A lot has happened in the world in the last week or so, and I’d like to take a few moments to talk about it. This isn’t a sermon in the strictest sense, but it’ll probably have that feel.
Today, I feel compelled to apologize for the brand of Christianity I believe in. I do not mean apologize in the sense of saying I’m sorry, because in no way am I sorry for what I believe in. I mean apologize in the ancient sense. In the ancient sense, to apologize means to explain, or even defend.
Today, I defend my faith.
Because it’s under attack from people claiming to speak for Christianity. But those who wrote and signed the Nashville Statement, and those who profess and believe in the prosperity gospel DO NOT speak for me.
They subscribe to an easy theology, a “cheap” theology. Achieved not by actually understanding and embodying the love of Christ in this world, but instead they attempt to make Christianity easier. More marketable. More profitable.
It’s an easy to hear, and easy to understand theology. Which is the opposite of what Christ taught – a radically different approach to living, centered on love and respect of God, of your neighbor, of strangers, and especially of those in need, which often runs against the acceptable social norms of a culture and society.
What I am about to say is grounded in my understanding and study of Scripture. It is also a product of understanding the cultural and societal structures of the ancient world in which Christ lived and ministered.
This is also, quite honestly, the product of a lot of self-work and reconciliation. Because I believe, and just inherently know that I am wonderfully and perfectly created as I am. I was created as an intelligent, feisty, creative, extroverted, blue eyed, gay, woman. I also love dogs and Harry Potter, but I’m pretty sure those were learned traits, much like how I learned to love and embrace Christianity.
I struggled to come out because voices like those articulated in the Nashville Statement are so loud. And they so loudly declare that I am wrong, bad, sinful.
But they are just flat out wrong.
Now that I have completed seminary (unlike many of the authors and signers of the Nashville Statement, and proponents of the prosperity gospel) I can take a look at the theology behind their words. And their theology is bad.
Their theology is grounded in an incomplete look at the world in which those words were spoken. It was a world that desperately needed more people, and to keep track of the linage of those people in order to determine inheritance and societal positions that were dictated by birth.
I could truly go on and on and about how bad the theology is of those who wrote and believe in the Nashville Statement. But at the core, is a desire to control and manipulate people. And the easiest way to control and manipulate people is to use sex (which I mean in the Biblical sense). It is a very narrow reading of the Bible, and a very narrow understanding of sex.
It is made more narrow by the literal reading of the Bible, which neglects to look at the surrounding world. In the ancient world, sex, sexual expression, and sexuality (meaning how you express and embody your body) was far more diverse and elaborate than it is today. In good and bad ways. Prostitution was far more wide spread and socially acceptable. As was bisexuality, homosexuality (particularly for men). And so was pedophilia (usually in the form of raping of young household salves – male and female – and young children being sold as prostitutes).
These weren’t just socially acceptable, they were expected, particularly by property owning men.
It’s simply not the same as what is being forced into the mold of homosexuality or even adultery today.
It is not the same as the consensual, loving, supportive relationships, which form the base of a homosexual marriage today.
What is known to be true today is that repressing one’s self, forcing yourself to be something you’re not, or completely ignoring a part of what makes you a person, causes deep damage. The best illustration I can think of for this comes from JK Rowling. When a child represses their magic, it forces them to become something they’re not, to lose themselves, and to ultimately lose control of themselves. The same is true of sexuality and sexual attraction.
God created us to be full and complete, loving, and in community with others. This means embracing all of who we are. Who we are attracted to is part of that.
It’s not difficult to reconcile same sex attraction, or being trans, with the idea that God perfectly created and loves us all. It’s only difficult to reconcile with an incredibly limited (and non-Biblical) understanding of what modern marriage and relationships should look like. And, honestly, a narrow understanding of the purpose of sex.
A narrow and often non-Biblical (or at least proof texted) understanding of God is what forms the foundation of what is known as the Prosperity Gospel.
I try, very hard, to be someone who doesn’t judge other faith systems. I have actually spent a lot of time learning about many of the different world religions. And about other approaches to Christianity. I actually tried to like the prosperity gospel, because there are so many people who seem to benefit.
But what I found in my research is a thin theology, one that doesn’t stand up to any hardship or even deeper study beyond face value, and relies on proof texted Bible verses to have any Biblical footing. (Proof texting is taking a sentence out of its context to make the point you want to make often instead of the point or intent of the original and full text)
At the center of the theology is the idea that God wants us to be happy, and that if we are faithful enough, we can have and be whatever we want.
Which sounds great! But isn’t Biblical. I think that God wants us to be happy, but that happiness comes through a relationship with God. That relationship is built on more than just words, and much (and often all) of the prosperity gospel is built on words.
What God asks of us is to strive with God, to wrestle with God, to truly embody what this faith is and means. This doesn’t mean that we can’t be rich or can’t have nice things. But it does mean an understanding that true happiness cannot be bought. True happiness for a Christian comes from being in relationship with God.
In times of struggle, hardship, tragedy, and disaster, the prosperity gospel says we weren’t faithful enough, or that God is punishing us.
But God doesn’t work that way. Hurricane Harvey didn’t strike Texas as punishment for having a lesbian mayor. God also didn’t raise up Donald Trump to be our president (as Paula White has claimed) (let’s be honest for a second, we stopped believing in the Divinity of national leaders a long time ago, and it is a foundational belief of this nation – along with several truly horrible beliefs that you can read my thoughts on in previous sermons).
Bad things don’t happen because we aren’t faithful enough. God doesn’t promise an easy life full of all of the stuff we want, free of disaster or hardship or struggle. God actually tells us this thing called life is going to be hard. What God promises is to be with us in the midst of that struggle. In the midst of the hardship, even if we feel alone, we aren’t.
Bad things don’t happen for a reason. There isn’t a plan that includes tragedy. God didn’t send Harvey and now Irma for any particular reason or punishment.
God can and will work through tragedy. Good can come from disaster. But just because good comes doesn’t mean God caused.
In times of struggle, God calls us to care for one another, especially those in need. God doesn’t tell us to circle the wagons and protect ourselves at the expense of everyone else. God says to help. God says to open your doors if you have a safe space. God says to give money or time if you possibly can.
God says to help one another.
Be the hands and feet of God in this world, because we are the only hands and feet that God has anymore.
My faith, my understanding of Christianity, explicitly tells me not to judge other people, to put love of God first, and to care for the least of these as though each person were God.
Closing your church doors in the face of unprecedented flooding, deporting DACA children, signing a document that espouses hate guised as faith. These are not the mark of a loving God. These are the marks of a misguided and misinformed human, placing a divine stamp on human actions and decisions.
I will not apologize for my faith, but I will defend it when people claim the name of my faith to place authority on their hate and attempts to gain money and power.
Follow God, not money. Accept that life is hard. But if we let God in, beauty can come from tragedy.