Donald Trump isn’t called by God.

So if you search around much on the internet, you’ll stumble across a growing movement of Christians saying that Donald Trump is called by God to strike fear into the heart of America’s enemies.  I think this is something to prayerfully consider, testing it against the word of God.  Anyone who knows me personally won’t be surprised, though, that I find it deeply troubling.

1 John 4:1 Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.

 I won’t link to these blogs- if you’re curious, feel free to Google.  I don’t want to lend further notoriety or money to a movement which I do not trust.  But I do want to discuss why I feel that the Bible provides sufficient evidence that anyone claiming Trump was anointed by God is a false prophet.

Matthew 7:15-20 “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.

What fruit has Donald Trump’s tree borne?  Divisiveness, fraud, corruption, a kingdom built on taking advantage of the poor, skirting the system, idolatry and bigotry.  How could such a person be called by God?  To claim such a thing is true shows a spirit either blinded to the knowledge of Trump’s true character, or a spirit which (I think this is far more likely) is taking advantage of the trusting nature of Christians and the language which codes belonging to them in order to further the agenda of a very dangerous man.

  1. Trump’s kingdom is built on idolatry.  Trump covers all of his properties and businesses in his name and his own likeness, often plating them in gold and only the finest of materials in order to further the idea that his name, not God’s name, is synonymous with prosperity.  His kingdom is a temple to his self, not the principles of the Bible.
  2. Trump’s kingdom is built on principles of taking advantage of other people, the political and legal system of the United States.  Trump’s real estate empire owes it’s success, in part, to his ability to buy up properties that were lost in bankruptcies, raze them to the ground, and build ostentatious new properties in their place.  Often this has been accompanied by complaints from impoverished communities that have been literally over-towered by Trump:  as commercial properties encroach on poor neighborhoods, people are forced out of their homes.  This is further compounded by the fact that Trump has taken advantage of bankruptcy laws in order to force government subsidizing of his own financial risk taking- he has LOST an incredible amount of money trying to game the system, and he’s passed those losses on.  Furthermore, he has padded his ability to do both of this things, skirting zoning laws, having cities pay for the right to have towers bearing his name, etc, by shamelessly buying politicians.  In what could not be a greater bit of irony, when Hillary Clinton was the Senator for New York, Trump often gave money to her own causes and invited her to bless his.
  3. Trump’s kingdom is built on bigotry.  Trump has called for the wholesale slaughter of Muslim women and children so that terrorists will stop, as if killing their women and children wouldn’t be MORE of a reason to hate the United States.  He has accused all undocumented immigrants of being drug-dealers and rapists.  He has called for large-scale deportations of the like that the United States has never seen, which would leave children born in the United States without parents and would tear families apart- but even worse (if you are a capitalist, like Trump) it would cripple American industry and leave thousands of fields empty of hands to pick food, slaughterhouses empty of workers, and factories bare of the people needed to pack and ship.  Perhaps because I am a woman, though, the type of bigotry I find the most disturbing from Trump is his open contempt for the opposite gender.  He calls breastfeeding mothers “cows,” he tells women they’d “make a pretty picture on their knees” and his favorite insult for any woman, be her the nominee of a party or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, is that she isn’t pretty and his women are “prettier,” as if a woman’s worth starts and ends with her physical characteristics.  This contempt for the fairer gender, contempt for women who were made by and loved by God, based off of nothing but a callous assessment of their potential as sexual objects, is abhorrent.  No man of God condemns a woman for not being a valuable enough sexual conquest.  Let’s not forget that a good portion of Trump’s wealth comes from the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, a gleaming temple to the idolatry of beauty as the sum of a woman’s worth.
  4. Trump’s kingdom is built on divisiveness.  From the petty divisiveness of pitting Apprentice against Apprentice to the large-scale divisiveness of pitting Republican against Republican, Mexican against Caucasian, Muslim against Christian, Gay against Straight, Pro-Choice against Pro-Life, and on down the line, Trump has built his world on pitting people against each other.  His campaign includes almost no (if not literally no) actual agenda.  Other than banning Muslims from entering the country, building a wall between here and Mexico, and ending our trade deficit with China, he has said nothing of any real substance.  How would he HELP people?  How would he grow the economy?  How would he improve foreign policy?  His answer to that is that we can’t trust Mexicans, Muslims, or the Chinese.  Divisiveness, pure and simple, not solutions.
  5. Trump’s kingdom does not value truth.  There is almost too much to write here- but suffice it to say that Trump’s world is riddled with inconsistencies like a tree trunk laced with termite trails, to the point where stunned onlookers often wonder how much longer it can stand.  His stance on abortion, gay marriage, trade, his own wealth and business acumen, and so much more have changed with the winds so many times it’s impossible to keep track of what he has believed when.  He has been accused of fraud and is losing that case, he has often conserved his wealth by refusing to pay contractors and then suing them when they file for payment, he has often protected his own assets in shady legal maneuvers to allow companies to die and go bankrupt without putting his personal wealth on the line- often to the grave expense of his employees.  Some people will argue back against this accusation, saying that what Trump does is “good business,” but where in the Bible does it say that we can manage our worldly goods in a way that contradicts Biblical Principles and then still claim to act for God?  If Trump is a man of God, should not the fruits of his business be a testament to God’s goodness, instead of a testament to avarice and fraud?

So no, I do not nor will I ever believe that Trump was called by God.  All the evidence of Trump’s works on Earth can be seen in the faces of my students, when they write poems describing how much he scares them, when they beg the adults in their vicinity to vote against him, and when I literally hear them praying for Trump to fail.

Unless the “enemy” Trump has been called on to strike fear into is American women and children, he has not nor could he ever have been called by God.

Culture and Faith.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the affect that culture has on faith.  It seems impossible to divide the two with any cleanness.  Why?  We are human.  While we may conceptually believe that there is one fundamental, immutable, unchangeable truth and that God is the embodiment of that absolute, how can we ever fully understand it?  We do not have divine minds.  We have human minds, and inevitably any taste of the absoluteness of God’s nature we have, we interpret through fallible brains.  We judge and mold our faith based off of what we feel is right, a feeling that is the culmination of what we’ve experienced.  Our experiences, those things that mold our understanding, are basely human and only remotely touched by holiness.

If you doubt for a moment that is true, just consider the Bible.  In Biblical times if a woman was raped but didn’t scream, she should be stoned.  It’s what the Bible demands.  Do you feel like that is right?  If a man punched a pregnant woman in the stomach and she miscarried as a result, she should be paid a pittance.  Yet today people will cry out that fetuses are human life as valuable as the born- if God feels that abortion is murder, should abortion by violence really be something that one can pay off with shekels?  Why would God say that it is?

It goes beyond that.  There’s also the fact that so many of the fathers of the faith, so to speak, had multiple wives and concubines.  Jacob’s marriage to both Leah and Rachel is often preached as a sermon on the value of faith and persistence, with the fact that he favored Rachel’s bed to the detriment of Leah and her just inheritance is glossed over.  There’s David, the man after God’s heart, who had how many wives and concubines?  Of course he took Bathsheba wrongly but the Bible is clear that his sin wasn’t marrying one woman too many- it was coveting what rightly belongs to someone else and murdering to get it.  Solomon, the wisest of all kings, had so many wives and concubines he couldn’t have slept with each more than two times in a year.  Yet how do we interpret all of that in light of this current day’s conviction that God intended for marriage to be between one man and one woman?

The truth is, we simply ignore the history that is there and rewrite it.  The idea that marriage should only be between one man and one woman is one that evolved as a response to cultural pressures.  If you married your daughter off to a wealthy man to ensure your family’s inheritance, you wouldn’t want that being fudged up by his later picking a superior mate and bequeathing that inheritance to her spawn instead of yours.  Polygamy died out not because God gave a new word, but because people rationally decided it isn’t a sustainable social system.  Nowhere in the Bible does God say, “one man, one woman.”    He says for this reason a man leaves the home of his parents and becomes one flesh with his wife, but that isn’t a statement of doctrine, it’s a euphemism for sex.  Clearly the people that wrote that part of the Bible didn’t interpret it as “one man, one woman” or they wouldn’t have praised Solomon for marrying more women than he could bed.  Besides the fact that if bucking that law leads to the deterioration of society and God revoking his blessing, why would God have so blessed Jacob?  Solomon?  The myriad of men who kept harems of wives and lovers?  It simply does not stand up under sustained thought, and that isn’t the only place where people start to mold faith to culture.  It’s just one that really stands out in my mind.

I think about these things a lot, because when I start to question why God gave the directives he did I start to question how I dress, feed, and raise my family.  I start to feel like prepackaged foods aren’t “clean” or worthy of my consumption, I start to feel like if God laid out the Levitical code today he’d condemn clothes made out of cheap materials in sweat shops.  I start to wonder about a lot of other things, too.

My point is that we can’t just blurt out what we “sense” is true about our faith without applying history, knowledge of culture, and the caveats of our own fallibility.  After all, we don’t know what God said, we know what people interpreted Him as having said.  Yes, we have the Bible.  That doesn’t mean that we understand it.

We interpret it.

And we, as humans, often only interpret what we want to hear.

and then the rocks cry out.

So I’ll be gone for a few days taking my son camping, which always leads me to think down the same old rabbit trails.

Nature speaks.  I think that all creation teaches us things, desperately wants us to understand things.  That is part of why eastern religions have always had so much tantalizing appeal for me.  You see them taking their lessons from nature.  Entire dialogues can be based off of watching an ant work.

Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”

“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”  (Luke 19:39-40)

In the Bible there are many times that it talks about nature speaking.  Jesus says that if his disciples don’t declare the kingdom coming, the rocks will cry out.  In other places it talks about nature groaning like a woman in labor, or the land crying out that blood has been spilled.

When I go into the mountains, I feel like every wild flower is preaching a million word sermon about God’s grace.

Sometimes when I see the harshness of society, all I can think is that if people listened to the mountains they might not act the way they do.

This world is a miracle we too often take for granted.  Out there in the hills somewhere there is a meadow that is singing a thousand praise songs,

and here, online, if I click on Facebook I’ll see a hundred Christian brothers and sisters beating each other up because they don’t all hold to the same political ideology.

We are supposed to be the crown of God’s creation, you know.

Yet the mountains are crying louder, and louder, and louder in my ears.

What business does a Christian have being a Conservative?

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.  (Romans 12:1-3)

I say, what business does a Christian have being a Conservative?  Yet what I really mean moves beyond that.  What business does a Christian have being a (big C) Conservative or a (big L) Liberal?  What business does a Christian have being a Republican or Democrat?  What business does a Christian have becoming embroiled in any political argument that involves taking sides and casting stones at the opposition?

This has been on my mind a lot lately.  There was a time, on this blog, where the tag line read something like, “YES!  I am a gay-affirming tree-hugging liberal Christian bleeding-heart left-wing-loony environmentalist nutjob!”  That was back in the day when both this blog, and I, were much younger.  I took on all of those titles as my own because they were initially cast at me as insults in comments on my post, and rather than being offended I just said, “yes!  I’m all of those things!  And I don’t care what judgment you make of me as a result, I’m proud to have earned your insults.”

Yet I was being naive, and if I could go back and do it all over my approach may have been different.  After all, those accusations said more about the person commenting than they did about me, and my response was in it’s own way a judgment.  Why throw up my hands and behave as if there was nothing I could do or say but simply agree, “yes, I’m a liberal nutjob.  So what?”

All of those labels refer to things of this world.  They refer to political stances and loyalties that come out of our government and political debate.  They have nothing to do with faith or adherence to God.  By allowing myself to be labeled, or labeling myself, I ceased to be speaking just as a Christian and instead became just another voice in the gay-affirming tree-hugging liberal Christian bleeding-heart left-wing-loony environmentalist nutjob crowd.  Even with “Christian” thrown in there, the label of Christian didn’t really reflect my own identity in God, it reflected a series of assumptions about who I must be that the world cast on my and I continuously fought against.  There were times where I found myself fighting against my self-assigned tags.

I know Christians who espouse some liberal views, but those views are rooted in their faith.  I know some Christians who espouse some conservatives values, and those values are rooted in their faith.  I know some Christians who espouse some liberal and some conservative views simultaneously and don’t feel that there is any conflict between the views.  I also know Christians who identify as (big C) Conservatives and (big L) Liberals, and this is where things get sticky.  The Conservative crowd and the Liberal crowd out there in the world do not reflect the intent of God.  They have a platform and a list of loyalties that are at their very core worldly.  By fighting to defend Liberalism or Conservatism you inevitably end up in a position where it becomes about weakening and demoralizing the other side.  I cringe in my very bones every time I see a Christian saying something like “liberals just want more government handouts” or “conservatives will take away your rights.”

Excuse me?

When you say something like that, you just took off your Christianity.  You are not speaking words of love or redemption.  Your mind isn’t renewed.  You are in the world, speaking of the things of this world, and your loyalty in those words is not to the Creator who wishes the redemption of all creation but to a political party.

The conservative platform, while in parts reflective of God’s nature, does not contain the entirety of God’s will.  How could it?  It is of the world.  The same is true of the liberal platform.  In fact, both of those platforms (as well as the Republican and Democratic) eventually come to the point where what they ask you to adhere to is antithetical to adhering to God’s word.  Not only that, but to take on the label at some point there must be an assumption that one group is right and the other is wrong.  Such haughtiness contradicts the kind of attitude a Christian is supposed to have, one of ‘not thinking better of one’s self’ and seeking God’s mind above our own.

If our minds are renewed, we ought to transcend such petty labels and the arguments they birth.  While our lives as Christians may at times demand our involvement in political debates, we cannot forget who we are.  Our loyalty to God and each other must, at all times, be first and foremost.  When two people who claim allegiance to the same creator start tearing into each other as Republicans and Democrats, the faith is shamed.

It’s something to think about.

Let me tell you what Hell is.

The text read:  “Im going to burn in hell ne way.”

*beep beep*

“Life is pain.  Why live?  Pain forever, then hell.  I want it over with.”

I got his address off of Facebook, we’d become friends only days before when he’d been given a copy of my novel.  I wasn’t sure what had inspired him to reach out to me.  All I knew was that I’d stayed home from church that day because I was sick, and here he was.  Reaching out.  Not wanting to die alone.

“Don’t be an idiot”, I texted him back.  “There is love.  There is hope.   If you go to hell I’m going with you.”

Painful seconds passed.

“I’m almost to your house,” I wrote.  “Calling you.”

I will never, ever, forget the pain in his voice when he answered his phone.  When we’d met a few days before, he had been the kindest, gentlest, most soft spoken person I’d ever known.  He had been so quick to laugh, and although he obviously was living with a great deal of pain his spirit shone through.  The voice I heard through the phone was almost robotic in it’s monotone and so desperately lacking in spirit.  “Just stay alive another minute,” I told him.  “I’m turning, where are you?”

He came out on the front porch and agreed to go with me.  I took him to a mental health clinic that was fortunately only a few blocks away.  Even so, it was one of the longest car rides of my life.

“God doesn’t hate you,” I said.  “God loves you.”

“You know what they say?”  He replied, “I would’ve never been gay unless God totally rejected me.”

“For F—‘s sake, you said you’ve known you were gay since you were six!  What did a six year old do to get wholly rejected by God?”

“It doesn’t matter, does it?”  He wiped away tears but it was like wiping at the Columbia, it just kept rushing out.  “I mean, I can’t not be gay and no one cares, I mean, they don’t care no matter what.  It’s like, ‘well sure you’re depressed, it’s what comes from sin.’ And like, ‘the wages of sin is death’ so like if I kill myself, that’s justice.  That’s justice.”

“And here I took you for someone pretty smart,” I responded.  “You know homosexual acts are listed right with gossip and idle talk and drunkenness.  If your suicide is justice half that freaking church needs to put a blade to their wrist.”

“I can’t believe you just said that.”

“Well I’m kind of pissed that you almost died on my watch.  I could say more.”

He just stared at me.

“God is love, right?  You remember my favorite passage.  It’s all over the book.  The people that won’t help you because you are gay can’t be speaking for God because it’s not loving to turn away from someone’s pain.  Whatever they said it doesn’t matter.”

“You didn’t hear them, Ell.  All of the verses, and it’s like, ‘hey, it’s in the Bible.  We’re just being obedient.'”

“Shut the eff up, man, or I’ll pull over and slap you.”

“Ell!”

“I don’t want to hear that crap in my car even if you are quoting someone else.  Forget it.”

“I don’t understand, I mean, I thought you were a Christian.”

“Of course I’m a Christian, that’s why I can recognize bull when I hear it.  The fruit of the spirit is goodness and patience and love and whatever the other ones are.”

“Ha!”

“I’m a little distracted by how pissed I am and can’t do the brain thing, forgive me.”

“What were you saying?”

“Love.  That’s the fruit of the spirit.  If the fruit of their obedience is your death, it’s not my God they are obeying.”

“Oh,” he said.

“And honestly I’m feeling more Christlike right now than I have in years.”

* * *

A few weeks later we would be emailing back and forth, and I would say this.  “What you said about Hell.  I can show you hell.  It’s a kid going to a church because he’s on the brink and he needs someone to love him, and they show him the door.  I don’t know where Jesus is right now, but he is weeping.  And he still loves you.  Don’t give up.”

Here’s the thing:  I don’t care what your personal conviction is about homosexuality.  What I care about is my friend, and other people like him.  Sadly, he’s not the only kid I’ve ever heard tell that story and I doubt he’ll be the last, even though I fervently pray it’s not the case.  I’ve talked enough blades off of wrists for my lifetime.

Here’s the thing:  gay people aren’t the enemy.  Homosexuality is never singled out in the Bible.  It always appears hand in hand with other sins:  hubris, for example.  Drunkenness and gluttony.  Idolatry.  Idle talk and gossip.  What infuriates me more than anything else in the whole debate about sexuality is that you see people saying “we can’t let gays get married because it goes against the Bible” but the same people aren’t trying to pass laws to outlaw idle chatter, gluttony, or even premarital sex.  How is it okay for Christian organizations to be pursuing keeping sodomy laws on the books while their employees chat about who Julie is dating on their breaks?

I’m sorry, guys, that may strike you as an extreme example but I am being completely serious.

The Bible doesn’t make a distinction between the sins it lists.  Being gay is no worse than being a gossip, and both things are equally condemned in the church.

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.  (1 Corinthians 5:11)

At the end of the day, what makes a sexually immoral person such a target as opposed to all of the other sins on the list?

And then we get into discussions about the law and about how opposing gay marriage is just obedience to God.  Let me tell you something:  God never once commanded us to make laws regarding the morality of people outside the church.  In fact, He said something more like:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? (1 Corinthians 5:12)

Their sin is none of our business.

The more Christians speak out against gay rights, the more they talk about the sin issue, the more they put out literature talking about how Gay people are sold to sin and more likely to abuse children and get drunk and have “depraved sexual relations” that “go against God”… the more I think about people like my friend, with the razor to their wrist, thinking that there is nothing to do but die.

Let me tell you what Hell is:

It’s a church so focused on sin that it’s forgotten how to love.

We have absolutely no business talking about the sexuality of those not in the church.

It goes against the Bible.

And for those inside the church, we should talk about it quietly, in confidence, not blast about it on the internet for every suicidal 19 year old gay boy to see.

Just.

Stop.

For the love of God, think about what you are doing.

Chick-Fil-A and Christian Identity, revisited.

In light of the recent Chick-Fil-A controversy I’ve been thinking a lot about Christianity and it’s role in society.  As easy as it is to get caught up in discussions of free speech and religious persecution, there’s a far more important issues that seem to be getting ignored.  It’s not about what other people are doing or saying about Christianity: it’s about who was as Christians are.

Ephesians 5 is a popular passage because it tells wives to submit to their husbands.  Yet here we find the foundation for instructions not just to spouses but to families, masters, and slaves.  It’s about Christian identity and what a Christian’s role in society is based on.  Do you know what these passages say?  They say “Live as children of light (for the fruit of light consists of goodness and righteousness and truth).” They say, “Be careful then how you live.”  They say “Always give thanks to God for everything.”  That’s all in the first few paragraphs, where it also commands Christians to “walk in the way of love”.

It’s interesting, because as much as most people know that the Bible commands wives to submit, the overall tone of the passage is passed over.  It doesn’t just say “Women, BOW DOWN!”.  It tells husbands to love their wives as God loved the church (oh, and ladies- submit some, m’kay?) and it tells slaves to honor their masters, but it reminds masters that God is the master of all.  I mean, pretty much it says, “hey, that’s actually God’s slave.  So you aren’t the boss.”  Just like it tells women, “submit to your husband as you would to God, because after all he is expected to live every day as a mission for your benefit.

You may be wondering right about now why I would be writing about any of this in a post that starts out with Chick-Fil-A.

It’s because we’ve forgotten who our identity as Christians comes from.

Our Salvation doesn’t make us the boss.  We aren’t in charge.  Our role in this world is one of sacrifice, abandon, and honor towards the real master.  Our calling isn’t to beat the world into shape, it is to honor all others above ourselves with the true understanding that God is the Lord, King, and Judge of all.  He’s the redeemer of husband and wife, of child and parent, of slave and of master.  He has commanded us to live as light in this world and He reminds us that the fruit of light is goodness and righteousness.  If we live as the light, we won’t have to beat anyone else down to make righteousness prosper in our wake.  Obedience, conviction, and submission to God are the natural impulse when touched by a true and redeeming love.  If we spread that love with every day of our lives people will be drawn to God like fish to a stream.  Since God’s spirit is the only spirit that can birth conviction, redemption, and change, if we live every day in love we do not need to become distracted by the sinfulness in this world.  By loving our neighbors, we will have already done everything in our power to win their redemption.

It’s just that simple.  The fruit of light is goodness and righteousness.  We produce righteousness if we walk in love.

So why does Chick-Fil-A taste like dust and ashes in the mouths of my gay friends?  Can someone please explain to me how the special sauce of condemnation is supposed to redeem them?

For the life of me, I can’t seem to understand the Christian point of view on this one.

Ephesians 6:12  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

Our fight is not with flesh and blood.  It isn’t with society or the evils of society.  It certainly isn’t with the gays.  It isn’t with people who boycott our establishments.  It’s with the powers of darkness and the spiritual forces of evil- and do you know where the first battleground is?

Look in the mirror.

If grace is only for the saved, heaven will be a lonely place.

“God is holy and in him there can be no sin,” said the man.  I was to understand, from the context of the conversation, that by extension the Church was supposed to be pure if it wanted to be in communion with God, and that’s why all the gays and punks and drinkers need not apply.

My heart has been broken recently, because in conversation after conversation I have confronted a kind of contempt that floors me, often from people of whom I would have never expected such a visceral dislike of certain members of our society.  That contempt has been time and time again defended by the Bible, and I find myself less and less able to respond.  Is this really what the Church has become?  When I was first introduced to the Gospel, I heard it preached as good news.  Call out the trumpeters, there is no longer a system that privileges the elite by making salvation something that must be earned through purchased sacrifice.  Christ died on the cross, and all you need to do is to respond to that sacrifice in love and you, me, all of us can be saved!  This is a miracle!  Holiness is our loving and natural response to our salvation, we become better people simply by loving God and understanding His love for us!  Once we understand the price of sin we’ll leave it gladly!  There is no reason to despair or die in guilt and shame!  Tell the world!

No, wait, don’t tell the world.  Because if we did THAT, ANYBODY might think they are welcome here.  So now the message is changed.  Grace is, apparently, something that people think that we earn by being holier than our brethren.  Gay people need not be welcomed, because simply by being Gay they have demonstrated their complete reaction of the “natural order” of things.  Poor people are either lazy and thus rejecting the Bible’s command to earnest work, or they aren’t “prospering” because God won’t “bless them” because of sin.  So we don’t need to worry about the poor people, either.  All of the punks and scattered remnants of society aren’t welcome, because their rejection of the popular way of thinking and life shows a contempt that must mean they’ve rejected God’s spirit, too.  Pretty soon there’s no one new coming to the table, and the people who are there whisper and plot to try to gain position.  The Disciples did that, too, but Jesus had a pretty crazy response to that, “the last will be first, the first will be last.”

There’s something missing, here.  When Jesus was going around performing his miracles, he was constantly telling people their sins were forgiven.  He told them that before those people did anything to earn his forgiveness.  The people whom he told to sin no more were people on the verge of destruction:  the lame man at the pool, the woman who was about to be stoned.  What he did was an act of mercy.  He told them to sin no more not out of condemnation, but out of concern.  If those people had gone back to their old ways of life, they would have ended up back in the same place at death’s door.  Jesus didn’t need to preach them a sermon about the risks of their old lives entailed, he instead  lived out the sermon, he showed them they could receive God’s mercy and they responded in joy and love.  We see this in the story of Zacchaeus, who gave half his possessions to the poor and promised to repay everyone he’d cheated by double after Jesus asked to stay at his home and embraced him.  Notice that Jesus entered Zacchaeus’ community prior to Zacchaeus’ acts of repentance.  The repentance was a loving response to Jesus’ fraternity, not the other way around.

The places where Jesus does offer some kind of teaching, or puts pressure on people to change, are places where they come to him asking what they need to do to be saved.  One example of this is the rich young man in Mark 10.  When he asks Jesus what he needs to do to be saved, Jesus tells him to give all of his possessions to the poor.  The man walks away sad because of his immense wealth.  Why would Jesus show such mercy and extravagance to some, and such difficulty to others?  Or is there a lesson for us to learn in both of the ways that Jesus acted with the people that came to hear him teach?  For some, the destitute who came out of hope and desperation, Jesus gave much so that they, like the woman who washed Jesus’ feet in Luke 7, would “love much because they were forgiven much”.  For others, Jesus tested their motives, as well he should have.  If the rich young man came to Jesus not out of sincerity but out of greed, isn’t the best lesson Jesus could teach him the necessity of generosity?

I feel like there should be so much more to say, at this point, but I can’t think of what it is.  Gay people ought to feel God’s grace.  Poor people ought to receive his blessing at our hands.  The punks, the goths, the rejects and those who reject society all ought to know that they are desired in God’s kingdom.  There is a place at the table for everyone who comes wanting a meal.

Where is the Gospel?

I find myself more and more at a loss for words.

Judgment, Discernment, and understanding God.

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”  Matthew 10:16

I often caution people against being judgmental, saying something along the lines of this:  “God loves and desires for all of creation to be reunited with Him.  If our judgment of others separates them from the love of God that we can offer them, that is the worst kind of sin.”  That is something I believe wholeheartedly, one of the most core and fundamental tenets of my personal faith.  There are many things about my beliefs which I am willing to question and have questioned, many things which I could debate happily until my last breath.  But if any Christian tells me that they believe they have the right to judge others I feel literally ill.

Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.  (Hebrews 5:13-14)

The Bible seems clear on the fact that Christians are supposed to know what is sin and what isn’t.  Christians are supposed to understand the difference between good and evil, and cling to one while rejecting the other.

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.  (Romans 12:9-20)

The problem is that while the Bible repeatedly speaks of discernment and understanding the nature of Good and Evil, the Bible often couples such terms with lengthier passages about the need for fraternity, forgiveness, and love in the Church.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.  Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. (1 John 4:10-12)

So why is there this coupling of preaching discernment with commanding love?  Some modes of belief preach that judgment is good and necessary.  Not a week has ever passed on this blog where someone didn’t say “but we’re supposed to judge our brethren.”  It’s undeniable- it’s in the Bible.  But the question is why? 

In Romans 14 the author of that book writes about how there are arguments between believers about what is or isn’t unclean.  Some people believe one day or another should be sacred.  Some believers eat whatever they wish while others feel that eating some things are sinful.  The author states that a person’s convictions should never become a stumbling block to their brother or sister, that a choice needs to be made to honor each other’s convictions, because:

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.  (Romans 14:21)

This is interesting to consider, but far more powerful is a verse that comes earlier in the passage:

You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat.

Yes, we should know good from evil, and we should know which actions of our Brothers and Sisters are good or evil.  The Bible even says to expel the immoral brother from among us.  (1 Corinthians 5:13)  Yet with all of that, the scales remain tipped in the other direction, and the Bible never really spells out why.

Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.  (1 John 2:6)

We know what Jesus did.  We know that he ate with the tax collectors and sinners.  We know that he let prostitutes be in his company, he even let them hang all over his feet.  He did this prior to telling them to sin no more, so we also know that he let them do this while they were still sinners.  And, as it says in 1 John, we know that he died for us while we were still sinners too.  We know that we are all sinners, not just because we know ourselves but because the Bible reminds us of that pretty regularly too.  So here’s the thing:

If we all sin, and we all do, and we’re supposed to know good from evil and reject one and cling to the other, if we make the assumption that we’re supposed to judge each other where does that lead us?  If the judgment is about who is or isn’t worth communing with, the church is going to end up empty because we all sin and we all sin knowingly.  It’s part of who we are.  If the judgment is instead about what is or isn’t hurting ourselves or hurting the brethren and is made to edify instead of condemn, we do a good thing.  Because if we go to our brother or sister and say “I’m worried you’re doing something harmful” and they know and experience the love of God, we’re giving them a loving opportunity to lead a better life.  I’ve experienced both kinds of judgment against myself and I know which one changed me.  I’ve been guilty of making both and I know which one hurt and which one healed.

I also know that it’s impossible to tell, from who people are today, who they are capable of becoming.  One of the people most formative in my early faith was a convicted felon and murderer.  If my parents had judged him as unworthy of their friendship (an assumption many Christians would feel totally justified) I would have missed out on a tremendous opportunity to witness the extent to which God’s love can redeem a fallen man.

If we judge people by the same measure that we judge actions, labeling some people as “good” and others as “bad”, we do perhaps one of the most evil things that any Christian can.  The people we label as “good” get to experience our love and forgiveness, at times even when they reject conviction.  But the people labeled as “bad” don’t ever receive love at all.  We are only justified in such behavior if we feel we know with total certainty that God doesn’t love the “bad” people or want them to experience his forgiveness at all.  It is love, not rejection, that births repentance.

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward you.  (Proverbs 25:21-22)

The metaphorical burning coals being a sign of mourning and repentance.  Note that the verses don’t say “picket your enemy and call him a heathen and a godless blight on your society, and in that way you heap burning coals on his head.”  The solution is the most simple in the history of man:  community.  Bring him into your home, feed him and clothe him, and he’ll learn to mourn the error of his ways.  If that is the way we are to treat our enemies, then, how our we to treat our brethren?

We love because he first loved us.  Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen,cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.  (1 John 4:19-21)

Love, love, love.  There is no excuse for anything else.  So discern what is good and evil- apply it to your own life and speak it to your brothers and sisters in Christ with love.  Everyone else, treat as beloved community.  Offer food and drink and solace, express God’s love with your hands and mind and tongue.  It doesn’t matter who someone is, if they are homeless or a felon or gay or just look strange or a tattooed punk or if they are wearing one of those oh so cute “God is Dead” t-shirts, God loves them.  They deserve to experience his love.  It is that love, and that love alone that can birth understanding and repentance.  If you withhold that love from them, you do grievous harm not just to them but more so to yourself.

Love, first and foremost and the most strongly.  There is no excuse for anything less.

Yes, I call that judging.

I was recently asked “when did disagreeing with a lifestyle become being judgmental?” I think this is an important question, and one that I want to give the best possible response to. I respect the fact that Christians need to honor their convictions, and that many Christians believe that the Bible is clear that homosexual acts are sinful. I have no desire to tell people with that conviction that they are wrong. So I will ask that as this post is read that anyone with that conviction keep in mind that I will honor it, and don’t simply respond, “but it’s sin.”

Let’s look at a not-so-hypothetical situation. “Jim” has an anger problem, and everyone knows about it. Jim often goes off in rages, to the point that it embarasses his wife and children. He’ll scold his kids loudly in church and he’ll admonish his wife to the point of tears in front of others. It seems fair to make a judgment that Jim needs to deal with his anger, right? In that situation a lot of people would say it would be appropriate for the pastor of Jim’s church to call on Jim and offer him up a big heaping helping of conviction.

Here’s the problem: Let’s say that the pastor takes Jim out for lunch and tells Jim exactly how his rage issue goes against God’s plan for his life and that it needs to change. What happens then? Let’s imagine for a minute that his rage stems from something far beneath the surface. Jim is addicted to pornography and has for years been neglecting his wife and even his responsibilities to his children to feed his habit. He has a hunger that is not sated by anything and his rage stems from that need that he seeks to meet through porn- but porn isn’t enough. So he rages at the world, and as he digs himself deeper into the cycle the explosions of his hurt and need and anger become more intense.

So the pastor meets with Jim. Jim doesn’t respond in brokeness and repentance, he responds in even deeper rage. Because his rage is just an expression of something else, a far deeper chasm between he and his Savior. By judging Jim, the people in his life neglected to discover the true place of need in his life. They cut themselves off from God’s heart for Jim and made Jim’s alienation even worse. Imagine a different situation, one in which the pastor simply acknowledged that Jim needed to feel God’s love in order to be convicted. One in which the pastor pulled Jim aside and lovingly stated “things seem awful rough for you, want to talk about it?” One in which Jim’s deeper need, the need for intimacy and regard, was met. One in which Jim was made safe enough that he could open up about the true wounds that drove his rage. What could happen, in that situation? Who could Jim become?

This is the problem with saying, “gay people live in sin” or “poor people are lazy and deserve it”. You make yourself their judge, you simply do. While in essence your statement may be truthful, at least in your own eyes, you still aren’t justified in making it. There is simply no way to make such a statement without the inference of motive. If you want to say, “gay people live in sin”, you infer that they know and understand that their actions offend God and don’t care. I don’t know of any gay people for whom such is the case, many of them express an intimate relationship with God that I am frankly jealous of, and feel a deepness of love and acceptance I am in awe of. Many of them state, and I believe them wholeheartedly, that if they had even the slightest inkling that expressing their sexuality offended God they would set it aside in the second. The problem with saying, “they are sinning” is that it implies your own personal knowledge that they need to stop. That comment is often followed by a second comment that we are meant to judge the behaviors of our brethren. That likely comes from verses like these:

But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)

Context: those verses follow a statement that it is known that one of the members of the church is having an affair with his father’s wife. Paul calls it something “even a pagan would not tolerate”. While I will admit that in some extreme cases where the actions of one person are so extreme, they ought to be expelled so that they, as Paul said, “hand him over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved.” But that was a case of incest, not a case of gay. While there are some verses that caution Christians to judge the actions of each other, the Bible is far more full of verses that caution against it. Such judgments are only to be made, as 1 Corinthians 5 stated, in mourning. Jesus himself said, “You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.” (John 8:15) If God’s own son was reluctant to judge, how much more reluctant should we, as sinful humans, be?

We can’t just idly judge entire subsets of our population and feel that we are justified in doing so. We must seek after God’s heart first and foremost. We must take on a mantle of mourning when we are called to judge, knowing that seperation from the Church brings destruction. If your heart, reader, is for the destruction of the gays or the poor then you bring condemnation on your own head. I, for one, withhold any judgment. I will speak God’s love until my dying breath, knowing that in my own life more conviction has been birthed from love than from judgment.

Gleanings for the poor.

The ancient Israelites had a welfare system which God himself implemented:

“When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.   Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you.   I am the Lord your God.”  (Leviticus 23:21)

In Leviticus 25 God also commands a year of Jubilee, where people are to return to their clans of origin, debts are forgiven and the imprisoned are to be set free.  One has to wonder why God made those commands.  What was His plan, His intention?

Let that simmer for a minute while we talk about something else.  In contemporary American churches there is a line of reasoning that goes like this:  some poor people are hard pressed and definitely deserving of charity, but other poor people choose to be poor and depend on the government, they “game” the system so that they are able to live quite comfortably without having to make much effort, and they ought to be cut off.  The idea is that there are some poor out there who would change their circumstances with the right support, and we need to cut off the undeserving poor so that we can help the poor who are able to be helped.  Oh, isn’t that thought tempting?  It has an allure, a taste which is so sweet when it leaves one’s lips.  But don’t fall for it- God himself made no division between the poor whom did or didn’t deserve to be helped.  In fact, God said something which seems to contradict that idea:

There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.   (Deuteronomy 15:11)

God doesn’t say, “be openhanded with the poor because in that way they will become middle class and productive to our society, but don’t bother with those who don’t show potential.”  God says, “there are always going to be poor”, and then commands the Israelites to be generous.  That makes me wonder if the generosity is not ever supposed to be about eliminating poverty, but about something else.  Perhaps the reason the generosity is commanded is not just for the benefit of the reciever, but for the benefit of the giver as well.  There are practical reasons to reduce the burdens of poverty:  reduction in crime, better standard of living for everyone, raising the bottom for the betterment of all society.  But, there’s something else there too:

 Those who give to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to them receive many curses.  (Proverbs 28:27)

Maybe the reason generosity to the poor is commanded is not just about God’s love for the poor, but also about His love for the rich.  The Bible does say some very negative things about laziness, and curses for sluggards.  The poor who are poor by nature of their own choices have brought their own curses down on their heads.  They live out their punishment every day, there is no reason to bring further condemnation into the arena by judging them ourselves or withholing our aid because we feel they are undeserving. We should give freely and leave their punishment to their own hand, and their judgment to God.  You see, by giving we change ourselves.  We become more like Jesus, who died for the sins of an undeserving world.  The Bible is full of talk of the decietfulness of wealth and cautions against the love of money.  We should not love our money more than we love our fellow man.  We should be generous for the sake of generosity, but also understanding that through generosity with our money we purchase something that we could never buy through spending on ourselves.  Jesus understood this when he told the Parable of the dishonest manager, and cautioned that what is seen as shrewd in the eyes of man is detestable in God’s sight, and said:

“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.”  (Luke 16:9)

Often, I hear people decry the government instituting a welfare program because “it’s the job of the Church.”  That brings us into another argument about the Church and State and the contradiction of claiming that the government was instuted by God but somehow cannot do the Lord’s work, but that is a distraction.  All I really want to say is that we need to decide what matters as a society.  Why can’t we pay our taxes and bless them as they go, to honor God, and not begrudge the poor of our society the gleanings of capitalism?