Thoughts on the Pete Heck/Michael Kimpan Debate

Recently, Michael Kimpan, executive director of the Marin Foundation, was a guest on Pete Heck’s radio show discussing his views on the same sex relationships/actions.  The Marin Foundation’s stance is one of “intentional and strategic neutrality on this subject” siting Romans 3:23, James 2:10, and Matthew 7 to show that: we’ve all sinned, having sinned, we’ve broken God’s entire law, and that, as sinners, we must attend to our own sin before pointing the finger at others.  Pete, on the other hand, believes that refusing to point out the sins of those around us “leads people away from the grace of Christ.”  As someone who finds biblical arguments both for and against same-sex relationships to be less than completely convincing, I often find myself torn between the two sides in these debates.  I understand Pete’s desire to call a spade a spade and to help people turn from their sin, but I also see the value in Michael’s instinct to love first to build relationships with our neighbors.  I appreciate the Marin Foundation’s refusal to proclaim people’s sins from the rooftops and to point an accusatory finger in the face of every gay person they meet, I just hope that, when asked one-on-one by an LGBT person about the Bible’s stance on same sex relationships, that they are willing to have a thorough and honest conversation about what it says and not ignore the fact that scripture does seem to have something to say on this matter.

In the second half of the discussion, Kimpan brings up the story of the woman caught in adultery to show that Jesus refused to condemn the woman when Pharisees insisted the law stated she should be stoned.  Heck, on the other hand, chooses to focus on the end of the story when Jesus tells her to go and leave her life of sin.  It’s interesting because I think these are both important parts of the story.  First, Jesus protects the woman; He sees her and loves her as a beloved child of God and chases away those who condemn her and then refuses to condemn her Himself even though, as the sinless Son of God, He had every right to.  The thing is, Jesus didn’t need to call her out on her sin, she knew what it was.  It was common knowledge that adultery was a serious offense.  The people dragging her through the streets made sure she knew what she had done.  However, it was only after they were alone that Jesus privately tells her to go and leave her life of sin.  So, if we are viewing LGBT people as the woman in the story, do we want to be the accusers publicly dragging the sinners through the streets parading their shame in front of everyone or do we want to be the ones to love and protect first, and then, when we’re alone, encourage our brothers and sisters to sin no more.

I Started My Mid-Life Crisis at 25

At around the age of 25, I started to realize that I wasn’t satisfied with my job anymore.  I had come to understand fairly early on that a lot of my job satisfaction comes from my relationships with the people I see every day and it was becoming more and more apparent that this job wasn’t going to provide a stable group of co-workers for me to be in relationship with.  It’s the kind of job where people start working there right out of college, spend two to four years there and then move on to something bigger and better (and usually higher paying).  Unfortunately, I was too afraid to leave the safety and familiarity of this job even though it was slowly becoming less and less comfortable.  Several people in my life advised me to move on and look elsewhere, but I just couldn’t see myself anywhere else.

Recently, I’ve come the the realization that it’s definitely time to make a change; something, anything just as long as my life isn’t what it’s been for the last six years.  Part of me thinks I just need to make a slight change in my job responsibilities just to get a bit of a taste of something different.  At the opposite end of the spectrum, I sometimes get the urge to move to the other side of the country and start a new job, make new friends, find a new place to live, just new new new.  Along those same lines, I’ve recently begun looking at other career possibilities.  I’ve considered everything from writing, to baking, to engineering and, while those are all things I find interesting and that I think I might have some degree of aptitude for, I’ve yet to find something that I truly resonate with, something that I could say I’m passionate about.  To that end, I’ve taken online questionnaires designed to point me to something I would find satisfying (so far statistician and actuary are the front runners), had conversations with friends and mentors, and next week, I have an appointment with the on-campus career center to get job counseling.

Relationships are another big part of this whole deal.  I have abandonment issues due to losing several significant friendships over my life and most of my friends have yet to truly settle down so I’m in constant fear they’ll pickup and take off on me.  That’s part of what led me to apply for a job a thousand miles from the only place I’ve ever known and why I was so conflicted about it all during the application and interview process.  One day I’d wake up hoping and praying that I’d get the job and be able to leave everything behind and the next, I’d be terrified that I’d end up in some new place with no support system and missing my friends and family, but unable to take back my decision.  The thing that finally made the decision for me (aside from being taken out of the running after my fourth phone interview) was when my good friends really invited me to be a part of their lives and made me feel like family.  They’re teaching their 10 month old daughters to call me Uncle Matt and being very intentional about spending time with me and that means everything.

A part of me still wants to just throw caution to the wind, weigh anchor, and take off on an adventure, but that’s not me.  Anyone who knows me will tell you that’s pretty much the opposite of who I am.  Sure, I make small decisions on a whim, but big decisions, those I just don’t make.  I just avoid anything that will cause any major shift in the way I live my life and let the circumstances around me direct my path.  So far, it’s worked out alright, but I definitely need to start being intentional about how I live my life before it’s too late.  Tomorrow is my 29th birthday and I can’t imagine being in this lost place of indecision in my 30s so that gives me a full year to get somewhere or at least make significant steps in a direction.  I’m praying to God for wisdom and guidance, for friends and mentors to speak into my life, and for a path to reveal itself in whatever way that may happen.

The Theological Difficulties of Romans 9

After reading another great post by Prodigal Paul (http://goo.gl/CtNhLh), I decided to look at Romans 9 again, a passage that’s caused me some theological distress in the past.  Verse 18, in particular causes my over developed sense of justice and equality squirm.  On the surface, this verse appears to say that God can and will, on occasion, choose to harden a person’s heart and bar them from ever accepting His gift of salvation and I believe this is how it has traditionally been interpreted.  I don’t necessarily intend to refute this interpretation, but merely to offer another possible meaning.

One of the primary reasons I have a hard time with this traditional interpretation of Romans 9:18 is that it appears to conflict with Jesus exhortation in Matthew 18 to forgive others’ offenses against us 70 times 7 (typically believed to mean an infinite number of times).  Presumably, the reason God would choose to harden a person’s heart is because of their repeated offenses against Him, but if He asks us to forgive infinitely, it seems strange that there could be some limit to His forgiveness of us.

In an attempt to find new meaning in this troublesome passage, I looked at the verse in the original Greek*, particularly the word that every version I checked translated as harden.  The Greek word here is σκληρύνει (sklērynei) the root of which is σκληρός (skléros) which BibleHub translates as “hard, violent, harsh, stern.”  This seems to mesh well with the original translations and interpretations of the verse so, for my purpose of finding new meaning in the passage, it was a dead end.  However, I thought for fun, I might try entering skléros into Google translate.  It also came back with a definition of hard, but it also included another word: tough.  If we were to translate sklērynei as toughen instead of harden, in conjunction with the rest of the verse, it could convey a vastly different message, one that fits so much better into the picture I see painted by the rest of scripture.  Read this way, it could be saying that for some of His children, God chooses to grant a grace and a relatively peaceful life, but others, he chooses to toughen by gifting them with trials of many kinds.  It still doesn’t sit well with my sense of justice and equality and it may be completely unbiblical, but it’s just a thought.

*Disclaimer: I am by no means fluent in Greek (in fact, I don’t know any) nor can I be considered a Biblical scholar by any stretch of the imagination.

Persecution of our Brethren

I read a great post today by Paul Burkhart (http://goo.gl/7HHA2z) on a piece by 16th century writer, Sebastian Castellio.  Castellio writes about the persecution and torture of Christians by Christians that was prevalent in his day and Burkhart relates that the way Christians today argue and snipe at each other over minor theological differences.  I was struck by the last paragraph of the post, re-posted below:

And you, Christians yet to be, beware of this outcome. Be warned by our example and do not so adhere to the interpretations of men as not to put them to the test of reason, sense, and Scripture. And you, scholars, avoid this course. Do not be so arrogant that you bring the souls and bodies of many into peril by your authority.

How Best to Love

I find it interesting that for almost every argument in all of Christendom, someone has argued the point that love is the most important thing, that God is love, or that, of faith, hope, and love, the greatest of these is love.  How can this same argument be used for both sides of every disagreement?  I think what it comes down to is we often fundamentally disagree on how best to love those around us.

The definition of love that my pastor likes to use is “to will the good of another” which, while simple and beautiful, leaves a lot of gray area regarding how we ought to act towards one another.  In many instances, it’s self explanatory, don’t murder, steal from, or otherwise harm other people.  In short, treat others as you would like to be treated.  However, what happens when things become a little less clear and how I want to be treated is different from how you want to be treated?  What happens when we act in what we think is someone’s best interest, but in reality, we’re causing more harm than good?

For example, what if I found out a friend was having a difficult time in her relationship with her husband and I decided to bring this up to my prayer group.  I could see that as trying to help and being concerned for my friend’s well being, meanwhile, she could feel hurt and betrayed that I broke her trust.  As another example, many Christians vote against same sex marriage based on their belief that such a relationship would be sinful and therefore decrease a person’s likelihood of entering Heaven.   They do this (or at least claim to do this) out of love, but gay couples hoping to marry see it as rejection of their deepest selves, a dismissal of their rights, or plain hatred.  When we claim to be doing something out of love, we need to honestly examine our motives and be sure what we’re arguing for is the truth and not an unexamined belief.

Now, that’s not to say that we can’t question someone’s actions and confront them out of love.  I definitely believe there is a time and a place to broach the subject of sin in someone’s life, just make sure you don’t have a log in your own eye first.  Also, make sure you and the other person are on the same page.  People aren’t going to want to change their behavior if you haven’t first convinced them that it’s unhealthy/unbiblical and that distinction might not be as clear to them as it is to you.