Archive | February, 2013

Sharing your faith at a funeral?

28 Feb

This is appropriate, so is answering direct questions about faith/spirituality (as long as you’re sensitive). Save anything else until later on.

The other day a friend called with a random request: She and her husband were headed to a celebration of life and weren’t sure how to talk to people there. My first thought was some sort of pro-life rally – and I began formulating a few responses. Then she said specifically that she wasn’t sure how to respond when people said “at least he’s in a better place now…” So this was actually a funeral. That’s a different animal.

I can understand the celebration idea – I’m insisting on a traditional jazz funeral – but people are still grieving, even if there is upbeat music and Hors D’oeuvres. This isn’t really the atmosphere to challenge someone who is dealing with loss, but we’re still supposed to bear witness to the truth. I thought about it for a while and texted her back that “I hope so” is a decent approach to take when presented with the ‘better place’ assertion. This is an acknowledgment that we actually DON’T know any given person’s fate. We don’t know what may have transpired in the moments before death and we don’t know exactly how far God’s grace extends. We do know that Jesus says he is the only way to the father and Christian belief includes a real punishment for those who reject Christ’s offer of salvation. For this reason, affirming the ‘better place’ sentiment applied to a confessed unbeliever would be insincere. “I hope so” is charitable without being dishonest.

I also suggested that if anyone with whom she was in relationship with made the statement, a follow up conversation would be worthwhile in a few days or weeks. Then she could express curiosity about the statement and offer some of her own perspective without being insensitive at the actual funeral.

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Are we just asking for the right to be bigots?

27 Feb

People have said my post Monday was too vague or skirted the real issue. I had hoped to avoid the specifics not because I’m afraid of addressing them but because it’s such a lightning rod that I worried about the principle in question (leadership selection) becoming obscured. I’ll try to be concise in summing up what actually happened:

In September we (IV staff) learned that one of our apprentice Bible study leaders was in a same-sex relationship. IV’s national stance is welcoming (that is, come and hang out – we like you) but not affirming (that is, we still think that this behavior isn’t condoned by scripture – which we believe carries authority). We asked the student to step down, and within weeks were removed from campus for violating the school’s non-discrimination policy. Our hope is that we would be allowed to have a welcoming non-discriminatory environment for members of the club while retaining the ability to select leadership according to our principles of faith.

So wait, this whole thing is just about you guys demanding the right to be bigots? Isn’t this the same language and rhetoric used by segregationists: “We’ve always done this, other people can integrate but we shouldn’t have to if we don’t want to!” We don’t tolerate this type of racism as a society and would gladly pull the plug on the Rollins chapter of the KKK, and we don’t tolerate this type of homophobia either.

Ok, that was a lot – I can see that the central issue is going to become the evangelical stance on sexuality, so first off I’ll say that I reject the labels of homophobic and bigot. I think it is possible to respect someone, genuinely care for their well-being, and still disagree with their practices. Some Christians are bigots, so are some non-Christians; Jesus should not be evaluated by his followers but by his own deeds and actions.

Well Jesus was about loving people! He hung out with the worst of the worst: tax collectors, prostitutes, and the homeless. What happened to ‘love your neighbor’ and ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you?’

I think those things are the foundation of how Christians ought to act in the world, though I fail at them more than I wish I did.

But you exclude gay people from the list?

No, I don’t. I value the basic human rights of all people, and if a student at Rollins had been given a bad grade, denied an RA position, or benched on a sports team because of his or her sexual orientation InterVarsity would have stood in solidarity with those outraged.

Then why do YOU want to deny gays the ability to lead in your club?

I’m not sure it’s helpful to frame the question this way. I’ve been in settings where gay students have been leaders. The issue is not sexuality but the acceptance of Biblical authority. We feel that there is a God who created the universe and everything in it and He has given us revelation about how we are to function in the world through the books of the Bible. We would be reluctant to let any student lead who rejects one of the fundamental beliefs of our faith (the authority of scripture). Some gay students reject the Bible’s teaching on human sexuality and some accept it – just like straight students.

But aren’t there plenty of Christians who are affirming? Why can’t you be like them?

First, I’ll admit that I could be wrong about all of this – but I don’t think I am and so I must move forward in my convictions. The turning cultural tide HAS caused me to investigate my beliefs and I’ve been fair in my search, reading well-argued positions from several angles. In the end, my view remains unchanged. I’m most convinced by the position that God has revealed his particular design for human sexuality and that stepping outside that norm is a sin against him. I am not simply clinging to tradition (though this has been the position of Judaism and Christianity since inception). I have good reasons for believing the Bible is the authoritative word of God, and the most straightforward reading of that text (taken as a whole, or parsed out into chapters and verses) points towards God’s creation of sex for intimacy and procreation between husband and wife exclusively. There are other examples of sex in scripture (polygamy, pre-marital sex, etc.) but these are all presented as negative historical examples.

So gay people are just screwed?

I don’t think so, they have the option – like all folks – to choose celibacy and…

So they’re screwed metaphorically, just not literally. How is that an attractive thing? Why would a gay person ever want to know that God?

One of Jesus’ disciples exclaims that they have given up so much to follow Jesus – and Jesus replies that they will receive all of these things, and in the age to come eternal life! (Mark 10) I believe that God designed us, and his commands are neither arbitrary nor cruel. I do not know how to reconcile the fact of same sex attraction, a God who creates all persons, and a God who does not condone this type of sex. My answer lies in God’s character. I am convinced that he IS good, and that he created us. If these things are true then he knows what is best for us, and knows that if we follow him we will thrive. In the end, I trust that God has sufficient reasons for ordering the world in this way and I will do my best to live accordingly.

The Gospel is life to those who believe. Knowing God is a greater good than any human intimacy and inheriting the Kingdom of God (heaven) will far outweigh any worldly pleasure we can imagine. This is what is attractive – we are called to lay down our lives, to sacrifice our very selves and in that act we find ourselves.

Are you saying gay people can’t know God unless they stop being gay?

No. I’m not even willing to say that I know how God will judge those Christians who also practice a gay lifestyle. I do not know the extent of his mercy and grace, and as I mentioned above I could just be really wrong.

My understanding is that Jesus calls us to repent of our sins and follow Him. He claims to be Lord, King, Ruler. If we are following him, we cannot say “No, Lord.” We must say yes to anything he asks, for that is the definition of lordship. (This would be scary, and maybe even bad, if he was not perfectly good and desiring our best end). My counsel to gay students has been the same as my counsel to students who like to party: Investigate Jesus. Read about his life and let him ask you some questions (Do you want to be well? Who do you say I am?) and if you decide that he is Lord, then start saying yes to whatever he asks you to do – even if this means you stop partying or give up on a relationship. It is not our job (nor even possible) to ‘get right’ then come to Jesus, we come broken and wounded and he heals us.

How do you imagine this welcoming but not affirming stance could ever play out in real life?

Shane Windmeyer’s (LBGT rights activist) Huffington post piece about meeting with and befriending Dan Cathy (president of Chick-fil-a) offers me hope. Dan reached out to Shane and despite initial skepticism they forged something like a respectful friendship. I have gay friends and acquaintances who know where I stand and I think they know that I do love them, care about them and genuinely desire the very best for their lives.

Why I don’t want my daughter going to Rollins College…

25 Feb

Some of my closest friends, my boss, and my wife all graduated from Rollins. It’s a beautiful campus in a great city and by all accounts the students receive a first rate education. I don’t want my daughter going there, and you should be wary as well, because Rollins cares more about a token appeal to diversity and tolerance than the freedoms and interests of its students. Instead of fostering an environment of learning it has recently become a place of fear and uncertainty for students in the religious minority.

A token diversity and tolerance

In our diverse and pluralistic society we are guaranteed to run into folks with divergent views. For many, college will be the apex of this experience as we tend to filter ourselves in to more homogenous groups as we grow older. Last week Rollins’ board of trustees decided to deny an appeal from some students on campus that would allow their organization (a religious one) to select leaders using religious criteria. The board feels that you can hold your own religious beliefs – as long as they don’t conflict with the college or the opinion of the majority. Instead of protecting these students whose beliefs are in the minority on campus, the college said “There is no place for you here. Conform or be gone.” Students have reported being called out in social settings and in classes and it’s only going to get worse. Perhaps you’re thinking “finally the pendulum has swung and the Christians are getting a dose of their own medicine!” That may be, but the will of the crowd is fickle and there is no telling when it will turn against a given opinion or belief. Instead of fostering dialogue and working towards a respectful disagreement (because some deeply held beliefs truly can’t be reconciled) the school disbanded an organization with a 30 year history on campus overnight.

True tolerance means inviting folks to the table and respecting them despite differences in opinion and belief. Diversity means not kicking out anyone with whom you disagree but instead looking for points of commonality and welcoming different viewpoints.

Student freedom and interest

It’s a private, secular school. Students do not have the right to be recognized as an organization, but the seeds have been sown for even informal gatherings to be off limits. Students who were meeting in the lobby of a residence hall of their own accord to read and discuss the Bible were asked to disperse and the student who was leading the discussion was told to leave. Since when should tuition-paying students be told they can’t sit down with their friends and read whatever they please, religious text or otherwise?

Rollins College: Where students of all backgrounds and beliefs are welcomed - as long as they align with those in power!

Rollins College: Where students of all backgrounds and beliefs are welcomed – as long as they align with those in power!

The Bottom line

I’m an evangelical Christian – but I’ll feel this way about my daughter attending Rollins whether or not she rejects or accepts my beliefs. This should matter to everyone – regardless of affiliation – because Rollins has proven that they do not care about the rights, freedoms, or the best interests of the students. They will decide what they decide and no one is protected. If your view or belief could possibly be the minority it means that you’re not safe at a place like Rollins. They practice tolerance by promoting intolerance and celebrate diversity by institutionally excluding minority views.

Rollins College as an institution cares about only Rollins College: how it appears, how it will be received, how it can distinguish itself. I hope that the school gets a black eye over this and the administration comes to its senses because there are plenty of things to love. Until that time however, my encouragement to those who value religious and intellectual freedom and who understand what it truly means to be tolerant and to value diversity is this:

Parents, don’t send your tuition dollars there. Professors, don’t take your talents there. Alumni, don’t send your donations there. Students, don’t send your applications there. I hope my daughter doesn’t.

I don’t often appeal to my readers to promote my work – hoping that if it connects in a meaningful way that it will be shared – however I ask that if you are sympathetic to the cause of religious freedom and freedom of expression and believe that the faux tolerance of academia has gone too far, please share this. Twitter and Facebook buttons are located on the bottom of the post.

**UPDATE** While the above sentiments most accurately reflect how I feel right now, they don’t accurately reflect what I hope and believe. The inestimably wise (and more diplomatic) Greg Jao has suggested a few wording changes that I agree with (even through gritted teeth):

1) I don’t wish a black eye on the college, I just hope they change their stance. Principled pluralism looks very different than the policies currently in place at Rollins which reflect a simple and unyielding commitment to ideology.

2) While I do hope that donors stop giving money to the school, it is still a mission field. In that regard, students and faculty who are led there by God to be salt and light on the campus should not abandon ship because it will now be harder.

I’m leaving the original rather than editing the new wording into it because situations like this are complicated. Also, due to a high volume of traffic and feedback (here and on facebook) I’ve written a follow up post here.

Reflecting on slip ups…

21 Feb

One of the (many) things I’ve learned by listening to and reading Greg Koukl over the years is to analyze my conversations after the fact. It’s almost like an athlete watching game tape: we can think through our mistakes and look for areas of improvement.

Walking away from a recent conversation with someone at the University of Central Florida I realized two things that could have gone better. I was asking folks “Why do people believe what they do?” in preparation for an upcoming event on campus and the girl I was speaking made two curious statements.

Reflecting on our conversations helps us to see mistakes and improve

Reflecting on our conversations helps us to see mistakes and improve

The first is not unfamiliar and was along the lines of most college students these days: people have all sorts of different beliefs and its ok for them.

One of the problems with this, is that it is simply unlivable. I didn’t focus on this statement, but as I walked down the sidewalk I thought of something that might have connected. What if I had said “I believe that the arena is that way” while pointing in the opposite direction of the arena? Clearly my belief is wrong – and I hope she would acknowledge that. This doesn’t disprove religious pluralism but for me it begs the question: do we have access to any religious knowledge in the same way that we have access to geographical knowledge? This would have made for interesting conversation at least.

The other thing she said was that she had no strongly held beliefs. I was somewhat astounded and just remarked that she needed to get passionate about something! Again, after leaving a thought came to mind. We ALL have a worldview and even if it’s latent in us it’s something we hold to dearly. In thinking about how to demonstrate this I wondered about asking how she would feel if I stole her purse. I don’t know how she would have responded, but I suspect she wouldn’t have liked it. This gets at the idea that we think people should treat each other well and we believe that what’s ours is really ours.

If you have a spiritual conversation with a friend – even if it goes well – take some time afterwards to reflect and even journal about what you thought worked out and what maybe missed the mark. I’ll hopefully have these examples on hand next time I encounter one of these responses.

Two missing ingredients in your witness…

20 Feb

In my last post I gave a brief introduction to the book I Once was Lost and mentioned the thresholds concept as a helpful way to think about where your friends are on their spiritual journey.
The two thresholds I’d like to highlight for the purpose of this blog (conversational evangelism) are trust and curiosity.

Trust
It’s no secret that Christians can come off as pushy, weird, mean, and/or just plain dumb. We don’t have to own all the terrible things ever said or done by other believers but we do have a responsibility to try to represent Christ well. For the folks the authors talked to, deciding to trust a Christian was almost universally the first significant step they took towards God. There are lots of implications here but one is to remember that building a relationship with someone is always a worthwhile task. I don’t mean this in the sense of taking on a project and then never calling again if your friend shows no interest in Jesus. I mean that an investment in someone else’s life, no matter what that looks like – is always a good investment.

If your friends look like this when you bring up faith - maybe you should establish some more trust before moving on

If your friends look like this when you bring up faith – maybe you should establish some more trust before moving on

Without this trust element, we get nowhere. I can remember having back and forth conversations with folks where I was answering their objections and questions thoughtfully and felt like I was making real headway, only to have them dig deeper and lobby more objections. Reflecting on these experiences through the lens of the thresholds I can see that one of the issues was not having first established trust! Alas, I can’t go re-do those conversations, but I know moving forwards that I want to know about people first and foremost before I start trying to answer their questions – even if the questions are what they lead with.

Interest
This topic has vexed me for years, and it’s only getting worse. I have a core belief that people DO desire God, yet so many of the conversations I have feature the sentiment that “oh – I’m spiritual but it’s not a very big deal” or “oh, yeah I never really think about God…” What!?

The authors explained that people became curious when they encountered scenarios or information that their own personal experience was insufficient to explain. For example a young man was astounded that Doug wanted to move his wife and young child into one of Denver’s worst neighborhoods because he thought poor people have something special spiritually and that Jesus would be there. This led to hours of conversation that wouldn’t have been interesting to the student without this confusing and provocative action.

We then, must present Jesus as he was: provocative, intriguing, and dangerous. We don’t have to make any of this up – it’s all in the Gospels! We also must live in ways that exhibit these characteristics; confusing and surprising our friends until their curiosity boils over into actual dialogue. If someone investigates our lives, they should be confused by the actions we take for Jesus and demand to know why.

There is more, but again I think the book is worth the read and encourage you to buy a copy. If you’ve been spiritually stuck in relationships with some of your friends, maybe you could think about where they are on the threshold scale and consider what is the best way to meet them there.

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