On 22 April, on a dusty farm outside the central city of Bloemfontein in South Africa, hundreds of thousands of Christians gathered for a prayer service led by Angus Buchan. Concerned about the state of the country, this group gathered together in response to the promise in Scripture found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, “…if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
I won’t go into the many ways this passage has been abused in the past, including pointing out that it is the second half of a sentence, and that it comes in the middle of a consecration of a Temple with many other instructions attached to it. Let’s just focus on what these words themselves say. We are not just called to prayer. We called to sort our lives out, to humble ourselves, to seek God and to turn from wickedness.
I strongly support the desire Christians had to pray for our country. And I strongly support any group of people gathering together to commit themselves to good and to God. But the big question, 48 hours later, is “now what?” What happens next.
I have four suggestions, all flowing from this verse in 2 Chron. 7:14:
1. Choose to humble ourselves
Humility involves thinking of others more highly than ourselves. Humility involves believing the best about others. Humility means I accept that my views, my approaches, my worldview and my way of life are not definitive for others – that other people may have equally valid, but different views, approaches, worldviews and ways of living. Humility means not imposing my beliefs on others. Humility means asking more questions. Humility means seeing the world through other people’s eyes.
How can we truly demonstrate a spirit of humility in South Africa and the world right now?
Disney’s latest real-actor remake of one of their classics has just been released in the USA, and early reviews are effusive in their praise of Beauty and the Beast. Except for a few die-hard conservative, evangelicals – the perennial party-poopers of the modern age. Led, of course, by the increasingly frothy-mouthed Franklin Graham, there has been a loud call for Christians to boycott the movie, and in fact Disney as a whole, because one of the characters in the movie is gay (or, maybe gay).
Conservative Christians have a long tradition of targeting Disney for its stance on LGBTI rights. When Disney pre-empted legislation on gay marriage by extending employee benefits to those in same sex relationships two decades ago, Christians staged a boycott of Disney. But Disney was unmoved, and eventually the pull of Mickey Mouse overcame Christian objections and they went back to Disneyland as they had before. Apparently their children’s need for entertainment overcame their principled objections. More on this theme later.
The concern this week is that in the new Beauty and the Beast movie, Disney made it more obvious than in the original 1991 version that Gaston’s sidekick LeFou may be, as we already suspected, gay. It’s not overt, it’s not sexual and it’s not a theme in the movie at all. In fact, in a 129 minute feature film, this issue takes up slightly less than 30 seconds. Yet, Franklin Graham has said:
They’re trying to push the LGBT agenda into the hearts and minds of your children—watch out! Disney has the right to make their [movies], it’s a free country. But as Christians we also have the right not to support their company. I hope Christians everywhere will say no to Disney.
Of course Disney have the right to make these movies. And, yes, Graham and his accolytes have the right to boycott it. But I also have the right to point out how hypocritical that is. Because that is precisely what it is. Embarrassingly so.
When the New York Times starts quoting the Bible at you, you know you’re in real trouble. Or you should do, anyway. That’s what happened to Paul Ryan this past week when op-ed columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote a mashup of some of Jesus’ parables, and directed them at Republican Speaker Paul Ryan, in response to the launch of his Health Care Act.
I agree with the sentiments of this piece. Donald Trump has emboldened the worst parts of the Republican conservatives, who are showing in their budget and especially their health care proposals, that they will put capitalism, profit and self-interest above social care, helping the vulnerable and care of the planet. That may be a reductionist view, but I don’t think it is unfair.
I am not going to give more context for this piece. I am just going to say that Trump and Ryan’s brand of conservativism is going to very quickly show itself for what it is. And it is decidedly un-Christlike.
Read the excellent New York Times piece here, and please subscribe to the NYT like I have to show support for good journalism. I have included an extract below to give you a sense of it, but please support the NYT and other good journalists by going to their site as well.
And Jesus Said Unto Paul of Ryan …
by Nicholas Kristof
New York Times, March 16, 2017
A woman who had been bleeding for 12 years came up behind Jesus and touched his clothes in hope of a cure. Jesus turned to her and said: “Fear not. Because of your faith, you are now healed.”
I preached this sermon on 22 January 2017, as part of a series called Jesus Encounter. Jesus calls us to love, unconditionally and extravagantly. He specifically calls us to love those who outside our circles.
The stories recorded in the Gospels and Acts are not merely stories of what happened to a few people 2000 years ago – not just historical record. They were carefully selected in order to show us patterns, and help us understand how WE can encounter Jesus even today. As we read the Gospels and Acts we should be alert for those patterns in the stories, and look carefully for clues and instructions on how we can encounter Jesus and live Christ-like lives today.
One of the reasons the recent US Presidential election has been so emotive is that, more than at any time in recent memory, it was also a stark clash of worldviews. Not just political doctrines, or sets of public policies, but a clash between two very different worldviews. The one has been labelled Right, Traditional, Conservative. The other Left, Liberal, Progressive.
I find myself drawn to the progressive side of this divide, without buying into everything that it stands for. I have been debating online for a few weeks with a set of people from the Right, who have been as fervent as I have to state their views and defend their worldview.
I don’t plan to do a moment by moment response. But Breitbart is a good lightning rod for where the Tea Party, alt-right and Trump are taking America, so it’s worth taking a moment to respond to this.
At the heart of the Right’s concern with the world right now is the perceived use of a Marxist approach to society. Marxism aims to highlight the divide between the haves and have nots, encouraging the have nots to rise up in revolution. It’s goal is to destroy capitalism and replace it with socialism. ‘Cultural Marxism’ – a label the Right like to impose on almost all Liberal worldviews – is perceived to be the use of similar tactics in encouraging minority groups to consider themselves to be oppressed and to rise up against their oppressor, which is the current ruling system.
It is my contention that one of the foundational problems with the conservative arm of the Christian church is a seriously problematic relationship with sexuality. This affects everything from the church’s views on contraception and abortion to female leadership and gay marriage. Each of these issues is huge, of course, and deserving of in-depth discussion and consideration. That is not the intention of this post.
What I did want to point out is that the conservatives (mainly the Reformed conservatives) don’t even know what they don’t know about this issue. And I want to ask all of you who are willing to engage with discussions about sexuality (especially female leadership and homosexuality) to ask whether you’re happy being in the same camp as Reformed conservatives.
look at Exhibit A: this photo:
This picture was taken last week at The Evangelical Theological Society’s 68th annual meeting in San Antonio, November 15-17, 2016. It was a panel discussion on the topic of “The Trinity and Gender”. Participants were (pictured left to right): Bruce Ware, Matthew Emerson, Malcolm Yarnell, Wayne Grudem, Fred Sanders, Paige Patterson and Evan Lenow.
A few weeks ago, I preached this sermon at my local church. There’s a story behind me asking – and receiving – permission to preach it, and another whole set of stories about the response from the church members – both good, bad and ugly. The senior pastor, Gary Rivas (also Methodist Bishop of Johannesburg), responded to the sermon the week after I preached it, and there’s a few stories there too. I won’t tell any of those stories now. I will just share the sermon with you. There are two versions as I preached it at our main campus and then at our local campus. I have also included my actual sermon notes, and a link to Gary’s response.
This sermon is about one of the most pressing issues facing the Christian church in our generation: how we treat LGBTI people. And it is a call to listen to God’s Word, which calls us to be a community of radical inclusion. Enjoy. And let me know what you think.
CONTEXT: A few weeks ago, a young girl at a school in South Africa protested against the rules of her school by wearing a fairly sizeable Afro-style hair style. On the face of it, this doesn’t sound like much. But there are many reasons this became a flashpoint for discussion and debate.
Firstly, it happened in a South Africa that has just experienced a watershed election, where the balance of power is shifting in the whole of society – we’re trying to work out what it means to be South African, rather than post-apartheid South African.
Secondly, hair is an issue for black women. It just is. I have an adopted black daughter, and hair has been an issue in our home since she arrived. I have spent many hours with her at hair salons, and marvel at what African women must endure to do anything with their hair.
Thirdly, hair is more than a merely cosmetic issue – it is a political issue. All the way back in the days of slavery, hairstyles distinguished the house slaves (who had to straighten their hair or wear wigs) and field slaves. It was an apartheid test for race – if a pencil stayed in your hair, you were ‘black’. I kid you not – this was happening in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s.
Fourthly, our world is built with a hidden (but very much intentional and specifically constructive) white heteronormative bias. Most white people (especially white, straight males) do not even notice this. Like fish don’t know they’re swimming in water.
I recently posted a Facebook profile picture with a short statement of support for all the young black women who are standing against their schools’ hair policies. The responses I received to this indicated that many people do not understand the racism inherent in the very system itself. I realised I was one of those people. So, I wrote this: Continue reading I am a racist. But I do not want to be one.→
Last week, a lone gunman attacked a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Fifty people were killed, making this modern America’s worst mass shooting tragedy. We may never know for sure what the gunman’s motives were, although we do know that he made calls to 911 and the police claiming to be influenced by ISIS. For the purposes of this post, though, his motives are irrelevant.
An outpouring of grief and condolences followed. But not by everyone. Some Christians used the massacre as an opportunity to further their agenda of hatred towards the LGBT community in the most extraordinary ways.
The highest profile of these is Pat Robertson, front man of the 700 Club TV show. He used his show to claim that liberal LGBT rights advocates have aligned themselves with radical Islamists and are now reaping what they have sowed. Robertson said that liberals are facing a dilemma because they love both LGBT equality and Islamic extremism, and that it is better for conservatives like himself not to get involved but to instead just watch the two groups kill each other. Watch the video for yourself if you don’t believe me. For further quotations where Roberston explains this “dilemma” in even more detail, see this article from Right Wing Watch.
Then, in a sermon so filled with hate that YouTube has since removed it for violating their policy on hate speech, Sacramento pastor Roger Jimenez of Verity Baptist Church said, “Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? Um no, I think that’s great! I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida is a little safer tonight…. I wish the government would round them all up, put them up against a wall, put a firing squad in front of them and blow their brains out…. The tragedy is that more of them didn’t die. The tragedy is — I’m kind of upset that he didn’t finish the job!”
Another pastor, Steven Anderson, from Faithful Word Baptist Church, Arizona, uploaded a video that is still available on Vimeo. It’s a horrific video in which he refers to LGBT people repeatedly as “sodomites”, “pedophiles” and “homos”.
This is an interlude in my ongoing series on Christians, the Bible and same sex marriage. One of the highest profile Christian scholars to come out in support of same sex marriage is Dr David Guthee, an ethicist and professor at Mercer University (see his personal website here). His book, “Changing our Mind” (2nd edition, 2015 – Amazon.co.uk) is a seminal work in Biblical analysis and social issues related to same sex marriage and the church.
Please do take the time to read the transcript or watch this video before continuing to the next section of this study.
On 8 November 2014, Dr Gushee was invited to address a conference organised by Matthew Vine and his Reformation Project. The hour long speech is simply superb. It is available on YouTube, and is available below. I have also created a transcript of the speech, based on Dr Gushee’s original notes which he added to his book’s second edition.
Transcript of David Gushee’s speech: Ending the Teaching of Contempt against the Church’s Sexual Minorities