Monday, October 11, 2010

A Gospel with a Toothless Grin

Let me admit this first off.  At one point in time I liked Tony Campolo.  I watched a couple of his videos and found him a compelling speaker.  I thought that he was a person of substance with whom the conversation of faith might yield rich rewards.  He was speaking, I thought, of the need for love and mercy to accompany right believing -- this at a time when it seemed to me that those who pressed for right believing were not very compassionate.  I saw him become one of the counselors to a President and move ever further to the left - not simply calling on the Church to show mercy but redefining that mercy until it sounded as if it were an ad for the Democratic Party.  Now he has gone even further...

It is statements like this from Campolo that got me thinking:  "I think that Christianity has two emphases. One is a social emphasis to impart the values of the kingdom of God in society - to relieve the sufferings of the poor, to stand up for the oppressed, to be a voice for those who have no voice. The other emphasis is to bring people into a personal, transforming relationship with Christ... Fundamentalism has emphasized the latter, mainline churches have emphasized the former. We cannot neglect one for the other."

Now Campolo has lost any sense of the balance that once seemed to be part of his position.  Elsewhere in scripture, we recognize that Jesus made a special effort to extend the invitation for inclusion in His Kingdom to the maimed, the blind, and the halt.  According to the laws of the Torah and Talmud, such persons were to be excluded from the Temple, and were considered “unclean.”  Yet Jesus makes a special effort to extend His invitation and love to these marginalized persons.  Yes, this is true enough.  But where it leads Campolo is well beyond the purview of Jesus's words, actions, or intent.

In our own day and age, the Evangelical community has marginalized our gay and lesbian and transsexual brothers and sisters.  It doesn’t take much imagination to conclude that the Jesus who was always reaching out to the marginalized would be making a special effort in our contemporary society to express His love and to extend His invitation for fellowship to our modern day brothers and sisters who are estranged from our churches.  To reach out to the LGBT communities and join them in their cry for justice, and to champion their efforts for inclusion in our churches, is to simply imitate Christ. Being  followers of Jesus requires this.

But Jesus requires this... “To reach out to the LGBT communities and join them in their cry for justice, and to champion their efforts for inclusion in our churches,” Campolo writes,” is to simply imitate Christ.” 

Such is the path of a Gospel which is not about the cross but about inclusion, not about salvation but about acceptance, not about forgiveness but about justice, not about repentance but "come as you are"  -- it is this path that has become the poison pill of the ELCA and of other Protestant denominations.  When the Gospel is no longer what Jesus defines, then it becomes the advocacy of things completely foreign to the Jesus who said "Go and sin no more."  In the end, this Gospel is largely irrelevant for where this is no sin, there is no need of a Savior and where salvation is not the goal then the glorification of this life (and its excesses and vices) will replace virtue in every sense of the term.  When this kind of Jesus smiles, it is a toothless grin.  Why on earth would someone want to join a church whose agenda is the same as an agency of the government?  At least the government agency is funded and does not have to beg at the door for money. 

It is of great sadness that much of Evangelicalism is headed down this path forged by the mainline Protestant denominations.  It should be rallying call to Lutherans to avoid this path and proclaim the truth in love, as St. Paul counsels, and show forth the love of Christ in the authentic acts of mercy that make His Word visible.  Yes, Jesus did reach out to the marginalized.  But not to bring them into the mainstream.  He reached out to them to bring them into His Kingdom.  In such a church as Campolo envisions, Jesus is not incarnate but spirit, a spirit for a time such as this, unleashed from any captivity to Scripture, morality, or objective truth.  Some may think that gay marriage is dangerous to Christianity.  Campolo's way of thinking is far more dangerous.  It leaves us with a hand from God that is empty of anything except acceptance of who we are, as we are.  Just as I am, Lord, let me be and let Your love still shine on me. Take away my shame and set me free, so I can live as me, guilt free. 

5 comments:

Lutheran Desert Rat said...

It seems as if we fall into a dualistic trap concerning homosexuality. On one hand, people are doing exegetical back flips to make homosexual unions Scripturally "allowable"; and on the other, homosexuals are routinely targeted for bullying and exclusion in basic human rights because somehow their sin is worse than anyone else's. The choice is either Scriptural relativism or legitimizing the oppression of an entire group of people.

I think what almost every denomination is having trouble doing, including the ELCA and LCMS, is speaking both Law and Gospel to those who are homosexual. We are good at speaking to them with one or the other, but not both.

Rev Dave Poedel, STS said...

I, probably not singularly, am totally fatigued regarding the "homosexual issue" which affects maybe 1% of our population and probably that percentage of folks in our pews.

Dancing around this topic with "sensitivity" while speaking the truth in love, if we do actually address the issue with the person in the pew (which I do not do unless specifically asked), this topic takes up entirely too much of our time and energy.

So, pardon my insensitivity here, but I have way more important issues to deal with in the challenging but delightful Call the Lord has granted to me, despite my inadequacy and whatever shortcomings I have.

Anonymous said...

I read that the difference between Reagan and Clinton is that Clinton wanted to be great and therefor his beliefs and practices bent with the wind of opinion. Reagan wanted to implement his vision and his greatness was a byproduct of his implementing that agenda.

Seems to me that the byproduct of Christians being faithful has been Christian behavior but when we aspire to a style of behavior apart by faithfulness, we blown by the wind of opinion.

When Christians aspire to be faithful, there are byproducts.

Mark

Lutheran Desert Rat said...

Rev. Dave, I understand your fatigue concerning this issue; it has been in the spotlight of discernment way too long with little discerning and lots of blathering. I am weary, too. I do think, however, that 1% is a low number of people affected by this issue. Now, are only 1% homosexual? I don't know, but the affects go far beyond the individual. The congregation I serve has about 300 baptized members and I know of two for whom this is a direct issue. (a little less than 1%). However, that is just those I know. People who have close family members for whom this is a significant issue, including one of my wife's parents, is much higher. I can think of five families in our congregation without even trying who have either children or siblings who are homosexual. Add close friends to that, of which I have as well, who are homosexual, I feel that the affect of this issue is broad.

Melissa said...

"When the Gospel is no longer what Jesus defines, then it becomes the advocacy of things completely foreign to the Jesus who said "Go and sin no more." In the end, this Gospel is largely irrelevant for where this is no sin, there is no need of a Savior and where salvation is not the goal then the glorification of this life (and its excesses and vices) will replace virtue in every sense of the term."

Thank you. Very well said.