My Most Recent Books
- Does the Church Focus on “Hot-Button” Issues over Poverty? May 18, 2015
- Once Same-Sex Attracted Always Same-Sex Attracted? May 10, 2015
- Dylan Nails It Again… March 6, 2015
- 50 Shades of What the… February 26, 2015
- The Gay Wedding – To Go or Not? February 24, 2015
- God’s Pink Slip… February 18, 2015
- Agreement or Understanding? February 6, 2015
- Research on Playground Songs… January 31, 2015
- Breakpoint Symposium on Evangelicals and the Gay Issue January 25, 2015
- Interview with Kerby Anderson January 25, 2015
Last week, the National Associations of Evangelicals hosted a high-profile conference at Georgetown University on poverty, bringing Evangelical and Catholic leaders together to study the issue. The celebrated Harvard political scientist, Robert Putnam, spoke as well as did President Obama. It was an important event and my boss, Jim Daly, was honored to be asked to participate.
It was a group of really, really smart people, but it was also an example of two very smart people saying something really… well, not smart. Both Professor Putnam and President Obama made comments about how, in their estimation, the church must stop putting all its energy into being busy-bodies about all issues sexual and focus more on what it should be doing: feeding and caring for the poor.
In fact, Professor Putnam remarkably explained,
The obvious fact is that over the last 30 years, most organized religion has focused on issues regarding sexual morality, such as abortion, gay marriage, all of those. I’m not saying if that’s good or bad, but that’s what they’ve been using all their resources for. This is the most obvious point in the world. It’s been entirely focused on issues of homosexuality and contraception and not at all focused on issues of poverty.
President Obama complained that too often, it’s issues like abortion, rather than caring for the poor, that is “the thing that…really [captures] the essence of who we are as Christians…”
Is it really “the most obvious point in the world” as Putnam claims, that the Church is “using all their resources” solely on opposing the pelvic issues and “not at all focused on issues of poverty”?
It is not mean nor is it a cheap shot to say that those who believe such things straight out have no idea what they’re talking about. The truth is exactly the opposite.
One of my good friends, Pat Fagan, wrote a very strong and well-documented op/ed for the Washington Post explaining just how ridiculously wrong Putnam and Obama – as well as most cultural elites – truly are on this point. The proportion of money and personal effort given everyday by the church to the poor dramatically dwarfs the most gracious estimation of what it spends on fighting these “hot-button” issues. Like a marble compared to a basketball.
Consider the ministry where I labor. Focus on the Family is “known” to be neck-deep in the culture war over homosexuality and such. Many assume its the central thing we do because it is all they ever hear about FOF when we’re mentioned in the news.
We keep very precise budget numbers and we spend far less than 5% of our overall budget on any hot-button or political issues. The other 97%-plus part goes to our general ministry to families offering help with things like healthy communications in marriage, kids wetting their beds and what to do with sassy teenagers.
Look at the inner-city in any decent size town. Find the soup kitchens, the hospitals, the substance recovery efforts, housing the homeless and so forth in any city. More than ninety percent of the time, you will find these being founded and run by some arm of the Christian Church. The Catholic church in most major cities have dedicated facilities that feed and clothe the poor EVERYDAY.
It’s sad when really smart people say really dumb things. And to say that the Church should start caring for the poor and stop obsessing over sexual issues is really dumb.
If the Church stopped doing all it does for the “least of these” tomorrow morning, the remarkable substance of that work would become tragically obvious within 24 hours and the State would crumble under the weight of needing to fill the void.
Anyone paying any attention to the public debate today knows how wrong it is to suggest that one who is same-sex attracted can overcome that attraction. In fact, the Obama White House has actively joined the effort to make it illegal for anyone to assist another – adult or adolescent – who seeks to overcome unwanted ssa. So much for one’s self-determination.
While it is often a difficult road, there are many, many people who have indeed overcome their same-sex attraction. One of these folks has become a good friend of mine. Her name is Patti Height and her’s is a remarkable story. While Patti did not go through a clinical process, nor was she looking to leave homosexuality, it was becoming a Christian that created a remarkable – but not always easy – change in her life. Here is a nice short video her church just created last week, telling her story
And here is Patti sharing the full story of her struggle with her gender identity, her childhood, past relationships and how Christ broke through into her life and brought her unbounded peace and hope. He did the same for her cherished girlfriend who Patti loved very much and is still friends with today.
Both of them found a greater, truer love and have followed with joy since that day. And you will not meet Patti without also meeting Jesus, for she cannot contain or keep quiet about becoming a beloved daughter of God. She is infectious.
Change is possible. And there are real people for whom this is true. And no amount of ideological denial can make them go away.
Patti is just one of them.
Let’s get this straight. I don’t really care what you think about Dylan… unless you have a sober and proper view of how he’s as creatively strong as he’s ever been.
And a good argument could be made that since Time Out of Mind – which won Album of the Year in 1997 – each album he’s done since are collectively the strongest consecutive works in his resume… save for maybe the Christmas album, I must say. However the “Must Be Santa” video goes a long way in redeeming that whole project.
Along with these Charles Atlas muscular string of albums, their corresponding videos have all been knock-outs also! Here is his latest to promote his new disc where he croons a load of classic Sinatra tunes.
Straight out, this old man is so stinkin’ cool.
And this is the first Dylan video where he’s packin’ heat, and I think, runs from the law.
So, people are voting for 50 Shades with their feet (and dollars).
If you’ve payed any attention in class, you pretty much know what it’s about:
Young woman submits to generally anything this guy wants do to her sexually.
As a friend remarked, “The movie didn’t seem to have any plot line other than that.” Uh, porn flicks don’t have plot lines. But the run-away success of the film, at least dollar- and publicity-publicity-wise, raises many questions for me:
* Exactly who’s going to see the movie, mostly men or women? Women I suspect.
* Is it because they are truly interested in the topic? To pick tips for the bedroom?
* Or are they simply rubber-necking, not wanting to look at the bad car accident, but you simply can’t help yourself?
* How many women see this woman and think ‘I so wish my guy treated me like that?”
* Do guys really wish their gal would submit to such treatment? Really?
*What does the success of this film say about the state and vitality of feminism today?
*Did the character misunderstand the admonition to “Lean In”? Is the character an “empowered woman”? Are the women who see the movie?
* Did any dads of daughters see the movie?
Here’s how weird this cultural moment is:
We have the potty-mouthed Chelsea Handler (Does she eat with that thing?) inflicting blunt-force trauma on the movie, the book, the author and everything they represent.
And Russell Brand provides an impassioned pulpit-pounding, hell-fire sermon against the movie and porn in general. (Given that it’s RB, there’s a tad bit of language.)
Let me know your thoughts on these questions. I’m curious.
The following is an excerpt from my new book – Loving My (LGBT) Neighbor: Being Friends in Grace and Truth – which provides practical advice, forged from real life, in building genuine friendships with our LGBT family member, neighbors, co-workers and those we share our pews with. Important stuff.
Regardless of whether you live in a state that has legalized same-sex marriage or not, the invitation to such a wedding is something that more are having to face. So how do you respond if you receive an invitation from a family member or a close friend?
This is more difficult than it may seem– or at least there are more wrinkles and angles to it. I have thought about this a great deal. There is curiously a good bit of differing opinion here and I can understand and respect most of these convictions. Some would give a flat-out “no way” to any and all such invitations. While I understand and respect this conviction, I take a less absolute approach.
There are helpful guidelines and here are mine. First question to ask is:
Who’s Inviting You?
One of the first considerations is: who’s extending the invitation? This obviously matters. Is it Walter, the accounting guy at work who audits your team’s budget? Or is it your brother or child? You will certainly evaluate these two invitations differently, one causing you much more soul-searching than the other. So, the first question is “Who is this person and how do they matter to you?” For me, the person would have to be quite special and meaningful to me.
What Kind of Wedding?
Another consideration is what kind of wedding it is. Is it happening in a Christian church or conducted by a clergyman representing the Church? What kind of church? I will be frank here. Is it an Episcopal or Lutheran church that permits such weddings, but should know better, or a Unitarian church that has forever been on the side of whatever challenges convention?
Is it a completely secular wedding at the country club, the beach, someone’s backyard or maybe just City Hall?
Is it actually a legal marriage or a commitment ceremony?
So What to Do?
First, the wedding is not just about the couple, with everyone else mere spectators. The attendees of a wedding are participants as well, supporting the couple, rejoicing with them in what their new union is creating, and even creating solidarity with them and their joining families, agreeing to be there for the couple, as a couple, in the years to come in many ways. You are a stakeholder in their union.
So when some Christians say they cannot in good conscience attend any kind of same-sex wedding, it is not necessarily because they don’t like “those darned gays and lesbians” but because of what they understand a marriage and a wedding to be. Along these lines, I could not imagine myself going to a heterosexual couple’s “commitment ceremony” declaring their dedication to each other, while not seeing marriage itself as necessary. Even if I cared deeply for the couple, I simply couldn’t participate in celebrating such a thing. In fact, to be honest, I’d think it was silly.
And this would not be any kind of statement about the people themselves, as hard as that might be for some to believe. Would I think my atheist friend hated me if he declined my invitation to attend my baptism next week? Such an event is a massive thing to a believer, but it would be unfair for me to expect him to come, much less make it a litmus test for the substance of his appreciation for me. It is just a matter of belief and conviction about what such ceremonies are. Hopefully, such Christians could explain these convictions to their gay or lesbian family members or friends in a gracious way and hope to have the couple understand even though they will not likely agree.
This is where I would stand in most situations. I certainly could not attend a wedding that was held in a church or officiated by clergy as a Christian wedding that was clearly outside of God’s design and desire for marriage. I would not want to be a part of a seemingly Christian wedding that was clearly in contrast with Christian teaching, for I would not only be an audience member, but a witness and supporter, which is exactly what the friends, family, and loved ones at a wedding are. It is a communal covenant that all are entering into, but of course, two more than anyone else. This I could not do and would have to decline with a sad heart for my friends.
A Green Light in Other Circumstances?
It depends, and it would relate primarily to the first question: Who are these folks and what is my heart toward them?
My main consideration would rest upon what this person meant to me and how I wanted to communicate my love for them, in spite of our differing convictions. Add to this whether the wedding was a secular affair or of a faith tradition outside Christianity that had no authority in my life.
For me, if I was ever to attend a same-sex wedding, these would be the questions that I would have to wade through. I will be honest. I do have some friends whose weddings I would like to attend, solely because of what they mean to me and not because I would want to celebrate the thing itself. These particular friends harbor no illusions about my convictions here. But I care for them so deeply as people–and as “opponents”– that I would be willing to reach out and attend their weddings just to show them that despite our clear differences, I would like to be there for them and show them I willing to make this compromise for them. For me, that would be an important grace. And knowing each of them as I do, none of them would be married in a church, so that eliminates that issue.
This might seem inconsistent on my part to some people, and I understand if they do not understand. But in more than a few issues regarding friendships with our LGBT neighbors, there are areas that are not as black and white as we might like them to be. But that should not keep us from seeking to find the best way through them that are true and faithful to our faith while also gracious and loving to our friends.
So, for me, I would need to be very motivated to attend such a wedding, and I would do so primarily out of love for the person who invited me.
Here is a remarkable piece of writing I came upon this week while reading a 2004 issue of the journal First Things, which I highly recommend, btw.
It’s about God being let go from his job.
Termination for Cause
I had thought the terms of our agreement
Were quite clear.
You were to provide me length of days,
Model children by a docile wife, support for same;
Keep far away all disaster man-made
Or act of your own.
And a death if not quite painless
At least sudden, without humiliation.
I in turn would confess You Creator
Of all things seen and unseen, offering customary
Praise and adoration.
Regarding line four above
Your performance has been marginal at best,
And I have now confirmation
From two physicians
Of what I must deem willful disregard
As to length of days and dying.
I therefore recognize no further obligation whatsoever
To provide the aforesaid praise, etc.
Or, indeed, to acknowledge Your existence.
Any further communication should be directed
To my counsel,
Who assures me that he knows You
from of old.
– James F. O’Callaghan
First Things, November 2004.
Was talking to a student this week over some issues regarding gender. For some reason she said a few times that we weren’t to agree on the topic at hand.
That put us on an additional discussion.
Which is more important, agreement or understanding?
It’s a key question, especially today in our contentious and over-polarized political and moral public discourse where it often happens at high-volume in simplistic soundbites on 24 hour cable shows. In my work, I deal with this all the time. If agreement doesn’t happen it’s believed we are not affirming or accepting one another. This is a very brittle way to deal with others and evaluate our relationship with them.
I told this student – at her numerous warnings that we weren’t going to agree – that understanding was much better than agreement. The fact that she was asking me honest and pointed questions about my take on an issue was more virtuous than trying to achieve agreement.
There is a difference between the two. Too often, pressing for or expecting agreement is about control: “I need you to agree with me and if you can’t, then have a good life.”
Seeking honest understanding is respectful to the person and the importance of the topic itself. It says, “I want to make sure I understand what it is you believe and why rather than just assuming I know.” A well-educated and curious person take’s that position toward others.
Now this doesn’t mean that we seek to engage in a kumbaya “peace, love and understanding” sentimentality. Quite the opposite. It means that if disagreement – even passionate, serious disagreement – must be the result, as least we know why it is we disagree. Again, this is respectful and actually lays a foundation for potential friendship. Yes, it is possible to be friends with those whom we strongly disagree!
Who would resist an opponent coming to us and sincerely asking “Now my understanding is that you believe X,Y,Z about P,D,Q? Can you help me understand why that is?” You then have the good opportunity to explain this is a popular misunderstanding of your position, terribly presumptive, not quite right or precisely right on. Who doesn’t appreciate that? And hopefully you can do the same for them.
In this you might find you actually do agree, can agree on particular points or don’t agree at all. But at least you both know why any of these might be true. And you can take that knowledge with you as you meet others with similar views rather than just assuming you know why they believe as they do.
Understanding is more important than agreement. Give inquiry a chance.