A response to my friend who posted this article suggesting that “there is a lot to learn here.” I’m posting the dialogue, since dialogue [thesis, antithesis, moving toward synthesis] is one of the best ways to learn.
Excerpt: “Lifting myself off the ground, I found a sense of empowerment knowing that I’d never again treat myself like anything less than the wonderful person God made me to be. I took a hard look inside and around myself and realized that people put conditions on God’s love as if they speak for the Lord himself. By shaking the dirt off my knees, I dusted away my own self-hate. If God made me, how could I be any less than fabulous?”
As someone who tries to not see the world in black and white polarities, but who nevertheless knows that the guys who shoved this person down are headed straight for the heart of hell if they continue to blaspheme the Spirit (who is obviously calling them to repentance but whose voice they may well have become immune to), indulging in the hypocrisy of Christian hatred–what in God’s name can we learn from this article that is any different from what we could learn from a Joel Osteen sermon (that the “self” doesn’t need to be saved and changed, just encouraged and improved)?
–What I “learn” from this article is that when people are victimized by so-called Christians for a perceived life of sin it only encourages the victims to perceive in themselves no sin at all. That is precisely what I’ve learned from this article and many like it. –That the effect of “Christian” bigotry–if it is not that people turn against the Christian faith altogether–is that it causes a reactive ground war, where the victimized pull away from the victimizers, and both sides feel self-justified because they are not as guilty as the other side whose offense before God is more severe. And, as a people nurtured in a two-party political system [re: circus], we already have the reductionist framework to indulge in such ‘other’-creating corporate pride, wherein “we” are justified–or “fabulous”–and “they” are damned, or at least we are in the right, they are in the wrong. Isn’t the Gospel about how God reconciles those of us who are by nature in the wrong, by nature damned, by nature fallen far short of the fabulousness of God?
This type of rhetoric, of course, leads to a rejection of repentance altogether from both sides, not necessarily because “we” refuse to confess that God is right in his judgments, but because we refuse to confess that the other side is right in theirs–whether “fags” or “bigots”–and God is rarely brought into the discussion, except for those proof-texts that can be used as a shield from accusations hurled from the other side or as ammo to fire back. The sure sign that unrepentant pride has crept into the Church is when the sin it is battling is sin that is located “out there” rather than being the peculiar people who go “to church” to fight that battle and go to the world to declare it has already been won; that is, a people who know that the world doesn’t need victory over sin but the Victor over sin, and that only those who have the Victor can begin to surrender to his victory
So here is my very long and qualified question–long and qualified because it is at the heart of one of the most divisive issues in the Church of Jesus Christ today:
How can we–the Church that is united by a stubbornly undivided Holy Spirit—seek to be true to our convictions and biblical interpretations, which will inevitably vary at significant points (but not on fundamental grounds if we truly are Christians), without falling into the trap of reacting against those whose convictions and biblical interpretations place our “behavior” or “lifestyle” or “attitude” or “inclination” or “identity” or even our “convictions” under the category of sin ***(whether that means drinking beer, being gay, feeling gay, believing that homosexuality is a sin, believing that homosexuality is not a sin, having sex outside of marriage with a person of the same sex, having sex outside of marriage with a person of the opposite sex, marrying a person of the same sex, marrying a person of the opposite sex but of a different religion, slow dancing at prom, using instruments in worship, making millions but giving nothing, making thousands but giving nothing, giving something but judging those who have more, giving much but judging those who don’t, being lazy, watching three hours of T.V. a night, not exercising, exercising too much, eating meat, being a liberal, being a conservative, being individualistic, being communist-like, putting an Obama sticker on our car, putting an “Obama bin Laden” sticker on our car, not recycling because of apathy, not recycling because we don’t want to associate with the dang liberals, recycling but only so we can damn those fundies who don’t, recycling but driving an SUV, driving an a Hybrid but buying it only because it matches our Obama sticker, driving a Hybrid but an SUV Hybrid and only to so we could get the liberals off our backs while driving a vehicle that matches our Obama bin Laden sticker, not doing anything about human trafficking, wearing anti-human trafficking t-shirts but watching porno regularly, not reaching out to the poor, not reaching out to the rich, thinking that Jesus loves poor people more than rich people, thinking that Jesus loves responsible people more than irresponsible people, gaming, cussing, passing gas in public, etc.)*** and persisting in the most damnable of all sins–pride–by maintaining that “we” are relatively fabulous and therefore exempt from the life of repentance?
–Or: How can the Church be the confessing and repenting community that calls the world to confession and repentance instead of falling into the temptation of becoming a bunch of divided “special interest ‘Christian’ groups,” for whom salvation requires only membership “with us” and not repentance before God?
Jeremy, to answer your question, briefly since I have to get back to work, I would say three things. First, I posted this article in large part because it is about my former college. I would not likely not have posted it otherwise. It reflects much of my experience with Christian college. They seem to me to be largely places where one’s beliefs are more or less affirmed, where people get an education, and where formation matters less than holding to the party line.Second, I am compelled by Paul’s words that God’s kindness and forbearance lead us to repentance. I believe that if our message is indeed repentance then it, most often, ought to be proclaimed in the context of relationship, and with the utmost kindness. “Go and sin no more” must come only after it is clear that “neither do I condemn you.”Third, I think the thing we can all learn, or relearn, from stories like this is that people’s stories and experiences matter, perhaps especially in regards to how they view God, and God’s expectations for their lives. For better or worse, people see God through the lens of the people who claim to be God’s chosen. So, we must continue to learn that collectively as the body of Christ, we must continue to exemplify lives of repentance before we can expect others to consider the possibility.1. Ok.2. I really don’t think we can question whether our message is repentance–because repentance is the only the only principle response to the Gospel, from which follows all other response, no matter the context. So if it should “only be proclaimed in the context of personal relationship” then the Gospel should only be proclaimed in the context of personal relationship. Otherwise, what are we to say? –“The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God is at hand. [Stay the same] and believe the Gospel!” Obviously not. But even if we do choose only to proclaim repentance in the context of personal relationship, it doesn’t mean personal stories are above criticism. The person who shares his or her story is the most responsible for not using his or her story to disarm anyone from responding to the ideological position their story (as they tell it) advances. The last thing we want to do is to create the kind of sympathy for a victimized person that would encourage us to become unsympathetic with the kind of God who would call that person to repentance–which happens to be the kind of God Jesus is–lest we throw out the blood with the bath water.3. We absolutely have to exemplify lives of repentance before we can proclaim repentance to others, but only because we have no other way to live before God, not because we base what we say on whether or not “we can expect others to consider the possibility.” It’s that type of thinking that leads to all kinds of compromise in our proclamation, whether in our [godless] apologetics approach, [godless] felt-needs approach, [godless] Jesus accepts you rather than forgives you approach. I say *godless* because they all have in common the denial of a fundamental assumption of true Christian proclamation–that it is the Holy Spirit alone who convicts the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn. 16) and therefore we can proceed to proclaim what sounds as foolish to us as it will to them, so that their faith won’t rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God through the foolishness of the cross (1 Cor. 1-2). Faithfulness > Effectiveness. God doesn’t need us to become more accommodating of people than he is by excusing them from the means through which he accommodated them, as though they can hold their heads high as they come to Jesus. It was a prostitute who anointed Jesus for his burial–if he were her Savior, how else could salvation come. –Indeed, it was a prostitute whose awareness of the depth of her sin led to an awareness of the depth of His grace which led to a commensurate response of love. But those who are forgiven little, love little.