Archives For Tony Jones

Tony Jones has a post today reviewing the beginning of the Democratic National Convention and celebrating how the Democratic Party appears to have transitioned to full-throated support of homosexual relationships and marriage equality. It’s received little comment in the media- maybe because the media arrived at such support long ago?- but such support seemed unthinkable just a few cycles ago.

Tony concludes with this thought: This is just another sign that the tipping point has been reached. And it is yet again up to congregations and denominations and plain old Christians to decide whether they want to be on the right side or the wrong side of history

Now I know a lot of you have a lot of different feelings when it comes same-sex relationships. I realize how sincere Christians can arrive at two very divergent points of view on the question. Christians can debate the question from a variety of scriptural and theological perspectives; indeed, Christians have been doing just that (to the overall detriment of the Church) for decades. The issue threatens Church unity in my denomination (Methodism) and has torn several other denominations asunder.

Pushing the scriptural and theological concerns aside for just one moment, on one level Tony’s point is absolutely rock-solid: demographics.

No matter the supposed scriptural or theological ‘correctness’ of those who oppose same-sex relationships, long-term it’s a losing issue for the Church.

I’ll put it stronger, long-term the Church has an image problem when it comes to how we deal with the gay issue. 

Why? Because, like it or not, young people think Christians are homophobic and, overwhelmingly, young people do not share that phobia.

In his book, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church, David Kinnaman cites the perceived intolerance of Christians as one of the primary reasons those in their teens and twenties leave the faith.

It’s a generational difference. Kinnaman points out how in 1960 9 of 10 young adults identified themselves as Christian. Today it’s 60%. In 1960 only 1 of every 20 births was to an unwed mother. Today it’s nearly 50%.

Young people today have grown up with a diversity (religious, ethnic, relational) unthinkable 50 years ago. Diversity is an assumed norm in their lives and they bring it to bear on the topic of homosexuality. Young people favor egalitarianism in their relationships: fairness over rightness, inclusion over exclusion, relationships over opinions and, as a result, young people simply assume the participation of homosexuals in any meaningful cultural conversation.

And there’s the demographic rub. An institution that behaves as though it values the polar opposite, the Church, seems strange, antiquated and even mean-spirited to a majority of young people.

I’m not suggesting that churches should capitulate to the cultural mores of the empire. Neither am I suggesting churches should abandon teachings they sincerely believe are given by the Holy Spirit.

I am suggesting that the demographics make it even more imperative Christians engage this conversation gently and with compassion, as though all the eyes of young people are watching.

I am suggesting that the demographic realities force Christians to consider whether being ‘right’ on this issue is more important than persuading others to the love of Christ. Or, as Tony puts it again: This is just another sign that the tipping point has been reached. And it is yet again up to congregations and denominations and plain old Christians to decide whether they want to be on the right side or the wrong side of history.

Last week Tony Jones diagnosed liberal/progressive Christians with a god-talk problem. They simply can’t talk unabashedly or robustly about God, Tony says and I suspect rightly. Liberals are savvy and comfortable with the disciplines of deconstruction: womanist theology, liberation theology etc. I wonder how much this comfort has to do with the fact that such deconstruction is welcomed by and practiced in the secular academy; therefore, liberal Christians don’t have to be singled out as, you know, Christian. Liberals can talk about Jesus too; after all, Jesus was a historical person whose teachings can be applied to political issues and whose suffering and compassion we can relate to (we presume).

But God, Tony argues, is a different matter. Liberal Christians just can’t bring themselves to utter a ‘Father (gender exclusive language) we just’ prayer. Liberal Christians can’t say ‘God just laid it on my heart to…’

In some ways, talking about God eludes the safe strictures of a focus bent more towards critique or historicity. There’s really no need to talk about God then, unless one believes in him.

Tony coupled his diagnosis with a dare of sorts. For liberal/progressive Christians to write something- anything- about God (not Jesus) before high noon, 8.15.

While I’d want to wriggle out of the liberal/progressive modifier, especially as it applies to theology, I suppose my membership in the United Methodist Church puts me, professionally if not theologically, puts me in that camp.

So, here’s a few thoughts about God and that most worn-out of debates: creation.

Creationism isn’t in the Past-Tense

One of the things that really irritates me in the juvenile debates about God’s role in creation is the extent to which it relegates creation to an historical happening.

I don’t particularly care whether my sons learn in school that God created the world in seven days or whether God created the world through unseen forces. I’m not particularly worried that one perspective or another diminishes God’s role in creation because I hope by the time my sons take biology they will already know that ours isn’t just a God who created, ours is a God who creates.

When we profess in the Creed that God is the Creator of heaven and earth and a few beats later when we confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit, we’re testifying that God’s creative powers don’t stop or cease to exist after Adam names a cow a ‘cow.’

By professing that God is Trinity we’re identifying God as the Holy Spirit too, the Spirit Jesus promises to send his people after he’s left them. This the same Spirit that takes a faithless idiot like Peter and turns him into a fearless preacher of the Gospel. It’s the same Spirit that upends a tyrant like Saul and makes him Paul. It’s the same Spirit that Jesus breathes on to his disciples; the same Spirit that, reversing the Babel story in Genesis, gives birth to a community- the Church- that transcends every linguistic and cultural barrier.

It’s no exaggeration to say that, for Christians, every believer is a new creation, every church is a new creation and every place of reconciliation from Selma, Alabama to Soweto, South Africa is a new creation.

Why argue about evolution?

By calling God the Creator and by naming God as Trinity, Christians don’t just believe God created once upon a time.

Christians believe God creates. Now. Today. When Christians say Jesus saves, we’re really saying God creates anew.

In us.