A friend of mine told me about this amazing website called The Bible Project. What I love about the videos, in particular, is that they explain the biblical themes (such as 'the image of God' or 'the covenants') as they unfold from Genesis and find their ultimate meaning in Jesus to how we the Church now get to participate in the ongoing fulfillment of these realities in our culture and generation through our gospel work. I love biblical theology, and these videos capture why I do so much.
It is well worth the time to watch and (re)learn - so that we can more clearly share the gospel story with others who are often confused about what we believe as Christians. Praise God for the Spirit upon all the gifted artists and storytellers behind this project! May there be a great harvest of people of all nations through their faithful work!
What do orthodox, biblical, gospel-centered persons believe about gay marriage versus bigoted, moralistic, culture-bound persons?
Does holding one particular point of view on the issue (like President Obama did) make a person bigoted? Were the 18th century white Europeans right to view black Africans as less than human, thus worthy of being slaves? If so, will the view that many Americans hold about gay marriage today be viewed with the same right-ness a few generations from now? What was the logic behind the movement to counter the wrongs done against an enslaved group of people? Is the same logic applied to the movement to fight for the rights of free individual persons? And when others disagree, how should they be treated in a culture that values "tolerance"?
Thankfully, having friends that are not like me (Asian, male, heterosexual, parent) has enriched my understanding of issues on race and gay marriage. As a Christian pastor and student, I have spent a number of years trying to understand the social construct of human race and the systems of inequality people have created to benefit themselves and subjugate others (particularly in the Christian church) on a large or a small scale to suit their own purposes throughout history. The power behind the antislavery movement did not come from science which constructed "race" as a self-evident truth that deemed whites as superior and all others inferior based on the color of one's skin and the size of one's skull. Nor did it come from culture, which, rather than fighting against the horror of slavery, legitimized it to benefit powerful white landowners in their pursuit of building massive wealth for themselves within a capitalistic framework. The prevailing power and abiding principle that ultimately destroyed the heinous institution of slavery came from religion - and specifically Christianity. Why? Because Christians have always believed that one's ethnicity - regardless of skin color - is a sacred gift from God that must not be violated. No person or ethnic (racial) group should be subjugated by another or treated as less because of skin color (or any other physical attribute) because all people are equally created (with the same glory and beauty) in the very image of God. This is the biblical truth and abiding principle, rather than shift-prone cultural values, that guided politicians and supporters that fought against slavery.
And even though it may seem that Christians are inconsistent (in being against racism yet not for gay marriage), to gospel-centered persons, the same abiding principle of sacredness of life given by God applies to one's sexuality. It is because Christians value the sacred gift of one's ethnicity and sexuality that they are against the injustice of systemic oppression of racism and for the beauty of diversity in heterosexual marriage. Simply, Gospel-centered Christians believe that marriage should reflect the sacred beauty of diversity in the uniqueness of a singular commitment between a man and a woman in holy matrimony. It is the cultural non-sacred imitation of it that Christians mourn. (And perhaps it may puzzle liberal non-traditional heterosexual couples who don't see any sacred meaning in marriage.)
Two people (one white, one non-white) have been most helpful to me on exploring the topic of gay marriage. Tim Keller, pastor and author, captures the biblical vision of marriage when he writes:
In Genesis 1 you see pairs of different but complementary things made to work together: heaven and earth, sea and land, even God and humanity. It is part of the brilliance of God’s creation that diverse, unlike things are made to unite and create dynamic wholes which generate more and more life and beauty through their relationships...
Ravi Zacharias, author and Christian apologist, on the other hand, very insightfully explains why people of differing views struggle to discuss the topic of gay marriage (or any other topic for that matter) without coming to an understanding of each other's views: namely, we demand autonomy when we present our case, but do not permit it to others who disagree. My hope is that many others will find his explanation to be helpful and enable all of us to learn to dialogue with mutual respect and consistency in reasoning.
I recently dusted off a small book I received as a gift dated “Oct. 9, 1989.” That was my birthday. I was a junior at the University of Illinois and still exploring the meaning of Christianity. Two friends who gifted me Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis must have thought that it would be helpful in my discovery of what it means to be an authentic Christian.
My memory is a bit vague as to when I read it exactly. But I do remember reading it and thinking, “Lewis explains the reality of God by talking about why we have certain morals and what gives meaning in our universe. That’s pretty neat.” As I’m reading it again 26 years later, I see not only how helpful it was to my faith back then but also how valuable it is to my pastoral ministry now in Seattle.
As an atheist-turned-Christian-apologist and author, Lewis dealt with similar worldviews and objections to Christianity during the 1940s and 50s in England that we are facing here and now. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun. He addressed many who believed this earthly life is all that there is as well as those who believed that Christianity is just another world religion that promotes a certain kind of morality. And then in one page, Lewis succinctly explains “the Inbetween view called Life-Force philosophy, or Creative Evolution, or Emergent Evolution.” This is the view held by many of our friends in our beautiful city of Seattle today who find comfort in saying, “I am spiritual but not religious.” But why is this worldview and stance so appealing to many Seattleites? Same reason why reasoning Brits were attracted to it.
One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carrying you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something shabby, the Life-Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life-Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life-Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen?
So there it is. Does this resonate with anyone? Many of us Seattleites want the benefits of Something (or the universe) watching over us, but not the accountability of how we live our own lives. We (including many Christians!) want love but not a Relationship. We are in charge. Or are we?
In the OT, when a king was defeated, there was suffering + shame + loss. Stuff (even land for property that made life comfortable) was lost. People were chained (even hooked) and walked in shame to their exile and lived as losers. They suffered hardship – and for the Israelites, it meant God was not happy with them + certainly not with their sins that led to their suffering. There wasn’t much to be happy about in the defeat of a king.
But all this changes in Christ.
Christ, the ultimate King, came to suffer – willingly – for us. He was beaten + shamed on our behalf. He suffered + lost His own life for our sins. Then He came back alive. But that was true victory. Once and for all, Jesus defeated enemies (sin + death that ruin everything) we could never defeat. And when we look to Him in faith – for the 1st time or for the 77th time + say, “Jesus, I need you (again),” we get what was unimaginable to the OT sufferers. We get indelible grace – forever.
We get no condemnation + no more shame. Because all of our sins that brought judgment went into Jesus’s heart on the cross, there is no more condemnation for us. It was given to Jesus when He died for us. And because Jesus willingly died a shameful death on the Roman cross (being mocked by both Jews + Gentiles = the entire world of unbelievers), our shame also is no more. He took all the shame + ridicule we deserve + put them all to death when He died only to rise again to make sure they were buried for good.
Instead of God’s condemnation + shame, we get God’s grace + favor. We get God’s happy smile + not His angry face. Never. Christ’s suffering was sufficient. It was more than enough to take away all the shouting we deserve from God (and others, frankly) for our willful sins + pure stupidity with which we choose to go about our daily business – how we spend our money, how we parent our children, how we use our time, how we treat others (especially in our thoughts), let alone how we treat God who gave us everything we own. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
But what about our suffering?
We still suffer – greatly sometimes. Here’s wisdom from Elizabeth Elliott, who suffered much herself: He suffered, not that we might not suffer, but that when we suffer, we will become like him. NT saints suffer but the meaning of our suffering is radically different. It is never to pay for our sins. Jesus already took care of that. Our suffering is not about ruin but about gain. God doesn’t take us to the desert to scorch us under the sun or to freeze us in the dark. He takes us there to grow us. He teaches us how to grow our roots – real deep – until we find life-giving Water + become like palm trees in the desert that will never wither. And one day, there will be no more desert but only paradise.
God gives us suffering for an everlasting purpose. We become more like Christ – more thoughtful, wise, selfless, patient, enduring, hopeful, compassionate, loving.
Our suffering is not meaningless. Ever.
Here is the article from ByFaith online entitled "The Culturally Intelligent Church," which is based on my research. It is a brief look at a very complex issue involving the interactions between minority pastors and the values, practices, and assumptions of majority culture congregations. The article does not address the complexity of the systemic and structural influences of racialization in the church unique to our multiracial American society. Rather, it suggests a simplistic technical solution in the application of cultural intelligence as the answer to dominant culture assumptions and barriers through which minority pastors in leadership must navigate to survive and thrive.
For a deeper understanding of the problem, I provide below a key conclusion from my dissertation addressing social power. Social power is essential for effective leadership in any organizational culture. In its proper context, my point is that, through the gospel that brings together formerly hostile people groups as one new humanity in Christ (Eph. 2:14-16), minority pastors and Caucasian pastors are equally privileged as His servants. Thus, churches as organizations must work to remove systemic challenges and structural barriers that still - subtly or not - treat them differently. The world should clearly see in the Christian church the amazing gospel power of how people who were hostile - or indifferent to each other - because of racial pride and prejudice genuinely love one another and serve together for the glory of God's Kingdom and the benefit of our cities. The church should be a foretaste of the Eternal City where all things will be made right forever (Rev. 21:1-5). Sadly, we have missed the mark. Our churches are mostly segregated by race and really struggle when given the opportunity to meaningfully work together. My hope and prayer is that we intentionally work towards becoming the church that honors Christ and blesses our cities with an authentic display of the gospel that we cherish and proclaim as the only hope for a world torn apart by hate and pride.
Organizational culture directly affects the survival and the success of minority pastors in majority culture congregations.
Why am I planting a multiethnic church in Seattle? Two simple reasons: Jesus and America.
First, Jesus commands us to do it (Matt. 28:19-20). To a group of ethnocentric Jews, Jesus commanded not just "go and make disciples" but "go and make disciples of all nations." The insider Jews are to go and sacrificially serve the outsider Gentiles? Yes. As it turned out, it took a persecution of the church to scatter the hesitant Jews to the undesirable Gentiles. But once Jesus scattered them, people of every ethnicity began to hear, rejoice, and grow in the gospel of God's grace in Christ. And they joined the mission of the church. So should we in our part of the world that is segregated by race.
Secondly, American society requires that church leaders and planters learn to engage and do ministry to its diverse population. The alternative is to become irrelevant and ineffective in our mission. In God's sovereign plan, America is a nation of immigrants from all over the world. The gurus and experts who study what's going on in America tell us that minorities will become the dominant majority by 2042. Some of our children in public schools are already seeing the future of a minority majority. This has huge implications for church leaders and church planters. Unless they attain multicultural leadership competencies, leaders and planters with skills and assumptions of a white dominant majority will be incompetent in a multiethnic context. Bob Burns simply states, "If pastors are going to lead churches more effectively now and in the coming years, it is vital that they develop cultural intelligence and equip others to serve in a multi-cultural environment." The point being, people of all ethnicities are in our cities. We need to learn how to engage them - or be ready for frustration and ongoing segregation on Sunday mornings. It won't be easy.
My hope is that, by God's grace, New City Church is becoming a church where people are gospel-saturated and culturally intelligent to engage a whole new America, or more accurately, the America that has always been - a multiracial and multiethnic America. If you are in the Seattle area, join us. If you are elsewhere, pray for us.
For an extended discussion of why we must intentionally establish multiethnic churches in a racialized America, I have provided the eighth and final conclusion of my dissertation. The context of my research was in the Presbyterian Church in America. Regardless, it provides a much needed perspective on the issue that sadly is rarely discussed as a gospel issue as it should be in the church.