Jesus, the Shawarma of God

When you hear the phrase “Lamb of God,” is the mental picture you imagine more like this:

Awwww, how cute!

…or like this:

…or this:


…or this?

mmmmmmm... worthy is the lamb!


I was recently in an auditorium of thousands of people who were singing, “worthy is the Lamb!” and it occurred to me that among those thousands, there was likely not a single person who had actually ever butchered a sheep. I haven’t butchered a sheep, either. I think often when we hear Biblical metaphors, we think we understand what the authors are saying when we really have no earthly idea.

The whole idea of the sacrificial system is alien to most of us Christians. When we get our meat here in the U.S., it usually comes on a foam platter covered with plastic wrap. We do not see the act of slaughtering meat, the taking of one life to nourish another, as a sacred activity. Except for folks who are vegetarian or vegan for ethical reasons, most of us don’t think too much about how we get our meat.

In the Gospel of John, John the Baptist points Jesus out to the disciples and says, “Look, there’s the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Paul talks about Jesus as the paschal lamb, which was slaughtered for the festival of Passover in memory of God’s victory over the Egyptians over a thousand years earlier. These guys clearly had in mind the concept of lamb, both as a living creature and as meat on your plate. We shouldn’t be shocked by the cannibalistic overtones: Jesus called himself “the bread of life,” too.

The author of Revelation is the one who spends the most time talking about Jesus as the Lamb of God. In his vision, when he sees Jesus, he describes him (paradoxically) as a lamb standing as one who had been slain.

It’s just another example of rich metaphors in the Bible that get emptied of their power and become clichés in the ham-fisted (lamb-fisted?) word smithing of preachers and worship musicians. If you want to imbue the metaphor with some of its lost rhetorical power, take your Christian and atheist friends to a middle eastern restaurant, order some shawarma or lamb kebab, and after taking bite, say, “MMMMmmmmmm… worthy is the lamb!” Those that laugh will get it. Those that look at you with horror might get it, too.

One of the things I look forward to doing in worship at Saint Junia, our new Birmingham church, is reclaiming the power of metaphors that have become clichés and insider-language for church folk. And if we sing “worthy is the lamb who was slain,” you can bet that I’ll have an image of a rotisserie on the screen.

“Do Not Judge. Was I Unclear On This?”

It happens every time: When a pastor or other Christian begins talking about one of Jesus’ toughest instructions, they immediately begin qualifying it.

‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

I’ve never heard a sermon that just stopped there. “Don’t judge.” You know the follow-up, right? “Well, clearly Jesus doesn’t mean we can ignore sin. If we let people persist in their sin, it wouldn’t be loving.” His words are so unsettling we feel we have to add exceptions and qualifications. “What about murder? What about child abuse?” As if we don’t know what Jesus is talking about.

I find it interesting that most translations separate this text from the one that immediately follows: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” I think these are two ways of looking at the same thing.

Lots of Christians are jabbing at people’s faces with tweezers while trying to look around planks in their own eyes because they honestly believe they are going to be helpful by doing so. By pointing out the sin of others, aren’t we helping them to overcome it? If you have a booger on your nose, shouldn’t I point it out to you rather than letting you walk around with it hanging on your face? Not necessarily. If someone tells you they put the booger there and they are fine with it, and you continue to point it out, then you’re just being a jerk.

That’s when the Christian’s attitude often shifts to one of judging the person AND the sin. “Well, if they don’t want my help,” goes the thinking, “then they can just go to hell.” Jesus seems to anticipate this shift. “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.” I think this is Jesus’s somewhat ironic way of telling his followers to stop wasting time. Robert Heinlein says something similar: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and just annoys the pig.”  Christians who think they are going to improve the world by trying to wrestle secular culture to the ground with the Bible, decrying various sexual sins and the self-destructiveness of the world, are simply inviting trouble. The “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality invites the hatred of the world.

(By the way, it wasn’t until I watched Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Deadwood that I really understood the terror of being mauled by pigs. Dang, that’s scary).

I find it fascinating that most of us just can’t let it stop with Jesus words. “But we have to make judgments! We have to talk about sin!” Really? Did someone ask you to? Did someone ask for your help in removing an eye-splinter? Did someone invite you to share your holy bread or your precious pearls? Because if not, you are not dealing with someone else’s spiritual need. In fact, you’re not dealing with anyone’s need but your own: your own need to be right, to be holy, to be affirmed.

I think that’s why the next bit Jesus talks about is asking for what we need. “Ask, seek, knock,” Jesus says, “and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and everyone who searches finds, and to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” I think the everyone is pretty clear. Are you genuinely concerned for your neighbor? Don’t worry. If they ask, they will receive. If they ask for your precious pearls, you’ll have them to share.

Surprising Stats Every Pastor Should Know

Even though I read it a few years ago, Robert Wuthnow’s After the Baby Boomers continues to influence the way I think about ministry and the people with whom I do ministry. Here are some big demographic takeaways I got from his book:

  • In the 1970’s married couples were a majority of the population (59%). Now they are atypical (31%). This shift alone accounts for most of the membership “decline” of churches because the biggest predictor of church membership is marital status. (p. 23)
  • Young adults are more likely to be financially strapped. They have lower wage growth and higher bankruptcy. This is one major variable in later average age of marriage and the general decline of marriage. (p.35)
  • Belief in the afterlife has risen since 1972. Other beliefs have not changed much. Views of the Bible’s inspiration have not changed much since 1976.  Views of Jesus’ divinity have not changed much either. (p. 97 & 98)
  • So-called literalists “hedge their bets” when describing the exclusivity of their faith. While claiming belief in Jesus’ divinity is necessary, they do not claim their own religion is for everyone. Most say “it is best for me.” (p. 105)
  • Young adults with no college education have become less orthodox while college-educated adults have become more so. (p. 108)
  • 1 in 3 young adults has attended a mosque or temple. (p. 116)
  • 4 in 5 young adults say they talk with friends about religion once a year. 2 in 5 say they talk about religion once a week. (p. 119)
  • There’s a huge discrepancy between attitudes toward premarital sex and actual behavior. Evangelical unmarried adults do it about as much as every other demographic even though they disapprove at much higher levels. (p. 139). I have a theory about this that I will share in a later post.
  • Opinions against premarital sex have risen since the 70’s among all denominations except Roman Catholics and the religiously unaffiliated, which remain about the same. (p. 140)
  • Mainline Protestants voted more consistently for Republicans than evangelicals did until 1980. That’s when a major switch began to happen. (p. 169)
  • More young adults than older adults believe it is okay for political candidates to talk about their faith. (p. 171)

Ending Poverty

I’ve been engaged in a Facebook discussion tangent recently about the old debate over whether “government” (meaning us, collectively) or “the church” should bear more responsibility for taking care of “the poor” (meaning people with low incomes). I put all those things in scare quotes because it is not always clear what we are talking about when using those words. Here is an edited version of how I responded:

I’d recommend Walking with the Poor by Bryant Myers for anyone interested in poverty and development issues. Myers is former VP of WorldVision, and brings a great synthesis of theology and policy analysis into his study of poverty and what he calls “Transformational development.”

The taxes versus charity argument about whether “government” or “the church” should help the poor is not compelling to me. Churches do some kinds of aid very well. We typically return an economic benefit to our local community that is many, many times our budget. We multiply dollars with volunteer hours and give a spiritual boost to the neighborhoods where we locate. It’s called “the halo effect” and you can read more about it here. Some Europeans from countries with state-sponsored churches who visit the States are astonished that we do all that we do without government aid, relying solely on donations.

But many kinds of church aid are not as efficient as government aid. When we do a can drive, for example, we are burning gasoline to go to the store to buy food that has been stocked on shelves (at significant labor costs) and warehoused for retail. Our distribution networks make us feel good, but they are not efficient. What the church excels at is person-to-person relationship building. The kind of development that needs to happen to reduce poverty happens best when churches are intentional about connecting people across economic and racial lines, which they cannot do as long as they are segregated by neighborhoods, class, and race. This is less about money that we give away than face time that we spend in coming along side those who are struggling, simply learning to be with each other and loving each other. When you consider the huge amount of wasted potential and human capital that poor people spend on being poor—difficulty transporting themselves, missing work because they are sick, or getting caught in the cycle of predatory lending—it boggles the mind why we consider it *not* in our best interest to help them through government assistance. The amount of GDP wasted by poor people on what could go to benefit society is staggeringly high. Why is building roads for car owners and shipping goods in our collective best interest, but providing public transportation and public education is not? Should TVA’s development of power in the rural Southeast U.S. have been left up to the churches? Should churches provide fire and police protection as well?

While I take seriously our imperative to do all the good we can to all the people we can in all the ways we can, the church is called to represent the Kingdom of God. I can’t help but wonder if the devil’s strategy is to keep us Christians perpetually busy with cleaning up his messes and dealing with his casualties so that we don’t have time to confront his wickedness head-on. You may have heard the saying “Charity is pulling people out of a river; justice is stopping others from throwing them in.” But there’s also a large number of idle bystanders who will criticize any attempt to do either as meddling or being political. And the people doing the shoving will naturally tell us to mind our business.

Churches can do some things to help the poor, but we cannot build parks, provide public transportation, health care, and education to everyone. It is true that we have done a marvelous job building hospitals and founding colleges and working at peace-making across the globe. But many of those hospitals and universities are now sucking the life out of poor people because they are caught in the same sinful self-destructive systems as our banking and insurance institutions.

The people who are loudest about shifting the responsibility for the poor from government to the churches are people like Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry, neither of whom tithe, according to their tax records, but only give the American average: 2%. This kind of hypocrisy makes me livid. Folks who think churches can curtail poverty or do community development by providing soup kitchens and clothes closets are the people who have no understanding of poverty because they do not live with it. Nearly anyone who works with Christian nonprofit ministry among the poor will tell you that government—the financial and social priorities we set through our own political action—has to have a role in reducing poverty. Shifting the costs of poverty onto the backs of the financially poor only makes it more inefficient and expensive for everyone. When people use the ER for their primary care, when they miss work because of illness or transportation issues, when they lack time to parent their own kids, we all lose. Costs go up for all of us. At least, costs go up for 99% of us. Those at the top live in their own world.

The fact is, most people DO have intrinsic motivation to work and better their lives. Dependency and energy conservation (i.e. “laziness”) usually happens when people are repeatedly knocked on their duff, which is what Martin Seligman calls “learned helplessness.” It’s amazing how much harder people work when they have savings, food and health security, and hope for the future.

I’ve been qualifying my use of the phrase “the poor,” because it only describes one sort of financial poverty. Myers points out that there is also social poverty, political poverty, health poverty, and spiritual poverty. We are a nation that has become contemptuous of the financially poor because we ourselves are spiritually poor. We are alienated from each other and from the God who calls us to a different kind of life:

For you say, “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.” You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. Therefore I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich; and white robes to clothe you and to keep the shame of your nakedness from being seen; and salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. I reprove and discipline those whom I love. Be earnest, therefore, and repent. (Revelation 3:17-19)

God: Unclear on the Concept

First, an apology to my atheist and agnostic friends, among whom are some very understanding, loving people. I no more consider the following comment-trolling rant representative of atheist thinking than (I hope) you consider the ravings of Pat Robertson or Bryan Fischer representative of all Christians.

Second, here is an interesting video in which a Christian survivor of the Aurora shooting attributes his survival to God. He also says that he forgives his attacker:

Third, here is an excerpt of one commenter’s thoughts on the above video.

No. You do not get to co-opt human herosim to try and make a questionable deity seem better. Those people risked their lives to save others because they were good people, and it is the human thing to do, to protect the ones you care about. You have no idea what religion any of them were, and to say their actions were related to “God” is ridiculous…. Without considereing “God”, we can focus on the people, who commited many noble acts, adn DO warrant praise and remembrence.

…This is not the sort of act that should be forgiven. It is an insult to those who died, it is an insult to those who survived, it is an insult to the families and loved ones who weren’t there but were affected, and it is an insult to everyone who goes through life following the rules, and caring for/respecting the lives of the people around them. If this shooting was “God’s” plan, he’s not worth following. If it was the work of Satan then it shouldn’t be forgiven it should be condemned. If there are no gods or demons and this was the act of a very wrong headed human being (my bet), then that person deserves to be punished, not forgiven. At the absolute lightest, some external influence drove whoever committed this shooting insane, in which case they are due some understanding, but never forgiveness.

“There are none worthy of judging others but ‘God’.” Bullsh-t. “God” if he even exists, is the last person worthy of judging events like this. “God” doesn’t live with us, doesn’t walk the earth, and doesn’t face the same perils and hardships that we humans do. We the men and women who live as a cooperative society who are put at risk by such senseless acts are the ONLY beings in the universe who have a place to judge them. And whatever that judgment ends up being, it absolutely should NOT be forgiveness.

In one way, I have no problem with the commenter’s anger, his immediate response, and the question he raises. The proper response to this kind of thing very well may be outrage. Demanding justice from an apparently unjust God has a long tradition even in the Bible.

There are two things that bother me about this line of thinking, though. The first is the whole concept of “deserving.” I have found that many functional atheists (and I include some Christians in my definition) have a pretty clear idea of who deserves what. Atheists of the sort that subscribe to libertarian ideas tend to believe in a hierarchy of worth, where some people (“job creators,” innovators, smart folks like us) have much more value than others (freeloaders, the mentally ill, poor people). It is pretty clear to folks who think this way that some people deserve punishment and others deserve reward. The only place I encounter this kind of judgmental attitude to the same degree is among fundamentalist Christians, folks who have the reprehensible theology of Representative Louie Ghomert (R-Texas):

“You know, when people say, where was God in all of this? Well, you know, . . . we’ve threatened high school graduation participants that if they use God’s name that they’re going to be jailed, we had a principal of a school, and a superintendent or a coach down in Florida that were threatened with jail because they said the blessing at a voluntary off campus dinner. I mean, that kind of stuff… where is God? Where, where? What have we done with God? We told him that we don’t want him around. I kind of like his protective hand being present.”

People like Ghomert and Bryan Fischer blame liberals. People who advocate teaching evolution or tolerance for people of other sexual orientations are, in their bizarre narrative, complicit in the tragedy.

One thing I would like to convey to my atheist and agnostic brethren: the God of the Bible is the most humanist of us all.

I like to remind Christians that the Torah was written by freed slaves. Ground under the heel of Egyptian oppression, surrounded by giant statues of Pharaoh and images of his gods, they were reminded constantly of their subjugation, and that they were made by the gods to be slaves to the king. When they escaped to Mount Sinai and (allegedly) came face to face with their God, one of the first commandments was:

No graven images.

George Carlin called the commandments about idolatry and sabbath “hocus-pocus,” but he misunderstood how important they were to the freed slaves. Why no graven images? Because you don’t need them. God looks like y’all. You all, not Pharaoh, are made in the image of God. If you want to see an image of God, don’t look to the king or to some statue that someone tells you is a god—look at your neighbor. Look at a widow, an alien, an orphan. God is present even in the least of these.

By the way, freed slaves, says God: from now on, everyone gets a day off. Not only will the wealthy and powerful will have leisure time. Your boss has to let you off. Everyone gets a day to enjoy the creation, to sit back and say, “Yes, this is good.” This law is so important it is written into the fabric of creation, because even God models taking a day off. The first labor law is in the first chapter of Genesis. And it isn’t just for humans, but for animals, too, and not just for citizens, but aliens. You can’t abuse your animals. And you must give the land a rest. So the first environmental laws and animal rights laws are written into creation itself.

The whole trajectory of the Bible is not about a God who is somewhere above us dispensing laws, but a God who is coming down among humanity, taking humanity on, sanctifying what is truly human. As a Christian, I believe this happened most completely in Jesus of Nazareth, which is why the above commenter’s statement that God doesn’t face the same hardship as we do runs counter to everything I believe about God.

The best picture of God I have is a man allowing an evil system to execute him. He responds not in violence, but with a power that the world cannot understand. So in every act of senseless violence, I see God. It doesn’t matter if the violence is done by a troubled individual or a corporation or a state: all of them use similar rhetoric to justify their actions, because they have appointed themselves as this world’s petty gods to decide who deserves to live and who deserves to die.

This is how Dietrich Bonhoeffer interpreted the story of the Garden of Eden. The knowledge of good and evil is false knowledge. “Original sin” is the idea that I am the best judge of good and evil, that I can declare who is deserving and who is not. I cannot see that I am trapped in a web of sin, that even my reason and my religion are corrupt, and so I make myself into a god. In doing so, I reject the image of God in anything that doesn’t fit my own prejudices. Bonhoeffer was writing as the Nazis were coming to power, and he saw in their vision of themselves as a master race the logical conclusion of the sin of Adam and Eve: “We are like gods, deciding good and evil, powerful and wise.” The original sin, Bonhoeffer said, was that in rejecting our own humanity, we rejected God. Jesus’s death on the cross, Paul said, was a foolishness that was wiser than human wisdom. Jesus inverts the human pyramid of power: God is found not at the top, but at the bottom.

This, for me, is why fundamentalist atheists and fundamentalist Christians are so close in their opinions and (often) their politics. Neither can conceive of a God present and active in weakness or failure, who sides with the victims against their aggressors. Neither can see the irony of a state playing God with the life of a (possibly) mentally ill man who was himself playing God.

This is why I think everyone needs Jesus. Even fundamentalist Christians. Even atheists and agnostics. We all need Jesus, because he’s the only place where what is truly God and what is truly human meet and understand each other.


Saint Junia UMC has a vision: We are becoming a diverse community of sinners, saints, and skeptics who join God in the renewal of all things.

We also have a mission, five ways to join God in the renewal of all things: Worship, devotion, compassion, justice, and witness.

Our next task will be to describe our core values. I think it’s great to see the ways some families are also identifying their core values and putting them in their homes.

When we locate a venue in Birmingham for our church, I’d like to see us do something similar. I’d enjoy seeing our core values rendered as art on the walls.

As I’ve said before, I believe in an inclusive gospel. This is not rooted in “political correctness.” It is rooted in the decisive action of God in Jesus Christ, the definitive move God made to step into our human flesh, confront the power of human sin with love instead of violence, and claim victory over death. It is an affirmation that God shows no partiality as both our judge and advocate. The best picture we have of God is Jesus, who in his ministry identified himself and the image of God with anyone in need.

I also value the world that God loves. Our actions should honor the created world, not abuse or exploit it. And I value the people that God loves. Every human being is someone’s baby. Someone invested time and energy in that person, and God invested the totality of God’s own self in them as well. When we treat them as obstacles, or nuisances, or parasites, we demean what God has done. Each one has potential that can only be tapped when they start living the abundant life available to them.

I value the Bible. I love this book. It is not just a map or a set of instructions. It is not free of contradictions, and words like “inerrant” or “infallible” reduce its poetry to a set of bullet points in somebody’s sales pitch. It is a living dialogue between God and humanity, and it invites us into the life of God. I want to read it the way some people read trashy romance novels or kids read comic books under the covers with a flashlight, to dog ear its pages, to run my fingers over the paper and put its poetry in my soul. I want read it until its images are burned into my eyes, so that everything I see I view through a theological lens. One composer said, “People have been taught to respect music, when they should have been taught to love it.” I feel the same way about the Bible.

I value shared meals. Meals have been used to exclude (Genesis 43:32, Galatians 2:11-12, and Chick-fil-A). At the center of the Christian story is a shared meal. That’s where some of the best church happens.

I value singing. In a world where music has become something you consume, and where people compete on American Idol and judges mock people’s voices, we have all been convinced that we cannot sing, I value a community that lets us find our voices. We all make music. We need to learn to hear it.

What do you value?

What Does “Authentic” Mean?

Our clergy continuing education group spent three years studying “Young Adults, Authentic Community, and the Future of the Church.” One of the things we were concerned about was how many people say they left a church because it did not feel “authentic.” You probably know the familiar refrain: “People have not stopped being spiritually hungry. They’ve simply stopped trying the institutional church.”

But as we wrestled with the topic, we kept coming back to the question: what does “authenticity” actually mean? Is it something you can measure?

Everyone participates in “social discourses,” meaning that you are trying to be a certain kind of person. How you dress, how you talk, what you consume, all of it communicates information to the people around you. Nobody gets to opt out of social discourses. “Normal” or “regular” are also social discourses. It’s why you don’t see more men wearing kilts or togas in Birmingham. When you do, you think, “Hey, what’s he trying to say?” But every man wearing shorts is also “saying” something. Part of authenticity is if you can “pull off” being a certain kind of person in a convincing way.

And what does it mean to be an “authentic” community? We shared experiences of visiting churches that were trying so hard to be authentic that it felt fake. And there’s nothing faker than fake authenticity. “Look! We have tattoos and cool glasses! We’re edgy!” I like the ways these guys point out the social discourses they are using:

In our travels and visits, we came to understand that healthy communities have what Luther Smith calls both intimacy and mission. Intimacy is the warm-fuzzy group feeling that we have being part of a community together. But by itself, warm-fuzzy group feeling is toxic. Communities that turn inward and worship their own sense of community will die. They must be focused outward and have a clear mission. Likewise mission without intimacy becomes brutal. The community guilts its members into service. Healthy community requires both intimacy and mission, which in turn creates a sense of identity. We can say, “This is who we are. This is our history, and this is our future together.”

My friend Bill had this insight: In such a community, I can have a sense of authenticity when I can say, “This is who I am in the midst of who we are.” I can clearly state the kind of person I am trying to be. I do not feel that I have to walk on eggshells around other people, that I’m going to somehow hurt the group with my own identity if I disagree with someone, or if I don’t live up to their—or my—own expectations. In fact, I relish being held accountable. In such a community with a clear mission, I can have my own mission as well, and other people are helping me achieve it.

So, for now, that’s my working definition of “authenticity.” I want Saint Junia United Methodist Church to be a place where people can find their mission in our mission, where they are free to say “This is who I am in the midst of who we are.”

We, The People

We homeschool, and my son is studying American history. Back in the spring we took a trip to Jamestown and Williamsburg. Now he is studying the Constitution. I love the fact that he’s going around the house singing the songs I learned as a child from Schoolhouse Rock, like this one.

Man, I love that video.

Anyway, it caused me to reflect a bit. The very idea that you “constitute” something new by a bunch of people coming together and writing a statement is interesting. It’s a very Enlightenment-era idea, and it expresses something admirable, I think. They were saying, “We now have an identity, a vision of the future, and a way we’re going to do things.” It was a mission statement.

Angela pointed out that they first had to have a Declaration of Independence. Before the Declaration, they were just English rebels. When they wrote the Declaration of Independence, they ceased to be traitors and became patriots.

I think it’s important for our gestating church to likewise develop its identity. Often before we can say who we are, we have to say who we are not. Differentiating yourself is an important step in the growth of any living thing. In this case, we want to clearly say, “We are not like every other church. We do not believe you are going to hell if you disagree with us. We do not believe that to follow Jesus you have to vote a certain way, speak a certain way, or cling to a certain interpretation of the Bible.” As one of our members said yesterday, when he invited a co-worker to be part of our church, he began with a warning: “I just need to let you know, this is going to be a different sort of church than you are used to.”

But you cannot only say what you are not. You also have to declare what you are. A healthy, mature being has a constitution, an awareness of it’s own identity and mission in the world. Mission, vision, and core values are all part of this group identity. For the Founders, some of those values were representational government, a social contract for the general welfare, and government non-interference with regard to religion.

They didn’t get it all right on the first go-around. Extending rights to African-Americans and women were changes they had to make to keep in line with the original ideals. There was huge resistance to both these movements.

In the same way, I know our new Birmingham church, Saint Junia United Methodist Church, is going to go through a growth process. We are going to meet resistance to our message and our method. But if we are clear about our identity, both who we are not and who we are, then I believe we can grow into a healthy, mature church.

We, the people, together.

Dear Neutral Christians: You Have Already Chosen a Side

What I find even more annoying than the flap over Chick-fil-A —even more irritating than all of the polarization and heated rhetoric flying about—are the people who try to self-righteously stand aloof from the fray. To me, even more disheartening than the posts about standing up for traditional heterosexist values and fighting a culture war are some of the comments I’ve read like,

“Jesus isn’t honored by this arguing”
“It’s just a sandwich.”
“Jesus wasn’t interested in political correctness.”

This is the rhetorical equivalent of people who said things like

“It’s just a lunch counter”
“Who cares where you sit on the bus?”
“The church should stay out of the civil rights movement.”

I’m not surprised – not one bit – that Christians lined up outside of Chick-fil-a stores yesterday. I’m not surprised that they leapt to the defense of Dan Cathy. There were plenty of God-fearing Christians who lined up behind Governor George Wallace as well. What does disappoint me are all the “neutral” Christians who think it would all be okay if we just didn’t keep talking about it.

FYI – if you call supporters of gay marriage “arrogant,” or say that they are “shaking a fist at God,” (Cathy’s words) you are not just stating your Biblical belief. You are demonizing opposition to your beliefs. So instead of interpreting the Bible differently than you, I, as a supporter of gay marriage, become the enemy of God. Instead of seeing the world through a different lens, instead of merely interpreting the Bible from another perspective, I have a character flaw—arrogance. I take offense at such claims. It is not because I’m being “politically correct.” I am responding appropriately to offensive rhetoric. It is the same offense one might take at the CEO of a major corporation calling women or African-Americans “uppity.”

When you, as a Christian, claim I am off-base for taking offense at his words, you have chosen a side. And that makes me angry. If my anger makes you uncomfortable, I’ll also point out that I am not gay. I don’t have a right to one fraction of the anger my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters feel.

My anger comes from the fact that I am trying to build a church in which all people can know the love of Christ. I want to let people who have been burned by church and turned off by the bigotry of some Christians know that they can believe in Jesus without being a fundamentalist, that the origins of Christianity are in the radically inclusive love of Jesus for women, eunuchs, children, foreigners, uncircumcised Gentiles, and even people of other religions (like Samaritans).

I have been trying to make the case to such folks that the bigots are a loud minority of Christians. All those people who lined up outside of a fast food restaurant to make a point (what was the point, exactly?) just made my job harder.

Please do not tell me, condescendingly, that I should not be offended by the words of a self-avowed conservative Christian to a Baptist press. I have no problem with the president of Chick-fil-a stating a belief. He could believe in young-earth creationism. He could believe that only people baptized by immersion will be saved. He might believe that marriage should only be between a man and a woman. But if he says that I am shaking my fist at God because I don’t believe in the exclusivity of immersion baptism, or that I’m arrogant for believing in evolution, you’ll pardon me if I don’t eat at his stupid restaurant.

And if my offense at his comment offends you, or if engaging in a debate about symbols and what they mean is somehow problematic for you, or if you want to say that somehow I’m disconnected from God’s redemptive action in the world because I’m angry about it, then you can take your irrelevant gospel and get out of my face. You do not get to speak for Jesus, or tell me that Jesus isn’t concerned about what concerns me while defending the words of someone who is certain – certain! that Jesus is all concerned about homosexuality.

I will not abide that double standard silently. If Dan Cathy can speak for God, so can I. And so can any of my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I will keep telling of a God who shows no partiality.

Neutral Christians, I hope your derision of the whole argument is not your attempt to stay above the fray and keep your pretty hands clean. You are just as much a part of the political world as any of us. Paul makes the same point when he addresses the arguing Corinthians. Some said “I belong to Paul.” Some said “I belong to Apollos.” But the really self-righteous said, “I belong to Christ.”

Sorry, you don’t get to “transcend” politics. Even Jesus didn’t get to do that until after the politics and the religion of his day killed him. God was willing to get God’s hands dirty in the politics of our world. Your attempt to avoid taking a position by declaring “a pox on both your houses” or saying “both sides are guilty” is not a witness to the risen Christ: it is a cynical move to side with the powerful against the weak without the courage to say that that is what you are doing.

I understand. I totally do. It is always scary when someone invites you to leave your world of privilege and side with the oppressed. Even if your sympathies lead you in the right direction, your self-preservation instinct is strong. It’s the same reason Peter didn’t wave his arms in the courtyard and say: “Wait! You’ve got it all wrong! He isn’t talking about the kind of revolution that you think!” He tucked tail and ran because he was afraid of being crucified. It’s the same reason Reinhold Neibuhr (a brilliant theologian and someone I admire) told Martin Luther King “wait, you’re moving too fast.”

When Paul said “I am not ashamed of the gospel,” he did not say it to a secular world that didn’t want Jesus. He said it to a religious community that was not sure how they could accept uncircumcised Gentiles as equal members of their church. So to all you appeasers who think you are being peacemakers, I level this charge: you are ashamed of the gospel. You do not believe in the power of Christ to include your gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as co-workers in the kingdom. You have sided with the powerful against the powerless, because that’s the safe place to be.

I’m not saying you are bad Christians. Some of you are wonderful Christians. But we all make mistakes, and sometimes we do what we do out of necessity. Even Paul played both sides of the cultural arguments of his day. Though he didn’t believe eating meat sacrificed to idols would cut you off from Christ, he wasn’t going to press the issue for the religious sticklers (1 Corinthians 8:8-9). Peter likewise buckled under pressure from the religious conservatives of his day (Galatians 2:11-12). And though Paul stood up to the religious conservatives for Titus (Gal 2:3), he did not do so for Timothy (Acts 16:3). We pastors know that it is often important to buy time in the middle of social change.

But I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of Christ for salvation, for both straight and gay, for God shows no partiality. I am not ashamed to say that Dan Cathy’s version of the gospel is different from mine. I’m sure he’s not a bad guy, and he loves Christians who think like him. But, like Paul, if eating such meat offends my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, “then I will never eat a chicken sandwich again.” Because that’s what Christians do.