Author Archives: unconventionalchristians

A Strange Look

By Dan Sidey

A few months ago I noticed some friends driving through the neighborhood with a strangely-out-of-place look on their face. We’ve all seen it before. The look was of one who had found that coveted wide-open space to live on, that bigger house, that perfect neighborhood with the ideal school. In our culture we call it upward mobility, but they had the look while driving through myneighborhood—the ghetto!

I knew something very unusual must be happening, so I made a strong mental note to call my friends about what was up. I knew they were trying to find a new home, but I had long ago stopped prodding them to consider living in Mills. They’re the missional types, which makes them so easy to appreciate. Still for folks like them living in Mills is a big sacrifice.

Lo and behold, two months later they have a house in Mills. They made sure not to tell some of the folks who would be concerned before they bought. They could predict the response. “Please get an alarm!” “Nice fixer upper!” These are responses I understand and can empathize with.

But the look my friends wore didn’t resemble these thoughts. Their eyes alone were a brilliant smile. What were they thinking in that moment months ago when I saw them on East Main and Darrow? What the heck was an all-the-wide-open-space-I-could-ever-want look doing in Mills?

When I finally spoke with them my suspicions were confirmed. It was the look of a couple not searching for the perfect life, but a pure life given to God and neighbors. On my friends’ face I saw them beholding Jesus among those he spent nearly his entire life with and those he said we must not forget to give our energy loving.

In his book From Brokenness to Community, Jean Vanier writes “Those with whom Jesus identifies himself are regarded by society as misfits. And yet Jesus is that man who is hungry; Jesus is that woman who is confused and naked. Wouldn’t it be extraordinary if we all discovered that? The face of the world would be changed.”

In Defense of the Southern Poverty Law Center

By Aaron D. Taylor

When I was in Junior High, I attended a private Christian school where my youth pastor used to show us videos of Christians in public schools being arrested for praying at the flagpole, as well as future Christians being executed because of “liberals who want to take away our right to worship.” So I get it. When a guy walks up to a conservative Christian organization’s headquarters and starts shooting, it confirms what many people already believe: Evangelical Christians in America are a persecuted minority; and the people behind the persecution are groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that labels anyone who “takes a stand for Biblical righteousness” a hate group. The storyline would sound reasonable if it weren’t for one small problem: It’s completely ridiculous.

To my friends in the evangelical community, what happened at the headquarters of the Family Research Councilwas a despicable act of violence that deserves to be condemned without reservation, but please don’t use what happened as a pretext to shore up prejudice against those in the LGBT community—who, by the way, have also condemned this act of violence—or as a pretext to exact vengeance against groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center, a group that works to provide a service to society by raising the alarm against hate and extremism.

In a statement to the press, Tony Perkins, the head of the Family Research Council, said,

“Corkins was given a license to shoot an unarmed man by organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center that have been reckless in labeling organizations as hate groups because they disagree with them on public policy.”

He went on to say,

“They have repeatedly and without cause demonized FRC, and have spent years stirring up anger in the homosexual community and directing that anger toward an organization whose only crime is to promote and defend the classic American values of faith, family and freedom.”

Putting aside the logical fallacy that criticism = giving someone a license to shoot, the fact is the Southern Poverty Law Center didn’t label the Family Research Council as a hate group because “they disagree with them on policy” or because they “defend the classic American values of faith, family, and freedom.” If that were the case, they would have put Focus on the Family on the hate group list, or the National Organization for Marriage. Both of these groups teach that homosexuality is a sin and lobby against gay marriage.

The stated reason the Southern Poverty Law Center has put the Family Research Council on the hate group list since 2010 is, according to their website

 

“because it has knowingly spread false and denigrating propaganda about LGBT people — not, as some claim, because it opposes same-sex marriage……We criticize the FRC for claiming, in Perkins’ words, that pedophilia is ‘a homosexual problem’”

And because

“An FRC official has said he wanted to ‘export homosexuals from the United States.’ The same official advocated the criminalizing of homosexuality.”

It’s one thing to say the Bible says homosexuality is a sin and I oppose gay marriage. It’s another thing to say these people are out to get your children!It’s like when Kirk Cameron pegged homosexuals as “destructive to so many of the foundations of Western Civilization” , and then cried foul when the “liberal” media called him out on it. You can’t single out a group of people as a threat to civilization, and then cast yourself in the role of a victim when people suggest that your words are hate speech.

I believe that we in the American evangelical community are guilty of a persecution complex. Which is sad, because I’ve been to countries where New Testament believers are actually persecuted, like the videos my teachers used to show me in Junior High. The believers I’ve met in these countries often live quiet and peaceful lives, sharing their faith and loving the people that torture them and rat them out to the police. They’re the ones the Apostle Peter talked about, who “do good and suffer” and “take it patiently.” This, according to Peter “is commendable before God.”

New Testament believers living in places that actuallypersecute religious minorities often suffer for simply being who they are, and their suffering, when taken patiently for following in the footsteps of Christ, who “when reviled, did not revile in return” is commendable before God.

I’m not sure that “persecuted” Christians in America can say the same thing.

Avoiding the R-Word

By Aaron D. Taylor

When Mitt Romney stood before a group of supporters in Israel and declared that cultural superiority and divine providence are the reasons behind the economic disparity between Israelis and Palestinians, the corporate-sponsored “liberal” U.S. media called his remark ignorant, insensitive, and a “gaffe, but other than taking the indirect route of quoting Palestinian leaders, you’d be hard-pressed to find an American journalist with the moral fiber to call the remark what it actually was. When it comes to the R-word, the U.S. media bows to the sacred cow of silence. Nobody wants to say the word racist anymore.

True, the word racist is loaded. The word conjures up images of attack dogs, fire hoses, church bombings, guys in creepy robes riding horses in the dead of night torching homes, not to mention Hitler, neo-Nazis, skinheads, the Help. Given the historical baggage associated with the word racist, it’s understandable that in America today, when somebody throws the R-word out to denounce the words of another, the shame more often goes to the accuser, not the accused.

That’s exactly the problem.

Because the word racist is so often associated with its most obvious manifestations, it’s difficult to call into question the racial views of another, even when their words and actions reflect a worldview that says that God favors one group of people over another.

When it comes to Israelis and Palestinians there are, of course, other complicating factors. Jews for centuries have suffered horrific atrocities under the banner of racism. Academic circles endlessly debate whether Zionism is racism, or whether anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. The words Judaism, Israel, and the Jewish people are synonymous for many people, making it difficult to criticize one without criticizing the other. To make things even more complicated, the very concept of the Jewish people’s “chosen-ness” comes straight from the Torah, which both Jews and Christians revere as the Word of God.

As complicating as these factors are, at the end of the day we’re left with a socio-political-religious ideology that says that God favors one group of people over another, and when God’s favored people (Israel) happen to exhibit near total military and economic control over the other (Palestinians), it’s entirely appropriate to call into question the moral implications of such an ideology, and to raise the question of whether it might be considered racist.

While Romney was for sure attempting to rake in some cash and shore up the Jewish vote, it’s no secret that any comment that praises Israel and insults Palestinians might be considered a wink and a nod to the supposed “evangelical” base of the Republican Party. The dominant media narrative is that evangelical is synonymous with Christian Zionist. Christian Zionists believe that God obligates them to support the state of Israel—including the expansion of Jewish settlements—because any nation that refuses to do so will be cursed. Palestinians are an invented people that don’t exist in their view, so when their homes and orchards are demolished to pave the way for new settlements, it doesn’t matter because Palestinians (who don’t exist) are trespassers on land that God says belongs to the Jewish people. Christian Zionists oppose a two-state solution and they want Israel to permanently occupy the West Bank and Gaza strip.

Thisis the ideology that Romney was trying to appease by insulting Palestinians. And make no mistake about it. Romney’s remark was an insult. Romney says that his remarks were mischaracterized, but in what universe does telling an entire people that they’re culturally inferior to another people not an insult?

Sorry Mr. Romney, you can’t blame the media on this one.

As for my evangelical friends that Romney was trying to please, if you’re not at war with the Muslim world, if you believe that following Jesus means challenging racial and religious prejudice, if you believe that loving your neighbor includes practicing nonviolence and combating Islamophobia, if you believe that Jesus calls you to work for the peace, safety, and well-being of all people, without distinction of their race, religion, or sexual orientation, then I invite you to register for the Evangelicals for Peace Summitcoming up on September 14th in Washington D.C.

It’s time to reclaim our faith.

The Triumph of Hypothetical Evil over Real Evil

By Aaron D. Taylor

There’s a famous maxim that says, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Though Wikipedia says otherwise, the statement is often attributed to Edmund Burke.

I doubt that Wikipedia will give me the credit for this 200 years from now, but I’d like to take a crack at a counter-point to Burke’s famous maxim anyway: Sometimes evil triumphs not when good people do nothing, but when good people fail to distinguish between hypothetical evil and real evil, and end up doing something about the former when they should be doing something about the latter.

Case in point: National Conservative Christian radio host Kerby Anderson’s attempt to rally his followers to thwart the Senate from ratifying the Arms Trade Treaty.

As I write these words, it’s easier to trade weapons around the world than it is to trade bananas and iPads. Whether we’re talking about armed militias that terrorize civilian populations (Joseph Kony) or dictators that slaughter their people (Bashar Al-Assad) or insurgents killing American soldiers (the Taliban), the world has yet to come together to negotiate a treaty that would make it difficult for human rights abusers to purchase the weapons to commit their atrocities. The Arms Trade Treaty that’s under discussion is about regulating the international transfer of weapons, not the domestic gun laws of individual nations.

According to Amnesty International, the U.S. State Department has explicitly said regarding the ATT treaty, “There will be no restrictions on civilian possession of trade or fire arms otherwise permitted by law or protected by the U.S. Constitution.”

One would think that an explicit, unambiguous statement like this from the State department would settle the issue, but that hasn’t stopped Kerby Anderson from sending out emails to God- only- knows-how- many- followers to urge them to oppose the ATT treaty based on the Obama-is-coming-for-your-guns boogeyman. In an e-mail sent out on July 12th, Anderson writes to his followers:

“The Obama administration, working through Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, has been working to advance the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty. While some of the rhetoric may sound good on the surface, there is serious concern that this is an attempt at an end run around a Republican controlled congress to enact limitations on our second amendment rights.”

Based on what, Mr. Anderson?

The troubling part about the e-mail is that Mr. Anderson didn’t deem it necessary to provide evidence to back up his claim, which tells me that he took it as a given that his followers would make an a priori assumption that the claim is true regardlessof what the State department has actually said.

Laying aside the question as to whether stricter gun laws here in the U.S. would actually constitute as an “evil”, even if Mr. Anderson’s position on domestic gun control were the correct one, that still doesn’t absolve him from the responsibility to provide credible evidence that the ATT provides an actual threat to the Second Amendment. Assuming that something is true doesn’t make it true.

After directing his followers to click on a link to sign a petition urging their Senators to “not vote for the ratification of this treaty”, the e-mail goes on to say:

“If the Senate, currently under control of the radical left -wing of the Democratic Party, ratifies this treaty it could be used to undermine our rights as American citizens.”

Couldbe, Mr. Anderson?

You’re opposing a not-yet-written treaty designed to make it more difficult for thugs, terrorists, and crackpot dictators to slaughter innocent people—something that’s actually happening—based on a couldbe?

Anderson closes out the email with,

“This is one of those times when all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.”

Or maybe sometimes it’s better for good people to make sure that the evil they seek to thwart is a real evil and not a hypothetical one. Millions of Christians in Africa are praying for the negotiation of a robust international Arms Trade Treaty. Unlike rich, white American radio hosts, they know what real evil looks like when unregulated weapons and ammo pour into their countries, ending up in the hands of militants that rape and slaughter their spouses and children.

Let’s hope that the prayers of millions of African Christians don’t go unanswered because of a few American Christians afraid that a Democratically-elected President wants to steal their guns so that a future dictator might have the power to haul them off to concentration camps.

Towards an Evangelical Peace Movement

By Aaron D. Taylor

Billy Sunday was the most famous evangelist in America during the first two decades of the 20th century. Without the aid of loudspeakers, TV or radio, Sunday preached to over 100 million people the classic evangelical gospel that remains familiar to many people today. Repent and believe in Jesus, who died on the cross for your sins, and be saved from eternal damnation. The simplicity of Sunday’s message prompted millions of early 20th century Americans to examine the state of their souls and consider their eternal fates. Yet when it came to conscientious objectors during World War I, Sunday spared no mercy:

The man who breaks all the rules but at last dies fighting in the trenches is better than you God-forsaken mutts who won’t enlist.

Throughout our nation’s history, it’s been an axiom that Presidents lead us into wars, while Christians provide the flags and the crosses. Barring a few notable exceptions—Anabaptists, Quakers, and early Pentecostals—evangelical fervor has often promoted an uncritical nationalism that baptizes American military adventures with religious legitimacy. It’s no coincidence that the setting of Mark Twain’s famous War Prayer—in which Twain delivers a devastating critique of the use of religion to justify imperialism—is a Protestant Christian church. Given the historical record, it may seem the deck is stacked against American evangelicals organizing into a comprehensive peace movement—yet that’s exactly what’s happening.

Enter: Evangelicals for Peace.

On September 14th, a group of Evangelical scholars, pastors, journalists, and activists are gathering together for a summit at Georgetown University to discuss how evangelicals can work together to reduce violence and prevent war. Titled Evangelicals for Peace: A Summit on Christian Moral Responsibility in the 21st Century, the stated goals of the summit are:

• To build and birth a network of evangelical scholars and activists committed to the pursuit of a Biblical, comprehensive, and proactive peace

• To reduce violence, work toward human flourishing, and prevent war

• To mobilize and educate a new generation of evangelicals committed to the pursuit of peace

• To convene a gathering of non-profit and pastoral leaders who are actively working for peace with justice throughout the world

• To give a special focus on peace as it relates to U.S. foreign policy

The vision for Evangelicals for Peace is to educate and mobilize American evangelicals into proactive and comprehensive peacemaking. However, Evangelicals for Peace is not a pacifist-only movement. There are evangelicals in the “just war” camp who agree with many of the stated goals of the summit and want to pursue peace within that paradigm. Rick Love, the co-founder of Peace-Catalyst International, the organization launching the network, who himself is a self-described Just-war theorist leaning towards pacifism, says, “For too long, evangelical theology in America has had the tendency to view peacemaking as a distraction from the ‘pure’ work of preaching the gospel, or as a slippery-slope towards secular humanism. We want to change this paradigm. We want the average evangelical in America to view peacemaking in the same way that they view feeding the hungry or serving the poor—as a demonstration of the good works of the Gospel of the Kingdom.”

It’s been a pleasure of mine to work with Rick Love, as well as the other partner organizations, in thinking through the dynamics of putting this summit together. When it comes to how evangelicals can best draw from the resources of our faith in order to work for peace, many questions naturally arise: questions about the Christian witness to the state, Muslim/Christian relations, the impact of Christian Zionism on U.S. foreign policy, the possibility of Just Peace theory as a middle ground between Pacifism and Just-War theory, the relationship between dispensationalism and peace theology, how the various theological traditions within evangelicalism can create a space for a peace-theology within their existing paradigms.

Very few of these questions lend themselves to easy answers; which is why we need your input. It will take a robust effort to construct an evangelical peace witness to the media, the political powers, and the culture at large, and we need your help to make it happen. We are calling evangelicals from all types of persuasions and agendas to find those areas of common ground where we can work for peace together.

I hope to see you there.

Chased with a Vow

 

 

By Dan Sidey

About the same time we began forming an intentional community our third son was born with some hard of hearing issues. At the cost of $1500 each we got him hearing aids and worked to diligently keep them on him. Funny thing is it’s really REALLY hard to keep hearing aids on a baby. There are plenty of reasons for this, but the main one is that he likes to tear them out of his ears, suck on them for a while, pull them to pieces, and then throw them over his shoulder.

Despite all the glorious but difficult life choices we are making these days, few of these rival losing his very expensive hearing aids. For example, we are playing at the school park and a hearing aid goes missing. We search and search and search. The sun is setting. I can barely see now. I’m devastated and angry. Some children are helping me search. As I’m ready to give up a boy says, “Have you looked near the slide?” I think it’s an odd question, but I’m desperate and verging on despair so I stop what I’m doing and go look there. I bend down ,push some wood chip aside, and there is the hearing aid. I go home, tell Atarah the disturbing and miraculous tale, and thank God for his provision and help.

It isn’t long before it happens again. We are in Bend, Oregon with family about ready to head back to KFalls and a hearing aid goes missing. We tear apart my parents emaculate house. Everyone checks their clothes closely. No hearing aid. The children are growing very tired and it’s time to go home. We have little choice but to leave without the aid. To say we are pissed is an immense understatement. We feel shame, frustration and helpless in the face of what feels like an impossibly unfair situation.

The next morning just before I call the doc to get a new aid, my dad calls from Portland to say that in the dark this morning he kicked something on the garage floor, bent down to see what it was, and found a hearing aid. Again we are perplexed at the impossibility of the hearing aid being found in Portland, but very thankful and amazed.

One afternoon we also lost a hearing aid in the middle of a huge parking lot. The next morning cursing myself under my breath I hopelessly go to look for it. It was really just a mechanical act. I knew I’d regret not looking, but I thoroughly believed it was lost or smashed to pieces under someone’s tire. It was totally my fault this time so I was feeling such shame and loneliness. Under the load of all these trials I saw myself as a hopeless cause.

As I drive to look, in the midst of my self-flagellation, I hear God say “Don’t worry, my son. I have everything under control…and I’m smiling.” In the midst of my pain I feel his peace cover me. I get there and begin walking toward the spot we had parked the car yesterday. As I’m getting closer I see something in the middle of the road that could possibly be an aid, but, seriously, I shrug it off because it is too much to believe. I get closer and I’m doing double and triple takes, squinting my eyes to see better, shaking my head to make sure I’m not just dreaming that I’m seeing an intact hearing aid. I pick it up and test it. It survived rush hour traffic…in the middle of the parking lot.

I can’t shake this feeling that God is trying to speak profoundly. “Don’t worry. I see you. In all your difficulty and pain I’m present. And I’m going to prove it to you again and again. I’m smiling.”

The next time we lost a hearing aid I was willing to trust and I wasn’t disappointed. The sun was setting as I’m searching another park. I give up again in frustration yet I really suspect God will surprise us. On the way home I find the most expensive part of the aid! The next morning we are about to jump in the car to go get the cheaper part and Chris, my eldest son, says “Hey Dad, here’s the rest of the hearing aid on the ground.”

The message is clear. “Trust me in this radical thing you’re doing. You long to see God’s Family form, keep believing it will. Love with all your heart. Hold hope tightly. Let your faith soar with the birds. I am here…smiling!”

I’m thankful that God spoke so deeply, because just after this was when we experienced the greatest blow from this experiment that we have had yet. When it came we were crushed and angry. We felt hurt and betrayed. We questioned how it was possible to go forward.

We had created a culture of hospitality in our house that couldn’t just end. We genuinely care for the children and people of our neighborhood, but we pulled back to enable us to rest a bit. We circled the wagons and asked questions about what next. Interestingly, we stopped losing the hearing aids. Agonizingly, we began questioning if our search for God’s Family might be leading us other places.

About three months later, I have some children in the house and it’s a bit wilder than I like, but I know it will end soon enough. After I send everyone home I notice that one of Stephen’s hearing aids is missing. No big deal. It had to be in the living room. We searched and searched tearing the place apart. No aid. It seemed impossible that we could lose it in our living room when we had found it in parks, a supermarket parking lot, and somewhere between KFalls and Portland! No big deal. We always find the aids. It’s part of the promise. It wasn’t long before four weeks had lapsed and it was still missing.

Secretly, I thought it was a sign. “Son, you don’t have to do this anymore. You wanted to be part of God’s Family in KFalls, but it didn’t work. It’s time to let go.” I had come to trust the message of God through these aids so thoroughly I really felt this. After all, finding these aids was causing me to dream of absurd grace for our family and Mills, the kind we are only fleetingly willing to believe in. It is one thing to read God promising faithfulness in the Bible (even to read it again and again and again), but it’s totally different when you hold a promise in your hand. Those aids were the pledge of God that I wasn’t a fool, dragging my family and our neighbors into the lost cause of deeper hope and love.

Two weeks later, on the day I’m scheduled to pick up the new aid we realize we want something out of a box in the living room. It’s full of newspapers we don’t pay much attention to, but that day for some reason we wanted something from it. So just moments before I go to get the new aid I search the box…and inside I find the lost hearing aid.

Today, we are working to practice our faith in very small and unnoticeable ways. We have no buildings, but our house. No banners, just little garden plots. There aren’t many of us, but we do have friends all across the neighborhood, in our city, and other surprising places who we care for and who we can sense care for us.

This is a hard neighborhood to live in. When people can afford another place to live they usually move on. Children frequently ask me, with a look that pleads for stability, “Are you gonna stay?”

As I hold these hearing aids in my hand, the same hearing aids that I’ve lost and found all over this state(!), I think deeply about what it means to receive a promise from God.

In Christine Pohl’s Living into Community she writes that families are created through promises. In our culture this promising often culminates with two people coming together with a new hope that lasting love is possible. “Until death do us part.”

Yet in the New Testament, God as usual is amping it up by forming a new family that we see only shadows of in the nuclear family. God’s Family begins with a vow, a promise, from God himself. “I will never leave you and you will see me most clearly in every brother, sister and neighbor who is hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned or lost.” It is the banqueting feast where all are welcome as they are and at the head of the table is the Server himself, God our Father. It is the community that holds the pain of its brothers, sisters and neighbors and at its center is the Son bearing and sharing that pain, showing what it means to suffer for love’s sake. It is the one place where at the greatest point of our irreconcilable brokenness and failure the absurdity of resurrection breaks forth and draws us towards an impossible joy, a peace that passes all understanding and a hope that never departs.

Lately, I’ve been feeling so tired and beat. Yet I can’t shake this feeling that there is this great and beautiful sunrise that is about to break forth. I look around at my imperfect life and I see sun rays peeking over the roof tops in Mills. God is chasing us all with a vow! …And He’s smiling!

The Apostle Paul was not a misogynist homophobe!

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “To be great is to be misunderstood.” If Emerson was right, then the Apostle Paul might be one of the greatest men to ever live. Few religious leaders have been as grossly misunderstood as Paul. Unlike Jesus, who most people regard as a great moral teacher, Paul is routinely accused of the most egregious sins according to modern sensibilities: misogyny, classism, homophobia, anti-Semitism. The idea that Paul invented Christianity is so fashionable nowadays that many people take it as a given, as if it’s obviously true. The irony in all this unexamined Paul-bashing is that fewer people today are taking the time to ponder the crux of his moral message: “The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life”—a message that both society and the Church need to hear.

Yes, there are passages in Paul’s letters that would seem to paint him as pro-slavery, anti-women, and homophobic. But just as Muslim scholars insist that the passages of the Qur’an that seem out of step with modern ethical norms be read in light of their historical context, the same is true with Paul’s letters. Paul’s advice to slaves (obey your masters) and their masters (treat your slaves well) may seem off-kilter today, but given the historical situation, his advice can hardly be described as unreasonable. It should also be noted that Paul insisted that slaves who could attain their freedom should do so—and that he condemned slave traders.

As far as women are concerned, for all of the passages that seem to consign women to second- class status in the home and the Church—and there are plenty of scholars who insist that those passages teach the exact opposite of that—all of them pail in comparison to Paul’s notion that in Christ, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female.” Whether we’re talking about women or slaves, Paul can rightly be considered a progressive in light of the customs, attitudes, and social norms of his day.

Which leaves us with the homophobia charge…

The definition of homophobia according to the Encarta World English dictionary is “an irrational hatred, disapproval, or fear of homosexuality, gay and lesbian people, and their culture.” Given that in all of Paul’s letters, there’s only one unmistakable reference to same-sex relations (The words translated as homosexual in I Corinthians 6:9 and I Timothy 1:10 are highly ambiguous words in the Greek), Paul can hardly be said to have had “an irrational hatred, disapproval, or fear of homosexuality”, especially when you take into account that in the one clear reference to same sex relations in Paul’s letters (Romans 1:23-17), the relations that Paul is describing are the highly lustful relations that accompanied pagan temple worship in his day.

While it’s not my intention to settle the debate as to whether Paul disapproved of all same-sex relations, even if the traditional view is correct, which is that Paul viewed same sex relations as inherently sinful, whether in the context of monogamous relationships or not, an obsessive inquiry into how Paul felt about same-sex sex misses the forest through the trees. In Paul’s theology, Christian morality isn’t about following a set of ironclad, inflexible rules and regulations. It’s about Spirit-filled followers of Jesus dying to the letter of the Law and rising to a new life in the Spirit (Romans 7:6), a life where the Spirit-indwelt conscience is the new moral compass (Romans 14:22-23, 2 Corinthians 3:6), and the rule of thumb that satisfies all of God’s laws is to love your neighbor as yourself (Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14).

“The letter kills, but the Spirit gives life,” says Paul.

In Paul’s theology, the death and resurrection of Jesus was the historical game-changer that shifted the focus away from the rules and regulations of the Law and towards the Spirit-indwelt conscience as the arbiter for moral decisions in the life of the believer.

Paul insists, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.”

Yes, freedom.

Paul was the Apostle of human freedom.

How tragic it is that society maligns him.

And the Church misrepresents him.

Are Christian Zionism and social justice compatible?

By John Harris

Sami Awad, Palestinian, street activist, and born-again Christian began to wrap up his presentation to a packed room of Pentecostal and charismatic believers: “I know many of you here are Christian Zionists. I don’t ask that you give any of that up, not for one moment. But I also know that you are Spirit-filled believers, and that the Holy Spirit has increased the size of your heart. I know that the Israelis are in your heart. I hope you can find room for the Palestinians as well.” A standing ovation erupted. It was a job well done.

These comments were made recently at Converge21, a conference held at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, home of televangelist Pat Robertson. Present were heads of America’s Pentecostal denominations, universities, seminaries, and churches.

It was not the usual combination, but that’s what you get when you merge conventions.

The Society for Pentecostal Studies (SPS) had long scheduled their 2012 conference for Virginia Beach. This group of intellectuals and scholars gather once a year to develop and promote academia within the Pentecostal-charismatic movement. The theme for this year was Pentecostalism, Peacemaking, and Social Justice/Righteousness.

Then along came Empowered21, an organization focusing on the future of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement. Born out of Oral Roberts University, Empowered21 seeks not only to reach the world for Jesus Christ, but also to introduce other movements within Christianity to the power of the Holy Spirit.

When Empowered21 looked for a place to hold their gathering, they turned to Regent University. Finding that SPS was already having their gathering at Regent on the same week, Empowered21 sought to have their convention both alongside and with SPS.

Empowered21 leadership discovered that Sami was to be a keynote speaker with SPS. They were okay with Sami speaking at a joint session, but then the emails and phone calls started coming in. CBN and TBN pulled their live television coverage of the entire conference. Concessions were made; the title of the evening was changed to reflect a broader topic, and Wayne Hilsden, pastor of a Pentecostal church within Israel, was added to the bill.

Sami began his lecture by tracing his family’s Christian heritage. They are Palestinian Christians. He told in detail about his decision to follow Jesus Christ and his subsequent receiving of the gift of tongues.

Telling the story of the 1948 war in which the nation of Israel was created, Sami recalled the death of his grandfather. The war had begun, and the Jewish soldiers came to his family’s village, a neighborhood where Jews, Christians, and Muslims were all living together. “My father went outside our home to place a white flag on our house, showing that we were in support of neither side. He was killed by a sniper’s bullet.”

Sami continued to tell the story of his life from the viewpoint of someone who was on the other side of the founding of Israel. He spoke of the 1967 war when the remainder of what once was called Palestine was taken over and occupied by the nation of Israel. His family had become refugees in their own land.

He continued on with accounts of fighting, oppression, and land confiscation, all executed on the Palestinians by the Israelis. “I knew that Jesus calls me to love my enemies. Who are my enemies? The Israeli Defense Force and the Jewish settlers.”

Of course, this is not the most common lecture to be heard at a conference of this sort. Present in the crowd were leaders of a theology known as Christian Zionism, the belief that God had caused the rebirth of Israel as a nation in 1948, and, as the Bible says in Genesis 12:3, “I will bless those who bless you (Israel) and curse those who treat you with contempt.”

Sami then described his work as a Palestinian street activist. His cause? The independence of a free and secure Palestine as a nation alongside a free and secure nation of Israel. His method? Nonviolent social change. He shared that he had come to a place where he promotes only nonviolence as a method for social change, this in contrast with his beliefs earlier in life that independence may come through a variety of methods, including both nonviolence and armed struggle. He called Jesus the “Prince of Peace.”

The conference continued for several more days. It is feasible that SPS, like Empowered21, is dominated by those who would aspire to the theology of Christian Zionism. Pentecostalism and “Last Days” theology almost always walk hand-in-hand. Among the presentations included topics of Israel, the last days, and Messianic Judaism.

One scholar from England was there to present his dissertation on world Pentecostalism, the last days, and the rebirth of Israel. He systematically proved that Pentecostals from around the globe believe that God’s hand is with Israel, and that they believe this whether or not they have been influenced by North American Pentecostalism. His figures were solid.

Toward the end of his presentation, fully embracing all the major beliefs of Christian Zionism, he began to talk about gross injustices occurring within the Palestinian Territories. He talked about a number of views within Christian Zionism on the issue of land, specifically the trading of land in exchange for peace. He noted that different Christian Zionist scholars have a variety of beliefs concerning the amount of land that is to constitute Israel in order to usher in the Last Days. Some have relatively no parameters, while the extremes believe Israel will take over massive amounts of land currently belonging to nearby Arab nations.

He then went on to discuss the movement within Christianity, including Pentecostalism, toward social justice. (He even used the words “social justice.”) Reflecting the lectures given through Empowered21, he stated that Pentecostalism must change in order to be relevant to the younger generation. And the younger generation won’t buy a faith that says, “Israel wrong or right;” rather, the renaissance in the social justice movement will demand that any faith, to be relevant, cannot promote inhumane conditions of occupied people groups.

The suggestion was then made that Christian Zionism and social justice are compatible. If those Christian faithful that promote Israel are willing to accept an Israel that is smaller than the one in existence today, it will satisfy the concerns of those young people, including young Pentecostals, that justice for the poor is done.

I was as amazed to hear this. As a human rights worker, I have seen firsthand the persecution experienced daily by Palestinians in the West Bank. Although my particular Pentecostal church back at home is silent on issues of Israel, I know that I belong to a movement that, in my estimation, gives its blessing to the continued confiscation of Palestinian land to make room for Jewish settlements. We also turn a blind eye to the daily home invasions, beatings, and detentions in the West Bank.

I long for the day when this war is over, when all are living in relative peace and justice, and when Palestine is its own nation. No more shootings, no more suicide bombs, no more missile attacks. Just people going about their lives, going to work, feeding their families. Both Israeli and Palestinian.

And the blessings continued. Two Christian women, representing a Jewish/Christian Zionist organization, told me that, for the first time, Sami Awad was someone that they could work with. A Jewish attendee from the same organization mentioned that he had been on the phone that morning with Pastor John Hagee, founder of Christians United for Israel (CUFI), trying to explain to John Hagee that Sami’s lecture was not something to be alarmed about. Sami Awad and Wayne Hilsden got to know each other on a more personal basis, and both spoke the next week at the Christ at the Checkpoint conference in Bethlehem.

More notable was a multi-hour conversation between Sami Awad and Steve Strang, owner of Charisma Magazine, the largest Christian magazine in America. In their time together, Sami told Steve about a recurring dream he is having which he calls “Five Minutes with John Hagee.” The dream is about what he would say if he had five minutes to say anything to John Hagee. Steve, delighted by the story, picked up his cell phone and said, Let’s call him.” Sami wasn’t quite ready for that. I haven’t heard where that has gone, but I am praying.

Outside a recent gathering of CUFI, activist Medea Benjamin asked John Hagee if he loves Palestinians. John gave a respectful answer and continued on into the conference. There they were, the most outspoken Christian Zionist leader and one of America’s most prominent social justice advocates, unable to create a table for open dialogue.

Upon viewing this conversation recently on the web, I was drawn back to the lecture incorporating Christian Zionism with social justice. It brought me such joy.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” What is significant here is the word “maker” found here. We must recognize that peace is not something that just happens, it must be made. Ask anyone who is married. It has been said many times that peace is not the absence of violence; it is the presence of justice. I know that God is so big that he can use a Medea Benjamin and a John Hagee to bring about peace. He can use a Sami Awad and a Jewish Zionist to help bring justice.

Let us continue to pray for peace in the Middle East. Let us continue to make peace.

John Harris lives in Altadena, California, where he attends Eagle Rock Christian Assembly, a Foursquare church. He has spent parts of the last five summers working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in the city of Hebron, Palestinian Territories. He leads delegations through Palestine and Israel with the group Pentecostals and Charismatics for Peace and Justice.

My journey as the "Rich" Young Ruler

By Dan Sidey

From my first days as a Bible-reading Christian I have been both haunted and inspired by the encounter of Jesus and the rich young ruler. Reading the story set in motion a great desire within me to make the decision the rich young ruler couldn’t. I can’t honestly say how much success I’ve had. Much of the journey has led to failure, but in it I discovered things about myself and God. Other times it has led to some degree of success, I suspect. Still every time I read it I’m haunted by it, but also inspired.

There are a variety of interpretations of the rich young ruler encounter that have spread throughout the church in the US. These interpretations often have the effect of absolving the one communicating (and the ones listening to) it of responsibility for following Jesus’ command to sell your possessions, give them to the poor and come follow him.

I have tried to be faithful in allowing the text to speak to me. I have no doubt I am that rich young man. I feel how dependent I am on my things. About a week ago my iPod got wet and I was crawling in my skin waiting to see if I’d have to drop another $200 on my technology dependency. I like my comfortable bed, my refrigerator full of food, my two cars and my house that I “own”. I’m deeply affected by consumerism. It runs in my blood.

Now you may think you are not the rich person in the story or you may have a suspicion you are and want to absolve yourself. You may say you follow a gospel of grace not of works or that this and that person in the New Testament was called by Jesus to remain rich and experience eternal life. It’s ok. I’m not going to whip out a mirror and talk about you. Nobody pulled a mirror on me and I don’t think it would have helped. Somehow I’ve always felt I was that rich man. No human showed it to me. I’ve just known it.

As hard as it may sound to have carried this knowledge, I’m thankful for it. It’s set me on a path of great discovery and surprising intimacy. In fact, I want to better know how I’m that rich man. I want to come to Jesus again and again if I have to, even if I have to walk away more sad every time. As morbid as this may sound it simply is not to me, because I’m captured by a greater vision of a more radical possibility.

The disciples were staggered. “Then who has any chance at all?” Jesus looked hard at them and said, “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off yourself. Every chance in the world if you trust God to do it.”(The Message)

That is my highest and best aspiration in a nutshell. I desperately long to trust God to do something miraculous and I believe there is “every chance in the world” he will do something right here, right now. Like in Zacchaeus’ moment, the Son of God and his lowly followers may dine at my family table and I will have a gift for those who happen to have less, not out of my plenty, but instead a gift that asks “Jesus, May I suffer with you just a little?”

The Law is for the Lawless, Not for You!

By Mark Drake

1 Tim 1:8-9- “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless…”

If you have received God’s free gift of righteousness by Christ coming to live inside of you, then you are the “righteous”, not the “lawless”. Therefore, the Law is not made for you. You have something far better than the letter of the Law. You have the Lawgiver, Himself, living inside of you!

Why the New Covenant is Better than Law

The miracle of the New Covenant is “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. (Col. 1:26-27) The New Covenant enables us to live the “Inside Out” life rather than the vastly inferior life of “Outside In”. When the Lawgiver is living in us, we are empowered by Him from the inside out.

We Must Always Start at the Right Starting Point

We must always start with the reality that we have already been made righteous by putting our faith in the work Christ did for us on the cross. Then, as we learn to allow Him to live His life in and through us, His righteousness nature begins to live through us, affecting our actions. Our goal now becomes to cooperate with Him for inner transformation; not to become “right with God” because we are already “right with God”.

Though we will not learn to cooperate with Him perfectly in this life, we are on a progressing journey into righteous behavior which culminates in our physical death, when we will be completely changed and fully transformed into His perfect image. (Rom. 8:29) The journey does not make us “right with God”. We are already right with God because of what Christ has done, once and for all! But traveling on this life journey is dramatically “easier and lighter” (Matt. 11:28) when we understand the true New Covenant.

When the Lawgiver is living inside of you, you do not have to live struggling to outwardly obey a list of laws, by your own power and by making more sincere promises to God. Instead, He will empower and guide you from within. This is what makes the New Covenant…New! Living in the true New Covenant is intended to give us the successful life of Inside Out, instead of the failure of Outside In.

Example of Lawlessness – Traffic Laws

In civil society we must have traffic laws, because our lawless human nature is motivated by selfishness and the fear of punishment. If I drive through your neighborhood thinking only about myself and how fast I want to get to my destination, then my lawlessness (not being motivated by love) makes me a danger to others.

But if I am being motivated inwardly by agape love, I will be more careful than the traffic signs demand because my concern will be the safety of others rather my selfish desires. I won’t need the threat of punishment or the outward restriction of law because I am being controlled by a higher inner law. I will be even more careful than the law requires because I am being controlled by God’s love for the well-being of others.

True grace empowers us to live beyond the letter of the Law. True grace produces a better life than Law ever could. This is why Paul could confidently say “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Rom 13:10)

This is the power of true biblical grace; Christ’s life inside you, controlling you from within, as a free gift from a loving Father. And this is THE Good News!

Mirrored with permission from www.markdrake.org

%d bloggers like this: