Lauren Daigle Said What? (Why You Can’t Judge a Singer by Her Lyrics)

December 3, 2018 § Leave a comment

You can feel the frustration in these words by the writer of Hebrews: “By this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (5:12) “Let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity.” (6:1)

lauren-daigle

The latest Christian artist to disappoint a lot of fans in a similar fashion is Lauren Daigle. The popular 27 year old singer from Louisiana with cross-over appeal recently appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show,(1) which many critics thought was a faith-compromising move since Ellen is a lesbian. Yet others saw justification in the opportunity to show love and offer a God-honoring anthem on such a high profile show. That made sense to me. But then, Lauren appeared on iHeartRadio’s The Domenick Nati Show(2) and was asked if she thought homosexuality was a sin. Her “answer”:

“I can’t honestly answer on that, in the sense of I have too many people that I love and they are homosexuals. I can’t say one way or the other, I’m not God. When people ask questions like that, I just say, ‘Read the Bible and find out for yourself. And when you find out let me know because I’m learning too.’”

Now, of course a Bible-believing Christian can and should answer on that. Having “too many people” in your life who are gay does not absolve you from the question, but rather makes the need to answer truthfully and gracefully even more urgent.

Of course we are not God—but God gave us His answer in the Bible (Lev. 18:22, Rom. 1:24-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-10, 1 Tim. 1:9-10). What you “find out for yourself” when you read Scripture should not be a different answer than what God’s word clearly reveals about homosexuality and sin, because truth is not relative.

Of course people can and already are letting Lauren know what the Bible says(3) in response to her perhaps rhetorical invitation: “When you find out let me know because I’m learning too.” The thing is, if her appeal for this knowledge is sincere, she is asking for something that, by the stage of her faith portrayed in her music, she should already know by now.

But that might be the reason we are so often surprised by a Christian musician who says something that seems to indicate a theological shift (or trajectories completely off the rails like the coming out of Jennifer Knapp, or the likes of Michael Gungor and former Newsboys frontman George Perdikis confessing Atheism). We gauge a musician’s theology and the maturity of their faith not by notes and chords but by lyrics. This makes sense, because we judge a Christian author by the words he writes. The difference is, so many—if not most—musicians do not write every word they sing. There are artists who write most or all of their own lyrics, but Lauren Daigle is not one of them.

This is not a big secret, but from Sinatra to Elvis to Elton John, a surprising (to me) lot of music legends had virtually nothing at all do with the words they sang. The majority co-wrote songs with one or more composers/lyricists. I’m honestly not sure what that looks like in the creative process. I’m sure it happens in a variety of ways (Is it, “You write verse one, I’ll write verse two, and she can work on the chorus…”? Or does Writer 1 do a first draft before passing it on to Writer 2 for development?). But in any case, artists who have the look, talent and voice have always used other writers’ material and not their own personal journals. They can’t be good at everything.

I browsed Lauren Daigle’s debut album at azlyrics.com(4). For the dozen songs on “How Can It Be” released in 2015, 14 unique writers are credited (notables include Chris Tomlin and Louie Giglio). Lauren co-wrote only 8 of the songs, and each song has 2 to 5 people credited for lyrical content. Her latest (as of 2018) “Look Up Child” has 13 songs. Lauren’s name is listed alongside at least two other names on every song, most of which were co-written with Jason Ingram (her producer and songwriter for Bebo Norman, Point of Grace and others), Paul Mabury (Lauren’s drummer/producer), and sometimes Paul Duncan (songwriter for a number of Christian and Country musicians). None of Lauren Daigle’s songs are solely by Lauren Daigle. In “Lauren Daigle’s Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be”(5), the song that launched her career, Lauren tells how Paul Mabury brought her the song he co-wrote with Jason Ingram and Jeff Johnson 9 months earlier(6).

I’m not saying Lauren Daigle isn’t talented or original, that her music isn’t amazing, or that it doesn’t lift up the name of Jesus just because others have heavily contributed to the lyrical content of her songs. But what this means is when we hear Lauren Daigle sing, we are not necessarily hearing her heart. And that’s likely true of most musicians.

No doubt Lauren approves of and likely agrees with the words that are published and sung by her. Her testimony about “How Can It Be” affirms that she deserved the worst (because all have sinned) and “God just completely ransomed me… In my sin and in my shame, He fought for me.” She appears zealously behind the grace and truth that is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I don’t doubt Lauren Daigle is a Christian. But by her statements in that iHeartRadio interview, I doubt that she is as mature in her faith as suggested by the words she sings, which are, by normal industry practice, largely the work of others. During that interview, and faced with a pointed question about one of the most contentious social issues today, it was Lauren without a team of writers, composers or producers. It’s in that studio that we get her heart—and the surprises, because Christian singers really aren’t the sum of the words they sing. This talented artist, gifted with a beautiful and very public voice (and the accompanying responsibility) was put in a hard position. Sadly, she chose the easy answer—the non-answer—and that sings louder than song lyrics.

“Remind me once again just who I am, because I need to know…” (Sung by Lauren Daigle; written by Jason Ingram, Paul Mabury, Lauren Daigle)

Here’s a “so what?”-type question to finish with: When a Christian artist starts to “evolve”/move away from Biblical beliefs, at what point, if any point, does their past, non-heretical music become unedifying or unusable for worship or personal enjoyment? (I wrote this post a while ago thinking along the same lines about preachers).

1) Straeter, Kelsey (2018, Nov. 2) Christians Slam Lauren Daigle for Singing on Ellen Since She’s Gay—Singer Claps Back With Pure Class. Retrieved from  http://www.faithit.com/christians-slam-lauren-daigle-singing-ellen-gay-responds-pure-class
2) Domenick Nati Show (2018, Nov. 30). Lauren Daigle Doesn’t Know If Homosexuality Is A Sin. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/rXKHm_KPw6o
3) Dunn, Seth (2018, Dec. 2) To: Lauren Daigle Re: Sin/Homosexuality. Retrieved from https://pulpitandpen.org/2018/12/02/to-lauren-daigle-re-sin-homosexuality
4) AZ Lyrics. Lauren Daigle lyrics. https://www.azlyrics.com/l/laurendaigle.html
5) Daigle, Lauren (2014, Aug. 7) Lauren Daigle’s Story Behind the Song “How Can It Be”. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4W1_02y3XMY
6) PraiseCharts (2016, Feb. 29) How Can It Be Song Story with Jason Ingram, Lauren Daigle and Paul Mabury. Retrieved from https://www.praisecharts.com/blog/how-can-it-be-song-story-with-jason-ingram-lauren-daigle-and-paul-mabury
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Find God, Find Yourself

March 16, 2017 § 1 Comment

gender-cover-final

From TIME Magazine: “This week’s TIME cover story, with exclusive data from GLAAD, explores a change taking hold in American culture. The piece explores how you-do-you young people are questioning the conventions that when it comes to gender and sexuality, there are only two options for each: male or female, gay or straight. Those aspects of identity — how one sees themselves as a man or woman, for instance, and who they are drawn to physically and romantically — are distinct but undergoing similar sea changes, as teenagers and 20-somethings reject notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.”

What this article (‘Behind the TIME Cover Story: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She”)(1) shows is that a generation is struggling to ground itself in any kind of firm identity, many opting instead to go wherever their feelings take them to search out an identity. Often we don’t like who we are, but I think the issue is more that we don’t know who we are. And we can’t truly know who we are unless we know who God is.

Objective truth can be grounded in the nature of God, but without belief in God or truth that is objective, absolute, or universal, we would have no reason to believe in something like the immutability of gender or sexuality. In fact, if truth were relative, what would it mean to finally decide who we are on our own? Any future conviction we may have about our identity would be just as subject to change as our current convictions. Facebook’s 60 options for a user’s gender are not nearly enough.

God’s word reveals that “God created mankind in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” (Gen. 1:27) While God has no gender, it’s noteworthy that the completeness of the male and female complementarity came right along with forming mankind in His own likeness.

If nothing else, this tells us that male and female “binaries” are not merely “notions of what society has told them about who they are supposed to be.” This is our Creator telling us who we actually are and have always been.

The truth that we are God’s image-bearers, that He made us and loves us, justifies any notion of value or self-worth. If the God of the Bible does not exist, then we are likely accidental collisions of molecules. Do we matter then? Or are we just matter?

I met a high school student who had written YOU MATTER on both his own forearms with a pen. When I asked him about it, he said he’s not sure if he really believes he really matters, but seeing it there helps him through his depression. We only matter if God made us on purpose. This already depressed young man is in particular danger if he follows his atheism to its logical end.

Given the high degree of depression among the LGBTQ community, especially teens, and those with gender dysphoria, there is an accelerated danger in rejecting our Creator, His pattern for sex and gender, and trying to redefine both for ourselves.

We will never be fully satisfied in remaking ourselves in our own image because then we have idolized autonomy, choosing to live in “my reality” vs biological, historical, or spiritual reality. We’re told we can be whoever we want to be, but we need to start with who we actually are. A confused culture “in the throes of self-discovery” will not find its true identity until it finds God.

1) Steinmetz, Katy “Behind the TIME Cover Story-Gender and Sexuality: Beyond ‘He’ or ‘She’.” TIME Magazine 16 Mar. 2017. TIME.com Web. (Link: http://time.com/4703058/time-cover-story-beyond-he-or-she/)

Cafeteria Faith Doesn’t Fill

April 11, 2015 § 9 Comments

Catholicism was perhaps the first or the most prominent religion to be known for its half-hearted followers, where we get the term “Cafeteria Catholics”. But I think all religions have their cafeteria believers, adherents inclined to pick and choose which doctrines to follow and which to ignore. This of course results in an incomplete theology that inevitably leads to self-contradiction and irrationality. And it acknowledges no authority but the cherry-picker’s.Buffet_Photo

In my town, just this past week, Dowling Catholic High School refused to bring volunteer track coach and substitute teacher Tyler McCubbin on full-time(1) because he is openly gay and engaged to another man. Postmodern culture is ripe for a response of surprise and dismay to a Catholic school desiring to remain consistently Catholic by insisting that its faculty hold to Catholic teaching on human sexuality and marriage. And predictably, folks were surprised and dismayed at Dowling.

As a private religious institution, this central Iowa school is protected in principal by the First Amendment of the US Constitution and by the exception for religious institutions under Iowa’s Civil Rights Act(2). Legally, they are allowed to hire or fire anyone according to their Catholic beliefs, and they can require faculty to hold to those beliefs as a condition of employment. While the applicant may claim to be Catholic, his views of sexuality don’t line up with orthodox Catholic doctrine, so that puts him out of the running. Rationally, if Dowling Catholic High School did not limit its hiring to Catholics, that would open the school up to Methodists, Mormons, Muslims, Jews, or Atheists. Morally, if Dowling abandoned its Catholic principals on sexuality and marriage, it would be abandoning principals that the Church has held for centuries and the world has held for millennia—not to mention God’s original revelation in Genesis 2:24 which both Church and State have historically recognized. Legally, rationally or morally, Dowling’s stance is the only one that keeps the school consistently Catholic. Is Dowling’s cessation from orthodoxy what the surprised and dismayed crowd want?

The non-Catholic progressives objecting to Dowling’s decision probably don’t care how the school projects its faith. Their agenda doesn’t really require the pondering of theological consequences. They want to jump at the opportunity and check off another obstacle to complete allegiance to the new moral revolution, where erotic liberty trumps religious liberty, and religious freedom is synonymous with discrimination and bigotry(3) (Religious freedom laws will likely be the the next target, as the recent stink over Indiana’s RFRA law indicated).

But what about Tyler McCubbin? Or the hundred or so Dowling students who staged a walk-out to peacefully protest the school’s discriminative hiring policy(4)? Or to the Dowling alumni, presumably also Catholic, asking the school and the Church to change? Aren’t these religious folks pondering the religious implications of their protest? Here’s where Cafeteria Catholicism comes in.

McCubbin reveals his understanding of the theology relevant to his case when he summarizes the school’s position: “What’s so shocking is in an institution where they preach tolerance and love and respect for everyone, no matter what your background is, they don’t uphold to those teachings.” What’s really shocking is that he doesn’t know or remember that Catholicism preaches more than those three things about this situation. It also teaches that homosexuality, and any other deviation from God’s plan for human relationships, is a sin, that marriage is for one man and one woman, and that love actually requires speaking the truth. Those were left on the buffet, so this applicant is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.

ec4908c5ca581e0f730f6a706700e400What is the ideal final goal these protests hope to accomplish? With the utmost cordiality, I respectfully posted a question like this on the new “Dowling Catholic Alumni, Faculty, and Students Against Discrimination” Facebook page(5). A couple students and alumni responded that their pie-in-the-sky would be a gay-friendly hiring policy and a “safe space” for LGBTQ students at Dowling. I then asked if any space would be considered “safe” if the school still taught that homosexuality was a sin, and how such a change in hiring policy would settle with students when it also allowed Mormons, Muslims and Atheists to teach at Dowling. Immediately the comment thread disappeared and I was blocked from the group. Contemplating the endgame was too much I suppose; with the holes in their theology, continued rational discussion was not possible. These students and alums are apparently Cafeteria Catholics.

Openly gay Iowa Senator and Dowling graduate Matt McCoy has encouraged supporters of Dowling to close their checkbooks until the school changes its policy(6). He says of his alma mater, “They have many faculty members that are divorced. They have many faculty that have been involved in extramarital affairs, they have turned their head to other issues in society.” To that I would suggest that another wrong doesn’t make those right. IF faculty members are currently pursuing divorce or involved in extramarital affairs, the answer should be MORE consistency with Catholic doctrine, not less. Where there is hypocrisy, the solution is not to grow it. Mr. McCoy is apparently a Cafeteria Catholic.

The teachers and administrators at Dowling Catholic High School are not perfect. (There was at least some inconsistency evident in the screening process that allowed McCubbin’s gay lifestyle to go unnoticed when he was subbing, though arguably substitute teachers have less of an impact on students and may see less scrutiny as a result.) As an evangelical Christian I differ with Roman Catholics over some pretty fundamental doctrines because I believe they contradict what what the Bible says, particularly on matters of salvation, purgatory, the authority of the Pope, and the sole authority of Scripture.

But in terms of living consistently with one’s faith in a country founded on that right, no religious institution should be held to a standard of perfection (“All have sinned and fall short” anyway—Romans 3:23), but we should see a present pattern of striving for righteousness, systematic theology, and resistance to compromise. For those quick to speculate on the past sins of Dowling’s administrators, do they really expect a Catholic school to further its inconsistency and give up Catholic teachings on sexuality and marriage? Some have expressed a hope that the Church itself will eventually change its opposition to homosexuality. But to expect a religious institution to change its theology on one or two things but keep the rest (for now) is to be totally okay with inconsistency, which is the appetite of “cafeteria faith”. Ultimately it leaves you hungry.

1) http://www.kcci.com/news/kcci-exclusive-man-denied-job-because-hes-gay/32223058
2) Chapter 216 Civil Rights Division (216.6, Section 6D)
3) http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2015/04/14748/
4) http://www.kcci.com/news/alumni-students-speaking-out-against-dowling/32243568
5) https://www.facebook.com/groups/819387918148343
6) http://www.kcci.com/news/alumni-students-speaking-out-against-dowling/32243568

Marriage: What It Is Reveals What It Isn’t (And A Review Of ‘Same-Sex Marriage, A Thoughtful Approach…’)

September 3, 2014 § Leave a comment

Whatever side of the same-sex marriage debate you are on, you should be clear about how you define marriage. We have to know what it is to hold any kind of position on what it isn’t.

IMG_5667Sean McDowell and John Stonestreet‘s new book, Same Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage is a excellent articulation of the definition of marriage, Biblically and otherwise, in light of the normalization and legalization of same-sex marriage. It outlines the challenges the Church now faces and offers a truly thoughtful response to this massive and unprecendented cultural shift. It’s an easy and insightful read with well-footnoted content laid out in a very sensible format.

WHAT IS MARRIAGE?

Helping nail down an objective marriage definition is in my opinion the book’s most immediately accessible feature, and what makes it a much-needed apologetic tool for engaging a culture that is evidently very confused about the topic. It may be surprising to see how similar the definition of marriage put forth in Scripture is to the one recognized by governments and societies all over the world for millennia. Consider first the Biblical definition and purposes for marriage.

What marriage is:
One man and one woman (Gen. 2:24, Matt. 19:5, Mark 10:6)
Permanent (Mal. 2:16; Matt. 19:6Mark 10:9)
Exclusive (see above)

What marriage is for:
Companionship and help (Gen. 2:18, Prov. 5:18)
Procreation (Gen. 1:28, Psalm 128:3; Mal. 2:15)
A picture of Christ and the Church (Eph. 5:25-27; Rev. 19:7-9; 21:2,10)

What if we leave out the Bible? Over the long span of history, cultures around the world, religious or not, have most highly regarded the very same type of marriage. With the exception of the past few decades in a few countries in the West, the marital union of people of the same sex was virtually unheard of (and still is rare globally). Practically, the complementary relationship between men and women is pretty obvious to most. For thousands of years and in everywhere in the world before the year 2000, one-man/one-woman marriage was simply nature and the norm. Anything else was the exception.

Overall, societies have always regarded marriage unions as permanent. Divorce is ancient, but was never the ideal or the goal in any marriage. Many gay marriage advocates argue that the high divorce rate among heterosexual couples shows that the traditional match-up may not be so ideal after all. The problem with this argument is that divorce is and has always been an example of a failed attempt at marriage. In fact, divorce is not part of marriage; it’s the end of marriage. Divorced people are not married, so divorce can’t really be an argument against traditional marriage. If anything, it’s an argument for the fact that we get many things wrong.

Around the world throughout history, societies have considered the marriage union to be an exclusive relationship. Husbands and wives are not considered free to wander in and out of the commitment. Couples do unfortunately cheat on their spouses, and this is another example of marriage done incorrectly. Marital infidelity is a broken promise. Like divorce, it’s never the ideal and never in the plan at the outset of a marriage.

384665_10151077252490206_580591893_nNatural marriage has always been in part about companionship and how one completes the other for the good of family and society. Love and romance are happy features in most marriages, but it is not a fundamental purpose. Proverbs says to “rejoice in the wife of your youth,” but the Bible doesn’t emphasize feelings of love as a condition to lifelong marriage. Likewise in the secular world, what couple applying for a marriage license is ever asked by the clerk, “How do you feel about each other? Are you sure you’re in love?”? As Sean and John note, “The government does not care how a couple feels (its not on the form), but rather how they fit into the larger social context.” (pages 25,158) To the state (here in the US and most other governments), feelings of love and romance take a back seat to other more lasting purposes of the union.

What are the purposes of marriage that the state is really interested in? The fact that most traditional marriages produce children, and the ideal (supported by study after study) that children are better off with both a mother and a father. The companionship of marriage plus children makes a family. Every society seeks good replacements, and so governments encourage and even incentivize marriage as a way to ensure children become good and productive adult members of society. Families are the basic building blocks of civilization. Granted, not every marriage produces children, but every human being on earth comes from a mother and a father (and generally fare better growing up with both).

Secular society will on the whole have little interest in the picture of Christ and the Church that marriage bears, but this picture is the result, not a precondition, for Biblical marriage. The criteria that the Bible sets up for marriage are pragmatic and mirrored almost intuitively by every culture for all time, up until very recently.

photo copy 2And just as you can’t get a pie with just sugar, any of these criteria alone do not make a marriage. The sexual union of a man and woman can be done without being married. All kinds of relationships are permanent (as are markers and glue). Boyfriends and girlfriends can be exclusive. Companionship can be had with any human and most animals. You can hire a “helper.” And we can make babies without, except for the opposite sex pairing, any of the above conditions being met. A marriage is a marriage when all of these are in view or at least categorically possible.

While the case for traditional marriage can be argued very well without using the Bible or religion, we will never really know WHY we have always recognized (not invented) one-man/one-woman marriage without starting at the foundation. Even Jesus, when fielding a question about divorce from the Pharisees (Matthew 19, Mark 10) went straight back to the design phase, quoting Genesis 2.

“Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” He replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’a and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Notice that the Lord answered a question about divorce (which is not actually marriage) with the fundamental origin and purpose of marriage. If we know what marriage is, we can always identify the many things it is not—divorce, cohabitation, gay marriage, polygamy, or whatever else might come down the pike.

For Christians, our appeal has no real authority without the Word of God as the foundation for marriage, but the fact that societies everywhere around the world have historically validated the same kind of marriage outlined in the Bible is affirmation of God’s design of a very good thing.

MORE ABOUT THE BOOK

That is more or less where my understanding of marriage has landed after a bit of refinement from reading  Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage. But back to the book: Get it and read it. In addition to clarifying what marriage is and why it matters, Part 1 of the book outlines the societal shift that has happened in recent decades and recounts the history of recent changes in views on marriage. Part 2, What We Can Do For Marriage goes into the Christian responsibility for marriage, learning from the “gay liberation” agenda, some serious introspection with a call to repentance, things churches can and should do, and answers to common questions.

Throughout the book are brief interviews with with other Christian authors and otherwise notable folks addressing key issues related to marriage. For example, on page 88-89, Eric Teetsel fields several questions on What Same-Sex Marriage Means for the Church’s Role in Culture. Very insightful.

It was very interesting just how influential one book could be to the gay movement. After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90’s by Marshal Kirk and Hunter Madsen (1989) was a playbook for many in the movement (Chapter 8, pages 90-98), which outlined a 3-step process to change public opinion: Desensitize the public to the gay culture, portray anti-gay voices as bad guys “without reference to facts, logic or proof,” and convert the public through propaganda. It worked. Lessons to learn from this kind of movement are that sometimes a good story is better than a good argument. We have great stories to tell about life-long, natural marriages, and we should be telling them.

The emphasis that the authors put on the need for introspection and repentance by the Church was a surprise for a book written as a defense of marriage, but it’s warranted and appropriate. Christians corporately need to self-examine our motives and our approach, past and present, in how we treat our gay neighbors. Biblically, we are called to tell the truth about marriage and sexuality, but we are called to do it out of love and respect for gay people as fellow image-bearers of God. We need to humbly admit we’ve made mistakes before moving on. Here are a few questions from Sean and John (page 106):

• Have we told inappropriate jokes that slander or dehumanize gays and lesbians?
• Have we condemned another, using their homosexual sin to justify and coddle our own heterosexual sin?
• Have we physically or emotionally abused someone because they identify as gay?

MarriageIsAlreadyEqualThat said, most of the arguments put forth in defense of same sex marriage are flat out fallacious, most notably Strawmen (replacing the actual argument with one that is easier to defeat) and Ad Hominem (attacking a person’s character instead of the argument). We need to be aware of this and respond with well-reasoned answers (but “do so with gentleness and respect.”–1 Peter 3:15). We need to be aware of manipulative buzzwords, like discrimination, and realize that “not all discrimination is wrong. It’s often appropriate and necessary.” (pg. 26) The authors walk us through some “What if” scenarios and close with appendixes providing answers to pertinent questions and common challenges, including “Isn’t opposing same-sex marriage the same as opposing interracial marriage?”, and “Don’t you believe in marriage equality?” and the complex question (a trick question that assumes something not necessarily true), “Why do you hate gay people?” (pages 155-160).

But Christians have had their share of fallacious arguments in this debate. On John Stonestreet’s Breakpoint program, he featured a letter from a Christian condemning something she called “the Argument from Ickiness.” This is summed up in the sentiment “Being gay is icky, and the people who are gay are the worse kind of sinner you can be. Period, done, amen, pass the casserole.” Aside from being ignorant and wrong, this argument relies on pure emotionalism and zero rationale. For the past 30 years many who spoke against homosexuality have generally not had a real argument against it, but a childish “Yuck” reaction. After the influence of media and pop culture had finally succeeded in normalizing homosexuality by portraying gays as ordinary people looking for love like the rest of us, it led a lot of people, gay and straight, including our vice-president, to conclude that “I think Will & Grace probably did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody’s ever done so far.” The Argument from Ickiness was all many had against the movement, and it didn’t work anymore.

Sean and John’s book brings to light not only a right-headed rationale against gay marriage, but a right-hearted compassion for gay people—a clear answer for the need for both grace and truth that Christ calls us to. Marriage affects everyone eventually, and there is not a single Christian who will escape the question of what marriage is and the need to respond with a definitive position on same-sex marriage. This book is an incredible source for equipping Christians for what is here now and what lies ahead.

For Which World is Your Vision? (updated)

March 26, 2014 § Leave a comment

WV2_colorOn Monday, March 24th, World Vision International made a policy change and announced it via Christianity Today: “World Vision: Why We’re Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages.”   If you’re not familiar with World Vision, they are one of the world’s largest Christian relief organizations, dedicated to working with children, families and their communities in nearly 100 countries to address the causes of poverty and injustice.

Below is an email I sent to World Vision President Richard Stearns the following day, followed by a string of brief responses, and ending with the announcement of a reversal of their decision. The quoted portions in my email are from his policy change announcement.

——-

Dear Mr. Stearns,

I greatly respect the work World Vision is doing, and my wife and I have been supporters for nearly a decade. I was very disappointed to learn of your recent policy change to employ openly gay employees in openly homosexual relationships. This reflects a grave dishonesty and inconsistency for a organization that claims a “mission of building the kingdom” from the same Bible that lists homosexuals among many types of sinners who “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).

I realize your focus is liberating children and families from poverty and injustice, and you view this issue as divisive and a distraction from that mission. It is divisive (all issues are) and may be distracting, but why do we have this responsibility to these children and families in the first place? Christians should hold to this mission because all people are made in the image of God. We get this understanding of God-given value and worth from the same Bible, in fact the same 2 chapters, that also tells us, clearly—albeit some in your base of support are not seeing so clearly—who we all are in terms of sexuality. The confusion over Gen. 2:24, Rom. 1:26,27 and 1 Cor. 6 lies in the presuppositions of the reader, not in the Word of God.

Your announcement noted that World Vision “will continue to expect abstinence before marriage and fidelity within marriage for all staff.” Why? That’s a divisive theological issue for many who may not see Biblical issues on sex so clearly. I don’t think it’s possible for you to “have not endorsed same-sex marriage, but…defer to the authority of local churches on this issue.” You have obviously made a ruling and thereby your endorsement. If you claim to operate on a theological mission you have a theological responsibility, even when it’s inconvenient in light of the culture. There is no meaningful distinction between being an “operational arm” and a “theological arm” of the church. Christians, organizationally and personally, can’t confirm sinners in their (and our own) sin. Sin is the very reason the world is plagued with poverty and injustice.

World Vision is in a great position to make this shift. Most sponsors who hold an uncompromising view of scriptural authority will not find a decision to move their funding to another organization easy, because we don’t want to leave any child (we sponsor two through World Vision) without support. I am as yet undecided what we will do if this policy remains in force. My purpose of this letter is to ask you to reconsider, for one, to alleviate your supporters from having to make that decision. But more importantly, I pray that you will clarify whose kingdom you are building, and which world your vision is for, by reversing course in your policy before it becomes impossible.

Thank you for hearing my appeal. I believe it to be truth spoken in love.

In Christ,
Mike Johnson

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Dear Mike – thank you for your note. We are listening. This has been a very difficult day for us. Rich

Richard Stearns, President

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Rich, thank you for listening, and for all that you do for the cause of Christ. I hope I wasn’t too harsh. Praying for your wisdom and courage (we all need it).
Mike

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Dear Mike – thank you for your input. I wanted you to know that our board met this morning and we reversed our decision. Please see attached for more information. In Christ, Rich

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Dear Friends,

Today, the World Vision U.S. board publicly reversed its recent decision to change our employment conduct policy. The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.

We are writing to you our trusted partners and Christian leaders who have come to us in the spirit of Matthew 18 to express your concern in love and conviction. You share our desire to come together in the Body of Christ around our mission to serve the poorest of the poor. We have listened to you and want to say thank you and to humbly ask for your forgiveness.

In our board’s effort to unite around the church’s shared mission to serve the poor in the name of Christ, we failed to be consistent with World Vision U.S.’s commitment to the traditional understanding of Biblical marriage and our own Statement of Faith, which says, “We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.” And we also failed to seek enough counsel from our own Christian partners. As a result, we made a change to our conduct policy that was not consistent with our Statement of Faith and our commitment to the sanctity of marriage.

We are brokenhearted over the pain and confusion we have caused many of our friends, who saw this decision as a reversal of our strong commitment to Biblical authority. We ask that you understand that this was never the board’s intent. We are asking for your continued support. We commit to you that we will continue to listen to the wise counsel of Christian brothers and sisters, and we will reach out to key partners in the weeks ahead.

While World Vision U.S. stands firmly on the biblical view of marriage, we strongly affirm that all people, regardless of their sexual orientation, are created by God and are to be loved and treated with dignity and respect.

Please know that World Vision continues to serve all people in our ministry around the world. We pray that you will continue to join with us in our mission to be “an international partnership of Christians whose mission is to follow our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in working with the poor and oppressed to promote human transformation, seek justice, and bear witness to the good news of the Kingdom of God.”

Sincerely in Christ,

Richard Stearns, President

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Wonderful! Thank you, Rich. I’m sure there will still be consequential fall-out by some, but I will be praying with ernest that the distractions will be minimal so you can get back to what you were called to do. I do appreciate all that you do and may the Lord bless you in your ministry, brother!

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:6,7)

Mike

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Clearly World Vision wrestled with Monday’s decision as soon as they made it. Reversing course was indeed the right thing to do and I’m glad they did, even if the reversal was motivated by potential financial loss from evangelicals. There’s no doubt that the initial policy change, even if it only lasted for two days, cost them sponsors and supporters, some who may never return. There are always consequences to bad decisions, even after we correct our course. Yet there is the grace from the God we serve, and He provides the courage to carry on in a world that would rather we give up the fight.

Beware of Conviction!

April 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

RDtweet

Atheist Richard Dawkins recently tweeted, “The only religious people I fear are the ones who take their religion seriously: the ones who really believe what they say they believe.” It was re-tweeted well over a thousand times.

It doesn’t mean much to be “religious.” Even atheists can be religious. Apparently the fear factor brings significance to religion. The goal of Jesus’s followers is not to instill fear in anyone. God does that through an awareness, sometimes through Christians, that we are all, including Christians, an impossibly long way from righteousness by ourselves. That fear serves to drive us to the righteousness of Christ.

But fear is often felt in the face of anything we oppose. Nothing opposes the apathy of atheism and post-modern belief in flavor-of-the-month philosophy more than a firm conviction of truth. Belief naturally scares unbelief. It is indeed something to fear when you aren’t sure what else to be afraid of.

There are a great many feared Christians in the public square some would like to see removed from the public square.

Current stories abound, particularly over the issue of gay rights, of fearsome individuals such as Pastor Louie Giglio, who was invited to pray at the last presidential inauguration, but was soon ousted out of fear that he may still believe what he did 20 years earlier when he preached a sermon on homosexuality. Or Pastor Greg Laurie, who now faces the same type of outlier status for holding to millenia-old Biblical teachings. ESPN’s Chris Broussard, Iowa Senator Dennis Guth, and Johns Hopkins’ Dr. Ben Carson have recently faced similar backlash for holding to the same unchanging truths.

Teaching the Biblical view of sex and abstinence is now a “hurtful” and “dehumanizing” dogma, and conservatives are often feared as extremists.

Teaching the Biblical view of Creation is nothing new, yet it is now a form of child abuse or Taliban-style indoctrination, according to physicist Lawrence Krauss.

Sadly, there is no shortage of professing Christians who are no threat at all, who proclaim His name in word when convenient and in deed when the coast is clear. They are safe choices for product endorsement, commencement speeches, and political candidacy, because they will bend like putty to the whims of secularism and bow to the new moral consensus. Their moral compass is more of a windsock, changing direction with the times as feelings “evolve“.

“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3)

If the world could hear you, would it fear you? Do you really believe what you say you believe? Will you still believe it 5, 10 or 20 years from now? Paul’s first century warning is realized. Morally compromised and doctrinally flexible teachers, preachers, presidents and CEOs are in high demand. We no longer want to be shocked, or have our feelings hurt, or have our ideas challenged by anyone who exhibits a consistent belief and unwavering stance on the Biblical truth that guided our predecessors.

God ultimately judges folly. Better to be firmly grounded in the truth and feared by some, than to preach on shifting sand and have God to fear when the foundation washes away.

Marriage is Already Free and Equal (and Why Design Matters)

February 28, 2013 § Leave a comment

Jon Huntsman’s recent article in the American Conservative, Marriage Equality is a Conservative Cause, is not a call to conserve marriage but a call to compromise it. Huntsman says that “we must demand equality under the law for all Americans.” But under the law, where the law limits marriage to one man and one woman, all Americans are equally free. We are free to marry any non-relative of the opposite sex we choose. Where the law allows gay marriage, all same-sex couples are equally free to “marry.”

450px-Gay_wedding_a_by_Stefano_BologniniGay rights and the legalization of same-sex marriage is sold by advocates as a fight for freedom, but that’s misleading. The goal is to gain freedom that is currently not allowed “under the law”. Isn’t this valid though, the pursuit of desired freedom that we don’t have?

Not always. When the option is thoroughly examined, I think you’ll find that total freedom is something nobody really wants. Unlimited freedom isn’t truly attainable anyway, because one person’s complete freedom will inevitably take away from another’s freedom. I can’t have everything I want without stealing something. You simply aren’t free do anything and everything.

We readily accept all kinds of boundaries in our freedom, and there are two types of boundaries that are useful to recognize: What we can do and who can do it. Both are legitimate restrictions and widely accepted in various situations.

In what we can do, certain laws limit how fast we can drive, which national borders we can cross, what we can wear in clubs and restaurants, which public restroom we can use (unless you’re a student in Massachussetts), what type of speech we can use in public discourse, and how many fish we can take home from a Canadian excursion. We are not free to harm or kill or steal or cheat in our activities with fellow citizens.

As far as who can or cannot do these things, there is freedom within limits as well. A ten-year-old is not free to drive a car. A citizen cannot enter most other countries without the fulfillment of certain conditions. Men cannot use the womens showers at the Y, or vise-versa. No matter how unfair I think it is, I cannot fish without a license, dine at a country club without a membership, skateboard in front of the QuikTrip, or play a trumpet in the local library.

There are practical reasons why certain activities are prohibited or that only certain people are free to do them. The point is there are plenty of restrictions on the what and the who every day, and we are generally fine with that. Freedom and equality aren’t universal, nor should they be.

Likewise, in the case of marriage, there is equal freedom, but with limits on what and who. The case for gay marriage is not linked to a lack of freedom, but rather a desire to destroy the boundaries that naturally exist in marriage.

I say these boundaries “naturally exist” because marriage was designed to function a certain way within certain limits, just like everything else. But designed by whom? If marriage was designed by people then people have a right to redefine it. If it was designed by God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6), then we don’t have the right to redefine it.

Of course, not everyone will agree with an appeal to the Bible for the design of marriage by a divine Creator. So, let’s assume this is not the case and pretend the boundaries to marriage—specifically its confinement to a man and a woman overwhelmingly demonstrated by every civilization throughout human history—don’t truly belong, but were set in place by past cultures and are subject to revision. Let’s see where that logic leads.

If marriage was not relegated by God to include a man and a woman, then men are morally free to marry men and women to marry women—so far, so good for the cause of gay marriage rights. But it also follows that individuals ought to be able to marry their parents, siblings, children, or close relatives. If God didn’t design marriage or doesn’t care what we do with it, we ought to think it acceptable to take anyone for a mate. But do we allow this? Isn’t incest simply immoral?

Perhaps it could be argued that the risk of abnormalities in offspring is enough cause to classify incest as immoral. However, since there are health risks involved in homosexual relations, and even sometimes in heterosexual relations, this can’t be sufficient cause to deem incest morally wrong. Based on the same logic, if marrying family is morally permissible, then polygamy and even bestiality should be too.

At this point, proponents of same-sex marriage might declare a slippery slope fallacy and interject that marriage ought to be limited to two human, consenting adults who love each other, which would prevent an ever-widening definition of marriage. Such a requirement would leave out children, animals, non-sentient life forms and inanimate objects. But on what basis can we limit marriage to two consenting adults who love each other? Why grant that freedom but insist on restrictions that alienate people with pedophilic, incestuous, or other perverted inclinations, thereby denying their happiness? What is the basis for requiring mutual love in marriage? Certainly many people marry for reasons other than love and we don’t prohibit that.

For the non-religious, we still know by moral intuition that many types of relationships are just wrong. As thousands of years of practice reveal, regardless of religious cultural beliefs, humanity has held to and flourished by heterosexual marriage. Setting that aside yields more freedom for more people, but then there is then no true basis for restricting anything at all. We can try to condemn some types of relationships that seem harmful on the common ethical grounds that we should do the least harm to our neighbor. But that moral principal doesn’t mean anything without the moral law-giving God of the Bible, so there’s no rational moral basis even for denying “taboo” relationships that risk disorders in offspring (incest), are cruel to animals (bestiality), are abusive, or aren’t based on mutual love (objectum sexuality). It boils down to being able to ground the fundamental moral values that we all assume, which we can’t ground outside of the truth of God’s word (Rom. 2:14-15). A fuller discussion of morality is beyond the scope of this post (but not this one).

For the Christian, if on the Bible’s numerous passages on marriage we have somehow in the last decade or so stumbled upon their true meaning, that it doesn’t mean to limit the institution to one man and one woman and forbid homosexuality despite longstanding historical Christian teaching to the contrary, then we can’t look to the Bible for any kind of guidance for marriage. Since there are 6 or 7 passages forbidding homosexuality that we must discount in order to validate it, for consistency we must also ignore the relatively fewer number of passages that forbid incest and bestiality (only 3 or 4) and other revolting practices.

There are many ways people manage to live inconsistently with what they claim to believe. One is to reject the Biblical account of the origin of mankind, relationships and sexual morality, and then live as if it’s all true. We do this when we deny there are any God-given rules about how to live and then cherry-pick certain rules that we expect everyone to follow, as if they were handed down from on high.

Observation and logic show us that we never accept freedom and equality without limits and boundaries. Nature shows us that heterosexual unions lead to human flourishing whereas other types of sex run counter to it. God’s revelation shows us that there is moral law that tells every one of us what we can’t otherwise rationalize—that some things are independently right or wrong. Marriage, for one, is right as it was intended, an equally free union with few other limitations but this one: It’s designed for one man and one woman.

[Related post: Examining the Biblical View of Homosexuality]

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