Gospel This and Gospel That: Reflections on the Evangelical Response to Ferguson

Empathy Matters More Than Ethnicity

Years ago my mother took a short-term missions trip to a predominantly black town in South Carolina. She had the great privilege of leading a little girl to Christ. Upon conversion, the little girl had many questions. One of those questions was, “Will we all be white in heaven?”

My heart breaks for that little girl. Years later, I still cry when I think about that question. My mother did her best to explain to this little girl that she was beautiful the way God created her. She told the little girl that God loved her regardless of her skin color, and that when others did not love her, they were doing wrong in God’s sight. But this little girl knew her own background far better than my mother, and this little girl knew that the lives of those at this “rich white church” seemed somehow superior to her own. She did not want to be black anymore. That tears me apart.

Now allow me to tell you an unrelated story. One night I was driving my car on a busy road in my hometown. A police cruiser came up behind me and turned his light bar on. I pulled into the closest parking lot I could find, parked, and turned my car off. After running through the usual questions posed by police officers, I was asked to get out of my car. I obeyed. I was asked if I had any weapons. I answered. I was instructed to remove my jacket and place my hands on my car. I obliged. By this time, three other police cars had pulled into the parking lot with their lights on. I was frisked. My car was searched. The process took about 45 minutes. Did I mention this was in a parking lot on the side of a busy road? Many of my friends saw me that night. They probably assumed the best. Many who were not my friends saw me that night as well. They probably assumed the worst.

Since I was never an alcohol or a drug user, and since I did not even own any weapons that I would have had on my person or in my car, the lengthy search turned up nothing. A few of the police cars turned off their lights and pulled away. My wallet was finally returned to me. I received a ticket for tint on my rear quarter windows that was too dark. It was an honest mistake on my part. The officer told me that if I peeled the tint off and went to court, I could probably get out of the ticket, although he could not promise me anything. I did as he said and the ticket was dropped.

Now, I will freely admit that I do not know all of the laws and police procedures that are relevant to my story. I will say that, intuitively, things did not feel exactly right that night. Understand, I am not accusing anyone of breaking any laws or procedures, and I am not complaining about the police officers carrying out their jobs. I have every bit of confidence that they did everything exactly as it should have been done that night. I have every bit of confidence that, in the flesh, I did not particularly like what they did that night. But that does not make any of it wrong. That just makes me someone who had to live with the undesirable consequences of being ignorant of the law.

There have been other instances of me getting in “trouble” with the law when I was not really in trouble at all. One night I was pulled over and my car and its passengers checked for absolutely no reason at all. No ticket, no explanation, just curiosity on the part of the officer. Another night I was pulled over and ticketed for having a tail light out. One big problem. I asked the officer to show me which one he was referring to. When I stepped out of the car, he could not show me where any of my lights were out. I was ticketed anyway and had to appear in court, though the ticket was dropped. And perhaps my favorite story involves being frisked against a palm tree by a police officer who was not in uniform. The officer was upset that I was walking off when he rode by on a golf cart. There were no charges or tickets and I had done nothing wrong, but I did catch a glimpse of a red-faced officer.

Whenever I think back on these experiences, I sort of chuckle. They are funny stories. Especially to the people who know me on a personal level. While I was definitely nervous when these events happened, and while I had qualms with the way some things were handled, and while I felt somewhat violated in a very small way, I can look back on these experiences as a set of amusing stories. But part of the reason I can tell these stories is that there is one thing with which I have never associated them. I have never, ever associated the events described in these stories with my skin color. The thought has never once crossed my mind.

But my skin is not black. If it were, would I have associated the events I described above with my skin color? Perhaps. Perhaps not. But what I can tell you is that I believe that little girl in South Carolina. She had no political motivations when she asked my mother that question. She had no one telling her what to say when she genuinely expressed her very real feelings. She hated being black, and she thought she had good reasons for it. I do not think she was just making stuff up. I believe that little girl. And that bothers me a great deal.

I do not know what it is like to grow up in the United States of America as a black male. I am thankful for close friends who do know what it is like. I am thankful for those who want to open the lines of communication so that more people have at least some sort of understanding of what it is like. But I am afraid that much of the commentary on Ferguson is having the opposite effect.

Will you allow me to explain?

Truth Matters More Than Ethnicity

As an apologist, I care deeply about truth. And as someone who is in the ministry, I am learning how important it is to present the truth in love. I value facts, and I value sensitivity in handling them. Virtually everything I do depends on it. That having been said, I am deeply disturbed by some of the responses to Ferguson from the evangelical world.

For example, there have been a number of comments that imply we should not believe that actions have consequences. I understand people hurt. I understand that people give smug responses. However, if someone told me that the reason my grandfather died was because he drank and smoked too much, I would heartily agree. And even if I did not agree, and even if that someone stated his or her words in an insensitive and unloving way, nothing could change the truth of what that person had just said. Alcoholism and smoking often lead to death. Truth does not change based on our feelings about it, and it is especially important to know and tell the truth, even when it hurts. Sometimes especially then. I understand the need for tact, the need for compassion, and the need for sensitivity. But it is crucial to understand that being gracious and loving is not the same thing as postmodern emotionalism. It is neither ungracious nor unloving to point out actions have consequences. Sometimes it is ungracious and unloving not to! I have seen people being called out because they mention that reaching for a police officer’s weapon has serious consequences. But that statement is absolutely true. It is neither unloving nor ungracious to state it.

Which brings me to the next point that facts really do matter. I have read, again and again, that even this statement apparently reveals how very white I am since, in general, blacks are not as interested in the facts of the Ferguson case as they are in understanding those facts against a background of racial profiling. Or so people have said. But facts matter with respect to racial profiling too, do they not? You can call it cold and calloused if you want, but if reasons, evidence, facts and the like are sacrificed at the altar of emotion, then we will never progress toward any peace. God gifted us with both intellects and emotions, and they must both be used in truthful tandem for the glory of God.

It does not help to point out that people view facts through different presuppositions. While there is nothing wrong with that statement in and of itself, and while the statement is most certainly true, only one set of presuppositions can be correct. We do not view the world in terms of our little ethnically defined fish bowls without reference to an objective reality. That sort of thing is postmodernism, and it constitutes a false and harmful approach to any topic.

If we care more about issues of ethnicity more than issues of truth, then we lose the only thing we had going for us in speaking to issues of ethnicity.

Words Matter More Than Ethnicity

While we are on the topic of truth, reality, and facts, it should be noted that caring about facts, asking about facts, and using facts to build an argument for one’s position is not indicative of the ‘side’ a person is taking in the Ferguson discussion. When people are visibly angry at the suggestion that we ‘look at the facts,’ or that the ‘grand jury looked at the facts,’ or that there actually is a reasonable, rather than purely emotional approach to the questions before us, there is at least one major problem. That problem is that communication has not been encouraged at all, but rather discouraged in the strongest sense. An unwillingness to reason shows an unwillingness to discourse concerning such important topics as surround Ferguson.

Some have claimed that in even asking how Ferguson is a race issue, people unknowingly answer their own question. Huh? I freely admit that I am not the sharpest guy, and I am generally light years behind on most social issues in the media, but the statement above not only fails to make sense to me, it fails to open the lines of communication regarding Ferguson, and instead closes them. The statement also raises suspicions, right or wrong, that there may not really be a good answer as to how Ferguson is a race issue.

Finally, I am extremely disappointed in the type of rhetoric and name calling used by those I would consider otherwise godly and respectable people. When blog posts start out bemoaning the ignorance, naivete, prejudice, hatred, and racism of white people in general, there’s a serious problem. Yet, those who have been calling for empathy have consistently called others “naive,” “ignorant,” “racist,” and the like. How is that helpful? I do not care how much a person believes he or she is just misunderstood, it gives that person no place to insult the intelligence and moral character of those who are doing their best to try and make sense of a very difficult situation.

The Gospel Matters More Than Ethnicity

What relevant differences exist between Christian and non-Christian responses to Ferguson? Perhaps Christians are slower to riot (let the reader understand), but I have actually seen anger paraded and even encouraged. How does that sort of thing work the righteousness God requires of us?

Beware of making your commentary on Ferguson sound exactly like the world’s commentary on Ferguson. Christianity has a unique response. Merely citing your Christian faith, merely citing vague references to love or empathy or justice, merely citing your favorite Christian celebrities, or merely citing the gospel, but never actually explicitly stating or applying God’s Word or the gospel to Ferguson is akin to theological liberalism. You are pushing for some social cause under the banner of Christianity while substituting mere human opinion for the Word of God. That is so dangerous!

Those who have pointed out that sin is the root cause and problem in all of this mess are undoubtedly correct in their assessment. But what is the solution to sin? If the gospel is the only solution in Ferguson, then why isn’t anybody talking about it right now instead of just paying lip service? Again and again one sees so-called “Christian” responses to Ferguson, even “Gospel” responses to Ferguson, but more often than not they end up focusing almost exclusively on the issue of “race” just like the world does rather than coming out with the gospel. It is an unfortunate product of Neo-Calvinism, but not a sufficient response, to label one’s approach to something like Ferguson as a “gospel” approach without so much as setting forth even the framework of the gospel. If we are to speak of the gospel – the good news of Jesus Christ, his righteous life of obedience, his death, burial, and resurrection on a bloody cross to atone for our sins – then may we of all people be exceedingly clear about what the gospel actually is and how it applies to situations like Ferguson.

May we not only believe, but cherish the sweet truth that “as many [of us] as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” and “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for [we] are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:27-28 ESV) What should be most black and white in the Christian response to Ferguson is unity in the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I have not seen much of that.

 

An Open Letter to Dan Haseltine, Lead Singer of Jars of Clay, Concerning His Recent Comments Regarding the Nature of Scripture and “Homosexual Marriage” (UPDATED)

***UPDATE*** Dan has offered an extremely helpful post wherein he explains the background leading up to his questions. He also provides context and clarity for his recent tweets and offers an apology. Please read Dan’s post in full here – http://danhaseltine.com/blog/2014/4/25/reset-contexttangentapology.html and continue to pray for Dan as he wrestles with this topic.

Dear Mr. Haseltine,

First of all, I hope you will not mind if I refer to you in this letter as “Dan.” You may, of course, call me “Chris,” or virtually whatever else you would like to call me, for that matter.

Second, I need to let you know why I am writing this letter to you. Here’s why: on April 22 you wrote on your Twitter account, “Maybe the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ is a bad apple. Since it is a main cause for our hatred and toxicity towards others.”

Unless I am missing some context, or earlier discussion, you were, in your tweet, questioning our knowledge of good and evil upon the basis that our opinions about good and evil are a main cause of hatred toward others and what you call “toxicity.” I hope I have understood you correctly. I hope you will notice something about your statement. Your statement assumes that hatred toward others and toxicity is “bad” or “evil” or “wrong.” But that means you have knowledge of good and evil. The difficulty with your statement is that you want to reject knowledge of good and evil, while resting upon the necessary assumption of the knowledge of good and evil in order to suggest that it may be a “bad” thing. This is why I responded on the following day by tweeting, “Then why condemn hatred and toxicity? You’re refuting yourself. You are headed nowhere fast friend.” You see, Dan, if we somehow move “beyond” good and evil, then we have nothing left upon which to condemn things that really are wrong, like hatred toward others.

My tweet went on. I wrote, “Consider and repent.” And so, Dan, I called you to repentance. I did so out of love. You retweeted my plea to your 15.4k followers. Whether you did so because you were considering my statement, or whether you did so to mock me, I do not know. Generally any request for repentance on the part of a Christian today is frowned upon and mocked. After all, don’t calls for repentance typically come from crazy men on the street yammering and yelling about the end being near?

But I am not a crazy man on the street. (Or at least, I am not merely a crazy man on the street.) The Lord and the early church frequently called for repentance, because they happened to think repentance is a good thing, a necessary thing, and even a beautiful thing wrought by the Spirit of God in believers who realize that they truly are sinful and in need of the righteousness of Christ. I tend to agree with them. I repent of sins everyday. Whether or not you retweeted my comment to show your followers the supposed irrationality of your “opposition,” I do not know. What I do know is that my plea was not intended for your harm, but for your good. Perhaps you know this. You not only took time to respond to me, but did so civilly. For that I am thankful.

Please allow me a moment to summarize the exchange we had through Twitter in order to refresh our memories and for the sake of others who may be reading this post.

Dan: “um. I’m willing to ask questions. I’m also not afraid to be wrong. not sure what u are getting at? Repent for asking questions?”

Me: “Hatred of humans ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ is wrong. Much Christian commentary is too. But God’s Word is our only basis for love. The social questions need to be asked. My fear is that you have placed yourself ‘above’ the authority of God’s Word on this.”

Dan: “I am suspect of man’s interpretation and prioritizing of parts of God’s word. The living out of theological concepts is not easy.”

Me: “You should be, but text is determinative. And yes, sexuality is a tiny aspect of both our humanity and Scripture, but the things it states about both are good, beautiful, and true. We’re not defined as people by sexuality alone!”

Dan, question Christians and interpretations and society and the relationships between them, but never question the Word of God! When I write, “never question the Word of God,” I am not referring to some particular passage(s), or some particular interpretation of a passage. When I write about the Word of God, I am referring to the very nature of the Word of God. Do not question that. That is sin, it is defiance toward the God we love and serve, it is a rejection of the faith you have so boldly proclaimed for years, and it is something that will not help, but only harm you and others in the end. That is my main concern with all of the things you have written as of late. I am concerned about the direction you are headed in, and I am concerned about the negative impact it will have upon others.

When I look over your Twitter account, I see that you apparently took a trip to Australia over Easter. While returning to the states on April 21, you caught up on some movies. The most impressive of these movies was 12 Years a Slave. You tweeted, as far as I can tell, in response to the movie, “The treatment of people as less than human based on the color of skin is crazy… Or gender, or sexual orientation for that matter.” With this much I am, of course, in full agreement. The Word of God teaches that we are created in the image of God. Treating one another as less than human is sinful, regardless of what supposed basis a person offers for doing so. Skin color, gender, and sexual orientation alone do not define a person. More importantly, every person is created in the image of God, a central tenet of the Christian faith.

So far, so good, but then you go on to write, “Not meaning to stir things up BUT… Is there a non-speculative or non ‘slippery slope’ reason why gays shouldn’t marry? I don’t hear one.” Coming from you, this is a rather shocking question. After all, you are a representative of Christ, and a public and influential one at that. Should I not expect you to have at least some familiarity with the Word of God? I don’t mean to be rude. But have you not heard the Word of God on the matter of marriage?

For example, Jesus Christ, the one with whom you have identified for years in your music, answers, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6) Jesus is quoting from Genesis 2.24.

The Apostle Paul quotes from the same passage and adds, “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32)

Surely you would concede that Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul ground marriage in creation and the gospel itself? Husband and wife are an illustration of Christ and the Church. Marriage is a shadow of the reality to come. The reality to come is Christ united with His bride the Church for eternity. This is one of the reasons why people will not be married in heaven, because marriage is merely a shadow of the greater reality realized in the consummate state. (Matthew 22.30)

Now, some people might want to respond, “That’s your interpretation.” No, I merely quoted the passages above. Moreover, texts are determinative. Words have actual meaning. So there is such a thing as a right and a wrong interpretation of a text. Otherwise, communication itself is impossible.

If the passages of Scripture about marriage quoted above were not enough, homosexuality is explicitly condemned in Scripture as sin as well. For example, Paul writes of how God gave people up “to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27) Elsewhere, Paul writes, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

The Word of God is not speculative. The Word of God does not give way to a slippery slope. Homosexuality is, according to the Word of God, at least three things. Homosexuality is sin against God. Homosexuality is sin against nature. Homosexuality is sin against the divine institution of marriage. That should be sufficient reason for gays not to marry.

Unless something has changed, you attend Saint John’s Anglican Church in Franklin, Tennessee. Dan, have you considered what your church says about these issues?

Anglican theology is summarized in The 39 Articles of Religion. Your church subscribes to the 39 articles. They are posted right there on the church website under “What We Believe.” According to the 39 articles, “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary for salvation.” What is holy scripture? “By holy scripture is meant those canonical books of the Old and New Testaments whose authority has never been doubted within the church.” (Article 6) Your church accepts creeds “for they may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture.” These creeds “ought to be wholeheartedly accepted and believed. This is because their contents may be proved by definite statements of holy Scripture.” (Article 8) Additionally, “it is not lawful for the church to order anything contrary to God’s written Word.” The articles continue, “Nor may it expound one passage of Scripture so that it contradicts another passage. So, although the church is a witness and guardian to holy Scripture, it must not decree anything contrary to Scripture, nor is it to enforce belief in anything additional to Scripture as essential to salvation.” (Article 20) Finally, regarding councils, “things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.”

Your church has something of a high view of Scripture. According to the beliefs of your church, Scripture is necessary for salvation. Scripture is authoritative. Scripture is capable of providing proof. Scripture contains definite statements. Scripture should not be contradicted by the church. Scripture is not contradicted by itself. Scripture is sufficient. Dan, do you share these convictions? Do you agree with the stated beliefs of your church?

Saint John’s is currently in the process of joining the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA. What does ACNA state about Scripture? As an essential element for membership in ACNA, “We confess the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments to be the inspired Word of God, containing all things necessary for salvation, and to be the final authority and unchangeable standard for Christian faith and life.”

ACNA also embraces The Jerusalem Declaration. The Jerusalem Declaration states, “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God written and to contain all things necessary for salvation. The Bible is to be translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed in its plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church’s historic and consensual reading.”

Finally, the declaration states, “We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.”

Dan, have you sought to maintain the aforementioned view of Scripture and its standard for Christian marriage and sexual intimacy and the family? Or are you now seeking to abandon that standard through skeptical questioning of God’s Word? I should warn you that the latter is a swift path to destruction. I fear you are on it. Please reconsider your statements below.

“Okay! Back online… Interesting responses. re: gay marriage. Never liked the phrase: ‘Scripture clearly says…(blank) about…’”

Dan, I hope you can see that what you have written is not some innocent question. It’s a statement. And it’s not a good statement.

This is not a discussion about your likes and dislikes. We are not talking about flavors of ice cream. We are talking about the very nature of the Word of God, whether or not we can understand it, and whether or not sexual ethics actually matter. We are talking about people’s lives. Is what you like or don’t like really relevant? I don’t think so, and you should not either.

What matters – what really matters – is whether or not Scripture is clear. You claim – against the Word of God and your community of faith – that Scripture is not clear. (2 Timothy 3.16-17) And yet you expect to be able to communicate with others.

Can you see what you’ve done? For some reason, you believe yourself and others capable of clearer expression than God. We can speak clearly but God can’t? That’s not humility! If anything, that’s arrogance. We should be more sure of God, and less sure of ourselves. Do you believe Scripture clearly says anything about whether or not you can be saved?

“Because most people read and interpret scripture wrong. I don’t think scripture ‘clearly’ states much of anything regarding morality.”

It is inconsistent of you to state, on the one hand, that “most people read and interpret scripture wrong,” and on the other hand to claim, “I don’t think scripture ‘clearly’ states much of anything regarding morality.” If Scripture is not clear enough to interpret, then you have no place to tell other people that their interpretations are wrong. Your claim that Scripture does not clearly state “much of anything regarding morality” is admittedly…difficult for me to read and take seriously. Are you actually in God’s Word? Have you really been reading it? Can you, for example, keep a straight face and tell me that the following passage is not clear?

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)

If you want to believe that a person’s interpretation of Scripture is wrong, then by all means, do so. I would be more than happy to discuss the interpretation of Scripture with you. But please don’t waste your time on the crazy idea that Scripture is unclear, or that there is no one right interpretation of a text.

“I don’t particularly care about Scriptures stance on what is ‘wrong.’ I care more about how it says we should treat people.”

Again, this discussion is not about your likes and dislikes, but your lack of care about what God says is wrong is extremely disturbing. If God is not the standard of what is right and wrong, then who is? Dan Haseltine? And why should anyone listen to him?

Your statement assumes that there is a way we should treat people. That means that there is also a way we should not treat people. That is, some ways we treat people are wrong. But you have already stated that you do not care about the stance of Scripture on what is wrong. You seem to be quite thoroughly confused.

“tweeting scripture verses to settle my questions of gay marriage isn’t helpful. Simple answers to complex questions= meh.”

So far I have replied to your statements, which are certainly not questions. You need to be honest with yourself Dan. You are not merely questioning. You have an ax to grind against those who believe, upon the basis of Scripture, that “homosexual marriage” is wrong.

On the one hand, you claim Scripture is not clear, and on the other, you call it “simple.” On the one hand, you claim you do not want simple answers to complex questions, and on the other, you ask your “complex” questions (with all due respect, they are not so complicated) on Twitter. C’mon Dan!

There’s no such thing as “homosexual marriage.” A principle purpose for marriage (read: not the only purpose) is the propagation of the human race through the bearing of children. That idea is found in Genesis. Can you really bring yourself to believe that a child who grows up in a “home” with two same sex parents is in an equal position to a child who grows up in a traditional, but much more importantly, biblical family? How do the imperatives of Ephesians 6 apply? Can you really imagine a scenario in which the church will not be forced, even against its conscience, consent, and will to perform marriage ceremonies for homosexual couples?

Perhaps I just employed what you mean by a slippery slope argument. But Dan, as soon as you crack open the biblical definition of marriage, you have no recourse to any principle which might prevent the aforementioned slippery slope. This is why polygamy and bestiality, as I am sure you have heard argued, will likely follow fast on the heels of “homosexual marriage.” The arguments that apply to the advocacy of “homosexual marriage” apply equally as well to polygamy, and in some cases, bestiality. That argument is not a fallacious form of the slippery slope. It is a valid argument, and in some instances a reduction to the absurd.

I would love to chat about the way Christians have treated not only the topic of homosexuality, but homosexuals. That’s a discussion that we, as Christians, need to have. I plan to write on it in the near future. You might find that we agree on much. But this post concerns what appears to me to be an open rejection of the Word of God itself. I am not referring to particular interpretations of particular passages of Scripture. I am referring to the dismissive comments you made regarding the very words of our God. Those words are perfect and very precious to me, for they contain the words of life, hope of eternal life in Jesus Christ who was crucified, buried, and raised again for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.

Dan, in light of what I have written, will you please reconsider your recent comments, and repent for turning against God through rejection of His Word?

Grace,

C.L. Bolt