Circle up, my friends, come on over here. I have a few thoughts on the story which broke this week involving Jen Hatmaker
If you don’t know what I’m talking about then thank the Lord, log off the Internet, and go enjoy your peace. If however, you did read her interview with Jonathan Merritt for Religion News Service or if you have witnessed subsequent reactions to one aspect of the interview, well, in no particular order and from my heart, here we go….
Jen is one of my best friends. Full stop. For three years now, she has been one of my most faithful, whole hearted, dearest friends in this world. I love her and whether it is in public or in private I will always have her back.
I love Jen and I trust her. She is also my beloved and faithful sister in Christ and, from my front row seat to her life, I trust Jesus at work in and through her. Period.
There is nothing she has said this week that is a surprise to those of us who know her and love her let alone to anyone who has followed her leadership over the past few years. After all, most Christians are wrestling with many intense issues of how to faithfully follow Jesus in our times particularly in respect to how we read scripture, how we interpret scripture, and then how we faithfully follow Jesus as a result, especially as it relates to those among us who are marginalized or oppressed or left out or despised. She is perhaps unique in that she is doing this in public.
Faithful disciples of Jesus who deeply value Scripture think very differently on the GLBTQ “issue.” Accusing someone who thinks differently than you of heresy or wishy-washy convictions or of “having a low view of Scripture” or hatred or bigotry etc. is unhelpful and divisive. We can disagree beautifully, I hope. Unity does not mean conformity. Besides, we don’t cast the deciding vote on who is in or out.
Also, we would do well to remember that this actually isn’t just “an issue” let alone something “outside” – this is us. GLBTQ disciples are among us – and always have been – as a faithful witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. They are the church just as much as the rest of us, each deeply beloved by God and by their community. There is no us-and-them here. Have care with and for one another.
When people we love or respect shift in their theological beliefs, rather than jumping to judgment or to finger pointing, seek to listen and to understand, and to assign positive intent. They haven’t suddenly stopped being the person we have loved and respected all along. Everything we loved about each other is still true.
I’ll be honest with you though: I am so incredibly horribly achingly sad this week. The disgust and hate and judgement thrown towards my friend has grieved me to my core. I had hoped for better from us. I’m not even angry right now, just weary and sad down in my bones. Jesus, we need your wholeness.
Despite popular think-piece vitriol making the rounds, please do not dismiss anyone’s theological shift as motivated by “feelings” alone. First of all, there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about our feelings or emotions. Last time I checked we were whole persons – mind, soul, body – and our emotions are part of our “imago dei,” the image of God in us. There is nothing wrong with being moved by compassion or empathy; our Jesus is an example in this very thing.
However, by reducing a theological shift as *only* motivated by one’s feelings is dismissive and truthfully, it’s sexist. That sort of claim would hardly be levelled against most men who change their minds on this matter. I know that if we can dismiss these sorts of things as motivated only by bleeding-heart-liberal-feeeeeeelings then we can dismiss the stance – and even the person.
But I encourage us, Church, to offer one another the earned respect deserved of a long and valued leadership within the body of Christ. Theological shifts of any sort are almost always preceded by a tremendous amount of care, caution, theological and biblical study, prayer, and wise diverse counsel. I believe that of people who think differently than me on many issues – I hope we can offer that courtesy to one another.
If you are at all interested in learning more about how and why people who love Jesus – why long time faithful disciples who have a high view of Scripture with a deeply Christian ethic around sexuality – are arriving at this conclusion, I would commend to you a season of bible study and theological reading and prayer in company with the Holy Spirit and the body of Christ. You may not end up in the same place as you began and at the very least, you’ll emerge with deeper understanding.
As you search the Scriptures, here are a few books I would recommend for those embarking on learning in this particular area as companions are:
– “Changing My Mind” by David Gushee;
– “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate” by Justin Lee;
– “A Letter to My Congregation: An Evangelical Pastor’s Path to Embracing Those Who are Gay, Lesbian, and Transgender Into the Company of Jesus” by Ken Wilson; and
– “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships” by Matthew Vines.
Jesus Christ is the same: yesterday, today, and forever. We, however, we are always changing IN RESPONSE TO his unchanging goodness and love. If we aren’t having our opinions or beliefs or ways-we-have-always-done-it challenged, then we aren’t paying attention to the ways that the Holy Spirit is working. Judging someone for transforming or changing period is utterly ridiculous for a Christian: that’s the point! We are always being transformed into the glorious likeness of Jesus and that involves change in us. Getting to the end of our lives with the exact same opinions we had at the beginning is not the point of your journey here. (And for more on this idea in particular, you could read my own book, “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.”)
Finally(!), I urge us all to remember and practice and embody this: we are a people of Love, for Love, by Love, abiding in Love. The world will know us by our love for one another! Mercy triumphs over judgement not only in public but in our hearts before the Lord.
My prayers are with us and for us, Church. The Gospel is good news for the broken-hearted, don’t forget. This is our time to bear witness to the love of Christ even when – or most particularly when – we disagree.