Why the Government Shutdown Makes Me So Mad

1_photoI think about health care a lot. We are blessed with three healthy children – but not so healthy that there haven’t been scares and emergencies. We’ve been to the hospital at least once with each child in the last five years, not to mention the hospital visits to actually give birth.

So I think about health care a lot. Because many families are not as lucky as we have been. Their children need many more hospital visits, or round-the-clock care, or expensive medication taken every day. And that’s expensive, more than they can afford.

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‘I’m Tired of Being Alone’

9780891123590A couple of weeks ago, I described my support for same-sex relationships in terms of intimacy – that God has hard-wired people to need to be intimate, so much so that our physical health depends on it, and that to argue he both creates the conditions that lead some to be same-sex attracted and requires denial of the intimacy they need because of that very attraction requires us to conceive of God as a monster.

In the end, however, I’m just a straight guy. I know and love a few gay people, but when it comes right down to it, I’m just talking about what I think they’re going through – or at least what science tells me they’re going through. I’d much rather let them say it, which is why I heartily recommend a book called Loves God, Likes Girls by a friend of mine, Sally Gary.

Sally blew everyone away about 10 years ago, when I was an undergrad, by standing up in our daily Chapel service and describing her struggle with same-sex attraction. A lot has changed in the past decade – for her, for me, for all of us. Homosexuality is a much more openly discussed topic, and its acceptance as a natural part of the lives of even those who choose celibacy has grown enormously.

Sally’s book is a memoir, nothing more – not a book that advocates for a particular side, just a good story well told that along the way has some valuable lessons to teach. And it’s a valuable resource because it provides a different perspective from the story told by, say, a Justin Lee in his book Torn.

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It’s OK to Be Gay – How Science, the Bible and the Love of God Convinced Me To Affirm Same-Sex Relationships

20130614-012013.jpgIn the end, it just hit me.

A single sentence, in an article not even about homosexuality or theology, not about Leviticus 18 or Romans 1, not about the Boy Scouts or the Southern Baptists.

In the end, what got me was a New Republic article by the magazine’s science editor, Judith Shulevitz.

“The Lethality of Loneliness” describes how psychobiologists “have proved that long-lasting loneliness not only makes you sick; it can kill you.” Loneliness is defined as “want of intimacy.”

The story is fascinating and well worth reading. Shulevitz reports that scientists rank emotional isolation as highly as smoking among risk factors for mortality, and those most likely to feel emotionally isolated are those who are most rejected – as Shulevitz puts it, “The outsiders: not just the elderly, but also the poor, the bullied, the different” (emphasis hers). The lonely experience higher levels of stress, which injects the hormone cortisol into the bloodstream, the chronic overdosing of which leads to numerous maladies, the most serious being heart disease.

Since those who are rejected feel lonely more often, we shouldn’t be surprised that some of the biggest studies into loneliness have occurred among those who are gay. Scientists studying HIV-infected gay men in the 1980s discovered this incredible fact: “The social experience that most reliably predicted whether an HIV-positive gay man would die quickly … was whether or not he was in the closet.”

Closeted men were more sensitive to rejection, more fearful of being outed, and therefore less intimate with those around them. Their lives were more stressful, and stress hormones feed the AIDS virus. And then came the sentence that stopped me cold:

[Researcher Steven] Cole mulled these results over for a long time, but couldn’t understand why we would have been built in such a way that loneliness would interfere with our ability to fend off disease: “Did God want us to die when we got stressed?”

The answer is no. What He wanted is for us not to be alone.

And there it is. Is it really that simple?

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God to Job: Humans Are So Overrated

9780674025974_p0_v1_s260x420When it comes to humanity’s place in creation, we have our scripture down pat: Genesis 1:27-28.

God created humanity in God’s own image,
in the divine image God created them,
male and female God created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and master it. Take charge of the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky, and everything crawling on the ground.”

“Master” the earth, “take charge” of its animals. Or, in the famous words of more traditional translations: We have “dominion” over this world. Throw in Psalm 8 for good measure:

You’ve made [humanity] only slightly less than divine,
crowning them with glory and grandeur.
You’ve let them rule over your handiwork,
putting everything under their feet—
all sheep and all cattle,
the wild animals too,
the birds in the sky,
the fish of the ocean,
everything that travels the pathways of the sea.

Cut and dried, right?

Not so fast.

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Pope Francis and the Progressives

505px-Card._Jorge_Bergoglio_SJ,_2008

The defining moment in the papacy of Benedict XVI, at least for this Protestant, was in January 2012, when the Obama administration was getting set to release its regulations for what insurance companies must offer in basic health care plans as dictated by the Affordable Care Act.

It was no secret that contraceptives likely would be among those required to be fully covered; their role in reducing unwanted pregnancy, protecting women, fighting poverty and ultimately reducing abortions was too great to be ignored.

Yet Pope Benedict chose a different emphasis when addressing American bishops in Rome, decrying alleged threats to religious freedom, including what he called attempts to “deny the right of conscientious objection on the part of Catholic individuals and institutions with regard to cooperation in intrinsically evil practices.”

Two months later, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a letter they asked all priests to read in their Sunday mass, criticizing the mandate and painting it in the stark hues of religious freedom – this despite support for Obamacare by Catholic nuns, whom the bishops then attempted to muzzle. Later in the year, when Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan proposed budgets that would cut services to the poor to pay for defense spending and tax cuts for the wealthy, the response from the bishops was much more muted.

The message was clear: Under Pope Benedict the church would go to much greater lengths to protect its own power than it would the powerless.

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The Toxic Assumption of the ‘Biblical Worldview’

Kinnaman_Lyons_Unchristian_smI’m working my way through unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity … and Why It Matters, the groundbreaking book from David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons of the Barna Group. It’s taking a little longer than I expected because, surprise!, it’s tough to get through a book based primarily on survey results and data.

It’s also a tough read because I find myself disagreeing with it more than I thought I would. The data is the data, of course, but the conclusions Kinnaman and Lyons reach seem a little off to me. It reminds me of hearing Republican Party leaders talk about how they need to change their “message” and “tone” after getting shellacked in the 2012 elections without seeming to understand that voters have decisively rejected their policies.

Likewise, Kinnaman and Lyons have compelling evidence that traditional theology and practice have failed yet seem to argue that what traditional evangelical Christianity needs is a different message and tone. It seems they can’t quite face the fact that their own data calls into question their own doctrines.

A key example of this is their presentation of the results when they asked if a respondent has a “biblical worldview.” Here’s how Kinnaman sets it up:

Of course, this [fact that the about 70 percent of Americans claim to have made a personal decision to follow Christ] raises the question of the depth of their faith. If that many Americans have made decisions to follow Jesus, our culture and our world would be revolutionized if they simply lived that faith. It is easy to embrace a costless form of Christianity in America today, and we have probably contributed to that by giving people a superficial understanding of the gospel and focusing only on their decision to convert.

I have no problems with this paragraph at all. But note that he’s talking about needing a deeper “understanding of the gospel,” which is interesting, given what comes next:

At Barna we employ dozens of tools to assess the depth of a person’s faith. Let me suggest one for our discussion: a biblical worldview. A person with a biblical worldview experiences, interprets and responds to reality in light of the Bible’s principles. What Scripture teaches is the primary grid for making decisions and interacting with the world. (75)

What happened here? In traditional evangelicalism, “biblical worldview” is something of a code for “conservative doctrine” that treats the Bible as a fully applicable roadmap for life in the 21st century, notwithstanding its final authorship no later than the 2nd century. By linking “deeper understanding of the gospel” and “biblical worldview,” Kinnaman has forced together two different arguments. Certainly a deep understanding of the gospel requires reliance on the Bible; no one disputes that, I hope. But Kinnaman is implying a deep understanding of the gospel requires reliance on a specific method of reading and applying what the Bible says, which is problematic. I would argue it’s one of the reasons why Kinnaman’s own data show young people  abandoning the church.

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Can Kingdom Work Include Gay Rights Advocacy?

220px-Stonewall_Inn_1969Last night, I sat down and read in its entirety, somehow for the very first time, Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, written 50 years ago this April. Doing so after what can only be termed the one of the most remarkable MLK Days we’ve ever witnessed was powerful indeed.

Not only did the federal holiday honoring King coincide with the second inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president, a laughable impossibility during King’s lifetime, but President Obama’s speech directly tackled the civil rights cause of our time – the right of every couple to marry, regardless of gender.

We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths — that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth.

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began. For our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers, and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts. Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law — for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

The reference to Stonewall is especially remarkable, as Obama placed it in line after the first women’s rights convention in 1848 and the voting rights march led by King himself in 1965. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City are considered the seminal moment in gay rights history, when LGBT patrons of the Stonewall Inn refused to be bullied any longer by the NYPD and began the push that is culminating before our eyes in the successful drive for gay marriage in multiple states across the country.

Equating gay rights with the civil rights era personified by King remains controversial in some circles, but less so in recent years – and rightly so, I’d argue. Race may be more clearly genetic than sexual orientation, which appears to be a complicated, even mysterious, mix of environmental and genetic factors, but the right of minorities, including sexual minorities, to be treated equally remains a driving force in American society. We should not close the book on racial equality just yet, but working on a new one simultaneously is not inappropriate. Indeed, gay rights and civil rights are more like chapters in the same book, rather than separate tomes entirely.

Which brings me back to King’s letter from Birmingham. The context, in case you’re unaware, was the criticism King and his  marchers had received from, of all people, local church leaders. King, as was his wont, issued a remarkable response, defending his passion for nonviolent resistance and leveling some eloquent – and richly deserved – criticism at those “moderate whites” who seemed to spend more time finding reasons not to support the cause of justice. In one section of the letter, King quotes from a letter he received from a white Texan arguing that since racial equality was inevitable, but that such things take time, and that King should not agitate for change that will happen in its own time.

King’s response is, of course, beautifully written, but it also dovetails with a theme of this blog lately, that God calls us to do kingdom work now, partnering with him in the restoration of all things and ensuring that his will is done on earth, as it is in heaven:

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.

Remove the word “racial” from the last sentence, and this could have written by any advocate for gay marriage rights today.

But should it be? Should gay rights be tied to “the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God”? Can Christians who advocate for marriage equality be performing kingdom work?

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