In memory of Walter Wink

Saturday, May 12, 2012

I was sad to hear about the passing of theologian and peace activist Walter Wink this week (May 10, 2012). The news came as a shock to me because he was only 76 years old. That is far too soon to go. I really hate death.

I never had the pleasure  of meeting him but his work has had a profound effect on me, and deeply shaped my theology more than I can say. Wink really opened my eyes up to the Christus Victor understanding of the atonement through his trilogy on the powers, taking an idea that seemed foreign and strange in the writings of Paul and showing how it has profound relevance for us today as we struggle with evil and violence in our world and in our hearts. On top of that Wink really helped me to make Jesus' third way of love of enemies, which can be so hard to grasp with my backwards thinking brain. Wink has really helped to shine light on that third way, as I stumble my way towards it.

So I just really wanted to express my deep gratitude for the work of Walter Wink, and extend my prayers and sympathies for his loved ones. Walt, thank you. You were one of the greats, and the world is both brighter because of your life, and poorer with your passing. You will be missed, and I hope one day we can still meet face to face. I pray you are in a place where love truly rules now, where there are no more tears. Give Jesus a hug from me when you see him.

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What Does Jesus Think About Homosexuality?

Friday, May 04, 2012

(Originally posted on Huffington Post and Red Letter Christians)

Is homosexuality a sin? It's an age-old question, and there are people on both sides of the debate, each quoting their Bibles. How do we know who's right? What would Jesus do if he were here with us today? Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so can we really say?

I'd like to propose that we can. Perhaps we wont be able to settle the debate over what the Bible says about homosexuality (least of all from one little blog post!) but I think there is one thing we can be sure of -- Jesus loves every one of us. In fact Jesus was especially known for loving the very people that the religious people of his time had condemned and cast out. Let's consider some facts:

There has been story after story in the news of LGBT teens committing suicide because of bullying. We have also seen a surge of news stories of kids being harassed, threatened, and even physicality assaulted. No one's child should have to endure that. No one should feel afraid, hated and rejected like that. These are not just a few shocking exceptional cases either. As their voices have begun to be heard, we have seen story after story of how gay and transgender kids have felt hated, at times even hating themselves. We have heard how life for them can be a living hell, so bad that it makes some of them want to end their lives.

That really should be a wakeup call for us as Christians. Regardless of where we stand on the rightness or the wrongness of being gay, none of that matters much when people are dying. We can argue over what the Bible says about homosexuality, but one thing is utterly clear: Jesus clearly teaches us to love people, not to hate them, not to make them feel hated, and not to stand by while that is happening. From the perspective of the New Testament there simply is no room for doubt on this. We know exactly where Jesus stands. He stands on the side of the least, the condemned, the vulnerable. 

John's Gospel tells the story of a women caught in adultery who was brought before Jesus. The religious leaders say to him, "The law commands that she should be stoned to death, what do you say?" Jesus bends down and draws with his finger in the dirt, and then says to them "Let the one who is without sin throw the first stone." One by one they all leave until he is there alone with the woman. Jesus says to her "Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?" "No one, sir," she answered. "Then neither do I condemn you," Jesus declared.

Now, many preachers are quick to point out that Jesus next says to her: "Go and leave your life of sin." But the real point here is that even though Jesus did consider adultery sinful, he still was the one who defended her. In fact, he was the only one there who was "without sin" and yet he did not cast a stone and did not condemn. So again, even if we think homosexuality is wrong, we know what Jesus would do in our shoes. He has drawn a line in the sand, and we need to decide what side of that line we will be on. Will we be on the side of Jesus and the one who is being condemned and threatened? Or will we stand with the religious accusers on the other side of that line? Maybe we were not the ones actually throwing those stones, but did we stand on the side of the accused and condemned and actively defend them like Jesus did? Did we actively defend and love "the least of these"? Because Jesus says that the way we treat them is the way we treat him.

Jesus never says a word about homosexuality, but there was one kind of sin that he spoke out against all the time. There was one kind of sin that got Jesus really mad. This was the sin of religious people who shut out those in need of mercy. This was the sin of people who used the Bible as a weapon. You hear Jesus saying this on page after page of the gospels. Why? Because this type of sin has the potential to damage people like few other things do. It is particularly damaging because they claim to be speaking for God. So if we really want to speak out against sin, we as Christians need to speak out against the kind of sin that Jesus did, and side with the kinds of folks he did. 

What this all comes down to is we, as Christians, acting like Jesus. It's about discerning what Jesus would want us to do right now, and the answer is clear: We need to change our priorities and focus on the critical issue of communicating love and acceptance to people -- especially the very people our society so often ostracizes, condemns and rejects. Because that is exactly what Jesus did. Jesus was known for hanging out with "sinners" and was frequently accused of being a sinner himself because of it. But that did not stop him because he cared more about those people than he cared about being judged. 

If we want to follow Jesus, then we need to have that same reputation of loving to a fault. We need to be so radically accepting that we are misunderstood and judged like Jesus. If we really do love Jesus, then we need to love like he did, so much so that it seems "scandalous" in the eyes the religious folks of our day, just like it did in his day.

We have spent so much time being "balanced" in the other direction, so much time worrying about "giving the wrong impression" that it is time to shift our lopsided boat the other way. Because as long as our priority is in looking moral rather than in showing compassion and grace to those on the outside, we simply do not have the priorities of Jesus. And when we do not reflect Christ, we are giving the wrong impression. 

Now you may have noticed that I didn't ever say what I thought about whether homosexuality was wrong or right. I didn't say because this is not about me and what I think. It's about us as Christians learning to care about what Jesus cares about. This is not about gay rights. It is about about human rights, and that starts with the least. It is about us having the courage to stand with those who are vulnerable. It is about us saying "no" to hate, even when it is done in the name of God -- no, especially when it is done in the name of God. It's about having the guts to draw that line in the sand like Jesus did. Even when that means facing that mob ourselves.

So let's stand alongside of LGBT individuals. Let's let them know they are loved, they are welcomed, they are not alone. I think when we do, we will find that Jesus has been there with them for a long time now. It's time we joined him.

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