"I Love the Sinner" Is Often What Abusers Say

By Derek Penwell

“I love her, but she’s got to learn right from wrong,” he said … after beating her half to death. And there she lies, one foot in this world and another in the next—but fully “loved.”

I imagine that’s what LGBTQ folks hear when yet another Christian says, “I love the sinner, but I hate the sin.”

Now, I can imagine that immediately upon reading the connection between those last two thoughts, cries of righteous indignation will rise as a chorus unto heaven. “We’re not abusers, simply because we hate what homosexuals do with their private parts. We’ve never actually, physically struck a gay person because of their gayness.”

Hmmm … Maybe not, I don’t know you. In fact, I’m perfectly willing to believe you’re not part of a roving band of homo/transphobes out trolling the streets for fresh bodies on which to work out your frustrations with the dismal state of America’s godless culture. Nevertheless, I don’t think that gets you off the hook for the violence that is done in the name of your religious commitments for two important reasons.

First, when you fight against anti-bullying laws written to keep LGBTQ kids safe from being abused, you are propping up a system of violence that steals the dignity, and often the lives of those children you say you love. If a gay or trans kid commits suicide because you want to retain the right to loudly and repeatedly announce to the world your moral disapprobation, giving energy to a system dedicated to never letting LGBTQ kids forget that they are sinful aberrations for which the fires of hell are regularly stoked hotter, you bear some responsibility for their death. When LGBTQ kids get beaten, when they’re kicked out of their homes and forced to live on the streets and struggle to do some of the despicable things they have to do to stay alive, you may not be raising a hand against them, but you’re certainly massaging the muscles that do the damage. When you support a vision of the world in which LGBTQ people daily have to live in fear for their livelihoods, their homes, their right to a peaceful and flourishing existence just so you can proudly announce your doctrinal purity and your commitment to a world where only your religious beliefs matter, you may not be drawing anyone’s actual blood—but don’t kid yourself that there’s not blood on your hands.

Second, physical violence isn’t the only kind of violence. The abuse that takes place in families, for instance, is often not physical abuse. You can lay claim to having never physically harmed a person, while at the same time being guilty of killing that person’s soul. As anyone who’s suffered abuse by an abuser who claims to love them can tell you, some of the worst things that can be done to you have to do with being humiliated, devalued, dehumanized, made to feel alone and crazy. For how many years, for instance, did we gaslight LGBTQ people, makinghomosexuality a mental disorder? [Answer: Even though homosexuality was removed from the DSM-II as a disease in 1973, it wasn’t until 1987 that it was completely removed as a disorder, “ego-dystonic sexual orientation,” from the DSM. In other words: “Gay people are crazy or, at least aberrant” gave shape to the world we now inhabit.]

Take a casual glance at a list of behaviors considered emotionally abusive in personal relationships; then, read that same list through the eyes of someone who is LGBTQ, and try to persuade them they’re not victims of “loving” abuse. As one of my favorite theologians, Fred Craddock, said, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words … can kill me.”

Now, someone might object: “We really do love them. We just think what they’re doing is wrong.”

Fine. The problem is that if you talk to many abusers, they will say the same thing … and mean every word of it. Punching someone in the mouth because you “love” her and “want to correct” her, can’t help but be heard by the person being so punched as a blatant form of patriarchy (i.e., I know better than you do what’s appropriately “not sinful”; you’re just going to have to trust that I have your best interests at heart), or as a way of justifying the hatred and violence of the puncher, or simply as a cynical lie. Whatever the case, your attempts at “loving” the object of your disapproval always seem to come off as a self-righteous assertion of your moral superiority (at best), or downright antipathy (at worst).

Let me see if I can make this any clearer (and I know it doesn’t feel good): Participating in a system that belittles, punishes and commits violence against those who are often in the weakest position to defend themselves, frames you as an abuser in the eyes of those whom you claim only to be trying to love.

Here someone might wonder: “But how can they not know I love them? I said I love them, didn’t I?”

That’s the whole point. Saying you love someone as you punch them in the mouth, or standing by (while cheering or remaining silent) while somebody else punches them in the mouth or loudly fighting for laws that will continue making punching them in the mouth legal in the name of “religious freedom” isn’t love.

A cursory reading of the Gospels suggests that, for those of us who follow Jesus,love isn’t the perpetual need to make everyone else conform to our understanding of righteousness; it’s the merciful realization that Jesus has freed us from the responsibility of thinking that’s even our job.

Reclaiming the Prophetic Voice & Reclaiming the Straight and Narrow

By Douglas C. Sloan

The prophetic voice does not predict the future. The prophetic voice warns us about the path we are traveling and invites us to travel a different path, to embark on a different journey. The prophetic voice is one that takes us to task for not being the Love and Grace, the Justice and Compassion of God in the world. The prophetic voice calls us to listen for God in different places and in different ways. God does not speak through war, violence, or oppression. God does not speak through empire, nationalism, patriotism, wealth, exclusion, or isolation. The voices and words of people – whether verbal or written, ancient or contemporary – are not the voice of God. It is through the lostness of the coin, the lostness of the sheep, the lostness of both sons that the voice of God is heard. God speaks to us and calls to us through injustice, oppression, bondage, exile, hunger, thirst, nakedness, homelessness, imprisonment, and the need for healing. When we find the lost, deliver justice, save the oppressed, release those in bondage, return those in exile; when we feed, quench, clothe, house, heal, and visit the prisoners – it is then that God speaks and God acts and God is clearly present in the world. It is then that there is no thin place and the curtain that hides and separates us from the Divine is torn asunder and the presence and glory of God is plainly visible for all to see, for all who dare and care to look. It is then that God is more immanent than transcendent. And there is more. When it does occur that there is compassion for the widow and orphan and alien and stranger, when the lost are found, when there is justice that repairs and rehabilitates and restores and reconciles, when the oppressed are freed, when the exiled are returned, when we feed and quench and clothe and house and heal and visit the prisoners, then God celebrates enthusiastically and extravagantly and all are invited to the party. That is Good News.

Jesus is a prophetic voice who invites and directs us to a different path – the middle path. The middle path is narrow and one of constant tension. Thus, Jesus does not dismiss us from the Law. Walking the middle path is about maintaining that tension by walking straight and narrowly between the way of God and the way of the world – by maintaining the tension between a life of Divine Love and Grace and a life of legalistic obedience and ritual purity. Walking the middle path is not about indecision or balance. Walking the middle path is not about weighing the options and analyzing the arguments and making a choice. Walking the middle path is about immersing and subjecting ourselves to the tension and conflict of the middle path and allowing it and enabling it and participating in it as a purgative experience, a purifying fire, a death – our death. To be fully human – to be fully what God created and intends for us to be, to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God, to be a child of God – is not about choosing or living into a better way. We do not reject or abandon or suppress the ways of the world. We have to die to them. That of us that needs and desires legalistic obedience – and rituals of magic and absolutes and divisiveness – and empire and wealth and vengeance and war and violence and oppression and hate and exclusion and jealousy and gossip and cold hearts and mean spirits and idolized certainties – that part of us has to die. When that part of us dies, we are inescapably left with resurrection and transformation and new life. That is Good News.

God Abounds With or Without You

By Brian Carr

As I was driving the other day, I passed a sign in front of a very large and popular church that read “God abounds in faithfulness.”

At first glance, I thought nothing of this statement. God abounds in faith? Sure, that makes sense to me.

But as I began to think about the message behind that statement, the more disturbed I became. My uneasiness with that message is twofold – first, it is suggesting that God is reliant on our faithfulness in order to abound; secondly, it is suggesting that those without faith will never have God abundant in their lives.  

Now you may be thinking to yourself that I am overthinking this message and exaggerating its negativity. You might be right, but what good is my faith if I cannot critically think about the messages I receive on a daily basis? I would argue that most Christians would agree with this statement at first thought, just as I did. But stopping at “first thought” is a terrible ending point when we examine doctrine and theology. 

So let’s move beyond our first thoughts of this sign, and figure out what message it is conveying.

When we simply look at the phrasing of this statement, it already becomes troubling. If we are saying that God abounds in faithfulness, then aren’t we implying that God does not abound outside of faith? That God does not abound if we are not faithful? This may not be explicit, but anytime we make a statement in the absolute positive, we are also affirming the negative (or opposite) of this statement.

 This is incredibly limiting of God. Is this saying that God needs our faithfulness to abound? Are we putting boundaries and boxes around God and trying to define how and where She can abound?

This statement also suggest that God will not abound in your life if you aren’t faithful. This is very exclusive to those who are not faithful (and how are we defining faithfulness, by the way?). Are we suggesting that God cannot hold a prominent place or presence in the lives of non-Christians (because, let’s be honest, this is what is meant by not faithful)? This is another way in which this statement limits God while simultaneously excluding a large amount of people.

God is certainly bigger than this, right? A better phrasing of this statement would be “one way in which God abounds is in faithfulness.” And before you argue that that I’m nitpicking, know that the way things are phrased can have a profound impact on how they are interpreted.  

For example, notice the powerful difference between these two phrases:

“Men should allow the ordination of women.”

“Men should support the ordination of women.”

The subtle change from “allow” to “support” makes a huge difference. On the surface (our “first thought”) these two statements seem to mean the exact same thing. However, this is not true. The term “allow” implies that the person who is doing the allowing has the right to also not allow the same thing. The first phrase suggests that men are being graceful in giving permission for women to become ordained. It is a very sexist and patriarchal statement. Changing the verb to “support” has now made it no longer sexist. The power of phrasing is real. One word (or lack thereof) can dramatically change how something is interpreted.

Where was I going with this? Oh, right! I am saying that the phrasing of the message on the sign can lead to a very dangerous interpretation of God and of Christianity. In this specific case, the phrasing of that sign leads to an exclusive message of Christianity that limits the presence of God.

The moral of the story? Choose your words wisely and your church signs even more wisely.




The Indiana Pacers and An Uncomfortable Feeling

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

It is an uncomfortable feeling and I will tell you about it in a minute.  First, you need to know that I am a life-long Indiana Pacers fan.  For those who might not know, the Pacers are our local professional basketball team which plays in the NBA.  I was a fan, however, back when they were in the ABA before 1976.  The American Basketball Association (ABA) was the league in which the basketball was red, white and blue.  It was the league that started the 3 point shot and was the home to Dr. J. (Julius Erving) for his first five seasons.  The Pacers were three time ABA champions, more than any other team.  They have not had as much success in the NBA, but Reggie Miller will always be my favorite player. (I still tear up when I watch the videos from the 1990’s of him dropping points on the Knicks.)  But this year could be different.  Most of the season is gone and we presently have the best record in the league.  Here’s to hoping.  I recognize that is probably more than any of you want to know about the Pacers, though I could tell you a lot more.

 So what is the uncomfortable feeling?  It is this. Whenever we go to a game we walk by several homeless people and their signs – “Anything will help.” “Haven’t Eaten Today.” “Why lie. It’s for beer.” Last night was particularly uncomfortable for me.  As we were leaving the game an older gentleman was laying on his side, slightly propped up on his arm.  His brown coat was wrapped around him and his black hat was pulled low.  He had also been there earlier when we walked into the game.  As people walked back to their cars he was saying, “Sure hope you enjoyed that game.  You all be careful going home.”  I have not been able to get the image of that man nor his words out of my head.  I wondered where he was headed that night.  Does he have a home to go to or is his home the streets?

We live in a world of great inequality.  I had just gone to a basketball game where young men were being paid exorbitant amounts of money to entertain us.  I had forked over some of my own cash for that entertainment. Though they had to hone their basketball skills to get to the professional level, their height and athletic ability was a gift of their birth.  Just a few hundred yards from the basketball court was a man who had a small cardboard box set in front of him begging others for dollars so he might live.   Since a significant portion of the homeless suffer from mental illness, was that his case?  And if so, why was he one of the unlucky ones at birth? 

Walking by the homeless can be a very uncomfortable feeling.  I am always torn about how to respond and what to do.  At times, I have carried extra money to put into their cups.  At other times, I have decided that isn’t the best way to help, so I have given to the missions and charities that house and feed them.  I know this, I don’t ever want that feeling of uncomfortableness to leave me.  I want to be pushed to think about the inequalities in the world and what this means for the church and how we respond as a people who believe that everyone is created in the Sacred image. I don’t want the unfairness of life to be hidden from me or kept in a place where I don’t have to walk by it.  As uncomfortable, and sometimes as helpless as I feel in the face of it, I want to be reminded that there is a world that is much more important than my own pleasure or entertainment.

I know this, the life of that old, gray man who wished us safe journey home after the Pacers’ game, is worth every bit as much as my own life, the life of any of those basketball players, or any life at all.  I believe he is a beloved child of God and worthy of the dignity and respect such heritage brings.  As I mentioned, I don’t always know how to respond in the immediacy of such situations.  So I support local housing and food ministries and give to those organizations that work in a larger capacity in helping meet such needs.  And as a pastor of a congregation to which many people in need often turn for help, I am determined to treat each person with patience and compassion. Being conscious, the best that I can, not to treat them or their situation as a burden on my time or their need as something that doesn’t concern me.  Since I call myself a Christian, that means I follow Jesus, and what I read in the gospels is of a man who had compassion for others, especially those who were on the edges.

Well, the Pacers will be in the NBA playoffs.  That’s for certain.  They were the first team to secure their place.  And I will probably make it to a couple of those games.  I hope I come across that same man in the brown coat and the black hat.  I want him to know that I made it home safe.  That I appreciated his kind words and caring.   I want him to know I care too.   

The Seriousness of the Preacher's (and Listener's) Situation

By Dr. Mark Poindexter 

For the better part of three decades, I have been involved in the task of preaching.  Standing in front of the church gathered in worship, trying to speak a word that helps us to live more faithfully as the Body of Christ in this day and time.  In these years, I have written more than 1,000 sermons and preached somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,200 times.  Yes, some of the sermons have been preached more than once and a few of them more than twice.  Most preachers, if they are honest and I tend to think most of us are, at least most of the time, would tell you the same thing.  Sermons get recycled.  Sometimes when you change congregations and sometimes when the well of creativity just runs dry.  I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with a sermon being used again.  I mean we sing some of the same hymns and choruses over and over again.  I would even suggest that some of their beauty rests in our familiarity with them.  I like to think Jesus told the parables of the Prodigal Son and the Good Samaritan more than just once.  As the church we have been working with these stories for 2,000 years and they are still full of meaning.  I’d hate to think those first folks who were around Jesus only got to hear those powerful stories a single time.

Even though I have been at it for a while, I know there is always more to learn about the art of preaching and the power of the spoken word.  That’s why I still attend continuing education events related to preaching and I try to read books about it as well.  I want to share with you something about preaching that I came across in one of the books I was reading recently, "Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow: Sermons of Resistance in the Third Reich," by Dean G. Stroud.  The first third of the book sets the historical context.  This includes the divide between the “German Christians” who were those that incorporated Nazi ideology into their expression of church and created some form of paganism that worked through the existing church structures and held onto the word “Christian” and the Confessing Church which refused to swear loyalty to the Nazis.  For those pastors and congregations that considered themselves part of the Confessing Church it was a time when reading a Psalm in worship or referring to the Jewishness of Jesus or to the Jewish people as “our neighbors” could be considered an act of treason for which the pastor could end up in a concentration camp, or even dead.

One of the sermons that Stroud includes in his book is from Helmut Gollwitzer who called the German nation to repentance for their treatment of the Jewish people in a sermon preached in 1938 after Kristallnacht.   Kristallnacht was a two day event of coordinated attacks against Jewish people in Germany.  Nearly 100 Jews were killed and more than 30,000 incarcerated.  The name refers to the broken glass from the shattered windows of Jewish homes, synagogues and businesses. Years after the event Gollwitzer spoke about the “seriousness of the preacher’s situation” who said of the importance of the sermon, “in no other form of speech are things taken so seriously, is our whole existence so challenged, even put at risk.  In no form of speech does our word itself so much take the form of action, of intervention in the history of the hearers” (p. 115).

These words which speak about the importance and power of preaching have stayed with me since I read them.  Though the forms and structures of the church are undoubtedly changing, I think there will always be a place of primary importance for the people to gather in worship and to hear the gospel proclaimed, a gospel that comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.  I believe there will always be a necessary place for a preacher to call the people to faithfulness, to live as the reign of God come upon this earth, to challenge the people to love their neighbor and welcome the stranger, to work toward a world of peace for all.

Sometimes, when you are engaged in something for as long as I have been engaged in preaching, it can become too much of a routine or you can began to wonder if it really makes any difference.  The words spoken of Gollwitzer reminded me just how important preaching is to the well-being of the church.

So, if you are a preacher don’t ever take the sermon lightly – the text chosen, the study done, the crafting of the sentences, the way it is delivered . . . it all matters. The words you speak are one way God has chosen to work in this world.  You should never forget that.  And if, you are mostly a listener to the sermons of others, again, don’t ever take the sermon lightly.  That which is faithfully and thoughtfully spoken, is a word that has the power to change the world when people hear it and respond.     

So, may we all pray that the word we speak and the word we hear be the Word of the Lord.

Truth Telling

By Dr. Mark Poindexter

Last night, the story on the national news was about the $636,000,000 Mega Millions Dollar Jackpot and all the last minute tickets that were being purchased. The reporter said that if there was one winner and they took the cash option they would receive $341,000,000.  He went on to state that if the winner kept 80% of that prize money and divided the other 20% among three charities there was a lot of good that could be done.  The first charity he mentioned was the Salvation Army.   A representative from that charity said that they could help about 150,000 families with their 1/3 of that 20%.  The second charity mentioned was Habitat for Humanity and they said they could build about 25,000 homes around the world with their third of that money.  Honestly, I don’t remember the last charity mentioned.  I started thinking about the fact that the first two charities were founded by people whose purpose was to follow the example of our Lord Jesus.  In this season when we celebrate his birth, I thought it would have been nice for the news reporter to mention that fact.  But, of course, I am a little biased.  For all that is wrong with the church, there are still some things that we get right.  The Salvation Army and Habitat are but two of the ministries rooted in the Christian faith that remind us where our attention and focus should be.  I was glad that they were highlighted on the national news even if their origins weren’t mentioned.

The more I thought about it, however, the more frustrated I got with the way this story was reported; the Mega Million winner giving a “generous” 20% to these charities.  The story could have been approached much differently.  If all the people buying tickets, hoping against the astronomical odds of getting rich, had decided instead to give their dollars to these charities there would be a whole lot more good that could be done for people.  More than one billion dollars’ worth of tickets were sold to create this jackpot of $636 million.  So a report could have been about what these three charities could have done with 1/3 of a billion dollars instead of 1/3 of 20% of $341 million dollars.  So the story was about what one person “might” do with an abundance, instead of focusing on what we all “could” do with what we already have.

The stories in the news today are about the two winning tickets for this Mega Million jackpot and the happiness of the store owners who sold those tickets.  For selling the winning tickets, the store owners get a large lump of money too.   Maybe these “winners” will be generous in sharing their winnings with the charities that were mentioned.  Maybe they won’t.   To be truthful, I think these lotteries and the “feel good stories” that come out of them are a very sad commentary on our culture and the priorities that have taken hold of us.

I know that people will argue that the funds raised with the lottery support education.  But the truth is much more complex.  This was the way lotteries were “sold” to people.  We were told the money made from the lottery would supplement education and make our public education system stronger.  Nothing wrong with that goal.   And with billions and billions of dollars raised over the past few decades through lotteries you would think that our public education system would be the best in the world.   Why then are there still so many public school systems struggling and having to make cut backs, struggling to make budget?  According to a March 2012 Washington Post story:

Because instead of using the money as additional funding, legislatures have used the lottery money to pay for the education budget and spent the money that would have been used had there been no lottery cash on other things.  Public school budgets as a result, haven’t gotten a boost because of the lottery funding. . . . . As one state education official said, “That’s been a slow and insidious movement that’s been going on for a few years now.” (“Mega Millions: Do Lotteries really benefit Public Schools”, Valerie Strauss)

So our children are sold two lies with the lottery. First, the lie that the money is going to be used to make our education system better.  And second, the lie inherent in the lottery itself, that buying tickets at the chance of getting rich is a good way to use their resources.  Hard work, education and wise decisions aren’t really important in this life.  All you need is just pure dumb luck. 

In just a few days, we will be celebrating the birth of our Lord Jesus.  Whatever else we might believe about Jesus, as Christians we do believe that he came as a word of Truth spoken to our world.  Those of us who chose to invest our life by following him are to be people who, likewise, speak a word of Truth to our world.  Though we have all at some point bought into the Lies that are part of our world, it is imperative that we continue to strive toward the speaking of Truth.  Our culture’s obsession with wealth, made so clear by the billions of lottery tickets sold for the mere chance at getting rich, is one of the most profound Lies we have believed.   All the hypothetical questions about “What would you do if you won the lottery” keep us from the real question of “What are we already doing with what we have.”   Because the truth is, all of us working together, have more than enough to make this a more just and equitable world.   

Reclaiming Religion

By Rev. Mindi

In the aftermath of the events of the past week, now that a suspect in the Boston bombings is in custody, now that the media has buzzed once again with the purpose behind the bombings being Religion—how are we to respond?

First, we need to take this question out of the “Islamic Extremists” reasoning.  While both suspects may have identified themselves with Islam, it’s clear that for the deceased suspect, he didn’t understand the Qu’ran at all (claiming that “the Bible is a cheap copy of the Qu’ran” he obviously doesn’t understand how to read history, either), and the younger suspect had only been to the local mosque once in the last three years, smoked marijuana and drank, all activities that would not be condoned by a typical “religious” Muslim.  In short, though these two brothers may have claimed to identify with Islam, they didn’t really understand the very religious tradition they claimed as what had driven them to bomb innocent civilians in their anger against the United States. 

While fundamentalism can be dangerous in any religious tradition and certainly we have seen the results of fundamentalist Islam, I see a tide shifting in the media portrayal and coverage. It is no longer about Islamic fundamentalism, but religious fundamentalism, and not even fundamentalism but religion in general.  When “religion” is labeled as a reason for why people would kill innocent civilians with homemade bombs, we all are getting thrown under the bus.

This adds fuel to the fire of why people reject religion altogether. They hear the shouts of the Westboro Baptist Church (which neither is Baptist nor a church, in my opinion, though they may be located in Westboro) and see Christians as hate-filled people. Even if, as most people know, the Westboro church is rejected by most Christians, there are enough other churches that reject lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks that people don’t want to be associated with a church, let alone Christianity. 

My concern about this recent hype in the media and the use of the word “religion” is that the discourse is going beyond the extremists, beyond the fundamentalists, beyond the right-wing branches of religious traditions. The journalists are reporting that the older brother was becoming more devout, “praying five times a day.” As one of the basic principles of Islam, that’s like saying “they began taking communion every Sunday” about a Disciple. The basic practices of a faith tradition become extreme to the rest of the world.

Religion is getting a bad reputation, and those of us in church leadership ought to be concerned about it. Because the real problem is not religion, it’s the use of violence that uses religion as a cover. It’s the use of religion as a blanket excuse to kill in the name of God, when we kill in the name of humanity, in the name of violence.

There are plenty of verses about peace in the Qu’ran, in the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures, in many other religious texts around the world. Most religions, since ancient times, have had passages and practices about peaceful living with one’s other religious neighbors, alongside the passages that justified war and violence.

What happens when we allow the media to characterize any one religion in a negative light? Eventually, it catches up to all of us. 

In the “Spiritual but not Religious” conversation, the pull to reject religion is greater with these kind of definitions. When religion is labeled as the reason for one’s negative, violent actions, it is hard to reclaim the word religion as anything good. But we must do so. If our argument for religion is that being part of an organized community is better than being solo or being part of a detached community (lest we run the risk of assuming that people who identify as Spiritual but not Religious aren’t part of a community, so be careful here) we need to speak out against those who would characterize Muslims and Islam, against voices within Christianity that are violent, hurtful or abusive, and we must not be silent.

Rob Portman and the Lack of Moral Imagination

By Derek Penwell

Rob and Will Portman.jpg

Why is there never a headline that reads “Formerly Pro-LGBT Parents Reverse Position on Marriage Equality when Child Comes Out?”

I’ve been thinking about this lately since all the hubbub over Republican Senator Rob Portman’s change of heart on the issue of same gender marriage. Portman’s new position emerged after his son, Will Portman, came out as a gay man.

That it took Rob Portman as long as it did to change his mind publicly is the source of consternation among some who believe that he should have acted sooner. His son announces he’s gay, right? How can the guy not immediately come out and publicly support a member of his family?

Look, I’m willing to cut Sen. Portman a little slack for trying to wrap his mind around a reality he’d taken public stands against over the years. One’s relationship to one’s convictions, like any good relationship, require an appropriate amount of space to develop and mature. Ocean liners and turning on a dime, and all that stuff.

My problem is the lack of moral imagination.

Let me confess, I’m ambivalent about the reason for his positional flip in particular, and the prevalence of that kind of epiphany among conservative Christians in general. On the one hand, Mr. Portman discovered something that a lot of people have known for a long time: Love makes a difference. Now, by that I don’t mean that loving someone automatically prompts acceptance of everything about that person. On the other hand, it’s hard to blame Mr. Portman for seeing the light because the abstraction of “marriage equality” finally showed up with a face he recognized.

I’ve argued elsewhere that the paradigm shift taking place in our culture with respect to LGBT rights has as much to do with personal relationships as anything else. All the hermeneutical and scientific arguments laid end to end don’t pack the same persuasive force as waking up one day to find that there are LGBT people whom you already love and continue to desire to see flourish. So, I don’t fault Rob Portman for changing his position because of his son. In fact, I’d have a bigger problem if he knew about his son, and because of that knowledge tried to change his son rather than himself.

What I find troubling isn’t that people have convictions that are subject to change because of personal relationships, or even that those convictions take some time to change. My problem is the lack of creative moral imagination evinced by an inability to feel empathy for those people you don’t know personally, the inability to imagine the pain others must feel unless those “others” happen to be planetoids within the solar system of your personal relationships.

“For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” (Matt. 5:46-47).

Here’s my problem: As I read the Gospels, Jesus seems intent on expanding his followers’ capacity to love others by strengthening their moral imaginations, not by providing them new algorithms so they can automatically know who’s not invited to the dance. Turns out, Jesus is more interested in broadening the guest list than in making sure nobody gets in wearing Chuck Taylors or a purple tuxedo (see, for instance, Matt. 22:9-10).

Jesus is keen to teach his followers to envision the world through the eyes of those most unlike us, those with whom we wouldn’t even be caught dead at the same dance. His question about loving only “those who love you” emerges in the context of his exhortation to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (5:44a-45b). Notice it doesn’t say to love those who are different from you so that they will be children of God, but so that you will.

So here’s the thing, as far as I can tell, Jesus places on us the responsibility of learning to love those for whom we have no personal attachment—not so that they’ll eventually become like us, but so that we’ll eventually become like God.

Having your heart changed because someone you know is LGBT is great. True moral achievement according to Jesus, however, is having your heart changed because you desire enough to be like God to try to see the world the way an LGBT person does … most especially an LGBT person you don’t even know.

From "Blecky" to Resurrection

Rev. Charlsi Lewis Lee

Some days I don’t feel so good about other people.   There are days when I rehearse the mean things, or the stupid things, or the ridiculous things that people have said or done to me and as a result, I just feel blecky—for those who don’t speak the language of Charlsi, that’s a combo between yucky and bleh.  I recognize that when I stew on all of the errors and the mistakes that others make, then it is becomes much easier to ignore my own stuff.  Sunday was a reminder of that for me.

Yep.  I confess that on Easter Sunday I had less than magnanimous thoughts about someone.  I was judgmental and irritated.  I even ranted about it a little bit.  And you know what happened?  Nothing.  Not one thing.  No one’s life was altered by my indignation but my own.  I was the only one who felt the wrath of Charlsi and I didn’t feel very good about it.  And then, something amazing happened.  Something beyond what I could control.  Something more powerful than even, well, me.  What was it you are undoubtedly wondering?  The Resurrection.  

I know, it sounds simple.  It is simple.  There I was all in a tizzy before worship, stressing about something ridiculous when worship started and I was reminded that it was Easter morning.  I sat down in the pew and lost myself in the story of life, death and resurrection.  I washed myself in the newness of life that only comes in the presence of God.  I remembered the graciousness of the one who breathes us all into being and the joy of the one who washes our ugliness away.  

And it wasn’t the magnificent wording of the Call to Worship, or the fabulous Iona music, or the experience of storytelling; instead, it was all of that.  It was the experience of singing and praying and celebrating an unbelievable story that only my faith can explain.   Sometimes I feel like Mary Magdalene running to tell Jesus’s friends about the resurrection:  I’ve got amazing news.  But who will believe m?   

Even writing this I think, so what?  So, I was grumpy and judgmental on Easter Sunday morning.  Who cares?  And maybe no one does except me.  I care because I was reminded that I am human.  Human, human, human.  Even on the holy of holies Easter Sunday, I was human.  And as a human I mess up, and get petty, and arrogant and then I walk into Easter Sunday worship and I experience the resurrection.  I hear songs and prayers that bring about amazing changes.  I tell stories about new hope and new faith.  I experience the very presence of God.

I get freaking excited about this stuff because I am changed.  I know, isn’t it great?  I am changed by the act of worship.  I am changed by engaging with others on Easter morning.  I am changed by telling the story of resurrection because I know what it can do to a life.  I have witnessed life restored, life renewed, life resurrected from the tombs.  I have witness not just my life restored, but individuals who have known the dark, dank experience of being entombed by sorrow, grief, addiction, pain, loss, heartache, anger, desperation and even, just plain ole pettiness.  

I have witnessed lives changed in huge, earth shattering, temple shaking ways.  I have witnessed lives changed in small, little, what may at first seem to be inconsequential ways.  I have witnessed big resurrections and little resurrections—all of them have changed lives.  All of them renew my hope in a grace that is bigger than I am and a love that bigger than all of us.  

That’s what happened to me on Easter Sunday.  I went feeling from blecky and less than, well, Christian to restored, reminded, renewed.   I can’t wait to see what Pentecost brings.