The Myth of Tolerance

In the wake of Donald Trump’s visit to Springfield, there’s a huge mistake constantly recurring in the rhetoric on the right. People keep saying that the left is hypocritical because they preach tolerance yet don’t tolerate opposing viewpoints, otherwise they wouldn’t have protested Trump’s visit to Springfield. So let me clear this up:

First, the left‘s goal is not “tolerance.” The left’s goal is justice, equity, and dignity. The left protests policies — not necessarily persons — that are intolerant toward others: policies that take life, rather than give life (i.e., policies that perpetuate patriarchy, racism, cishet normativity, economic injustice, etc.). If our society is tolerant of policies that destroy life, then we serve gods of death. The left’s commitment is to the flourishing of life and sometimes that means protesting policies that take life rather than give life.

This isn’t hard to see — just think about protests down through the years that were unequivocally intolerant of slavery, or women being denied the right to vote, or Jim Crow laws. The ethical integrity of each of these movements was directly linked to the level of intolerance for slavery, patriarchy, and racism. In these situations, being tolerant of slavery, patriarchy, and Jim Crow were the worst ethical positions possible, not the best. Again, this really isn’t hard to see.

Tolerance is the lowest common denominator and basically means that you can speak your mind without fear of arrest or danger to your life. But it doesn’t mean for one second that the value of your beliefs must be accepted, or that the import of your policies should go unchecked. Especially when support for such policies is precisely what leads other lives (black lives, women’s lives, LGBTQ lives, migrant lives, non-white lives, etc.) to be in danger.

God’s love qualifies God’s power, not the other way around

It’s a mistake to equate God with absolute power. This sets up an authoritarian view of God, based on hierarchy and control. Which in turn teaches humanity that authoritarianism, hierarchy, and control are virtues instead of vices. When this is the case, God doesn’t just condone authoritarianism, hierarchy, and control, but models such things. **This is wrong. This is bad theology.** It leads to horrific abuse in religious circles and the valorization of authoritarian hierarchies in family and society. When authoritarianism and hierarchy are prized, powerful people take advantage of their position and harm others, especially the most vulnerable. A God (or institution) that sanctions such things is not worthy of worship but of condemnation. It’s little wonder that throughout history powerful people have appealed to an authoritarian God to justify all kinds of problematic hierarchies, saying they are just part of the natural order, whether it be slavery, patriarchy, segregation, homophobia, etc. This has to stop.

When we imagine God, let’s not begin by associating God with absolute power, for that is to chase a demon that destroys. If we need to speak of God, let us instead imagine God as one who comes in solidarity, mutuality, compassion, and love — which is a threat to authoritarian power and hierarchy (as Jesus was a threat to authoritarian power and hierarchy). From this perspective, God can be understood as a weak force with an affective appeal, coming from on low not on high. Here God is not imagined in terms of some sort of supreme omnipotent supernatural being residing somewhere above the universe controlling all things (enough with that image of God), but rather as the cry for justice that rises up from the ground, from below, leading us to question and challenge all things that harm rather than heal.

Simply put, any God that does not conform to the image of love cannot save. Such gods harm rather than heal. If we wish to practice theology that gives life rather than takes life, let’s begin with the premise that God’s love qualifies God’s power, not the other way around. It’s past time for the church to get this right, lest the church fail yet another generation.

Hey church people, it isn’t sinful to be LGBTQ — but it is sinful to oppress those who are

There’s something deeply flawed in the way the church talks about the affirmation of LGBTQ persons — and it’s time for it to change.

For as long as I’ve been preaching (and of course long before), LGBTQ brothers and sisters and siblings have always had to be on the defensive, trying to provide all of the reasons why it’s not sinful for them to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Book after book, Bible study after Bible study, sermon after sermon, frequently trying to convince Nice Straight Cis Church People that it’s okay for LGBTQ people to be part of the church (how kind of Nice Straight Cis Church People to consider letting LGBTQ people be part of the club too, right?). I honestly can’t imagine how exhausting all of this must be for my LGBTQ friends and neighbors.

With this in mind, it’s past time for the church — especially Nice Straight Cis Church People — to repent.

Because here’s the thing. If the church wants to talk about sin as related to LGBTQ brothers and sisters and siblings, then let’s talk about the real sin at work here: the repeated and systemic oppression of LGBTQ people by the church.

Why should the LGBTQ community always have to defend themselves as being “okay in the sight of God,” when in fact the harmful (i.e., sinful) position — that which robs life rather than gives life — is found in *not* affirming LGBTQ persons as being beautifully made in the image of God? After all, it’s cis-hetero-normativity that is oppressive (which is to say, sinful). Instead of thinking about whether or not LGBTQ persons should be allowed to be fully included in the life of the church, the church should be celebrating who they are, made in the image of God, and celebrating the gifts they offer to the church.

As debates over the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church have played out over these many years, Nice Straight Cis Church People have perfected the art of oppression by constantly “discerning” (read: “delaying”) how the “spirit” (read: “personal opinion”) is leading them. But it’s an absolute travesty for LGBTQ people to have to constantly prove their basic humanity and worth — not to mention their gifts for the church — to Nice Straight Cis Church People who somehow think they’re the gatekeepers and spokespersons for God, because — newsflash! — they aren’t anymore than anyone else is, regardless of however much they might try to convince you they are (usually through their finely crafted mastery of what my theologian friend, Sarah Morice Brubaker, has technically and accurately classified as “theological blowhardism”).

There are a multitude of Christian books and resources that provide all kinds of reasons why faithful Christians should fully affirm LGBTQ persons — not in spite of one’s faith, but precisely because of it. As such, the burden of proof should not be on LGBTQ persons to defend their basic humanity; the true sin is found in Nice Straight Cis Church People who constantly require them to do so.

A few years ago, a pastor of a megachurch in a nearby town was fighting a local non-discrimination ordinance that protected the rights of LGBTQ persons (in other words, he wanted to discriminate against them). Yet he was quick to note that LGBTQ people are still welcome in his church. He said that their sin was like any other sin, and went on to list

“homosexual orientation and practice” with “anger, chemical addiction, gambling, slander, stealing, pride, lying, etc.” In so doing, he demonstrated a fatal (yet far too pervasive) flaw in Nice Straight Cis Church People’s understanding of sin. After all, sin is that which is harmful — that which takes life, instead of that which gives life. While the behaviors he named hurt individuals and communities, what actually hurts LGBTQ persons is the repression of their sexual orientation or gender identity. For example, if someone cheats on their beloved by committing adultery, that is harmful. If someone is struggling with opioid abuse, that is harmful. But if in a relationship neither partner cheats on the other, well, obviously, that’s much healthier for the relationship. If one is struggling with addiction, and gets sober, one’s life improves, it gets better. And if an LGBTQ person is able to fully live in to who they are — as beloved in the sight of God — their life improves, it gets better. It doesn’t bring harm but, conversely, healing. Which is the precise opposite of what sin does.

Affirming LGBTQ persons doesn’t harm, it heals. It saves. It’s not sinful to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. But it is sinful to oppress those who are. And it’s past time for the church to change its ways.

Preaching as Resistance: 10 Unfortunate Myths

Preaching as Resistance 400As I put together Preaching as Resistance, I kept running up against several recurring, unfortunate myths related to preaching and resistance. I put a list of ten together, and I’d be curious if any of you have encountered these before? And which others you’d add that I left out?

 

Myth 1: Preaching as resistance means you have to choose to be either prophetic or pastoral.

This is a pervasive yet false dichotomy designed to maintain the status quo; it’s especially popular in privileged circles. Preaching prophetically is among the most important ways to extend pastoral care, especially by equipping listeners to seek justice with and for those crushed by the ruling powers. If one doesn’t preach prophetically, at least from time to time as situations demand, one also neglects to preach pastorally.

 

Myth 2: Preaching as resistance is mostly relegated to high profile leaders like William Barber and Jim Wallis.

While preachers of the resistance find great inspiration from well-known voices (and often take their cue from them), they also know history is frequently shaped by those whose names history will never recall. The movement is galvanized and sustained by everyday pastors and people who refuse to stand idly by in the face of injustice, whether famous or not.

 

Myth 3: Preaching as resistance should be avoided because churches are supposed to preach the gospel instead of politics.

This is another popular yet false dichotomy designed to maintain the status quo. Jesus’ teachings had overt political implications from the start. Plus, not to be political is to be political; not to speak is to speak. As Elie Wiesel said, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.”

 

Myth 4: Preaching as resistance recognizes that progressives have it all together; it’s only the conservatives that need to be called out.

Preaching in progressive circles sometimes runs the risk of becoming a form of virtue signaling. For example, it’s possible for some progressives to call out the sin of white-cis-hetero-patriarchal power structures, yet at the same time be quite complicit in benefitting from such structures. But resisting oppressive structures includes recognizing how one is complicit in them, and then working toward transformation.

 

Myth 5: Preaching as resistance is new.

Truth be told, preaching as resistance has a pedigree at least as ancient as St. Paul, and has long been a primary mode of sermonic discourse among the oppressed in the U.S. The rise of Trump may amplify the racism and misogyny that runs deep in our country, but it’s been in the DNA of the U.S. since its inception, and preachers have long been responding to it.

 

Myth 6: Preaching as resistance only takes place in liberal churches in liberal areas among members who all think alike.

Contrary to popular assumptions, preaching as resistance isn’t relegated to big steeple churches in big cities in blue states. Rather, it’s taking place everywhere, including small towns across the heartland, where it’s not uncommon for parishioners to pass Confederate flags waving high in the air on their way to worship. Our world needs to be saved, and pastors are called to witness to God’s saving work in Christ. Not just in blue states, but in red and purple ones too. That’s where you’ll find some of the most courageous pastors around.

 

Myth 7: Preaching as resistance is accomplished in single, stand-alone sermons.

Transformative preaching takes place in community, and it’s forged over the course of many sermons over many weeks, months, and years. As Rev. Elizabeth Grasham recently observed, the whole idea of crisis preaching is a misnomer. In times like these, we just reel from one crisis to the next, which makes it impossible to fire off one sermon after another on topic after topic. Deeper foundations must be built in order to withstand the deluge of information and announcements that flood us on a weekly, if not daily, basis. Preaching as resistance is committed to the work of community formation every bit as much as it’s committed to the work of theological formation.

 

Myth 8: Preaching as resistance should be left to heads of staff.

While it’s not uncommon for senior ministers to occupy pride of place in the pulpit, this collection of sermons shows that some of the most important preaching taking place today is by those who aren’t serving in the role of senior minister, lead pastor, or head of staff. This isn’t a knock on heads of staff, many of whom are also great preachers! It’s just a way of pointing out that there are all kinds of wonderful preachers out there who don’t serve in such a capacity, for whatever reason. And we are better off for listening to them.

 

Myth 9: Preaching as resistance is not a means to an end but an end in itself.

Good preaching helps listeners experience God’s call for justice, which in turn leads them to hunger for it all the more, well beyond the liturgical setting. The purpose of preaching is edification and transformation, so that listeners are equipped to partner with Christ to do the work of justice. Otherwise, it’s all just empty lip service.

 

Myth 10: Preaching as resistance is a constant downer, focusing only on the negative and never the positive.

This is far from the truth! Preaching as resistance compares and contrasts the world as it is in comparison to how God wants it to be; this includes celebrating the hope, possibility, and transformation evoked in the gospel, which leads listeners to experience the saving beauty and wonder of God’s transformative love that no principality or power — not even a ruling despot in the White House — can take from them. If this isn’t good news I don’t know what is.

Hey Christians, Trump isn’t pro-life

As a Christian pastor, I’ve grown so tired of Christians constantly playing the “pro-life” card to justify their support of Trump’s inhumane policies. It’s like the “get out of jail free” card for supporting moral depravity, and it’s flawed for so many reasons:

First, for context: Virtually every Christian defense of Trump ultimately devolves to someone saying, “Well, he may be wrong on [insert inhumane policy here] but at least he’s pro-life, unlike the baby killers on the left!” (As if that’s an accurate assessment of the left’s position.)

This is problematic from the outset because *all of the data* shows that the left’s policies are the ones that actually reduce abortions (by working to reduce poverty & provide access to quality health care & education). The right’s policies are repeatedly shown to *increase* the rate of abortion.

But those on the right consistently refuse to acknowledge this widely available data. So the question emerges: “If you really do care about being ‘pro-life,’ then why continue supporting GOP policies that most definitely are not?”

The answer to this question helps us see why Christians on the right so desperately cling to the myth that Trump is “pro-life.” Because if it turns out he’s not (spoiler alert: he’s not!), then all of a sudden they have to own up to the fact that supporting Trump means supporting a lying racist misogynist, for no good reason. A person may still wish to support Trump, but then it becomes clear what they’re *actually* supporting.

(For the record, I put “pro-life” in quotes because the truth of the matter is that Trump’s policies are a threat to life. They wage war on immigrants, women, the poor, people of color, Muslims, LGBTQ persons, etc.)

Saying you support Trump because he’s “pro-life” provides the veneer necessary to support his otherwise very non-pro-life positions. Take this away and you have to own up to what he actually is — a nihilistic authoritarian white nationalist despot who lies with impunity and lacks all Christian character. And it’s hard to support that with a straight face.

Again, a person may still wish to support Trump. But make no mistake about it: if one does so, they’re supporting Trump for what he is: one who appeals to white nationalism, racism, misogyny, and policies that put children and families in cages and concentration camps (that’s what they are). This isn’t pro-life, no matter how one tries to spin it. You either support it, or you don’t.

With that said, many Christians wish to be genuinely pro-life, from womb to tomb, which includes making sure women have access to medical care for reproductive situations that are far more complex than conventional pro-life rhetoric allows. While someone on the right might object by saying that the majority of abortions aren’t due to rare circumstances (such as when the life of the mother is at stake), I again point out that if you truly are interested in reducing the rate of abortion, the left’s policies are the ones that do so, not the right’s.

In the meantime, don’t let people fool you into thinking that it’s okay to support Trump because he’s pro-life. His policies are anything but. They’re inhumane, and there’s no “pro-life” cover for it.

Families Belong Together (reflections on Trump’s inhumane immigration policies)

I was asked to speak about the immigration crisis at today’s Poor People’s Campaign action in Springfield. Here are my remarks:

This past week, the Attorney General of the United States of America quoted the Bible to justify the cruel and inhumane treatment of immigrants and refugees.

So I have a few other passages of scripture I’d like to share, if he has the ears to hear them.

From Leviticus 19: “When the alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself”

From Deut. 10: “For the Lord your God…loves the aliens, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”

Jeremiah 22 says to do no wrong or violence to the alien.

Ezekiel 47 says the aliens shall be to you as citizens

Zechariah 7 tells us not oppress the alien.

In Matthew 25 Jesus says “…I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

It’s not that the Bible has to be the sourcebook for civic society (we don’t live in a theocracy). But if it’s going to be wielded as a weapon by powerful people in the land, then let’s pay attention to how it’s used.

Jeff Sessions appears to have a really short-sighted view of history. In his naïveté, he chose to quote the same passage slaveholders used to justify slavery and that segregationists used to justify segregation.

Would Sessions use the same verse to say that Harriett Tubman was in the wrong for helping free slaves?

What about other heroes who protested the unjust laws of the land? Was Rosa Parks in the wrong? Martin Luther King Jr?

Jesus was a refugee as a child, fleeing violence. Should he have been separated from Mary and Joseph?

In ways that are destructive to our collective humanity, and an insult to our capacity for the collective moral good, our nation’s current immigration policies — especially as they are enacted along our southern border (which is telling in and of itself) — are rooted in violence, intimidation, extreme militarism, and the desire to inflict trauma on the lives of vulnerable human beings.

Normalization for these extreme policies was hardened by the arresting and imprisoning and deportation of longtime immigrants with no record. It was normalized and is now stepped up. This administration makes incremental steps toward a state that is more reflective of totalitarianism than democracy.

We’re led to believe that these cruel and inhumane options are the only options available, which is an absolutely manipulative attempt to deceive the American populace.

These inhumane policies are also unconscionably used as a bargaining chip by administrative officials to advance other nefarious ends. This method of governance — using vulnerable human beings as a political bargaining chip — reflects a sheer depravity of the soul.

And we will not stand for it.

IT IS WRONG. IT IS DESTRUCTIVE. AND IT MUST STOP.

As the Freedom Rider and minister William Sloane Coffin put it: “The trouble with saying, ‘The only thing that the other side understands is force’ is that you have to behave as if the only thing you understand is force.”

Former First Lady Laura Bush said this practice “is eerily reminiscent of the Japanese American internment camps of World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history. We know that this treatment inflicts trauma.”

Yet we are still doing it.

Some may say these policies are a deterrent. But the only thing they deter us from is the opportunity to be a decent and humane society, to live into the best of what it means to be Americans.

People try to make excuses for why such cruel and inhumane policies are in place.

As one scholar observes, “all of that avoids confronting the simple fact of what is happening: agents of the government are stealing away the children of immigrants, making no effort to keep track of them or guarantee their safe return, and sticking them in ad hoc camps. That is what is happening.

‘But it’s Obama’s fault, because he made the policy.’ Fine, but this is what your guy is doing now.

‘He’s just following the law.’ He has a majority in both houses of Congress — he could change the law if he wanted to.

‘It’s all part of a negotiating strategy to get a better immigration policy.’ Yes, but it’s ruining lives, probably irrevocably, in the meantime.

‘It’s their own fault for breaking the law.’ This was never a consequence of breaking that law before.” [see link in comments]

We are the only country that does this — and it’s not even against the law to seek asylum in the United States.

President Trump claims he’s enacting a zero-tolerance policy. Well, we have some zero tolerance demands of our own:

We will not stand for calling human beings animals. We will not stand for inflicting untold trauma on precious children by separating them from their parents. We will not stand for putting these precious children into cages. We will not stand for inhumane laws. We will not stand for convoluted excuses and constant lies that try to shirk responsibility and create false realities. We will not stand for policies that bring out the worst in our country, instead of the best.

We will not stand up for President Trump as we would stand up for an authoritarian dictator. But you better believe we will stand up to his administration! And we will do so in the name of democracy, in the name of the common good, in the name of basic decency and human rights.

We will stand for justice, we will stand for dignity, we will stand for the beloved community, we will stand for the most vulnerable among us, and we will not rest until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness flows like an ever-flowing stream.

I hope to see you Wednesday at 11am for the “Families Belong Together” demonstration at Senator Blunt’s office, where we will peacefully stand for humane immigration reforms.

Thank you.

Gun violence is a pro-life issue

Among the most pressing questions facing our country right now is whether or not the right for everyday citizens to own military-grade weaponry with high capacity magazine clips is more important than the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for America’s children.

This is a pro-life issue.

Throughout history, blood sacrifices in various cultures have been made in the name of a supposed greater good. Sometimes this has even included child sacrifice.

When we as modern people look back on these problematic practices, we view them with the horror they deserve. Yet when similar things take place in our day and time, we frequently fail to see them for what they truly are.

Right now, much of the propaganda we hear in defense of military-grade weaponry is predicated on the idea that the right to own military-grade killing machines is more valuable than the lives of precious children whose spilled blood continues to cry out from the ground.

In the name of a bastardized and idolic interpretation of the Second Amendment, we are told this is the greater good to which we must bow; the blood sacrifice of these children is the price to pay to preserve our addiction to military-grade weaponry.

Yet it’s this addiction that provides a false sense of security. It’s this addiction that leads us to bow at the altar of death. It’s this addiction that makes us monstrous.

While we rightly condemn the actions of mass shooters, we fail to remedy the conditions that make mass shootings possible. Which makes us complicit until we do something about it.

Those of us who identify as pro-life must care every bit as much about preserving the lives of children after they are born as before they are born.

As things stand, the conventional yet epistemologically, empirically, and morally flawed view propagated by those worshipping military-grade weaponry is that the right to own military grade killing machines preserves rather than destroys life.

However, the opposite is true: military-grade weaponry among the populace destroys many more lives than it saves, including the destruction of the fundamental right of schoolchildren to live. This is wrong.

A person hellbent on acting maliciously can murder far more people with military-grade weaponry than with a knife.

Nations that promote responsible gun ownership (by keeping the massive proliferation of military-grade weaponry in check) have drastically fewer deaths from mass shootings than the U.S.

If you say that changing the law is unnecessary because criminals will always find ways to break the law, then you are arguing against the purpose of having any laws.

Until we believe that the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for America’s children is more important than the right to own military-grade weaponry, then we continue to serve the gods of death.

Let us join the chorus of so many brave young people leading the way and say, Never Again.

This article originally appeared in the Springfield News-Leader.