Top Ten Most Read Posts In 2021
Hey friends, thanks for reading this year. I love writing, and writing to you, and I appreciate your support. This has been a blessed year for me, not least of which because I got an opportunity to write a book. I would love it if you preordered before its May 31, 2022 release date. You can do so here. In the meantime, here are the top ten most-read posts of this year.
So when Christians speak against Christian Nationalism, they do so because of the presence of Christ in their life. They do so from a position of authority because of their faithfulness. Faithful believers losing faith because of evil actions is heartbreaking. And when Jesus hears of this, he reserves his harshest words:
Occasions for stumbling are bound to come, but woe to anyone by whom they come! It would be better for you if a millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea than for you to cause one of these little ones to stumble.—Luke 17:1-2
The inerrantist view makes the Bible into an easily refutable document. And it makes our faith very fragile too, like a house of cards, ready to topple when one card is loose. That approach causes us to miss the beauty and the meaning of the Bible. And it is evidently not the view of the Bible writers, or even Paul or Jesus. Both Jesus and Paul look back at the texts they find sacred and assign new meaning (sometimes rather haphazardly) to them. This shows us a flexibility that we have with the Bible, and bringing it to our present context without fear.
I admit I suffer some cynicism and despair at wondering whether my elders can change, whether they were mentors, my parents, or even celebrities like Dave Chappelle. I long for the example of someone who learned to grow wiser, instead of turning into an old fool, as Chappelle has demonstrated. The man did say he would take a long break from comedy, and perhaps that break will be an opportunity for growth. I hope he returns as a wise man, one with the wit and cleverness that I saw in my youth, and not a bumbling idiot.
People want a metaphysical experience, because they are not materialist adherents. In fact, they reject any sort of doctrinaire control. They want authenticity, they want real community, they want lasting change for how our society is broken, hope beyond their circumstances, and materially for their lives to be better. These are the things that the church can offer, and if our churches do not offer them, your attenders may need to leave.
When I was younger, I made choices I regret today, especially with regarding inclusion of queer folk in Circle of Hope. I was held to account, in some sense, by my friends, by my colleagues, by the victims of my behavior, and I even got written up in a newspaper. As a result of this, people left our church, I lost friendships, and it significantly impacted my personal and professional life. At the time, I may have thought it was unfair, but in hindsight I believe it was a natural result of my actions and my defensiveness.
If I could go back and change my behavior I would. Since then, I have personally reconciled with the individuals I hurt and keep trying to now, and I have worked on making Circle of Hope a more inclusive space. At the time, I felt dogpiled on, but there was more to the story. When people are dogpiling, they are often doing so because of their own lack of power and lack of being understood, maybe also for attention, but I can acknowledge what I did elicited their reaction and move on from there. I can’t be condemned, so I’m free to repent. And I do think most people are ready to accept authentic apologies. But forgiveness will always be radical, but that it’s rare shouldn’t keep us from admitting when we’ve been wrong. We should be fostering a community that encourages growth and development, instead of defensiveness and reactivity.
At the end of the day, I got tired of defending myself, because it was easier to see the pain I had caused and address it. I was hurt too, but my pain doesn’t preclude my repentance. I wish I was more inclusive then, but I am glad people have stood aside me to be more inclusive now. Not everyone can walk beside me when I mess up, but I have people that do and I am grateful for them. We cannot burden everyone to have the power to demonstrate the grace that people did with me and with others that helped me grow. We can expect that our sin will hurt and send people away. That’s a consequence of our actions, that’s not condemnation or cancellation.
Consent and conversation are important containers for our sex, which leads me to consider that relationships are where sex belongs. Committed relationships offer us a, hopefully, safer container for sexual expression. Because marriage itself is so often damaging, abusive, and fraught—it is not good enough to say marriage is the right container for sex and move on. We actually need to discern what healthy sex and committed relationships look like in our context, for our community. We can’t sweep it under the rug, but rather, we should publicly talk about it. So, as a church, we should create safe places where people can talk about sex and our experience with it and determine the healthiest way our communities can approach it. Those safe places must include the lived experience of LGBTQIA folks, as well, since heteronormativity has dominated our understanding of sex, especially in Christian contexts.
The first thing to build then is trust and mutuality, and remove any notions of condemnation, which kill that trust and dialogue. Our dialogue is what holds us together. But we must divest from heteropatriarchy, which sadly, has been the strongest force in ordering our sexuality. Unless we do that, we lose the chance to truly live into the mystery and wonder of love and of sex. As we explore that together, we need to build a trust system. That’s a first step toward building a communal theology and ecclesiology of sex.
But when people of color share their experience of racism with you, it’s a gift, not an attack. When you are defensive, when you think you know better, when you think you’re right, you’re rejecting that gift. And you may never get that chance again. Speaking from my own experience, it is easier to cope and to accommodate than to advocate. I would rather settle for oppression on my own terms than have it rubbed in my face again.
So please, keep interrogating where racism and hatred is in your heart, in our consciousness, and in our world. Do not wait until it’s too late. Do not wait until the person of color quits your organization, leaves your church, or you lose intimacy with them. It is very hard to win that back. Start with the assumption that you are complicit in racism in everything you do—because racism touches everything we do—and then keep going toward wholeness. The journey is never over, for the white people or people of color. We will keep discovering new ways we’ve harmed others and been harmed. But as Christians, we can enter into that struggle fully because we are loved and known fully by God. We get to be our true selves by rejecting racism wherever we see it. Christians have a chance to develop a lens to see racism where it is hiding and be true advocates against it, because we relate to a God that rules with a different order.
It seems like Christianity in the United States is changing, and it seems like it is rejecting false prophets and witnesses in our faith. That is a good thing for the health of the church. The prophetic witness of oppressed Christians in the U.S. has shed light onto this evil that has invaded our churches, and people are fleeing. We are fortunate that they are fleeing to other churches. But I must remind all of us that individual liberty to leave racist nationalist churches is OK, but it’s not the best way to move forward. This migration appears to be incidental, but we must be intentional about changing our churches. People falling away from the false witness of white Evangelicals are lucky to find other places for faith.
The writer of 1 John is battling a similar problem. They have people with dangerous theology in the communities he’s writing to. He writes this sentence, which I believe speaks to the current moment: “They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.”
What we’re seeing is not the white Christian nationalists leaving Evangelicalism, but rather the authentic Christians in those churches leaving them and hopefully finding new faith. That’s not good enough for the future, but it is a step in the right direction. We still need a prophetic witness to speak out against Christian Nationalism and those whose brand of political pluralism keeps us from speaking out. We still need brave pastors and leaders who name evil in our faith and our congregations. We need to know that it is OK to expel the wicked person, to treat them as a Gentile or a tax collector. And the fissures and damage that white Christian Nationalists have brought to the church is worthy of using the keys Christ has granted us to loose and to bind. For many churches, it is clear, who the wheat is and who the tares are, who the sheep are, and who the goat are. Addressing those folks and either converting them or letting them go is essential to creating churches that are safe for discipleship and growth. I want to do my part in creating those safe places as well.
If you are doubtful that your church, institution, or yourself has racism in it, then research the history of racism in the United States. See how it’s woven into the U.S. Constitution, see how white supremacy has woven itself into our churches (read Color of Compromise by Jemar Tisby). It is so clearly a part of everything in our society that if you aren’t actively fighting racism, you are going to be actively aiding it.
You cannot be nonviolent without being antiracist. You cannot love without being antiracist. And you can’t follow Jesus without being antiracist. When you feel the invariable discomfort of this work, take comfort in knowing that you are actually getting there. The pain of divesting from racism shouldn’t be glorified though. More pain doesn’t mean more success. So treat yourself with grace too, not so you can stop doing the work, but so you can continue to do it.
Jesus doesn’t minimize differences between enemies, he hyperbolizes them. Heschel called it “prophetic hyperbole.” Jesus exaggerates differences to make it clear that to side with him, means siding with the oppressed. He never disembodies or dematerializes differences for the sake of unity. Jesus turns “thought crimes,” such as anger, into material sins such as murder. He argues that lust is equivalent to adultery. He radically changes how we think, to transform us. Dematerializing and disembodying our politics to curb anxiety maintains the status quo and does nothing to transform our society or uproot racism. In fact, it maintains it.
Jesus knows the cost of following him. He asks his followers to give up everything to do so. That doesn’t just mean material possessions, but our homes, our fields, even our relationships with our families. The idea that relational love can overcome our differences is antithetical to the Gospel because Jesus expects that following him in the way and carrying our cross will collect us enemies, people who persecute us and divide us from our family. If we don’t face any resistance for the work we are doing, it is hardly going to be transformational. Rather, it will continue to make Christianity an irrelevant faith, at best, and one that is actively spreading white supremacy at worst.