In Case You Missed It

In a recent article at the People’s Next Door, Keelan Cook poses the question: “If a lady in a hijab walked into your church, how would you respond?” Keelan writes:

I fear this post has the potential to ruffle feathers, but that is not my intent. Instead, my hope is that you will take the question in earnest in order to search your heart. I have been doing the same.

 

A while back, I ran across an article, in which a lady wore a Muslim head covering in order to gauge the response of a Christian church. She was a Christian, but she was curious what kind of response a Muslim, who may be interested in Christianity, would receive. The article was posted on the website for the Zwemer Center for Muslim Studies. The Zwemer Center is an academic center at Columbia International University, a fine Christian university, that exists to provide research and training concerning Christian witness to Muslims.  It is a good resource for the church.

 

According to the article, the experiment did not go well. To be fair, the article only mentions the incident briefly, and there is no way to know the details. I have no desire to beat this church up in a post, but it made me think about how most churches would respond in this instance. I would hope that most churches welcome strangers, even ones who are different than them. Unfortunately, I see the rhetoric swirling around in the United States today about immigration and refugees, and I fear the worst. I am afraid Christ’s church, scattered across the country in local congregations, may often be more influenced by this rhetoric than by the Scriptures on these issues.

 

In a recent post at his blog, Bruce Ashford lists 8 reasons why abortion is detrimental to society.

In the midst of the carnival-like atmosphere of the 2016 election cycle, evangelicals run the risk of allowing one thing to slip their attention: Hillary Clinton’s enthusiastic acceptance of Planned Parenthood’s endorsement and Planned Parenthood’s heightened efforts to expand its abortive territory.

 

In light of Planned Parenthood’s aspirations to recruit and train “tens of thousands” of persons to further its mission, how should evangelicals respond? In short, we should continue to seek both legal reform and cultural renewal, and should do so not only by articulating the Bible’s teaching about human dignity but also by enumerating the ways abortion corrupts society.

 

Brad Hambrick posted a helpful article about how he talked to his boys after the transgender talk at their public school. Brad writes:

My boys attend a local public elementary school. With the current debates that are occurring in North Carolina regarding legislation around transgenderism and public restrooms, the school’s CNN Kids news program did a story on the debate (May 10th edition). I read the video transcript and found the discussion on the role of public restrooms in modern politics to be interesting and informative.

 

Knowing that many other families will be having conversations around this subject, it seemed as though it would be beneficial to reflect on the conversation I had with my boys; not as a prototype to follow, but as a sample to vet.

 

Here are a few preliminary thoughts that I won’t go into in as much detail, but I believe are relevant.

 

In a recent article at the Intersect project, Nathaniel Williams discusses a homeless Gospel in a partisan world.

I’m accustomed to seeing Donald Trump Twitter tirades. I’m not, however, accustomed to seeing Southern Baptist theologians as the object of those tirades.

 

Opinions of Donald Trump aside, when was the last time a Republican Presidential nominee publicly went after an influential Evangelical leader? I can’t think of an example. Republicans used to actively court Evangelicals, not crucify them.

 

And the cordial feelings tended to be mutual. Though the Republican Party has never aligned perfectly with Christian teaching, conservative Evangelicals could generally rely on the party to produce candidates who valued life, character and religious freedom.

 

Yet that assumption has been slowly eroding, and Trump’s tweet seems to be the nail in the coffin. The gospel no longer fits neatly into a political party (if it ever did at all).

 

At his blog, Thom Rainer recently listed five questions prospective pastors rarely ask search committees (but should).

“This church is nothing like the search committee described. They said they were ready for change. They are, as long as it doesn’t affect them!”

 

The sentence is a direct quote from a pastor commenting on my blog. And many other pastors have expressed similar sentiments to me.

 

Of course, not all prospective pastors deal with pastor search committees. Still, the pastors inevitably have someone who interviews them, such as elders or judicatory bodies.

 

It is critical that prospective pastors ask questions about the church. There are five questions, however, which are rarely asked. These questions could be key toward avoiding some of the unpleasant surprises many pastors encounter.

Brad Hambrick: What Is Unique About Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk?

Brad Hambrick (M.Div, Th.M from SEBTS, Pastor of Counseling, The Summit Church) has recently written a new book titled “Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: Why and How Christians Should Have Gay Friends.”  He has written a series of blog posts discussing this new book. In his final post, Brad discusses why this book is unique. Brad writes:

These two paragraphs from the introduction are why I believed a book likeDo Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk was needed:

Churches have articulated their position on a conservative sexual ethic. Churches have re-examined the key biblical texts that are challenged in defense of a progressive sexual ethic. As important as these things are, however, they do not equip everyday Christians to develop meaningful friendships with people who experience same-sex attraction or have embraced a gay identity.

In the absence of relationship, our theology becomes theory.

Being right is not the same thing as being helpful. This is not to say that being wrong can be helpful, but in the midst of a culture war, there are many in our churches who experience unwanted same-sex attraction (SSA) and are learning the church is rarely a safe place for them. Why? Because while their principal life struggle may often be debated, it is rarely if ever ministered to.

Think about it. Conservative churches regularly emphasize that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman for life. At the same time, few such churches foster an environment where those who experience same-sex attraction can develop meaningful friendships in which their struggle can be understood. These churches are unintentionally sending a message to those who experience same-sex attraction.The message essentially says, “Live alone. Live unknown. Live a secret.”

Consider this excerpt from the opening chapter of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk:

As stigmatizing and offensive as a church’s silence can be when it comes to SSA, much of evangelicalism has adopted an unspoken “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. The result has been decades of silence in untold thousands of churches; silence compounded by confusion, isolation, and alienation.

It’s as if we believe that having a biblical position on SSA is the same as providing Christian care. We don’t believe this about other life struggles. We have moral positions on pornography, but we encourage accountability relationships. We have moral positions on cohabitation, but we’ll offer a couple places to live separately until they get married.

Consider this from the perspective of an individual in a local church who experiences SSA. For years this person has seen personal struggles of many kinds being addressed in the church, and care offered to those who struggle. Yet the only time his or her greatest area of struggle is mentioned is in jokes or as an example of an adversarial cultural agenda. Eventually he concludes, “This is not a safe place for me.”

(Is it? Should it be? Does God want the local church be a safe place for people to be honest about their struggles?)

Then, should this person find in the gay community the voice that the church community never gave him (or her) room to express, he gets very excited and feels liberated—and we get offended by his celebratory tone. It’s true: to the extent he is openly celebrating sin, that’s wrong. But at one level how can we blame him for shouting? He had been silenced for years and now he isn’t. It’s a bit like blaming a lame person for dancing when one day he can finally walk.

I hope you can begin to see that this is not a political book. It’s a friendship book. However God may want to use governing officials and political policies to shape our country, can we agree that he wants to use his church to reach people? That is what the opening three paragraphs of Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk emphasize:

Conversations on controversial issues do not to go well when the dialogue happens community-to-community or figurehead-to-figurehead. Whether it’s race, religion, or politics, groups don’t talk well with groups. Too much is at stake when we feel like our words and actions speak for the collective whole.

Two individuals from those respective groups are much more likely to forge a good relationship, influencing one another in various ways. Unfortunately, someone who listens well is often viewed by his or her compatriots as engaging in compromise; at the group level, representing each side fairly feels too much like agreement.

That is why the aim of this book is friendship. Friendship is the level at which influence can be had, because the dialogue does not seek to represent an agenda but to understand a person. Friendship is what protects good points from becoming gotcha moments.

It has been my experience that the church is much more willing and equipped to engage most other populations with the gospel (such as Muslims, atheists, addicts, prisoners, and so on) than we are those who experience same-sex attraction. This creates a problem. As Mark Yarhouse has written, “In fact, we may inadvertently push people toward the mainstream gay community precisely because we share the same tendency to reduce complexity to culture war. We appear to prefer politics to pastoral care.”

My prayer is that God would use this book as one tool to equip his people to create a relational platform by which we can do two things: share the gospel with unsaved individuals who experience same-sex attraction, and unpack the gospel for many in our churches who experience unwanted same-sex attraction.

 

This post originally appeared at the CruciformPress website.

What Will I Learn in Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk?

By: Brad Hambrick

In the six paragraphs below I want to introduce you to the kind of questions that are addressed in the six chapters of my upcoming book Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk. Through the content represented in the six chapter summaries below, I hope to equip the church to be a place where testimonies like the ones below become increasingly frequent.

  • An individual who embraces a gay identity could say, “I have friends who are Christians and disagree with my chosen lifestyle but love me well. I believe they would gladly help me if I had a need.”
  • A teenager who is beginning to experience SSA could say, “I have Christian friends who understand what I’m facing and care enough to help me think through this confusing experience.”
  • Parents of a child who is experimenting with homosexual behaviors could say, “Our small group cared for us well and helped us think through how to love our son. It was surprising how safe we felt to wrestle with the questions we were facing.”
  • An individual who was considering leaving the gay lifestyle could say, “The Christians that I knew while I was openly gay were a big part of the reason I may choose to pursue what I now believe to be God’s design for sexuality.”

If these statements represent the way you think conversations about homosexuality should be had in the church, I believe you’ll find Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk to be a helpful resource.

Chapter One: “Language, Stigma, and Expectations” What is the difference between the experience of same sex attraction, the engagement in homosexual behavior, and the embracing of a gay identity? How do these categories help Christians speak from a conservative sexual ethic without shutting down conversation? What are the terms and forms of logic that immediately designate us “unsafe” for those who experience SSA? What are healthy, realistic expectations in a voluntary conversation when two people have a vested interest in conflicting value systems? How can the church be a safe place for these conversations, so that “coming out” after 10+ years of silence is not the only way to let people know what you’re experiencing?

Chapter Two: “Being Comfortable Being Uncomfortable” Talking about sex is awkward enough. If we inadvertently believe that Romans 1 is the only road to homosexuality (i.e., progressive sexual depravity), then we respond to individuals who experience SSA as if they were the equivalent of sex addicts and pedophiles. Our ignorance of the SSA experience heightens the awkwardness of these conversations and increases the likelihood we will be inadvertently offensive. This chapter examines the common internal obstacles to being a mature, informed participant in conversations with friends or family members who experience SSA.

Chapter Three: “Getting to Know the Experience of SSA” What is it like to realize that your experience of romantic attraction is different from most people? What are the common markers in the journey of individuals who experience SSA and what emotions accompany them? What is it like to “know” that your attractions cannot be talked about “at church” but other people’s can? How would that dynamic influence your experience of Christianity and culture in general? An appreciation for these questions (not necessarily agreement with your friend’s conclusions) is vital to being a good friend.

Chapter Four: “Getting to Know the Person Experiencing SSA” An appreciation for chapter three does not constitute the knowledge of any given individual. Knowledge about a subject without knowledge of a person is debate-prep more than relationship; it aims at winning an argument more than influencing a person. This chapter will provide good questions to ask based upon the content of chapter three and give guidance on how not to reduce an individual to their sense of attraction as the subject comes to the forefront of conversation.

Chapter Five: “Winning an Argument vs. Influencing a Friend” A cliché or gotcha line never transformed anyone’s sexuality. They get applause from those who agree with you and disdain from those who don’t; they polarize. What should be our tone and emphasis when discussing biblical passages on homosexuality? How early in a relationship do I need to bring up these passages in order to be a faithful Christian? Is it profitable to discuss things like research biases in genetic findings related to homosexuality? If so, how, when, and for what purpose? At what point does protecting a friendship for the sake of influence become moral compromise?

Chapter Six: “Navigating Difficult Conversations” Would you go to my wedding? Should my parents allow me and my partner to come over for Christmas? Am I not supposed to be hurt by Christians who say things you deem to be true, but say them in attacking-demeaning ways? If I do not experience any, or very limited, opposite attraction do I have to remain celibate my entire life to be a Christian? These and other subjects are addressed through an annotated dialogue that helps the reader think through what it would be like to have conversations about what they’ve read with someone who experiences same sex attraction.

Brad Hambrick (M.Div., Th.M.), is Pastor of Counseling at The Summit Church, Adjunct Professor of Biblical Counseling at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Council Member for The Biblical Counseling Coalition. He has published numerous titles in P&R’s Gospel for Real Life series.

This post originally appeared at the CruciformPress website.