Might Be a Story, Might Not

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com

Gentle Reader,

If your head has been buried under a rock – or you just don’t hang out in the theological corner of the internet – you probably aren’t aware that some stuff went down. Some “ish” hit the fan.

In an interview with Jonathan Merritt of Religion News Service, the final part of a series, published on July 12, 2017, Eugene Peterson, translator of The Message, author of several books, respected pastor and teacher, appeared to take an affirming stance on LGBTQIA issues. (For those of you who don’t know, “affirming” means that one views same-sex relationships are compatible with Christian faith; “non-affirming,” logically, means the opposite. Please know that “non-affirming” does not equal “bigot”). Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Lifeway, one of the world’s largest Christian retail chains, threatened to pull his books. (They get nothing but side-eye from me for that. I mean, come on. They continue to sell all of Sarah Young’s “devotionals”). Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

He then clarified and/or took back his words (depends on how you interpret this article). He also released a statement through his literary agency. Cue weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

Merritt fired back with this, what can only be described as a petty entry into the ongoing saga, especially in light of the fact that he’d already published thisCue weeping and gnashing of teeth. 

What is going on? Neither “conservative” or “progressive” social media has any idea.

Truth: I am puzzled by Peterson’s all-over-the-map remarks.

Also truth: I don’t understand what Merritt is attempting to do at this point. This seems less like reporting and more like pushing an agenda. What exactly that agenda is, I don’t know, but first there were no follow-up questions in the (what he had to have known would be an explosive) final interview piece and now there’s this…what, throwing Peterson under the bus? Challenging his retraction?

Calling Peterson a liar, without actually making the accusation?

I’ve never met Peterson. I haven’t read all of his work. I can’t tell you the ins and outs of everything he believes. I know he’s an elderly man who usually only does interviews via email, as he is more comfortable responding to questions in writing. I understand that. Merritt chose to conduct the interview by phone for reasons known only to him. Peterson chose to participate in that format for reasons known only to him.

The only clear conclusions that I believe can be made:

  1. Nobody besides Eugene Peterson knows what Eugene Peterson actually thinks about these issues.
  2. Merritt’s bias is showing.

I hope that Peterson sticks to his guns and doesn’t say anything more. He doesn’t need to. He’s not going to influence anyone to change their stance on this and I can’t imagine that he could say much that would clear the muddied waters.

I hope that Merritt takes a step back and reflects on his role in creating, or at least assisting in the creation of, this mess. I also wish that he would come out and admit that he is “affirming.” That much really is clear based on the bulk of his reporting in this area. (If I’m wrong on that, I’ll happily admit so).

On that note, I wish that we would get away from the language of “affirming” and “non-affirming.” It’s nonsensical. To affirm means “to state as a fact; assert strongly and publicly” and to “offer (someone) emotional support or encouragement.” Many of my friends who affirm the validity of alternative medicine have also affirmed me in my struggle against chronic illness, despite our often sharp disagreements. Just as this is possible, it is also possible that those who affirm that Scripture does not support same-sex marriage can also affirm LGBTQIA people, despite often sharp disagreements.

You see, you can differ with someone and still love them. You can look a person in the eye and say, “You are dead wrong about this” and still have dinner together. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. We don’t have to compromise and we don’t have to shun.

Unless we dwell exclusively in echo chambers (and sadly, some do), we know this. There are people with whom we cross paths on a regular basis that hold opinions at wild variance from our own, who live in ways that we would never dream of. Yet we love them. We enjoy their presence. They are family members, friends, work mates. We shake their hands and listen to their stories and get into arguments with them and laugh together until our sides ache.

I don’t have to tell you that everything you do, think, say and feel is “okay” in order to be your friend. That is the example of our Great Friend, Jesus Christ. He ate with people – and called them sinners. He traveled with His disciples – and called them sinners. He hung on the cross – while we were sinners.

He never minces words. Never.

And yet there is no love truer, no affection sweeter, than that found in Him.

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Photo credit: KiwiHug

 

Hollow Outrage

Along the Way @ mlsgregg.com (1)

Gentle Reader,

Twitter lost its collective mind over the last week.

At least the part of the tweet stream that I swim in.

CT Women, an arm of Christianity Today that bills itself as “news and analysis from the perspective of evangelical women,” launched into a two-month long series called #AmplifyWomen: A New Conversation About Leadership and Discipleship. The first entry, “Who’s in Charge of the Christian Blogosphere?,” written by Tish Harrison Warren, stirred up an incredible amount of ire. I confess that I felt that ire at first. I’m as egalitarian as they come. “Feminism” is not a dirty word to me. My knee-jerk reaction after reading the article was to wonder why men weren’t being called to the carpet. Men like Douglas Wilson, Mark Driscoll, John Pavlovitz. Men – conservative and progressive – who teach harmful things. Why were women being labeled the “bad guys?”

Thankfully, I watched the responses before adding my voice to the cacophony. Often wisdom is found in waiting. I took the time to pause and reflect. The more I thought about it, the more I liked Warren’s article, for several reasons:

  • First, she’s an ordained minister. She’s hardly out to silence women’s voices.
  • Second, her call to accountability is appropriate. Anyone who dares take to a public platform had better keep the words of James in mind: “My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment” (3:1, NKJV).
  • Third, she never once asks women to submit to oppressive, misogynistic church cultures (as some claim).
  • Fourth, she doesn’t dismiss laypeople (again, as some claim).
  • Fifth, everything in the piece is applicable to men, just as many (if not most) things geared toward men are applicable to women.
  • Sixth, this is the first entry in a series. Anyone who thought she should or could cover every facet and concern of women in ministry ever had hugely unrealistic expectations.

Do I think that it’s practical or workable for every blogger to submit every piece he or she writes to some “board of blogging overseers?” Of course not. I don’t believe that Warren thinks that’s a good idea either. A large portion of accountability should be left to the readers, who need to know the Scriptures well enough to be able to discern when someone is “off.” (I’m talking about unorthodox “off” here, not legitimate differences in interpretation). Those readers should attempt to correct that author, and then stop following that author and warn others about him or her if he/she refuses to be corrected. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong with or oppressive about going to our pastors and saying, “Hey, could you check this out? Have I written anything heretical lately? Would you come around me and support this ministry I’ve got going?” That just makes sense. That’s the Body doing what its meant to do.

The main objection to Warren’s piece appears to be her inclusion of one particular author as an example of the blogosphere phenomenon and the questions surrounding it:

One of the most prominent recent examples of this crisis involves the popular blogger Jen Hatmaker, who last year announced that her views about homosexuality have changed. She was cheered by some and denounced by others. LifeWay stopped selling her books. Aside from the debate about sexuality, broader questions emerged: Where do bloggers and speakers like Hatmaker derive their authority to speak and teach? And who holds them accountable for their teaching? What kinds of theological training and ecclesial credentialing are necessary for Christian teachers and leaders? What interpretive body and tradition do these bloggers speak out of? Who decides what is true Christian orthodoxy? And how do we as listeners decide whom to trust as a Christian leader and teacher?

The accusation, coming fast, heavy and from multiple voices: “You’re trying to tear down Jen Hatmaker!”

Please.

There’s nothing offensive in that paragraph. Absolutely nothing. No name calling, no shaming. Just the facts. Hatmaker did announce a change in her views. Some did cheer. Some did not. Lifeway pulled her books.

Apparently stating the facts is now a mean thing to do?

Jonathan Merritt published a scathing retort,  “Why I’ll take courageous Jen Hatmaker over her cowardly critics any day,” over at Religion News Service. Phrases like “conservative mafia,” “evangelical aristocracy” and “institutional machine” litter the piece. I don’t condone nastiness and I have no doubt that Hatmaker has encountered some – but there’s a massive difference between nastiness and disagreement, between character assassination and parting from someone over irreconcilable doctrinal differences. It isn’t wrong to say, “I don’t agree with this stance you’ve taken and here’s why.” It isn’t horrible to tell your friends, “I don’t think you should follow this person and here’s why.”

Warren wasn’t attempting a shade-throwing take-down. There was no need for “progressive Twitter” (not my phrase and I can’t remember who coined it) to scream bloody murder. And in that scream is an important, unspoken claim: I should feel sorry for Hatmaker. I should defend her.

Why?

Between Facebook and Twitter, she has 757,563 followers. Her books are (and will probably continue to be) bestsellers. She had a TV show. She’s a featured speaker with the Belong Tour (if you can figure out exactly what that tour is about, you’re smarter than I am). Her articles for the Today show’s parenting site have been read by almost seven million people (if I am interpreting that statistic correctly; go here and decide for yourself). She testifies to a happy family life. By all accounts, she is beloved and successful.

I’m supposed to feel bad because she’s taken some heat? I’m supposed to buy into the “Christian machine” conspiracy theory?

I don’t.

Call me callous if you like. Shrug.

No leader is or should be immune to criticism.

Most fascinating to me about the whole brou-ha-ha is the near-complete lack of response to the second entry in the series, “The Great Female Commission,”  because another supposed fault of Warren’s piece had to do with her not addressing the lack of opportunities for women of color in ministry. She, a white woman, wrote from a place of “privilege.” Again, it was impossible for her to cover everything in that article, but I do recognize the validity here. The Church has a terrible track record with women in general, and an even worse one with women who aren’t white.

But…”The Great Female Commission” is an interview with an African-American woman who’s doing cool things in women’s discipleship.

And there’s very little engagement with it.

I see you, Twitter. I see you complaining about hashtag appropriation (#amplifywomen rose out of the Women’s March back in January), which has to be one of the dumbest, most nonsensical things ever. I see you mercilessly laying into a woman who dares to express a view different from you, the very thing you vociferously condemn others for doing to your preferred Christian celebrities. I see you talking a big game about supporting and uplifting women of color and then refusing to engage with Natasha Sistrunk Robinson and her thoughts on discipleship.

Your outrage is hollow.

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Addendum: Warren posted a follow-up to the CT Women piece on her personal site. April Fiet shared a thoughtful response, as did Hannah Anderson.

Photo credit: Anna Demianenko