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June 20, 2007

I just don’t understand it.  Why do so many American Christians want to view themselves as persecuted, under attack, discriminated against and reviled?

Is it all that Gospel of John sectarian stuff?   Paul?  A desire to be heard above the din of the rest of the political-religious noise machine?

As Americans, we have a serious perspective problem.  We are the most comfortable country in the world.  One only has to spend a couple of days in Africa to realize that we have very little idea what actual poverty is.  Far too many of our dollars are spent on luxury and comfort.  Better picture, richer sound, softer seats, mattresses designed by NASA, smoother rides, better scents, breathable fabrics, quieter air-conditioning, quieter dishwashers, hands-free, low maintenance, pure decadence.  It takes a rich, comfortable nation to support Brookstone, Sharper Image, Bath and Body Works, The Body Shop, SelectComfort Sleep Number Beds, and Blu-Ray.

Not that I haven’t spent my share of dollars on some of the above.  I’m pretty comfortable, too.

But here’s the rub; you can’t really be that comfortable and persecuted at the same time.  Not really persecuted.  Maybe you can be ridiculed and criticized from time to time, but real persecution?  Naaaah.

In Darfur there’s real persecution.   In Africa and India and the Middle East there’s real poverty.  Here, there’s mostly other comfortable blowhards spouting their first-amendment-protected ideas and opinions that may conflict with your first-amendment-protected ideas and opinions.

But the facts of the matter have never made much difference to the more vocal, attention-mongering wing of the Christian right.  Donald Wildmon, Pat Robertson, and James Dobson (among others) persistently claim that Christians are the most persecuted group in America and around the world.  Their claim is that Christians are being attacked and downright persecuted for our religious beliefs.  (The other group who make exactly the same claim – that they are persistently attacked for their religious faith – are the ones we call “terrorists,” “jihadists,” etc.)

So I was not surprised over the last week when I was twice approached by folks who told me that “the liberals” want to pass a law that would keep preachers from preaching against homosexuality.  “Where are they getting this?” I wondered. Forget that I had never so much as mentioned homosexuality from the pulpit – and I won’t, for a number of reasons.

“No, that’s not about preaching or calling something a sin,” I replied.  “It’s about hate speech, the kind of stuff that incites people to violence.  If I call something a sin, that’s protected.  If I tell you that those people ought to be shot, that’s hate speech which is a totally different thing.  That‘s what they want to make illegal.”

“No, I’m serious” was the reply.  “The liberals in congress want to tell you what you can and can’t preach about.”

“No, they don’t want me advocating violence against human beings.” has a great article about the bill.

So where are they getting this stuff?  Well, from the American Family Association, Donald Wildmon’s organization.  You can read the AFA’s Action Alert here.  When Smopes declared the Action alert “misleading,” the AFA decided to post a response in which they claim if this bill passes, we are confident that liberal judges will rush to make it a federal crime to publicly criticize the homosexual lifestyle.”

Their basis?  The declaration that anti-homosexual literature can’t be distributed in government workplaces.  Forgive me if I’m wrong but the church isn’t exactly a government workplace yet, is it?

And why are the AFA bound and determined that they are being discriminated against on the grounds that they should be able to discriminate against somebody else? (namely, gays)?

And here’s my biggest problem with the whole thing.  I’m a Methodist, a Prevenient Grace guy.  Everything I preach and all that I try to embody as a pastor is predicated on the beginning of faith – prevenient grace; that God loves you first, wants you in relationship first, and there is no sin so great that it can’t be undone with grace.  My theological spine is built wholly upon God’s unflagging, unfailing goodness.  Everything you really need to know about sin is this – that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (where have I heard that before?).  We don’t just name sin and stop sinning, we enter into relationship with God and God does the sanctifying; as we are grown and formed in the faith, sin withers and dies as it becomes incompatible with our new life and lifestyle.  For the church to pick out its favorite sins and to point the finger at others is itself a sin.  It’s so much easier to criticize the sty in our neighbor’s eye than to face our own planks.

Besides, in my opinion, preaching for is better than preaching against.  Preach for faith  – for growth, for justification and sanctification as God’s work in our lives, for love of God and neighbor, for accepting God’s gift of grace, for prayer and meditation and forgiveness, and for strength.  It’s quicker and easier to tear something or someone down than it is to build up.  I feel called at this point in time to be a builder-upper, not a tearer-downer.

And please, if you receive news from anyone with an agenda to promote, take that news with a grain of salt and do some research for yourself.   Are they representing the facts of the case accurately?  Where are they giving opinion, especially opinion presented as fact?

Clint McCann has a great poster on the wall of his office at Eden.  It has a picture of Jesus and the words, “He died to take away your sins, not your mind.”

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Erik permalink
    June 20, 2007 9:14 pm

    Hey Will,

    Good stuff – I do not have any student papers to mark right now – and I’m feeling grumpy.

    A couple of questions – despite the fact that some people mis-characterize the hate crime bills, don’t these hate crime bills make you a bit nervous on freedom of expression grounds?

    I mean if my motivation for beating someone up is that they raped my sister – that is a state issue.

    If my motivation for beating someone up is that I hate them for swindling me out of my poker money – that is a state issue

    If my motivation for beating someone up is that I hate the way that they walk – that is a state issue

    If my hatred for Detroit Red Wings fans motivates me to beat one up- that is a state issue

    If I beat someone up because I hate the way they smell – that is a state issue.

    If someone gives a philosophy paper that I do not like, and that motivates me to beat them up – that is a state issue

    if I am motivated to beat someone up because they make constant sexual advances towards my daughter – that is a state issue.

    But If I am motivated to beat someone up because they make constant sexual advances towards my son – then it becomes a federal issue.

    Doesn’t it bother you, at least a little bit, that the motivation plays such a role, and that the federal government sees fit to chose just some motivations (sins) as worthy of federal attention. Isn’t that much the same as the church choosing to focus on just some sins?

    I find it disturbing that the Federal government only becomes concerned with these crimes when “[the government] has reasonable cause to believe that the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person was a motivating factor underlying the alleged conduct of the defendant;”

    Too much like thought police for me – but maybe I am missing something? Maybe beating up a homosexual is a worser sin against society than beating up a professor.

    Also – If, as you say, Americans do not really know what persecution is – because our lives are so comfy – then wouldn’t that also be true of the groups that are seeking the protection from such hate crime law? I mean don’t they just need a lesson in perspective, rather than a special law?


    Also – Are you saying that the church should turn a blind eye to sin? Shouldn’t we, as a church body, seek to further justice by condemning injustice and inequality etc.?


    Hope you understand the spirit in which my questions are asked? As you should surely know I admire most everything about you and your ministry.

  2. June 21, 2007 7:57 am

    Well, I somehow don’t believe that speech that incites others to violence is 1st Amendment-protected, but at the same time where do we draw the line? If someone misinterprets speech that is intended as hyperbolic, then acts upon the exaggerated suggestion (like cousin Eddie kidnapping Clark’s employer in “Christmas Vacation”), is the speaker who made the suggestion guilty of hate speech? Judging intention is difficult and inherently problematic.

    Is there a difference between discrimination and genuine persecution? I kind of think so.

    I’m not endorsing the bill or saying it’s necessarily a good thing, and I completely see your points. What irks me is the gross misrepresentation of the bill by those who want it defeated, and misrepresenting it in the name of the church as though honesty isn’t essential to Christianity. The ends don’t justify the means. Misrepresenting the truth damages the church’s credibility, both with the culture and more importantly (I believe) with God.

    I in no way want the church to turn a blind eye to sin, but elements in the church have turned homosexuality and abortion into the only sins that matter. The church suddenly doesn’t care about idolatry, consumerism, economic injustice. The church’s silence on the genocide in Darfur is deafening.

    The contemporary church is infatuated with Paul’s letters, so much so that Paul’s statements about Jesus hold as much, if not more authority than the gospels. But we completely miss Paul’s point about the difference between law and faith. The church still seeks to solve the problem of sin through laws and rules rather than through grace and faith. I sincerely believe that the church is taking a wrongheaded approach to the problem of sin. The church is still preaching “if you had faith, you’d follow the rules.” Paul preached that the rules never saved anyone, faith did.

  3. June 21, 2007 7:58 am

    BTW, I love these kinds of discussions. I miss having them in seminary so I’m glad you’re here. I know you well enough to know the spirit in which you intend the questions. You’re kind of like me – a smartass, but not a mean-spirited smartass.

  4. Layman Erik permalink
    June 22, 2007 5:32 am

    Then we mostly agree. We should be repulsed by dishonesty from the church – even in the name of something that might be right (I think it right to oppose the bill, although I suspect the AFA’s reasons for opposing that bill are far different than my own).

    It is a different subject, but it is, in part for similar reasons that I am uneasy (to put it mildly) with the current church marketing movement. To often that crowd seems willing to deceive in the name of winning souls (or gaining members which, I suspect, in the minds of that crowd may amount to the same thing.)

    By the way, I hear from Ron Brown that I wouldn’t recognize you if I saw you.

  5. June 22, 2007 7:13 am

    By the way, I hear from Ron Brown that I wouldn’t recognize you if I saw you.

    Dropping a hundred pounds will do that.

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