People should know when they’re conquered: Homophobia, Duck Dynasty, and pluralism

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In the opening scenes of the film Gladiator, a meagre but undaunted force from Germania stands across the valley from a overwhelming sea of Roman soldiers, waiting for the next move on the chess boards of war.  Focusing in on the Roman general Maximus and his military advisor Quintus, we watch them surveying the opposing army as they continue to roar and shout victoriously, even in the face of a sure defeat.  It is then that Quintus says incredulously to Maximus,

“People should know when they’re conquered.”

Continuing to watch across the valley, Maximus replies, “Would you, Quintus?  Would I?”

It’s a genuine statement from Quintus (isn’t it as obvious to them as it is to us that they are already defeated?) and a realist response from Maximus (he knows – and desires Quintus to know as well – that, were the situation reversed, they would be no less defiant and undaunted in the face of sure defeat).

Arising out of the deluge of commentary on the Duck Dynasty/Phil Robertson interview in GQ magazine in recent days, floated something – amongst all the other muck and debris – that looked very much like this scene in Gladiator.

A good deal of the response to Phil Robertson’s comments about homosexuality; stating (however ineloquently) that he thought it was a sin, was this same sort of incredulous questioning that Quintus offered to Maxiums on the battlefield, viz.

Doesn’t Phil Robertson know that this issue has already been settled?  That this battle has already been won?  Sure, there are still a few backward places like Russia and Africa.  But how dare anyone from North America claim that they still hold a defeated viewpoint like this anymore!

People should know when they’re conquered!

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Now i’m not even making any statement about Phil Robertson’s views or A&E here.  I’m simply pointing out that this is yet another clear example of the myriad of occurrences where we witness (what i think D. A. Carson coined) “the intolerance of tolerance” in society.  Tolerance used to mean, Carson states, what Voltaire famously quipped, “I may disagree with what you say entirely and yet i will defend to the death your right to say it!”  So, in other words, tolerance used to mean we could actually have opposing viewpoints on a particular subject and still, you know, tolerate one another.

But it’s become the soup of the day, it seems, to seek to silence all voices that will not toe the party line.  “Diversity?  Sure!  As long as it looks like everybody else and conforms to today’s standards of right/wrong. just/unjust, acceptable/unacceptable.  Stray too far, though, and you will simply be categorized (religious nut), labeled (homophobic, hateful) and dismissed (irrelevant).

Is that the kind of diversity we want?.

In fact, we know historically that societies thrive and stretch and grow all the more broadly and creatively when there is such diversity of opinion fostered and encouraged within it  (i’m not suggesting a free-for-all, anything goes!)  Consider the Roman empire as an example: a veritable hodge-podge of diverse opinions on art and literature, epistemology and science , religion and politics and one of the greatest civilizations the world has ever known.  Given that, i might even go so far as to say that perhaps pluralism is not the enemy of Christianity we were all once led to believe it was, nor is it the enemy of the homosexual worldview!

We don’t always find areas of agreement – and he is certainly no friend of the conservative Christian worldview – but i think a few people now have mentioned what Bill Maher once said during the whole Paula Deen controversy, which i think applies in this instance as well,

Do we always have to make people go away?”

I think the clear answer is, “No.  No we don’t.”  Nor should we seek to.

Selah.

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Of acquiescence and integrity: the tyranny of desiring to remain current

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In his eloquent and epic defence before Agrippa – worthy of all the pomp and praise of William Wallace on the field of battle – the apostle Paul famously quipped in reference to the death and resurrection of Christ,

For I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this has not been done in a corner.”

And yet, while that was very true then, there are some things – things of great importance – that have mostly escaped notice and are, in fact, done just there; in the corner.

Quietly, just over a few weeks ago, Britain’s sovereign queen mother gave her royal nod to same-sex unions (both of the civil and religious variety) Britain legalizes gay marriage as Queen Elizabeth II gives royal approval.

And, to some small degree, i get it.  With reports surfacing with increasing frequency that the world – British and non – are questioning the relevance and necessity for the monarchy, the pressure to (as the Dixie Chicks were famously told) “Shut up and sing” must have been enormous.  When you’re on the way out – like Britney Spears once was for instance – the efforts to remain “in” become increasingly desperate.

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Britney succeeded (for the time being) – it remains to be seen if the British monarchy will.

And yes, yes. It was – at the end of the day – a mere formality when you look at it.  The queen’s “yea” or “nay” would not have really affected the decision at all!

And yet. And yet.  For all the protestations in the world that it wouldn’t have made any difference either way, for the one who claims the identity of “evangelical Christian” as her majesty Elizabeth II does (and, as i’m reading J. I. Packer’s Fundamentalism and the Word of God presently, i’m coming to see that as a vastly more important thing than i used to) they are held to an entirely different standard than the rest of the world.  That is, that there are decisions that one makes that appear to have absolutely no significance in our world whatsoever, and yet, which carry an eternal significance beyond measure.

The rub of it all is this: it doesn’t matter a whit whether or not the queen’s decision would’ve changed anything for the country in their decision to legalize same-sex unions.  What does matter is that the positions of queen, or president, or prime minister, etc. are all superseded by the position of, what Paul calls, a servant/slave of Jesus Christ; that is at least, for the one who claims it of themselves.

And integrity in that decision called for maintaining the standards of God’s Word, even if it meant the loss of popularity – yea – even the death knell of the whole British monarchy.  For as Christ Himself said to Pilate, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” or as God says to Nebuchadnezzar, “the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.”  That royal position was given by sovereign choice not by right and it was meant to be stewarded as such.

Quietly – in a corner then – a step of seeming unimportance, but with vast long-term significance, took place and went mostly un-noticed.  And one day, that will have to be answered for.

Queen Elizabeth II And Prince Philip, Duke Of Edinburgh Visit Northern Ireland - Day 2

Kyrie eleison.

Making the most of what you’re given: what is “of first importance”?

20 secondsWhat would you want to say if you knew you’d only have 20 seconds to tell someone about Jesus?  What would be your message?  What content would fill that 20 seconds?

I read a recent post that caught my attention about a street preacher from the USA who was arrested while preaching on the streets of Wimbledon, England recently for “homophobic remarks” that offended one listener in particular.

Now, absolutely, this was a far overblown and silly charge to begin with.  The term “homophobia” has become this (to borrow a phrase) junk drawer term today like ADHD was a diagnosis a decade or so ago.  Then: “We’re not sure what’s wrong with your child.  They must have ADHD.  Give them these pills.”  Today: “You’re saying something that i don’t like.  You sound like you don’t agree that i should be able to sleep with whomever i want.  You must be homophobic.

To think that you could be arrested for what this man preached is wrongheaded and, sadly, just the birth-pangs of what’s coming.

But here’s the thing that stood out (beyond the ridiculous charge): this man says he intentionally chose as his text 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 and decided to preach on the sin of sexual immorality to this group of whomever happened to pass by, viz. those with whom he had built no rapport or even knew him from your uncle.  And if you watch the video, few, if any, stop to hear what he has to say.  Which means – generously – he has about 20 seconds where these people, whom he surely cares about and wants to share Jesus with, can clearly hear his voice.

And my question is: what do they hear in those 20 seconds?

Or maybe: What should they hear in those 20 seconds?

Now – yes and amen – recognizing that we are guilty before a holy and God and turning from our sin is part of a gospel presentation; and we are to call people to repentance.  But – as we surely all would agree – seeing that we stand justly condemned before a holy God is not good news.  The good news is that – though we all stand guilty – in grace and mercy that God did something about it (Eph. 2:4-10) by sending Jesus to live perfectly and die in our place and be raised again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Cor. 15:3,4).  In fact, those things are what Paul says are “of first importance.”  Paul doesn’t even mention sin in this famous gospel passage except to proclaim what God did for sinners.

And so, the next time God grants this street preacher, or me, or you, 20 seconds, or a minute, or an hour, to say something about Him to those who desperately need to hear, what will they hear from us?  How much God hates our our sin? (and He absolutely does!)  Or how much God did for guilty sinners?

One is a message of condemnation only. The other is a message of life and hope that would surely lead to then talking about sin and repentance.

What will you do with the time God gives you?

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.”    – Jesus.

Mistaken identity: a rare political rant

I remember a classic moment in Canucks history last season when Kevin Beiksa was mistakenly identified as Ryan Kellser by a news-radio station in LA, and he (Bieksa) then went on to give a hilarious interview pretending to be Ryan Kessler (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AjOHQwbLBlo).

That particular instance was funny, but there are literally millions of examples of mistaken identity today that are not funny at all, but rather, tragic.

I had some of my ‘buttons’ pushed today when i read a blog post that suggested that, as Christians, the well-worn axiom “love the sinner, hate the sin”, was somehow not so easily applied when dealing with the issue of homosexuality.  The reasoning implied was that homosexuality is so closely tied to the identity  of homosexuals – nay, is their identity – that by hating their sin we are actually, in fact, hating them.

Is that a correct view?  Without being overly simplistic or crass about it, does who i desire sexually define who i am as a person at my core?  It’s all well and good to retort that homosexuality is more complex than sexual desire and practice, but then we immediately move from the definition of something, into cultural or ethnic concerns.  Homosexuality is, by definition, sexual desire towards – including practice with – someone of the same sex, just as heterosexuality is defined in the exact same way only towards someone of the opposite sex.  Desires for companionship and deep relationship then don’t fit neatly, in my view, with either of these views, but are rather a separate category unto themselves (though related) which reflects the Trinitarian, relational Imago Dei in all of us, and, thus, cannot be ‘claimed’ by either side.

So where does that leave us as confessing evangelical Christians? Must i abandon the idea of ‘loving the sinner but hating the sin’, in this one, specific case?  Am i truly hating who a person “is” by claiming that their sexual practice is sinful?  I would like to suggest the answer is ‘no’.  Furthermore, i would like to suggest that even using the term homosexual as anything other than a categorical distinction, is misguided.

To illustrate, consider the grapes pictured above. There is a single grape in this cluster that stands out for at least two obvious, categorical reasons: a) it is a different colour than the others b) it is slightly larger than the others.  The question that must be asked in light of what has been said to this point, however, is, ‘Is it still a grape?’  Look at the picture once again now and, considering the distinctions we just mentioned, add to that green grape now a personified voice which might say, perhaps, ‘I am not a grape at all, but an apple.  I know this because i am green, tart, and – while most others who look just like me enjoy making grape juice – i like making apple juice.’

With the personification added especially, we could rightfully place this green grape in a different category than the others, both for it’s appearance’s sake as well as its stated desires.  But at the end of the day, it is still biologically and functionally a grape.

Bringing the discussion back to the realm of sexual desire, consider someone who’s committed adultery, someone who has committed pedophilia, and someone who’d committed necrophilia.  What is one obvious common denominator in each of these?  They’re all people!  Human beings with various degrees of sexual dysfunction, but still people.  And so while we may categorize these people in different ways, even calling them ‘Adulterer’ or ‘Pedophile’ or ‘Necrophile’, no one loses the distinction in their minds that these are still just messed up people with dis-ordered desires.

So where’s the disconnect?  Why in this specific instance of homosexuality has all the world (even the Christian world to some degree) bought into this idea that category distinctions define personhood?  That if i’m a guy who sexually desires another guy, i’m not just ‘a guy who sexually desires another guy'(adjective) but rather a ‘Homosexual‘ (noun)? Huh?!?  Is there anywhere else in the world where this works?  No, because – even just in each of the three earlier examples (Adultery, pedophilia, necrophilia) – we see a person behind the sexual desire.  Looking back historically, slavery was finally seen as wrong (on a human level) because we finally stopped looking at African-Americans (for instance) as categories – like skin colour – and saw instead a person worthy of equal rights and dignity.  Women were finally allowed to vote and get better jobs because (on a human level) we stopped seeing them as categories as well, and saw them, rather, as fellow human beings with inherent worth and dignity.

But now we’re all being asked to change the rules (just this once) and go back to defining people by categories again?!? The message often presented: DON’T see me as just another fellow human being with differing opinions and values and desires than you – see me, and define me, by who i like to sleep with.  That’s who i am.  And if you disagree with that or are uncomfortable with that, you don’t just dislike what i do, you dislike ME.

When we passively allow categories to be made into persons and adjectives into nouns, it stands to make ‘bigots’ and ‘slave-traders’ of all who won’t toe the line, even though their only ‘crime’ is seeking to stem the tide of this mis-guided thinking and pernicious nationalism.

In contrast, one of the flashing neon signposts found in Scripture, that speaks to this issue plainly, is the doctrine of man.  That a loving, Creator God formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being.” (Gen. 2:7) That we reflect, as human beings, the very image of God. (Gen. 1:27)  And the refrain after each day of creation and thing that was created was a resounding, “And God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Gen. 1:31)  Later, Psalm 139:14 tells more: that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that God himself “knit us together in our mother’s womb.”

The implication of Scripture is this: that you are not what you eat or don’t eat (‘Vegan’ or ‘Meat eater’); that you are not who you do, or do not, sleep with (‘Homo’ or ‘Hetero’ sexual); and no (despite all the marketing to the contrary) we are not “all Canucks”.  What you are at the very core of your being is God’s special creation, made in His image, to display His glory, to worship Him alone, and to have dominion over the rest of His creation.  That is your identity and the source of your great value and worth.

Everything else beyond that is just category.