Trey Pearson and Sexual Orientation as Identity

I’m responding to an article posted on the 614columbus website about Trey Pearson, a musician in the Christian Rock band Everyday Sunday. The article is focused on Trey’s recent coming out as gay. The entire article is incredibly helpful and insightful to me. It reveals the struggles of someone who has lived with same-sex attraction as a Christian. It explains how difficult we have made it as the church for people who struggle with what has historically been viewed as a particularly ugly sin.

I sympathize with Trey, and I am disappointed that he did not find the freedom to talk to someone about his struggles until just recently. The church should be a place where we can be open about our struggles. We should be a place where judgment is rare and grace is common.

I want to address an important theme in the article about Trey Pearson, and throughout our society as it is shifting to be more accepting of alternative lifestyles.

The theme is homosexuality as an identity. I was listening to news radio the other day and heard that Justin Trudeau will be the first Prime Minister to participate in a Pride Parade, and how this marks a dramatic change in Canadian culture. I read and hear about the celebration of the LGBTQ community and how we are crossing over into a new era of acceptance.

I am saddened by this. I am saddened because we are celebrating a part of humanity that is so very broken. It is not broken because we have rejected those with alternative sexual orientation or lifestyles. It is not broken because of the fact that many do struggle with sexual identity.

It is broken because we have put such an emphasis on our sexual orientation and expression. I am saddened because we are celebrating the fact that we have completely lost sight of what sex and romantic intimacy is meant to express between two people.

Trey Pearson, in the article mentioned above, said this: “Despite our best efforts, however, I have come to accept that there is nothing that is going to change who I am.” He is referring to his marriage and any attempt at being a good husband and lover for his wife.

That statement from Trey broke my heart. It breaks my heart just as much as it breaks my heart knowing how the church has failed to be a safe place for him to be open about his orientation. The church has failed Trey not only by making him feel guilty about his orientation. The church has also failed to tell him that his marriage is not dependant on his sexual relationship with his wife. The church has failed to teach him that being a husband–being human–is far larger than sex.

Not long ago someone asked me for my opinion on public washrooms becoming gender-neutral in our country and in the United States. She was concerned that it would cause problems and wanted to know what I thought would be a better option.

I said, we have a much larger problem. Our problem is that we think our identity can be reduced to our sexual orientation. We think we have to distinguish ourselves as straight, homosexual, bisexual, transgendered, etc.

I said, this problem would go away if we saw ourselves and each person as unique not because of their sexual orientation, but because they have been made by a very creative and loving Father, who has filled each of us with characteristics, personalities, desires and passions that are meant to reflect his infinitely deep character and imagination.

I believe that we need to stop this nonsense of celebrating the freedom to express our sexual identity and orientation.

I don’t have much to say about whether or not God made Trey Pearson to have same-sex attraction. I honestly don’t know and frankly don’t really care too much about that. It’s a reality he faces every day. But I don’t think the issue is same-sex attraction. I think his issue is that we have made such a big deal about it being a source of identity.

By identifying himself as a homosexual, Trey is limiting and reducing his uniqueness to sexual orientation, and that is the greatest tragedy in this entire issue. I don’t blame Trey, I blame the church. We have failed to disciple people like Trey in the true Way of Jesus. As a pastor, I want to be part of the solution by standing on the truth that, for Christian people, sex does not give us our identity. Jesus Christ does.

When Madonna and the Church have the Same Message

1035x1035-rebelheartDo Madonna and the church offer the same message of hope?

Living for Love

These are the opening lyrics and the chorus for a song by Madonna titled “Living for Love” that hit #1 on music charts in 41 countries this week:

First you love me and I let you in
Made me feel like I was born again
You empowered me, you made me strong
Built me up and I can do no wrong
I let down my guard, I fell into your arms
Forgot who I was, I didn’t hear the alarms
Now I’m down on my knees, alone in the dark
I was blind to your game
You fired a shot in my heart

Took me to heaven and let me fall down
Now that it’s over
I’m gonna carry on
Lifted me up, and watched me stumble
After the heartache, I’m gonna carry on
Living for love
Living for love
I’m not giving up
I’m gonna carry on
Living for love
I’m Living for love
Not gonna stop
Love’s gonna lift me up

Here is what Madonna said about this song:

The way we’re going to change the world, or the way we’re going to ultimately feel joy, is through unity. I’m certainly not encouraging religious behavior; when I say people are thinking in a religious way, I think they’re thinking about rules and dogma and laws that separate. When I say spirituality, I mean a consciousness that has an understanding that we are all in this together, that we are all one. We have to find a way to feel joy and to bring joy to the world together.1

Jesus Hates Religion

Now, here is a quote from a well-known pastor, Alex Himaya, about his book “Jesus Hates Religion”:

I think we as Christians have a reputation as conversation stoppers. When we engage people on the other side of an issue, most of the time, the conversation doesn’t end the way we want it to. It gets stopped short or our side of the issue ends up being misrepresented. And that’s largely our fault. We prefer to be heard, as opposed to actually listening. We want the benefit of the doubt, but we’re reluctant to give it. Instead, we lead with our idea of what’s right and wrong – our belief – instead of leading with love.

The best way to stop a conversation short is by being judgmental and “religious.” By that, I mean we come off as confrontational and condemning, rather than relational and loving. Religion, for me, is a man-made path to God.2

Jesus’ Message: Salvation

The reason I was drawn to this issue this week is because I am preaching this Sunday on John 6: Jesus feeding the five thousand. Jesus was a really popular guy at the beginning of John 6. Thousands of people were following him. He was doing everything right: healing, loving, caring, bringing a message of hope and love to all of Israel. And then these words: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you… do you take offence at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” (John 6:53; 61-62)

Why would Jesus says these things? These words caused all but twelve people to stop following him. They were very unpopular words. Telling Jews to eat the flesh and drink the blood of himself is not the way to win over followers. Performing miracles, however, did wonderfully well. Yet, he didn’t give them another miracle. He gave them a message that offended them and scared them off.

The reason Jesus did not give the people more bread and more miracles is because he wasn’t out to satisfy the appetites of the human nature. He was out to change the appetites of the human nature. The people wanted bread, but Jesus offers salvation. We want miracles, healing, provision. But Jesus offers something better: a new nature.

I compared the two examples above not to show that Dr. Himaya is wrong. His message is quite accurate. Jesus hates when we try to get to God on our own. However, as a pastor, I am cautious about implying that the Christian message can be a popular one in our world. Our message tells people that they are sinners, that they need to repent and believe in Jesus. This is, unapologetically, a religious thing in the eyes of the world. The world sees the gospel message as religion, and we should not be sorry for that. 

Madonna is close to understanding the gospel. We will change the world through unity. However, I pray she will see that the only thing that truly unites us is fellowship with our Creator. And the only one who offers that is Jesus, through a religious act: repentance and belief.

  1. from: http://www.rollingstone.com/music/features/rebel-heart-madonna-reveals-the-story-behind-six-surprise-songs-20141221?page=2 []
  2. http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2014/06/15/jesus-hates-religion-really-does []

Professionally Holy

“You probably won’t like this, but I work at a liquor store.”

I had asked this gentleman what he does for a living after just telling him that I was recently hired as a pastor. My first experience being stereotyped as a pastor. I have to admit, I didn’t like it.

I recently read an article in Leadership Journal about making the best of stereotypes as a pastor. One of the stereotypes is that pastors are out of touch with, or sheltered from, “the real world.”

The author turns this stereotype around by pointing out that, “if the only things I pay attention to are what everyone else is paying attention to, I have nothing to say.” In other words, pastors need to be somewhat disengaged from “the real world” because the business of a pastor is to be immersed in the world of prayer, the Scriptures, and the wisdom of God. We are in the business of knowing God and knowing the human heart so that we can help to point the way to Christ.

It is a relief to me knowing that immersion in prayer and Scripture may at times cause me to be thought of as out of touch with some aspects of the world. So, the next time someone thinks they are making me feel uncomfortable by what they have said, I can be reminded that it is all part of the territory of being “professionally holy.” I can embrace it as a calling rather than a criticism.

Andy Crouch and Culture Making

Andy Crouch Culture MakingI plan on writing a review of Culture Making once I’m done reading it, but I wanted to write an article on one of Andy Crouch’s points because I think it’s worth emphasizing.

He makes the statement that “real culture making… begins with a decision about which cultural world… we will attempt to make something of.”1

Most of us do not automatically think about culture this way. Usually we think about “the culture” as though it is the society we live in. As Christians, we want to change “the culture.” Many would consider someone “cultured” when they are actively engaged with fine arts or have travelled abroad extensively, usually referring to experiencing ethnic diversity.

However, Andy Crouch is trying to correct our way of thinking about culture. He is referring to the cultural worlds that make up our society. When we want to make a difference in the world and “change the culture,” what we really need to be asking is what part of culture should we be focussing on. Rather than changing the culture, we are changing culture. Our society is made up of lots of different cultures.

I love this. Here’s why: it has helped me feel more secure about pursuing a specific pastoral role. Since beginning to engage with Crouch through both a conference held at Prairie a few months ago, and through his book, I have become more confident in focussing on family ministry. The family is a very important cultural world in all societies, and I am quite concerned about the health of the culture of family, particularly in the church.

Andy Crouch asks his readers to consider which cultural world we want to make something of. I think this is a great question to consider, particularly for church leaders, but also for anyone who wants to transform their society.

More on Crouch and Culture Making toward the end of January.

  1. From page 48 of the 2008 paperback edition. []

Above and Beyond

Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box,and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’ Luke 21:1-4

Imagine if the widow in the story was someone you knew. Let’s say she is someone in your church. She is elderly and has been a widow for many years. She is living off of welfare, and has a tiny bit of money for things other than food, bills and regular giving to the church. Would you expect her to give her last bit of money to the church? Of course not. In fact, you would think she should treat herself to something she would enjoy with any extra money she had.

If this widow would not have put her last bit of money in the offering, would anyone have said, “What a selfish woman, she should be more generous!” Do you think God would be disappointed that she kept that money for herself?

There is a very important thing happening here. It is this: The widow understands how valuable it is to go beyond what is expected. You see, everything that we do here on earth has an eternal impact. God recognizes and evaluates every single little thing that we do while we are here on earth.

So, when making decisions about giving, serving, showing love, being kind and respecting others, it is important to remind yourself of this: My actions in this moment will have eternal consequences.

And ask yourself this question: Am I doing what is expected of me, or am I going above and beyond?

Just as Ecclesiastes says: go ahead, have fun and enjoy your life. Do what will make you happy, but keep in mind, everything you do on earth will be remembered when you are face to face with the Lord.

Disclaimer: I wrote this article over six years ago, and there were no references to other sources in the document, so I’m assuming it is my original work. However, it is possible this content is based on someone else’s work. I do not intend to plagiarize. If you believe this is the work of someone else, please let me know.

Christian Hypocrites

It is a common Christian stereotype, and it is what often keeps people out of the church.

There was a fairly large study conducted not long ago, which was published in a book called unChristian. In it, there is a 25 page chapter dedicated to this description of Christians: hypocritical.

hypocrisy: “the practice of claiming to have moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.” (New Oxford American Dictionary)

Have you ever thought of Christians as hypocritical? If you are a Christian, have you ever thought of yourself as hypocritical?

I hope so. Here’s why:

The call to holiness is too large for a human to live up to. It would seem that in order to avoid being called a hypocrite, a Christian must do one of two things: 1) Live a perfectly holy life according to God’s standards, or; 2) lower the standard of holiness to match reality.

Clearly, option one is impossible and I don’t think I need to explain why option two is a bad idea.

I expect to be called a hypocrite many times in life. When I preach, I am preaching about a God who’s holiness cannot be matched by anyone. I am preaching about a call to holiness that I definitely will never live up to.

It is important to note that Jesus called out the hypocrites. We read about it in Matthew 23:13-36.

The people Jesus was referring to were the teachers of the law, and he referred to them as whitewashed tombs: beautiful on the outside, but lifeless on the inside.

Here was the problem: the teachers of the law were caught up in making a big deal out of things that were not considered holiness in God’s eyes. They were actually lowering the standard of holiness by focusing on outward practices, neglecting justice and mercy and faithfulness, and then claimed to be living holy lives!

Hypocrisy is the practice of claiming to be holy when you’re not. However, what is often wrongly referred to as hypocrisy, is the practice of preaching a higher standard of holiness than what is actually being practiced.

The key difference is in what we claim to BE.

My challenge when I preach is to call people to such a high standard of true holiness (love, mercy, grace, faithfulness, etc.), that they recognize just how far we all fall short. This leads to a stronger dependence on Christ and further away from the kind of hypocrisy Christ condemned.

The world may still accuse us of hypocrisy when we call people to live holy lives and then fail to do so ourselves. But, we can rest assured that our holiness is not found in what we do but to whom we belong. The trouble is when we claim to belong to Christ, but then exchange the true marks of holiness for false righteousness.

So, when the world does call you a hypocrite, agree with them. Don’t defend yourself. It will only make you look even more foolish. Live a life that strives for true holiness in everything you do, and when you mess up, admit it, learn from it, and move on.