Monday, March 14, 2011

James Frey's Final Testament of the Holy Bible

There really isn't anything that new or innovative about this, but I thought it would be worth mentioning. Lots of authors/artists/singers/movie makers think they're being really edgy when they try and picture Jesus with a decreased set of personal standards. James Frey has a new book coming out on Good Friday which is a supposed third and final testament for the Bible.

He's tried to imagine Jesus living today in New York, going by the name Ben Jones. Frey's Jesus lives with a prostitute, performs gay marriages (he even messes around with guys some himself), smokes pot, and is an alcoholic. Though Jesus is radically different, Judas is the "same as he was two thousand years ago", a "selfish man who thinks of himself before the good of humanity, who values money more than love."

Frey is known for his controversial, heavily embellished personal memoirs called Million Little Pieces, for which he ended up taking a lot of flack. He published them as true and accurate, but as people began fact-checking, other than the fact that Frey was actually a criminal and drug addict, not much else can be verified. Oprah was particularly displeased with him.

I bring this up to say/observe:

1. Many of my readers are Christians, and I think it's prudent of us to be aware of cultural trends on the front end when we can. This book may not make too much of a splash, but if it does, let's be aware of it.

2. I am always amazed how that when people try to re-imagine Jesus, he ends up looking exactly like them. This is certainly true of the Jesus Seminar. They have even published their own version of the Gospels with color coded texts. The colors indicate the level of certainty that the words present are actually the words of Jesus, or are historically reliable. The amazing thing is, if you only read the passages that they have voted--yes actually voted--are truly attributable to Jesus, he only teaches exactly the things that they happen to think and believe. We all wrestle with the aspects of Jesus and his teaching that call us into obedience to him, and rather than submit, it's more convenient to trim Jesus down to fit our comfort levels.

3. Frey's Jesus is no better than his Judas. The obtuse irony here actually made me chuckle to myself. Judas is a "selfish man" who thinks of himself and loves money, but Jesus here is a selfish man who thinks of himself and loves sexual indulgence and alcohol. Not much of a point to following this messiah...he's no better than we are, and certainly in no place to instruct people morally.

4. I wonder if Frey's next book will be the sequel to the Quran. Perhaps he can call it "The Great Satan Strikes Back," or , "Mohammed Rides Again." Seriously, though, I'm so bored with people who think they are being edgy by attacking or mocking Christianity. They only do it because Christians won't do anything to endanger their health. I'd like to see someone with the guts to try this approach to interpreting Mohammed's life in a modern setting, especially the part about his six-year-old wife...no worries, he waited until she was at least 9 to consummate it. Of course, in all honesty, I think that such a creation would be a thoroughly unproductive thing. I'm just noting the huge discrepancy about the way in which Christianity gets mocked and slandered without fear of retribution, as compared to Islam.

Friday, March 04, 2011

How Can Churches Move Forward On The Gay Issue?

I make this post with a good deal of hesitation. My goal is not to stir things up, but to push all of us Christians to be the kind of community that Christ envisioned. These thoughts are my own, and if you have anything to add, I'll gladly hear yours. I just think we've got to be deliberate about how we move forward on this.

Several months ago, I was still having my blog feed to my FB account. Ironically, though my blog is much more accessible publicly, I get a lot more response to my posts by people on FB. I wrote one article, speaking out against Obama's efforts to promote and celebrate homosexuality, which I see as the deterioration of morality. This led to a very involved discussion among me and my friends, and in the end, it left me feeling unsatisfied. Since most of my blog readers are a good deal more civil than some of my FB friends (sadly, it's the ones who agree with me with whom I've had the most issues), I opted not to share my blog on FB any more. I don't regret my stances, but there are several things I wish I would have worded differently. Sexual preferences are an intensely personal issue. I had made up my mind not to post any more on the subject, yet it keeps on being a very relevant issue that I'm thinking about.

Just this week, a group of anonymous people claiming to be current and former Harding students published a work called The State of the Gay at Harding University. For several reasons, I'm convinced that there may have been some outside organization involved in this (it is both too professional in some ways, and too out of touch with Harding's environment in other ways). I decided to bite my tongue about the whole thing, until I got a call from a close friend at Harding who asked a challenging question: "Mark, I understand what the Bible teaches. I agree that it's unambiguous about extramarital sex being against the will of God. But we've also got to be realistic. There are going to be gay people around us. There just are. What should our churches be doing? How do we move forward?"

Now there, in my mind, is a productive conversation to be had.

What I want to do with this post is to try and explore some ideas about what Christians need to be doing in a world that is increasingly accepting homosexuality as normative. Let me first reference two things:
1. Albert Mohler's excellent article on the cultural factors that have produced the current mindset.
2. Cole Yoakum's post that really started helping me think about this in some ways I hadn't before. I don't agree with Cole on all aspects, but he's moving in some good directions with his thinking.

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I invite anyone and everyone to weigh in on this conversation, but based on how I see things, here are my suggestions for what we should do.

1. The Church needs to understand Her own identity as a redemptive community.

We should be a place for people to find rest for their souls. A place where broken people find a better purpose. I know that God delights in displaying his strength through our weaknesses.

When you read of Paul's experiences in Corinth, he says in I Cor. 6:9-11:
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
Roman culture embraced homosexual practices, and even considered male friendship to be the highest form of love (See Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity, p.70-76). In every culture, the church has to articulate and embody Christ's vision for a better community. In Corinth, this vision certainly incorporated those inclined towards fornication, homosexuality, greed, alcohol, or dishonesty. Paul says, "That's what some of you were!"

I think in approaching the issue, we should begin with the question, "How can God take what is broken in this situation and use it for his glory?" Our goal for everyone should be redemption, because redemption is what we seek for our own souls. The Church should be a place where everyone has a chance to use what they are for something better than their own empowerment.

2. We should spend more energy promoting virtuous living, rather than merely condemning sinful living.

If there's anything I've learned from my dialogue with people on gay-related issues, it's that we have been loud and clear about how Scripture condemns homosexuality. Gays know we believe they are doing wrong. Though there are some efforts on the fringes to reinterpret Paul's writings, these are very recent and innovative approaches that have arisen because of a cultural agenda. Billions of Christians over thousands of years have had no trouble understanding the text to mean what it says.

That having said, we all have passages that make us uncomfortable. As I watch Blu-rays on my nice HD television, sitting on my leather sectional, I personally don't enjoy reading passages that suggest I should not be so worried about accumulating earthly treasures. Why? Because I'm guilty of materialism. In America, we hardly even consider passages about fasting or self-denial. Nobody likes being confronted with their own shortcomings.

If our only approach to homosexuality is to say, "It's a sin!", then can we blame them for not wanting to show up? We don't preach against materialism or gluttony with nearly the passion that we do against homosexuality. Why? Because it's easier to condemn what we don't struggle with.

Though I'm fully convinced that all sexuality outside of marriage is sin, I think we can make the sinful aspect a component of the larger message, which should be about virtuous living. Jesus did this.

If you read through the sermon on the mount, Jesus will repeatedly address an issue, but rather than sticking with the legal right/wrong component, which he doesn't neglect, he takes it in the direction of "What kind of people should we be?"

Rather than merely not murdering people, we shouldn't even be overly critical of them, or call them names.
Rather than merely not cheating on our spouses, we should be people who don't even think about that sort of thing.
Rather than looking for 'Scriptural' reasons to divorce, we should be people who work actively to keep our vows and enrich our marriages.

You get the idea.

In terms of sexuality, rather than saying, "We're the 'Not Gay' Community!", wouldn't it be more productive to be a community that works hard at having self-control? That's relevant, whether you're gay or straight, and it targets the very same areas. Pornography and lust are huge problems in our culture, and all sexual temptation comes down to self-control. Am I wrong?

I am not suggesting we take the Osteen approach of refusing to talk about sin. I am suggesting that we acknowledge sin for what it is, but focus more on what it is to be like Jesus. Let's be truly virtuous people, rather than people who just sin a little less than the world does. It shouldn't surprise us that the world doesn't live like Christians, because they aren't Christians.

3. Let's think more deeply about how a person's non-attraction to the opposite sex might be used in God's service.

With homosexuality, many people just can't get past the 'gross' factor. Whether people are gay because of nature or because of nurture is really irrelevant. Some gays have changed their preferences with treatments, but others have tried treatments without successes. The fact is, like it or not, there will be some people whose attractions are only to their own sex.

Paul spoke candidly in Romans 7 about his own struggles with his body's inclinations. No matter how much he wanted to be one way, he discovered that he was another way. If you read these verses through a variety of lenses, whether it be sexual preferences, gossip, greed, etc., they ring very true, don't they?

Rather than ostracize people with homosexual urges as thoroughly unfit for service, could God use them for something nobler?

Cole's article really caught my attention on this point:
Their same-sex attraction might even set them in a very good position to do work and ministry in the Kingdom that straight people would have a problem with. Housing for young women, prostitute ministry, strip club ministry, really reaching out to single moms. These are works that are 1) neglected, 2) rocky terrain for married men to walk on and 3) especially hard for single straight men. An area where there is no temptation is the place you need to be!
Those were some entirely new ideas to me, and you may or may not care for those particular ones. But could there not be some merit to looking for ways to turn a weakness into a strength?

4. We need to reclaim a worldview that values single people.

After all, this is the clear teaching of I Corinthians 7. Ideally, everyone could stay single, dedicated only to God. Paul is happy for people to be married, and sees the value in the marriage relationship, but in the end, he really does consider it a more virtuous thing to be single.

I've felt badly for so many young people I've known who didn't have much luck or interest in the opposite sex. I've seen them berated by friends and family, "What's wrong with you? Can't you find a husband/wife? When are you getting married?" They'll set them up with random people on dates. It's as if we're ashamed of single people, or something is wrong with them.

On a side note, I think it's ridiculous how many churches will refuse to even consider hiring an unmarried man as a minister. It's a sad state of affairs when Paul himself would have a hard time getting a job at a church. Yes, they may be susceptible to temptation, but could you honestly tell me that lots of married men are not every bit as susceptible to the same temptations?

What if a lack of desire to be married was viewed as an inherently virtuous thing? What if our singles were treasured, rather than pressured? If we are going to expect gays to live a celibate life in order to be part of the church, it is important that they can feel loved, cherished, and respected in this way of living.

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I don't pretend to be an expert on how to handle all of this. What I do know is that sooner or later, we're all going to be confronted with how we're going to work with the gays in our own communities. Let's plan well, prepare well, and be sure that all people have the opportunity to experience the love of Christ, regardless of what roads they have traveled to get to where they are.

Your thoughts?