justice

3 Biblical Reasons Why Christians in Fayetteville Should Vote For the Uniform Civil Rights Ordinance – Even If They Believe Homosexuality Is a Sin

For the second time in as many years, Fayetteville is being torn apart by a civil rights ordinance that codifies protections for LGBTQ people. If passed, the ordinance will allow for LGBTQ people to be guaranteed the same rights and services that any Fayetteville resident enjoys without fear of discrimination. A landlord will not be able to refuse to rent to a man simply because he’s gay. A trans woman won’t be able to be fired from her job simply because of her gender identity. A lesbian couple will be able to buy a wedding cake from any bakery that serves the public. Read More…

I Opposed Gay Marriage, and I Repent

In 2004, when I pastored a fundamentalist church in Michigan, I stood before my congregation and said something to this effect, “Regardless of what party you belong to or how you normally vote, I think we can all agree as Christians that the Bible clearly teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman. I want to encourage you to sign the petition in the welcome area of our church to get the defense of marriage amendment to the Michigan state constitution on the ballot in November. I also want to encourage you to vote for that amendment in November.”
I collected signatures. I voted “yes” and urged others to do the same. The measure passed with nearly 60% of the vote … and 8 years later, I repent.
I was wrong when I said that the Bible clearly teaches a traditional definition of marriage. I was wrong to be insensitive to the lives and struggles of gay and lesbian people. I was wrong for perpetuating state oppression of a group of citizens. I was wrong and I repent.
The Bible and Marriage
I have come to recognize that reading and understanding the Bible isn’t nearly as easy as I was taught it was in Bible college. The older I get, the more I recognize that simply applying a few hermeneutical tools to a passage isn’t necessarily going to give me a crystal clear interpretation of what God definitely wants for my life and the lives of others. It can be difficult sometimes to know when the Bible is being descriptive, simply describing the way things were, and when the Bible is being prescriptive, prescribing the ways things ought to be. Is Paul’s use of husbands and wives as an analogy for Christ’s love for us descriptive of most marriages in his time or prescriptive of what marriage should be always and forever?
In the debate about same sex marriage, much has been made about the definition of marriage. Does the Bible actually define marriage or does the Bible simply describe what has been most common, though not exclusively, in human history? People on the traditional marriage side of the debate often argue that they want to preserve the traditional definition of marriage. But isn’t it pretty commonly accepted that the definitions of words evolve? Language is living and dynamic. Shouldn’t our theology be as well?
Further, even if one argues that Bible “clearly” teaches that homosexuality is a sin, does that mean that in a pluralistic society people who engage in such behavior should have certain legal rights or privileges revoked or limited? The Bible “clearly” teaches that gluttony is a sin. Parents who are gluttonous often raise their children to be gluttonous. Should fat people have their right to become parents be revoked because they are engaging in sinful behavior?
Even further, just because I accept the Bible as authoritative for my life, does that give me the right to expect others to do the same? If I believe that the Bible “clearly” teaches that I should not cheat on my wife, should it then become a crime for all people to cheat on their spouses? In a pluralistic society, which ours is, can we really appeal to prooftexts from the Bible as the standard for what our civil laws ought to be?
Gay and Lesbian Friends
In 2004, I didn’t really have any gay or lesbian friends, that I knew of anyway. My world, and therefore my perspective, was very cloistered. I had not listened to the stories of LGBT people. I had not heard their perspective and didn’t care much about what their lives were like. I was insensitive to the struggles, pain, and heartache they have faced at the hands of pastors like me, churches like mine, and the culture I sought to preserve.
I am a white, straight American male. I have all the power, all the privilege. I don’t know what it is like to be an outcast. I don’t know what it’s like to be bullied for something over which I have no control. I don’t know what it is like to be excluded or shunned. I don’t have any idea what it’s like to live in a society that codifies my inequality.
I now know differently. Well, I don’t really know in any experiential sense, but I have a better idea. And that has changed my perspective. I realize now that those in the LGBT community are people, not the butts of jokes or political enemies advancing an agenda. As a follower of Jesus, I believe that people, all people, are to be loved, not made fun of, bullied, opposed, or ignored. I also have come to believe that my comfort with a particular version of our culture is not more important than the people who live in our culture. The victory of my political party is not more important than people. My sense of right and wrong is not more important than people. Nothing is more important than people.
God Is On the Side of the Oppressed
I now read the Bible much differently. I see it not as a collection of prooftexts to bolster my arguments, but as a story, a story in which I find both God and myself. The narrative of the Bible presents a God who is on the side of the oppressed. God watches out for those who have been forgotten, for those who have been discarded, for those who have been rejected.
God heard a banished maidservant crying and delivered her and her rejected son.
God provided sanctuary for the illegal alien within the Jewish legal system.

Jesus touched the untouchable outcasts.
Jesus talked to and spoke up for the shunned and judged.

The church is home for the lowly, the despised, the have-nots.
The church is a family for those with no family.

The kingdom will be made up of people from every walk of life.
The kingdom will be for all.
Who today is rejected, outcast, and condemned? 
Who today is without a family? 
Who today is discarded and forgotten? 
Certainly, we could answer these questions with a laundry list of Christian cause celebes: Orphaned children in Africa. Victims of sex trafficking. The unborn. But couldn’t we answer these questions with LGBT people as well? Haven’t they been rejected, outcast, and condemned as well? If so, doesn’t that mean that God is on their side as well? And if God is on their side, shouldn’t I be as well?
I Repent
And so, I repent. I repent of seeking to preserve a culture I was comfortable with at the expense of love for people. I repent for putting my theological and political heritage ahead of grace. I repent for perpetuating a church culture of oppression. 
I repent.
From here on out, I will speak up for the rights and privileges of all people.
I will speak up and vote for the dignity of all people.
I will seek to befriend and love those whom in the past I had rejected.
I will seek love and grace for the sake of Jesus and his kingdom.

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I’m Praying for the Soul of Osama bin Laden

Which do you value more – your patriotism or your faith?

In the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden, many American followers of Jesus acutely felt the disharmony of two kingdoms. OBL’s death gave Americans much to rejoice in: the heroism and skill of Seal Team 6, a significant blow to Al Qaeda in the global War on Terror, hope that military activities in Afghanistan can now be drawn down. And yet at the same time, Christians struggled with the morality of rejoicing over the death of another person made in God’s image.

This dissonance was brought to a head this week by the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church in West Palm Beach FL that chose to honor an anonymous request and include Osama bin Laden’s name in its prayer list. Setting aside the theological question of praying for the souls of the dead, this choice highlights the tension with which many American Christians live.

Consider some of these quotes:

“I think it’s totally wrong, he doesn’t belong in the Catholic religion. For what he did to Americans, he doesn’t belong anywhere,” says Lois Pizzano, a Catholic Church member. “It’s unconscionable, it’s sacrilegious … If I wasn’t a Catholic I wouldn’t think it was right. He doesn’t belong there, he doesn’t belong with the American people”

“If it was one of my loved ones having their prayer session and his name was also included I’d be very upset. I think the people whose names are on it would also be upset,” says Andrea Lazarus.

Unconscionable? Sacrilegious? Upset? Are these the values of the kingdom?

It seems to me that both Jesus and Paul could not have been clearer:

You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. Matthew 5.43-45

Do not repay anyone evil for evil … If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12.17-21

By any definition, OBL qualifies as an enemy. He led a military organization bent on the destruction of the United States of America. He orchestrated the murder of 3,000 American citizens. He was actively plotting to terrorize free people around the globe. If OBL is not an enemy, no one is.

And that is why, in the case of OBL, we must force ourselves to cherish and adhere to the way of Jesus … not ignore it because it runs contrary to our Americanism. America is a wonderful country, full of opportunity and freedom for which we Americans should be very thankful. But it is not the kingdom.

Americanism is the way of competition, consumerism, and conquest. It busies our lives, shortens our attention spans, and saps our souls. Americanism may give us something to fleetingly feel good about – an imperial military victory – but it is out of harmony with eternity.

The way of Jesus is much harder and yet more deeply beautiful. When we turn the other cheek, when we refuse to curse our persecutors, when we pray for the soul of Osama bin Laden, we harmonize our lives with the deeper, more resonate strain of the kingdom of God.

I am not Catholic, and as such, I have not practiced the discipline of praying for the souls of the dead. But in solidarity with my brothers and sisters at the Holy Name of Jesus Catholic Church and in solidarity with the values of the kingdom of God, I will.

Will you join us?

WPTV: Prayer Request for Osama bin Laden at Catholic Church in West Palm Beach

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Horray for America! (But Not for Arkansas!)

I voted for John McCain yesterday, but he never really was my candidate. It took me a long time to decide to vote for him. And I’m not devastated that he lost. It has been interesting to hear the commentary about his concession speech. Some people today at work were talking about how terrible it was that President-elect Obama got booed at McCain’s rally last night. Have they never watched an election concession speech before? And it’s been amusing listening to all the media types say that if McCain had campaigned like he spoke last night, he might have had a better chance. I remember them saying that about Senator Kerry and Vice President Gore and Senator Dole … doesn’t anyone in the media have something original to say?

I didn’t vote for him, but I’m not sad that Barack Obama won. In fact, I think it’s pretty wonderful for our country. I remember that when I was a young teenager first getting interested in politics, it seemed like people were always talking about whether we would elect an African-American or a woman as president. I always thought we would, and the whole discussion seemed silly to me. I’m thrilled to see us do it.

On Friday I asked an African-American friend of mine – with a mischievous twinkle in my eye – if he was going to riot in the streets if Obama lost. He laughed and launched into a tirade about Senator McCain that made me laugh. Today, I asked him if he was giddy. He was. Then he looked around, leaned in, and said, “Robb, you’re probably the only person I could say this to. I’m really happy Obama won, but I’m a little bit nervous he might be the antiChrist.” We both laughed again.

I’ve got a lot of differences with President-elect Obama, and ultimately I didn’t vote for him because of those issues. However, I don’t know how he will govern. I hope it is from the center, but only time will tell. For right now, I’m really happy for his supporters, and I wish him the best. I’ll be praying for him!

I’m less excited about the wins of Democrats in the House and Senate. I’m one of those people who likes gridlock. I like it better when the government can’t get anything done. It keeps them from messing things up. With that in mind, the prospect of Al Franken going to the Senate turns my stomach. I really hope Norm Coleman can hold on during the recount!

From what I can find online, it looks like my friend Brandy lost her race for city clerk by 23 votes. That sucks. If I lived in her city, I would have voted for her and tried to find 23 friends to join me! I hope she keeps at it!

I am most disappointed this election cycle with one of the things the people of Arkansas have done. Yesterday, our state approved a measure that would deny unmarried cohabiting adults the opportunity to be foster and adoptive parents. This measure was aimed at keeping gay and lesbian couples from bringing children into their homes. As I’ve posted before, I think it is horrible. It seems to me when we put our ideology ahead of meeting real needs, we make a tragic mistake.

Which is worse – a gay couple adopting a child and raising him or her in their home or that child bouncing from foster home to foster home and group home to group home without anyone to provide consistent and life-long support, encouragement, and love? I think what we have done to children in Arkansas is unjust and unfair!

I would have liked to stand at the polling place yesterday handing out foster parent applications to all the people who voted for this measure. Until their willing to open their homes to the 18,000 foster kids in Arkansas, I don’t think they’ve got much credibility to judge those who are willing to.

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