Evangelicalism’s Failure To Apply Scripture

Fifty years ago, the greatest minds of evangelical Christianity failed to apply the Scriptures accurately in the great test of the Civil Rights movement. The non-black religious leaders who marched in the movement were largely from Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and mainline faiths. Many leaders in the evangelical church were invisible, silent and distant. And many more were part of the oppression of black lives. Even though the evangelical church has now adopted the Civil Rights reforms, the core of its theology that allowed this failure has not changed. Will we fail again in our generation?

Between the period of 1880-1940 when almost 5000 black men and women were lynched, white male evangelical theologians and pastors failed to address this monstrous atrocity. The sermons and theology books written at this time ignored this cruel injustice. Will we fail again as black bodies are being lynched still in our generation?

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A Response to Dr. Russell Moore in the Aftermath of the Orlando Massacre

No Dr. Russell Moore. Straight White Male Theologians don’t get to call the shots here.  You don’t get to dictate the rules of how people mourn. You don’t get to tell people they can’t lament in voicing their complaint against the conservative evangelical community that has dominated the oppression of LGBTQ people in our country. You can’t hide behind your religious posturing to deflect criticism from yourself and others.

I need to lament and this takes the form of complaining to God and neighbor. When injustice happens, people get pissed. That is part of our biblical heritage that the evangelical community has lost. And when you don’t allow lament and mourning to go hand in hand, the anger against injustice is lessened and people that perpetuate the violence can easily hide. Homophobia perpetuated the Orlando massacre. When people tell people that they are disgusting, they become part of the system that is the problem. That is how we got here. To not call attention to that is to mourn without repentance. What’s the sense of weeping together when there is no repentance? The bullets that flew were preceded by the bullets of words.

And your words are another example of how the conservative evangelical empire continues to try to silence the voices of those in the margins under the guise of religious spirituality. Lament doesn’t look nice. It doesn’t seek to protect the feelings of people. It cries out against violence and yearns for justice. Lament must be unleashed, unedited, unrestrained.

If you want to call people to mourning, the kind that God listens to, call them to acknowledge their sin. Call them towards repentance. This is the kind of mourning we need. Because if loving God and neighbor is the greatest commandment, then to not love is the most immoral thing we have done. We have sinned against our LGBTQ neighbors.
—From A Southern Baptist Pastor in Exile160612082538-08-orlando-shooting-0612-large-169

Truth Isn’t a Mathematical Equation

I attended a conference last weekend on Racial Reconciliation. The presenter traced racism back to the 1400’s and the rise of colonialism. I pushed back and said that I believe it goes back to the 300’s when Constantine conquered Christianity. It was then that our faith became a faith of those in power rather than the oppressed. It was Constantine who pushed for the creeds that began to make Christianity about propositional beliefs rather than about justice, love, equality and the caring for the poor.

Prior to Constantine, the main creed was “Jesus is Lord”. Short and simple. Christianity as a set of creeds created the separation of us vs them. And those who hold the power/majority often times lose the heart of the vision of Isaiah 11. I don’t think we take seriously enough Jesus’ prayer when he says, “I thank you that you have kept these things hidden from the wise and the educated and revealed them to the simple.” The truths of God’s kingdom isn’t a mathematical equation that can be solved and understood. Scholars won’t guide the way. Neither will a religion of power. Love, compassion and humility will. The kingdom of God is best understood by people who are persecuted, mourning, and poor. And for someone like me who has privilege, I need to align myself with them so that I can see what they see.

Where Was I?

During the AIDS crisis of the 80’s and 90’s, when so many people were dying, I did nothing. I didn’t try to protect the gay community from the words of leaders who were pronouncing this as an act of God’s judgement. I didn’t visit them in the hospitals. I stayed away. I allowed them to suffer and die alone. I confess this as one of many crimes I have committed against humanity. I look at this photo and wonder, where was I?

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Same Sex Marriage, Remarriage and Confessional Integrity

It’s been almost a year since my church was dismissed from the Southern Baptist Convention. During the dismissal process, I had brought up concerns regarding the inconsistency of our denomination’s application of scripture.

What has been hard for me to hear at this year’s SBC Convention is how they continue to state that Christians must stand firm on the authority of scripture in regards to morality. But I’m afraid that ship sailed a long time ago.

Last year, I had presented before the national executive directors that SBC had been inconsistent with its application of scripture. The Baptist Faith and Message states, “In the spirit of Christ, Christians should oppose…all forms of sexual immorality, including adultery, homosexuality, and pornography.” According to SBC theology, remarriage from non-permitted divorce is considered adultery. Yet SBC continues to focus on homosexuality but ignores the problem of adultery.

Back then I had argued that SBC pastors were already officiating re-marriages that were considered adulterous according to SBC theology. And yet, there wasn’t a call to take a high moral ground. There wasn’t a Dietrich Bonhoeffer moment to say, “we can’t allow non-permitted remarriages to occur because adultery is an offense to God.” You don’t hear this high moral calling when it’s about straight cisgendered morality. And yet, it is adultery that is destroying families more than anything else. Remarriages continue to remain unchallenged in many SBC churches effectively ignoring “our own sins while pointing out the sins of others.”

Unfortunately, SBC continues to choose which moral issues are appropriate to stand against while turning a blind eye to heterosexual sins. This inconsistency is a grave mistake.

Albert Mohler told the SBC gathering that “there is no neutrality in attending a wedding. Period.” And yet, many SBC pastors and members continue to ignore their own Baptist Faith and Message as they officiate and sit in attendance on “adulterous” straight weddings. You can’t draw a moral line in the sand on one issue and not the other and claim you have “confessional integrity.”

My point however isn’t to say that we should dismiss churches and pastors who continue to officiate and participate in non-permitted remarriages. SBC ought to be commended for providing a third way space for them and therefore not dismissing them. It is this third way space that ought to be granted towards affirming churches even in the midst of disagreement. There must be consistency in our administration of grace especially in disagreement.

Unfortunately, the focus has been to separate rather than unite. All the while, discrimination continues towards LGBTQ people. In many states, LGBTQ persons can still be fired or refused housing based on their orientation. This injustice is what the church must work together against. And it is when we are united towards love and justice, that the world will be able to see the presence of Christ through us. I have no doubt that SBC desires to uphold the authority of Scripture, but we must also be open to being corrected when we don’t.

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I’m the pastor of New Heart Community Church, a church that made the news recently as a result of a sermon I gave a year ago. In that sermon, I explained why I had changed my mind on homosexuality, but more than that, I had called for unity in the church in the midst of our disagreement.

Our church went through a painful process which resulted in adopting a “Third Way”. As a Southern Baptist Church, it became clear that this wouldn’t be acceptable in our denomination so we were dismissed.

There have been many questions regarding my theology and the pastoral application of it. I hope that this blog will help everyone understand the theological and pastoral journey that I have been through and continue to make. May this be but one voice of many as the church processes through this difficult season.