I am at an amazing five star resort and spa outside Phoenix, Arizona ala my husband who insisted I take a break. I am surrounded by views of Camelback Mountain and from my private back yard I can watch the sun rise, the moon set, and read for hours in the chase lounge chair surrounded by my own personal exotic, rare bird choir. Oh, and the occasional lizard.
Who knew the desert attracted so many birds and critters? They are everywhere. And the flowers here are intoxicating. You can smell them before you even turn a corner and see them. And if you've never been to Arizona you might have a hard time imaging how a very tall pile of boulders sandwiched between brown deserts brimming with cactus could be beautiful, but trust me, its beauty rivals the ocean waves and snow covered mountains. There is something rugged and ancient here that puts the modern world to shame.
So I am here, taking it all in. Sleeping. Reading. And yes, thanks in part to you Rebecca and Keith and so many others, I am endeavoring to write a book. I've always wanted to. Always. And now is the time.
I've been doing a lot of people watching as I work here and I cannot help but overhear their conversations. They talk about mergers and marriage. Fortunes and family. Sales and sports. Business and babies. Risks and religion.
Yep, they talk about religion. Everyday people talk about religion, the church, and spirituality.
I hear it all the time so I should not have been surprised to hear two guys talking about it today at the pool or the three girls in the sauna who were talking about their religious upbringing. But I was. I forget that people are genuinely seeking direction and answers. Hoping to be overwhelmed with truth that sets them free.
I hear it in airplanes and airports. In restaurants and at Starbucks. I even hear it in churches. God comes up. Is he real? What about scripture? Can it be trusted? Is it accurate? What about the church and their mistakes? What about my own freedom, why would I give that to someone else? Why do Christians say Jesus is the only way? My Islamic friends love God too. The conversations echo around me ALL the time and I am more aware than ever that it is arrogant and ignorant to assume that because someone is not a Christian they are not concerned with spirituality. They are.
At the end of the day, everyone is seeking some form of spirituality because life and death are all around us, and we as humans long to make sense of that.
Heavy matters cover the earth like a blanket, and for the most part, human beings seek answers. Some people find the answer within themselves or Buddha or a tree or a volunteer activity or in Jesus Christ.
The search for something to put your faith in, my friends, is alive and active.
So then my question on Tough Topic Tuesday is this...
Are we doing a good job exposing people to our form of faith?
After watching Larry King Live this past Friday, my answer for this week is: no.
If you caught Larry King on Friday night, Pastor Bob Botsford exposed people to Christ by condemning fellow Christian, Jennifer Knapp, and other homosexuals for their same sex lifestyle. He ended with a plea that she come back to her senses and repent.
The blog world went crazy. Depending on whom you listen to, Botsford came off as a martyr for the faith and Jennifer Knapp came off as the prideful, parading lesbian who was blatantly forsaking her faith. Or, Botsford came off as an ignorant civil rights abuser who used his position as loving Pastor to exploit a hateful agenda while Jennifer Knapp bravely took a stand for those in the gay and lesbian community who find themselves in a loving relationship with their partners and with God.
Comments began to pour in from both sides and they were not pretty. Before I knew it, I was hooked. It was like watching a bloody reality show. How will the church respond to the issue of homosexuality? As author Phyllis Tickle said in a recent seminar at my church, "Homosexuality is the last great moral battle the church will have to face."
If the battle had not already begun, I believe Jennifer gave it a good kick in the pants. A jump-start if you will. And now the armies are out, swords are drawn, and people are taking to the battlefield.
How was Christ exposed this week?
By making appearances on Larry King live, addressing millions of people from millions of different, complex lives, the voice representing Jesus said that to be gay is to be separated from Christ, end of discussion. And while the question "can you know and love God while being a practicing homosexual" remains on the table for God alone to answer, the issue that truly grieves my heart here is that a spiritual world is looking for the face of spirituality and instead of seeing Christ they see battles that we wage on behalf of Christ.
When did Jesus ever stop and tell the disciples, "Look. There are a lot of sins out there. But homosexuality is at the top of that list. So attack it. Attack those people. Take up arms for me. Start the battle. Wage a war for my sake."
I just never saw Jesus say that. Or anything similar to that. He never asked us to battle for Him, did he? And when his best friend Peter tried by taking his sword out and slicing a mans ear off, Jesus told Peter to stop and restored the mans ear.
I can't think of a time Jesus ever gave anyone the commission or authority or calling to go before the world and point out sins. Besides condemning the pastor's themselves for turning his sacred house into a den of thieves and money changers, Jesus typically confronted sin in private, not on a national platform and not aimed at one single person. I cannot say, with complete certainty what absolute truth is or is not regarding the issue of homosexuality, nor can I predict what Jesus himself would have done if presented the opportunity to go on Larry King, but I have a hard time imaging that Jesus would take on one person's soul in front of a viewing audience of millions.
What Do I Know of Holy?
At the end of the day, there is no human being who can know, understand, or fully speak for God. We can wage battles, have opinions, and recite scripture until we are blue in the face... still, Christ is a mystery and faith is ultimately unfathomable. It is simply faith.
I will say it and believe it until the day I die. What do I know of Holy?
Even those within the body of Christ who have the best intentions and truly believe scripture is clear on homosexuality and long to see people repent from this lifestyle… this is still, simply, a human interpretation of a sacred text that only God himself can one day shine ultimate understanding on.
Yes, scripture lists homosexuality as a sin. It does. I’ve read it with my own eyes. But there are many, many sins listed in scripture. (And I am not even going to go down the road of whether it is a sin or not, except to say again, that even among believers, Christ followers, and theologians the issue is not nearly as black and white as the mainline evangelical church would like for it to be).
Perhaps we have misunderstood sin though. The overarching theme of scripture is that sin is a condition, not necessarily an action. Jesus seems to speak directly into this concept when he addresses the faithful Jews at the beginning of Matthew, "You have heard it said do not murder... but I say do not have anger in your heart for another man." Essentially he spends an entire afternoon telling these people, "you have heard the law and followed it, but now listen to the heart of the law, it's a new command I give you. Love me. Love others. That is the point."
Sin is a condition that indicates our separation from God. Jesus focuses less on the sin action and more on the person and their separation from God. Sin is simply that. Our separation from God. Our less than holy nature. Our blemished existence. An incomplete way of being. That is sin.
Many of the endorsements and praise for Pastor Bob made online by Christians have been based on defending God. As if God needs us to defend Him. Defending the Bible. Standing up for what is right. Calling a sin a sin. The idea that black and white must be established and we as Christians must bring to light right and wrong so that people repent and turn to God. It goes back to waging a battle for God. Waging a battle for the church. For morality. It is all about engaging in a battle. Sounds a bit like something called... the crusades.
Let God be God. God speaks to the hearts of all men and women. He brings to light what is right and wrong. God alone is holy and draws all people to himself. He convicts. He persuades. He delivers. He believes. He patiently works and cultivates a seed of his light into every soul. And I for one trust that my savior is big enough to draw all people to Himself- gay or not.
If you are a homosexual, I want you in my church. Not to save you or change you. I want you in my church for the same reasons I want myself to be in church; I believe in the Body of Christ, corporate worship, the study of scripture, and in the importance of growing up in faith. I want that for all people. I want you to know God deeply and intimately. I want you to study scripture. I want you to be a part of the body of Christ known as the church. I want you to draw close to Jesus because I believe as we draw close to Jesus, to the heart of God Himself; we begin to look more and more like Him. As we draw close to Jesus, Jesus himself moves in our spirit and urges us to be more like Him, urges us to turn away from that which keeps us distant from Him; our distance and unholiness are chipped away as we allow Him to change us. This is the process of being made into a completely new creature. In churchy terms, this is repentance and sanctification.
This doesn't happen by calling sin a sin on Larry King live (this only draws people into battle). It doesn't happen by battle lines and attacks. It doesn't happen by ostracizing people from the church. And to assert that it does, to participate, in my opinion, means we have little faith that God is doing what He says he does. Interacting with humanity for His own glory and drawing all people to Himself. It's a process he longs to engage us in.
That process, friends, is deeply personal. It is long and hard. It is vulnerable and raw. It is complicated and complex. (And repentance that usually lasts happens within the loving confines of a supportive community of faith that walks alongside of you… so why are we kicking people out before they can even come in?). The act of being transformed from this world, truly, is a hard process for the most seasoned Christ followers.
To simply dumb this issue down to right and wrong, to sin or not sin, robs humanity of our deep complexities and robs God himself of His ability to conform people to His likeness.
By now some of you are seething at the opinions I have expressed. Some of you may be disappointed in me. Some of you agree with my thoughts. Some of you think I have played politician, not giving a clear enough answer (as if I am close enough to God to deliver the verdict). And some of you are offended that I have not gone far enough in denying that homosexuality is not a sin.
To all of the above: I am not engaging in a battle. I do not have the ultimate answer.
Look, my parents both have doctorates in Theology and Pastoral Care. My sister just graduated Magna Cum Laude with a master’s degree in Theology. My little sister is in her second year of seminary and her husband speaks, reads, and writes Greek fluently, which was part of his master’s degree in Christian theology. I am the lowly one of the bunch. I merely have a bachelor’s degree in religion and church history. And I say that to tell you that while other families shoot the breeze over the holidays, my weird family sits around the table and argues baptism, Lord's supper, the use of birth control, the Vatican's role in sex abuse scandals, the Baptist Faith and Message, homosexuals in church, women preachers... you name it, we go there. All eight of us. I come from a family of learners. Avid readers. Brilliant researchers. And well-versed students of the Bible. Relying heavily on the cumulative shared knowledge of the whole gang, it would be very easy for me to sit here and dogmatically argue a position and back it up with translations of this and that, commentaries, social history and context, etc.
But what good does that do? At the end of the day, all the knowledge in the world cannot answers our biggest questions. Sometimes the most we can do is have faith that God is doing what He says he does. Drawing all people to himself. Somehow. Someway.
I understand sin within the church has to be addressed. My friends hold me accountable. My husband and I encourage each other as we grow up in Christ together. Our community at church addresses different forms of sin and often gives us chances to go before the Lord asking for forgiveness for the ways in which we have separated ourselves from Him. But we do it at church within the body of Christ, the community that is walking alongside of us. Not on a blog aimed at one church member for thousands to read. Not on national tv, aimed at one church member for millions to hear. We do it with one another in the confines of our faith community.
A stranger can't just walk up to me and tell me I need to repent. And if they did, I would not listen.
It's just not as simple as that.
And I'll end with this.
I have often said that I am not a proponent of the death penalty. However, I follow that up by saying that I have never had my little girl kidnapped, violently raped, and murdered by a sadistic man. I can say that I do not believe in the death penalty until I am blue in the face... but when it happens to my little girl... get back to me. I can only tell you then, when I come face to face with this complex issue, what I really believe and how I will really respond.
This could be said of many hot topic social issues. You can spout off information, scripture verses, and dogmatic views but everything changes when you actually come face to face with the issue.
Do you know a homosexual? Have you ever loved someone deeply who has later turned out to be a homosexual? Because I guarantee you, it's not so easy to look someone in the eyes who you have seen love Jesus and tell them that their faith is invalid. Until you have gone there with someone, you cannot possibly understand what it is like to juggle these questions, these battlefields, these deep matters of faith with someone you love. Because it is no longer "a gay person," it is your brother, sister, dad, or the best pastor you've ever had the privilege to work with. They are people. Family. The ones you love. The ones God loves.
My aunt was a lesbian before she passed away. Coming from a rural town in Mississippi of faithful Southern Baptists, you can imagine the shock waves this sent through my family. But my Aunt Debbie knew God and I know it. Was she living in sin? Did she die in sin? So many questions plagued our family and yet, most of the family showed up for her and her partners commitment ceremony. Why? Because Debbie was loved. She was a light. A beautiful little light. And it's not so easy to draw battle lines when you are hugging your sister. She is still your sister. And somehow when it becomes personal you realize that you firmly believe what you believe, they firmly believe what they believe and you can walk closer to Christ together, trusting that He will call us to Himself, or you can draw a sword and engage in battle.
But when you love people… battles aren’t the preferred method of operation.
And to me, that's a good thing. Because I am convinced more than ever that people don't need battle lines... they need Jesus.
Draw them to Jesus and let him do what he does best.