We Don’t “Just Need Jesus”

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When someone shares her tough problem on a Facebook group, it irks me when people say, “I’m praying for you! (heart)” — and nothing else. There are many Facebook threads of, “Praying!”, “Praying for you, girl!”, “I’ll be praying for you!!!” and then a long comment from Bailey Bergmann Steger, sharing all the advice and experience she can.

It irks me when people “just pray,” because prayer doesn’t make problems go away. Solutions make problems go away. A girl asking about how to handle this tough conversation with a friend doesn’t need a thread of “just prayer.” She needs wisdom, guidance, and advice.

Spiritual and relational problems have real solutions. Christians don’t like real solutions, I’ve noticed. We like to shuffle all the problems up to Jesus and let him take care of them, as if there is no hope, no solution, and no way we can contribute to bringing about change.

I’ve said it many times too: “The world is so messed up. We just need Jesus.”

I said it because it was the pious response modeled for me by Christians dedicated to remaining separated from the world but still shaking their heads over the world as it sunk to hell.

“Jesus,” in this case, is a magical fix, a last-resort fix, something we invoke at the Wednesday prayer meeting.

In light of systemic hatred and prejudice in our world, I am quite confident the world doesn’t “just need Jesus.” Jesus as a magical fix, invoked only in prayer, doesn’t target the systems of racism, sexism, and abuse of majority power. It leaves people’s hearts unchallenged and unchanged. In fact, “just Jesus” often fostered these systems.

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations supported the enslavement of blacks on the basis of their race. America is still reaping the consequences of “just Jesus.”

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations continue to support the subordination of women and the antagonism of the LGBT+ community.

Christians and their prayers and Biblical interpretations continue to create environments and excuses for sexually, emotionally, and spiritually abusing the vulnerable.

We don’t need “just Jesus.” We need information, education, empathy, and resources to combat these systems of oppression. We don’t just need revival of our hearts. We need actual change worked by actual people.

What many Christians miss is that Christ came to redeem the whole world — not just our individual hearts. He came to smash oppression, not just die on the cross. As the church, we are the hands and feet of Christ. We are the body of Christ. We must now walk the earth healing, teaching, freeing, challenging, protecting, and conquering.

Prayer alone will not change the world. Invoking “just Jesus” alone will not change the world. But Jesus through the body he left on earth can change the world.

NB: I wrote this reflection in July 2016 and just now found it in my drafts. It’s still true today!

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e.e.’s Easter Vigil Baptism

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Though I find my baptism at age seven meaningful, Erich and I chose to have e.e. baptized as an infant for a couple reasons: the church has always baptized infants, and paedobaptism honors the childlike faith of children raised in Christian homes. e.e. will grow up believing in Jesus, receiving communion, and participating in the church. That simple faith is more than adequate in God’s eyes; in fact, Christ commands us to believe as trustingly as little children. When e.e. is older, he will have the opportunity to publicly profess his faith in confirmation, a choice that he will fully make on his own, when and if he is ready.

Here’s the Episcopalian rite of baptism, with images from e.e.’s special day.

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We present Emmerich Erich to receive the Sacrament of Baptism.

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

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Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.

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Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
I do.

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?
I do.

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?
I do.

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Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support Emmerich in his life in Christ?
We will.

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Let us join with those who are committing themselves to Christ and renew our own baptismal covenant.

Do you believe in God the Father?
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God?
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

Do you believe in God the Holy Spirit?
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

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Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the  prayers?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
I will, with God’s help.

Excerpted from The Online Book of Common Prayer

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The Creativity of Holy Week

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That typical family photo where the baby finally smiles when the adults aren’t looking

Whew.

Holy Week has me exhausted. As a reader and choir member, I attended nearly every service this week. This is my first journey from Ash Wednesday through Lent all the way to Resurrection Sunday, and I loved every second of it.

I’m used to Easter being a one-day event, maybe with a little bit of heart prep on Palm Sunday. On Easter Sundays of yore, I got gussied up in a new dress to sing “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today” at whatever Baptist church we attended at the time. And that’s pretty much it (not counting the Easter egg hunt, Starburst jelly beans, and Resurrection Eggs — all holy rituals in their own right).

This Easter was an all-out marathon. Like I said, I’d never fully participated in the church calendar before, and was honestly skeptical of certain parts. Lenten sacrifice, for example. I gave up something for Lent this year (though, really, being a parent of a newborn automatically enrolls you into intense Lenten sacrifice — NO SLEEP). I didn’t get the point. It didn’t make me feel closer to God, or remind me to pray more, or in any way improve my spiritual life. I wasn’t even suffering: turns out it was an easy thing to give up and I didn’t miss it at all. When I returned to it on Easter Sunday, I wasn’t eager to have it back in my life.

Lenten fail? Or maybe Lenten success? Maybe my Lenten takeaway is that I don’t always need the things I think I need, that they aren’t as big a deal to living life as I formerly thought.

Holy Week is hands-down my favorite part of the liturgical year so far. I’ve been researching a more creative spirituality, using the senses and imagination to enter into Scripture and prayer (like Ignatian imaginative prayer and lectio divina). Holy Week provided many opportunities to engage with the Gospel readings in creative ways.

On Palm Sunday, we marched around the parking lot waving real palm branches after a bellowing bagpipe (a truly authentic recreation of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem). One couple driving past even stopped to follow us into the church after seeing our joyful, freezing cold procession. We all processed into the church, where the organ blasted “All Glory Laud and Honor.”

The youth Sunday school classes provided a dramatized reading of the Passion. Our deacon read the narration, the students read for Jesus, Peter, the High Priest, etc., and another student drummed ominously underneath the entire reading. It was beautifully, simply, non-cheesily done, adding more layers of interest and art to engage you with the Gospel text without distracting you from the Gospel text, if that makes sense.

Every Wednesday we walked through the stations of the cross, visual representations of different moments during Christ’s suffering and crucifixion. I say “we,” but really, Erich, e.e., and I only attended a handful during Lent. Noon is smack dab during e.e.’s nap time, and he was cranky. I contemplatively nursed him during many of the stations.

On Maundy Thursday, the choir led a Taizé service — chants as opposed to hymns, sung over and over to facilitate meditation and prayer. Veni, sancte spiritus, we intoned repeatedly as we processed into church. At the close of the service, the priest cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?”

No blessing or dismissal followed.

We stripped the altar — candles, hymnals, chairs, the Eucharist, everything disappeared into the sacristy. Then the lights went out. In pitch darkness, a wooden clacker cracked out three strikes, and we dismissed in silence.

The Gethsemane vigil began, with individuals watching and praying for an hour at a time, in faithfulness to Christ, who asked if his disciples could stay awake for even one hour while he prayer in agony. (The answer for me was absolutely not this year. See parental exhaustion above. I’d love to participate next year.)

I’m sure something great happened on Holy Friday, but e.e. wanted to nap right before the noon service.

And then came the Easter vigil. This was my favorite service during Holy Week. The procession entered with the Pascha candle, the deacon sang to the candle for a long time, and we passed on the light down the aisles with our own tiny candles, which melted into a wax puddle by the end of the service. Erich, used to Catholic masses, snootily huffed that they should have used beeswax candles instead. I, used to nothing, was excited there were candles of any sort.

I was not excited that Erich tried to juggle a candle, a pacifier, and our baby dressed in a slippery christening gown all at once. Oh yes — e.e. was getting baptized during this vigil. By candlelight. (A whole post on that is forthcoming!)

Afterwards we shouted, “The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!” and the lights went up and the organ blasted and we belted out a triumphant song.

Sort of. In reality I was trying to get a wailing e.e. to calm down with a bottle without getting milk and candlewax all over his lacy gown, and that makes things less triumphant.

On Easter Sunday, we wove lilies and daffodils into a cross and just had a wonderful, joyous Easter service, complete with — of course — “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today.” Our deacon wore a balloon bishop’s hat for the dismissal (obviously), and e.e. commanded a fleet of preteens to hunt Easter eggs for him.

A glorious Easter weekend, indeed.

What were your favorite moments from Holy Week this year?

// All of that Lenten/Holy Week meditation culminated in these thoughts on female disciples, faithfulness, and a new narrative for Easter.

The Gospel According to the Female Disciples

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Saint Veronica wiping the face of Christ, Mattia Preti

During the weeks of Lent and Holy Week itself, the hymns are full of deep, dark confessions: was the one who crucified Christ. was the one who abandoned him. was the one who denied him. Just like his disciples.

That’s the narrative: we’re all terrible, faithless, sin-filled, wimpy people, just like Peter who denied Jesus on the third cock crow, just like the disciples who couldn’t even keep watch for one hour, just like Pontius Pilate who caved in to the crowd’s demands, just like the multitudes who chanted, “Crucify him!”

But that’s the male narrative.

The women? That isn’t like the women at all.

Mary anointed Christ’s feet and mopped it with her own hair, a foreshadowing both of Christ’s burial and of Christ washing the twelve disciples’ feet. “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet,” Jesus told them. “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

Mary knew these things. She knew even without his example.

Pilate caved into the crowds’ unjust demands. His wife urged against this: “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.”

There’s a common narrative about how the crowds cheering for Jesus on Palm Sunday were the same ones shouting for his crucifixion a few days later. This is absolutely not true. Luke records “a multitude of people and of women mourning and lamenting for him.” Christ even stops along the Via Dolorosa to address the women.

And while most of the male disciples had fled, the Gospel accounts go out of their way to place his female disciples at his crucifixion — not only the core band of women who had ministered to him along the way, but also a crowd of women who had followed him into Jerusalem. (Perhaps the same women waving palms and hailing him as the Messiah.) Several Marys and Salome stood by his cross. The only male disciple mentioned at the crucifixion is the disciple whom Jesus loved.

Whereas the twelve disciples couldn’t even keep watch for one hour while Christ prayed, the women kept watch over Christ even in death. When he was buried, there sat Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, watching opposite the tomb. And we all know the resurrection story — the women who had ministered to him in life came to minister to him in death and were rewarded with the first visit of the risen Christ. They were the first to believe and proclaim his resurrection, the first apologists, the first preachers.

Women.

You know, women, who are easily deceived and incapable of preaching, teaching, and leading in the church. Women, who need a spiritual covering from a man. Women, whom God saw fit to always place under the authority of another man because men are the real spiritual leaders.

If we’re looking at the numbers, the sex most faithful, most spiritually astute, and most blessed were women — the female disciples of Christ, the female followers of Christ. The (male) religious establishment persecuted and handed Christ over to death. The (male) political establishment ignored his sense of justice and crucified Christ. The (male) disciples fled in terror, denying Christ left and right.

But not the women.

There were many faithful men, of course. Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus risked their positions and their lives by burying Jesus appropriately, and Mark notes Joseph’s courage in particular for doing so. John was evidently standing with the women, close enough for Christ to charge him with looking after his mother. The centurions believed after the earth quaked and the sky went dark: “Surely this was the Son of God!” And the crowds who followed and mourned Christ were comprised of many men as well.

But not one woman, not one female disciple, is mentioned as unfaithful. Not one female disciple denied him. Not one female disciple fled. Not one female disciple disbelieved the resurrection.

I’m not arguing for a matriarchal Christianity or the superiority of women. I’m pushing back against the ludicrous ideas that men by virtue of being male are more like Christ’s image, more spiritually capable, more suitable for guarding and guiding Christ’s church.

And I’m pushing back against this idea that there’s one spiritual narrative at Easter — the one where we’re all rotten, faithless deniers of Christ.

Maybe you are. But maybe your story at Easter is less like the male disciples’ and more like his female disciples’ — one of faithfulness, service, and love, of dashed hopes, of quiet mourning, of standing by and watching the reasons for your faith slip away, of watching God die.

Maybe you’re not like the alleged people who cried “Hosanna!” on Sunday and “Crucify him!” on Friday. Maybe you’re like the women who followed Christ into Jerusalem and then followed him down the Via Dolorosa.

Maybe you’re not like the disciples whom Jesus said would betray and deny him. Maybe you’re like the disciples who went to the tomb on Easter morning, still serving, still watching, still faithful, and were rewarded with the greeting of their beloved Lord.

Maybe, this Easter, you’re like Christ’s female disciples.

// More good reflections on this topic: Mary, the Woman Who Led God by Dalaina May, and Did Jesus Really Spend His Time with Just Twelve Men?, by Gail Wallace

A Very Pregnant Advent

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It’s a strange experience going through Advent as a pregnant woman, her baby boy due two days after the Baby Boy’s birthday.

I’ve never felt an emotional connection to Advent before. Where there was any sort of emotion in the lead up to Christmas, it was impatience and excitement about receiving presents, or frustration and fatigue about giving presents. There was nothing spiritual about that.

But carrying a child to term during Advent — that has been a spiritual experience.

The groaning, the grief, the long dark nights waiting, the wanting to give up hope but knowing the end is too close to really give up — that’s a spiritual feeling. And none of that is metaphorical, not for a pregnant woman at the end of the third trimester. I sit up most nights, at odd hours, sometimes crying, but mostly punching pillows into place and groaning, mentally screaming into them so I don’t wake my husband.

Ugh, and the hope — sometimes it’s what carries me through the day, but lately, it feels like I carry it, lugging it around like a ball and chain, because it’s what defines and constrains me. People ask me about the hope all the time. “Eight more days,” I say, wearily, more wearily than when I said “eighteen” or “eighty” just a few short weeks and months ago. What makes it bleak, like all hope, is that there can never be an actual countdown. We can only say, “Someday!” and “Soon!” and “Maybe today!”, and then wake up the next day and the next to say the same thing again. We get more discouraged the closer we are.

That’s a spiritual thing.

Another spiritual thing — all our doing and preparing makes a way, but it doesn’t make it happen. My husband is always asking, “Did you do your exercises, did you drink your raspberry leaf tea, did you look up yet another thing on the internet to try and get this baby out?” And I always tell him, “None of those things will make the baby come. They just get my body ready for when the baby decides to come. And nobody knows what makes the baby decide to come.”

That’s a very spiritual thing, a very Advent thing — there’s so much work to be done in the world, in us, but it’s only a preparation for when our Hope and Change and God decides to come. We have to do the work, but the work doesn’t do what we want it to do — it doesn’t make the waiting shorter or the coming quicker.

That’s the flip I’ve had to make in my mind: right now, it’s not about doing, it’s about going on. The nursery is ready. My body is ready. My mind is ready. My heart is ready. And I spent a lot of time and energy readying those things. Now, when I wake up in the middle of the night, when I’m sitting around on the couch, when somebody asks me about the due date for the millionth time, I can’t do anything. I must just go on. I just get through another night, let another day pass, take another breath — because he is coming. My baby is coming. He will come.

And I won’t remember any of the waiting and groaning, because the grieving hope will be turned to certain joy.

That’s Advent, isn’t it? That’s pregnancy. That’s life.

Whatever we’re waiting for, may it come quickly.

Why I Don’t Hate Calvinism

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I spent a good part of my formative theological years in Reformed, Calvinist circles. Yes, the stereotypes of Calvinists being argumentative, stubborn, and more than a bit tone-deaf are mostly true (I being the chief at fault there), but Calvinism itself was a safe haven for me.

I’ve always been keenly aware that what I most needed saving from was myself. First it was from the vile sins of a totally depraved heart, like getting frustrated when people were rude, or being a jerk of a big sister, or failing to read through the Bible in a year, or neglecting a robust prayer life. Then, as my faith started shifting, it was from my ignorance of my own ignorance — my people-pleasing, my fear, my brokenness, my humanness, the subconscious things that controlled what I believed and how I acted — things too subtle for me to even notice, much less combat.

I noticed how at the core of almost every (if not all) sin was hurt or human weakness. People lashed out in anger when they were bullied. Abusers were often once the abused. Kids shot their fellow students because they were misunderstood and ostracized.

If it were not for that hurt, compounded by human weakness, that turns into despair and then hate, what might this world look like?

And because these things are so subtle, many people are not even aware of when we grossly wrong another person or ourselves because of whatever lies we were taught or picked up or concluded due to our individual experiences.

My kindergartners constantly bullied and hit each other. I thought, at first, they just needed to learn to keep their hands to themselves. But that was not the issue. The issue was that their parents told them to fight when they were wronged. This was the inner city. Life or death might depend on being able to fight back. In a world of fear, hurt, and danger, violence, rather than peacemaking, made perfectly logical sense. It was my namby pamby rule of using words rather than violence that was stupid and immoral.

Due to our experiences, all of us get broken, wrong ideas implanted in our souls as perfectly logical and moral. Everyone is a good guy in their own ideology. Everyone is on the right side according to their view of the world.

Lord, have mercy.

I say that with all seriousness: Lord, have mercy, because we need some hands-on intervention into our brokenness.

This is why I never resonated with Christians’ exuberance over free will. “God is a gentleman. He never forces himself on anybody,” I heard frequently, as if that was the highest praise. “You are not insistent, You do not force me, You are not controlling,” Audrey Assad sings in her latest song “Deliverer.”

Of course, I understood the heart of these sentiments — we aren’t robots; true love comes from the opportunity to choose love freely. And all of those things I would come to believe and value in time.

But if I was honest with myself, both the past and present versions of me, I dislike the image of God the gentleman standing to the side as he watches the world burn; God the gentleman saying, “Depart from me; I never knew you,” when he could have stepped in and made himself known; God the gentleman creating free will in the first place when he knew it would cause us to suffer so much.

Embarrassingly, I resonate with John Donne’s shocking, violent depiction of God’s sovereignty:

Batter my heart, three-person’d God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp’d town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv’d, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov’d fain,
But am betroth’d unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.

Yes, batter me. Break, blow, and burn away all the ignorance and brokenness that drives us to hate and harm and choose all manner of evil in the name of good. We don’t know better, and you do, so do something.

Calvinism allows for a God who micromanages his elect, orchestrating their salvation, keeping them within the fold. I remember feeling such confidence, such an awash of grace, when I first learned the doctrines of irresistible grace and the perseverance of the saints. Nothing, nothing, nothing — especially not my own ignorance or sin or weakness — could keep me from the love of God.

I was finally safe from my worst enemy — myself.

I love Calvinism for introducing me to a God like that — a Father so acutely aware of my limitations that he doesn’t just sit by as I obliviously wander into oncoming traffic; he runs and snatches me up; he doesn’t let me go even as I kick and scream and don’t understand. He loves me more than he loves my free will, which isn’t, in a world as broken as this, as free as we’d like to think.

***

This image of a fatherly, ever-loving, all-knowing, sovereign God is why I am ultimately no longer Calvinist.

The flipside of a God who chooses and keeps his elect is a God who chooses to damn the non-elect for no reason other than his pleasure — a vile departure from any notion of love. And because God chooses his elect willy nilly (i.e., according to his wise counsel), he’s not really saving us from ourselves as much as he is saving us from his capricious self.

Hence, most people, I discovered, hated Calvinism. It surprised me how much people hated Calvinism and the God revealed in Calvinism.

But this past year, I went through long periods of terror in the hands of an angry God. I felt like I couldn’t keep the faith; it was slipping away from me into agnosticism. I wanted so badly to stay Christian, but I wasn’t able to.

I felt damned.

And I knew from Calvinism that God was capable of saving the elect, that he would never leave me or forsake me, that the elect would persevere until the end. Since I wasn’t able to persevere until the end, since I was rapidly losing the faith, I was clearly the vessel he created for destruction.

No matter how much I railed at this ugly idea, that God damned his creation for his own glory, all I kept hearing was Paul heartlessly repeating, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God?”

Once again, my humanness got in the way of my salvation. This time, there was no rescuer.

***

Ironically, it was this spiritual experience that leads me more than ever to rejoice in God’s sovereignty.

As I’ve stepped outside of the raging Arminian and Calvinist debate, I no longer see salvation in terms of God’s sovereignty pitted against human will. Ardent supporters of either theologies will insist that, as total sovereignty and total free will are opposites, I have to choose one or the other as the primary instigator of predestination.

But I don’t see them as opposites. I see them as paradoxes. What we’re dealing with here is not a logical thing, but a spiritual, experiential thing with too many facets for a systematic theology. And as such, I’ve gained more clarity about the issue from abandoning the labels and the debates and the attempts to stitch together my favorite clobber verses. I’ve paid more attention to the metaphor and the mystery of God’s love as experienced through human love — particularly through parental love.

The more I interact with children through gentle parenting/teaching methods, the more I understand how it’s possible for God to be sovereign — for God to have his way — and for God to respect, honor, and allow our free choices in a way that doesn’t ultimately harm us.

In gentle parenting, when a child throws a tantrum, the parent doesn’t leave the room, close the door, and let the child deal with the negative behavior he chose (the equivalent of the worst of Arminianism, in my mind). Nor does the parent bark orders, punish, or demand that “you better do what I say — or else!” (the equivalent of the worst of Calvinism, in my mind).

The gentle parent knows that her child is acting out of legitimate discomfort and ignorance about how to handle that discomfort — hunger, sleepiness, disappointment, embarrassment, pain.

Knowing this, she sits with her child until the tantrum ends. If the child lunges at her, she gently blocks the child’s hand and says, “I understand you’re angry, but I won’t let you hit me.” If the child starts running around the room and throwing things, she stays within reach to make sure the child doesn’t harm himself. If he can’t keep himself or others safe, sometimes she enfolds him in her arms gently and firmly, empathizing and repeating that she will not let him hurt himself or others.

She will not be moved by the worst of his moments. She will not punish, threaten, or coerce her child into doing what she wants. She is always near, always ready to jump up and protect, jump up and rescue, until her love is so evident and so unavoidable and so relentless that her child collapses into her arms.

Unavoidable, relentless love wins out every time — not because it batters its way through, but because we were made for love, we were made in the image of love. No matter how broken, hurt, twisted, and sinful we are, there’s always a part of a us that can and will respond to love, given enough time, given enough relentless patience.

While I would no longer describe God’s sovereignty as a rape, I wouldn’t describe him as a gentleman either, waiting around to see what our free will will choose. I would describe him as that patient mother. His sovereignty isn’t invasive; it’s intimate. His patience isn’t passive; it’s involved.

Will he get his way in the end, with all men being saved? Will love reach us where we are most broken and hardened? Oh, I hope so. If anybody could do it, this sovereign, patient God could.

Readers, to focus the discussion, let’s not argue within the binary of Calvinism and Arminianism about which side is “right.” I myself am still capable of giving a point by point proof of Calvinism in rebuttal to this article. I’m more interested in hearing how God’s sovereignty and our free will makes a difference in your spirituality, how you have grown in your understanding of how they work together, etc. 

I Found a Church!

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I was the odd Christian who loved going to church far more than daily devotions. I never missed a Sunday, whereas daily devotions were a pain and a frustration that didn’t get off the ground for longer than a few days strung together. Church was where I met God best. Even when I began deconstructing, church was the last thing to go — and only very reluctantly.

Despite my love of church, I’ve got a checkered church past. I once belonged to a home church that, while well-intentioned and on the surface a great fit, was controlling and spiritually abusive. I kept “growing out” of the two Baptist churches I attended most of my life. I say “growing out,” because even though they weren’t a good fit theologically, I stayed with them out of love for the community and ignorance about where else to go. They were like family. You don’t just abandon family because your beliefs change, no matter how frustrated or upset they make you.

This left me with so many questions about church after I got married and started the “settling down” process — in other words, the hunt for the forever church.

I wanted to be loyal to a church, not like the church hoppers who found fault with everything, but I didn’t want to end up bored out of my mind, offended, or leaving service midway in tears a couple years after joining. How was I supposed to anticipate where my spiritual growth would go?

I also questioned where to compromise, because there was always compromise involved when it came to denominations and me. I finally settled on the idea that while it would be ideal to agree with the denomination at large, it was more important to find a local church we felt comfortable with. Yes, it was disappointing to consider joining a church that belonged to the Orthodox Church of America, which was taking steps to further limit women’s involvement, but if that particular church was pastored by a self-proclaimed feminist, I wasn’t going to complain.

But finding out I was pregnant shook up our options. If we homeschooled, church might be a major social outlet, so a church with young families was more critical. Since we wanted our son baptized and able to take communion from birth, that quickly eliminated most options previously available to us as two baptized adults. I was initially willing to belong to a more male-dominated church, but I couldn’t stomach the thought of raising a child, particularly a girl, in a church that told her her womanhood barred her from service.

And these are just a few of the beliefs I could have personally overlooked; they either didn’t affect me and my husband because we were baptized adults, or they didn’t affect us because we knew tradition and theology well enough that disagreement didn’t confuse our faith. Now that we had to consider what we wanted our son to see, hear, and participate in, our options narrowed.

For a while, Erich and I visited an Orthodox church. We loved the liturgy, the theology, and the people of that church. Ultimately, we decided against it because I wasn’t comfortable with their anti-egalitarian overtones and because it was hard as Westerners to get our foot into the door of an Eastern church. The Eastern church calendar is different than the Western, which would alienate us from our Western families’ religious celebrations and practices.

And as petty as this is, the community felt foreign to us without some of the Western trappings of groups and adult Sunday school, and with the rigorous process of catechesis and chrismation. We were already shy, lonely, and totally new to the real world. Joining our family to an unfamiliar church tradition proved too much for our faith and social capacities at the time.

So for those reasons, and other reasons I’ll share at another time, we didn’t go to church for the majority of this year. When we did go, we would never go two Sundays in a row. It held little meaning for us, as I didn’t consider myself a Christian, and we were in the middle of moving, and church exacerbated spiritual and social problems.

Even after I decided to go back to Christianity, and even after we settled into the area we hope to live in for the rest of our lives, we were slow to find a church. And I will shamelessly admit this is partly because having two days a week to sleep in is glorious. But mostly, again, what was the point?

Then cancer and casseroles reminded me of how much I missed church.

A woman in my old church had been diagnosed with aggressive cancer, and I listened to my mom share the details of how she and the church got involved, bringing casseroles to the family, calling them, praying for her every Sunday, and all the things communities do.

I realized we wouldn’t have that if our family went through a tragedy. There would be no retired grandmas or homeschooled teens willing and able to watch the baby. There would be no assurance that anybody within several hours of us would be checking up on us weekly. And there would be no casseroles in foil pans. We’re fortunate to have my in laws five minutes away from us, and some close friends and family an hour or two from us, but that’s not quite the same thing as having a local community mobilize to your aid.

And that was my pious motivation to get serious about church hunting — wanting a community who would bring my family casseroles if something ever happened to us.

We worked out on paper that the Episcopal church would be the best fit for us theologically and practically, accommodating Erich’s Catholicism, my Protestantism, our shared desire to baptize and raise our son in a historic faith tradition, and our strongest theological beliefs. Eucharist every Sunday was nonnegotiable. Sacramentalism and liturgy were nonnegotiable. Our views on the Bible, tradition, equality, and love of the other were absolutely nonnegotiable.

We’ve been attending a local Episcopal church, and I love it. The community is warm, united, and diverse. It feels like one of those small town churches you read about in novels or watch in Hallmark movies, where the main issue is how to love one another instead of people’s pet theological fights, where parishioners are simultaneously ornery and opinionated but not above changing their mind by the end of the story.

The pastor journeyed from fundamentalism to, in his words, “crazy liberalism.” “I tell this to everybody, I’m a crazy liberal,” he told me. “Just so you know where I’m coming from.”

But his crazy liberalism results in simple, thought-provoking sermons that challenge all of us to take seriously Christ’s call to love, starting with the person in the pew next to us. He manages to touch on politics without ever being political. During one sermon, he mentioned how loving one’s enemies means doing good to them always, regardless of who they are. We were collecting money for hurricane relief efforts that Sunday, and he prompted us to remember that the money was going to people some didn’t think should be in America (illegal aliens) or people whose political views disturbed us — to the “others” we often treated as enemies. It was the most tactful, convicting reference to our nation’s divisions and its impact on our spiritual lives.

Then there’s the deacon with the pierced ear and the Kentucky accent who says, “Peace, y’all!” when we pass the peace, and the older ladies who waved the colored pom poms during our anthem from Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Coat more vigorously than the kids. And the church still manages a reverence and solemnity lacking in many other churches we’ve visited.

Speaking of which, there’s the choir. It’s beautiful and fun and an easy foot into the community’s door (particularly since I passed out cold during our kickoff Sunday).

It’s not an absolutely perfect fit. I’m more theologically in agreement with Eastern Orthodoxy on certain issues. There aren’t any young couples our age, much less those with young children. We miss the five-senses experience of Orthodox liturgy. The congregational responses are just slightly different enough from Catholicism’s that we keep messing up and fumbling around in the Book of Common Prayer.

But for the first time in a long time, I am excited to go to church. I don’t want to sleep in on Sunday or go on weekend getaways if it means missing church. I meet God there. I am relieved that they encourage all who seek a closer relationship with God to take communion, as I still feel unworthy to partake. Once again, I think church is a crucial part of my spirituality.

Plus, it’s looking like this is the kind of church who would bring us casseroles when needed.

God Can’t Meet Your Emotional Needs

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Christians say strange, pious things all the time, but one of the most confusing of those strange, pious things is the idea that God is the one who must meet our emotional needs. I feel scandalous even questioning this idea, because it sounds so right on the surface.

As depicted in Christianity, our relationship with God is one of deep emotion and intimacy — God as father, as mother, as friend, as lover. Christ promises rest for the weary. He binds up the brokenhearted. Never will he leave us or forsake us. God is love.

Out of this, we’ve understandably developed this idea that God meets all our emotional needs. “Put your relationship with God first” translates into, “Run to God first with all your joys and pains.” Jesus is your best friend, Christians will say. Jesus is my boyfriend, teen girls will say. And woe to those who say otherwise — if you don’t find your emotional security in God, we’re warned, we’ll ruin all our relationships, human and divine.

It’s idolatry to expect any one person to fulfill all our needs. Only Jesus can do that.

When I first started dating, I felt guilty and idolatrous all the time, because, frankly, I preferred my boyfriend’s comfort to God’s. When I ran to God first and sobbed it all before him, I was met with silence. No words of advice. No hugs. No stupid jokes that lightened the mood. Just cold, existential silence…and the constant nagging thought that any comforting emotion I did feel was probably of my own manufacturing. And the other nagging thought that I shouldn’t think that way, and then that other one, where it was sinful of me to even expect an emotional experience, because spirituality wasn’t all about emotions, even though only God could ultimately meet my emotional needs.

Running to God first left me more distraught than running across campus to curl up next to a physically present person who verbally whispered, “I love you,” who advised me out loud in real time, who had real arms to hug me and a real mouth to tell me it was all okay.

Did he always meet my emotional needs? No, of course not. But it was less painful, even if equally frustrating, when my fallible boyfriend (or friend, or parent, or sibling, or professor) let me down emotionally than the perfect, omniscient, omnipresent God.

And the best of human comfort was by far preferable to the best of comfort I experienced alone with God. I could walk away from friends and family and feel full to the brim emotionally. I could walk away satisfied from a “God moment,” as I called them, but it was shorter lived, involved more emotional investment, was not reliably accessible, and rarely, if ever, left me overflowing.

For much of my childhood, I experienced periods where only Jesus was my friend. It was fine. I got by. But I much prefer life when I have human friends who laugh and hug and tease and physically exist without any mental exertion. Just Jesus was a lame friend, to be blasphemously honest, even if he was, in some vague, inaccessible sense, always there.

Like I said, scandalous. Idolatrous. Real Christians don’t feel that way. Hence the intense amount of guilt I felt about my closest relationships.

I question that now.

In much of mainstream Western spirituality (both Catholic and Protestant), emotions are categorized as primarily spiritual. The measure of one’s spirituality, to some extent, is one’s emotional connection to God. We might not admit it in our doctrinal statements, but I don’t think I’m alone in identifying the Christians with their hands raised, eyes closed, tears streaming down their faces as the more spiritual (especially if this response is consistent every single Sunday).

This is called pietism, an Eastern Orthodox priest told me. We prefer powerful sermons. We like our music stirring and emotional. If you’re Catholic, you depict Christ primarily as battered and anguished, hanging on a bloodied cross.

All of this to evoke some sort of emotional response, with the assumption that emotions really are spiritual, transcendent, and other-worldly.

But are they?

The more I study psychology, the more I’m convinced that emotions belong solidly in the physical realm. Physicality — illness, chemical imbalances, stress on the one hand; massage, exercise, warm baths on the other — affects mood. I’m amazed at how many problems a good night’s sleep solves when nothing else will.

And touch, we’re learning more and more, is vital to human well-being. Psychologists link a lack of human touch to aggression and an inability to regulate negative emotions in men, because there are limited forms of physical affection that men can give and receive without being perceived as sexual. Neglected infants who rarely receive cuddling suffer developmental delays and permanent mental damage. And on the flipside, infants who get regular skin-to-skin contact with their caregivers receive a developmental boost.

But we don’t need science to tell us how difficult life is when you’re far away from close friends and family and there’s nobody there to listen or give you a hug. It’s no shocker that we’re happier and healthier when connected to a good marriage, family, or community.

It shouldn’t be blasphemous to list consistent emotional and physical connection to other humans as a psychological and physical necessity. Yes, necessity.

We Christians are uncomfortable with thinking of companionship as a necessity, partly because of pietism and partly because good relationships aren’t as easily acquired as other necessities in life. It seems selfish to call relationships a necessity when so many come from broken families, operate without close friends, or long to be married. We want to offer hope to those less communally fortunate (especially if we find ourselves one of the lonely ones).

That’s where much of our strange, pious sayings originate. We tell women that Jesus can be their boyfriend to take away their heartache about being single. We tell kids that Jesus can be their best friend to give them something to grab onto when they’re bullied or isolated. We tell the lonely that Jesus is everywhere and always there, unlike any human. And we beef up that relationship with Jesus — he’s all I need; if you’ve got Jesus, you’ve got everything; even people in happy relationships need to run to Jesus first, or they’ll be a wreck.

But we know, deep down, that’s not true. Yes, Jesus can give hope, but Jesus cannot meet our emotional needs, not the way a human can, because emotional needs are primarily physical needs — like clothes and food and shelter. Just as we cannot wear, eat, or set up house in Jesus, we cannot meet our emotional needs in him.

There is a sense in which Jesus can meet our emotional needs, and it is in the same sense that he meets our other physical needs — through other people. He provides for our emotional needs through our own efforts to reach out and join community, just as he provides for our other physical needs through our own efforts to find a job and earn a paycheck. And when we are incapable of meeting our physical needs — whether it’s an emotional poverty or a financial poverty — he commands his body to be there with food, clothing, shelter, and, yes, friendship, if need be.

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. — Teresa of Avila

Ironically, this meeting of physical needs is a deeply spiritual act. “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this,” James tells us, “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction.” He goes on to say,

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

This is precisely what we do when we tell emotionally needy people to run to Jesus. “Go in peace,” we tell them, “find friendship and love,” when it is through our physical body, our friendship, our presence that God wishes to reach them.

We can run to God when we run to others. We can connect with God when we connect with others. God is pleased when we eat real food, live in real houses, feel real heat, and get real hugs from real bodies when we need them. It is a terrible, terrible lie to guilt a person for wanting human touch and companionship, to send them on their knees to Jesus without giving them the tools to meet their emotional needs.

Which leads me to say that the tools to meet our emotional needs are not merely having friends, being married, or starting a family. People will not always be there, and even if they’re there physically, they’re not always there emotionally.

And even then, we can misdiagnose our emotional problems when we rely too heavily on others without developing self-regulation, self-soothing, and independence; when we pine away for a boyfriend while ignoring other relationships right in front of us; when we put too high of expectations on others. Sometimes our desire for companionship can distract us from the need to love ourselves, meet other physical needs, get an attitude adjustment, or just go take a nap. And of course our desperation for human love can manifest itself in a myriad of spiritual problems too.

But this is true for all physical needs. We can have too much or too little of material things that then causes mental, physical, and spiritual problems. We can be unregulated in our desire for material things. That doesn’t negate our need for food or clothing or work; it’s just to say that sometimes we need other things too, or we need to order our desires to get the most out of what we already have.

Many Christians today, particularly if they bow out of the long tradition of sacramental theology, are ascetics and reductionists when it comes to spirituality: the more you can believe without any sort of physical aid, the more you can deny your physicality (this unconscious thinking goes), the stronger Christian you are. Rosaries, weekly Eucharist, icons, the other five of the sacraments, candles, and incense are seen as primarily stumblingblocks to a real relationship with God.

Human relationships are treated the same way. Some Christians never attend church because their relationship with God allegedly doesn’t need a communal aspect. And if you try to tell someone that a big part of your relationship with God involves giving and receiving human love, you will get many questions about the legitimacy of your spirituality.

This is completely out of touch with the spirituality presented in Scripture, tradition, and the reality of who Jesus is.

Jesus became God with us in an incarnate, physical way. He fed the hungry. He healed the sick. He took a child on his knee. He developed relationships with others, who became so close to him that they leant upon his bosom during a supper that two thousand years later allows us to partake of him in a physical way. And even though he is no longer on earth, we experience God’s grace and presence through bread, wine, water, and chrism. Christianity is sacramental because our God became incarnate, and our God became incarnate because he knows our physical needs.

Sacramentalism aside, the fact that God instituted a community of people and commands that we partake in that community shows us that God will not call us to loneliness — ever. Loneliness is not a sustainable life for any human, even a human who has Jesus in her heart.

But loneliness builds dependence on God, a pious Christian might argue. It might, just as starvation might bring one closer to God. There are many mysteries about how this world works and how God works in it for good, but we do not stop feeding the hungry and helping the poor just because God might do a spiritual work.

In the same way, as part of Christ’s body, I am obligated to help those who are emotionally impoverished, regardless of what God can do and is doing spiritually through that impoverishment. And as a human being with a body, I am obligated to meet my emotional needs in a physical, emotional, human way.

So I will first run to my husband’s arms when I need comfort, and thank God that I can.

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Saved by Affirming the Right Moral Stance

Just a quick thought, in light of Article X in the Nashville Statement: If our salvation is dependent on picking the right side during turbulent culture wars, the majority of our heroes of the faith is in hell for racism, sexism, and violence.

Martin Luther advocated horrific violence against Jews.

Augustine was, shall we say, not trying to look anti-misogynist.

Many great American Christians owned slaves and thought white people were superior to black people because the Bible clearly says so. 

Do we really want to get into this territory of deciding who is in and who is out based on where they land during the culture wars? Do we really want to take it upon ourselves to condemn the millennia of Christians before us who held the wrong social views? Do we really want to go there?

I certainly don’t. I’m not qualified to judge other people’s souls or the work God is doing in them. I believe there’s great urgency and need to discuss what is the Christian view on certain social issues, but that is far different from saying there’s a need to discern who is damned and who is saved — particularly on the basis of one, controversial topic.

It’s telling that those who support Article X don’t want to “go there” when it comes to any other moral issue. Apparently, supporting LGBTQ+ people after careful research, prayer, and study is a damnable offense, but the Christians who came before us who advocated violence instead of peace, racism instead of dignity, misogyny instead of equality — they get a free pass? God isn’t as strict on the supporters of other social evils as he is on the supporters of homosexuality?

How pathetic a gospel whose effectiveness wears off with one dose of LGBTQ+ acceptance! A gospel that covers a multitude of racial sins but just can’t quite reach LGBTQ+ acceptance. Knowing my own proclivity toward ignorance and misunderstanding, I find no comfort in grace contingent on me figuring out an issue as complicated, personal, and emotional as same-sex orientation and gender dysphoria.

The irony is that we all struggle with what is right and what is wrong. We all fall prey to misinformation and a lack of opportunity to learn the truth. We all have a tendency to get caught up in what our tribe says and lambaste the opposing side. We all share the same nature and the same Spirit and still come to radically different conclusions. We all believe that our careful, prayerful opinions (and even our rash, bigoted ones) are the Christian way. And often, we all once held the viewpoint we now oppose — with equal conviction about what the Bible clearly says….

Do we really want to be damned by the same standard of human frailty we all share?

Do we even want to judge ourselves in this way — that back when we believed such and such a view, even while we loved Jesus and sought his heart, we were damned? But now that our thinking evolved through whatever journey it took, we are saved by our affirmation of this moral, political thing?

Lord, have mercy on my soul if that’s the case, because I loved Jesus and believed some pretty abhorrent, ignorant things at the same time. Thank goodness I reached a state of enlightenment on moral issues before an untimely death.

This is what is meant when Jesus said, “Judge not, lest you too be judged.”

Nobody escapes damnation if salvation is dependent on believing the right things instead of on the scandalous mercy, grace, and love of God.

If we want a gospel, a grace, a salvation dependent on our political, moral stances, so be it — but we too will face the hellfire to which we damned others.

The Irrelevancy of the Nashville Statement

Article 10 of the Nashville Statement.

I waffle back and forth between anger and uncontrollable laughter at the Nashville Statement. Anger, because it is so spectacularly tone deaf. Laughter, because it is so spectacularly tone deaf.

Nothing prompted the Nashville Statement except the same old impending, post-Christian apocalypse already upon us, driven by the spirit of the secular age. In other words, there was no particular driving force except everyday evangelical paranoia. I mention this only because there are several other things that immediately come to mind as more timely for evangelicals to address.

How about a statement against white supremacy, what with this year’s national displays of xenophobia and racism culminating in white supremacists marching in the streets and feeding off the President’s forgiving words? Or speaking of the President, perhaps a statement against the many sexual sins he embodies? Surely, if it’s always timely to make broad, sweeping statements of judgment about sexuality, this year — when many in the evangelical church actively support a serial, unrepentant adulterer, fornicator, accused rapist, and sexist — would be a great year to chastise the church’s departure from the traditional Christian (hetero)sexual ethic.

Or if evangelicals must publicly state something about homosexuality, why not address all the grieving, estranged LGBTQ+ Christians whose “loving” families abandoned them, ridiculed them, and persecuted them? Why not apologize for the many ways the traditional Christian sexual ethic has been wielded as a weapon rather than as a healing? Why not acknowledge the high suicidal rate among transgender kids? Why not finally take the pastoral stance this issue desperately needs?

Of course, this is an oft-repeated criticism of the evangelical church — why are you always talking about homosexuality as the chief of all cultural evils when there are so many evils to choose from? But I will repeat it: Why, evangelical church, are you always talking about homosexuality as the chief of all cultural evils when there are so many evils to choose from? Even if you believe in the traditional sexual ethic, why is it that two gay Christians in a loving relationship is cataclysmically destructive in a way rampant divorce, adultery, white supremacy, abuse, and hateful rhetoric are not?

Yes, the breakdown of the family is alarming. But it should not be controversial to say that parents shunning their gay children, transgender kids committing suicide, husbands abusing their wives under a divine mandate, authoritarian parenting, porn use, infidelity, an adulterer-in-chief — those sorts of heterosexual sins are breaking down the family in a way gay marriage and transgender identity cannot and will not.

Like I said, when I first heard about the Nashville Statement, I wanted to laugh. The actual evangelical church — not to mention the church at large — is not particularly interested in hearing the same old stance against homosexuality. They’re more caught up in discussions of race, leaders trading their moral authority for political affluence, and the Christian machine’s destruction against those who disagree on secondary issues.

The Nashville Statement is thus wholly irrelevant to conversations and concerns that are most pressing or should be most pressing to the American church in its current political, sociocultural, and historical context.

Then again, I’m not surprised at its irrelevancy. Its callousness, poor timing, and ignorance of the concerns of real people who actually struggle with being a person of color or gay or gender dysphoric in the church is not a coincidence.

The statement was named after the location of its drafting, in the footsteps of historic articulations of orthodoxy like the Nicene Creed. The hubris of even daring to associate the Nashville Statement with the likes of the Nicene Creed shows an appalling ignorance about orthodoxy.

For one thing, all historic articulations of orthodox faith were ecumenical. The whole church got together and hashed out their differences with the hope that the Holy Spirit would guide them. There was an understanding that the truest devotion to Christian orthodoxy could not be accomplished by one church alone but by the whole, catholic Church. This is true from the very beginning, when the apostles met to discuss issues of inclusion and moral practice back in Acts 15.

There is nothing like that about the Nashville Statement — no wrestling, no invitation or openness to hear what God might doing in the LGBTQ+ Christian community, no input from those who disagree. There was nothing at all surprising about the Nashville Statement: it repeated the same poorly articulated fundamentalist party line about sexuality, with the intention of drawing a line between its adherents and its dissenters.

It’s backwards from how the church has operated when defining things as orthodox: first, the drafters of the Nashville Statement articulated what orthodoxy is; then, they issued it to the larger church to deal with.

This “sign your name” style of orthodoxy only further divides a divided, uninformed church catholic. The fact that there are counterstatements popping up around the internet, also articulating the one and only stance on Christian sexuality and inviting signatures from laypeople and clergy alike, demonstrates how ultimately ineffective the Nashville Statement was as an attempt to clarify orthodoxy once and for all.

But it’s not really about orthodoxy, is it? It’s not about rallying the church catholic to truth or inviting the LGBTQ+ community into wholeness and healing. Those who signed the Nashville Statement thinking such were sorely deceived. As president of the Council of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood explicitly stated, it’s about division. It’s about drawing lines in the sand.

It’s the classic evangelical obsession of reducing Christianity to who’s in and who’s out.

But the current debate is not primarily about the traditional Christian sexual ethic versus the secular spirit of the age — the who’s in and the who’s out. The debate is about whether the effects of the traditional Christian sexual ethic and the articulation of the traditional Christian sexual ethic are consistent with Christ. There is a huge gulf between those who signed the Nashville Statement and those who didn’t — and it’s, surprisingly, not between those who support the traditional Christian sexual ethic and those who don’t.

The signers of the Nashville Statement talked about the doctrine itself (“beautiful” and “precious” were common adjectives). The dissenters, even if they agreed with the traditional Christian sexual ethic, talked about the ugliness, despair, burdening, and violence these views and the traditional way of expressing these views had on the LGBTQ+ community.

Jen Hatmaker sums up the real issue in a series of tweets: “If the fruit of doctrine regularly & consistently creates shame, self-harm, suicide, & broken hearts, families, & churches, we [should] listen. … If the natural end to a doctrine is not consistently leading to whole, healthy, vibrant lives in Christ, something is wrong with it.”

This is at the heart of the evangelical debate on LGBTQ+ issues.

The Nashville Statement fails to understand that debate. It dismisses out of hand that its precious, beautiful doctrine, as stated, is or could at all be partially or wholly responsible for LGBTQ+ suffering. It offers its doctrine as an unequivocal solution to LGBTQ+ pain, when the people closest to the pain are insisting the doctrine is the cause of that pain.

Because of this misunderstanding, the real losers are those who think the Nashville Statement’s exclusion will affect the church. The Nashville Statement drew so sharp a line in the sand that its adherents cut themselves off from the rest of the church still in the throes of this debate. By regurgitating a solution without understanding the problem, they made themselves irrelevant. Laughably, they think a small segment of conservative evangelicalism, already compromised in morals and principles, has the authority to determine orthodoxy for the entire church catholic. In their zeal to decide who’s in and who’s out, they have only made themselves the outsiders.

But the Nashville Statement has no authority — neither in actuality nor in reputation. And so the rest of the church will grow deeper in wisdom, love, and truth, while the Nashville Statement fades into obscurity.

The Nashville Statement is nothing more than people wanting to be right stating their beliefs in public with no desire to hear about the real life consequences their beliefs wreak on the weaker — just another clanging cymbal in a cacophony of irrelevancy.

Photo Credit: Religion News Service