After the Elections

This was quite an election season—nationally and locally.  I feel blessed that we’re a church of multiple political affiliations and perspectives because it shows that no one owns us but Christ.  But within our diversity, I imagine most of us have a mixture of feelings while also a shared anticipation for the future.

Several years ago, I became convinced that as long as I’m a pastor I ought to keep my votes between Him, YuYin and myself.  It has not been for fear of being political—I’m not afraid of being political.  Nor do I think any of you would construe my own selections as some sort of “God-endorsement.”  Rather, it’s been to avoid partisan affiliations and to avoid inadvertently putting myself, the church or God in a box.  In any case, it’s subject to change, but I’m still convinced.  But if you end up figuring out my views, well good for you.

At the same time, I think it’d be awfully non-pastoral to avoid any comment altogether.  Moreover, given that Jesus was the greatest political figure to have ever lived (and is still living!), I think it’s part of my responsibility to offer a few words.  So here are a few things I’d like to offer:

Prop 4 and Prop 8.  The first failed, the second passed.  I want to be very clear first of all about two things.  First, God has always stood on the side of the voiceless and on the side of life.  That’s been true in matters of social injustice, poverty, and also abortion.  Second, from the beginning God ordained marriage to be a lifelong holy union between a husband and a wife.  And that speaks to matters of cohabitation, divorce, infidelity, and also homosexuality.  Now, these propositions touch real-life issues and not just philosophical topics, so there is obviously a lot of complexity to them, especially given that we live in a pluralistic society.  Also, these propositions hit on other issues, like personal safety and parental and civil rights.  And so from a thoughtful Christian perspective, I know there are compelling reasons to vote for either YES or NO on either of the propositions.  But I want to be clear about the essence of where God stands, not on the propositions, but on the practices of abortion and homosexuality.  And we needn’t be ashamed to stand with him.

That said, I think we need to ponder very hard over the fact that when the world thinks of the church today, the world tends to think more about what we’re against than what we’re for.  We are known more for what we condemn than how we bless.  In other words, the church is viewed by many today as a negative, condemning, hateful and bigoted institution precisely because of singularly high profile stances on abortion and homosexuality.  And I think this a huge dishonor to God and his message.  No wonder so many people are wary about Christians and the Church.  And think of all those who might have had an abortion in the past or who are gay and are now looking for hope (and there are many); how readily would they seek out Jesus if their primary perception of his followers was that they hate people like them?

So what ought we do?  We should never give up on the voiceless, on life, or on what’s holy.  That’s always the tempting thing to do under pressure, but that would be loveless and selfish; we should never give up our Cross.  But I do think that we need to be better images of God in all his fullness:  reflecting his love, compassion, generosity, sacrifice and forgiveness…while also reflecting his holiness.  It’s all of that.  We believe that all good things come from God, let’s show the world that.

Presidential Election. Congratulations to Barack Obama. Around the Bay Area, the nation, and even the world I saw folks dance and weep as they saw the first African-American to be elected to the American presidency.  But more than that, for millions of people both here and abroad, he’s been hailed as the embodiment of “hope and change” and admired as a “transformational” figure.  Maybe you’re one of them, maybe you’re not.  Now, Obama is a brother-in-Christ and we share some common values and ideals together with him.  But as followers of the Lord, we need to always resist ascribing messianic-type hopes to anyone other than Jesus.  All leaders try to be saviors in a generic sense.  And if you’re among those who are invigorated and uplifted by Obama’s election, that’s great for you.  But we’ve got to all remember that there’s only one source of true hope and lasting change for our world, our country and for our lives.  And Obama isn’t it.  Not even close.

Also, unlike other contests, the real work of the presidency begins after he wins.  And Obama has very big challenges immediately ahead of him:  the economy, energy, healthcare, two wars, ongoing diplomatic efforts, etc.  So, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Tim 2, let’s thank God and pray for him—yes, even if you didn’t vote for him (and if you did vote for him, remember not to pray to him).  But let’s also remember he’s only the president; these issues will require the leadership of Congress and our state and local governments as well.  So let’s remember to pray for them too.   And let me make this clear:  I’m not telling you to pray just because it sounds a lot more lovey-dovey than bashing or praising our new leadership.  I’m serious.  Let’s pray.  Your prayers are more powerful than your votes.  Check out the Lord’s Prayer if you need some guidance.

Political Differences. Some of us voted for McCain/Palin, others Obama/Biden.  And I know we’re not all on the same page on Prop 4 or 8 (or 2).  I think we have to first recognize that these differences exist.  We can’t assume just because we’re all Christians that we’ll all vote the same.  The sooner we recognize this, the sooner we’ll avoid awkward conversations but avoid disenfranchising  one another.

Secondly, I notice that in our HOC church culture, the way we often deal with these differences is to deflect or just shut up.  Differences make us uncomfortable, we’re afraid that we’ll blow up, we’re afraid of what others will think, we’re afraid of dividing the church, etc.  There are a lot of reasons why we’d rather just avoid the reality that we don’t all agree.  But I don’t think that’s real unity.  The model we’ve been given in the New Testament has not been unity-through-avoidance but unity-through-engagement.  Scripture tells us to talk to each other when we have differences (and not to gossip or try to get a leader to do it for you).  That’s what unity in Christ looks like.  So I suggest that if you find out someone else in our church has a different political perspective than you, instead of judging them in your heart or avoiding the topic altogether, that you hear them out, ask them questions, share your thoughts, and do all this in a spirit of love and humility.   Sure, in the beginning it’ll be awkward and maybe a little heated; we’re all learning!  But over time, I think we can experience a new depth in our unity in Christ.

Lastly, remember that we are one in Christ, and that is bigger than our political differences.  We should talk about stuff we disagree on, but we needn’t focus on them.  No single party, candidate, or law owns the church; only God.  Let’s always remember that.

I’d love to hear your thoughts too.

On the church, marriage, and sexuality

In light of the recent CA Supreme Court decision to overturn the state
ban on gay marriage, I thought it’d be worthwhile to post this
interview response by Stanley Hauerwas, the liberal ethicist and law
professor from Duke, on the issue of gay marriage in the church. 

Talking about the unity
of the church, how might that apply to the current debates concerning
homosexuality in the United Methodist Church, in the Presbyterian
USA church, and the Reconciling Congregations movement within the
United Methodist Church?

The problem with debates about homosexuality is they have been
devoid of any linguistic discipline that might give you some indication
what is at stake. Methodism, for example, is more concerned with
being inclusive than being the church. We do not have the slightest
idea what we mean by being inclusive other than some vague idea
that inclusivity has something to do with being accepting and loving.
Inclusivity is, of course, a necessary strategy for survival in
what is religiously a buyers’ market. Even worse, the inclusive
church is captured by romantic notions of marriage. Combine inclusivity
and romanticism and you have no reason to deny marriage between
gay people.

When couples come to ministers to talk about their marriage ceremonies,
ministers think it’s interesting to ask if they love one another.
What a stupid question! How would they know? A Christian marriage
isn’t about whether you’re in love. Christian marriage is giving
you the practice of fidelity over a lifetime in which you can look
back upon the marriage and call it love. It is a hard discipline
over many years.

The difficulty, therefore, is that Christians, when they approach
this issue, no longer know what marriage is. For centuries, Christians
married people who didn’t know one another until the marriage ceremony,
and we knew they were going to have sex that night. They didn’t
know one another. Where does all this love stuff come from? They
could have sex because they were married.

Now, when marriage becomes a mutually enhancing arrangement until
something goes wrong, then it makes no sense at all to oppose homosexual
marriages. If marriage is a calling that makes promises of lifelong
monogamous fidelity in which children are welcomed, then we’ve got
a problem. But we can’t even get to a discussion there, because
Christians no longer practice Christian marriage.

What has made it particularly hard is that the divorce culture
has made it impossible for us to talk about these matters–and many
of you know, I’m divorced and remarried. It has made it impossible
for us to talk about these matters with an honesty and candor that
is required if you are not to indulge in self-deceptive, sentimental
lies.

For gay Christians who I know and love, I wish we as Christians
could come up with some way to help them, like we need to help one
another, to avoid the sexual wilderness in which we live. That’s
a worthy task. I probably sound like a conservative on these matters,
not because I’ve got some deep animosity toward gay people, but
because I don’t know how to go forward given the current marriage
practices of our culture.

(from http://www.dukemagazine.duke.edu/dukemag/issues/050602/depfor.html)