Once again social media reacts (maybe with some responses) regarding statements made by a Christian leader. Yesterday, the buzz centered on Eugene Peterson's interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Services and his stated affirmation regarding same-sex marriage.
Recently a reporter asked me whether my personal opinions about homosexuality and same-sex marriage have changed over the years. I presume I was asked this question because of my former career as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA), which recently affirmed homosexuality and began allowing its clergy to perform same-sex weddings. Having retired from the pastorate more than 25 years ago, I acknowledged to the reporter that I “haven’t had a lot of experience with it.”
To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.
It is difficult to retract statements made on controversial subjects, but we have all said things that after further thought were regretted and retracted.
I am glad Peterson has made this statement. These are good words, yet notably there remain some questions.
Many shared discouragement, yet continued love, of Peterson based on his statements yesterday. Today, many of those who were saddened find some solace (though still questions) regarding his retraction.
Of course, this means that those who celebrated his pro-same-sex marriage statements yesterday have now jumped over to lambasting him for his seeming flip-flop on the issue.
Some have questioned whether LifeWay's threat to remove his printed materials from their bookstores impacted this retraction. While it could be true, I stand by my statement in yesterday's posting that I doubted that would impact him personally regarding his stance.
Retractions are interesting, especially those like Peterson's. They seem like the corrections offered in newspapers found hidden on page 12 that reference the previous day's front page headline.
Cynicism is not a spiritual gift, though I often display it. In this case, I seek not to be the cynic and will take Peterson at his quoted word.
To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything.
If nothing else, these stories have reminded us of the continued challenges in our culture as worldviews collide.
In the Christian corner of the Twitterverse and blogosphere, there's a bit of a disruption today. Author and pastor Eugene Peterson, in an interview with Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service shared his current views affirming homosexuality and same-sex marriage in particular. Here's his answer when asked by Merritt on his position:
I wouldn’t have said this 20 years ago, but now I know a lot of people who are gay and lesbian and they seem to have as good a spiritual life as I do. I think that kind of debate about lesbians and gays might be over. People who disapprove of it, they’ll probably just go to another church. So we’re in a transition and I think it’s a transition for the best, for the good. I don’t think it’s something that you can parade, but it’s not a right or wrong thing as far as I’m concerned.
Peterson, most widely known for his paraphrase of the Bible titled The Message, as well as numerous other books such as A Long Obedience in the Same Direction and As Kingfishers Catch Fire has publicly made known his views on perhaps the most divisive and controversial of topics in America and especially the church today.
This should not be totally shocking for those who have read or follow Peterson. He served as pastor in the Presbyterian Church (USA) in the past, most notably Christ Our King Presbyterian in Bel Air, MD which, like others in the PCUSA have affirmed homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The PCUSA endorsed same-sex marriage in 2015. Not all pastors and members of PCUSA churches agree with the endorsement. Many have since left the denomination and I know of one pastor in our region who was forced to leave for not affirming homosexuality. Nevertheless, based on Peterson's statement, it appears he is lining up with the denomination's leaders and others who have stepped away from a biblical worldview on manhood, womanhood, and sexuality.
Peterson drew concern from many who have enjoyed his writings (and to be clear, he is an incredibly gifted writer) when he endorsed Rob Bell's controversial book Love Wins in 2011. Bell's revelations in his book moved him from orthodox Christianity when he disavowed the centrality of the Gospel and Christ as the only way to salvation, not to mention the existence of hell. Peterson stated at the time that while he didn't agree with Bell, he endorsed his work because he valued the conversation. While I agree that conversing about differing beliefs is valid and should occur, to endorse a book that, in my opinion, is heretical was too far. When Peterson was asked "Do evangelicals need to reexamine our doctrines of hell and damnation?" He replied:
Yes, I guess I do think they ought to reexamine. They ought to be a good bit more biblical, not taking things out of context. But the people who are against Rob Bell are not going to reexamine anything. They have a litmus test for who is a Christian and who is not. But that’s not what it means to live in community.
The answer he gave then (2011) was broad and sought to be non-offensive. I agree that our answers ought to be a good bit more biblical and correct in context. Yet the eyebrows were raised and today, once more, a shift from biblical truth has been revealed.
It's easy for Christians to just "throw under the bus" those with whom we disagree. There are way too many blogs out there focused on dividing the church and built on sensational negativism. My desire is not to fan the flames of divisiveness, but to reveal once more how the cultural revolution and anti-biblical worldviews subtly, at times, seep into the church and Christianity.
You will find articles, tweets, and postings from conservative evangelicals over the years affirming some of Peterson's writings. As stated before, he truly has a gift of creativity through writing. It was today when many of these same individuals stated their disappointment in Peterson's newly revealed stance.
Peterson had stated he was stepping away from the public eye and would no longer be authoring books. Then, in the second portion of Merritt's interview, he reveals his stance on human sexuality.
Will this affect his book sales? Yes, likely. However, I don't think he really cares. His publisher may, but he likely does not. That's not a shot - just an opinion. I do think some at NavPress may be working on damage control, but it likely won't help.
LifeWay has announced that once he affirms the statements given in the interview, they will be removing his resources from their stores. This is exactly what they did with Jen Hatmaker's resources for the very same reason. The consistency is laudable and I agree with the decision.
In the interview, Merritt speaks of a day when Peterson will no longer exist. I think a poor choice of words was utilized by Merritt. This has been addressed by others, most notably Denny Burk here.
I am disappointed in Peterson's assertion regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Does this mean I won't be buying any Peterson books?
Well, yes, but I wasn't really buying his books anyway.
Does this mean I will not use The Message in my study or preaching?
I will not. However, I never did. The Message is not a translation. It's a paraphrase and while some of the modern-day wording is interesting and offers an unique spin on the inerrant, it is not a translation and should not be used as such. Just as The Living Bible should not be, in my opinion, the Bible for study or preaching.
Why blog about this?
I have sought to be cordial and not mean-spirited in this posting. I hope I have accomplished that. Nevertheless, some will categorize me a "hater" once again. Peterson is a pastor. He is speaking on a deeply important theological, and cultural issue. To be clear, all cultural issues are theological.
The sinfulness of humanity is common to all. The arguments regarding the affirmation of homosexuality as a lifestyle are getting louder. Some in the church are abandoning biblical truth for cultural acceptance and the current state of "fairness." Nevertheless, the truth remains. God has not changed regarding the sinful nature of humanity and the need for redemption. That's the radical message of the Gospel.
Some Christians seek to avoid this issue, mostly because friends and family members identify as LGBT. Yet, that is a weak excuse. I speak as one with a dear family member who identifies as such. To ignore the issue is to silently affirm the sin.
Denny Burk said it so well in his response today:
To say that Peterson's justification for same-sex relationships is really thin would be an understatement. His is not an argument based on Scripture. Rather, it's an argument based on sentiment. He says that he's known some nice gay people, therefore he now discards the moral consensus of the entire 2,000-year history of the Christian church. This is not pastoral wisdom. It's folly of the first order.
I agree with Burk. Pastoral responsibility leads me to clearly state that Peterson's affirmation of homosexuality and same-sex marriage (just as with Hatmaker's and others who have made such statements) is wrong, unbiblical, and sinful. Words matter and Peterson is a wonderful wordsmith. I just wish his words weren't so very damaging.
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you." Acts 17:22-23 (ESV)
The story of Paul's engagement at the Areopagus, or Mars Hill, reminds us that the message of the Gospel is not just to be held privately, but strategically taken to those in need of redemption through Jesus Christ.
While there have been many advancements regarding technology and industry in the centuries since Paul spoke to these ancient people near Athens, not much has truly changed. Humanity remains depraved and in need of rescue and redemption. The Gospel remains true. God's church continues to move forward under the mandate of the Great Commission as we go through life to engage others with the message of truth.
Comic Books and Superheroes
When I was a boy, I loved reading and collecting comic books. When I had saved up enough change (from that quarter a week allowance) I would ask my parents to stop by the 7-Eleven on the way home from church in Montgomery, Alabama so I could peruse the comic book stand for the latest issues featuring my favorite heroes. This was no comic book shop. There were no plastic bags with acid-free boards for storing the magazines. The rack was metal, spun, and sat near the door. Most of the comic books were bent as children like me would bend them down to see which issues were hidden behind. I remember when they were 25 cents, then 30 cents and 35 cents and then "Still Only 35 cents." I normally would go home with two or three issues. These would be read numerous times and added to the stack I was accumulating.
Of course, like most people my age, I would get the first issues of new comics hoping that one day they would be worth thousands of dollars like the first "Action Comics" and "Batman" issues of old. Nevertheless, most of the magazines my generation bought were stored safely and because our parents didn't throw them out like those from previous generations, we now have a plethora of books that are "Fabulous First Issues" which aren't worth much because supply (in those plastic sleeves in cardboard boxes) is so high.
Photo credit: Sam Howzit via VisualHunt.com / CC BY
Resurgence of Superheroes in Comic Books
In case you haven't noticed, after a time when comic book sales tanked and superhero films and television shows seemed to be fading, a renewal of interest in these heroes with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal man has occurred.
The Golden Age (1936 - early 1950s)
Since the Golden Age of comics (1936 - early 1950s,) heroes with brightly-colored spandex have attracted the interest of children and teenagers. During the 1940s, superhero comic interest waned. Magazine publishers began to produce books with different themes such as westerns, romance, science fiction, crime, and horror. In fact, many superhero titles were cancelled at this time. Of the dozens produced in the early 1940s, the only ones featuring superheroes to continue production by DC (the industry leader at the time) through the decade were Action Comics, Adventure Comics, Detective Comics, Batman, Superboy, Superman, Wonder Woman, and World's Finest Comics.
Photo credit: Terry McCombs via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC
The Silver Age (1956 - 1970)
Many changes took place in the world of comic books following the Golden Age. Controversy developed over the alleged connection between comic book themes and juvenile delinquency. In 1954, the comic publishers implemented a self-regulated Comics Code Authority and a shift from crime and horror themes led to a reintroduction of superheroes. The introduction of a new Flash from DC Comics launched this era and soon upstart Marvel Comics launched the Fantastic Four and a new wave of fans was born.
Photo credit: Michael Vance1 via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA
The Bronze Age (1970 - 1985)
This next age of comic book production moved Marvel Comics to the forefront. It was during this time I was collecting those books sold at the 7-Eleven. While many of the mainstay heroes remained, newer ones were introduced and a return to darker plot lines emerged (e.g. racism, alcoholism, drug abuse, urban poverty, pollution, etc.). Many of the heroes introduced in this era became the models for newer television shows like "The Incredible Hulk," "Wonder Woman," and "Spider-Man" and movies like the Christopher Reeve helmed "Superman: The Movie" and Michael Keaton's "Batman."
Photo credit: Brian Wilkins via Visualhunt.com / CC BY-NC
The Modern Age (1985 - present)
As generations shift, so too do the heroes they admire. While comic sales dropped, new business models were implemented. Character licensing was sold and plans for new films have been made. It is during this era when many comic book characters were redesigned, creators gained ownership of characters through independent comics, and publishing houses became more commercialized.
Some call this the Dark Age of Comics due to the influence of writers and artists like Frank Miller and Alan Moore. Anti-heroes (like Deadpool, the Punisher, and even Batman) became more popular.
Photo credit: Asbestos Bill via Visualhunt / CC BY
The Cinematic Universes
When Christopher Reeve first put on the blue tights and red "S" a new era of marketing comic book heroes developed. The "Superman" movie from the late 1970s stated that fans "would believe a man could fly" and based on ticket sales, they did. When Tim Burton introduced a darker "Batman" to the big screen in the 1980s, many fans thought it would fail, primarily because Michael Keaton was cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman and the campiness of Adam West's Caped Crusader was the prominent screen image known. When Burton's film became a hit, it seemed like superhero movies would soon take over the multiplex. Nevertheless, sequels didn't fare as well and other films like Dolph Lundgren's "The Punisher" and David Hasselhoff's "Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D." proved that Hollywood hadn't quite figured out how to move the comic heroes en masse to the big screen.
Then Tobey Maguire became Spider-Man and soon thereafter Christian Bale moved under the cowl of the Dark Knight and, as they say...the rest is history.
Marvel and DC have created effective (at least financially) cinematic universes that have proven to connect with audiences.
Photo credit: junaidrao via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Photo credit: junaidrao via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND
More Than a Weak Sermon Series Theme
Apparently there are many fans of superheroes in our communities. These run the gamut from stereotypical fanboy or fangirl who knows intricate details of multiverses to the casual fan who just saw Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman and watches Sheldon and Leonard on "The Big Bang Theory."
In recent years, with attempts to capitalize on pop culture with catchy themes, some have preached sermons or themed kids events at churches with pseudo-superhero concepts. I'm guilty of having done this in the past, but the truth is as Dr. Timothy Paul Jones stated in a blog post from earlier this year:
For many Christians, the temptation seems to be to engage in what I would identify as a “thin reading” of these cultural artifacts (comic books and superhero films,) hunting for surface-level connections between the Bible and our favorite superhero tales. Pastors who become caught up in such thin readings may construct entire sermon series out of the latest films or feel compelled to drop references to movies into their messages—all to achieve a perceived sense of relevance by linking Scripture to culture. This is not authentic cultural engagement, however. In most instances, it’s closer to uncritical cultural appropriation. Full-fledged Christian engagement with the culture digs deeper than surface-level links and wrestles with the conflicting worldviews that undergird these artistic artifacts.
Jones' article goes deeper and is well worth your read. Read it here.
Engaging on Mars Hill
What is it about these heroes that not only connects generations and draws fans, but gathers groups together at Comic-Con and movie premieres? The religious undertones are not always subtle and the fact that most early superheroes such as Superman were rooted in Judaism (ever wondered why his name is Kal-El?) reveals many Old Testament themes woven into the histories, especially from the Golden Age.
Yet, even anti-religious sentiment and humanistic worldviews aside, there is a sense, for the most part of good, evil, truth, justice, and other such things that at the core are religious concepts.
Many of the fictional heroes and heroines either find their root in Greek and Roman mythology or at a minimum are influenced by some of these types of stories. It is my contention that the culturally popular fictional heroes are not much different than the false gods and goddesses worshipped and adored by the ancient people of Paul's day.
Paul engaged those who were far from God strategically. He went to Mars Hill for this purpose. He did not remain silent, but talked intelligently and not condescendingly to those in the crowd.
After reading numerous articles and studying God's Word on living sent as his church to a lost and dying world, I thought of Dr. Jones' postings about worldviews as revealed in comic books and the cinematic universes of Marvel and DC.
What if the church engaged this affinity group through story-telling in ways that centers on the Scripture and the Gospel? What if rather than just continuing to add programs and events to reach the already reached, we went to this "Mars Hill" in our culture today? I have talked to a few teenagers specifically about this. Some attend church, but always seem to be on the fringes. Others have no place for church in their lives and basically have denied or ignored the message of the Gospel. I asked if they would consider joining me for a study called "The Meta-narrative of the Gospel as Revealed in the Marvel and DC Cinematic Universes?" Yeah - that's what I named it, based on Dr. Jones' articles. However, I may shorten it to "Superhero Sunday Nights."
Their interest was piqued.
I asked, "Do you have any friends who may be interested in something like this?"
The answer was yes and they began to rattle off names of students I do not know. Most have no connection with a church and no relationship (or desire for a relationship) with Christ.
I am not sure what this will even look like - The Big Bang Theory meets the Bible? I hope more than that. It's just that we (the church) have done much over the decades to connect with students through affinities like athletics, drama and theater, dance, and music, but I have yet to hear of an intentionally evangelistic effort (more than a gimmick event) that seeks to connect with those whom many categorize as nerds and geeks, but most likely think deeply and love and understand the intricacies of story. Ultimately, the Story is what they need.
Some will mock. Some will ignore. Yet, I believe some will be drawn by God to Himself. It's been done before.
Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” So Paul went out from their midst. But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them. Acts 17:32-34 (ESV)
The Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting concluded yesterday with quite a bit of public media attention and continued talk of what is next in the SBC.
Steve Gaines, Pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tennessee was reelected for a one-year term as President. He has done a fine job in leading our denomination this past year, and especially through a challenging annual meeting.
I am thankful for his leadership and service to our convention, not just this year but in years prior. I will continue praying for him as he remains on the national stage, not only as pastor of a significant church in our denomination, but as our President this next year.
Last Year's SBC Election
If you remember the SBC Annual Meeting in 20116 that took place in St. Louis, there was quite a bit more drama regarding the presidential election of the denomination. Of those nominated, a virtual tie resulted between Pastor Gaines and Pastor J.D. Greear of Summit Church in North Carolina. Messengers were scrambling to get back into the meeting room for ensuing votes and rather than a sense of unity among messengers, a growing sense of division was developing.
I was unable to attend that meeting in St. Louis, but was watching online via livestream. Based on tweets from friends and messengers and conversations with those in the convention center, the feelings of disunity were growing.
The Meeting Between Gaines and Greear
It has been shared numerous times, and once more this year at a Baptist 21 Luncheon on Monday. At seemingly the exact same time, in two different locations as these men prayed alone and with family, they each decided to recuse themselves from the election - allowing the other to win the nomination.
Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary shares that he was in the room when the men met together. Dr. Gaines shared he would be stepping away from the nomination and allow Dr. Greear to be nominated. Greear responded with appreciation and the instruction that Gaines could not do that because he had come to the same conclusion and would recuse himself.
This moment that would not have happened in our denomination about three decades ago between nominees was vital, inspiring, and needed.
J.D. Greear stepped out of the race and Steve Gaines won the presidency of the SBC in an amazing moment of unity before our messengers, our churches, and the watching world.
God's timing is always perfect and this has proved to be true once more.
Unity Is a Continual Challenge
To be unified is challenging. It takes strength and focus to remain together for the sake of a cause. In this case, the cause is the most vital in the world - the Gospel. We just experienced an attempt from our enemy to divide our churches at this year's SBC meeting. (Read about that here and here.)
The Baptist 21 Meeting This Year
In the Baptist 21 meeting on Monday much was discussed about the current status of the SBC. This meeting took place a day prior to the resolution issues regarding the Alt-Right and racism, so that discussion was not center stage, yet. Nevertheless a candid discussion on numerous issues where culture and faith intersect occurred. The discussions featuring a panel discussion with Steve Gaines, Albert Mohler, Danny Akin, Russell Moore, J.D. Greear, Matt Chandler, Kevin Smith, and Jedidiah Coppenger. At one point the moderator, Coppenger, asked about unity and last year's SBC presidential situation.
As the discussion and recounting of the events of last year were covered, Dr. Gaines mentioned that he would be excited to nominate J.D. Greear as President of the SBC in Dallas in 2018.
I heard him say this and thought "Wow! This is a huge step for our convention."
There is obviously no animosity between Gaines and Greear. For Dr. Gaines to proclaim his desire to nominate Greear next year stated clearly to those in the room and no doubt other Southern Baptists who have grown accustomed to seeing Baptists divided, that we are unified for a larger cause than self.
I look forward to an official announcement to come, likely early next year regarding Greear's nomination. As far as I know, Greear has not stated whether or not he will run again, but I believe he would serve the SBC well.
Our Southern Baptist family is just that - family. Our Heavenly Father has chosen to use us for His glory and we graciously move forward unified in the Gospel.
The 2017 Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting has ended. The second day of our annual gathering traditionally has welcomed less-than large crowds following lunch. In recent years, required business, for the most part, was completed during Tuesday gatherings. Wednesday has been the time for one last opportunity for unfinished business (normally, not newsworthy outside the SBC) and reports from LifeWay Christian Resources and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Of course, those reports with required time for questions have, at times, elicited some interesting sound bytes.
The wording of the previously declined resolution was reworked and made more clear. Copies were made available digitally through the SBC Annual Meeting app, and online while printed copies were available at the doors for all messengers. A copy of the document is available here: Download Resolution 10
The "resolved" sections are stated clearly...
Barrett Duke, Chairman of the Resolutions Committee and Executive Director of the Montana Southern Baptist Convention, spoke to the resolution. His clarity and transparency was welcome. As the entire committee stood with him, an apology was offered for not recognizing the need to allow messengers to vote on the resolution. Reasoning for initial declination was described in my previous post as well. Duke then clearly and loudly proclaimed that everyone on the committee stood firmly against the motives and declarations of the Alt-Right movement, white supremacy, and all forms of racism.
Barrett Duke, chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Committee on Resolutions, speaks during the SBC annual meeting June 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center. Photo by Van Payne
The committee apologized.
That is no small thing.
We have a wonderful denomination. We are family. I have been part of an SBC church since the womb. I love our denomination, and yet, since we're human, we know that we mess up at times. Even seeking to live in Christ, follow the Word and have ears to hear and eyes to see ... we sometimes (more often than we'd like) mess up and sin.
And like family, when we do, we confess.
At that confession and repentance, forgiveness is offered.
This is truly the Gospel at work in the lives of God's people.
What's so challenging is that we are gathering here in Phoenix having a family meeting with the entire world watching via social media, livestream, or news media stories. It's like we're on an episode of Big Brother, but a moral version, with much more at stake.
Following Barrett's recommendation for the resolution to be passed, the floor was open for questions. There were a few. One focused on amending the proposal by editing just a few words in the "Resolved" section. The wording recommended clarified the enemy's tactics of deceit and the Resolutions Committee took it as a friendly amendment and the floor voted overwhelmingly for the amendment.
Another question sought to amend the resolution by adding to it other aspects of racial division present in the US. This was ruled out of order due to the fact it was actually worded as an additional motion and not an amendment.
Dr. Russell Moore spoke from the floor, not as President of the ERLC, but as a messenger from his home church. His statement was strongly worded and clear. The opening of his statement addressed that the resolution had a number on our list of resolutions of ten. That was a fact and the crowd waited to hear where he was going with this. Then he stated, "The Alt-Right and white supremacist movement has a number, too. It's 666." And at that, the room knew.
Well said, Dr. Moore!
Finally, one more comment from the floor strongly seeking the committee to reject any other added amendments that would ultimately weaken the wording of the resolution with concern that a weak document would express the opposite message to non-white brothers and sisters about our seriousness regarding racism.
The questioning time ended.
The SBC Votes "YES" on Resolution 10
As SBC President Steve Gaines called for the vote, he asked messengers who wished to affirm the adoption of Resolution 10, he asked for all in favor to raise their ballots. The scene was beautiful as hundreds of green ballots in an overwhelmingly positive vote made clear that despite our family's sordid past, and even our founding as a denomination, regarding race relations, we would stand firmly upon God's Word, declaring His love and ultimately our love, for all peoples regardless of race, skin tone, or cultural background.
Photo by Philip Bethancourt
Was It Too Little, Too Late?
I guess time will tell, for some. Ultimately, it is never too late to do the right thing. Through God's grace and providence he led us to agree with Him in this defining moment. This moment declares that political ideology does not drive our biblical theology.
In this moment, we acknowledge our dependance on God for guidance, for insight, for wisdom, and for life.
This moment reminds us that the sins of our ancestors do not define us. The sins of our churches are forgivable. The sins of just a day prior can be eradicated by the grace and forgiveness of Christ.
Some will say that our mechanism of voting and revisiting the vote means that we truly didn't mean what we ended up saying. That simply isn't true. Our final vote was clear. Our family (SBCers) were united to ensure we ended this issue (of the resolution) well.
Should we have voted on Tuesday? In retrospect - yes. Hindsight is always 20/20.
Thank God we didn't leave the issue undone. Thank God the initial discussion was on Tuesday so that we could resolve this on Wednesday. Otherwise, it would still be hanging over us as we await next summer's Annual Meeting.
Some have and will say that our vote in the affirmative was prompted by media and social media outrage.
It would be disingenuous to state that no one in the room heard or read what was being said. God has used numerous things, people, organizations, and circumstances throughout history to get the attention of his children. The Minor Prophets declare many ungodly things, nations, and people used by God for His glory.
I actually thank God that we were listening.
Yet, rest assured, the SBC did NOT vote in affirmative to decry the motives and beliefs of the Alt-Right and white supremacists solely because Twitter prompted us to do so and because it was the politically correct thing to do.
The ultimate vote was yes because it was and is right.
Racism is evil. It is demonic. It is divisive. It flies in the face of the Gospel. We believed this before our meeting. We believed it during our meeting. We voted on a resolution we likely never thought we would have to vote on to declare it even more clearly.
There are likely many churches and pastors who will be having to address angry church members who either don't fully understand the depth of the issue, or who could be wrongly racially motivated and in need of forgiveness. Our churches are varied and in diverse locations. No two SBC churches are identical, believe me.
I pray that our churches will be eradicated of racism within the pew and if need be, in the pulpit. My prayer is that the Spirit of God will convict and transform those who have either been excusing this sin or just now realize they are knee-deep within it. Apart from transformation, I pray that biblical churches will do what many have never done and enact biblical discipline upon those who remain unrepentant in this area.
Some of our pastors may feel they're standing alone when they meet with their membership on Sunday. Remember, pastor ... you are not alone. Ever.
A resolution was passed. This is good.
Racism remains in our world. This is a reality and still very bad.
The mission remains. Nothing has changed for the church but the conversation. And this is a big change. This generation of pastors and church members is being led into a dialogue that has been ignored by too many for too long. Older members of our churches, both black and white, have memories of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Churches in the South were segregated, just like everything else. For many of our older brothers and sisters, these are memories.
For the younger generations (50 and younger) these are history stories.
Maybe we fooled ourselves into thinking that since we have come so far regarding race relations in our nation that we had completed the task? Rest assured, based on what we have seen in our nation over the past few years, no one could rightly say we have arrived.
There is much work to do.
Racial reconciliation remains on the table and will for years, likely. The church, and in our case, the SBC churches, acknowledge the stains in our history, but must resolve (no pun intended) to not be defined by them.
The work to be done by the church to bring healing will not be done through political movements. That which must happen to unify Christians will not occur simply through a resolution. Presuming to understand fully the plight of another race is insulting and impossible. In other words, as a white man for me to tell my black brother "Oh I understand what you go through" is demeaning and wrong. Yet, there is hope.
Not Too Late Because There Is Hope
Through Christ forgiveness occurs.
Through Christ healing happens.
Through Christ, the church prevails.
We had just better remain humbly focused on Christ.
God led us this week in Phoenix. He brought our denomination to the river (in a desert no less) and directed us to trust Him as we stepped in.
We stepped in and with him we will remain secure as we walk together through the waters ahead.
While most of America was watching, or at least aware, of the Senate hearing last week featuring former FBI Director James Comey, there was another hearing taking place in Washington DC that flew under the radar for the most part. This other hearing potentially may impact more Americans long-term than anything coming from the Comey hearings.
The event was a confirmation hearing for an executive level position in the Office of Management and Budget. That alone is why this hearing did not garner news media attention. It was a simple hearing that in most years would not be newsworthy, but basically a formality. Yet, that is far from the case this time.
Russell Vought had been nominated by President Trump to serve in this position. Of those on the Senate panel interviewing Mr. Vought were Senator Bernie Sanders, I-Vt, who last year ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic Party nomination for President, and Senator Van Hollen Jr., D-Md.
Bernie Sanders burst onto the national scene last year, after decades of public service, as an alternative to Hillary Clinton. His brash, pro-socialist agenda resonated with many, especially young adults. College and university campuses welcomed Senator Sanders and young men and women who were looking forward to participating in their first presidential election "felt the Bern" and lined up behind him and his message. Nevertheless, Mrs. Clinton bested Sanders in the race and many young Democrats have since expressed their frustration that Sanders did not win. Thus is American politics.
Photo credit: Randy Bayne via VisualHunt.com / CC BY-NC-ND
Sanders has been described as a Jewish agnostic based on his heritage and self-proclaimed status as "not particularly religious." Hollen's political stances have consistently fallen on the far left of the American political spectrum. He has often made public statements condemning anti-Semitism and has gone on record with statements affirming the religious freedom of people around the world. On September 15, 2011, he declared this on record:
Around the world, millions of people suffer persecution merely because they practice a different religion than other people around them. No one should be made to feel that the practice of their religion is a crime or a source of shame. Such persecution violates their inalienable human right to practice the religion of their own choosing and promotes political instability.
Despite the well stated affirmation for religious freedom, Senator Hollen along with Senator Sanders, have now gone on record to declare Christianity a religion to be condemned, freedom be damned.
Russell Vought, the nominee of the President, is an evangelical Christian who graduated from Wheaton College. Wheaton is a solid, evangelical college with a clear statement of faith and biblical worldview. Last year, the college came under scrutiny when they parted ways with a professor who made spurious claims that Muslims and Christians are both people of the book and then quoted Pope Francis by affirming that "we worship the same God.” These statements stand in contradiction to biblical truth and the statement of faith held by evangelical Christians and Wheaton College.
Vought clearly declares the authority of Scripture and salvation through Christ alone. This quote from Vought's article was the element brought to the table by Senator Sanders:
Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.
It is doubtful that Senator Sanders regularly reads The Resurgent, but props to his staff who, in the current world of political divide, found this nugget to offer their boss.
Senator Sanders landed on this statement of condemnation and made claims that should cause every American, not just religious Americans, to take note:
"In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world. This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms ... we must not go backwards."
It is true that as a nation, we have struggled to overcome discrimination. Yet, in the following comments, if you can peer between the political buzzwords and Twitter-worthy statements, you will discover a revealed discrimination that is growing.
Sanders asked Vought if he considered his statement about Jesus to be "Islamophobic." Vought began to respond with "I am a Christian..." but before he could go any further, he was interrupted by Sanders who asked if Jews were also condemned because they reject Jesus.
When Vought began to answer Senator Sanders, he said "I am a Christian..." but was once again interrupted by the Senator.
“I understand you’re a Christian. But this country is made of people, not just… I understand Christianity is a majority religion, but the people of other religions in this country and around the world believe in their judgement that people convicted of non-Christians?”
Senator Hollen quoted from Vought's article, saying:
"I think it is irrefutable that these kinds of comments suggest to a whole lot of Americans that, number one ... you are condemning people of all faiths. I'm a Christian, but part of being a Christian in my view is recognizing that there are lots of ways that people can pursue their God ... It's your comments that suggest a violation of the public trust in what will be a very important position."
Ultimately, these push backs may be as much against the President who nominated Mr. Vought as to Mr. Vought himself. Nevertheless, the positioning is clear. Biblical Christianity is condemned by the culture while seeking to claim that Christianity is condemning others.
No, You Don't Understand
When Senator Sanders says "I understand you're a Christian..." it is clear that he does not really understand. When Senator Hollen states "I'm a Christian, but..." it is clear he does not affirm biblical Christianity.
This is a battle of world views and it is nothing new. What is new, or seemingly new, is that most Americans have never truly acknowledged the deep divide between absolute truth as expressed in God's Word and the "truthiness" of the world.
At a minimum, the senators' comments, stances, and ultimately recommendations for non-approval of Vought have positioned them, by their own words, as creating a religious litmus test for those serving in public office. As Dr. Russell Moore of the ERLC made clear,
"While no one expects Senator Sanders to be a theologian, we should expect far more from an elected official who has taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution."
Of greater note for evangelical Christians is the fact that regardless who is in the Oval Office, who represents us in DC or local political offices, the world view divide will ultimately require a statement of belief.
Do You Understand?
Christian - do you understand what it means to be a follower of Christ? He is the ONLY way! He is the ONLY truth. Through Christ ALONE, may we have life eternal. It may sound intolerant to those who do not understand. For those who do understand, it sounds like grace.
Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. - John 3:18 (ESV)
In Christine Emba's report, she shares results from social scientists on the reality of such chambers.
The study focused on how Facebook users interacted with two narratives involving conspiracy theories and science. Users belonging to different communities tended not to interact and tended to be connected only with “like-minded” friends, creating closed, non-interacting communities centered around different narratives — what the researchers called “echo chambers.” Confirmation bias accounted for users’ decisions to share certain content, creating informational cascades within their communities.
Recently, one of my online friends who holds vastly different views politically, socially, and theologically, shared a story online that was opposite my view on many levels. We discussed the views cordially and I shared the reality that the views espoused were simply echoes of others. The concept of living in an echo chamber is a reality, and I am not immune either.
The Echo Chamber of Politics
Social scientists and political scientists have studied the surprising (to some) results of last year's US Presidential election. As results came in where states were colored either blue (Democrat) or red (Republican) to indicate Electoral College votes, our news showed the county-by-county vote totals of our state, Florida.
I would not be surprised to see other state breakdowns to show similar results. Here are Florida's results (screenshot from The Guardian)
Screenshot from The Guardian
For the most part, the blue counties are where large universities are located (FSU, UF, UCF, USF, UM, FIU, FAU, etc.) They are also the locations, other than Alachua County, of urban areas in our state.
This is no surprise in that many students in university settings are challenged intellectually regarding their belief systems and sense of fairness. It seems that over the decades, many of our universities have embraced a humanist worldview that leans left ideologically, politically, and theologically. This is not news.
However, I am not saying that individuals abandon their convictions and beliefs just because they enroll in college. In fact, no university populace is homogenous (well, except for Saturdays in the fall during football season) in their beliefs or support of ideologies. Yet, it is true that many students find themselves exposed to a worldview that sees things vastly different than the one experienced growing up under parental authority once at college.
It is at this level, the echo chamber develops.
And it is not just in the liberal, humanistic worldview world.
Just in case it's misunderstood, I'm not saying that the red candidate's voters were not in echo chambers. They were, too.
I am just pointing out how so many who leaned left were surprised at the election results primarily because they were trapped in an echo chamber. The same has been proven true for other sides over the years.
No one is immune.
The Christian Echo Chamber
As Christians, we must guard against the echo chamber as well.
But as we’re thinking about the entire question of this media ecology, there are two other issues that thinking Christians should keep in mind. This has to do with the echo chamber and what is known as confirmation bias. One of the great risks to all of us, whether of the left or the right, Christian or non-Christian, is that we will situate ourselves within a cocoon in which we hear no dissenting voices and no contrary arguments. This is probably, to be honest, more a problem for liberals than conservatives in terms of the print media because of the dominance of the liberals in major newspapers and editorial boards. But on television Fox News largely leveled the field, and now there is the risk that anyone of the left or the right or any other perspective can spend 24 hours a day listening to nothing but the echo of one’s own political positions and the bias of hearing confirmation of what one already believes.
This is where Christians need to understand the discipline of forcing ourselves to hear contrary arguments in order to understand evangelistically and apologetically the worldview of those who may not agree with us on so many issues. The political and moral—the worldview divide in America is now so deep that we can cocoon ourselves and hear almost no one who disagrees with us.
Some fear that even listening to dissenting political or ideological opinions flies too close to "the appearance of evil" but I hearken back to Paul's encounter at Mars Hill. To lovingly engage those far from God with the Gospel leads us out of the echo chamber (which for Christians can be filled with empty "Amens" on social issues apart from biblical foundation.)
If you check my Twitter account, you'll see that I follow many people. Many of those I follow view the world through a lens (a worldview) vastly different than the biblical one I do. They hold to beliefs of Scripture that I do not. They argue in favor of things that I believe are evil and wrong or at best, short-sighted. Yet, I "follow" them. To be clear, just because I follow you online, does not mean I agree with you.
Yet, to be clear, as a Christian I must spend the bulk of my time in God's Word when it comes to having a biblical worldview. Apart from the Gospel, I have no valid discourse with those who are pre-Christian.
Last week, as we celebrated Thanksgiving with family and those in our community, I was once again reminded of the strangeness this week now holds.
On Thursday (Thanksgiving) people gather with friends and family and pause to reflect on how blessed we are and offer thanks to God.
On "Black Friday" people fight and scrape to get into shopping centers to buy things they otherwise wouldn't just because the deals are so good. In other words, just 24 hours prior we're content and thankful and then...BOOM! WE HAVE TO HAVE MORE!
On Saturday, people go shopping at smaller stores for "Small Business Saturday" to encourage them to stay in business even though they struggle competing with the big box stores. Then, everyone goes back home to watch college football rivalry games that create division among family members and friends.
On Sunday, people (well some people) go to church.
On "Cyber Monday" people get more great deals online. This is basically Amazon's version of Black Friday.
Then, when all disposable income (a term that has never resonated in my home) is gone, it's time for "Giving Tuesday" where charities and non-profits seek to gain donations to help end-of-year expenses.
And some people wonder why Thanksgiving is the forgotten holiday?
As Christians, there are many commentaries on all these marketed, hashtag days. First of all, thanksgiving should never be relegated only to one day a year. Greed should never be celebrated. Worship should never be just during one hour on a weekend day and generosity should be natural for all followers of Christ.
Yet, today is #GivingTuesday and every non-profit and ministry out there seems to be taking advantage of the moment. To be honest, I don't blame them and in fact, there are many groups we sponsor as a family and ministries we support as a church family that could use a boost in donations. Yes, this day is a marketing strategy. Yet, when compared to "Black Friday" and the like, this one focuses not on self, but on others (unless you give so you can brag about giving, which then makes it selfish.) While not an extensive list, here are some options (in addition to your local church, which BTW is a non-profit as well) that you may wish to prayerfully consider giving generously to on this day.
There are many others. Before dropping that coin or sending a donation to a non-profit, do some checking. Ensure that the organization is legitimate and if a religious or Christian organization, it would be wise to discern the theology or teaching your donations support.
Happy Giving Tuesday. Oh and if you don't get to donate today, you don't have to wait another year. Generosity isn't bounded by calendared events.
It's the most popular Bible verse for American Christians during election year. The verse is found in the Old Testament and centered on God's people and the building of his temple by Solomon. While the context is clearly for the people of Israel and related to Solomon's faithfulness, the holiness of worship in the temple, and the fidelity required of those who claim to follow God, the underlying truth revealed in the passage is timeless.
God is faithful.
God responds to humble, repentant prayers of his people.
If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)
Believing fully in the inerrancy of God's Word, this verse is not unlike others. It is powerful, true, and valuable (2 Timothy 3:16)
As stated earlier, this verse seems to be dusted off and pulled out of storage when Christians (American ones especially) find themselves at a point of despair. This most often occurs when the political machine is in full swing during election year. While it is clear that some Christians do struggle with idol worship when it comes to nationalism, the vast majority, in my opinion, truly are seeking insight and healing from the Lord.
The church must be clear when using this verse as a sermon theme, prayer gathering banner or in an attempt to garner oneness regarding the nature of our nation.
Some things to consider, based on the wording of the English translation of this verse...
"If my people who are called by my name"
While directed at God's chosen people (Israel) in the Old Testament, all believers are now included in this "my people" phrase due to the message of the gospel and the inclusion of grafted branches. Therefore, this is a message for the church, not Washington DC, Tallahasee, or the center of government where you reside. Of course there are believers who live and serve in these offices of government, and to them (as members of the "my people" group) the message is declarative. Yet, the unregenerate will not get this, nor should Christians continue to expect non-beleivers to act like the redeemed.
This matters because it is so easy to see the sin in others, but so difficult to see it in ourselves. Maybe this is a bit of the "speck and log" story Christ shared?
This may be the most forgotten section of the verse. Humility is rare and in an election cycle where major candidates garner news coverage, trending stories, and news coverage by being crass, self-centric, and loud, the simple idea of humility seems like a lost art.
While it should be expected to see arrogance as the theme of the day in the world, when it enters into the church and becomes a celebrated characteristic, it is time to wake up and repent.
The humble heart is sought by God.
Here's what we know, self-centric celebrity Christians and arrogant pastors and spiritual leaders, while honored by many, embarrass and break the heart of God.
This passage reminds us that God is seeking for his people to be humble.
A lost art? Certainly.
A lost cause? Absolutely not.
Oh, and being humble is not something you can brag about. Once you do that...well, you're not humble.
"And pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways"
God's love is unconditional.
God's forgiveness is conditional.
There is an action step required from his pcople (the church). This action step is not sought from the government leaders who are not believers. This is not sought from the community organizers, petitioners, talk show hosts, pundits, or spin masters. This action step is sought by God from his children - his people - his church.
I think of the parent of the small child who is chastising the child for disobeying. The child says "But my friends are doing this. They don't get in trouble." To this the parent responds "I don't care about the other children. You're my child. You know better. This is not acceptable."
That's our loving Father chastising and disciplining us, his children and then providing steps for reconciliation.
"The I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land."
For the Israelites, it meant that the rains would come, the crops would grow, peace would reign and worship would be as it should be. For us today, it means that God will hear our prayer (just as he says) and will forgive us (conditionally, not unconditionally) and heal our land. How big is this "land" he will heal? Maybe just yours and my small spheres of influence? Maybe collectively the land we call home?
Maybe we're too concerned with God healing our land and then telling God where our surveyed boundaries lay?
Maybe the healing begins where it must to make the biggest impact. Guess what? That may not be the swampland that was drained so that Washington DC could be built, but is the land of our hearts. In this Old Testament passage, the land of God centered where his temple was built. Since our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit, perhaps this is the land that must be healed?
I'm seeing postings on the web and am actually getting postcards and mailings from churches promoting church and community-wide prayer gatherings. Most of these are tagged with "Pray for the USA" or "Pray for Our Nation" and are focused on gathering the church to pray together prior to Election Day on November 8.
Those gatherings are good, so I'm not throwing shade upon the churches or organizers. However, to gather solely for politically-flavored prayer may reveal more than is sought.
We, too have scheduled a time of corporate prayer for this coming Sunday night. Yet, I must share some convictions about our gathering and some things we are NOT doing.
We are seeking to have a solemn assembly Sunday evening as a church family. Sadly, I have felt led to schedule this prior, but have not, so now it appears to be just another "Pray for the Election" gathering.
Consecrate a fast; call a solemn assembly. Gather the elders and all the inhabitants of the land to the house of the Lord your God, and cry out to the Lord.
Joel 1:14 (ESV)
It's a biblical principle to gather as the people of God for prayer.
Claude V. King shares this about solemn, or sacred assemblies:
Sacred assemblies were occasions for God's people collectively to worship Him, to repent of personal and corporate sin, to remember His special blessings on them, and to anticipate future blessings.
In a true sense, God may utilize the gathering of his church to ignite revival among his people.
For clarification - revival is an awakening and therefore, not the typical evangelistic meetings that have been termed "revivals" in American churches for decades. There's no special "pack a pew" night, or youth night with pizza, or a special guest bringing a word needed. While there may be a place for those types of gatherings, to call them revival is a misnomer.
You don't revive the dead.
You resurrect the dead.
You revive the sleeping.
That's what the church in our culture needs. That's what every true New Testament church needs - an awakening.
More Than Politics
If you're praying only because you're candidate of choice (if you even have one) may not win in November, you likely need to revisit your focus in prayer.
God has convicted me as a pastor that if we pray only as a "last resort" and slap 2 Chronicles 7:14 on everything we can just because the candidate of choice may not be elected, we are playing games.
However, we will gather and we will pray for our elected officials and potential leaders. To be clear, we should have been doing that all along. Yet, we will be praying for so much more.
We will pray that God will guide our people and that His will be done. This is how we should be praying continually.
We will pray for forgiveness, recognizing that forgiveness is not automatic.
There is a prerequisite for forgiveness.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
1 John 1:9 (ESV)
So, this Sunday evening at 7pm, we will gather, confess our sins to the Lord as his church, repent of overt and covert sins, and seek his forgiveness and guidance. To God be the glory.
We will rest in the assurance that regardless what happens on November 8 and beyond, God remains on his throne and sovereign over all.
Then, we will gather again as we must. May we never be the church that only prays every four years prior to an election.