdly implies that excessive grace leads to license. This is fine for people who want "a certain amount of God, but no more" in their lives. Which, if we're honest, describes all of us at least some of the time, and many of us all of the time. But really, I would be fine with scrapping spectrums altogether.

Wiccans and other pagans believe in many different kinds of balance that are necessary for the harmony of the universe. If we're that needy for balance, let's go get some lessons from them.

The War

The war becomes apparent to me in many places. But it rarely seems to beset me in the ways that I've been warned about. "Read your Bible daily," they say. "Make sure you don't go watching any R-rated movies." "Don't cuss, Christians don't do that. Drink very little alcohol, and only in places where you can't be seen publicly. Better yet, don't drink at all. After all, we are to be set apart." How about "Attend church regularly. And be involved, because that means you're a mature Christian, fit for marriage, ministry, and a high profile among your peers."

Well that nails down holiness pretty well. Why did I ever bother with Jesus?

Warfare, it seems, is brought to my doorstep in a myriad lifestyles and ideologies that are perpetuated and even given birth within church walls. Moreso even than from a world steeped in sin. The super-spiritualized, Christian elite, I'm-righteous-because-I-belong-to-the-right-crowd, don't-you-want-a-life-that-looks-like-mine mindset is the stuff of cults and an evasion of the blood of Christ, to pull no punches.

So I am beset not, as they warned, by Wiccans, atheists, foreigners, and liberals, but instead by shopping malls demanding that I'm no good if I don't own the right stuff, a whitebread America that distills happiness to a bunch of circumstances dictated by prime-time TV, and pastors that tell me from the pulpit that I should never spend time with the "unsaved" except for the purpose of evangelism. The anti-gospel roams in the most everyday places. I will not condemn. Please Father, shelter me from my condemning heart.

The more I see, the more I grow in the conviction that that Bride of Christ has very little to do with the church. That when he comes again in glory to marry his Bride, and there will be a vast array of evangelists, Bible readers, celebrity preachers, pillars of moral standing, church icons, Christian writers, actors, and musicians, and missionaries who will be left wondering "who was that?" because their vision of Jesus was actually a vision of themselves. And there will be a huge contingent of rejected, addicted, hated on, ignored, freaky, unBiblical, unChristian, unreligious, unspiritual people who will rejoice because the one they didn't even realize they wanted has finally come.

To quote Brennan Manning, He will ask one question and one question only to each of us in that day: "Did you believe that I loved you? That I desired you? That I waited for you day after day? That I longed to hear the sound of your voice?" Believers will respond "yes, I believed and I tried to shape my life as a response to that love."

But many will have to say, though having heard and preached many sermons on the subject: "well frankly no, sir, I never really believed it....I thought it was a just a way of speaking, a kindly lie, some Christian's pious pat on the back to cheer me on."

It is never, ever: God's love, and...

Time to die, Church. Time to die without qualification, without expectation, and without your eyes on the promise of status and reward. Die to it now, or you will perish with it then.