Are we back in 1968?

Are we back in 1968?

The assassination of Civil Rights Leader and Christian Saint Martin Luther King Jr. set off civil unrest in many American cities.

It’s 2015. And now we have Ferguson, Cleveland, New York, Charleston, and Baltimore. All different cities with very different kinds of tensions and localized issues, but it’s still worth asking what’s changed?

Treatment of communities of color, particularly African Americans is back in the forefront of our national conscience, but a closer look would reveal that at times there are unaccountable police incidents among too many. Now those of us who have not chosen to know, know. We can’t avoid some of the problems and dynamics of our major cities and suburbs any longer.

When you are in the majority you can ignore the problems of communities of color, but if you are member of those communities you live with some dynamics ever day.

What questions am I referring too? Mainly whether and in what ways you have to navigate a culture for whom your otherness is part of the equation of how you navigate life, not with everyone but with many.

flickr photo by Bill Mill creative commons

flickr photo by Bill Mill creative commons

As a white man why does this concern me? Well first and foremost because I love my brothers and sisters of the Christian faith. As a Christian injustice (whether in the form of pro-life issues, family life, or pollution) troubles me, but more than that I have grown to know and love the African American church. In the words of the book of Ruth. Their people have become my people. While I am not African American I am concerned by their lived experiences and the  harassment and mistreatment of black men and women who are made in God’s image. When I see someone being treated poorly and unjustly it disturbs me.

When I read about a city like Ferguson which is trying to raise city funds through increased ticketing and high court fees, as a conservative that concerns me. The Department of Justice Ferguson Report found that the city was increasingly relying on the police department and the city’s municipal court to raise fund. The report looked at the last few years of policing and city policy, but the seeds of bad policy go back much further.As an example under pressure from the city the Police Department was tasked to issue more tickets and raise more revenue, in fiscal year 2009 the court handled roughly 24,000 traffic cases and 28,000 non-traffic cases while in 2014 both those figures doubled to 53,000 cases and 50,000 respectively. Here’s an example of what can happen when you have a revenue first approach to your municipal court system:

We spoke, for example, with an African-American woman who has a still pending case stemming from 2007, when, on a single occasion, she parked her car illegally. She received two citations and a $151 fine, plus fees. The woman, who experienced financial difficulties and periods of homelessness over several years, was charged with seven Failure to Appear offenses for missing court dates or fine payments on her parking tickets between 2007 and 2010. For each Failure to Appear, the court issued an arrest warrant and imposed new fines and fees. From 2007 to 2014, the woman was arrested twice, spent six days in jail, and paid $550 to the court for the events stemming from this single instance of illegal parking. Court records show that she twice attempted to make partial payments of $25 and $50, but the court returned those payments, refusing to accept anything less than payment in full. One of those payments was later accepted, but only after the court’s letter rejecting payment by money order was returned as undeliverable. This woman is now making regular payments on the fine. As of December 2014, over seven years later, despite initially owing a $151 fine and having already paid $550, she still owed $541.

When government is looking to raise significant revenues through its police and courts that’s government run amok. It’s tyranny and does very little to keep these cities safer. As an alternative the city should have directed its Police Department to focus on violent crime and done much more to focus its strategy on community policing which seeks to work with residents to maintain safe neighborhoods.

What motivates more than anything else is for the church to love and engage. Not solve each other’s problems but have enough relationships to care if one our members is suffering. To navigate politics and the business sector well enough to have meaningful and engaged conversations. To engage in civic life fully, not in some partisan way (though that is needed at times as well) but to bring the witness of Christ to all even in tough questions that require some response from all of us.

I know I don’t have the solutions but we follow a savior who prays something better for his people.

Affirming the Church and Loving your Gay Neighbor 

I’m a traditionalist on marriage and I love my gay friends and neighbors. I wish them well and I want them to have flourishing lives. 

As a traditionalist I believe the church’s teaching on marriage and I want the church, Christian colleges, and some small businesses to live according to their theology. I think that dynamic has to be handled well but such an accommodation is possible and even necessary in a pluralistic society. 

To the gay Christian I think the views of Wesley Hill and countless others who are committed to scripture and their identity is worth seriously working through. 

In terms of public law. I would have opted for an outcome that more easily allows for these differences to be managed, but I do pray and hope the court finds a path that does not extensively favor one side to the exclusion of the other.

Straight Christians don’t make great friends for gays and lesbians but might I ask that you would pray for us. Not to change our minds but to know how to hold our convictions while being fully loving, caring, and open to learning how to relate well.  

To the Christian engaged on marriage. It’s been a hard process for me not to simply write off people I disagree with. The more you can see the people you’re engaging with as human, the easier it will be to express concerns in a way that leads to change. Evangelicals don’t need to silo ourselves off from kinds of people. We are to love those who oppose us even when it costs us. If we harbor bitterness in our own hearts we can not easily produce heavenly fruits. 

Indiana’s RFRA Law

Indiana’s RFRA Law

When the Hobby Lobby decision was made I wrote a rather lengthy post outlining some of the history of religious freedom in the United States. You can view the entire post by clicking here. Hobby Lobby was groundbreaking but not definitive. The ruling gave some closely held businesses some religious freedom rights. What that means and will mean into the future is fairly unclear.

Religious freedom is not very well codified in U.S. law. Given the religious identity of many Americans the courts have not been very willing to overly define this legal space.

When America has undergone historic social shifts, which we are currently doing on gay marriage, laws have also changed to enforce the new cultural norm.

Last week Indiana Gov. Mike Pence (R-Indiana) signed into law a particular Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which did a few things other state RFRAs have not. For one it gave businesses explicit religious freedom rights and it also gave the right for RFRA to be used in cases that do not directly involve the government. In essence Indiana’s RFRA hoped to build on the Hobby Lobby decision. Proponents of the law seem mostly caught off guard by the push back.

Many progressives warn that Indiana’s RFRA will be used to deny gays and lesbians basic services. This prompted some significant business leaders and other progressive officials to ban travel to Indiana and as of today Indiana’s lawmakers are working on a ‘fix’ to the business components of the law.

It is worth mentioning that denying people service has not been a central tenant for Christian business owners, minus the actual service of a gay marriage. Even those Christians who would not sell their services to a gay couple getting married are a comparatively small amount of Christians. Should they have a legal right to refuse? It seems like society and the law will ultimately say no and in many cases where the law might be used that seems spot on.

Things get a bit different if you are dealing with gay weddings. Is there room for people to opt out if their religious convictions are in conflict? In some way I hope there might be. Though I would not counsel fellow Chistians to refuse serving a gay wedding I know there are some who would not be willing.

So what does this all mean? What is an evangelical to do? What are LGBT persons to think of religious people?

I think this is an important moment for evangelicals. For those who are uncomfortable with the conversation you are heading into a future where gay marriage will be a reality. Hoping the conversation will go away is not really an end point. Finding something to say seems to be the better option.

For LGBT persons I would say that evangelicals will be slow to figure out how to relate to the new cultural reality. I can’t speak for all evangelicals, but I can speak for myself. I respect you and your lives just I would any other group of people. That love and care will know no bounds. I will strive to be consistent and loving. I will seek to love and be in relationship with you as best as I am able.

There are differences though between evangelicals and LGBT persons just as there are between evangelicals and some Christians or people of no believe or those with a Muslim or Jewish or Progressive Christian belief system.

Those differences include a different understanding on the meaning and purpose of marriage.
Americans have an imperfect history of tolerance and acceptance, but at our best we are able to live together despite our significant differences. That’s the better angels of our nature that will need to prevail for us to weather the times ahead. We will have to make room for each other while ensuring fairness and equity.

Relational Commitment

Relational Commitment

We live in an age that does not have a very good concept or grasp of Christian commitment when it comes to loving our neighbor as our self. We interpret these words to mean that we should treat each other well not that we should commit to each other whether the relationship is going well or not. We tolerate each other, we seldom repeatedly seek each others good or take the time to heal misunderstandings or divisions. Ours is a polite culture that values not inconveniencing others unnecessarily.

Jesus says that those that follow his teachings are his sister, brother, and mother. Those who are deeply committed to Christian life are family. The new testament writers often use language reserved for family to describe their heartache, prayers, and hopes for the communities the Lord has focused them on.

Even the word family can be problematic to describe commitment in our present cultural moment. Many people come from families where love and warmth were not readily or consistently available. When as people we are robbed of the experience of joy, love, and commitment we are left with ourselves. Thereby we let our own wants and interests rule why we stay in certain friendships or get to know certain people but not others. We are robbed of the understanding of Christian love and commitment without being left with any way to navigate or feel comfortable with those types of relationships.

In this way the sins of the parents or grandparents can easily be passed down for multiple generations. Cruelty and unkindness can disproportionately alter our understandings of the sort of life Jesus prays for us to have.

In the Gospel of John we hear the words that Jesus prays that we would be one as He and the Father are one. That same level of unity and commitment. It is a powerful prayer that ought to have some earthly connotations, especially when we think of loving specific neighbors and friends.

Obviously this type of commitment has to be mutual. While one person may consistently love and care for another and while Christians are called to be extraordinarily patient and persistent, in some ways without reciprocity a stable relationship cannot be built. There has to be a level of discretion when you are encouraging loving kindness and commitment while knowing that many may have very little interest on what you are saying or doing. Above all forgiveness and care has to be consistently practiced if any sense of Christian depth of community is to be realized.

Transformation has to occur persistently in oneself to more fully live into the command ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’

Is such a thing even possible in the present time? Yes, but it is rare. Trans-formative but rare. In an age where the bonds of fidelity, trust, and care are so easily broken and transgressed it is deeply counter-cultural and difficult to push things in a reverse direction. But with God, all things are possible, and it does not take huge numbers for God’s people to triumph and transform the moment at hand.

 

On Marriage 

On Marriage 

This is not a post on the worth of persons. This is a post on marriage and celibacy as two main commitments one can make as a Christian.

Marriage is meant for holiness and wholeness. Holiness as we die to self to make room for our spouse and wholeness as we let the Trinity make up the difference in our human weakness. In essence to be the tie that binds what we in our own nature would easily break. For the Christian, Christ sustains and anchors marriage.

For the Christian all of life is transformation to Christ. The two main means of that come in the form of marriage or celibacy and both require a level of sobriety and commitment.

The very nature of marriage forces one to mature and grow as you take on serious and challenging responsibilities especially through the joy of children, the care of parents in old age, and siblings as the case may arise.

Marriage is much more than sex, but it is also the holy discipline and culmination of sex for men and women especially.

Christians have a distinct vision for marriage and a distinct and holy vision for vows of celibacy.

These are the two main choices presented to us. We go from childhood into marriage or celibacy and both have very distinctive holy and life giving implications.

If you can’t envision celibacy as having its own standing and virtue than probably marriage is the more natural path to take. But I would warn the reader that as we mature in Christ celibacy is actually a freedom for holiness and service to a wider and bigger mission field, not always, but as a general rule yes, especially for the well disciplined in faith.

As far as serving and being married the level of maturity and Christlikeness in the household comes as a first order priority, before any other kingdom minded service. The first duty is always those permanent commitments.

For the celibate person the duty is always first to Christ. This being the case there is generally more freedom, bandwidth, and creativity to serve, but encouragement is often needed more fully to sustain this kind of a holy life in this present age.

Encouragement is obviously needed for all Christians, but especially in the contemporary western world our selfish tendencies make sustaining Christian mission a strain especially as it relates to having a community that is able to support this life.

A Present Challenge to Celibacy 

The present day church has largely lost its notions of celibacy except for specific kinds of monastic and priestly orders. Lay celibacy is not deeply supported except if the lay person becomes a full time professional. A reinvigoration of celibacy in the life of the present day church would be significant and transformative and would likely lead to substantial lay missions and kingdom minded priorities.

Some Challenges to Marriage

Specific Christian notions of marriage are also challenged. Christians entering into marriage should not do so lightly and should be taught the seriousness and rigor of the family prayer life, the support of children, and the unique challenges that come with God binding two different people together with the intent of lifelong fidelity, perminance, service, and holiness.

Whether married or celibate, the Christian has a unique responsibility to practice generosity, a modesty of career advancement, and to live out the teachings of Christ in a more challenging age. It’s an amazing and wonderous adventure and regardless of theology or practice we are called to strive with Christ as we live out faith.

 

Grounded Faith Formation

Christian spiritual formation can take on an other-worldly emphasis from time to time. The evangelical American subculture (true for Catholics as well) is filled with retreat centers and other places where participants are invited to come away from their day to day life and spend time with God. In and of itself these centers of rest and respite are really important aspects to a life of faith, unless they become the only way we can envision drawing closer to God.

The Christian life is filled with subtle but deadly if onlys. I would be generous if only I made more. I would be prayerful if only I had the time. I would be kinder if I wasn’t so frazzled.

We have stopped looking at what has become of us as more a revelation of our true nature. When we are busy, when we are moody, when we are hungry, when we are impatient. That’s a truer image of our life without God. That’s a better reflection of our sinful nature. That’s us. It’s not the exception, it’s what we are when the comforts of life are pealed back.

The good news, is that how we actually are is a great starting point for spiritual transformation for those of us who persevere. A vibrant life of faith can and should be built in to life as it is for us. Whether it’s subtle practices of prayer, or giving out of our substance instead of our abundance, faith gets cultivated in our day to day lives.

Are you in a season that is especially busy? Are you in midst of trials and temptations, than if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, God will use it to build in a full, vibrant, living faith, as you integrate your life as it is with the God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Retreats and respites are important, but a faith that is built in around the hectic patterns and trials of life is more central. In other words what you do today in regards to faith is of more value than what you do when you are moved from your life as it is.