The Common Good

God's Politics Blog

In Over My Head: Freedom and LGBTQ Inclusion

I am in over my heart on the LGBTQ situation and the church. I am also in over my head. As a Christian ethicist who believes Scripture is the measure for matters of faith, doctrine, and conduct, I have to say my head hurts to the point that it aches. It aches because I know that how evangelicals have taught me about loving LGBTQ Christians is myopic, and we need to think through many questions anew.

There are themes I am clear on: the place of love, the importance of family, the image of God, the mystery of bodies, the centrality of children. When it comes to faith, doctrine, and conduct, I plan to occupy myself for a long time on these themes to engage the questions that I am still unclear on. These include: What is the ideal marriage? Who is deemed family? What kind of sex reflects the character of God?

A few years ago, my then 7-year-old son was flipping through a children’s Bible during church when he came to a picture of Jacob and Rachel. He looked up at me and challenged, “What’s this? One wife? Where are the rest of them?”

Clearly the illustrator had an interpretive lens for choosing not to portray the messiness of the patriarch’s family and children. Our world simplifies and sanitizes marriage and sex to the point that we evangelicals endanger the kind of complex thinking on family structures that Scripture itself narrates.

Fortunately I am in a church where questioning over your head is okay. Formed by people who first called themselves Mission Friends, the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC) was birthed as a renewal movement in the late 1800s. We affirm our freedom in Christ to breathe life into our faith and ground our wisdom in the midst of complex ethical questions. The New Testament’s word on freedom sets the tone. John’s gospel tells us that if we continue going back to the word, we are his disciples. Those who receive Christ and have faith in his name are free to become children of God (John 1:12). Paul emphasizes that those who love Christ are new creations (2 Cor. 5:17). Galatians reminds us that freedom to live a new life is evidenced by such fruits as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gal. 5:16-25). The letter to the Philippians promises that what God has begun will eventually be completed (Phil. 1:6).

In the midst of this celebrated freedom, the ECC acknowledges that it is a fragile gift. One of our forebears called this gift of freedom in Christ a “turtle without a shell” — how free it is to live unencumbered, yet how vulnerable to lose one’s protective layer. While I don’t want to say we Covenant evangelicals always use our freedom well, we do have historical precedent for thinking in morally complex ways.   

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Pope Francis Declares Oscar Romero a Martyr, Moves Slain Archbishop Toward Sainthood

Pope Francis on Feb. 3 officially declared that Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated by a right-wing death squad in 1980 while celebrating Mass in El Salvador, was a martyr for the faith, clearing the way for his beatification.

The move ends decades of fierce debate over Romero’s legacy, but it was not a complete surprise: Francis, the first Latin American pope, has often said he thought Romero was a martyr worthy of consideration for sainthood.

But his view contrasts with the conservative papacies of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, which viewed Romero as an icon of the theological left who was killed for political reasons because he spoke out against poverty and human rights abuses.

As a result, Romero’s cause for canonization languished in the Vatican’s bureaucratic limbo despite his great popularity elsewhere.

That is set to change. the Feb. 3 declaration by Francis stated that Romero was “killed in hatred of the faith.” On Feb. 4, the Vatican is scheduled to hold a news conference with Archbishop Vincenzo Paglia, a Vatican official who is promoting Romero’s cause for canonization.

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Christie’s Vaccine Statements Aside, N.J. Already Allows Parents to Refuse on Religious Grounds

Gov. Chris Christie created a stir during a trade trip to London this week when he defended parents’ right to decide whether their children should get mandated vaccines — remarks that a spokesman quickly clarified by saying the governor “believes vaccines are an important public health protection.”

Back home in New Jersey, where Christie’s health commissioner has been a vocal advocate for vaccinations, parents already have the right to make those decisions if they put in writing that accepting vaccines violates their religious beliefs.  

In the 2013-14 school year, nearly 9,000 New Jersey children used a religious exemption to decline immunizations that under state law children must receive in order to attend school. The largest number of exemptions were sought in Hunterdon, Monmouth, Warren, and Sussex counties, according to state education department data.  

A parent need only submit a signed statement indicating “immunization interferes with the free exercise of the pupil’s religious rights,” according to the health department website.

Parents do not need to produce a letter from a clergy member or cite religious doctrine.

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Religious College Presidents Concerned with Common Threats to Their Schools

Should religious colleges be bound by the same union and labor rules as secular universities? Or be rated by the same criteria?

Those questions and more will be tackled by the presidents of three major universities who say they are united in supporting the values that faith-based schools bring to higher education even as they grapple with government regulations that can challenge them.

For the first time, the top officials of Baylor University, Catholic University of America and Yeshiva University will lead a discussion Feb. 4 in Washington on the “calling” of faith-based universities.

Baylor University President Ken Starr said faith-related schools are charged with helping students learn about “living life purposefully,” which he said goes beyond simply helping students get jobs and be productive citizens.

“That’s very good, but is that enough?” said Starr, who leads the world’s largest Baptist university, in Waco, Texas. “We want to take the conversation to a broader level of what is in fact the education enterprise all about at its very best, at least from our perspective.”

All three leaders see challenges to the religious freedom of their institutions from the U.S. government.

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Super Bowl Ads: One Long Sugar High

Most years, Super Bowl commercials are noted for their humor, violence, oversexualization, or some combination of the three. And this year had its fair share of those combinations. But in a year that saw the NFL struggle with issues of domestic violence, homophobia, and franchised racism, many commercials took a different tone. And it was those commercials that have created the most discussion this year.

Coca Cola told us that "the world is what we make it" and envisioned a world without arguments or bullying.

Dove and Nissan both addressed the challenge and responsibility of fatherhood.

Always directly challenged implicit and entrenched gender bias and stereotype, ending on an empowering note of the strength of women.

And NO MORE moved us with a stark reminder of the horrors of domestic violence that are suffered in silence and isolation.

These companies must have done extensive research and testing — expending a lot of time, energy, and resources — into what consumers value and want from a product or experience. And what they found was obvious. People want happiness, family, love, relationships, and community.

The problem is that you can’t connect to them by switching your cellphone provider. You can’t find them by eating chips or drinking beer. And you won’t arrive at them in the driver’s seat of an SUV.

These commercials expose what we all really crave — and none of the companies who invested in Super Bowl commercials are selling it.

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Sojourners Internship: 'What's It Like to Live in Community?'

Are you looking for a chance to explore your vocational calling and expand your ideas of spirituality, justice, and community, all while serving the mission of Sojourners? Apply for our 2015-2016 internship program!

This yearlong fellowship combines full-time jobs and vocational mentorship in our nonprofit office with an opportunity to live in intentional Christian community. The program is open to anyone 21 years or older who is single or married without dependents.

Go behind on the scenes on what it's like to live in community in this video, part of a series on life as a Sojourners intern. Sharing a house in Washington D.C., interns worship, share meals, manage a common budget, pray together, and hold weekly educational seminars. 

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When Love with Limits Isn’t Love at All: Thoughts on Exclusion in a Time for Inclusion

I’ve always cringed when I hear someone say, “Love the sinner but hate the sin.”

In the end, I don’t quite know how to do that. I get the sentiment, and I think it basically comes from a well-intentioned place. Essentially, when someone says this, I think they’re trying to be kind and caring for the person above and beyond any kind of vice or sinful deeds that person has committed. You know: Man, I really love Steve but I hate his alcohol addiction. Deborah is a wonderful friend but her tendency to gossip is really not so wonderful. James has a heart of gold but I just can’t condone his adultery.  

We love and affirm people but we don’t affirm the things they do that hurt themselves, others, or are an affront to God’s dream for them and their God-given potential.  

But sin is not just the things we do (or do not do — there are both sins of commission and omission). Sin is something we can’t quite shake. While we’re first created good, as Desmond Tutu has reminded us, we certainly fall short (always be sure to remember Genesis 1:31 as the first word and Genesis 3 as the second).

Sin is a reality of our brokenness this side of Jesus’s return and that fully realized realm of God where there will be shalom and no one will hunger or cry anymore. Sin isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. So many want to make it out to be a laundry list of "don’ts" along life’s way — our faith, in the end, teaches us that it’s so much more than that.  

I reject the whole notion of love the sinner but hate the sin — it misses the Gospel point that we are more than our inadequacies or things that we’ve done or not done that have missed the mark. We are better than our sin — we are created in the beautiful image of God.  

 
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Muslim Women in Los Angeles Start a Mosque of Their Own

A downtown Los Angeles interfaith center that once served as a synagogue was the site of a historic worship service last week, as dozens of women gathered for Friday Muslim prayers in what is being dubbed the first women’s-only mosque in the United States.

M. Hasna Maznavi, founder and president of the Women’s Mosque of America, and co-president Sana Muttalib, said they are following the example of women pioneers at the forefront of Islamic education and spiritual practice.

“Women lack access to things men have, professional or religious,” said Muttalib, a lawyer. “I think this is our contribution to help resolve that issue.”

Maznavi, a filmmaker, said women-only spaces have been part of Islamic history for generations and still exist in China, Yemen and Syria. In the United States, nearly all mosques separate the sexes. Women pray in the rear of the prayer hall or in a separate room from male congregants.

About 100 women attended the jumah or Friday prayer on Jan. 30 in a rented space at the Pico Union Project, just a few minutes from the Staples Center.

Edina Lekovic, director of policy and programming at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, gave the sermon.

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Some See Junipero Serra, Pope Francis’ Next American Saint, as Less Than Holy

When Pope Francis unexpectedly announced last month that he would canonize the Rev. Junipero Serra during his visit to the U.S. in September, he thrilled the many fans of the legendary 18th-century Spanish Franciscan who spread the Catholic faith across what is now California.

But the pontiff who has decried the “ideological colonization” of the developing world by the secular West is now facing criticism from those who say Serra — called “the Columbus of California” — abused Native Americans and pressured them to convert, aiding in the devastation of the indigenous culture on behalf of the Spanish crown.

“Serra was no saint to us,” Ron Andrade, executive director of the Los Angeles City/County Native American Indian Commission, told the Los Angeles Times.

Some of Serra’s sharpest critics say he was part of an imperial conquest that beat and enslaved Native Americans, raped their women, and destroyed their culture by forcing them to abandon their traditional language, diet, dress and other customs and rites.

Add in the diseases introduced by these Old World invaders, and the original indigenous population of perhaps 300,000 was decimated by as much as 90 percent.

“If (Serra) is elevated to sainthood,” Nicole Lim, the executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa, told The New York Times, “then (Serra) should be held responsible for the brutal and deadly treatment of native people.”

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China Warns Obama Against Meeting with Dalai Lama

China warned the United States on Feb. 2  that it was opposed to any country meeting the Dalai Lama “in any manner” after the White House said U.S. President Barack Obama would attend an event with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader whom Beijing brands a separatist.

The White House said last week that Obama would deliver remarks at a Feb. 5 prayer breakfast in Washington about the importance of religious freedom. The Dalai Lama is due to attend.

“China is opposed to any nation or government using the Tibet issue to interfere in China’s domestic affairs, and opposed to any country’s leader meeting with the Dalai Lama in any manner,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said at a daily news briefing.

“China hopes the U.S. side abides by its promises on the Tibet issue, and proceeds to appropriately handle the issue on the basis of the overall condition of bilateral relations.”

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