That One Time I Attended a Same-Sex Wedding

I attended a same sex wedding for the first time last weekend.

I was honored that I was invited. Because I have had multiple conversations with one of the partners, who is my cousin, about the sin of homosexuality. I told him why I thought he and his partner should not adopt children. I told him I was glad when he was not in any relationship (at least, none that I knew of).

But I also have stayed close to him. When other family members stopped talking to him, I kept an open ear. When he entered into a new relationship (with the man he married on Saturday), I went to visit them. In fact, my wife, children, and I have stayed with them when we visited family on vacation.

My cousin chose love for me over our disagreement.

Over the past few years, I have been challenged in the assumptions I have held regarding same sex attraction. First of all, I had to accept the fact that the vast majority of scholarly research indicates a spectrum of sexuality and attraction that everyone is born with. Many people still want to deny this and research will continue happening, but biologically speaking it appears same sex attraction is indeed something you are born with. (I think environment and nurture play a role, as well, but biology plays a larger role.)

Second, it is clear that a lot of Christian theology has been lazy regarding same sex attraction. I grew up believing the story of Sodom and Gomorrah was about same sex behavior. In actuality, it is about domination, abuse, and lack of hospitality. The same sex behavior that takes place in the story has nothing to do with homosexuality, and everything to do with rape.

But Paul the Apostle does seem to say some pretty definite things about same sex behavior. So the bulk of my theological wandering has centered on Romans 1. But that particular struggle will need to be addressed in a different post. Suffice it to say that Paul had no concept of orientation, only behavior.

Third, I have really been wondering what it means to live in a democratically free nation. Although I think we get hung up on the separation of church and state argument in all sorts of distorted ways, it seems this country was founded on the ability for each person to choose his or her own religious experience. In other words, we were never a Christian nation, but we have always been a religiously free nation (dominated by Christians).

If that is the case, I cannot expect the entire nation to live according to my understanding of Judeo-Christian beliefs. Therefore, I cannot deny the right of marriage to a group of people because they have a sexual preference that I might disagree with.

So for me, these three challenges led me to the point where regardless of what I believed regarding same sex attraction or behavior, there is no legitimate, civic basis for denying the right of same sex couples to get married. Regardless of what God’s judgment will be, the government must recognize the right of its citizens to marry.

Throughout this wandering, I have talked with my cousin on several occasions. He has patiently answered my questions and been a willing conversation partner. We have been more than just cousins, we have remained friends.

We both have chosen our love for each other over our position.

And this is important to me because I still don’t entirely know where I stand. But I do know this: I stood on a porch and hugged my cousin and his husband last weekend. I know that my family and I will be back out to visit them again.

This is important to me because I interact with many people who are still mistreated and abused because of their sexuality, their orientation, or their gender. While we talk and research and discuss biology, environment, and theology, we must not lose sight of the fact that we are talking about people. More than people, we are talking about sons and daughters of God.

This is important to me because when my cousin asked my son to be the ring-bearer, he did so with the intent of speaking a blessing to my son. As my son took the rings forward, my cousin and his husband looked at him and promised to be there for him as he continues to grow, mature, and experience life as a gay man.

11863229_533720230108382_6743773718618264382_n

This is important to me because even though I cannot tell you my “Theology of Sexuality,” I can tell you my theology of God. It’s quite simple:

He always chooses people over positions.

Hearing the Daughters of God

Today at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, I heard Nadia Bolz-Weber speak. Nadia attended Pepperdine, though she doesn’t remember any of it. She describes herself as being “a drug-addled 18 year old.” In his introduction, her father stated she was never a student here; although he did have to still write checks to the institution.

Bolz-Weber has detailed her life in her first book Pastrix. She talks about leaving her Church of Christ upbringing and eventually finding her faith blossom and grow in the Lutheran Church. In fact, she currently pastors a church, House For All Sinners and Saints, in Denver, CO. She is a recovering alcoholic. She is fairly covered in tattoos. She says “shit” and “asshole” in her preaching and writing. A lot!

And she knows God’s grace better than most people I know.

She is vulnerable. She is humble. She is relentless in her love of all of God’s people. Even the ones she doesn’t like very much. Her honesty is both disarming and intimidating. Disarming because when anyone is willing to share their crap you get to know them as a human being. Intimidating because when anyone is willing to share their crap you have to ask why you won’t share your own.

Nadia asked a difficult question today: Why do Christians hide from the truth so much when Jesus said it is the thing that will set us free?

We need to learn more about God’s grace. We need to remind ourselves continually that the Law does not save; God’s grace does.

_________________________

Sara Barton spoke as one of the keynote preachers today. She is the chaplain at Pepperdine after having taught at Rochester College in Michigan and before that serving as a missionary in Uganda. Her life, it seems, has been spent centered around church and ministry. She is a bold speaker willing to meddle in things that too many preachers shy away from.

What a blessing it was to hear a middle-class, white woman proclaim that black lives matter.

It was challenging to hear her tell all of us to quit arguing about who is our neighbor and just start loving them. It was challenging to hear her say that, for the Christian, we can no longer drown out the noise of God’s children who are crying out in deep anguish and pain.

It was amazing to watch her seamlessly move from talking like a university professor to talking like a prophetic voice of God.

Sara is a gifted speaker. She is a wonderful, Godly servant who speaks the truth boldly.

_________________________

The most amazing thing about hearing from these two women today is that just a short time ago, they would not have been able to speak here.

And by “a short time,” I mean 2 or 3 years; 5 at most.

In my denomination, women have not been allowed to speak for most of our history. There are some reasons for that. I won’t necessarily say good reasons, but reasons nonetheless. However, in the past few years, women are being given more and more opportunities to use their gifts to the glory of God.

So today, when a tatted-up, recovering alchoholic who has left the Churches of Christ was allowed to speak, I related. I related to her because I am a recovering alcoholic. (And I even have one tattoo!) I spent some time outside of the Churches of Christ. I have struggled with many demons and I have been honored to be invited into other people’s lives when they have dealt with their demons. I have learned to see the saint in those most people call sinner.

Also today, when a lifelong member of the Churches of Christ spoke, I could relate. I went to a Christian college, received a ministry degree, and went into full-time ministry. I have tried to speak boldly about issues of social justice and call Christians to love people over opinions. I have learned that I can no longer drown out the noise or turn my head away from the children of God who are crying out in pain.

But there was something even greater about today: my daughter will not think it is such a big deal that two women are given an opportunity to preach. For me (and most my age or older), this was huge. Daughters of God being given the opportunity to preach did not seem like a possibility a few years ago. But today it happened. And it was a big deal. And I am thankful.

I am especially thankful that this will be a more normal experience for my children. I am grateful that my daughter will have women preachers to look up to. I am grateful that she will not struggle to find or share her voice.

Because the door has been opened. Women like Nadia and Sara have accepted God’s call.

The prophet Joel said the sons AND daugthers of God would prophesy. I wish my denomination would have come around to that sooner. But I am glad for what is happening now.

I am grateful to hear God’s voice proclaimed by His daughters.

I can’t wait to hear even more…

Community Building Challenge: Participate and Share!

I mentioned in my blog post earlier this week that I will be giving a new challenge on the first Saturday of each month during 2015. (Yes, I know this is the second Saturday of January!)

These challenges have three purposes:

Increase Awareness

Grow Community

Build Relationships

If we are going to achieve justice and equality, if we are going to overcome systemic racism, if we are going to attain racial reconciliation, if we are going to admit and push back against our privilege, then we need to be in the business of building relationships. The challenges I present this year have that purpose in mind.

So for the month of January, here is your challenge:

Invite someone into your home who has never been in your home before.

Simple. Just invite someone over. It can be for dinner, dessert and coffee, a movie/game night, or just to sit and talk. But invite someone who has never been in your house before. Sit and talk. Get to know them. Allow them to tell you their story and share your story with them.

This is where it begins. We build relationships by building relationships.

Please participate in these challenges with me this year. Share this challenge with everyone you know. Share your stories! You can talk about them here or on facebook or twitter. But share your stories. Let us learn together how we can successfully create and sustain community.

Voice to the Voiceless

When Israel left Egypt, they were given a Law to follow. Most people know the 10 Commandments. Or at the very least, they know the 10 Commandments exist. Some of those other laws, however, are less known. Because let’s face it: reading a book of numbers, a book of priestly duties, and a book that repeats and summarizes everything in the previous three books can get kind of boring.

(My apologies to all my Old Testament professors for such a poor job of describing Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.)

But when we pay attention, we learn that from the beginning of God’s covenant with God’s people, God was concerned with how the people pushed to the margins were treated. The weak. The defenseless.

The voiceless.

Consider these examples from Exodus:

“Do not wrong or oppress any outsiders living among you, for there was a time when you lived as outsiders in the land of Egypt” (22:21).

“You must not take advantage of any widow or orphan. If you do oppress them and they cry out to Me, I will certainly hear them, and My wrath will be kindled” (22:22-24a).

“Do not deny justice to the poor among you in their disputes” (23:6).

Outsiders (or foreigners; or immigrants). Widows. Orphans. The poor.

These are the voiceless. These are the ones God’s people need to speak for.

Throughout the Law, there are repeated calls to take care of these groups of people. Those calls continue through the Psalms. The Prophetic books detail punishment on God’s people resulting from their failure to watch out for people who were pushed aside. In fact, in Amos goes so far as to say God hates the worship of the Israelite people because they have neglected justice.

When Jesus began His public ministry, He quoted from Isaiah pronouncing that He would be going to the lost, the poor, the hurting, the lonely, the oppressed.

One of the Apostle Paul’s main objectives on his missionary trips was collecting money from richer Christians (who were often more generous than they were wealthy) to distribute among the poorer Christians. Paul was known as the Apostle to the Gentiles because he spent so much time proclaiming how the Jewish Messiah was the Savior for all people.

In his letter, James wrote that pure religion is that which looks after those who are in need: the widow, the orphan, the poor.

For those who are voiceless, the people of God should be viewed as advocates. The people of God should be looked to as people of refuge, security, and justice. The people of God should be the ones speaking up for those whom no one else will listen to.

So, people of God, I ask us all this question: are we doing it? Are we being a voice to the voiceless? Are we advocating for those with no power? Are we relieving the suffering of the hurting? Are we providing for those who have nothing? Are we giving homes to the homeless? Are we speaking up?

_________________________

Stuff has been crazy for the last two weeks.

Do you know what is wrong with that statement?

Primarily this: stuff has been crazy for years. The last two weeks have just highlighted part of that problem.

Ever since the Ferguson grand jury came back with no indictment, social media has exploded. Many have been decrying the system and its inherent weaknesses and injustices. Many have been saying justice was done and everyone just needs to accept it.

Some have attempted to start conversations and some have just yelled. Some Christian leaders have spoken up and others have tried to avoid addressing any current event situation.

Then the Eric Garner grand jury came back with no indictment in spite of the video and the medical examiner ruling the death a homicide. More anger. More yelling. More avoidance of the issues.

Protests keep popping up in cities all across the country and the world. Some observers are supportive and realize the message that is being delivered: we are being disregarded and it needs to stop. Other observers respond with annoyance, rage, and dismissiveness.

What are we missing? How can things be so contentious in 2014?

I believe one of the major problems to be this: those who are in the majority people group (in this case, White people) have failed to truly listen to the voices of the people in the minority people group.

Consider the history of Black people in America: from the 1620s until the 1860s they were treated as a commodity: kidnapped, chained, transported to another country, sold, beaten, bred, worked to near death. They were not even considered fully human. From the 1860s to the 1960s, slavery was no longer allowed, but indentured servanthood was. “Separate but equal” was the rule.

340 years of oppression, suppression, and generally being disregarded. We just celebrated the 50 year anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. 340 years is much more than 50. More than 8 generations of oppression followed by just over 1 generation of (supposed) freedom.

Do we really think everything is going to be okay that quickly?

We must listen to the voices of the millions of people in our nation who feel they are treated as less than. We must listen to the voices of the millions of people who are afraid of the people hired to protect us. We must listen to the voices of the millions of people who live in neighborhoods that are financially deprived. We must listen to the voices of the people who are protesting. (Side note: did you realize that the protests have been occurring daily for the past 122 days? They did not start with the grand jury decision; they started the night Michael Brown was killed.)

Are we willing to listen?

_________________________

There are people hurting in your communities. They believe they have no voice. Will you be willing to do two things?

First, listen to them. No reply. No explanation. No defensiveness. Just listening. Listen to their stories. Listen to their hurt. If you feel you must ask any questions, make them questions of clarification or explanation. Listen to the experiences people have endured.

Second, only after you have truly listened, lend your voice to theirs. Speak out right along with them. Be bold in what you say. Let people you regularly interact with learn the lessons you have learned. Understand that for voiceless people to have their story heard, people need to listen and then lend their voice.

This will not solve all of our problems. This will not cure all of our society’s ills. But maybe it can short circuit some of the arguing. When people post pictures and make comments that rub you the wrong way, listen to the pain behind the statement. Before you dismiss someone by telling them to get over it consider the past experience that has led to their current pain.

Then, maybe you can share some of those things, as well; pictures like the one at the end of this post. You might upset some people. You might make some people angry. But that’s okay. In order to process our hurts and move to a better place, we will need to move through some discomfort.

_________________________

So, people of God, I ask again: will we do it? Will we be a voice to the voiceless? Will we advocate for those with no power? Will we relieve the suffering of the hurting? Will we provide for those who have nothing? Will we give homes to the homeless?

Will we listen?

Will we speak up?

i can't breath

A Time To Listen. A Time To Change.

Just listen. Sit down. Be quiet and listen. If you are not a person of color in America, you do not know what it is like to be a person of color in America. Do you want to know why people are angry enough to protest? Listen to them. Do you want to know why parents of minority children are afraid for their kids to go the store? Listen to them. Do you want to know why people feel like things such as justice, peace, and liberty are only available to whites? Listen to them. And when you listen, do not respond with any, “Yeah, but….” Do not try and justify. Or deflect. Or explain away. Just listen. Don’t post or share ignorant memes that serve only to inflame. Don’t promote systemic racism by talking about color-blindness and postulating about a post-racial society. Don’t view your neighbors or people in Ferguson or in any community as “them” or “other.” Stop trying to tell people why they shouldn’t be upset. Stop trying to tell people how it really isn’t as bad as they think it is. Stop trying to tell people how they should feel or how they should respond. _________________________ Last night was infuriating. At least it should have been. Although it was not surprising, it still should have made your blood boil. How often does a County Prosecutor act like a defense attorney of the person accused? How many people can shoot someone in broad daylight, have 7 witnesses come forward to say the victim was surrendering with hands raised, have an important detail lied about for 108 days, be tried by someone who should be unbiased yet actually is the chairperson of the accused’s fundraising committee, and still walk away without a trial? Last night was not about guilt or innocence. Last night was about saying that if you gun someone down in broad daylight you should stand trial and let your guilt or innocence be determined by a jury of your peers. You may not like to hear it, but the message last night was that black lives do not matter. At least, not to the people in power in St. Louis county. Last night was infuriating because the majority of protests were peaceful and quiet yet the news networks decided to cover only the violent ones. Last night was infuriating because people cheered the exoneration of the police officer and treated Michael Brown, the victim, as if he was the perpetrator. Last night was infuriating because people who have cried out about injustice and being treated unfairly for generations were essentially told to shut up. Well, I for one hope they do not shut up. I hope they speak up. I hope they cry out. I hope they get louder and louder until those of us who are deaf to our own privilege have no choice but to finally listen. I hope they act out so much that those of blinded to the injustice around us will have no choice but to open our eyes. _________________________ Stop telling people whose experience is different than yours anything. Just listen. And after you listen, start to do something to bring about change. Join in the movement to advocate for greater police accountability. Wearing body cameras and clearly read name tags protects the public and the police. Look for people who are in the business of advocating for those who do not benefit from the same privilege you do. Start to get to know your neighbors; especially those who may be different than you. Start attending churches that have a different ethnic make-up than the one you normally attend. Stop pretending like racism does not exist. Look for it and point it out when you see it. And by all means: stop talking. Just listen.