Tag Archives: Evangelical

the evangelical blindspot

I think I’m like the Banksy of blogging. I sporadically spring up at times rarely expected. The difference being, Banksy makes bank while my office is in a former one. But today, I was moved to write for the first time since sometime late in the Obama Administration, for today marks 1-year since our church went digital due to Covid. What is the 1st-anniversary gift for a pandemic anyway? N95’s? Toilet Paper? A Flowbee? (ask your parents). Regardless, such a benchmark gives you an opportunity for reflection. So today, I was reflecting. In tandem with this, I read an article this morning and found personal reflection mingled with pastoral grief.

Before we get underway, I want to acknowledge that evangelicalism in the United States is a complex ecosystem with nuanced views on politics, social justice, equity, cancel culture, science, Covid, and the policies around such things (you know, the stuff that made 2020/21 the great social Tilt-A-Whirl). Evangelicalism is not quite as monolithic as cable news implies, but close. That’s why I say an ecosystem. It’s much like rainforests; they look slightly different from place to place, but everyone knows when they are looking at one. Also, like an ecosystem, it affects the larger environment around it. As a pastor, my focus is on how the world experiences the effects of our collective faith ecosystem.

In real-world speak…

would our communities say that what we’re doing, stating, posting, etc., has communicated unmistakably that above all else, we’re here to love and serve them as neighbors because, in doing so, have we truly loved and served God?

would our disbelieving or de-churched communities be even the slightest bit tempted to think, “Yeah, I don’t like their religion, but I’m sure glad they were around for this last year.”?

would they come even close to describing evangelicals as a people of selfless love in a season of cultural suffering?

would “loving” be in the Top 5 descriptors used of evangelicalism in 2020/2021? 

Hum.

But, deeper questions are gnawing at my heart, questions of deep spiritual consequence.

Did we as evangelicals sense…

a burden to ensure that above all else, putting others before ourselves was our priority, both in the optics of how it looked to them (since we are to be light) and in the application of how it was experienced by them (since we are to be salt)?

the weight of the First Commandment more heavily on our soul than the want of the First Amendment? Which did we quote more? Which gave us hope more? Which bothered us more when we didn’t see it applied? Which of the “Firsts” was truly first and drove our actions, reactions, dispositions, and perspectives this year?

resolve to love others well with an unmistakable calling to care, even if we looked foolish (per Paul), weak (per Peter), or perhaps worst of all, like sheep (per Jesus)?

Ouch!

In the article I was reading today, written by a conservative Christian publication, this was the line that struck me, 

“The survey, which has a sampling error of plus or minus 1.6 percentage points, also found that white evangelicals are also the least likely faith demographic to consider their overall community’s health effect when it comes to deciding whether to get vaccinated. Just 48% of white evangelicals said they would consider community health effects “a lot” compared to 70% of black Protestants, 65% of Catholics and 68% of unaffiliated Americans.”

Now, I know some will find themselves pinned down on the beachhead of the word vaccinated. Others, wary of the woke culture, have already cued an eye-roll with the phrase white evangelical. While important discussions in their own right, they are not my focus here. The devil’s in the details, and he would most certainly love to sidetrack us on those topics so we overlook the real issue that may be of concern. So what’s the “buried lead” of the story? “evangelicals are also the least likely faith demographic to consider their overall community’s health effect when it comes to deciding… Just 48% of white evangelicals said they would consider community health effects ‘a lot’” 

That little bit of data may have unearthed a lot about our collective ecosystem’s heart.

Think about it. A faith demographic…

whose founder modeled selfless love toward a planet of sinful neighbors and told us to follow his example (1 Peter 2:18-25).

whose number one most crucial commandment calls it to love God and neighbor (Mark 12:29-31) since to love our neighbor is evidence that we actually love God and it’s not just lip-service (1 John 4:20).

whose entire moral code is summed up in the one great umbrella virtue, “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law… Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)

whose final exam is explicitly rooted in what we did to the least of those around us (Matthew 25:31-46).

That faith demographic is the least likely demographic to consider their overall community… Community, a synonym for what the Bible calls our neighbors.

Now, I can imagine right now some will be quick… 

to respond. 

to take offense. 

to reject the conclusion.

to add disclaimers. 

to write a retort.

to stop reading and punch an angry emoji into the comments section.

to point out that this is only about “community health effects” (while adding something to the effect of “alleged” or “over-hyped” or “politicized” to the front of the phrase), and that such a topic is not a tangible way to measure if we genuinely love our neighbors. 

But God seems to disagree! 

Don’t miss me here; I’m not seeking to squeeze public health policy into a command to love our neighbors. God did that for us; I’m merely attempting to take the Bible at its word. The law to love your neighbor comes from a book of the Bible that is explicitly about “community health effects” on our neighbors. How coincidental is that? Leviticus may read like a kid playing with a sensory box in a petting zoo with its 247 laws about disease, diet, discharges, and polycotton blends, but it’s also the birthplace of the “love your neighbor” command (Lev. 19:18). And its 3300-year-old decree to make love tangible toward our neighbors in real world ways still stands. It’s on the lips of Jesus. It’s in the letters of Paul. And it’s seeking to find a home in a 21st-century Christian internet article from a Pew Research poll. God was clear in Leviticus that not considering your neighbor’s well-being (due to leprosy, mold, scaly skin, bodily fluid, disease from sickly animals, [insert your favorite communicable disease here]) was a failure to love them. The failure to consider another is the failure to love

If I consider myself more than you, regardless of the inventory of reasons, excuses, justifications, rights, laws, problems, or rationalizations, I’m deciding – by intentional will or partisan blindness – not to love you as God instructs me. And thus in the process failing to love God since he tells me to love you. I’m sunk instantly on God’s top-tier expectation.

Paul said a proper display of authentic love is when people “in humility consider others more significant than themselves.” (Phil. 2:2-3). Therefore my friends, a failure to love our neighbors may be the gravest of our collective sins since love stands at the pinnacle of our Lord’s priorities.

That last line is not for dramatic effect, but sober reflection. When the church in Ephesus was about to lose its love, Jesus started packing his bags. They were doing all sorts of good conservative religious stuff, but without love Jesus said there was nothing worth sticking around for (Rev. 2:1-7). Regarding a lack of love, Paul said worse.

We, as evangelicals, are very good at identifying the sins of our society, but perhaps our efforts would be better rewarded by addressing our sins against society. That’s why I’m not all that invested in the pro/con debates between pro vs. anti-mask. Pro vs. anti-vaccination. Pro vs. anti-lock-down. Pro vs. anti-[fill in your blank]. What I am interested in is that each of us, as evangelicals, looks deep and prays hard so as to be confident that whatever positions we take, we take them because we find those to be the most biblical and unmistakable way we can let the world know, “we’re considering you as more significant than ourselves” for that’s what “loving a neighbor” is all about. If our positions clearly communicate to others, “I care about your …” I think that’s what God cares about. If our positions clearly communicate to others, “I care about my …” I think that’s what God is concerned about.

Jesus was emphatic that “the world will know we are his followers by our love.” Wouldn’t it be amazing if the world agreed? 

***

Since this has swollen to the length of a book, I might as well offer a reflective epilogue for the one poor completionist who stuck it out. As the article came to an end, I felt a deep-seated pause in my soul. One of those “I don’t want to take another step” pauses that occurs because you don’t want to face what may be the most challenging possibility of all.  

Not simply that, perhaps…

we haven’t loved a disbelieving world as well as we would like.

we became diverted by self-interest even though we desire self-sacrifice.

we let our fears or frustrations disrupted our intentions.

we inadvertently became more caught up in the passions of amendments over commandments.

we became too focused on our personal rights vs. God’s gospel objectives.

we are all too human and failed to live up to the ideals of love and want to do better.

But, when confronted with the idea that perhaps we don’t consider or love our neighbors as we should… we’re more bothered at the accusation than the possibility.

Or worse still, we hear it and frankly don’t care.

Indifference.

The state which lets you know Jesus has long since left the building.

An Open Conversation Between A Gay Son And His Pastor Dad

IMG_3283We have saved the best for last. In this recent installment of The Everyday Missionary Podcast, I sat down with my son to talk about what it’s like to come out as gay in a Christian pastor family. Our hope in this was not simply to offer a glimpse into the challenges and closeness that can emerge, but also to display how the Christian and gay community can communicate with one another in a spirit of kindness, empathy, and understanding.

An Open Conversation Between A Gay Son and his Pastor Dad (Pt.4)

I’m A Pastor And My Son Is Gay, Now What? Pt. 2

ishot-041Three months ago our 17-year-old son shared with us that he no longer held to our Christian faith and that he was in a relationship with a young man. However, our journey with our son and his sexuality began far earlier than a fall day back in October. In this episode of The Everyday Missionary, I have sought to retrace our steps as a family from 12-years-old until that autumn afternoon. In doing so, I seek to highlight some of the things I believe we did thoughtfully as parents in light of our faith, but also some of the things I know I handled badly. Equally, I share how there were things Gray did right in this process, but also things he handled poorly (though I share no specifics regarding Gray since that is his story to be shared in Pt. 4). My hope in this series is that our experience can act as an aid to better handling such events in life with grace, truth, awareness, compassion, seeking and granting forgiveness, and love even in our differences.

Part 2: I’m A Pastor And My Son Is Gay, Now What?

The Problem Of Voting “Biblically” In Babylon

MB PostsMy cultural tribe is of the evangelical persuasion. And within my tribe there is an interesting and sometimes entertaining nomenclature related to the social life of the tribe. We say things that others who are not from within the tribe may fail to translate properly. For example when an evangelical says, “I echo that” it has nothing to do with shouting into valleys or performing a medical test. When we say, “She found Jesus!” we don’t imply that Jesus is the Waldo of the world and people try to find where He is, but rather we mean just the opposite in that the “she” was lost and Jesus found her. Yeah, it can be a bit confusing at times, especially in an election cycle.

It seems every four years (because let’s be honest, who gets excited about off-year elections) evangelicals begin ramping up with phrases such as “vote your conscience” or “vote biblically” or my favorite “it’s your obligation to vote.” Now everyone one of these in and of itself isn’t a wrong idea. I actually find myself sympathetic to all of them in some form. But the challenge Clan Evangelical faces is that most of these phrases are pre-loaded with a particular implied meaning. Thus when the expressions are used the implied translation is, “and by that we mean vote for the conservative Republican that espouses our social priorities since all other options are neither biblical nor conscionable.” In other words we all know what constitutes a truly “Christian” vote (insert wink and nod here), but let’s use ubiquitous words such as “conscience” and “biblical” as code for politically conservative voting.

Now believe it or not this is not where I find the problem. I do believe there are times where particular politicized issues reflect transcendent Christian virtues. But voting biblically (which should be concerned with matters far deeper than ideology alone) is not as simple as a matter of assessing platform or party. In fact I would venture to say that what might even be more critical than the platform of a candidate is the character they display. And when that is factored in you may find yourself in a biblical conundrum when a person with questionable character who advocates a more “biblical” platform is running against a person with stronger character and yet a weaker “biblical” platform. So then which is the more biblical vote, the vote for character or policy? Or to complicate it more, what happens if we find that both sides are a mix of biblical and unbiblical policy and character (also known as the Republicans and Democrats)? Should we want to claim that we are voting biblically when we know that our vote also empowers unbiblical priorities at times?

Perhaps toughest of all what happens when both candidates are unbiblical, but for different reasons? This is where we employ a new phrasing, “voting for the lessor of two evils.” Now for the record I don’t think it’s an easy case to make that voting for evil is biblical, even if it’s a lessor one. Yet I think this phrase occurs because we are told, “it’s your obligation to vote” implying that to refrain from voting is in and of itself more unbiblical than casting a ballot for Mr. Sinister to stop Mrs. Wicked.

Now there are some, in order to fulfill their binding obligation to vote but not wanting to vote for evil, stay with their model of voting based on their conscience and they write in a “really-quality-biblically-minded-totally-obscure-never-will-win-but-has-great-values” candidate only to be told by others how they threw away their vote and thus bare a repentant-worthy culpability in handing the country to Mrs. Wicked. I experienced this first hand when confronted by my fellow evangelicals for “throwing away my vote” in 2012 when I voted for JESUS in the Presidential election. It’s a weird experience when you vote JESUS and you’re told by fellow Christians that you sinned against the country and squandered your vote. It was there I found that within our evangelical jargon voting “biblically” according to “conscience” only counts if it’s also realistic and practical.

I could go on, but all of this illustrates the problem of exiles seeking to vote with a biblical conscience in Babylon – it’s not as clear-cut as it first seems.

  • For some, voting biblically will mean looking at the personal character of a candidate more than their platform.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean backing the platform of a particular party even if the person who represents it is lacking.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean centering on just one single topic because they feel it’s a topic God is profoundly clear on such as life, poverty, peace or family.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean casting a vote against a greater evil by invoking a lessor evil.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean voting for someone who cannot win but who is honorable and thus they are honored to support them.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean writing in JESUS as an act of prayer and offering to God asking that He might heal our culture.
  • For some, voting biblically will mean not voting at all because they feel to vote is to endorse and to endorse is to give approval to that which they do not approve of.
  • For most, more than one of these methods will be employed in an election cycle as their options thin out and thus their biblical vote adapts.

And I would say that all of these are legitimate ways in which Christians can properly vote with a biblical conscience since the Christian conscience is not a one size fits all. In 1 Corinthians 10 Paul faces this very problem and asks, Why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” Indeed! How Scripture, Spirit, context and conscience collide in regard to culture can have different outcomes for different Christians and yet each still remains biblical in their orientation.

However what is not biblical is when our vote is motivated by fear, greed, anger, bigotry, idolatry, guilt or power. Thus it’s equally possible to vote for the most biblical platform in the most unbiblical way. For to be truly biblical in our earthly citizenship is to remember that we must be loyal to a greater eternal citizenship. This world should receive from us primarily gospel, grace, service and love of neighbor and enemy alike because we know the systems of this world are frail, broken, unreliable and ultimately doomed to judgment. Therefore where we have the opportunity to be most biblical in our personal vote is in our awareness of and confidence in the truth that God is sovereign over the affairs of humanity in the collective electorate. The consistent narrative of the Bible is that God alone “removes kings and sets up kings”[1] for a larger sovereign purpose. In this way, to vote most biblically is to cast a ballot with confident joy in His provision and then respond with courageous contentment regardless of the outcome. Or as Paul put it in Philippians 4,

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

To vote biblically is ultimately to vote unto the glory of God without relegating our hopes, fears or faith to the politics of man.

[1] Here is a list of passages that shows God Himself is ultimately the one who sets up the kings of the world. Daniel 2:20-22; 37, 4:13-17; 25-26; 31-32, 5:21, John 19:10-11, Luke 4:5-8, Romans 9:17; 13:1-6, 1 Peter 2:13-17 and Revelation 17:17.

I Don’t Mock Zeus Because He’s Fake

MB PostsRecently I was reading through some Atheist material in preparation for an upcoming sermon series when I came across a familiar counter theistic argument. The basic concept is that Christians are actually Atheists in regard to all other gods except their “one true God.” Therefore the only difference between a Christian and an Atheist is that the Atheist goes one god further. Now I do admit the argument is not only cleaver, but a bit compelling too.

As an Evangelical I am a stanch Atheist in regard to all other gods. Oden is lore, Zeus is fiction and while Osiris looks like “Beast” from Teen Titans (which is awesome) he lacks standing support. But here is what is also true; I have no angst, spite or distain for those gods. I feel zero need to discuss how petty, juvenile, cruel or ridiculous they may be. In fact my “Pissed-O-Meter” doesn’t even tack .1 when I think about the topic of other gods.

Now maybe that is because I’m reflecting on gods that are long bereft of worship. So I decided to dig a bit deeper into my own emotional grid. But when I did so realized that my “P-O-M” doesn’t even budge when I think about the gods of current religions such as Islam or Hinduism. Isn’t that weird? It should be weird based on the “Christians are actually Atheists – save one” argument. Here is what I mean.

I concur that I am a full naturalistic skeptic in regard to Allah and Shiva, but I’ve also never been compelled to assault their character, actions or personhood. I can’t even imagine wasting time, emotion or energy to do so. I have certainly spent time dealing with comparative religious systems in light of Christianity, but I have never put the gods of those systems in my crosshairs because I know I’m shooting at thin air. I don’t waste time mocking the Flying Spaghetti Monster for the  same reason. To have any critical or negative opinion of a deity that I consider to be a mythology is about as rational as mocking the Leprechauns I don’t believe inhabit my toilet bowl. What makes this even weirder is that while billions of people are affected by and follow the gods that I don’t believe in, my Atheism regarding their gods is so sincere I don’t feel the need to burn a single calorie to assault the character of their deities. I will challenge their religious philosophies, but I never attack their gods. Additionally I’ve never been a part of any Christian group where people sat around and badmouthed other dieties. They may talk about Islam’s doctrines, but no one I know sits around and talks about how silly or sadistic Allah is. That would be a bit weird right?

Then I thought about it more. I’ve also never met any full Atheist who has displayed the need to consistently dismantle the reputation of any other god – except the God of Christianity. On this god I find a disproportionate obsession with assaulting the character of what is adamantly defined as an inane and outdated myth. A famous instance of this comes from Richard Dawkins when he writes:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

I give Dawkins points for flair, but I also sit somewhat dumbfounded and think, “Why waste this much ink to mock a fable?” It would seem a sincere Atheist would be radically passionless toward any mythological deity precisely because of the “fact” that it’s a fiction. I think about how more than a few Atheists glibly equate God with Santa Clause, but none that I know of take the added time to bust St. Nick’s snow globes for breaking an entry or jipping naughty kids out of Christmas. Yet in my experience I commonly find Atheists are colored with a deep passion against the “myth” of the Christian God. It’s a case of real hate for the fake god. And then I realized, perhaps the hate is real because deep down inside they hope – might I even say, “pray” – He is real so He can feel their disdain.

As for me, I will continue to go on in my unimpassioned Christian Atheism. I will not Photoshop Zeus out of the Trevi Fountain to mock his mythological status. I will not imprint a Flying Spaghetti Monster between the elephants of the Banteay Srei Carving of Shiva to belittle Hindu gods. And I will not rant about the cruelty of the Sith Lord Darth Sidious when he had Anakin kill his loyal Count Dooku. All for the same reason, only realities are worthy of my passions.

Passion for your house (Oh Lord) has consumed me, and the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.     Psalm 69:9