The Newest Front in the Culture War: Tim Tebow

Back in the day, the culture war in this country revolved around simple things like abortion, evolution, prayer in school, gay marriage, the death penalty, assisted suicide or the size of government.  Today, apparently, it is about how one man’s ability to read a defense, throw a tight spiral on a 10 yard out pattern and whether any of this is directly attributable to God.  Tim Tebow is the latest hot button issue in the culture war of America.

Tim Tebow is a Christian.  Tim Tebow is also an NFL quarterback.  Somehow, his ability to play his position has become a referendum on God by proxy.  You see, Tim Tebow does not play the QB position particularly well by the typical standards that QBs are judged by.  He does not have a strong arm.  He has a long throwing motion instead of a more ideal quick-release motion.  He does not have good mechanics.  When he was coming out of college, a lot of experts thought he was more suited to be an H-back or a halfback than a QB because of his running ability.  They believed he would have to unlearn all of the bad mechanical habits he had that came as second nature to him.  They believed this was going to be practically impossible because in the pressure situations of the NFL that QBs typically find themselves, unless a QB has had the right mechanics ingrained into them early enough, guys like Tebow will revert to their natural throwing motion.  In short, they didn’t think there was any way that Tim Tebow could be a successful NFL QB.

Except that now that he has been given the chance to be a starting QB for the Denver Broncos, he is 7-1 as a starter this year, and 8-3 as a starter including the 3 games he started at the end of last season.  And in doing so, there has been a clear division of fans into the Pro-Tebow and Anti-Tebow world.  And the debate that has arisen makes it seem like there is no room for middle ground.  Either Tebow is the greatest or the worst thing ever.

Tebowmania has taken hold of the NFL and even beyond the sports world.  He has become the ultimate Rorschach test.  Do you see only the good (wins) or the flaws (mechanics)?  Presidential candidates (I’m looking at you, Rick Perry) are name-dropping him in their debates, hoping that the mere mention of is name will be enough to engender themselves to potential voters in the primaries; talk about pandering.  People have gotten to the point where they seemingly cannot talk rationally about him as a player.  “Tebow Magic” has become a way of explaining his 4th quarter comebacks.  Other people are just completely incredulous, chalking him up to being nothing more than a product of the ESPN hype machine.

I feel like I am in a unique position.  I’ve never actually seen Tim Tebow play a game of football.  I have seen some of his highlights in recent weeks, but I’ve never watched a full game in which he has played from start to end.  I do not watch college football, so I never even saw him play when he was at Florida.  The only thing I have to go on is what I have heard everyone say about him, what I have heard from him personally, his pro-life Super Bowl commercial from two years ago (no doubt there’s a bit of latent animosity out there towards him for that for some people), and fantasy football analysis of him.  I’ve been fascinated and perplexed by everything surrounding the guy.  Just this past Sunday I was checking scores and stats online and noticed that the Broncos were down 10-0 to the Bears, Tebow was 3-for-18 and had an INT entering the 4th quarter.  And I thought to myself, “Well, this is about when it’s time for the Broncos to turn it on.”  And they did!  As a sports fan, moments like that are exciting and are what makes sports so enjoyable.  But apparently not everyone can fully enjoy these things because they are so blinded by their perceptions and their entrenchments.

The divide between the pro- and anti-Tebow forces has gotten to the point where it very much like how entrenched people have gotten in this country about certain politicized issues.  Neither side is willing or able to listen to anything the other side has to say, nor are they willing to engage in a productive conversation of any kind, they just want to get their talking points out there and prove that the other side doesn’t know what it’s talking about.  And everything is dealt with in absolutist terms.

Well, I’ve got news for everyone, the truth about Tim Tebow as an NFL quarterback is somewhere in the middle between the two entrenched sides who remain steadfast in their opinion of the guy.

As a Christian, I think it is great that he is upfront and open about his faith.  He isn’t afraid to say what he believes, and he believes very strongly that his professional success has afforded him a unique platform to spread the word about something he believes passionately.  This is not unique.  All kinds of athletes and other various celebrities use their celebrity status to get the message out about various causes or topics that are near and dear to their heart.  Curt Schilling is an outspoken advocate of finding a cure for ALS.  Lance Armstrong is very vocal about cancer.  Tom Cruise has his Scientology.  Barbara Streisand has things which she is outspoken about.  No one in the general public is faced with the choice of having to choose between buying into what a celebrity’s cause or dismissing their professional output.

Countless people in the public eye also take time at the beginning of their acceptance speeches or postgame interviews to “thank God.”  Too often, I find this to be incredibly cliché and an insincere throwaway line.  Tebow is one of the few people who say that and seems genuine when he says that, which is unsettling to some people.

On the flip side of that, people who take umbrage with the “Tebowing” phenomenon need to realize that when you make your faith so public, you put it out there for public consumption and all that comes with it.  Personally, I find the Tebowing fad entertaining, but that’s just me.  Also, how public is too public with your faith?  Jesus said in Matthew 6:5-6, “And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others.  Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.  But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”  How does an athlete like Tim Tebow balance this with routinely kneeling to pray in celebration?  This is not necessarily a question to which I have an answer, but it is one that I think is worth asking.  And as a counter to that, you could just as easily toss in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

I think it is ridiculous to think that Tebow is winning because he has God on his side.  I am sure that there are plenty of Christians on other teams and that the outcome of a sporting event is of eternal significance.  And too many people are willing to give all of the credit to Tim Tebow for the Broncos winning with him as a starter.  In reality, the team as a whole has stepped up.  The team has won, in part, because of Tebow, but as much if not more credit could be given to the Broncos’ kicker, Matt Prater, who made two 50+ yard field goals in the 4th quarter and in OT last week to complete a comeback win, by no means an easy task.  And their defense has been playing very well too, led by stud 1st round pick Von Miller and one of the best corners of all time in Champ Bailey.

However, I think, indirectly, God does have something to do with what is going on in Denver.  Tebow, for all of his faults as a quarterback, has belief in his abilities and an unwavering confidence, and has an ability to get his teammates to believe in their ability to win too.  And that is a huge thing in sports.  This is the same team that was underperforming with Kyle Orton as their quarterback.  And the quarterback position, fair or not, is often as much about the intangibles and the ability to lead than it is about the stats and the arm and how you play the position.  He’s an elite QB now, but Tom Brady was not the Tom Brady we know today when he first took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in 2001.  But he had a similar confidence and belief in getting the job done that rubbed off on his teammates.  And when a team starts to believe in its ability to get the job done, the sky is the limit.  It is at moments like that when a team’s sum truly becomes greater than its parts.  And as a Patriots fan who has never seen him play before and whose team is facing him in just a few hours, I am terrified of what he might do to the Pats porous defense.

To me, the biggest thing the Tebow critics don’t get and refuse to accept is that he gets better in crunch time.  A lot of QBs can put up great numbers, but when the pressure situations come, they falter and fall apart.  That is a criticism that has been made of Tony Romo over his career.  Tebow can put up some awful numbers through the first few quarters, to the point that it looks truly ugly, but he believes that his team can keep it close, they can find a way to pull it out.  There is something to be said for that.  And it is something I don’t think he gets enough credit for, especially since everybody wants a player who gets better in the big moments.  Tebow gets better in crunch time.

At the same time, you cannot turn a blind eye to his poor play leading up to crunch time.  I don’t believe you can consistently succeed in the NFL if your only have two completions for an entire game, or after three quarters of another game you find yourself 3-for-16 throwing the ball.  That is an area he needs to improve.  Right now, he is able to get away with it, but he cannot do this forever.  He is proving a lot of doubters wrong right now and challenging conventions that have been held for forever in the NFL, because he is finding a way to get it done and win games, but one convention he cannot change is that of the scrambling QB.  Scrambling QBs have a shelf life.  They need to adapt or die.  Eventually, his running ability will not be the asset it is right now.  Age or injury always take their toll on scrambling quarterbacks, and once the running ability is not what it once was, they need to have the passing ability to get by without it or be more judicious with it.  That was true of Fran Tarkenton, John Elway, Steve Young, and, currently, Michael Vick.

Here is where Tebow should consider himself really blessed by God: His GM is John Elway, one of the greatest, most clutch QBs who ever played the position.  And he could run too.  If I was Tim Tebow, I would tie myself to John Elway’s hip as soon as the season is over, and spend the offseason trying to be a sponge and soaking in as much knowledge and whatever help I can gain from Elway.  You can’t ask for much of a better situation than that.

Lastly, people should keep in mind that how they feel about Tim Tebow is not a referendum on God.  Christians should not feel like they are obligated to support him blindly without reservation or criticism.  And non-Christians should not feel like rooting for Tebow is a tacit endorsement of God.  At the end of the day, it’s a helpful reminder to keep in mind that it is sports and it should be fun.  It’s a game where adults are being paid millions of dollars to play a children’s game.  Sit back and enjoy the spectacle of sport unfold.  If you’re a Broncos’ fan, you’re within your right to be over the moon with what is happening.  If you’re a fan of another team, you are well within your right to root on or jeer Tebow and the Broncos and not have it be about his beliefs.  And if you want to embrace him because of his faith, that is fine too.  What isn’t fine is to accept or reject his play based solely on his beliefs.  Don’t unnecessarily simplify what is happening and dig in just because you feel like you have to be pro-Tebow or anti-Tebow.  There is a wide middle ground.



Gay Marriage, Maine, and the Church: Where To Go From Here

            This past Tuesday, the state of Maine had a question on the ballot Election Day about whether to uphold or repeal a state law that was passed earlier in the year allowing gay marriage.  It was a hotly contested issue on both sides, and the vote was very close.  In the end, the people of the state of Maine chose to reject the law that the state legislature had passed.  A lot of disappointment, anger, and was expressed by those who supported gay marriage.  I think there are some hard truths that both sides need to hear, and would do well to heed.  As always, everything I’m writing is intended to hopefully spark dialogue and discussion and not shouting and confrontation.

            I have to be honest in saying that I did not vote on Tuesday.  I managed my time poorly Tuesday afternoon(I probably should have gone and voted in the morning when I got out of work, as I work a 3rd shift job, and the lines would have been minimal).  I ended up having to choose between going to vote and going to see my grandmother in the hospital who was recovering from surgery.  Had I planned better, I would not have had to choose, but circumstances being what they were, I chose family over civic duty.  However, part of me is glad I didn’t vote, because I did not particularly want to vote on Question 1, which was the gay marriage referendum. 

            It is no small understatement to say that gay marriage is a loaded issue.  Simple laws on the books are not enough to settle everything that it involves.  It is a loaded issue because the debate is framed in a discussion of basic human rights and religious freedom.  Those in favor of it believe that all people, regardless of sexual orientation, should be allowed the right to marry whom they chose to spend their life with.  Those against it believe that marriage is a religious institution ordained by God, the Bible has some very pointed things to say against homosexuality, therefore, gay people should not be allowed to marry because it goes against God’s will.  These beliefs make it deeply personal, because of the clashing of these two conflicting world views, and emotions are very much involved on both sides.  Imagine having someone tell you who you are, what you do, who you choose to love, and what you want, are and abomination.  Naturally, defenses would go up.  On the flip side, imagine being told that what you believe, what shapes your understanding of the world, and informs many of your decisions in life, is flawed, backward, and bigoted.  Obviously you’re going to take issue with that characterization.

            Because of the strong emotions and entrenched beliefs on both sides, I think it is important approach these things with as little emotional attachment as possible, and look at things rationally, calmly, and with light treading, because this field is filled with treacherous land mines. 

I’ve stated previously my views on homosexuality, so I won’t go in depth on those here.  In basic terms, I believe that being gay is a natural thing, not a chosen lifestyle.  I will also say that just because a feeling, instinct, or disposition is natural does not mean that it should be acted upon.  I believe it is a sin, but no worse than any other sexual sin.  I will honestly say that I am not comfortable with gay PDA (to be honest, PDA in general makes me a little uncomfortable).  At the same time, I am not the God police.  My relationship with God informs my life and my life only.  I can share my beliefs with others, but they are under no obligation to actually listen to me, or adjust the way they live according to how I believe; nor do I expect them to do so. 

If I had voted, I would have voted “yes” in favor of repealing the gay marriage law.  But my reasons for doing so would probably have been very different from many of the people who voted “yes” on 1, and probably would have been misconstrued by people who voted “no” on 1.  The reason I would have voted against it based on my view of how changes in laws should occur, and not on a moral objection to gay marriage.  A lot of people would say that civil rights trumps the rights of citizens to vote on a matter and that the legislatures and judges should make the necessary changes.  While I’m sure there are some instances where I would be okay with that (abolition of slavery for example), for the most part I believe that most of those changes are better for society as a whole when the voting public has a direct say in the matter.  While it may disappoint me, I can live with something I believe in being voted down, because, ultimately, the democratic process prevailed and the voice of the voter was heard. 

Too many times, I think proactive legislation and activism in the judicial system has a negative side effect when laws are enacted on issues that are incredibly divisive.  Two examples that come to my mind are the laws passed in the 60s during the civil rights movement and Roe v. Wade.  Not to argue for or against the merits of those, especially the civil rights because those should have always been in place when slavery was abolished, but I don’t think there is any denying that the enactment of laws and the way those laws were carried out cause some resentment among between both sides.  Think of how heated things got with forced busing.  Look at the venom that is spewed by people outside of abortion clinics.  Again, not to argue for or against the merits of either side, but if those same laws were put in place through a vote they would carry more weight because a major part of the opposition’s argument would be invalidated. 

            So the reason I would have voted yes is because I did not agree with the state legislating this decision without the direct input of the Maine voters.  I realize this may be too idealistic, because there are plenty of people out there who oppose gay marriage simply because it has to do with gay people.  And I also don’t have a clear cut standard of what issues should or should not be decided by voters vs. congress, I can only promise that it is not wholly arbitrary.  On the flip side, I am dead set against the Defense of Marriage Act as a constitutional amendment because I don’t believe it belongs there.  I suppose my rule of thumb would be to leave things up to the voting public as much as possible, erring in that direction, and leave the rest up to the state and federal government.

            People of faith have a balancing act that they need to maintain between being governed by God and by the laws of the country in which they live.  I think for a lot of people, that balance is out of whack.  As a Christian, my life is governed by my relationship with God.  The decisions I make and the things I do are to be informed by that relationship.  At the same, time, because I live in a democratic society that adheres to no state sponsored religion, I have to accept that not everyone else in this democracy subscribes to the same beliefs and viewpoints that I have.  They may have a different faith that informs their life differently than mine.  They may have no faith.  Because of that, I cannot expect such a diverse democratic society, like the melting pot that is the United States, to govern based solely on my set of beliefs.  That is completely unreasonable.  I believe too many Christians make the mistaken assumption that this country should be governed by their Christian beliefs.  But we do not live in a theocracy.  Democracy strives to fairly represent all people living underneath its banner.  A Christian simply cannot expect a non-Christian person to live by Christian standards.  The way you function in a democratic society may be informed by your faith, but it is unreasonable to expect everyone around you to also follow suit.  Because of this, I resign myself to the fact that sometimes things are going to happen in my country that I disagree with.

Gay marriage has been soundly rejected every single time it has appeared on a ballot for a popular vote.  In the last few years it has been up for a vote in 31 states, and all 31 states have said no with varying margins of defeat.  The only places in the United States where gay marriage has been allowed is where legislation has been passed or judicial decisions have been handed down.  Even in the most liberal of states, gay marriage has not been approved by popular vote.  And while that is disheartening to some and encouraging to others, it should informs both sides of the issue as to where the country is heading.  Even a decade ago, this issue was not even really in the consciousness of the American voter.  And in just a short time, public opinion is about 50-50 on the issue.  Older and more traditional voters are strongly against it.  Opposition is harder to find in younger generations.  It seems to me that unless there is a dramatic shift in public opinion, gay marriage is something that will happen sooner rather than later in this country.  The question is whether it will come about naturally through voting or by being pushed through by elected officials or judges.  I hope it happens naturally, because I think would be less traumatic for our democracy. 

While I hope I have presented my opinion above in a manner that, if not agreeable to all, can at least be respected by most, I still believe there are larger issues that need to be addressed. 

Obviously, people of faith are protective of marriage because of its religious significance.  And those who want gay marriage are concerned that the state is not treating all of its citizens equally by allowing some of them to marry and saying that others are not permitted to do so, thus denying their human rights (by the way, as a Christian I’m not convinced that marriage or even sex are a God-given, inalienable right for all human beings.  I think there are some people who probably should not marry, and should not engage in sex.  I think more than anything, we want these to be inalienable rights because they are so appealing.  Then again, this may just be because I’m single…).  I think both sides are right, and both sides’ rights need to be protected, because this is a conflict of religious freedoms and civil liberties. 

There are too many people, of many different religions, who believe that marriage is a religious institution and gay marriage goes against their religious beliefs.  But marriage as a religious institution is in the eyes of God.  A marriage in the eyes of the government is a state licensed union.  In this setup marriage exists as one thing with two distinct meanings.  I think a better approach is to create two distinct overlapping spheres, like a Venn diagram or something.

So here is what I propose: Do away with all marriage licenses.  Remove the state from the institution of marriage; remove marriage from the purview of the state.  Leave marriage to the institutions of faith or cultural customs.  In place of that, the government recognized only civil unions.  This is not just a change in semantics.  Marriages retain their religious significance, as they are a union in the eyes of God.  As for civil unions, whoever gets them gets all of the legally recognized rights that go along with that, whether it is tax exemptions or whatever else.  In order to maintain religious rights, churches are not legally obligated to marry any couple that they do not approve of, and cannot be punished if they refuse.  Couples who are married in the church would also file for a state licensed civil union in order to obtain the legal benefits that the law affords.  The best illustration I can use here is that of squares (marriage) and rectangles (civil unions).  All squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares.  I don’t have all of the details on this ironed out, but there are people who are paid far more than me who could be put to the task of hammering out those details.  In this scenario, I believe that religious rights are maintained and the civil liberties of all are made equal under the law.

I started this out because I wanted to put all of my thoughts into one place to share with whoever was interested in hearing what I had to say on a hotly divisive issue.  I don’t have all of the answers.  Also, this ended up being far longer than I originally intended, so if you’ve come this far, I commend you.  But I felt everything in here was important. 

One last thing I believe is important is this: People need to be more respectful of each other on both sides.  It accomplishes nothing and is harmful to your cause when you are hateful, judgmental, and abusive to the other side, especially on an issue like this.  Calling people “f*cktards”, “bigots”, “close-minded” or using homophobic slurs to belittle your opponent is shameful.  Also, to express disappointment in the outcome is one thing, to say how ashamed you are of the people in your state or country for how they voted is something else.  Those who support gay marriage should keep in mind that people on the other side of this issue are some of your co-workers, neighbors, friends and family.  On the flip side, those of you who are against gay marriage, these people who are being marginalized are some of your co-workers, neighbors, friends and family.


Hosea 2

This week will read less like a summary of the discussion and more like notes, since I was leading the discussion.  It’s hard to lead and take notes of everything being said. 

The 2nd chapter of Hosea reads like one extended allegory.  The major theme for the chapter is again a warning of punishment.  But we must also remember that with every warning of punishment that there is also the offer of forgiveness and restoration.

The time frame in which Hosea was a prophet is found in 2 Kings chapters 15-17.  That can help give some context about what Hosea is prophesying against. 

Verse 2 shows us that there is indeed a broken relationship between Hosea/God and Gomer/Israel.  “She is not my wife, and I am not her husband.”  In verse 3 we find not only a broken relationship, but the potential for something beyond a broken relationship, threat of judgment for her actions.  The children spoken of in verse 4 are the actual people of Israel. 

In verse 5 we see Gomer/Israel trying to justify her actions.  “I will go after my lovers…”  Because of all of the preceived benefits of her sin, she will continue in it.  This is how sin seems good for a time, but in the end is not satisfying.  It’s also a portrait of selfish love being displayed.  Notice that all of the focus of this verse is what her lovers provide her and what they do for her.  Contrary to the selfless type of love that God is showing to Israel and God is instructing Hosea to show to Gomer.

The thornbushes block her path in verse 6.  Eventually out attempts to act in sin become disappointing, more difficult, less satisfying.  It is tough love on God’s part too, but also a tender display of his love for us.  Some notes on this chapter that I found online had this to say: “When God hedges our way with thorns, we usually don’t like it.  We sometimes think God is against us when the thorns hurt and we can’t find the wrong paths.  But it is really one of the sweetest expressions of God’s love to hedge up our way with thorns and to wall us in.”  Also, in reality, the thorns hurt not because God is against us, but because we’re against God. 

In verse 7, Gomer/Israel decides to return to her husband like at first, because “then I was better off.”  Israel always seemed to return to God as a last resort, when all else had failed.  Gomer returned to Hosea as a last resort, out of desperation.  When do we turn to God?  Is it immediately or only when life is too difficult to handle on our own? 

Verse 8 shows us that God provided prosperity to Israel during this time, and they turned around and thanked Baal for it, refusing to acknowledge that what they had came from God.  How do we acknowledge what God has given us?  How do we use what God has given us?  Do we abuse the gifts or talents or provisionsa he has given us? 

9-13 shows God removing his provisions from Israel so as to turn her back to him.  And in verse 14-15 we see the offer of restoration.  Material possessions and wordly distractions have been removed.  God will use our negative experiences to bring about a positive change in us.  Really like how verse 14 says “I am now going to allure her.”  From the previous link, there was a great quote from Charles Spurgeon listed: “This is a singular kind of power: ‘I will allure her;’ not, ‘I will drive her’ not even, ‘I will draw her,’ or, ‘I will drag her;’ or, ‘I will force her.’ No, ‘I will allure her.’ It is a very remarkable word, and it teaches us that the allurement of love surpasses in power all other forces. That is how the devil ruins us; he tempts us with honeyed words, sweet utterances, with the baits of pleasure and the like; and the Lord in mercy determines that, in all truthfulness, he will outbid the devil, and he will win us to himself by fascinations, enticements, and allurements which shall be stronger than any force of resistance we may offer. This is a wonderfully precious word: ‘I will allure her.’” 

Also, this passage gives a new slant to the idea of the “desert experience.”  We tend to think of deserts as desolate, arid, dry, and vacant; which they are.  But they are are also free from distractions and things we can put between us and God.  By removing his provisions from Israel, he is removing an obstacle between them(not originally intended to be an obstacle, of course, but something Israel made into an obstacle between them and God).  Now there is nothing that can hinder God from communicating clearly to Israel, from speaking tenderly to her.  Sometimes in the moments when we feel like we’re in a “spiritual desert” is when we can most clearly hear God’s speaking to us, because distractions and obstacles have been removed. 

Verses 16-20 show that God longs for the day when there will not be a “master/slave” relationship between him and his people, but something more similar to a “husband/wife” relationship.  He wants that level of commitment of love from us, not out of duty.  One of the most interesting notes I came across was that the term “Baal” comes from the Hebrew word that means “master” (Baal was also a generic term used for any pagan false gods amongst the neighboring tribes).  So Israel’s relationship with the false gods that they worshipped was actually a master/slave relationship.  God seeks a (intimate) love-based relationship with his people. 

We also listened to the song “Jealous Kind” by Jars of Clay.  I thought the message of the song was appropriate considering the adulterous relationship with false gods that Hosea speaks of in this chapter.  Here are the lyrics, linked from when I first heard them back in 2003.


Scripture That’s Good For You: Romans 14

My small group has been going through the book of Romans together on Tuesday nights.  It’s been really good and informative.  We’ve all taken turns leading the discussion for each week’s chapter and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.  Romans is one of my favorite books.  It’s a letter written by Paul, addressed to the Christians in Rome.  It’s a formidable letter to digest and dissect, easily Paul’s best writing.  He makes a case for the universal need for salvation through Christ and how that salvation transforms believers.  We were supposed to discuss chapter 14 this week, but because of the weather, we postponed to next week.  But I wanted to mention my thoughts on this chapter in this space now before I forgot.

Paul is talking in this chapter about weak and strong Christians.  Not, I think, in the sense that one is better or worse, just that all are at different stages of their faith in relation to one another.  The weak/strong aspect of the chapter does not concern me.  What is of great interest to me is what Paul has to say about clean and unclean food and passing judgment based on that.  I’ll cut right to the point that I think this chapter stands in stark contrast to the views that some in the Church take on the consumption of alcohol. 

Drinking is considered a big taboo by some Christians.  Even though this wasn’t a popular position within Christian circles historically until the temperance movements of the 19th Century and the subsequent Prohibition movement of the early 20th Century.  Preachers and women’s church organizations felt the need to stand up to the abuse of alcohol by the men of their day by calling for alcohol to be banned outright.  Ever since, this connection has lasted in church circles. 

I grew up in a family and a church environment where alcohol was a no no.  In hindsight, while I don’t agree with it, I’m actually grateful for this because it has given me a healthy respect and responsible attitude toward alcohol.  I don’t drink regularly.  The reason for this is twofold.  First, an unfortunate stomach illness in high school left me with almost chronic heartburn and alcoholic beverages can give me some pretty bad heartburn.  Second, I’m not particularly fond of the taste or smell of most beers.  I have had some that I have enjoyed.  But they are few and far between.  So because of this, I have no desire to consume large amounts of alcohol, like so many of my peers did in college and some still do today. 

But also because of what I read in the Bible, I am very self-aware whenever I drink.  I almost go out of my way to avoid getting drunk.  Some Christians will tell you that drinking alcohol is a sin, or even alcohol itself is sinful(even though no objects in and of themsevles are sinful, except for us humans).  But I think the Bible is pretty clear about saying that drunkeness is the sin, not drinking itself.  And this is not a technical distinction, as some may argue, because the Bible speaks to sin being a lack of self-control; in fact, being controlled by something else other than God.  Everything is moderation.  Moderation means you are controlling what you’re doing instead of being controlled by what you’re doing.  This is a very important distinction. 

Back to Romans 14.  Taking the whole of verses 13-23, it seems to me that Paul is saying that we need to be worried less about what we’re putting into our stomachs and more about living together as a community of believers in a way that is edifying to all.  This can be tough, as Paul points out in saying that some of a weaker/younger faith can clash with those of a stronger/mature faith.  But, regardless of where we are in our faith, we need to remember that our faith is not about food or drink but of “righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  Paul clearly states that your actions should never cause another Christian to stumble.  In other words, it wouldn’t be edifying if I were to order a drink in front of someone who is a recovering alcoholic.  Because that is their weakness, the lack of self-control that they struggle with. 

That is the problem I have with Christians who promote this blanket stances that Christians should not drink alcohol.  For some people, it may very well be sinful for them to drink because they lack the self-control to do so in moderation.  There is a temptation for excess there that exists for them.  That is not a universal thing.  There is no temptation towards drunkeness for me when I drink.  But I have other areas where I’m sure that I have temptations that others do not struggle with.  Different people have different temptations and tendencies toward addictions that others do not.  For some it might be alcohol.  For others gambling.  For others over-eating.  The list is endless.  But we don’t go around banning ice cream for everyone because some of us are prone to gluttony.  It’s just that the results of drunkenness are a lot more obvious than some of the other temptations and addictions that people have.  Gorging yourself on food isn’t going to make you prone to be abusive toward others or kill someone while you’re behind the wheel of a car. 

Paul says that “if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean (emphasis mine).”  Paul also adds at the end of the chapter that “whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.”  I don’t think Christians do that enough.  Like I said, we see a sin in our own personal lives and try to apply that to all Christians and make blanket statements about the morality of something.  Obviously Christians should be leading morally upstanding lives, but we would do well to take Paul’s words here to heart.  Sometimes God does have a message for all believers.  But sometimes what he’s saying is just for the individual he is speaking to.  It’s when we proclaim these as broad statements that we open the door for hypocrisy and disillusionment. 

So, because of all of this and more, Romans 14, and really Romans in general, is scripture that is good for you.


“If We Are Faithless, He Will Remain Faithful”

Pastor Mike mentioned this verse(II Timothy 2:11-13) this past Sunday in his ongoing series of sermons on the fruit of the Spirit.  I hadn’t thought much about it, but I realized it’s a wonderful tie in to something that has been on my mind recently and how God was so much more faithful to me than I was to him and in a way that I didn’t even realize at the time.  This is a little bit of personal testimony time.

I grew up in an Assemblies of God church until the age of twelve.  A series of unfortunate and escalating events led my parents and several others to leave that church at that time.  I grew up in that church.  My friends were there, familiar people were there; I did not want to leave.  I resented my parents a little bit for making us leave and I resented the situation as a whole.  I put on a happy face for everyone and tried to understand, but I didn’t understand why some people(my parents included would leave) while others who felt the same way as them chose to stay.  My parents decided to let me continue to come to youth group on Wednesday nights, which I was happy about.  We jumped around for a bit, my parents almost settled on a church outside of Fryburg but we ended up at the Sebago Church of the Nazarene.  I got involved there and got to know a lot of great people and my parents still go there.  If i lived closer, I’d still be going there. 

As I’ve grown up since I was 12 years old, I realize that God really was in control of the whole situation and was so incredibly faithful and helped guide me through that and has brought me to where I am now.  A few years ago my parents confessed that they were scarred to death what that move might do to my sister and I.  I was just starting to enter my teenage years, a particularly angsty time where you pretty much hate your parents for no reason until your’re 16 or 17.  This could have very easily added fuel to the fire.  Not to mention that I had already resented them for moving us from Kezar Falls to Cornish when I was in the 4th grade.  New school, new friends, and now a new church a few years later.  Could have been disasterous.  But it didn’t.  I got through with some help from dc Talk, Jars of Clay, Audio Adrenaline, some people in my new church, and still being able to attend youth group and see my friends on a regular basis.  I was still the typical angsty teen, butting heads with my parents for no good reason. 

As I got a little older, I began to hear every once in a while from my parents and grandparents their reasons for leaving the church.  Not only that, but how difficult it was for them.  Yeah, I had been there for 12 years, but my mom had been going there her entire 32 years!  I can’t imagine how difficult and trying the decision had to have been for them.  On top of that, as I got into college and really developed my personal relationship with Christ and claim my faith as my own and not something I did because my parents did it, I realized that a lot of the things I believed were not in line with some of the things I was told growing up.  Rock and roll is satanic because it sounds evil.  Drinking alcohol is sinful.  Dancing is sinful because it is sexually suggestive.  Bowling alleys should be avoided because “unsavory” types hang out there.  That’s just a sampling of some of the social taboos I was taught. 

Theologically, I also found myself at odds with some of the things I had heard.  Particularly, the idea that speaking in tongues was the evidence of the Holy Spirit’s presence in your life and if you didn’t speaki in tongues, you didn’t have the Holy Spirit.  I’ve written in a previous post just how messed up my thinking was on this matter when I listed my biggest Christian pet peeves.  The fact that it was my #1 pet peeve should tell you how profoundly that impacted my life and how passionately I feel about the subject. 

So, in talking with a friend recently, I realized just how grateful I actually am that my parents made such a hard decision back when I was twelve.  In hindsight, that period in my life started a whole series of events that have led me to where I am now.  I can look back and see God’s hand directly involved in my life through these circumstances and how he guided me through some rough spots and has brought me to where I am today.  And the more I think of it, the more I wonder where I would be today if I had stayed.  Would I be some extreme fundamentalist?  Would I have rebelled and turned away from the church?  I don’t know.  And maybe it’s not my place to wonder about where I could be.  Regardless, I do know that God remained faithful in what did happen.  And that’s why I’m where I am today.  He’s used the circumstances of my life and so many different people at various stages of my life(semi-chronologically: Pastor Frank, Phil, Adrian, Herb, Pastor Tim, Pastor Cheryl, Mike, Jay, Spencer, Louie, Marybeth, Forrest, Lee, Jaker, Johnny C, Sushi, Matty, Kloss, Stevie Velvet, Brooke, Manders, Becky, Bonnie, Jaci, Casey, Maggie, Pastor Kerry, Pastor Jim, Marilyn, AJ, Casey, Jeremy, Jess, Brad, Adele, Sarah, Ben, Amy; not to mention my parents, my grandparents, my sister) to mold me and shape me.  These people have helped reveal Christ to me in my life.  I really feel so blessed by God beyond what my words can express that I can all of these people brothers and sisters in Christ.  And I’m sure there are others that I’m neglecting, but don’t feel left out.  There’s more people than I can realize that have had an influence on my life. 

I’m grateful for all of them.  And I’m especially grateful for a faithful God. 


As I Understand It So Far: The Church and Homosexuality

I found this interesting open letter linked at a website I go to for news and opinion on politics and stuff. 

This is a topic that has been on my mind for some time, but I’ve been apprehensive about touching it because it is a very thorny issue and I’ve also been working out where I stand on the issue of God and homosexuality.  Suffice to say my position is vastly different than it used to be 5 or 6 years ago.  I also don’t know if my position is a genuine, Biblically grounded position, or if it’s a position that is so compromised that neither side would find it suitable.  I guess, like most areas of my faith, it’s something I’m still working on figuring out.  I don’t claim to be an authority on any of this, or to speak for anyone other than myself.  So, enough with the pretenses. 

First of all, I think there needs to be a dialogue on the issue of homosexuality in relation to Christianity.  Is it a sin to be homosexual?  There is a lot of debate, but not a lot of actual, productive conversation on the matter.  My aim is not to spark a debate, but provide some common grounds that can be considered by both sides, fueling discussion.  Problems arise because it is such a hotly contested issue and there are strong emotions and sentiments on both sides.  This is not my intent. 

My position in the past, stated as plainly as possible, was that homosexuality is a sin and that sinners go to hell.  I grew up in church.  I also grew up in a conservative home.  Both of these I am eternally grateful for.  As I grew up, I fell into the potential pitfall that is there for every Christian, particularly the ones who are raised in the church, where your religion turns into something that you do rather than something that you are.  I went to church, I knew all the Bible stories, I knew a lot of what the Bible said, but I had no heart knowledge.  They were hollow words, they didn’t mean anything to me.  I could quote you a Bible verse, but explaining to you the importance of what that verse said was out of my league.  Christianity is supposed to be a personal relationship between the believer and God.  And I didn’t have that.  I only had the talking points. 

In college, things began to change for me.  I got involved with other Christians on campus who had the active, practical relationship that I was lacking.  I got serious with God toward the end of my freshman year, and can safely say that my life has been a constant readjustment to God’s ways from my ways.  And I have to say, it amazes me where I’m to from where I was.  I’ve questioned a lot of my own thinking over the past few years, questioned why I believe the things I believe, and God has really changed my mindset in the past few years on so many things.  I think I would classify myself a conservative in politics and a moderate/liberal in Christianity, if that makes sense(which, again, is a radical change for me).  So that is where I’m at and where I’m coming from.

Now, I think at the heart of the issue of “Is homosexuality a sin?” is a key problem; human sexuality(gay and straight) is too closely associated to our personal identities.  We operate under the assumption that because we have the capacity for sex, we should use it.  And, like the link listed above that references Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:10-12, I don’t think that’s necessarily the right association to make.  There are three issues that I want to address: marriage, sexual sin, and genetics. 

And I’ll answer the question upfront.  Do I think homosexuality is a sin?  No.  However, I do think homosexual intercourse is a sin.  “Well, aren’t you contradicting yourself then?” you might ask.  I don’t think so.  Bear with me here. 

I buy into the idea that marriage is a religious institution.  Ordain by God, intended to be between a man and a woman, all of that jazz.  I believe that God created the institution of marriage so that man and woman could have that stability and foundation to build a family and for the continuation of society.  Children need parents to teach them and instruct them as they grow up so they can be useful members of society.  I believe that marriage should only be a religious institution.  This is where I part with those who want a federal law passed banning homosexual marriage.  I don’t think the federal government has any business in ANY marriage.  I think C.S. Lewis wrote best of Christian marriage when he wrote in Mere Christianity:

Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused.  The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliment, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws.  A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone.  I do not think that… My own view is that Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British are not Christians, and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.  There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced by citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members.  The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not. 

Which is where civil unions come in.  I think anything from the state resembling marriages should be termed civil unions, while marriages should be reserved for only the religious ceremonies.  And if Christians marry, they can get civil unions as well.  What is important is that there is a clearly defined distinction between the Church and State matters.  As I understand it, homosexual marriages are about state recognition of such unions, not religious recognition of them.  Clearly the U.S. government can’t dictate what religions do in that sense.  Where I come down on the issue is that what the State does ultimately doesn’t have any bearing on the Christian institution of marriage.  One issue is a political issue, one is not. 

Now we get into the less political, but equally dicey issue of sexual sin.  Any sex outside of marriage is a sin.  That, again, is part of why I believe God created marriage.  Therefore homosexual sex is a sin, but no more sinful than any other sex outside of marriage.  That’s another issue.  It seems that in relation to sexual sin, many Christians knowingly or unknowingly classify homosexual sex as one of the worst kinds of sexual sin possible and sexual sin as one of the worst sins period.  But there are no grades of sin in God’s eyes.  And it’s also important to remember that everyone has sinned and falls short of God’s expectations of us.  Everyone is in the same boat; we’re all in need of salvation.  There is no room for “holier than thou” attitudes in Christianity; only humility and meekness.  And that’s another problem.  It’s stigmatizing to label something as sinful these days.  Either it’s a condemnation on the part of the person saying it toward someone, or someone is condemned for daring to say it.  Everybody sins.  I can’t stress that enough.  Anything less than perfection, in God’s eyes, is sin.  And no single human being outside of Jesus himself can claim to be perfect and without sin.  Sexual sin is no worse than stealing.  Stealing is no worse than lying.  Lying is no worse than murder.  Sin is sin in God’s eyes.  Sin creates separation from God.  It doesn’t matter if that separation is a foot or a mile to us, it’s still separation. 

Now, I’ve heard the argument that homosexuality is natural, the person was born this way, and it’s a natural feeling.  Others will say that homosexuality is a choice.  I used to think that way for a long time.  But I’m not of that mindset anymore.  Science is advancing at rapid rates.  We don’t know what is on the horizons of science, and we don’t know what new announcements will appear in tomorrow’s news.  The more I read, the more I learn, the more that I am beginning to be convinced that it is a natural thing and people are born that way.  I agree with what the conclusion of the link above that God does not make mistakes. 

But I also do not buy into the idea that just because an impulse is natural that it is good and should therefore be acted upon.  There are plenty of feelings and impulses that we all have as human beings that aren’t necessarily right and should not be acted upon.  In fact, quite often the natural impulse may run contrary to what is the right thing to do.  The natural impulse of someone in a burning building is to escape and save their life, but the right thing may be to resist that impulse and help to save others, which puts the self in danger.  I do think there are some impulses that should be resisted.  And this is where my interpretation of sin and temptation tends to differe from some other Christians as well.  Some Christians will tell you that alcohol and other various items are sins.  I don’t see that in the Bible.  I don’t think that objects or substances in and of themselves are sinful.  That doesn’t make sense to me.  Sin is our problem.  The issue of sin lies in human beings.  It’s in our actions and our decisions.  Which is why the Bible calls drunkenness a sin.  It’s about self-control vs. being controlled by other things.  I think we all have our own unique weaknesses and temptations that we must resist.  For some people it’s drunkenness, for others sexual sin, for others it’s being judgmental, etc.  Something that is a temptation for me may not be a temptation for another. 

My last point is perhaps the most controversial, which is that maybe some people are not meant to be married or to have sex.  This idea may sound preposterous to some, because we assume that because we have it, we should use it.  Look at Matthew 19:12.  Jesus isn’t talking exclusively about priests and nuns here.  He says very directly that marriage isn’t for everyone.  That, therefore, means that sex isn’t for everyone either.  This is not a very popular notion, and it’s not even one that you find mentioned very often in the Church(at least, I haven’t heard it much).  So, I guess what I’m saying is that I do not think it is a sin to be gay, but that it is sinful to act upon the gay sexual impulse.  But then, you can equally say that some straight sexual impulses are sinful too if acted upon.

You may riducule me for this position if you choose, but it in not one I have come to lightly and it is one I still and not entirely settled upon.  Again, this is not meant to offend or provoke anyone, merely to try to get people to think rationally and cool-headedly about this very complex and human issue.  I have tried very hard to come at it from a responsible angle of faith.  I hope I have done that.