The Women of Bethel Music

In the past several weeks I have found myself listening to a myriad of worship songs. In the process, those that have been most meaningful (life-changing actually) have come from Bethel Music.

And of those, interestingly enough, nearly all were songs with —as the movie industry likes to say — strong female roles. That is, the lead vocalist and worship leader was a woman.

Now I am in many ways rather orthodox in my view of men and women compared to what passes as modern views on gender roles. Put simply, I believe men and women are different, and they are created different. And that difference is, for lack of better words, by design and beautiful.

But I also believe women were created to lead. They simply lead differently. That is, when they enter the world of society (be it corporate America, church or otherwise), they do not lose their uniqueness.

By saying this of course I have touched upon the primal fear of our modern culture. We are really afraid if we recognize any differences between men and women, it will be used by men as basis for oppressing women. And so what we find is a desperation to claim, and portray, women to be just like men, and men just like women.

But uniqueness does not mean oppression. I hope we can slow down our modern brains long enough to recognize this. That is to say, women were not uniquely created by God to be oppressed, nor were they created to be men; they were uniquely created by God to be the full and complete expression of who they are.

I mention all this because in the modern climate of debate over women leadership, what has arisen within the revival church culture especially in the area of worship is a strong presence of women leading with the full expression of who they are. And to be honest, I am not sure any man could lead as they have led. And their contribution in this area has had a tremendous impact upon me personally in this season, so this is my tribute.

The Women of Bethel Music

I think of Gretzinger
Carrying the presence more than anyone can handle
Lit up like a Roman candle
Reckless as the love of God
Tearing God knows what darkened worlds apart
to take us deep into the Father’s heart

Or Helser, declaring a child of God
Am I: No longer slaves,
With an audacity — like Cooke — with David to go
Out beyond the shores into the tossing waves

Or Dimarco, who can tell
us there is a love hidden deep inside waiting
to be set free, a hope realized
And through it all to trust and let go
for they still know His name: The wind and waves
And no matter what my present situation: It is well.

And then there is Walker-Smith who reminds
Me how jealous God is for me:
His love like a hurricane, and all my regrets a tree
Which loomed so large but suddenly finds
No more root, cast into a drowning sea.

And McMillan — who among this lineup should
be included — who says You are good, good, good
Like a steady battering ram unending
Reminding us that when the night is holding on,
God is holding on harder still: All my fears rescinding

And Jobe, and Heiligenthal, and so, so many more,
Not least of which Johnson, who from the beginning
Her voice piercing the darkness like a punch to the gut
and for at least ten thousand reasons more —

I thank you. For through it all,
With uncompromising violent voice and song,
You have led us, led us, led us all:
Led us all along.


Photo by Courtney Clayton on Unsplash

 

The Christian Mind: Feminism

A little over a year ago, self-described feminist Samantha Johnson penned an editorial for the Huffington Post titled When I Became A Mother, Feminism Let Me Down. In it, she writes:

We are teaching our young people that there is no value in motherhood and that homemaking is an outdated, misogynistic concept. We do this through the promotion of professional progression as a marker of success, while completely devaluing the contribution of parents in the home. 

As we turn to discuss how Christianity fits with the modern idea of feminism — arguably a topic that covers a lot of territory — I wish to zero in on those three words I have bolded above for emphasis, for the purpose of this essay. Continue reading “The Christian Mind: Feminism”

The Christian Mind: Marriage

On February 15, 2017 a remarkable thing happened. Pastor of St Mary’s Church, Maidenhead, UK Sam Allberry addressed the Church of England General Synod in London. The General Synod is the governing body of the Church of England, and the topic of same-sex relationships was on the agenda.

Allberry’s remarks on that day were brief but compelling as he challenged the assembly to uphold Christianity’s traditional teaching on marriage. What is even more astounding, however, is that Allberry, by his own admission, has been same-sex attracted his entire life.

The remarkable thing here is not simply that Allberry stood up for traditional marriage at a time when it is unpopular to do so. More importantly, Allberry gave voice to those within the church who are same-sex attracted at a time when it is also unpopular to do so. No matter what your views on marriage, such courage is admirable.

Today what I would like to do is to approach the arguably delicate topic of Christianity’s position on homosexuality and marriage in light of Allberry’s story. We set out in this series to tackle some of the hardest questions that face Christianity, and this topic certainly qualifies. Increasingly, same-sex marriage has become a stumbling block for many both inside and outside the church, as they wrestle with the question how a faith that allegedly condemns and excludes a whole group of people can possibly be called good. So it is vital we address this topic.

It is also vital for those who are same-sex attracted. For without a clear understanding of how the Christian faith fits into the issue of homosexuality, the church will by default fail to address the needs of these individuals.

Does Christianity Exclude?

If there is an elephant in the living room, I generally prefer to point it out up front. The elephant in this discussion is the fact that those who support same-sex marriage and those who hold to orthodox Christian beliefs will ultimately disagree when it comes to human sexuality.

But as Allberry demonstrates, there is a big difference between saying Christianity and same-sex marriage advocates disagree and Christianity excludes. In truth, the supporter of same-sex marriage will exclude Christianity just as much as Christianity will exclude the supporter of same-sex marriage. They will condemn one another — or at least have opportunity to — equally. And unfortunately we see this happening today.

The reason this is happening at all, however, is a failure on both sides to embrace differences in a tolerant, pluralistic society. We spent time last essay discussing the Christian roots of our modern-day concept of tolerance. The basis of tolerance is the belief in the worth and dignity of every individual, despite their beliefs or practices. The same holds true with those who support and practice same-sex marriage.

Does Christianity Condemn?

Someone might say at this point, “But Christianity’s belief on homosexuality is more than just a difference of belief. It actually condemns homosexuals.” This is categorically not true. Scripture does not condemn people; it condemns practice. Which is the same as saying it affirms the sacredness of marriage and Christianity’s doctrine concerning  human sexuality.

At some point in the debate over homosexuality, however, practice became identity (we shall discuss this below). On this basis alone can the claim be made that Christianity condemns people. But the idea that we are what we practice is a concept wholly foreign to Christian thought.

The truth is, before God we are all condemnable based on our moral condition. This is why Jesus came to die on a Cross, so that we might be forgiven and no longer be held accountable for our sin. And in Christ (that is, by receiving Jesus) we are all forgiven.

Is Christianity against Same-Sex Marriage?

Not necessarily. We mentioned that Christianity is the foundation for our modern-day idea of tolerance. Thus, from a Christian perspective, tolerance toward those who practice same-sex marriage is not excluded. This is no different from Christianity allowing Muslims or Hindus to practice their own beliefs in society. Christianity does not agree with the claims and practices of these religions, but it does not seek to prohibit.

Granted, we rarely saw this side of Christianity in the recent debate over same-sex marriage. The reason, however, is because — intentionally or unintentionally — same-sex marriage advocates, in their effort to extended the same status to same-sex couples, sought to redefine marriage itself — an institution with deep theological implications for many people. Most supporters seemed more interested in condemning Christian belief than actually making a distinction between the theological and legal definition of marriage.

Is Same-Sex Marriage Sacred?

This may seem like a strange question, but this is why I ask: Imagine a practicing Muslim baker being forced to bake a cake that says “Allah was not a prophet of God.” Most would agree this would understandably be a violation of conscience for them to do so, and very few would argue the Muslim must be compelled to do it anyway. In other words, we typically hold sacred the right of every individual to practice their religious beliefs according to the dictates of their own conscience.

But if a right-wing extremist seeks to endanger lives according to the dictates of their own ideology, we do not. The reason is that the protection of life is sacred — more sacred than the right to religious freedom.

This is why I ask whether we believe same-sex marriage is sacred. For this, as far as I see, is the only justification for not only violating but also condemning the beliefs of all religious faiths holding to a traditional view of marriage. It is the only basis by which a judge can rule in favor of a same-sex couple to sue a Christian baker for not making a cake for their wedding.

For if the issue was simply about the sacred right of same-sex couples to marry, it would be no different than granting people the right not to believe in Allah. They would have that right, but it would not extend to violate the religious rights of others.

Clearly, then, we think same-sex marriage is not just a right but a sacred institution: For anyone who violates that right — does not believe it is and wishes to voice or practice such belief —is condemnable. And in a way, this is the real allegation leveled against Christianity.

And now we must ask the most important question of this essay: Why do we feel same-sex marriage sacred?

Most people support same-sex marriage out of compassion. They think (or, rather, have been told to think) having different beliefs about marriage is hateful toward same-sex couples. Compassion is arguably sacred. That is, it is a virtue that most recognize is universal. But compassion is somewhat misplaced in this discussion. We are not asking whether we should be compassionate to all people: We are asking what we believe marriage fundamentally is.

Others support same-sex marriage because they feel two consenting adults should have a right to do what they want. This is the principle of tolerance, which we have already discussed and is regarded as sacred in our society, also. But tolerance is equally misplaced in this discussion. The question again is not whether two consenting adults should be able to do what they want, but what we believe marriage fundamentally is.

I am driving home this point because if we are to properly address the allegation that Christianity is evil for its definition of marriage, we must know what the correct definition of marriage is. To determine this, we must have a basis for such knowledge beyond mere emotion and irrationality. Hopefully this is not asking too much.

Enter Allberry

Allberry’s answer to the question of how we define marriage is quite simple. To his colleagues at the Synod, he said: “I was bullied as a child for having same-sex attraction. But now I feel I am being bullied in the Synod for being faithful to the teachings of Jesus on marriage.” By this statement, he draws out an extremely important point in our discussion: Our definition of marriage will always be defined by what we hold sacred.

Most supporters of same-sex marriage, if pressed, will point to the fact that same-sex attraction is not a choice as their reason for supporting same-sex marriage. Allberry rejects this for a remarkably simple reason: What we feel and what we are attracted to are not necessarily reliable indicators for what is ultimately virtuous and good.

Allberry elaborates:

The Bible says that as sinners all our desires are disordered, so it’s actually the case that all of us are fallen and broken in our sexuality. For most, that fallenness will be manifest in an opposite-sex direction; for me (and not a few other believers), it is seen in same-sex attraction.

What Allberry is doing here is not only fundamentally Scriptural but also sheds light on an implicit argument same-sex advocates are making: That our natural impulses and desires equal the good. That is, human virtue — whether related to sexuality or any other area of life —  is defined by what comes naturally to us. In other words, what we both feel and desire is sacred.

But from a rational standpoint, there are a few things problematic with such an idea. The first is that this idea does not seem to apply to other areas of our life. For example, if you find yourself sexually attracted to someone’s wife, does that make it good?

The second thing is that it fundamentally confuses what is with what should be. We have spent a good deal of time discussing moral values in this series. The conclusion we have drawn is that morality requires a Moral Authority outside ourselves dictating what is right and wrong; it is the very opposite of what we may desire.

Lastly, attaching moral virtue to our natural desires has the effect of making virtue itself non-transcendent. That is, morality and virtue simply become a byproduct of how we feel and what we want, not a thing to which we strive or are destined to become.

This last idea is wholly foreign to Christian thought. As Allberry points out, the foundation of Christianity is that by God’s mercy and great love, we are being restored to the standard of moral perfection. In fact, the only prerequisite is to admit our brokenness. To assert instead that what we feel and what we desire as sacred is to essentially reject God’s gift of redemption.

Conclusion

In summary, Christianity does not exclude or condemn. It simply holds to a standard of human sexuality that current modern thought rejects. What we are witnessing in our day is not the sudden realization that Christianity is not good. Rather, we are witnessing a move in modern society to redefine what good is, and in the process condemn those who disagree. And this New Morality is — at best — on a shaky footing.

Granted, the moment we reject the idea of tolerance and mutual respect for differences of belief in a pluralistic society and seek instead to make the human condition the mandated standard for human virtue, a transcendent morality like Christianity is bound to fall into disrepute. But such virtue hardly has moral force; taken to its logical conclusion, it is no different from lawlessness.

Lastly, I should point out my defense of Christianity here should not be construed necessarily as a defense of the modern Christian church as it pertains to the the homosexual community or those with same-sex attraction. As Allberry alludes to, we have much progress to be made to make those with same-sex attraction feel as God feels toward them and see themselves in our congregation as God sees them: Infinitely loved, deeply valued, no different from the rest of us except in particulars, and vital to the overall health and well-being of the body of Christ. In short, they are not only welcome but irreplaceable.


Photo by Anita Jankovic on Unsplash

The Christian Mind: Tolerance

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. (Declaration of Independence)

We’ve spent time exploring the concept of moral values. What I would like to do now is discuss Christian moral values specifically. In particular I would like to ask whether Christianity  — traditionally understood — is intolerant. Continue reading “The Christian Mind: Tolerance”

The Christian Mind: Narrative

We’ve spent time in our past few essays laying a proper foundation to discuss Christian morality. Bottom line, any moral claim is an appeal to an authority beyond ourselves. By saying something is either right or wrong, we are claiming there is an ultimate standard by which human conduct is judged — what we called in our last post a Moral Authority.

In other words, you can say you do not like or prefer someone or something. But the moment you declare someone or something wrong or evil or unjust, you are imagining a standard beyond yourself. Continue reading “The Christian Mind: Narrative”