The Kentucky Elections: What Does It Mean to Say “God’s in Control?”

U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin (R-Ky), speaks to a gathering at FreePAC Kentucky, Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky.  (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin (R-Ky), speaks to a gathering at FreePAC Kentucky, Saturday, April 5, 2014, at the Kentucky International Convention Center in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

So, last week we had this train wreck of an election in Kentucky. Oh, you’ve heard about it? Well, let me summarize what happened and what are bound to be some of the implications that come from it.

In short, Kentucky elected Matt Bevin, a Republican for governor. This is only the second time in a couple of generations that Kentucky has elected a Republican governor—a fact worth mentioning, if only for historical context. Of more importance than his partisan identity, however, is what our next governor campaigned on. Despite Kentucky’s shining example in markedly cutting the rate of uninsured in the state through its implementation of the Affordable Care Act, for instance, Matt Bevin announced his intention during the campaign to roll back those advances, putting the healthcare of 400,000 people in jeopardy by some estimates. Our newly elected governor has also publicly voiced support for the Rowan County clerk, Kim Davis, in her crusade to refuse marriage licenses to gay and lesbian couples. He supports “traditional family values,” which apparently means dehumanizing and disadvantaging people because of their sexual orientation or gender expression. [Sorry. I know that last sentence is editorializing and not just summarizing, but what did you expect?]

The reaction among progressives (and even some conservatives I’ve spoken with) has been outrage. How could we let this happen? What is going to happen to all those people who need insurance? Are we returning to that benighted age where the rights of LGTBQ people will once again be under constant attack from fundamentalist enthusiasts? Should progressive Louisville secede and form its own democratic socialist Valhalla? The rhetoric has been dire.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Progressive Christians and Helping People Keep Their Faith in This New LGBTQ Friendly World


Proposition: Evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, I think there is a place for thoughtful engagement over the “clobber passages.”

Yep. The Clobber Passages. Those six (or eight, depending on who you’re talking to) passages in the Bible that appear to “clobber” the idea that God could ever love Gay people just the way they are.

As a liberal and an advocate for full LGBTQ inclusion in the life of both the church and the culture, I often run into a line of questioning (particularly on Social Media and the comment threads on blog posts I write—oh, the comment threads … boy howdy!) that goes something like this: “How can you call yourself a Christian and still be for … you know … Gays? Don’t you believe in the Bible?”

I can’t tell you how many literary interactions I’ve had that began with something very much like, “You can’t believe that stuff and still believe the Bible.” It happens. (Like here or here or here).

To which I respond with as much dignity as I can muster, trying hard not to sound like a third grader: “Can too!”

What happens next is predictable.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

A Modest Guide to Helping People Re-think Their Biblical Understanding of Same Sex Marriage

two men holding handsWell, we’re all anxiously awaiting word from the Supreme Court about same sex marriage. Most likely before the end of the month. And general consensus from both sides seems to anticipate a ruling favorable to the prospects of LGBTQ people who want nothing more than to enjoy the same rights and benefits as everyone else, specifically the same rights and benefits associated with being recognized as legally married.

It’s going to happen. If not now, then soon. (But probably now.)

But the changing understanding of marriage presents some significant obstacles to people who believe that the Bible must be read as a timeless blueprint for personal, social, and ecclesial relationships. That is to say, many people who’ve grown up believing one thing about LGBTQ people are now facing mounting pressure to reexamine their interpretive strategies when it comes to the Bible. More and more, everyday folks are having to figure out how to reconcile the problem of living in a culture that increasingly views same sex marriage as no big deal with a particular kind of Biblical interpretation that does.

So, I thought I might provide a quick and dirty guide to how such a reconciliation might be accomplished.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

What Does “Grow Your Church” Even Mean?

Cherry Blossom 1There’s a phrase that church people throw around all the time that works on my last nerve. I can’t even tell you.

Oh, and it’s popular. I hear it all the time on the lips of those scared that their congregations are dying, and of course on the lips of those gurus whose financial health depends on the fear of dying congregations, and the belief by those congregations that a magic program/strategy/personality-type exists to answer once and for all the problems this phrase points up.

Every pulpit committee I’ve ever worked with wants candidates to have a ready answer for the questions prompted by this stupid phrase. Rural congregations. Small town congregations. Suburban and urban congregations. They all seem unreasonably confident that there is something out there—which they haven’t happened upon yet—that will allow them to escape with their lives and their budgets still intact—if someone will just tell them how to … Grow. The. Church!

It’s usually phrased in a question or as the subject of an action item list:

“How are you going to grow the church?”

“11 Things Your Pastor Should Be Doing to Grow Your Church.”


Continue reading at [D]mergent . . . 

On the Impossiblity of Being a Moderate on Issues of Justice

Houston: You have written about moderation and the fact that, especially as the movement went on, there was perhaps an unfair characterization of moderates in the civil rights movement. Do you still feel that way? … If so, how do you look at moderates, especially white moderate southerners now that the movement has progressed over time?

Campbell: I don’t really know what the term “moderate” means in terms of race. You either believe that all people are equal or you don’t. If you don’t, then you are a racist. You are an extremist. If you say, “well, I believe that we are equal in some ways and some ways we are not,” that doesn’t makes you a moderate. It makes you a racist. Now, I think I know how people used the word back during the movement. Anybody who said moderate meant, “well, let’s don’t try to do it overnight.” Generally, in my observation, people who said, Rome wasn’t built in a day, they just meant Rome couldn’t be built. If you are not going to do it right away, then you weren’t going to do it. If you say, “well, we will do it next year,” well, you are an extremist to the people who say never, and there were a lot of people who said never, and still some.

(Historian, Benjamin Houston, in an interview with Civil Rights leader and Baptist prophet, Will D. Campbell)

I went to speak at a PFLAG meeting this past week. There are a lot of people hurting because of the way we treat our LGBT sisters and brothers, our sons and daughters.

For whatever reason, I find myself writing a great deal about the issue of how the church welcomes—or fails to welcome—Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex, and Queer people. I have been reminded that there are other issues in addition to this in the world, big issues, important issues, life-and-death issues—issues more important than “who gets to sleep with whom.” So, why don’t I concentrate on those a little bit more and give the “homosexual thing” a rest? Besides, winning people over from being “anti” to “pro” through the strength of arguments—no matter how impressive—doesn’t work well as a strategy.

On the Impossiblity of Being a Moderate on Issues of Justice — [D]mergent

Continue reading at . . .

Updating Common Sense: What Christians Really Believe

As a kid I took for granted the fact that popping out of the womb as a male beat the hell out of the alternative. Any girl with half a brain, if given the choice, would obviously opt for checking “male” on the census form.

In fact, so clear was this bit of wisdom, and so desperately did young males my age need it to be true that we used “woman” as a slur: Sissy. Fem. Girly-man.

One time I called my little brother a woman in front of my mom. She said, “You know, woman isn’t a dirty word. There’s no shame in being a woman.”

I said, “Sorry, Mom.” But deep inside I knew she was wrong. Everybody did. The reality of male superiority was woven into the fabric of the universe.

But it wasn’t only women. I also took it as read that being gay made you somehow defective. We used sexual orientation as an epithet, too. You know the ones. I don’t need to repeat them.

We just knew these things, as surely as we knew the earth revolved around the sun, or that the sum of the interior angles of a triangle is 180º, or that Michael Jordan is the best basketball player of all time.

We didn’t argue that men were superior to women or that gay people had made some shoddy lifestyle choices any more than we argued about gravity or the law of the conservation of matter or entropy. Because, why would you?

That’s what taking something for granted means: You don’t have to argue about it anymore. It’s the way the world is. It’s not even conventional wisdom, because conventional wisdom implies that there might be another side to the story. This stuff is just eye-rollingly obvious.

But then one day that stuff about women and gay people didn’t seem nearly so obvious anymore. I realized that I knew women who were smarter and funnier and more successful than me. I spent time with LGBT folks who seemed much more together, much more empathic, much more generous than I am. Now, a lot of that stuff I once took for granted seems not only laughably false, but something that I should be actively attempting to stand athwart.

We need to take a look at this whole “taken-for-grantedness” thing. We need to update common sense.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Thomas Merton’s Prayer and My Intention to Do the Right Thing When It Comes to White Privilege

Thomas Merton 1

I’m supposed to go to a major corporation this afternoon and speak about white privilege.

Of course I’m going to speak about white privilege. Who better to speak about the advantages white folks in our society enjoy than an over-educated, middle-aged white guy from the suburbs? Why wouldn’t I be going?

I mean, that’s why they invited me, right?

So, why do I feel so conflicted about it?

When it comes to white privilege, I’m exhibit A. I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth, to be sure. My folks didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up. But, let’s be honest, even when I was jobless for a time in the recent economic crisis, afraid that we might lose our house, I always secretly believed that things would turn out fine.

Why did I think that? Because, all things considered, things had always turned out fine for me.

Can you hear the assumptions at work in such a view of the world? I’ve always believed, whether or not I could articulate it, that the physical laws of the world ensured me a certain buoyancy, a manufacturer’s guarantee that things would never get so bad that somehow the world would fail to bear me up. It doesn’t mean I don’t get scared; merely that I assume the world is built to work for people like me. Somewhere along the line, something will happen to make things turn out right.


Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

Why Knowledge of Injustice Without Action Makes You Part of the Problem

Norrbotten, Jokkmokk, Jokkmokk, Lappland, Miljöer-Insjömiljöer

[Note: In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, here’s an article I wrote for the Huffington Post.]

Let us imagine that you live in a circle of eight houses, seven of which have fertile gardens in back — enough to feed a family. Unfortunately, however, the eighth house has a patch of swampy land that makes growing a garden impossible. Consequently, the people that live there spend their lives on the edge of starvation.

In the middle of this circle of houses is a commons that everyone uses to supplement their own gardens. But the gardening done in the commons, split eight ways, is only enough to give each house a little extra produce to sell for “nice things.”

The sharing of the commons is a tradition that has been passed down to homeowners in the neighborhood for generations. Nobody even questions it. The commons arrangement is just the way things are.

However, one-eighth of the commons doesn’t give the family with swampy land enough subsist on.

But that’s the way it goes, right? Life isn’t always fair. There has to be winners and losers.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

What if the Kids Don’t Want Our Church?

She's leaving home

I had a conversation with a man not long ago who has the unenviable task of sorting through his mother’s considerable estate, deciding what to keep, what to sell and what to throw away. While sorting, in an act of extraordinary self-awareness, he stopped to consider just what his three adult daughters might like to keep when they find themselves going through his stuff after he’s gone.

During this moment of reflection, my friend had an epiphany: What if his kids don’t want all the stuff he’s worked so hard to acquire?

He was struck by the fact that his adult daughters have no real attachment to all the antiques and precious heirlooms his family has spent so much time accumulating. He went on to observe that his daughters and their partners tend to value instead things like mobility and flexibility. They’ve shown no desire to become curators of a bunch of stuff — even special stuff, really goodstuff.

For one thing, they don’t have the room for it. They live in apartments and small houses. They don’t have any space to house an armoire, no place to stash a dining room table for 12. When your biggest piece of furniture is a flat screen TV, and your idea of rearranging the living room is pushing a stack of magazines to the other side of the Ikea coffee table, the prospect of being responsible for a 12 place-setting china inheritance feels like a commitment on par with marriage, or deciding to take in a stray dachshund.

For another thing, their lives are centered on adventure and experience. They love the outdoors, love to travel. They’re used to packing light. They tend to have a different relationship to “stuff.” Oh, they like nice stuff, to be sure. It’s just that they view stuff instrumentally. Stuff is a tool for the accomplishment of purposes. And to the extent that a nice tool helps accomplish its purpose more efficiently than a lousy one, they value it. The question put to a thing is not whether its value is intrinsic or even sentimental, but whether it’s useful. To their way of thinking, you use stuff to help you do things you want to do, not to make you feel good about things you’ve already done.

And how can we blame them, really? We raised them to think of things as disposable. Sporks, iPods, jobs, marriages — use a thing until either it breaks (in which case, you buy another one) or you don’t need it anymore (in which case, you throw it out and look to the next thing).

For previous generations, stuff was what you spent the bulk of your time working to acquire, then spent the leftover time working to maintain and repair, so that you would have something to hand down to your children. And they to their children. And so on, in an endless string of accumulation and maintenance, world without end. Amen.

But what happens when a generation comes along that doesn’t care about the game you’ve spent so much time buying equipment for, has little invested in the durable nature of the stuff you value? What happens when your kids say, “Don’t give me all that stuff. I’ll just have a yard sale, and call Goodwill to haul away what’s left over”?

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .

The Magnificat: God’s Socio-Economic SmackDown

Magnificat Boticelli 1

The AP released a story some years back announcing that the rate of people considered “low income” has risen to almost one in two Americans.[1] In other words, there are about 150 million Americans who, if not ensnared by the rapacious talons of poverty, are barely scraping by. That is a troubling statistic, especially given the fact, as has been widely reported, that the income disparity between the rich and the poor continues to widen at an alarming rate. The starkness of the contrast is stunning. A few “job creators” get almost exponentially richer, while the rest stand on the sidelines and watch.

Continue reading at [D]mergent . . .