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.


The Math Matters: why the GOP race is as good as over

The math matters.
Mitt Romney, not Rick Santorum, is going to the be Republican nominee for President. 
For more than a month now, Santorum has attempted to challenge Romney’s position as the GOP frontrunner and presumptive nominee. The media has hailed Santorum as the upstart challenger to Romney’s inevitability. There has been much talk about the momentum he gained from photo-finishes in Michigan and Ohio. He parlayed his wins in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee into wins in Alabama and Mississippi. He will now try to turn those wins into forcing Newt Gingrich out of the race so that he can essentially go head-to-head with Romney. (Sorry, my pro-Ron Paul friends.)
But the math matters. When the dust settles and the delegates are counted, over the last month – there is no other way to put it – Mitt Romney has been trouncing Rick Santorum. A look inside the numbers shows a very different story than what the headlines and soundbites might be telling us. Since February 18, following Santorum’s insurgent wins in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, Romney has nearly doubled up Santorum in the delegate column. Romney has amassed 352 delegates to Santorum’s 180.
March 13 – AL, MS, HI, American Somoa
Mitt Romney – 42
Rick Santorum – 38
March 10 – KS, Guam, Northern Marianas, Virgin Islands
Mitt Romney – 23
Rick Santorum – 33
March 6 – MA, VT, OH, VA, TN, GA, ND, ID, AK
Mitt Romney – 220
Rick Santorum – 85
February 28-29 – MI, AZ, WY
Mitt Romney – 57
Rick Santorum – 21
February 18 – ME
Mitt Romney – 9
Rick Santorum – 3
In the past month, Santorum has only won one day of voting, March 10 in Kansas. Santorum has only won the most socially conservative areas of the most socially conservative states. Romney has consistently won suburban and urban counties as well as independents. And, he has consistently added the only thing that really matters in the race for the nomination – delegates. In total, Romney already has 432 of the 1144 delegates needed to be the GOP nominee.
The media has only one concern – a good story. The race being over is not a good story, and so we can expect to continue to see trumped up drama about the chance that both Santorum and Gingrich have to upend Romney. But it’s not going to happen.
Santorum will continue to talk about how if Gingrich would drop out, he could beat Romney handily. He will try to keep his campaign and hopes alive. But, if the past months give us any pattern, even on the days that he thinks he’s won, Santorum is actually losing ground. 
The math matters. And this race is as good as over.


I Am the 1%

Over the past few months, I’ve watched the Occupy Wall Street movement with great interest. In all honesty, I haven’t known what to think. On the one hand, there is much in OWS with which I agree:

  • I agree that our politicians have been corrupted by corporate interests.
  • I agree that our consumption is way out of control.
  • I agree that unemployment, student loan debt, and poverty are issues that need to dominate our national conversation.
  • I have been appalled by the way some Occupy groups have been treated by police while they attempt to peaceably protest.

At the same time, there are things about Occupy that don’t resonate with me: 

  • I’m not sure why, but class warfare rhetoric just doesn’t resonate with me. 
  • I also am amused by the seeming double standard of protesters using their iPhones to tweet complaints about big corporations. 
  • I’ve struggled with the inconsistency of cities like Richmond VA, for instance, that have allowed Occupy groups to use free-of-charge the same park that it charged the Tea Party nearly $10,000 in fees to use. 
  • Most significantly, I am predisposed to distrust government solutions to problems, and – I may be wrong about this – but most of the demands being made by the Occupy groups accompany suggested government solutions.

In the last few weeks, however, I’ve started to think differently about the whole thing. Though it has had an impact in other countries, Occupy is a very American kind of protest. Its primary branding is related to the top 1% of America’s wealthy versus the 99% of everyone else in our country. The “We Are the 99%” posters are brilliantly effective. 

Here is what I’ve been wondering about. OK, so I am in the 99% in America. But where do I rank globally? It’s not just about America, right? We are a global community with responsibilities, not just to ourselves and our own national interests, but to all. So … who are the top 1% on the planet?

I did a little research (googled it up on my google machine), and here is what I found.

According to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic in his book The Haves and the Have Nots, to be in the top 1% globally, you have to make $34,000 per year. I am in the top 1%, and I bet a lot, if not most, of you reading this are too. Here’s the breakdown:

  • $34,000 per year – top 1%
  • $18,500 per year – top 5%
  • $12,000 per year – top 10%
  • $5,000 per year – top 20%

Does that change our perspective at all? Does that change the conversation?

It is so easy to vilify the other, the Wall Street banker, the politician, the corporate tycoon. It is much harder to admit that I can find myself among the other. It is so easy to target the greed of the wealthy and fail to see my own constant consumption.

Certainly, it is important to have prophetic voices that highlight the abuses of those in power. But maybe those in power aren’t just the Wall Street banking vice presidents in their $3,000 suits. Maybe those in power are also the soccer moms shopping at Target. Maybe those in power are me. And you. Maybe the finger isn’t just pointing at the politicians in Washington. Maybe the finger is pointing at me too. And at you.

In 1 Timothy 6.17-19, Paul tells Timothy this, “Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

This passage is about me and just about all of us here in America, for we really are rich in this present world. That wealth must not make me – or us – arrogant, but so often it does. Somehow, it needs to drive me – and us – to put our hope in God. And I – and we – need to find ways to invest in others so that we can take hold of a life that is truly life.

It’s a good thing that it’s Advent because these are the kinds of issues this season conjures up in my heart. Goodness. Generosity. Sharing. These are the words that are resonating with me. I’m looking for ways that I can take what I have been richly given and use it for the good of others … not just here in America, but around the world:

  • We are talking to our kids this Christmas about consumption and not needing more stuff just for the sake of more stuff.
  • I am thinking about the people across the globe who have had a hand in what I enjoy, be it the clothes I wear, the technology I use, or the food I eat. And I’m trying to give thanks for them and pray for them when I remember them.
  • I am looking for needs to meet. I am hoping this Advent season to do some small but significant things in the lives of others, generously sharing what I’ve been blessed with so that others can enjoy God’s blessings too.
I’m in the top 1%. Given that I am an American, there is almost nothing I can do about that. It simply is reality. However, there is much that I can do for the sake of others, and that is where my focus is now.

How about you? What’s on your mind this Advent season?


Why I Don’t Believe Herman Cain

I’m not sure I can remember a primary season quite like the one we are in the midst of. From the beginning, Mitt Romney was crowned the front-runner, even though his support rarely waivers from about 20% of likely Republican voters. Each challenger to Romney has taken his or her turn.

First it was Michele Bachman. She won the Iowa straw poll on the same day that Rick Perry announced he was running for President and she got John Wayne and John Wayne Gacy mixed up. (How did Rick Perry put it … “oops.”)

So … everyone’s attention turned to Rick Perry. We’ve got experience with a Republican governor of Texas being President. What could go wrong there, right? Until we saw him debate … and that was long before the “oops.”

Next up – Herman Cain. Interesting personal story. Something different and unexpected, a black conservative businessman, a true outsider. Certainly, he doesn’t have a grasp of all the issues, but he’ll learn in time. He’s the man … until the sexual harassment charges begin.

And so now, Newt Gingrich, an intriguing yet flawed candidate in his own right, is the latest ABR (Anybody But Romney).

But before Herman Cain is completely disregarded and discredited as a candidate, I want to take a moment to say a few things about the charges leveled against him.

I’m pretty skeptical of the media. I don’t believe much that I see or read. I tend to think that authors and writers have agendas that bias the way they report. (I know, I know, it’s a jaded way to look at the world, but I can’t help it.) Given my own bias to distrust, I would have thought that my reaction to the Herman Cain sexual harassment allegations would have gone something like this:

“Here we go again. When it comes to conservative black men, the partisan media only has one play in their playbook – accuse them of sexual harassment. They did it to Clarence Thomas, and now they are doing it Herman Cain. Ironic? No. Proof that he’s innocent.”

But that wasn’t my reaction. My reaction was that I didn’t believe Herman Cain’s denials of the sexual harassment charges, and I don’t believe his denial of the most recent affair allegations. I think he is lying.

Why I think he’s lying may be the most interesting part.

For a decade now, I have been a faithful reader of a fantasy football website called Footballguys.com.  The site has a message board called the Free For All where people talk about all sorts of topics. I very rarely contribute, but I try to stay up on most of the conversations. Back in May, a thread began about Herman Cain. In it, some anonymous poster named Jutz wrote this:

Posted 25 May 2011 – 09:40 AM 

So… is anyone up for some Herman Cain rumor mongering?  

My mom used to work for her home states restaurant association. Each state has a restaurant assoc. and they all roll up to the National Restaurant Assoc. Herman Cain used to be the CEO and president of the National Resturant Assoc. I was watching Fox and the name Herman Cain comes up from the debates. My mom basically says something like… 

Herman Cain… the Hermain Cain that was president of the National Restaurant Assoc? He is a player (or something like that). We were all at a meeting and he was blatantly hitting on the head of our (insert town name) chapter president that organized the whole event. They said he was hitting on her all night and later on tried to get her to go to some shady bar’s back room area… or something like that. 

Yes, my mom has been known to make up stories from time to time, but she has no reason I can think of to make this one up. She might remember wrong though too.I’ll be curious if he keeps doing well if any ‘stories’ will come out. 

(Here’s the link for those of you who are as jaded as I am.)

Several months later, some stories did come out. And, for better or for worse, I am left thinking that Herman Cain is a liar because of what some anonymous dude on the internet says his mom said.
Am I crazy for believing a fantasy football message board poster and not believing a candidate for President of the United States?

Questions for Candidates

It’s beginning to look a lot like election season. Exploratory papers are being filed. Funds are being raised. Campaign buses are rolling through early primary states. Debates are being had.

I hate how early presidential campaigns get kicked off nowadays. In a culture where information travels so fast, I would think we need less time for campaigning, not more. But, sadly, that’s not the way it works.

I doubt I’ll be voting for President Obama. I didn’t in 2008, and he hasn’t really done anything to convince me to change my mind. I have a great deal of respect for the President, but I simply have too many policy differences with him to be able to support his reelection.

So, I’ve begun to pay attention to the crop of Republican hopefuls. About the only Republican out there who excites me is Gov. Chris Christie of NJ, but he has said repeatedly that he is not running in 2012. Without him or former Mayor Rudy Giuliani (yet?) in the race, I feel like I am very far from picking a candidate. I guess it’s a good thing that votes won’t start being cast for a year.

I did catch most of the Republican presidential debate that CNN hosted this week. And it left me with some questions. Here are my questions about the candidates, announced and yet-to-be announced, that will need to get answered before I can vote for one of these men or women:

Michele Bachmann
Congresswoman Bachmann strikes me as obviously intelligent and accomplished. She’ll get a bad rap from Democrats and the media for her Tea Party association, but isn’t she just the front-runner in the Veepstakes?

Herman Cain
Mr. Cain is interesting to listen to and has a great story, but I generally don’t think of him as any more electable than Papa John. How long will it be before the Alan Keyes comparisons begin?

Newt Gingrich
In 1989, I had a signed picture of Newt hanging on my wall. Keep your Alex P. Keaton jokes to yourselves. Newt was fresh and cool then. He is no longer fresh and cool. Can the Speaker come back from having a stepford wife, no advisors, and a man dump glitter on his head?

Rudy Giuliani
America’s Mayor totally blew his opportunity in 2008. He had a short-sighted Florida-only strategy and a myopic 9/11 message. If he jumps in again, can he demonstrate that he learned his lesson and be a viable, national candidate?

Jon Huntsman Jr.
I follow politics pretty closely. I’ve been known to recognize obscure legislators in shopping mall parking lots and airports. I know he was Utah’s governor and President Obama’s ambassador to China, but still, I’m asking, “Who?”

Sarah Palin
Palin has a way of connecting with people that the media can’t figure out and doesn’t respect, and so I’m skeptical of how she’s portrayed and often quite sympathetic toward her. Yet, I’m tired of her. Fatigue doesn’t usually set in until a President’s second term. How can she overcome Palin Fatigue when she hasn’t even been elected yet?

Ron Paul
Congressman Paul strikes me as the smartest person in the race. He’s principled and charismatic in an old man kind of way. But why can’t he attract more than 10% of primary voters?

Tim Pawlenty
I don’t know much about Governor Pawlenty, but I’d be willing to bet he’s the most effective and pragmatic leader of the bunch. Tell me, Governor, why shouldn’t I think of you as just another boring white guy in a blue suit?

Rick Perry
A Governor of Texas with a track record of reaching across the aisle and getting stuff done. What could go wrong there?

Mitt Romney
There are many of us who want Mitt Romney to be the second coming of Ronald Reagan, and we can’t figure out what he’s missing. What is he missing?

Rick Santorum
Senator Santorum appeals to the social conservatives, the Religious Right. I’m not part of the Religious Right, so why should I pay any attention to him?

There is plenty of time to get these questions answered. But the sooner I learn what I’m seeking about the candidates, the sooner I’ll be ready to throw my support behind one of them.

By the way, I didn’t make up that Newt-glitter thing:


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