Saturday, May 14, 2016

Apparently, This Blog Takes Requests Now: A Response to John Wesley Reid

Like every writer or athlete or pizza delivery driver with an awful sense of direction, I go through slumps where trying to draw words out of my noggin is like trying to draw water out of a rock (unless you're Moses).

Sometimes, like this week, it is because I have got two funerals and a baby dedication all in one weekend and my brain has a finite amount of RAM.  Other times, it is because schoolwork has finally caught up with me.  And still other times, the creative cortex of my brain has simply decided to go on strike without first giving me advance notice (apparently, my brain is unionized).

So, during those slumps, I sometimes actually appreciate being asked if I am up for writing about something, like when a message landed in my inbox earlier this week from a good friend with an article attached to it and a single line of text: "Please eviscerate this article in a future blog post."

For this particular article, by John Wesley Reid (with a name like that, he really ought to lock up the lead role in the inevitable God's Not Dead 3: Revenge of the Sith Atheists), entitled "Five Trends Millennial Christians MUST STOP Doing," I was only too happy to oblige.


Because the very first item of the five is tolerance.

Yes, tolerance.

One of the most positive notions in the English language.

And why, oh why, should we stop being tolerant?

Because "Tolerance flies in the face of the gospel...Jesus was the prime example of love, but never does He display an ounce of tolerance."

Never, you say?

Oh boy.  Buckle up, my little care bears, because there's a lot of Scripture I'm about to throw at you (all Scripture quotes are from the Common English Bible translation.

"Just then, Jesus’ disciples arrived and were shocked that he was talking with a (Samaritan) woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” -John 4:27

"If people hear my words and don’t keep them, I don’t judge them. I didn’t come to judge the world but to save it. Whoever rejects me and doesn’t receive my words will be judged at the last day by the word I have spoken." -John 12:47-48

"Don’t judge, and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn, and you won’t be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven." -Luke 6:37

"John replied, “Master, we saw someone throwing demons out in your name, and we tried to stop him because he isn’t in our group of followers.” But Jesus replied, “Don’t stop him, because whoever isn’t against you is for you.” -Luke 9:49-50

Jesus tolerates a Samaritan woman arguing with him, despite the shocking nature of their interaction.  He proclaims a lack of judgment over even those who reject Him, saying that it is by the word He speaks--His teachings--that we are judged.  He teaches that a lack of judgment and condemnation are the keys to avoiding judgment and condemnation ourselves.  And he puts all of those teachings into practice when an unauthorized exorcist is reported to Him, and Jesus instructs His followers not to do anything, because "whoever isn't against you is for you."

Undoubtedly, this section about tolerance is largely directed at the GLBTQ community--I say this based on dog-whistle type phrases such as "Instead of hating sin for the separation that it causes between us and God, they accept the sins of others in the name of “loving them for who they are," a fairly obvious nod in the direction of sexual orientation.

The fruit of intolerance, in the case of GLBTQ people, is horrific, though: GLBTQ youth are far more likely to commit suicide, become homeless, and be bullied or assaulted at school compared to their straight or cis peers.  And when Jesus has an awful lot to say about us having life, these sorts of life-denying realities are a severe condemnation of Christianity's treatment of GLBTQ people.

We cannot simply "hate the sin, love the sinner" when it comes to sexual orientation, because saying that sexual orientation is a sin leads to these extraordinarily harmful--and sometimes lethal--effects.

Not only must we continue to be tolerant, we must learn to be even more tolerant, if we are to actually model ourselves on a Jesus who came that we might have life, and have it in abundance (John 10:10).

We Christian millennials are also told to stop neglecting theology.  Which, okay, fair enough.  Theology is important.

But it isn't more important than people.  I've said this before, but I'm going to keep repeating it until it starts sinking in: we have to start being more relational and less doctrinal.  Doctrine doesn't trump actual souls.

Apparently, the problem with this is "When theology is neglected Christian millennials succumb to weak cultural ideas and defective scriptural interpretation such as “Jesus just said to love people, so why should we be opposed to gay marriage?” and “the Bible says not to judge, so don’t tell me that I shouldn’t be sleeping with my boyfriend!” when the Bible actually tells Christians to judge each other (Matthew 7:24, 1 Corinthians 5:9-13)."

Frankly, I think millennial Scriptural interpretation is being rather essentialized here; most of us, I'd gander, are aware that Jesus didn't "just" say "to love people."  But more importantly, while Reid is slamming "defective scriptural interpretation," he in fact cites one verse (Matthew 7:24--ironically, a chapter that begins with Jesus explicitly telling us not to judge) that has nothing to do with Christians judging each other--that's a verse about the parable of a house on sand versus on rock, which is instructive rather than judgmental--and another verse that says Christians may judge each other but *not* people outside the church; in fact, Paul is explicitly saying in 1 Corinthians 5 to leave that judgment up to God.

So if someone outside the Christian faith is "sleeping with their boyfriend," guess what?  Simply love them and pray for them.  Don't judge them.  Even Paul says so.

None of that, by the by, is a takedown of accountability, the dismissal of which is also lamented by Reid: "If you call them out on wayward behavior they will notoriously accuse you of judging them and use the Bible to support their plight."

Tis is a strawman argument at best; I can say from personal experience, and with a high degree of confidence, that the millennial Christians I know, minister to, and am colleagues with in ministry (a) have very strong senses of personal sexual ethics--adultery repels them just as much as it does their elders, and (b) believe in accountability as something to be entered into with humility, not authoritarianism.

Put a different way: accountability has to be a two-way street.  If we have learned *nothing* else from the repeated sex and finance scandals involving far too many churches to count, it is that accountability cannot simply remain a top-down concept.  I keep my congregants accountable for what they say and do by engaging them in counsel and dialogue, but they have also kept me accountable when I have flown off the cuff with an un-Christian remark or gesture.

But hey, I guess this makes us notorious, I guess?

The church, which is currently suffering from a colossal deficit of trust among millennials, desperately needs that sort of reciprocity in accountability.  It is not that millennials are anti-accountability, not at all.  It is that we tend to be anti-unidirectional accountability.

Alas, all of that probably is construed as "church-bashing," which is yet another entry among the five on Reid's list.

Oh well.  If signing up to spend my one and only glorious, humble, wonderful life ministering within and without the church's confines qualifies me to say this, it is entirely possible--and sometimes necessary--to love something by critiquing it.  Not simply in a "dissent is the highest form of patriotism" sort of way or what have you, but simply in a "we're not going to be knee-jerk cheerleaders" way.

Because that, too, avoids true accountability.

It saddens me to see other Christians say that the church deserves a free pass on that level.  It communicates a sense of moral superiority and privilege, an expectation that we should not be scrutinized in the same ways as everyone and everything else.

When did the church I know and love become so fragile, so much like a house of cards, that it could not stomach such critique?

I don't pretend to know the answer to that question.  I'll simply content myself with saying this: the church needs what millennials have to offer.  Full stop.  For the church has always been reinventing and regenerating itself from generation to generation.  And if we stop that greatest of traditions now, by pushing away our fellow young believers, then, *then* there might actually be grounds for worry about the future of the body of Christ in this world.

But not a minute before then.

Thanks for reading.

Vancouver, Washington
May 14, 2016

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