You Are the Man! Or Why the Church Should Feel Convicted Right Now

AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack
AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack

As I write this, it is the 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) and I’ve just preached in part on the reading from  2 Samuel 12. David has been confronted by Nathan for his violation of Bathsheba and Uriah in the slickest of ways. The prophet tells the king a story of a cruel, thoughtless, and callous sin by a powerful person against someone with considerably less power. He paints a compelling picture of a wealthy monster who steals what little bit his poor neighbor has. Nathan then turns the canvas around and shows that he’s been painting David’s portrait.

“You are the man!” Nathan says. A moment before, David was ready to pronounce death and condemnation on the theoretical monster, until he realized the monster was him.

Early this morning, fifty lives were stolen in a well-planned act of anti-gay violence. Fifty LGBTQ children of God lost their lives because someone didn’t like the idea of them kissing in public. During Pride Month. Fifty. The worst mass shooting (not mass killing, but mass shooting) in the history of our country.

Cue the political rhetoric about Islamic extremism and how it (and, by extension, all Muslims) should be stopped. During Ramadan.

Let Christians be confounded by (or, worse, silent in the face of) such a vile act. Let the church offer prayers and sympathy, scratch its collective head and wonder how such a thing could happen, as if we don’t already know.

Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT, most of whom were kicked out of their homes by families who refused to accept them, leaving them vulnerable to addiction, crime, and human trafficking. Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of LGBT youth have attempted suicide. Much of this can be attributed to religious teaching. A pastor who counseled parents to turn their backs on their gay son, or submit their lesbian daughter to conversion therapy. Flippant comments about “sissies” thrown carelessly about from the pulpit, without regard for who they may pierce. Relegation of gay men to the choir loft (entertain us!), but kept from the Trustee board. Scapegoating same-sex couples as the purveyors of moral erosion. That’s our doing. That’s our assault weapon.

Church, we are the man!

This particular gunman took out fifty people in one night. How many LGBT sisters and brothers have we — the Church — gradually and systemically killed over a longer period of time? He and we have been in the same business. We’re simply not as efficient as he was.

This is not to suggest there can’t be a variety of theological leanings in the church. What I do suggest is that we have not experienced our differences in healthy ways. We can have hermeneutical diversity in ways that do not kill beloved children of God. We in the hetero-normative center have every advantage, comfort, and privilege available. Why, then, do we come for the sanctuaries, safe spaces, and treasures of those in the non-binary margins?

Sadly, many in our own ranks aren’t too idealistically different from this gunman. And, though he may have been a “lone wolf,” this kind of hate does not develop in a vacuum. It is nurtured. It is facilitated. It is given permission to thrive and grow. It is provided with a safe space. Church, for whom/what will we provide sanctuary? I believe God is calling us to make that decision today.

Note: It has been suggested that this post calls out any one specific denomination (namely my own), or conservatives within it. This post calls out hatefulness, which was the shooter’s ideology and, sadly, is present in all denominations and religions, right and left. We must, whatever our theological leanings, fight concertedly and fervently against such ideologies, because they do indeed kill. Then and only then will we be a distinct witness to the love of God through Jesus Christ. Additionally, I am proud of my denomination’s recent moves to live into the visible unity of the church by adopting the Belhar Confession and by acknowledging harms done to the LGBT community. We have a ways to go still, but I believe we’re on the right track!

14 thoughts on “You Are the Man! Or Why the Church Should Feel Convicted Right Now

  1. Wow! Jump on the fresh-grief-stir-the-pot escalate train! We haven’t even been able to have a vigil yet, and you are blaming your peers in the church. I guess you were on the early 9/11 blame bandwagon too. How about you start with a mirror? “there is none righteous, no not one.”
    To equate evangelicals–especially those who choose to stay in the pcusa–with terrorists who pledge their allegiance to another state (ISIL) is more than a stretch. It was more than a homophobic nut job who took so many lives. It was an antiAmerican, antiwoman, antiman, antipeace, antieverything imago dei nut job. The perp also looked at Downtown Disney as a target–does that mean children and tourists are fair game? Every one of these HUMAN BEINGS were and are precious in God’s sight, given life and obviously loved living it on a Saturday night. It is TRAGIC that this occurred.
    I choose to lament. I choose to stand in silent solidarity with those affected. I choose to pray for God’s redemption, and yes, justice so that it would not happen again. Am I perfect? no! Are you perfect? no! I am a first responder and I choose to go where you wont to bind up wounded and carry them to safety, if possible. If not, I may have to choose to make it safe, even giving my life, so that others will make it to safety. So go ahead, be provocative and I will take up the cross of Christ YOU have given.

  2. Rev. Anderson,

    I appreciate your reply on Twitter. I don’t see eye to eye with you on this issue. In the final analysis, the only view of sin that matters is the view from the Cross. Wouldn’t you agree? There is no amount of redress that can pay for sins of the past. I would argue the only hope we have is to learn to forgive one another and move forward as brothers and sisters of Christ in newness of life.

    1. Good morning, my brother. I believe repentance requires that we face our sin. If we do not, not only do we risk carelessly repeating it, but we never understand the reach of God’s enormous grace. As the woman many of us preached about this Sunday who bathed Jesus’ feet with her tears, we know that our love for our Lord is proportionate to our understanding of how greatly we’ve been forgiven. Without that understanding, we’re in danger of moving forward in err. I think our prayers for the victims miss something if we are not willing to sit with the ways in which we’ve done violence to folks just like them. We have our reconciling work to do.

  3. Rev. Anderson,
    I too grieve over the heinous act that took innocent lives on Sunday morning in Orlando. And as a Pastor/teaching elder from the PC(USA), I can understand your groundings on this issue.
    But, you are condemning the “flippant” past responses with flippant new responses…When the real issue at play here is sin, which fuels hate.
    Hate has been and always will be a byproduct of sin in our lives. You hate and I hate. We might rationalize it as a good or bad hate, but it is still hate. You and I hate that this happened. You and I hate evil. You and I hate…and we think our hate is justified. The same is so for those who hate people groups, political parties, people who are different then them. They rationalize their hate as well. In both cases, it is a byproduct of sin. We need to stop placating people and call a spade a spade – sin is real, it corrupts, it brings death, it breeds hate, it destroys relationship and robs us of our true humanity.
    But without calling sin the issue, it becomes easy to critique the “Church” and blame them, which you do very will in your blog. You blame the Church and condemn those who view Scripture differently than you do, saying that this extremist and the Church are in the “same business, we just are not as efficient as he was.” That condemnation would be fine (though I disagree with you on this idea), but then you try to ease the condemnation you are heaping on brothers and sisters in Christ by contradicting yourself and saying that “We can have hermeneutical diversity in ways that do not kill beloved children of God.” What you mean is that we can have diversity as long as we agree with you. While in the PC(USA) I held to the clarity of Scripture on this issue (which you will argue is not clear), and would not allow actively practicing homosexuals into leadership. But you are very clear in your blog that this is unacceptable hermeneutical diversity, because it is killing those left out. You do this as well with your use of “beloved child of God.” Coming from a reformed, calvinistic denomination, you should understand that we are not born God’s children. We are born in sin, which separates us from God and makes us objects of wrath. Jesus himself clearly states to the Pharisees that they have aligned with their “father” the devil, and are carrying out his desires. You seem to promote the idea that all of humanity is a child of God, a rainbow, unique like a unicorn (This is my flippant response). This is a hermeneutical diversity which teaches very different ideas with very different outcomes within one denomination. If we are children of sin, and only become a child of God when we are born again (as scripture states) then we should work with great urgency to share the good news of Jesus with all people, so that they might hear the Gospel, and the Holy Spirit might quicken their heart and convict them of sin, thus moving them into a relationship with God through the saving work of Jesus. In doing so, we should speak the truth in love and as disciples, love one another, while doing so. But, if we are all children of God from birth (which scripture speaks against), then there is no need for an urgency in hearing the Gospel. We thus promote a surface level faith based on our identity from birth. In essence giving credence and value to a sinful identity. I would argue that it is this kind of theological diversity which has killed more people spiritually.
    But then this issue comes back to the same place I began…you have to be willing to call sin, sin. Sin creates that destruction within all of us, which you are condemning (and I agree with you in doing so), but we can’t call sin, sin and then justify it in some areas and condemn it in others.
    I would encourage you to continue being the prophetic voice calling the Church to accountability. Don’t back off of the call, or lessen it though by wavering in order to try to keep everyone aligned under one big theologically and hermeneutically diverse tent.
    Your brother in Christ,

    1. Robert, I think you mischaracterize what I believe and how I feel.

      “What you mean is that we can have diversity as long as we agree with you.” That is simply untrue. I’d be happy if we could simply all understand that we all see dimly, and even our most vehement disagreements don’t have to lead to us demonizing one another. There’s more I could say, but duty calls.

  4. Dr. Anderson: I disagree with your opinion completely. But my question is this: Given how little regard or understanding of those remaining conservatives in PCUSA you seem to have, what makes you think you’d be a good choice to be Moderator of the denomination?

    As a general practice, moderators are supposed to be builders of consensus, calm voices in the midst of fractured organizations.

    Their job is not to pour gasoline on the fire.

    1. It’s interesting, because nowhere in the piece do I implicate the PCUSA. I speak about the whole church, of which I am a part. I’ve sat in sermons that don’t simply express disagreement with same-sex marriage or relationships, but are outright antagonistic toward LGBT sisters and brothers. And I’ve clapped. I’ve said the most insensitive and vile things to gay people because that’s what I was taught in the church. Thanks be to God for the blessed LGBT sisters and brothers who taught me better. Not being a life-long Presbyterian, this has been my experience across denominations, so I’m not so myopic as to think this is a PCUSA problem. I’m speaking from what I’ve experienced first-hand, and from what I have been guilty of myself. The church — the whole church — could do a better job of expressing theological difference in ways that preserve love for one another. Our Lord teaches us to seek reconciliation before we attempt religious oblation, and before we attend any prayer vigils this week, we should examine the ways in which we have proverbial blood on our hands.

        1. It’s not for me to say, Joe. I simply stand. Be well and pray our travelling mercies as commissioners from throughout the country will make the trek to Portland soon.

  5. “Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBT…”

    This number sounded way too high to me so I tried to research it and I couldn’t find a reliable study to verify it. The True Colors Fund and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation report the figure “20 to 40” percent. The Center for American Progress gives a figure of 1.6 to almost 3 million homeless youth. That’s bigger than some state populations. The figures are misleading and often repeated without context.

    The methodologies they use count everyone who has been homeless for at least one night in the last 12 months, and 90 percent of these are 18 to 25 year olds, not exactly 14 year olds experiencing chronic homelessness. The problem is that none of these these numbers come anywhere close to the numbers of the HUD 2015 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress which reports that among all homeless children and youth on any given night in 2015, 78 percent or 140,965, were part of a homeless family with children.

    https://www.hudexchange.info/resources/documents/2015-AHAR-Part-1.pdf#page44

    We are increasingly a people that thinks with its feelings and doesn’t like facts to get in the way of a good narrative.

  6. A bit of a correction to the “worst mass shooting” statement… THE LARGEST MASS SHOOTING IN US HISTORY HAPPENED December 29, 1890. When 297 Sioux Indians at Wounded Knee Creek on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota were murdered by federal agents & members of the 7th Cavalry who had come to confiscate their firearms “for their own safety and protection”. The slaughter began after the majority of the Sioux had peacefully turned in their firearms. The Calvary began shooting, and managed to wipe out the entire camp. 200 of the 297 victims were women and children.

    Wounded Knee was among the first federally backed gun confiscation attempts in United States history. It ended in the senseless murder of 297 people… Think about it.

  7. This was a beautiful and moving post. For many years, too many people within ‘the church’ have made life unnecessarily difficult and burdensome for the LGBT community. I see so many within ‘the church’ acting from positions of judgment, hate and condemnation rather than love. I see so few who interact with this community as I suspect (hope?) Jesus would. This blog post is right on the money, as far as I’m concerned. And for the record, I’m a 55 year old straight married white guy living in Texas. I love my wife of 31 years, I love Jesus, and I detest so much of what the Church has chosen to become. Posts like this are a fantastic exemplification of the biblical principle of working on the plank in our own eyes first instead of obsessing about the specks in others’.

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