In my last blog (see here) I suggested that we all, right, left and middle, need to repent. I believe it is right to see our entire denomination as being under the righteous judgment of God. We didn’t get in this mess because of the unfaithfulness of one side only. Serious repentance is in order for all of us.
I think we have all capitulated to the culture to one degree or another. While others will strongly disagree, I really believe the push to sanctify same sex relationships is a most evident case in point, as is the resignation of many of those who claim the middle. The desire for cultural respectability has long been one of the greatest temptations and our resistance has been quite weak. Accommodation to slave culture and racism are a sad and tragic part of our heritage. I believe the current debates around sexuality are similar in that they reveal our strong penchant to allow ourselves to be conformed to the world out of the desire to be respectable in its eyes. Some progressives insist that the church indeed needs to follow the lead of the culture on this issue, a culture that seems bent on making conservative Christians second class citizens. There is an analogy between our current struggles and those of the past, but it’s not that we are resigning ourselves to the oppression of a minority group whose identity is rooted in an absolutely and totally immutable congenital genetic existence. Rather the analogy is that like those issues some are pushing for cultural accommodation out of the desire to be seen as relevant and respectable to cultural elites and young people who have been formed and shaped by popular media and public education in a worldview that is antithetical to a Biblical worldview. In spite of Jesus’ and John’s warning to not be surprised that his disciples are hated by the world (John 15:18 .., I John 3:13), many of us continue to be surprised and quickly seek to conform to alleviate the tension. Of course I don’t believe that any sexual desires, or any desires for that matter, are simply chosen, but undoubtedly there is some significant measure of choice , especially by God’s grace, when it comes to behavior. People can and do experiment with or have sexual experiences inflicted upon them against their will or better judgment; and the addictive nature of sexual experiences must be given more serious consideration. Much has been written about analogies with slavery, racism, sexism, etc and we would be wise to consider the serious differences in terms of actual genetics and behavior and in the Biblical witness.
Nevertheless, this isn’t the only way by which we conform to the culture. Many quickly point this out when they bring up other issues where we remain silent, but pointing to bad behavior and other weaknesses to justify indifference with regards to the sexuality issue is not the best thing to do. Rather we need to strive to be more faithful in light of our shortcomings rather than using them as an excuse for more unfaithfulness. And if we are to do that it must start with repentance.
It seems to me (Of course I KNOW that I could be wrong on this or any other issue. Does anyone hold views that they BELIEVE to be wrong even though they may know that it is possible that they could be wrong? I think it was N.T. Wright who said to his classes that he was probably wrong about 20% of what he was going to teach them. He just didn’t know which 20%!.) that we have developed a low or no accountability church culture denomination wide so that no matter what we say from the pulpit by our actions or lack of action the people in the pews have gotten the impression that this Christianity stuff is really not all that important. I admit I’m almost at a loss for where to even begin to turn this around without running off a lot of people, and that’s the problem. One of the last times I meet with pastors in other denominations in my local area, everyone was in agreement that with all our differences the one thing we all had in common was apathy among the majority of our congregations, and I wouldn’t exempt a lot of us pastors to quickly either. While I believe all of the deadly sins overlap and work in diabolical harmony with one another, I think the deadliest of all for the church in America right now may be the sin of sloth. Of course I think pride is at the root of it all.
Sloth often manifests itself in paralyzing fear I believe, not just laziness. I don’t know about you but recognizing the need to reprove, correct, and call to repentance stirs up quite a bit of fear in me. It’s ironic though that with my experiences in two conferences in North Carolina that progressives seem much more bold to speak up than conservatives. Recently when I was with a group of other clergy the conversation regarding marriage equality and the need for conservatives “to just get to know more gay people” flowed quite easily. Sometimes I do speak up, as you might imagine, but not this time, and neither did the other conservatives among us, which I think it was only me and two others out of a couple dozen or more. There is a time to speak and a time to be quite and we are to also be as harmless as doves and as wide as serpents, of course, but I wonder how often when remain quite when we should speak. At our Annual Conference last year a progressive lay speaker preached a call for repentance for not accepting LGBT’s for who they are. It was quite explicit. I have heard conservatives in settings like that preach, but only vaguely and indirectly touch on the issue from the conservative viewpoint. They may say something about believing in transformation with a hint toward the sexuality issue, but I don’t know that I’ve heard anything clear. I think there are many of us conservatives who would like to speak up but don’t because of fear, and it does seem that being conservative can severely limit the number of invitations to speak in those settingsd. I know that in meetings with other pastors and especially young clergy I definitely feel like the odd man out. The pressure to conform or just stay quite is immense.
During the commissioning process I was asked by the psychologist about how I deal with conflict. I mentioned to the psychologist that I am conservative with regards to the sexuality issue and that I led a discussion in my last church that included people on all sides of the issue. This was around the time of the NC marriage amendment and I was getting questions from all sides. I told him about how we discussed one night each week over a few weeks as we talked about the different perspectives and searched the Scriptures. I shared my own view of course but did the best I could to represent other viewpoints and everyone felt comfortable expressing their own view. Although at times it was tense, overall it was cordial and everyone said they appreciated it. From that it was recommended that I read a book called “Six Ways of Being Religious” and the “Future of Faith” by Harvey Cox to ensure my commitment to “theological diversity.” I minored in religion as an undergrad and actually really appreciated the first book, but the book by Cox, well that’s another story. Let’s just say that Cox’s contempt for orthodoxy came through loud and clear as did his promotion of more gnostic expressions of Christianity as found in the non-canonical gospels along with Marxist tented liberation theology. Of this bent toward Gnostic texts N.T. Wright said it “is a token not of the rediscovery of genuine Christianity but of the desperate attempts to avoid it” ( Surprised by Hope, p. 283 Kindle Ed.). At any rate, through all of that, especially after reading Cox, it really seems that the message that some wanted me to get was that to be diverse I have to think like a progressive. It sure seemed like top down pressure to conform to a particular point of view to me in order to be considered open-minded. Maybe I misread the whole incidence and they just wanted me to be exposed to alternative theologies for the contrast, but obviously I have my suspicions.
Pressure leads to tension and sloth is sin’s answer to relieve the tension. Sloth is the broken water-heater that leads to lukewarmness, and the power source for the electrode of paralyzing fear. I wonder how much silly, self-centered, cheap grace pop theology has gone unchecked in many of our churches simply because pastors are afraid to say anything out of fear of rocking the boat. And maybe we don’t want to rock the boat not because we’re afraid that someone else might fall out but we ourselves might get pushed out. And we’re afraid because we’re not really sure that this Jesus we claim to believe in can really walk on water and enable us to do the same. Maybe a lot of our leaders are scared to death that our bureaucracy is going to collapse and are calling us to compromise out of fear of losing our organizational life, when what we need to do is heed Jesus call to lose our life in order to be able to find it. Maybe? Maybe it’s more than just progressives who need to repent of making people feel more comfortable with sin, and giving the impression that Jesus saves us IN rather than FROM our sins. Can so many of our churches really be so much more akin to superficial private social clubs or country clubs for goats for no reason? Could it be sloth that is the biggest problem that we all really have? Maybe? I don’t know, but I know that I certainly need to repent. Are some of us more worried about losing benefits and perks than we are about losing our souls and those of our hearers?
How many of us pastors spend more time on the internet and facebook than on our face seeking the Lord’s face? How many of us spend more time filling manuscripts with sophistry and cute stories and jokes and cheap grace to placate goats than we spend filling our hearts and our minds with God’s word so we can feed his sheep? How many of our pastors only read the Bible when preparing for a sermon or put Bible reading on the backburner in seminary so they could get through Barth or some other theologian to get a good grade in class? Maybe that’s why we’re failing where it really counts! How often do our pastors read through the whole Bible if they have at all? I don’t know, but I do know some who have admitted that they only read the Bible to prepare for a sermon. Maybe if we were more engrossed in the word of God we would spend less time filling our minds with things that are just gross! I don’t know! Who am I to even ask such questions? I’m just a born and bred country Methodist turned cultist heretic and back to Methodist again, and right now I’m pretty scared even thinking about posting this (See My Testimony Here).
When I was in Israel earlier this year with a clergy group hosted by Bishop Goodpaster and Rev. Dr. James Howell, we all stood outside the church that was built on what was believed to be the grounds of the house of Caiaphas the High Priest who had Jesus arrested. There we stood in what may have been the courtyard that Peter himself stood in as he warmed himself by a fire as Jesus was being interrogated. Then we moved down into the remains of a dungeon cell where Christ may have been held in bonds. There we were all moved by a somber reading of Psalm 88 and the beautiful singing of another group above. As we came up and headed out of the church what were we all greeted by? All of us, progressives and conservatives and all those somewhere in between, were greeted quite starkly by a rooster crowing.
No matter where we stand, we all need to repent, and we all need to fast and pray during this heart wrenching time in our church. Hopefully that is something we can all agree to agree on. Next week I am going to be very intentional about just that. No more blogging, no more debating, no more facebook and twitter. Next week, Sunday through Saturday, as many of our conferences prepare for Annual Conference this summer, I’m going to forgo social media and arguing back and forth electronically. I’m going to spend more time on my knees repenting and praying and fasting, seeking God’s face and seeking God’s help. Join me if you will.
Sincerely in and through fear and trembling,