It’s not just your imagination. We are becoming more polarized.

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Today, the Pew Research Center shared the findings of their new study on political polarization in America. Their survey of 10,000 adults confirmed that it’s not just your imagination. Polarization is getting worse.

Think about that. We’re more polarized today than we were two decades ago. When Bill Clinton was in office. When the Democrats tried to overhaul the US healthcare system and triggered one of the biggest political upheavals in our lifetime. When Republicans used their House majority to impeach a sitting US president.

Yeah. We’re more polarized than that.

For all the partisan wrangling of the 1990s, there was actually a good deal of ideological overlap between the two parties, which is another way of saying most Americans were somewhere in the middle. When I studied political science almost 20 years ago, my professor used to say the differences between the two parties were more about style than substance.

Those were the days.

Today, we’re drifting farther apart. The number of people at the far ends of the spectrum—those who are consistently (read: exclusively) conservative or liberal—has more than doubled. From 10% in 1994 to 21% today.

We don’t just dislike each other…

With increased ideological uniformity comes open hostility. The number of Democrats and Republicans who hold “very unfavorable” views of the other has skyrocketed. And it’s not just that we don’t like each other. Increasingly, we view those who disagree with us as a threat to society. More than a quarter of Democrats and over a third of Republicans see the other side in this light.

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We’re hunkering down in our respective ideological silos. No longer are those with differing views just people who disagree. They’re adversaries. Enemies who must be stopped at all costs. For the good of the nation.

You see where this is going?

It’s not hard to guess how we got here. Fox News and MSNBC both launched in 1996. Increasingly, conservatives and liberals retreat to their own private echo chambers. Fewer of us have any close friendships with those who disagree with us. We don’t even want to live in the same communities as each other. Civil discourse is giving way to a new political ghetto:

Liberals and conservatives disagree over where they want to live, the kind of people they want to live around and even whom they would welcome into their families.

Polarization is an inherently dehumanizing force. It lead us to view others as obstacles and threats, not as people whose inherent dignity and worth are every bit as real as ours. And it’s not just the political landscape that’s being affected.

Tomorrow, why the time may finally have come for a four-party system…and why that might actually diminish our polarization.

Next week, polarization and the church.

John MacArthur’s advice for parents of gay children

John MacArthur has some advice for Christian parents whose children come out of the closet: shun them.

To quote from his video:

If that adult child professes Christ, claims to be a Christian, then that becomes an issue for confrontation of the sternest and strongest kind, because that falls into Matthew 18. That’s a sin for which you go to that person. If the person doesn’t repent and turn, you take two or three witnesses and confront again. If there’s still no repentance, you tell the church, and the church pursues. And if there’s still no repentance, then there’s a public putting out of the church of that person who professes to be a Christian. That’s how you deal with that.

You have to alienate them. You have to separate them… You isolate them. You don’t have a meal with them. You separate yourself from them. You turn them over to Satan, as it were, as Scripture says.

MacArthur calls this a Matthew 18 issue, referring to the passage where Jesus tells his disciples how to deal with sin. So let’s take another look at this text.

MacArthur’s translation of choice, the NKJV, says, “If your brother sins against you.” Granted, not all manuscripts include these qualifying words. But the context—including the mention of “two or three witnesses,” evoking courtroom imagery—indicates a situation where one person has injured the other.

There’s even less ambiguity in the parallel passage, Luke 17:

If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them.

Matthew 18 isn’t about just any alleged sin. It’s about what you should do if another member of the church wrongs you personally. Even if being gay is a sin, how would my child be sinning against me personally by coming out to me? This isn’t about me. It’s about them and their identity. They haven’t done anything to me. I suppose someone might want to argue that they’ve sinned against me by letting me down as a parent. But how I respond is my choice. No one, to the best of my knowledge, has ever come out of the closet because they wanted to hurt their parents.

Matthew 18 is not a license for indiscriminate shunning. Whatever camp you’re in—affirming, non-affirming, or just confused—we should all agree this is a shamefully selective misuse of the Bible. We can do better.

If your son or daughter comes out to you, don’t follow MacArthur’s advice. Please don’t. For the sake of your child. Their life could literally depend on it. When parents reject their kids for being gay, it can send them on a downward spiral from which there may be no coming back.

  • Their risk of depression goes up.
  • They’re more likely to engage in substance abuse and unprotected sex.
  • They’re SIGNIFICANTLY more likely to attempt suicide.

Of course, maybe that’s what MacArthur thinks it means to “hand them over to Satan.” (Pro tip: it’s not.)

If you want much, much better advice on how to respond, read Benjamin Moberg’s piece. It’s beautifully written from the vantage point of personal experience. And yes, it has something for you—whether you’re open and affirming or whether you maintain a traditional sexual ethic.

Your kid’s life and well being could hang in the balance.

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Postscript: My friend Nathan makes another good point about MacArthur’s misuse of Matthew 18. Jesus is addressing the church, not families. In fact, Matthew 18 is the only time the word ekklesia, translated “assembly” or “church,” appears in the Gospels. Even if a church were to decide that a person’s sexuality was a “Matthew 18 issue”—and that’s something a great many churches, affirming and non-affirming, would dispute—it has no bearing on how a parent should treat their son or daughter for coming out. What MacArthur is advocating is wrong, and it’s based on a careless reading of Matthew 18. As Nathan put it yesterday, “No church, whatever their position on this is, has the right to tell you to alienate, shun and un-invite your own children from the dining table they grew up eating at.” MacArthur should know better. We all should.

Are vanity Bibles like this one ruining the Bible?

Guess what’s coming this fall?

Duck Dynasty Bible

The Robertson family is publishing their own specialty Bible, The Duck Commander Faith and Family Bible. It features ancillary notes on faith, family, freedom, and other traditional values. (Let’s hope this doesn’t include the “value” of pretending the whole Jim Crow era never happened.*)

Last week, I wrote for OnFaith about four modern versions of the Bible that I believe are ruining the Bible—four ways in which the proliferation of Bibles is having the opposite of its desired effect. Commoditizing Scripture is causing us to read and value it less, not more.

But I seem to have neglected one version: the vanity Bible.

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To be fair, vanity Bibles are nothing new. Joyce Meyer has one. John MacArthur has one. Charles Swindoll has one. Max Lucado has three. Even Thomas Kinkade has his own Bible. (No word on whether it includes anything as awesome as this.)

Some of these so-called vanity Bibles are better than others. At least most of the people listed above can lay claim to being Bible teachers of one kind or another. And not all of them opted to have their name put in the title.

But a Duck Dynasty Bible?

The product description notes that one of the contributing family members is a pastor with 22 years of experience. That’s good. But that’s not why anyone is going to buy this Bible. People are buying it for the guys who make popular duck calls and star in a reality TV show of dubious authenticity. (I guess I could’ve just said “star in a reality TV show.”)

I don’t doubt the Robertson family loves the Bible. I don’t doubt they’re serious about their faith. But it’s hard to see this as something more than an attempt to extend the lucrative Duck Dynasty franchise.

Here’s the question: Should we be using holy writ to grow our own empires?

And can the notion of vanity Bibles be reconciled with Paul’s rebuke against those who rallied around the first-century equivalent of celebrity pastors?

“I follow Paul.”

“I follow Apollos.”

You can almost hear the modern-day version.

“I follow MacArthur.”

“I follow Driscoll.”

“I follow… the Duck Dynasty guys.”

If we want people to take the Bible seriously, maybe we should stop cheapening it with gimmicky novelty editions. No wonder Bible reading fell 20% in a single generation.

Related post: The real difference between Phil Robertson and Pope Francis

*In fairness to the publisher, I know from personal experience that the lead times on projects like this can be considerable. So it’s possible they signed this deal before Phil Robertson’s controversial comments about gays and African Americans last December. That still leaves larger question about the legitimacy of vanity Bibles unresolved, in my opinion.

 

4 unintended consequences of turning the Bible into a consumer product

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This is my latest piece for OnFaith. In an era when we have more Bibles than ever, Bible reading is in serious decline. Maybe all those Bibles are part of the problem.

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I was standing in the ruins of one of the world’s oldest synagogues when I realized I didn’t want to be a Bible publisher anymore.

The epiphany came at a rather inconvenient moment, since the whole reason I was there was to convince our guide, a respected Bible teacher, that he should do a study Bible. Or, as they like to say in the publishing business, I was trying to “acquire” him.

I’d been working for an evangelical publisher for almost five years. I loved my job. I loved publishing Bibles — and I published a lot of them. Study Bibles. Youth Bibles. Audio Bibles. We had a Bible for everyone…or at least we aspired to.

We wanted more people to read the Bible. And for a time, I thought publishing more Bibles was the best way to make that happen.

But standing in that synagogue — hearing about the role scripture played in the lives of those who had gathered there — I started to question that assumption.

At synagogues in and around Galilee, young Jewish children would memorize large chunks of scripture. We’re not talking about your average memory verse; we’re talking whole books. In truly exceptional cases, a student might memorize the entire Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. Each Sabbath, the community would gather for worship. They would celebrate as whatever scroll they had in their possession was carefully unfurled to show everyone that the words were still on the page. God was still speaking to them.

They had nothing like our access to the Bible. No one dreamed of owning his own personal copy of the scriptures. Most rural synagogues were lucky to have one or two scrolls, and whatever they did have was likely shared on a rotating basis with other nearby synagogues.

Yet they loved the text. They couldn’t get enough of it — literally.

Standing in that synagogue, it occurred to me that we have the opposite problem today. We have more Bibles than ever. I had never stopped to ask whether this was a good thing. I just assumed more was better. Yet for all the Bibles out there, one thing we don’t have is more Bible reading.

What if that’s not just coincidence?

What if the proliferation of Bibles is part of the reason we’re reading scripture less?

What if familiarity and abundance breed indifference?

Read the rest at OnFaith.

Image by Bright Adventures on Flickr

Blueprint for a reconfigured humanity

Some of the discussion around Monday’s Memorial Day post reflects a tension Christians have long wrestled with in this country: just how far are we expected to go in living out Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount?

It’s tempting to think of Jesus’ definitive sermon as a personal ethic, a moral ideal meant for individuals, not whole societies or communities. And while the teachings in the Sermon on the Mount were directed to Jesus’ followers (and would-be followers), they were more than suggestions on how to be a better person. Jesus envisioned a far more radical transformation; his Sermon on the Mount was his blueprint for a reconfigured humanity. And this blueprint was built on a foundation of nonretaliation and enemy-love, which preclude violence as a way of achieving our desired ends.

Preston Sprinkle does a great job unpacking the nonviolent teachings of Jesus and their broader implications in chapters 6 and 7 of his book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence. What’s fascinating is that he does so from within a conservative Reformed perspective. I was part of this tradition for several years, and I never heard someone of his perspective advocate for nonviolence until now. As someone who wholeheartedly agrees that nonretaliation is more than some “insignificant whisper” on the margins of Jesus’ teachings, I hope Preston’s case gets a wide hearing in conservative Reformed circles—and beyond.

Here are some quotes were reflecting on:

Jesus’ Sermon [on the Mount] is more than a personal ethic—a way in which individuals can be better people. Rather, the Sermon is intended to reconfigure God’s new community, to mold His people into a visibly different kingdom in the face of all other imposter kingdoms. Or in Jesus’ own words, we are to be the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”—a public display of a different way.

Jesus invades every sphere of our lives. He claims lordship over it all… He doesn’t let us hold on to little compartments of life where we can respond to evil however we darn well please. Trying to find exceptions to the rule works against what Jesus is doing here. Jesus demands Calvary-shaped behavior that confounds and loves the enemy.

The New Testament is ubiquitously clear: don’t retaliate with evil for evil; do good to those who hate you; embrace your enemy with a cross-shaped, unyielding divine love. Such a rich and pervasive trajectory—from Jesus’ Sermon [on the Mount], modeled through His life, commended to His disciples, taken up by the apostles, and demanded of the early church—shows that nonretaliation and enemy-love are not some insignificant whisper lingering on the edge of Jesus’ ethical landscape. They are fundamental identity markers for citizens of God’s kingdom.

You can order Preston’s book here.

An alternative prayer for Memorial Day (pacifist edition)

I generally feel conflicted on Memorial Day. It is right that we should honor those who’ve sacrificed everything because of a noble desire to serve. It feels less right that we should baptize their sacrifice as a pretext for the next war, and the next one, and the next one…

Other pacifist-leaning writers have already shared their Memorial Day reflections. (See, for example, this prayer from Kurt Willems and this excellent post from J.R. Daniel Kirk two years ago.) I decided I’d tap into the two theological streams I’m drawn to most—the Anglican and Anabaptist traditions—to write an alternative prayer for Memorial Day…

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We remember each person who serves in our nation’s armed forces. We pray for their safekeeping. We pray they will never have to take someone else’s life.

We remember those deployed overseas. We pray they may be reunited with their loved ones soon.

We remember those who have experienced combat. We pray you would restore peace to their souls and wholeness to their bodies.

We remember those who have died in combat. We pray for the repose of their souls and the comfort of their families.

We remember the innocent victims of our wars—and of all wars:

We remember those at Guantanamo Bay. We pray for those innocent of wrongdoing, those cleared for release but with no freedom in sight, and those held more than a decade without trial.

We remember the children we have killed with our drone strikes:

Wajid, 9,

Ayeesha, 3,

Syed, 7,

Talha, 8,

Zayda, 7,

Hoda, 5,

And hundreds more.

We remember the 137,000 civilians killed during and after the war in Iraq.

We remember the children of Syria, Nigeria, and everywhere conflict deprives a child of their right to grow up in a safe and nurturing environment.

We confess that evil is real and that it lurks within our hearts. We have been quick to condemn the violence of others while ignoring the deeds we have committed with our own hands.

We confess that we have put nation above church, flag above cross. We acknowledge that as followers of Christ, we have but one Memorial Day. It is commemorated with bread and wine, not with beers and barbeque.

We confess we have failed to care for those we’ve sent into combat, for those who bear the physical and emotional scars of war. We acknowledge our duty to them, a responsibility that does not end when the cable news channels have moved on.

We confess that we have not heard our Lord’s call to put away our swords. We acknowledge that war to end war is a fantasy, that redemptive violence is a myth, and that peace through conquest is an unattainable lie.

We confess that our freedom was not won by a soldier spilling someone else’s blood, but by a lamb who refused to take up the sword, who allowed his own blood to be spilled. We give thanks for the cross, God’s answer to a world that’s addicted to violence.

We mourn all those whose lives have been sacrificed to the gods of war, and we pray for the resolve to pursue another way, to “let go of the sword and take the hand of the Crucified One.”

On this Memorial Day, we pray that we will prove ourselves to be subjects worthy of the Prince of Peace.

HT Brian ZahndJ.R. Daniel Kirk, Kurt Willems, Preston Sprinkle

If this had happened here, we would call it persecution…

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The Nassar’s farm, before and after demolition (courtesy Tent of Nations/Nassar Farm Facebook page)

Earlier this week, the Israeli government bulldozed 1,500 fruit trees on a family farm near Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.

The Tent of Nations farm has been owned by the Nassar family for nearly a century. But the military declared the trees were on “state land” and had to be uprooted. The Nassars appealed to the courts and were awaiting a verdict when the illegal demolition took place.

It’s a relatively common story. For decades the Israeli government has used a complex bureaucratic system and a powerful civil planning authority to take control of more than half the land in the West Bank. During Operation Cast Lead in 2009, farms in Gaza were targeted and in some cases destroyed.

But what if something similar had taken place here? You see, the Nassars are a Christian family. Their farm, Tent of Nations, is a Christian ministry registered under Bethlehem Bible College, an evangelical institution.

Can you even imagine the outrage here if the US government targeted an evangelical Christian ministry and bulldozed its headquarters?

The truth is, if what happened to the Nassars had happened anywhere else, Christians would be justifiably outraged. We would call it persecution. We would stage protests. We would take to our Facebook and Twitter feeds en masse. We would demand justice. 

So what happens when the persecutor is someone most evangelicals consider a friend? Will we call this act for what it is? Will we speak truth to power? Will we stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters, as we are biblically obligated to? Or will we put politics ahead of the body of Christ?

There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for the other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it… You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it.
—Paul, 1 Corinthians (NIV)

Update: This is a video RELEVANT Magazine made about Tent of Nations a few months ago, called “We Refuse to Be Enemies.” Well worth watching.

(HT Jonathan Damico @damicojc)

In which my book has a title, a cover, and a release date

So this is real, friends.

Yesterday, I saw the final cover of my book. With my actual name on it.

Apparently, they’re really letting me do this. (Yeah, I’m surprised too.)

As of today, my book has a title, a cover, and a release date.

The Story of King Jesus will be published on March 1, 2015. Five days before my 38th birthday. A month to the day before our son turns one. Exactly two hundred days after our daughter turns four.

She’s the first of two very good reasons I have for doing this book. I wrote the first draft when she wasn’t even two years old. Back then I had no idea it would ever become a book. I just wanted something we could use to nurture her spiritual curiosity and introduce her to a more holistic gospel story, the kind of thing Scot McKnight calls for in his book The King Jesus Gospel. Something that’s more than just a set of spiritual laws. A gospel that’s not about escaping from this world but something much better: the story of God making this world right and good again.

I’m thankful I get to share the end result with you. Thankful that David C Cook is taking a chance on this first-time author (one who never thought his first real book would be a kid’s book). Thankful that a talented illustrator named Nick Lee has thrown everything he’s got into making this story come alive with his captivating artwork.

And, of course, thankful to any of you who end up buying a copy or sharing it with someone who’s wondering how to introduce their kids to their faith.

This is coming March 1.

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Think #BringBackOurGirls is the new #Kony2012? Here are 3 reasons to reconsider.

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I wasn’t a fan of #Kony2012.

I thought the filmmakers oversimplified the real story in Uganda, leaving key details on the cutting room floor. They should have considered how their goal of “making Kony famous” would play to a Ugandan audience — the very people they wanted to help.

Most of all, they perpetuated an unfortuante stereotype of Africans as voiceless, hopeless, powerless without us. #Kony2012 did a great deal to help white people feel better about themselves and arguably not enough to elevate the voices of those directly impacted by events in Northern Uganda.

As of this writing, Joseph Kony remains at large, despite the film’s stated goal of having him brought to justice by the end of 2012. The campaign’s most lingering effect seems to be the #Kony2012 graffiti still visible in my neighborhood park.

So I get why the latest example of hashtag activitism, #BringBackOurGirls, has met with skepticism in some corners. There are similarities to #Kony2012. But there are also at least three key differences to consider.

1. #BringBackOurGirls started in Nigeria.

As Megan Gibson wrote for Time, #Kony 2012 was a case of “outsiders looking in.” To its critics, Invisible Children has always struggled with a brand that depicts white people coming to Africa’s rescue. (As have other western NGOs.)

#BringBackOurGirls was, by contrast, a Nigerian response to a Nigerian tragedy. The hashtag started trending in Nigeria in late April — well before it made headlines in the West. Its first known use was in a tweet by Ibrahim M Abdullahi, a Nigerian solicitor. Check out this geotagged map to see how it spread from there.

#BringBackOurGirls reverses the typical direction of global activism. This change is long overdue. No matter how good our intentions, when we come rushing in with our own solutions, we are bound to get it wrong. Good activism is about listening and responding to those we aim to serve. They ought to lead the conversation. They get to say what their future should look like. It’s not our place to decide that for them.

2. #BringBackOurGirls shamed the mainstream media into covering something that matters.

Remember when the missing flight MH370 was the only thing happening in the world according to CNN? Remember when they were treating every far-fetched theory as if it were plausible news and torturing passengers’ families with banal questions like, “How does this make you feel?”

American news outlets largely ignored the kidnapping of 276 Nigerian girls at first. (You can bet they would’ve been more interested had the kidnapping taken place in Europe or America.)

Of course, our favorite media outlets were only giving us what we wanted, chasing after the most sensational and facile stories in order to pander to their core demographic. That’s the problem when you run your newsroom according to a corporate business model.

#BringBackOurGirls shamed the mainstream media and its enablers. (Hint: that would be us.) It put 276 kidnapped girls on the radar by making their story trend on Twitter days before CNN and its competitors could be bothered to look up from their usual tabloid drivel.

3. #BringBackOurGirls forced the Nigerian government to respond.

The Nigerian government was painfully slow to address the kidnapping. There’s even some evidence to suggest they could’ve prevented the tragedy but failed to act. Nigeria’s president, Jonathan Goodluck, took weeks to even comment on the abduction. (Imagine the backlash if President Obama waited so long to address a similar incident here.)

Nigerian voices sounded in protest, caught the world’s attention, and then that of their own government. No, a hashtag will not, in fact, bring back our girls. But those who lump all examples of hashtag activism into the same bag and dismiss them as ineffective miss the point. To goal of #BringBackOurGirls was not to frighten Boko Haram into surrender through a mere Twitter campaign. The goal was to get people’s attention, to force those who CAN act to do so. As Matt Collins wrote for the Guardian:

Selfies and hashtags are unlikely to lead to social change on their own – only real governmental pressure and action can do that. But world governments listen, and act, when enough people speak. Social media is the most shareable, durable and global collection of voices the world has ever seen, one which is increasingly difficult to ignore.

There are valid criticisms to be made. Not everything with the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag plastered on it has been helpful. (For example, the BBC using a 14-year-old photo of a girl who isn’t Nigerian to represent the kidnapped school girls.) There are legitimate concerns being voiced in some parts of Africa about what else all the international attention might lead to — in particular, an expanded US military footprint in the region.

And there is a real danger that hashtag activism will, as Caitlin Dewey wrote for the Washington Post, oversimplify and sentimentalize the issues in Nigeria without actually achieving anything.

All these are legitimate concerns well worth taking into account. We are being naïve if we think hashtag activism will solve anything on its own, or if we equate posting socially conscious selfies with actually doing something. But in the case of #BringBackOurGirls, hashtag activism has amplified the voices of those we should’ve been listening to from the start. It forced a conversation. And conversation can be a powerful force for change.

God and the Gay Christian: 6 highlights from the @Patheos live chat

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Yesterday Patheos hosted a live chat for Matthew Vine’s new book God and the Gay Christian, featuring Matthew, Rachel Held Evans, Tony Jones, and, occasionally, Jay Bakker. (No live chat is complete without a few technical hiccups.) I haven’t read the book yet; it’s in my to-read pile. But I listened in on their lunchtime conversation, which is available on the Patheos website.

Here are 6 things that stood out…

1. Dispensing with less helpful arguments

Matthew has no interest in some of the more speculative arguments which are sometimes put forward — for example, the notion that David and Jonathan were gay lovers. Or Ruth and Naomi. Or Jesus and John.

These arguments seem to assume that any affection between two men (or two women) depicted in the Bible must be implicitly sexual, as if there were no such thing as nonsexual affection between two closely connected people of the same gender. If you’re pro-same-sex marriage and you’re making this argument, it’s not helping your case. I’m also worried that it plays into the idea that being gay is all about sex. If the church needs to stop reducing gay people to a particular sex act, then Matthew is right to shift the debate to other issues (regardless of whether you agree with him on those issues or not).

2. Matthew vs. Tony

Not one to disappoint, Tony Jones brought a slightly contrarian voice to the discussion. He and Matthew went back and forth over how to deal with Paul, though think it’s futile to read Paul’s comments on homosexual acts as a commentary on the kind of same-sex relationships that are possible today.

Matthew is writing as an evangelical. That’s the whole point of his book, to make a theologically conservative case for the affirming view. So it’s not surprising he wants to maintain a high view of Paul. “We don’t have to disagree with or demote Paul to affirm gay Christians in the church,” he argues.

Tony countered that Paul couldn’t know what we know today about sexual orientation; therefore, he wasn’t in a position to speak directly to the kind of issues we’re wrestling with today. For Tony, this is no more a problem than the fact that Paul didn’t know anything about cars, yet we’re OK with driving them.

Tony’s point is worth hearing. Part of reading and interpreting the Bible is understanding its original context (and limitations) before we try to bring it into our context. You can’t just dump the Bible into our setting and expect everything to translate. This, among other things, is why no one thinks the earth is stationary, despite clear evidence that’s what the biblical writers believed.

But there’s also a real danger of becoming arrogant, of thinking that we’re more enlightened than the biblical writers were. (Poor old chaps.) Matthew’s caution against this tendency is worth also hearing—especially in this debate.

3. Celibacy as a gift, not a command

All the panelists felt that Matthew’s chapter on celibacy is one of the most compelling parts of his book. Again, I haven’t read it (yet), but Matthew’s argument, summarized by Tony at one point, seems to be that celibacy was never mandated in the biblical text. According to Jesus and Paul, some people had the gift of celibacy. But no one was ever ordered to be celibate. Most of us certainly aren’t wired to for celibacy, in any case.

So the question Matthew raises is what do you do if someone who isn’t wired for celibacy IS wired to be attracted to people of the same gender? The conservative view has traditionally said that gay people have one of two options: conversion therapy or celibacy. Now that even many conservatives have disavowed conversion therapy, celibacy is all that’s left. But if celibacy is a gift, not a command, then doesn’t that mean we have to assume God has given the gift of celibacy to every LGBT person? I don’t think many of us, regardless of what side we take, would be comfortable pressing that assumption too far, in light of reality.

If neither celibacy nor a change of orientation are realistic for the vast majority of gay people, then we’re left to wrestle with the question posed by Rachel Held Evans: is it right to deny gay Christians the opportunity to sanctify their sexual desires through a covenant?

4. What does Al Mohler really think about orientation?

God and the Gay Christian hadn’t been on bookshelves for a day when Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler issued an ebook rebuttal, coauthored with James Hamilton, Denny Burk, Owen Strachan, and Heath Lambert. (Note: They were given prepublication copies of Matthew’s book, so they were able to interact with his content.)

During the live chat, Matthew shared what disappointed him about their response: namely, Mohler’s claim that if you accept sexual orientation as an innate part of someone’s identity, then you’ve undermined the whole Bible.

It seems like the “if you believe X, then you’ve undermined the Bible/gospel/Christianity” card gets played a lot these days. But this one made me skeptical. Could Mohler really have written that? After all, just three years ago he made ripples in his own denomination when he acknowledged that sexual orientation is “not something that people can just turn on and turn off.” At the time he confessed:

We’ve lied about the nature of homosexuality and have practiced what can only be described as a form of homophobia. We’ve used the ‘choice’ language when it is clear that sexual orientation is a deep inner struggle and not merely a matter of choice.

I haven’t read Al Mohler’s ebook yet (I plan to after reading Matthew’s book), so I was curious to see if Matthew depicted his argument correctly.

He did. Here’s what Mohler wrote:

If the modern concept of sexual orientation is to be taken as a brute fact, then the Bible simply cannot be trusted.

That seems like a far cry from his previous affirmation that sexual orientation is not “a matter of choice.” So which is it for Al Mohler?

5. A conservative sexual ethic

One of the key points to remember is that Matthew is not arguing for a more liberal or permissive sexuality. He wants to call gay Christians to the same standard of conduct to which the church has traditionally held heterosexual couples: no sex outside marriage, monogamy within marriage, no adultery, etc.

From a Christian perspective, sex is sacred. Commitment is a nonnegotiable part of sexual ethics.
—Matthew Vines

True, this won’t satisfy those for whom ceding any ground on same-sex marriage is unacceptable — or those on the other side who’ve gone further in questioning the sexual ethic taken for granted by most evangelicals as biblical. But it does seem like it could bolster Matthew’s argument against the “slippery slope” accusation.

6. A broader conversation

Near the end of the live chat, Matthew and the other panelists acknowledged that change won’t come easy.

Rachel Held Evans believes that many people, especially pastors, are afraid of losing everything if they are open with their desire to be more affirming. She called on people to be brave and start some uncomfortable conversations anyway, trusting that there are more people than we think who are ready for a new conversation.

Tony Jones voiced pessimism about the church’s ability to find a third way, accommodating both the traditional and affirming camps. But he felt that more and more individuals will continue to “make the shift” as they come into contact with people like Matthew and books like God and the Gay Christian.

Matthew similarly acknowledged the incremental nature of change and said that the first step is bringing LGBT Christians into the room and making sure they’re part of the conversation. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen, as demonstrated by the Southern Baptists’ recent ERLC conference devoted to the topic of human sexuality. “Having a whole conference about this and not including any gay Christian voices is not OK,” Matthew said.

I suppose someone could make the same point about the live chat. There was no voice there to represent the traditional view. While I don’t think a 60-minute online chat should be held to the same standard as a three-day conference, I hope future conversations will bring more voices to the table. If we are going to find a third way (despite Tony’s probably well-placed pessimism), it won’t happen unless we start listening to each other.

That being said, it takes two to tango. The question is whether Al Mohler is in the mood to dance.