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A man suffered shipwreck in, both, and because of his country, he saw his church and its claims collapse in ruins. The theological writings he left consisted of barely accessible fragments. In 1945 only a handful of friends and enemies knew who this young man had been; the names of other Christians in Germany were more in the limelight. When his name did emerge from the anonymity of his death, the response from the world of academic theology and the churches was tentative and restrained. Even today, some Germans hesitate to accept him and what he stood for completely.
~ Eberhard Bethge, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: A Biography (Revised Edition); Preface to the First English Edition (1970), xiii.
“Young man, I appreciate your message, but you need to realize that most gay people are dangerous predators.”
I had just finished sharing about my experience with same-sex attraction (SSA) at a church in the heart of Wisconsin, and an elderly man tracked me down after the service. These were the first words out of his mouth.
I was taken aback and asked him to clarify. It turns out that a gay man made a pass at him many years ago when he was in the military — and it had caused him to view all gay people as sexually aggressive and dangerous. His view of the homosexual community was defined almost exclusively by a single experience — and fear.
I have a fear as well, but my fear is that homophobia is all too common, not just in society, but even within the church. Some may object to my use of the word homophobia. It can sometimes be used as a politically loaded term wielded to silence any and all opposition to same-sex sexual activity. However, this is not the root definition of the term.
Simply put, homophobia means a fear of homosexuality and, more specifically, homosexual people. And while it is not the same as loving, biblical opposition to certain behaviors or beliefs, this fear-based attitude often leads to unhelpful stereotypes, prejudice, and even cruel mistreatment.
So let’s call a spade a spade. Homophobia exists, and it has no place in the church.
Search Your Heart
No doubt some who feel convicted will push back. “Well, I don’t think that all gay people are dangerous predators, so I’m not homophobic.” However, homophobia can often take subtler, equally sinister forms. For example, homophobia can subtly infiltrate not only our beliefs, but also our reasons for these beliefs. These principles might themselves be correct and godly, but they can be believed for all the wrong reasons.
Honestly consider your own heart in the following examples:
- Is your belief that same-sex sexual activity is sin based finally on solid biblical exegesis? Or is it really based on the fact that you don’t understand how someone could be attracted to the same sex, and this unknown seems to you just plain creepy?
- Is your opposition to same-sex marriage based on a principled biblical definition of marriage? Or is it more influenced by a fear that same-sex couples might signal the unraveling of comfortable cultural norms and usher in the end of a once-pristine “Judeo-Christian society”? Or maybe your fear is more that one such couple might move in next door, and you might actually be pressured to befriend them?
- Does your opposition to homosexual practice include the ability to lovingly welcome LGBT people into a Sunday service or other gathering with other Christians? Or does opposition for you mean that you wish they would just stay away so you aren’t made uncomfortable by their very presence?
- In standing for Christian sexual ethics, do you encourage and support those SSA believers within the church who are striving to remain faithful to biblical teaching by welcoming them into full participation in church life? Or does standing for biblical sexuality mean that they can come to church, but they can’t grow in influence or serve the body through teaching, and they should probably stay away from the youth group?
Biblical exegesis is a wonderful underpinning for belief, and love is a worthy motive for action. Fear is a horrible reason for both.
It would do us well to humbly examine our hearts to reveal the motives and fears behind our attitudes toward people who identify as “gay.” Happily upholding Christian sexual ethics is not the same as harboring animosity toward an entire group of people simply because you find them yucky.
Love, Not Fear
Instead, Christians — of all people on the planet — must operate not out of fear, but love. We recognize that all people are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27) and are therefore sacred and worthy of love.
By Shayne Looper
Many Christians from various doctrinal streams and denominational traditions practice some kind of devotional exercise each day. These exercises are known familiarly as “doing devotions,” or “having a quiet time,” and usually include Bible reading and prayer.
Some people also employ a devotional guide. There are old favorites like The Upper Room and Our Daily Bread, as well as popular new books like Jesus Calling. Christians from liturgical backgrounds often use the daily readings from the lectionary, which guide them through short texts from the psalms, the Old Testament generally, the New Testament letters and the Gospels.
The goal of these devotional times is not the fulfillment of a duty but the transformation of a person. Christians don’t “do devotions” to stay in God’s good graces but to come close to him. They believe the promise of St. James: “Come close to God and God will come close to you.” There is absolutely no merit in that, but there is a great deal of hope.
A disciplined devotional practice helps a person know God, just as regular conversations help a person know a wise friend. And, as in conversation, there is understanding and disclosure on the part of both parties. Oswald Bayer pointed out this dynamic in the devotional practice of the philosopher Johann Georg Hamann: “In reading [the Bible] he was read and in understanding he was understood.”
A regular time of prayer and devotional reading places a person in God’s hands as an instrument for good in the world. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said in his book on the Psalms, “The entire day receives order and discipline when it acquires unity. This unity must be sought and found in morning prayer. The morning prayer determines the day.”
Tomorrow is Easter Sunday! We get to celebrate the greatest event in history: the physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead!
Worship begins at 10:15 am. There will be special music and a children’s sermon (no Children’s Church). I will preach about the resurrection and how it can make a difference in our lives based on Matthew 28:1-10.
He is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed!
Fight Trump Spiritually
When rabbis walked out of Donald Trump’s speech Monday night at the national convention of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, they were literally turning their backs on the man who has been compared — rightly or not — to some of the worst haters in modern history.
While it’s dubious that Trump is a fellow traveler of Hitler, it is not dubious that he spews contempt with the ease of a born hate-monger. Trump hasn’t said anything truly noxious about Jews; he always demurs that he cannot be anti-Semitic because his daughter converted to Judaism. But the AIPAC protest was right because hate toward one people easily spills over into hate toward others, right because of the tragic history of the Jewish people, right because of the Judeo-Christian prophetic tradition, a moral reflex to denounce injustice, iniquity and corruption, even when that truth is unwanted and, as too often happens, is frustratingly unheeded.
Perhaps the finest embodiment of this tradition in the 20th century was Rabbi Abraham Heschel, of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, who in the 1960s reached out to the poor, the disenfranchised, the forgotten of all faiths. His colleagues-in-empathy were such Christian luminaries as Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King Jr. All of them saw beyond the divisions of ideology and theology; all knew, as Heschel wrote, that “when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than the voice of compassion, its message becomes meaningless. Religion is an answer to humanity’s ultimate questions. We need to rediscover the questions to which religion is an answer.”
In some perverse way, Trump is providing a public service by forcing us to do as Heschel commanded. For the religious, the questions will be spiritual and theological. For the secular, they will be questions of civil comity and polity and national purpose.
There are many precedents for the rabbis’ protest Monday night. Marching in 1965 with King in Selma, Heschel said his “feet were praying,” a holy rebuke to the violent and immoral legacy of segregation. Two years earlier with King jailed in Birmingham, Ala., for local protests, eight white ministers publicly stated that King, and the civil rights movement, should temporize. Change, they said, will come, just not on King’s disruptive, presumptive schedule. From his cell, King responded that if the Christian theologian Paul Tillich was right and sin is separation, then “is not segregation an existential expression of man’s tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness?” King also reminded those who resisted civil rights that, when early Christians entered a town, the powerful tarred them as “outside agitators.” “But the Christians pressed on,” King noted, “in the conviction that they were ‘a colony of heaven,’ called to obey God rather than man.”
The prophetic impulse survived even in Nazi Germany. A pastor in the Rhineland courageously told his superiors that anti-Jewish violence violates “the simplest moral judgment. … I have never doubted my people as deeply as now.” Wrong, said church leaders, revealing their own anti-Semitism. The violence was a “legitimate outlet” for the “resentments at what the Jewish-dominated press, stock exchange and theater have done to us.” German Protestants were so staunchly pro-Hitler that one renegade church newspaper bravely published a vision of a worship service of the future: Standing at the altar, a minister tells anyone not 100 percent Aryan to leave the church. No one moves. He repeats the announcement. Again, everyone is still. When the minister repeats it again, Christ climbs down from the cross over the altar and walks out the door. Even Jesus was disgusted with German Christians.
In Berlin, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer unrelentingly preached against the Nazis, arguing that helping Jews was a matter of theological necessity: Jews and Christians were united in the person of Jesus Christ. Eventually, Bonhoeffer warned, the Lord will “judge, condemn, and topple into the dust” anyone who worshipped the clay idols of the Nazis. After great agonizing, Bonhoeffer decided that loving his neighbor meant killing Hitler. Jailed for the botched July 20, 1944, attempt, Bonhoeffer accepted his guilt while lamenting the moral bankruptcy of the church. The Nazis hanged Bonhoeffer two weeks before the war ended.
ROLAND MARTIN, NEW YORK ONE: This crisis of conscience among conservatives is just stunning as you watch this. I mean for 30 years as an adult, I’ve watch — I’ve heard Republicans say we’re principled, it’s morals, it’s values, it’s — it’s beneath our principles. And to see this struggle as how — well, what do we do that’s going against it, I mean I think about the German theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who chose to join the alliance and say we’re going to kill Hitler.
I think about Dr. King, who chose to combat LBJ on Vietnam.
It’s — it’s going to be fascinating to watch folks say wait a minute, I’m principled and I have conviction…
Passion Week begins with palms. Branches are cut from trees, hands are raised in praised, and the most important figure in history enters the greatest city in the first century for the most important week that’s ever been.
This unrecognized prince has a rightful claim to the throne of his people as the heir of their most celebrated king. And yet he rides in manifest humility, on the back of a donkey’s colt — like no other ruler in the first century, or the twenty-first century, would dare stoop to do.
And this, of course, is not the extent of his meekness and lowliness. He will stoop yet further this holy week, and then further still when he is “raised up” to the lowest of all places, to the utter shame and ignominy of a brutal public execution, even death on a cross.
The Glow of Palm Sunday
But for now, the week begins with the strange and wonderful glow of Palm Sunday. We feel the radiance of the coming king, ushered into the great city by crowds stirred for the arrival of a veritable dignitary. “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:11). In their excitement, they “spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road” (Matthew 21:8), and so give “Palm Sunday” its name.
Joy shines this Sunday — a joy, as we now know, that anticipates a supernova of gladness coming on the following Sunday. In the thrill of hope, the crowds rehearse the praises of Psalm 118, pining that perhaps this is, at long last, the great “Son of David,” the promised royal rescuer, riding into the Holy City to definitively save his people.
“Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Matthew 21:9). Hosanna — a Hebrew declaration of adoration and delight — is the refrain for this triumphal entry.
Tinged with the Coming Pain
Still the light is tinged, even in the emotional highs of Palm Sunday. This is not yet his coronation at the right hand, seated on the throne of heaven. This is not the final triumph when heaven itself will descend and remake our fallen world — with all sorrow and pain, and every tear and enduring rebel, banished to outer darkness.