Posts Tagged ‘Owen Strachan’

Men are not defective women

August 31, 2015

Over five years ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas of 2009, my family and I were victims of a stalker. I’ll spare you the details except to say that it culminated late one night when I heard someone on our front porch. (Fortunately, my family was out of town at a family Christmas party in Florida.) I caught a glimpse of the man through our bay window and called 9-1-1. After the man disappeared down the driveway, I saw that he had left several sexually explicit notes and drawings on our garage door and front porch. He had also scattered several unopened condoms on our porch.

After about 10 minutes, sheriff’s deputies arrived. After gathering evidence and taking my statement—they already a “file” on this man, since we had called them after an earlier incident—they tried unsuccessfully to track him with a K-9 unit.

When they left, I was scared—I’ll be honest. But the next morning, despite my fear, I was on a mission: I canvassed the neighborhood. I knocked on doors of neighbors, most of whom I’d never met, informing them about what happened, asking if they saw anything suspicious and would they keep on the lookout for this man?

At one house, a man answered the door who looked like the man I’d glimpsed through the window. I did a double-take. Naturally, he denied knowing anything. But when I left, I called the sheriff’s office. I later identified him in a photo lineup. After a couple of days, they interviewed him, he confessed, and he was arrested. Within a couple of months, the case was adjudicated. He got probation with mandatory therapy. We got a permanent protective order against him.

As I learned from talking to neighbors, my experience with the man was only the latest and most extreme episode in a 20-year history of threatening, and escalating, acts against his neighbors.

Through this experience, I learned something about myself: This is what being a man feels like—this righteous anger, this desire to protect my family, this small measure of courage I summoned. And it felt good. 

Any sympathy I felt at that point toward Stanley Hauerwas’s brand of Christian pacifism evaporated: I would resort to violence—without apology—if it meant protecting people I love. I don’t believe, contrary to years of indoctrination at liberal mainline seminary, that the example or teachings of Jesus preclude justifiable violence. I believe they require it—for individuals, municipalities, and nations.

I thought of this experience a couple of weeks ago, when those three Americans intervened, unarmed, to protect a train-load of passengers bound for Paris from a Moroccan terrorist. It was an inspiring act of heroism that I hope I would emulate if I were in similar circumstances. Regardless, if Hauerwas is right—and there are many Methodist clergy who believe that he is—these three men were wrong to use force to stop this man on the principle that any resort to violence contradicts Jesus’ teaching to “turn the other cheek.” They should instead have let the man shoot up the train and accept their own deaths as a witness to the non-coercive love of God.

I know… this seems incomprehensible to me, too.

Regardless, I appreciate this blog post from Owen Strachan about the men’s courage and its application to contemporary manhood.

Teach a boy that he is an idiot, that he can only ever ascend to Fantasy Football champion, that he cannot ever measure up to his sisters, that he is at base an animal, and watch in wonder as he fulfills all your worst predictions.

But teach him that he has immense dignity and worth, that he was made — whatever his chest size, whatever his height — to spend himself for the good of others, and you will form the kind of young men who do not cower when a terrorist stands up, sweating and fevered, to fulfill Allah’s will by mowing down innocents. This kind of young man wakes up from his nap, sees bloodshed on the horizon, and moves with a swiftness he has trained for to sacrifice himself for others. He may die, he knows. But he will die with honor.

With some irony, I post this recent song by singer-songwriter Neko Case. No, she’s not a man, regardless how she was raised. But the song rightly recognizes that there is a difference between women and men. It resonates with me.

Don’t pin a medal on the “affirming” Methodist pastor just yet

February 6, 2015

Owen Strachan writes in the most recent First Things about a species of pastor with whom I—as an ordained elder in the last mainline Protestant denomination to adhere to orthodox Christian doctrine on human sexuality—am well-acquainted: the “affirming pastor.”

Strachan has noticed their tendency to trumpet their own heroism:

The affirming pastor traveled through fire and wind to get where he’s landed. Long did he wrestle with Stubborn Paul, with Unbending Church History, with Steely-Eyed Jesus. Heroically did he (or she) weep over the Unmoved Apostles, pleading with Peter to soften his tone—to lower his pitch, and use an inside voice—against false teachers and their compromised sexual practices, their correspondingly corrupted sexual ethics. Again and again the affirming pastor threw himself against the wall of Christian witness, imploring it to fall, to fall, and to fall, but it would not.

As examples, he cites the words of affirming megachurch pastors like Ryan Meeks of EastLake Church in Seatttle and Stan Mitchell of GracePointe Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Strachan quotes Mitchell and writes the following:

“Could you be a church in Selma and not march, just handle your own community?,” Mitchell queries rhetorically. “I don’t think I can do that. We are on the front edge of a movement that means so much.” Those lonely few pastors who embrace what Scripture abominates are in Mitchell’s mind just like the civil-rights activists who suffered, bled, and died to advance racial equality. Never mind that few of those righteous activists called for personal attention. Never mind that their own activism called the church to own Scripture, not abuse it. Never mind that they are in many cases unknown. Today, we have many heroes, but so little heroism.

Let me cite the words of the United Methodist pastor Wade Griffith, whom I wrote about on Monday, as one more example for Strachan. At the end of his “coming-out-as-an-affirming-pastor” sermon in 2013, he said the following:

When I was in high school I had to take a class in Alabama history. I don’t know if they do that anymore. But part of the curriculum was the civil rights movement, and we studied about the water fountains, “colored” and white. Did anybody ever see one of those? I never saw one of those. So I went home that day and Mom was cooking supper. And I said to her just totally out of the blue, I said to her, “Mom, did you ever drink out of the white water fountain?” She said, “I did.”

I couldn’t believe it. Your parents are like, they can do no wrong. Until you get to a certain age, they can do no wrong. They define what’s right. I was like, “Mom, how’d you do that? How could you do that? That’s so evil.”

She said, “Wade, I didn’t know any better. That’s all I knew.”

One day, my sons will ask me if I drank out of the “colored” water fountains. [Long pause.] And I plan on being able to say “no.”

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

I think he meant to say “white water fountains” that last time, but never mind…

His point is that “non-affirming” pastors like me—who, like him, stood before God, our bishop, and our fellow Methodists and promised that we believed in our church’s doctrines—are now no better than racists in the Deep South during Jim Crow, except worse, because what excuse do we have? Aside from—you know—the Bible and not to mention the unanimous consensus of nearly two millennia of Christian interpretation of it.

As I said on Monday, these words give the lie to Griffith’s earlier, conciliatory words about how our view of homosexual practice is a “non-essential” about which Christians of good faith are free to “agree to disagree.”

Agree to disagree, nothing! Not if we’re no better than Bull Connor with his fire hoses and attack dogs! Are you kidding me?

But before we go pinning a medal on Griffith for being able to say he never “drank from the white water fountain” of bigotry and oppression, remind me again what exactly he’s done that’s so heroic? Preached a sermon? 

Big deal!

Meanwhile, he continues to give his money—and his church’s money—to support an institution that practices widespread discrimination, which causes such harm, as he insinuated earlier in his sermon, that kids are committing suicide because of it. He continues to refuse to perform LGBT weddings. He continues to support a system in which “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are unable to get ordained.

Honestly, while we’re on the subject, did he not read MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”? All those white clergymen to whom King addressed his letter—some of them southern Methodist bishops—already opposed racial discrimination. That wasn’t the issue. The issue for King was that the time for passively waiting for change was over: it was time for action!

But no, says Griffith, we will continue to support our Discipline. We will continue to “agree to disagree” because this is, after all, a non-essential of our faith.

Good heavens, man! Don’t you see you’re still drinking from the white water fountain, whether you admit it or not?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m happy that he continues to do so. But just how strongly does this affirming pastor believe what he affirms?

Is the Church wrong?

May 19, 2014

Owen Strachan and Andrew Walker don’t waste a single sentence in this excellent First Things piece, “The Church Is Wrong,” an assessment of gay Christian advocate Matthew Vines’s new book. 

Vines’s argument is nothing new. In fact, I’d say it’s the most popular one, especially among my many United Methodist colleagues working to change our church’s traditional stance on sexuality. When Paul and the other biblical authors (not to mention every Christian thinker who lived prior to around 1970) condemn homosexual practice, they couldn’t have imagined two men, or two women, in a consensual, monogamous lifelong partnership (a blindly optimistic goal of today’s Christian revisionists, given how seldom gay men practice monogamy, even in “marriage”). These authors weren’t condemning homosexual practice, per se, only the non-consensual, idolatrous, and pederastic forms of it.

As you probably know, I’ve argued at length on this blog against this stance.

A few times I’ve asked revisionist clergy colleagues this question: Could the Bible say anything to make you change your mind about your understanding of homosexual behavior?

I guess they think I’m being a smart-alec, but I’m not. If the answer is no, then let’s not bother arguing scripture at all. Right? There’s no sense telling me that the story of Sodom and Gomorrah has nothing to do with homosexual behavior, that Leviticus equates homosexual practice with eating shellfish, or that Paul was only talking about pederasty, temple prostitution, and sex slaves in Romans 1:26-27. Appeals to scripture are irrelevant if the biblical writers couldn’t have imagined homosexuality as we know it today. The Bible is always ever silent on the issue: because no matter what the Bible says, it’s talking about something else entirely, not what we understand as homosexual practice today.

Do you see the problem?

Suppose the Holy Spirit intended to inspire the biblical authors to make clear that homosexual practice was sinful—which seemed sufficiently clear to the Church for nearly two millennia. How could he have done it, except using these words that we find in the Bible?

If the revisionists were right, however, then I’d worry about trusting the Bible at all: it is, after all, a very obscure book whose ancient words rarely mean what they seem to mean. Why take for granted that we understand the meaning of  “love,” “grace,” “forgiveness,” and all those other words and concepts that we happen to like? Does anyone apply the same exegetical scrutiny to them?

Regardless, here’s much of Strachan and Walker’s post:

Let us be clear, according to Vines, the tradition and reliability of the Church’s teaching throughout the ages on sexuality are both wrong. Not only are the Scriptures and the historic interpretation wrong, they are both active purveyors of injustice meted out towards homosexuals.

As one of us wrote in our review of Vines’s book,

It’s rather appalling that Vines’ organization is called “The Reformation Project,” a title synonymous with the movement of Martin Luther, because there’s a simple, yet glaring error in how he understands the reference to “Reformation.” Luther never believed the church had been in error from its beginning. He wasn’t calling for the rejection of long-held beliefs; instead, Luther was reaffirming the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints.”

Vines, in contrast, is calling for Revolution, the type consistent with the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Vines believes the church has been wrong for 2,000 years. The early Church Fathers—wrong. Augustine—wrong. The Roman Catholic Church—wrong. Luther, Calvin—all wrong. But I wonder if Vines is willing to accept the alternative—that he’s wrong?

We ask because if Matthew Vines is correct, Jesus is wrong, because Jesus—the Incarnate and Risen Lord—is not aware of his own patriarchal biases in Matthew 19:4-6. One would think that a member of the Trinity who saved sinful humanity would possess sufficient foresight and divine wisdom, but apparently not.

It is a key plank in Vinesian exegesis that the writers of the New Testament lacked a modern comprehension of individuals with a same-sex orientation. But this approach to interpretation defies how the Scripture understands itself and distorts any credible doctrine of inspiration. If the Church—a pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Tim: 3:15)—has been wrong on homosexuality, what else has she been wrong on?…

Yet it is not the theology of the progressive Millennial Protestants that most take our breath away. It is the hubris. Matthew Vines, a young twenty-something with no formal theological training, believes with all starry-eyed optimism that he has the authority to correct the apostle Paul in his doctrinal particulars…

Put it this way: If we’re faced with a choice between a precocious twenty-something with lots of neat new ideas about sexuality and gender untested by the scholarly community on the one hand, and an apostle gored by a Roman sword because the Holy Spirit spoke through him in tones ancient authorities considered hostile to imperial rule on the other, we’re banking on the latter.