Posted in Christian Ethics, current events, Hard Questions, relationships

Addendum to Jesus Healing the Centurion’s Slave – On Slavery in the Roman Empire – Luke 7:1-10; Matthew 8:5-13

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Addendum on Slavery in the Roman Empire

Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul were not that concerned with the sins involving the institution of slavery.  The Apostle Paul wrote in his epistles how masters and slaves need to show respect and love for each other in ways that bring glory to God (Eph. 6:5-10; Col. 3:22-4:1).  Paul also wrote a letter to a leader named Philemon to the Church in Colossae about a runaway slave named Onesimus concerning forgiveness and not following through with retribution according to Roman law which would mean death to Onesimus (since desertion by a slave was a capital offense in the Roman Empire), and also pleading for his freedom.  He writes:

[8] Accordingly, though I am bold enough in Christ to command you to do what is required, [9] yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus—[10] I appeal to you for my child, Onesimus,(1) whose father I became in my imprisonment. [11] (Formerly he was useless to you, but now he is indeed useful to you and to me.) [12] I am sending him back to you, sending my very heart. [13] I would have been glad to keep him with me, in order that he might serve me on your behalf during my imprisonment for the gospel, [14] but I preferred to do nothing without your consent in order that your goodness might not be by compulsion but of your own accord. [15] For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, [16] no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. [17] So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. [18] If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  (Philemon 8:18)

Paul even goes further that whatever wrong doing that Onesimus fugitive status might have caused Philemon, Paul repay (Philemon 8:18).  He wants to share his celebration with Philemon that his runaway slave has become a brother in Christ.  Slavery, back in Roman times was a way of life and part of the economic machine that was the Roman Empire.  According to the ESV Archaeological Study Bible:

Slavery was the bedrock institution of the Roman economy. Slave/master relations were fraught with potential tension and sometimes marked by fear on both sides. Paul stands this institution on its head: in the new kingdom, both slaves and masters will have a new master in Christ (6:5–9).

The Roman world was built on a foundation of slaves. With the exception of debt-bondage (see Matt. 18:25) and natural reproduction, people commonly entered Roman slavery as a result of capture in warfare, judicial punishment, piracy, or the international slave trade. There was no racial element in Roman slavery. In the first century, perhaps as much as 20 percent of the population of the empire was enslaved. Roman law made a slave the absolute property of the master, and thus slaves had no legal rights, including privacy or the right to their own bodies. However, the law did place some constraints on the master’s behavior. If a slave was sold, his family typically went with him, even though slave marriages were not officially recognized. Third-century church membership guidelines from Rome show that masters who used slaves as concubines were not permitted to join the church, but the concubine (who had no choice in her role) could.  (from http://esv.org – ESV Archeological Study Bible – Article on Slavery in the Roman Empire)

Martin Luther writes these observations about Philemon:

This epistle gives us a masterful and tender illustration of Christian love.  For here we see how St. Paul takes the part of poor Onesimus and, to the best of his ability advocates his cause with his master.  He acts exactly as if he were himself Onesimus who had done wrong.  Yet he does this not with force or compulsion, as lay within his rights; but he empties himself of his rights in order to compel Philemon also to waive his rights.   (Lutheran Study Bible Page 2094)

It wasn’t until recently in the past 250 years, that people became convicted that slavery was an institutional sin.  William Wilberforce was one of the first advocates of ending the African Slave Trade in the United Kingdom.  Many people began and were convicted that slavery wasn’t a way of life and another part of the economic machine in the world, but actual sin that needed to be set an order (justice).  Therefore the passages in the Bible that were used to justify the institution of slavery were re-interpreted as sinful in light of Christ’s character and concern for those that were slaves who were suffering unjustly by the economic institution of slavery in the American South, and by harsh slave masters.

Also, it has only come to light recently in the past twenty years that women and children in the institution of prostitution are held against their will and slaves themselves.  Instead of prosecution against prostitution, laws are changing which provide treatment and help for women and children who are rescued from their traffickers by law enforcement.

This would have been more relevant to the Centurion’s servant who was probably a courtier or courier in his household.  In the same chapter, Luke mentions that there were malakos (Luke 7:25 – literally men in soft clothing) in Herod’s household who wore clothing that was not as masculine as was culturally accepted in Palestine.

Part of Greco-Roman society is where older men became guardians to younger men, and part of showing them the ropes includes what we would today call sexual abuse.  In Matthew’s telling of the tale he uses the Greek word pais for servant instead of the word doulos which was used by Luke in his telling of the tale.  Here is more from the ESV Archaeological Study Bible:

Koine Greek had several words for “servant” or “slave.” Each originally may have indicated a different aspect or status of the person in question, but in Greek literature from the time of the NT most seem to be used interchangeably. Matthew calls the centurion’s servant a pais (“boy”), while Luke calls him a doulos, the most common word for slave (Luke 7:2). Likely he was a boy or young man in personal servitude to the centurion, as a courtier would be to a royal official. This was often a highly dependent relationship for both parties, and it was in the best interests of everyone that the boy be healed.  From <https://www.esv.org/Matthew+8/>

For some of you that are reading this blog may have a strong sense of justice and feel strongly when rights of people are violated.  For those of you that feel this way, you may believe the best option would have been death for the slave boy.  I know that many who read this blog were horrified because of the injustice they felt Jesus wasn’t fighting for the rights of the boy that was sick and near death.  Jesus showed divine love to the boy and his master by demonstrating God’s Kingdom by healing the young man whether or not he was a victim of pedophilia.

Yet, this slave boy was very special to the Centurion and the relationship between the slave boy and his master was more than mere economics because the Centurion was grieving of his sickness and had hope that Jesus would bring his authority over sickness and death into this young man’s life.

Again it is only speculation if the Centurion was practicing pedophilia on the young boy based upon the text in the original language, and recent scholarship about how slavery was practiced in the Roman Empire.  To the Gospel writers it wasn’t much of an issue then, as was the fact that Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to that family.

 

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Posted in Christian Ethics, Hard Questions, Theology

On PostBarthian – Was the Roman Centurion whom Jesus healed his Servant a Homosexual?

Roman Centurion

Jesus Heals a Centurion’s Servant

[1] After he had finished all his sayings in the hearing of the people, he entered Capernaum. [2] Now a centurion had a servant(1) who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. [3] When the centurion(2) heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. [4] And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, [5] for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” [6] And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. [7] Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. [8] For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” [9] When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turning to the crowd that followed him, said, “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.” [10] And when those who had been sent returned to the house, they found the servant well.  (Luke 7:1-10 ESV)

As I was scanning my twitter feed yesterday, the article posted by those at the “PostBarthian” website had an article that the person whom Jesus considered to have the greatest faith of all, a Roman Centurion, supposedly practiced both pederasty, homosexuality, and human trafficking.  Despite the negativity surrounding this individual, most specifically that he was a natural enemy of Israel being both a Roman Centurion and a Gentile, he also had a boy slave whom he used for sexual practices whom he was quite fond of.  I have always heard teachings whether in Sunday School or from the pulpit that this Centurion had incredible faith and that Jesus marveled that he hasn’t seen such a faith in all of Israel from his comrades and fellow Jews.

What strikes me even more is that in today’s day and age of divisive sexual ethics in the church as it relates to LGBQTI people, Jesus was indifferent to both the Centurion’s homosexuality, and pedophilia (if it existed).   Both practices of pedophilia and homosexual acts would not be tolerated in the church today and would be condemned.  The fact that the boy was a slave, indicated that this Centurion acquired his servant boy through human trafficking which was common practice in the Greco-Roman world since over half of the population of the Roman Empire were slaves.  Either way, Jesus was indifferent to the Centurion’s sexual practices, and chose to heal his servant.

My inner Evangelical Inoculator, would ask, how do we know that the Centurion was practicing homosexual acts? Wouldn’t the young servant be his adopted son?

To answer the above, one would have to analyze the texts from both Luke 7 and Matthew 8 in the original language.  In Luke’s account of the pericope of the Centurion and Jesus healing his servant, he uses the word doulos which means slave or servant three times in the text (Luke 7:1, 2, 3, 10), and uses the word pais which means boy servant in Luke 7:7.  We also can observe from the text that Luke emphasizes that this young boy servant was highly valued by him.  According to the PostBarthian website:

What are the clues that lead to this conclusion? Luke refers to the sick person as a slave “doúlos” several times (Luke 7:2,3,4,10) and in Luke’s version, the centurion calls the sick slave a boy “pais” (Luke 7:7), indicating the sick person was a boy slave. Additionally the boy slave is precious “entimos” (Luke 7:2) to the centurion, indicating an intimate relationship between the centurion and his boy slave. Additionally, Luke refers to catamites “malakos” (Luke 7:25) in king’s courts within the same chapter, and this is the same word used to describe pederasty in 1 Corinthians 6:9. We know from history, that pederasty was commonly practiced by ruling officials such as Roman centurions during the times of Jesus’ ministry. So the conjunction of these Greek terms in Luke 7 with the common practice of pederasty by Roman centurions indicates that the centurion’s sick boy slave was his catamite, who he was engaged in act of pederasty. The insight that the Centurion was a homosexual engaged in pederasty, and his boy servant was his catamite, better explains why the centurion said he was unworthy to have Jesus come into his house.  From <https://postbarthian.com/2018/07/02/the-person-jesus-marveled-at-for-having-the-greatest-faith-was-a-homosexual/>

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It is true that in Matthew’s account of the same story, servant is translated from the word pais in Matthew 8:6, 13, but can also be translated as young male child, or son.  We do know from the story that this Centurion had special feelings for the boy as a dad would have for his son.

Either way from the gospel accounts, the Centurion’s sexuality was not the issue.  He was a friend to the Jewish Nation and built a synagogue for them in Capernaum. The man’s faith was the main element that the Gospel writers emphasized.  This Centurion who was a Gentile had profound faith in Jesus to do what he believed he could do, which was to heal his servant.  According to Father Richard Rohr every human being regardless of race, religion, politics, sexuality, disability, or age deserve dignity since they are all created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).  Jesus brought God’s Kingdom to the Roman Centurion and his household, and healed his servant.  One of the main points of Luke’s Gospel is that Jesus is for the outcasts in Jewish society such as  the tax collectors, Gentiles, disabled, the prostitutes, and those that the Jewish Culture would consider unclean.

 

Changing Sides
Wednesday, July 4, 2018
U.S. Independence Day

 

God chose things the world considers foolish to shame those who think they are wise. And God chose things that are powerless to shame those who are powerful. —1 Corinthians 1:27

You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun to rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. —Matthew 5:43-45

Christianity is a bit embarrassed by the powerless one, Jesus. We’ve made his obvious defeat into a glorious victory. Let’s face it, we feel more comfortable with power than with powerlessness and poverty. Who wants to be like Jesus on the cross? It just doesn’t look like a way of influence, a way of access, a way that’s going to make any difference in the world.

We worship this naked, homeless, bleeding loser, crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem, but we want to be winners . . . at least until we learn to love the so-called little, poor people—and then we often see they are not little at all, but better images of the soul. Yes, those with mental and physical disabilities, minority groups, LGBTQIA folks, refugees, prisoners, those with addictions, those without financial wealth—all who have “failed” in our social or economic success system—can be our best teachers in the ways of the Gospel. They represent what we are most afraid of and what we most deny within ourselves. That’s why we must learn to love what first seems like our “enemy.”

If we look at all the wars of history, we’ll see that God has unwittingly been enlisted on both sides of the fight. It’s easy to wonder what God does when both sides are praying for God’s protection. Trusting Jesus as the archetypal pattern of God’s presence and participation on Earth, I believe God is found wherever the suffering is. I believe this because that is precisely where Jesus goes. He makes heroes of the outsiders and underdogs in almost all his parables and stories. To miss that point is culpable and chosen ignorance. The awakened and aware ones—like Jesus and Francis of Assisi—go where people are suffering, excluded, expelled, marginalized, and abused. And there they find God.

Imagine, brothers and sisters, how different Western history and religion could have been if we had walked as tenderly and lovingly upon the earth as Francis and Jesus did. Imagine what the world would be like if we treated others with inherent and equal dignity and respect, seeing the divine DNA in ourselves and everyone else too—regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, appearance, or social class. Nothing less offers the world any lasting future. We must be honest about that—and rather quickly, I think.

 

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

 

 

Adapted from Richard Rohr: Essential Teachings on Loveeds. Joelle Chase and Judy Trager (Orbis Books: 2018), 180; and

The Art of Letting Go: Living the Wisdom of St. Francis, disc 2 (Sounds True: 2010), CD.

 

Changing Sides – Richard Rohr Meditation – July 4, 2018

Posted in Buddhist-Christian, Mindfulness, Richard Rohr, Sacred Places, spiritual formation, Theology, Uncategorized

Abiding in Christ – Overcoming Fear

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Rom 8:15-16 ESV For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (16) The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

In this second half of life, one has less and less need or interest in eliminating the negative or fearful, making again those old rash judgments, holding on to old hurts, or feeling any need to punish other people. Your superiority complexes have gradually departed in all directions. You do not fight these things anymore; they have just shown themselves too many times to be useless, ego based, counterproductive, and often entirely wrong. You learn to positively ignore and withdraw your energy from evil or stupid things rather than fight them directly.

Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (p. 118). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

Modeling calm in the face of fear, and teaching young people how to weather their own storms, you are teaching a very valuable skill that might even save their lives in the future.

Hanh, Thich Nhat. Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm (p. 90). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Until we learn to live peacefully with what Andre Louf calls “our amazing degree of weakness,” until we learn to live gracefully with what Alan Jones calls “our own extreme psychic frailty,” until we let the Christ who consorted with hookers and crooks to be our truth, the false, fraudulent self motivated by cowardice and fear will continue to distance us from abiding restful union.

Manning, Brennan. The Furious Longing of God (p. 72). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

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As I am writing this blog entry today, I am listening to one of Southwestern Ohio’s favorite bands, Over the Rhine’s “Meet You at the Edge of the World Album”.  Here is some of the lyrics from the song entitled, Called Home:

Leave behind your Sunday best
You know we couldn’t care a less
Out here we’ve learned to leave the edges wild

And stories they get passed around
And laughter – it gets handed down
Read it in the lines around a smile

Our bodies’ motion comes to rest
When we are at last
Called home

One of the lines in the song, is “leaving behind your Sunday Best, You know we couldn’t care a less, out here we’ve learned to leave the edges wild… read it in the lines around a smile, our bodies motion comes to rest, when we are at last called home.  Part of maturing is learning to let go and live in the present moment.  The Late Brennan Manning, and Richard Rohr both encourage us in our spiritual growth to accept ourselves, warts in all, and not give in to fear.  There is a freedom in letting go.  It doesn’t mean denying the painful circumstances and other things that we may face, but as we press into God, our identity comes forth as a child of God.  We don’t have to live in slavery any more.

Where evening shadows come to fall
On the awful and the beautiful
Every wound you feel that needs to heal

And silence yearns to hear herself
Some long lost memory rings a bell
Called home

Through mindfulness, we can slow down and find the rest that we desire.  Our religion keeps us blind to the intimacy that we desire.  Brennan Manning writes:

The ordinary pablum of popular religion caters to the idealistic, perfectionistic, and neurotic self who fixates on graceless getting worthy for union, while allowing the prostitutes and tax gougers to dance into the kingdom. Our strategies of self-deception persuade us that abiding restful union with Jesus is too costly, leaving no room for money, ambition, success, fame, sex, power, control, and pride of place or the fatal trap of self-rejection, thus prohibiting mediocre, disaffected dingbats and dirtballs, like myself, from intimacy with Jesus.  Manning, Brennan. The Furious Longing of God (p. 72). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.

We never “create” or earn the Spirit; we discover this inner abiding as we learn to draw upon our deepest inner life. This utterly unified field is always given, as Annie Dillard said.  Rohr, Richard. Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life (p. 90). Wiley. Kindle Edition.

I agree with Father Richard Rohr, that our inner abiding (the soul) is where Christ is found within all of us.  As I learn to abide in his love, fear dissipates, and all that is left is love, peace, joy, and light.   We can see that we are also part of something greater than ourselves.  Thich Naht Hanh writes:

Then we touch our interbeing nature and know we are part of the whole cosmos. The nature of reality transcends all notions and ideas, including the notions of birth and death, being and nonbeing, coming and going. Contemplating impermanence, no-self, emptiness, no-birth, and no-death can lead to liberation. Hanh, Thich Nhat. Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm (p. 147). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Richard Rohr calls this the cosmic Christ.  Christ is part of us, and we are part of him since he is the first born (ruler) over all of creation (Col. 1:15).  Interbeing connects us to God and to each other.  Buddhists do this through mindfulness, Christians do it through the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit dwells within all of us because of who Jesus is, and what he did through his incarnation, ministry, death and resurrection, ascension, and glorification (Rom. 8:30).   Jesus speaks of interbeing in his high priestly prayer in John 17:

Joh 17:21-23 ESV that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (22) The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, (23) I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.

According to Jesus, he was sent by the Father to reveal God’s love to all of humankind, so that as the Christ is revealed, the world may believe that he was sent by the Great Divine or the Great  I Am.  The glory given to humankind by God unites us to each other and for each other all part of God’s love for us as we love each other.  

Again love dispels fear.  According to the Apostle Paul:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through  him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:37-39)
Thus, nothing can separate is from God’s love.

Posted in authors, Books, Christian Ethics, Deconstruction, Evangelicalism, Hard Questions, Heresy and Heretics, relationships, Theology

Vicky Beeching – Undivided – From Being an Insider to an Outsider in the Evangelical Church

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Teach me your way, LORD; That I may rely on your faithfulness; Give me an undivided heart, That I may fear your name. (Psalm 86:11)

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life.” (Rev. 22:17)

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[fn] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.” From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/act/11/1/p1/s_1029001>

Give me an undivided heart, I want to love you with every part. Give me an undivided soul, I want to be yours alone, yours alone.

(Vicky Beeching – Undivided Heart)

Introduction

Last night I got to experience the last night of my daughter’s VBS (“Vacation Bible School”) at Vineyard Church of Delaware County. It was good to celebrate the end of a good week at VBS. I love the people, the welcoming environment at the Vineyard in Sunbury, and that they emphasize intimacy with God which leads to dependence on God which results in the fruit of the Spirit and obedience to God’s leading. This would be the churches understanding of Christian growth.

Welcoming and Not Affirming

For many years in her early twenties, Vicky Beeching was part of the Vineyard movement especially as an emerging worship leader/songwriter from the United Kingdom with the band Delerious? And Matt Redman. In social media, I was challenged by a high ranking Vineyard person from California to read Vineyard’s official position on pastoring LGBQT people as it relates to LGBQT relationships, the Association of Vineyard Churches (“VUSA”), the VUSA’s official position is welcoming but not affirming. This translates that all are welcome in the Vineyard regardless of gender, race, sexual orientation, ethnicity (Gal. 3:28), but as it relates to discipleship and leadership, they are not affirming when it comes to the LGBQT lifestyle. I agree in part that sexual orientation is not a salvation issue, but a sanctification issue. For VUSA, this would be the non-affirming part of the position. Thus the only options as it relates to Christian growth and discipleship (leading small groups, leading worship, becoming a Pastor) within the Vineyard churches is marrying someone of the opposite sex, or being single and celibate. To many who consider themselves LGBQT, this is doing the opposite of being “welcoming”. Since Vicky was writing songs, leading worship workshops and conferences, this would be considered leadership activities and being openly gay who isn’t celibate would be out of line. Thus, she would not be qualified to lead in the Vineyard Church which she was part of in her early twenties.

Inclusive vs. Exclusive

As she had come out four years ago, she has noticed how exclusive churches have become. In Chapter 32 of her book she writes the following:

Well, I’ve certainly learned what it feels like to move from being an ‘insider’ to being an ‘outsider’ in a very short space of time. For me, that’s been about the evangelical community closing the door. Previously that part of the church felt like my home. That experience has opened my eyes to the way we turn so many situations in life into ‘us versus them’ scenarios, where we push away anyone who seems different from us.” He nodded, gesturing for me to keep speaking. “I’ve found myself considering who else is made to feel like an ‘outsider’ by the church. It’s a strange feeling when you realize you’ve been labeled ‘unsaved,’ yet you know that you are a decent person with a strong personal faith. It’s got my brain spinning about who else is labeled as an outsider by Christians—and whether those people are feeling the way I do.”

Today,” I continued, “there are over thirty-three thousand denominations within Christianity and many feel that only their brand of belief is ‘the true faith.’ Evangelical churches believe only those holding to evangelical theology are ‘saved.’ Charismatic churches often believe that only Spirit-filled Christians really know God. Many churches consider divorced people to be outsiders, as divorce is seen as going against the teaching of the Bible. Those from other religions are not saved, because they haven’t accepted Jesus as their Savior. The general public who hold no views on faith are, likewise, seen as destined for eternal damnation. That’s a lot of people on the ‘outsiders’ list.”

I know as I have deconstructed, married someone who Evangelicals believe isn’t saved, became gay affirming, and have opened up to the possibility that eternal conscious torment doesn’t exist in the afterlife, I have also become an outsider. I am also divorced and remarried which would also disqualify me to lead in churches that do not forbid divorce.

Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council

Vicky’s time of clarity as it relates to inclusiveness and equality in the church was when she was reading Acts 10 and 11 at St. Paul’s cathedral bin London. She could relate to Peter’s revelation in Acts 10-11 that Gentiles should be included into the Kingdom of God. Luke writes:

15 “As I began to speak,” Peter continued, “the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as he fell on us at the beginning. 16 Then I thought of the Lord’s words when he said, ‘John baptized with[fn] water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 And since God gave these Gentiles the same gift he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to stand in God’s way?”

18 When the others heard this, they stopped objecting and began praising God. They said, “We can see that God has also given the Gentiles the privilege of repenting of their sins and receiving eternal life.”From <https://www.blueletterbible.org/nlt/act/11/1/p1/s_1029001>

As, Luke writes, many in the church praised God for what was going on with the Gentiles. Yet there were some that insisted that Gentiles keep the holiness code within the Law of Moses and become Jews (become circumcised, eat kosher foods, and keep the Sabbath). Vicky writes:

In all of this, I sensed God speaking to me again. If he said my sexual orientation was “clean,” then I needed to accept that and believe that having a same-sex spouse someday was not only possible, but something God bless. Being forced to remain single, simply because I was gay, would be the equivalent of the red tape being loaded on the early Gentiles- above and beyond what God required leading to loneliness and isolation rather than abundant life.” (Beeching, page 207).

Yet, I sense from my inner Evangelical Inoculator in my head, that he is saying, “now Scott, hold on, what about Acts 15:20 and Acts 15:29 as it relates to sexual immorality? Didn’t all the apostles agree that Gentiles shouldn’t practice sexual immorality? Wouldn’t homosexual relationships be under that umbrella and be considered sexually immoral?” Most churches would interpret the Greek Word porneia used by Jesus in Mark 7, and by Luke in Acts 15:20, 29 to mean all sexual acts outside of marriage is sexual immorality. Some of the more progressive leaning Christians interpret porneia to mean just engaging in prostitution, not including adultery, premarital sex, extra marital sex, and homosexual sex acts. Where I attend, the Vineyard churches would include homosexual sex as part of being sexually immoral. According to the their position paper:

Key to the entire subject is the meaning of porneia (sexual immorality, NIV). If its meaning here is restricted to prostitution, then the Apostolic letter does not forbid homosexuality. If its meaning incorporates all the illicit sexual activities in the Pentateuch, particularly Leviticus 18, then it does incorporate homosexuality. There is consensus among many credible scholars that is clearly in favor of the view that, in this context, and in the sayings of Jesus, it does include homosexuality. Loader has this to say: With porneia (“sexual wrongdoing”) … we are dealing with … a word originally connected with prostitution, but which has taken on a much broader meaning, which can also include adultery … It is best understood in the expanded sense in Acts 15:20, 29: 21:25.117 Porneia (“sexual wrongdoing”) would probably have been understood as including same-sex intercourse, as also in Acts 15:29.

She goes on and writes despite the criticism, God was with her every step of the way.

Looking at social media, I saw the usual flood of criticism I received every time I went on radio or TV. Christians who opposed LGBTQ+ equality said I wasn’t a true follower of Jesus and that I should be ashamed of myself as I championed a “life of sin” and “led a generation into hell.” Despite their belief that I was abandoning true faith, I felt God by my side as much as ever before, perhaps even more so. His heartbeat was for justice and equality, and I felt him with me, helping at every step (page 306)

Conclusion

LGBQT relations in the church has been the most divisive issue within the twenty-first century. It has caused splits in many mainline protestant denominations such as the Evangelical Lutherans, the Episcopal churches in America, and eventually the United Methodist Churches in America as they meet in 2019 to decide how to incorporate LGBQT people into the professional clergy and if same-sex couples can be married by people in the church. Even in Vicky’s denomination of the Anglican church, they still haven’t fully affirmed same-sex couples as well more due to politics over fear that the more conservative wing of the Anglican Church in parts of Africa and Asia will leave the Anglican church. She believes that full equality for same-sex couples is a justice issue not a biblical issue.

Many people who she used to lead in worship conferences and within Evangelicalism rejected Vicky because of her sexual orientation and were not welcoming like Jesus is welcoming. I believe they were being discriminatory because she was different than them. They are kind of like the Jewish Christians towards the Gentiles in Acts 11 and 15.

Yet, I understand from a discipleship perspective that in a broad understanding of porneia, sexual immorality includes any type of sex outside of marriage. Vicky would agree with this, and apply it to same-sex couples who are married themselves. Unfortunately, for many LGBQT people, the Evangelical church applies sexual immorality to homosexual acts whether married or unmarried who hold to a traditional view of human sexuality within the Bible. Thus, many LGBQT Christians feel isolated and alone and are treated like second class citizens and there is a glass ceiling as it relates to them pursuing leadership or clergyship within the church. Many women feel this way in certain Evangelical churches that are complementarian and do not allow women to be Pastors or teachers. Since of her position as a Christian leader, unless she chooses celibacy like Paul, she would be disqualified to lead worship and write songs for the church especially within the Vineyard churches.

For me as I attend Vineyard Church of Delaware County, I need to abide by the leadership’s position of “welcoming and not affirming” position on LGBQT relationships even though personally I am affirming and inclusive as it relates to LGBQT people. As I attend the BCMC which is a spiritual and alternative church which blends the best of Buddhism Christianity and Earth bound religions (a place to meet for spiritual practices), but not a Christian church (see below), it is fully affirming and inclusive as it relates to LGBQT people without boundaries or limitations which is more in line how I define inclusive.

Since I want to pass down Christian traditions to my daughter, it is important for me to maintain healthy relationships within the localized Christian church that I attend and build relationships within that community. We can agree to disagree as brothers and sisters on LGBQT inclusion and what it means to be welcoming.

Continue reading “Vicky Beeching – Undivided – From Being an Insider to an Outsider in the Evangelical Church”

Posted in authors, Books, Christian Ethics, Deconstruction, Evangelicalism, Hard Questions, Music, relationships, Theology

Vicky Beeching – Undivided – A Journey from Discord and Deconstruction to Reconstruction and Wholeness

Vicky Beeching

I have been part of the Vineyard Movement for over 20 years going back to 1996. In the 1990’s a lot of powerful worship music was coming out of the United Kingdom. Such worship leaders were Vicky Beeching, Matt Redman, and the worship rock band Delirious?. All of these artists had an impact on the Vineyard Movement and Evangelical and Charismatic Christianity in the latter half of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first century.

In 2015, Vicky Beeching came out as a lesbian and rocked the evangelical world especially the Vineyard Movement. The use of her songs in corporate worship are still being debated by worship pastors on social media that are part of the Association of Vineyard Churches. Almost overnight, places where she and her band were allowed to lead worship were disinvited, and treated like an outcast due to her sexual orientation. Her family may not have agreed with her lifestyle since they believed in what she calls a traditional view of marriage (one man one woman), but chose to love her anyway.

Recently, she wrote a memoir entitled, Undivided about who she is as a Gay Christian. It is a heartfelt book due to her brutal honesty, and at times painful to read due to the rejection that she faced in the church, and also her own shame of being attracted to people of the same sex. Working within the Christian music industry, any behavior that wouldn’t line up with the churches expectation was a violation of her contract. She writes:

“I was worried about something else-the morals clause‘. Common in acting, athletics, and music deals, a morals clause allows the contract to be legally terminated if the person engages in behavior that brings disrepute to the employer. What disrepute meant in mainstream contracts was open to interpretation, but in the Christian music industry it had faith-based overtones and would be judged by evangelical standards of behavior. I knew that meant being openly gay or in a same-sex relationship would likely result in the on-way ticket out the door and the crashing and burning of my livelihood…nervously, I signed the contract knowing I was walking an emotional tightrope. I was excited to serve God with my music and looking forward to a new chapter of life in a new country, but I was terrified of what it meant for me emotionally and psychologically.” (Undivided, page 131).

Also, it was difficult to read due to the loneliness she felt even when she was leading thousands in worship to God at large conferences and worship events. The emotional pain that she carried with her created health issues in her body where today she suffers from auto-immune diseases like Chronic Fatigue and Fibromyalgia. She writes:

“As I wrestled with these huge questions, the psychological damage that had begun in my teens was continuing through my years at Oxford. I felt trapped and fearful. Part of me longed for a soul mate, as loneliness was a constant painful reality. But I couldn’t give up my community, my conscience, or my future career. It was a cruel choice for anyone to face, and as the years went by, the toll it was taking on my life grew and grew.” (Undivided, page 85)

The question that she wrestled with as she went through a slow painful process of deconstruction was:

“Why do I have to choose between such core aspects of my identity?’ I often asked myself, sobbing into my pillow at night. ‘Why can’t I pursue my music career and also be able to date and marry someone of the same sex?’ It seemed immensely unfair that straight people didn’t have to make these vast, cruel choices, and it felt like being ripped in two.” (Undivided, page 85)

One of the things that has struck me while reading her memoir is her time of deconstruction while at Oxford University. Many of her peers who were Evangelical and heterosexual were judging homosexuality as sinful, yet totally were being hypocritical while being promiscuous with other people of the opposite sex. Also, as she dug into her studies in theology at Oxford, she discovered that the church made wrong judgments in the past about slavery and race relations and women’s rights. It wasn’t until courageous people like William Wilberforce, and others reinterpreted scripture to point out that the churches position on these issues were off base. She came to the conclusion that most Christians base their judgments and worldview upon how they interpret scripture.

She writes on page 200 that our own background and bias (background, culture, and values) can keep us from seeing anything objectively. She writes:

“When people argue that ‘the Bible says…’, it is primarily an individual interpretation based on their own values and life experience. It seemed to me that a huge dose of humility was needed in all discussions of theology; everyone had to be open to the possibility they needed to see things from a different angle.” (Undivided, page 201)

Many of us who have deconstructed have either been a recipient of someone using the Bible as a weapon to put us in our place, or when we were Evangelical, we too used the Bible as the means by which to debate, defend, and argue our particular perspective of Christianity. Many people like Matthew Vines who wrote the book, God and the Gay Christian, and David Gushee, who wrote, Changing Our Minds, have reinterpreted the six clobber passages that Evangelicals use to condemn homosexuality. Vicky writes that within the text we get the word homosexual (1 Cor. 6:11), many translators had a difficult time translating the Greek word Arsenkoites which many scholars believe Paul made up which is two Greek words for “arsen (male), and koites (bed). It has been by guess work what Paul’s intent was for using this word in his letter to the Corinthians. She writes:

“It surprised me that such a key verse, used to utterly condemn same-sex relationships, hung on a word no one could accurately translate to cross-reference for contextual meaning. Many scholars studying Paul’s writings had apparently questioned whether this term referred to something quite different: to temple prostitution and pederasty (sexual relations between a man and a boy)…It also seemed to appear Paul was focused on economic sins, suggesting it was about power inbalance and coercive abuse, not monogamous, loving relationships.” (Undivided, pgs. 105-106)

Conclusion

As she was conversing with her Grandfather who was a missionary to Africa who doesn’t agree with her lifestyle, she quotes Billy Graham and says:

“Can you leave it with God to judge me, if he needs to, and just focus on you and I loving each other? Our job description as Christians is to love. God’s job is to judge. Sometimes we get our roles mixed up; judging other Christians isn’t something that should be our focus. We have plenty to keep us busy-learning to love others the best we can.” (Undivided, page 262)

I agree with Vicky, that as Christians we are called to love God and love our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27), even if our neighbor is different than we are. The church is so divided today because we as Christians haven’t done a good job at loving even each other as brothers and sisters in Christ. Also, as it relates to theology and biblical interpretation, we have not been humble and only interpreted the bible based upon our traditions, culture, and values, not being open-minded to another perspective interpreting the bible.

As she has come out as LGBQT, she feels more free and more undivided than having to choose between her Christian faith and her sexual orientation. She leads discussions with corporations how to be more inclusive and diverse, and she talks with young people about part of worship is being who you are and not denying any part of yourself. Her message to many people is “we become our most beautiful, powerful, irreplaceable selves when we allow our diversity to shine“… Freed from shame and fear, we are finally able to live, and love, from a place of wholeness. We find peace. We become complete. We become the people who we are, at our deepest core, undivided.” (Undivided, page 315).

I agree with Vicky, diversity in community brings unity and allows us to shine to be the light that Jesus talks about on the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5:16), and when we come from a place of love, not shame and fear, we will experience peace.

I am not finished with her memoir, and I recommend it to anyone who has experienced her worship leading (Vineyard folks), anyone who wants to be more sympathetic and loving towards the LGBQT community, and anyone who is going through a deconstruction path like she went through.

o-VICKY-BEECHING-570

Posted in Buddhist-Christian, Family, Mindfulness, prayers, relationships, Sermons, Vineyard Theology

Monday Morning Sermon – The Gospel of Love – A Tale of Two Churches – VCDC and BCMC

CofFest

3 I give thanks to my God for every remembrance of you,[a] 4 always praying with joy for all of you in my every prayer, 5 because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. 6 I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you[b] will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. 7 Indeed, it is right for me to think this way about all of you, because I have you in my heart,[c] and you are all partners with me in grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. 8 For God is my witness, how deeply I miss all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. 9 And I pray this: that your love will keep on growing in knowledge and every kind of discernment, 10 so that you may approve the things that are superior and may be pure and blameless in the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ to the glory and praise of God.

From <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Philippians+1&version=CSB>

Jesus-Buddha

Part I – BCMC at ComFest

This past weekend was crazy. My family did a service project at the Community Festival with our church the BCMC to raise awareness of its existence. The Community Festival in Columbus, Ohio aka ComFest is where all the hippies come out of the woodwork in Columbus to hangout, listen to good local music, register people to vote, and raise awareness to local issues like reducing prison sentences, clean water and other political issues.

My families church was also there at ComFest and had a booth. Our intention was to let people know that we exist for those who consider themselves spiritual and not religious. BCMC is the initials of the Buddhist Christian Mother Earth Church. It is led by Michael and Ali Malley. The foundation of the church is based upon the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist from Vietnam who was nominated for the Noble Peace prize in the 1960’s for trying to prevent the Vietnam War. He was friends with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and trappist monk, Thomas Merton. While inter-racting with these men, he realized that there were a lot of similarities between Buddhism and Christianity. So many of us, like myself, who are Christian may be open to the Buddhism taught and practiced by Thich Nhat Hanh. According to Brother Michael, we watered many beneficial seeds as a church at ComFest letting people know we exist, and that the teachings of Thich Naht Hanh unify the best of both Buddhism and Christianity. Michael said that the vision of the BCMC is to build an inclusive loving Sangha (church community), water beneficial seeds, and care for commons (caring and being a steward to the earth). The

As a church, the BCMC is an inclusive church. That means that all races, genders, sexual preferences, political parties, economic classes, and generations are welcome at the BCMC. By building an inclusive Sangha (community), the BCMC creates a sacred space for people to meet and commune with God as they understand her/him. For me, as a Christian, it is a place to meet Jesus and the Holy Spirit, for others it is a space to meet and commune with Mother Gaia, the Great Divine. We were able to share God’s love with many diverse groups of people at ComFest we discussed the Second Principle of the BCMC.

The question that most of us who managing the booth were asked is “what the heck is a Buddhist-Christian Mother Earth Church?”

Most of the responses that we received were positive. Most people would say to us, “this is what a church should be like” after hearing Brother Michael, his wife Ali, or my friend Jacob share the history, the mission and vision of the BCMC.

Division Not Unity

So many Christian churches are divided and distinguished by denominational-ism. I know that I can drive down Karl Road in Columbus between Morse and Dublin-Granville Road and there will be 4 to 5 different churches (all Christian) right next to one another such as Southern Baptist, Non-instrumental Church of Christ, United Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopal, and so on. They all might be Christian churches, but they are known for their distinctive differences than what unites them.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

Buddhists and Christians alike, in dialogue, want to recognize similarities as well as differences in their traditions. It is good than an orange is an orange and a mango is a mango. The colors, the smells, and the tastes are different, but looking deeply, we see that they are both authentic fruits. Looking more deeply, we can see sunshine, the rain, the minerals, and the earth in both of them. Only their manifestations are different. Authentic experience makes a religion a true tradition. Religious experience is, above all, human experience. If religions are authentic, they contain the same elements of stability, joy, peace, understanding, and love… The absence of true experience brings forth intolerance and a lack of understanding. Organized religions, must create conditions that are favorable for true practice and true experience to flower. Authentic ecumenical practices help different schools within a tradition learn from one another and restore the best aspects of the tradition that may have been eroded. This is true within both Buddhism and Christianity…Different religious traditions can engage in dialogue with one another in a true spirit of ecumenism. Dialogue can be fruitful and enriching if both sides are truly open… (Hanh, pgs. 206-208)

Unfortunately, we as humans focus more on differences than similarities. Thich Nhat Hanh goes on to say that to have a fruitful dialogue, one must know their own traditions and heritage of their beliefs (differences). For example from Christendom, what makes Roman Catholics distinct from Eastern Orthodox and other Protestants. He says that knowing our own tradition can help us in being open and accepting other religious traditions. He sees the positive distinctions as he explains differences between an orange and a mango, yet what they both have in common is that they are fruit and it takes the same elements of water, sunlight, earth to create the fruit. Likewise, so is with organized religion of love, joy, peace, and understanding will be present whether it comes from the Buddha heart or the Holy Spirit. The elements are present. St. Paul writes:

6 I was the one who planted the church and Apollos came and cared for it, but it was God who caused it to grow. 7 This means the one who plants is not anybody special, nor the one who waters, for God is the one who brings the supernatural growth.

From <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+corinthians+3&version=TPT>

VCDC Summer Series – Part II – Christian Maturity – Paul’s Letter to the Philippians

Michael Hansen preached at the Vineyard Church of Delaware County, Ohio on Philippians 1. The church is starting a new series on Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi. It was one of Paul’s prison letters which he wrote in Rome while awaiting trial to be heard in front of Nero. Anyway, unlike his other letters, the letter to the Philippians was encouraging and uplifting. The purpose according to Michael of the letter was to for Christians to grow in Christlikeness. Michael’s three points of the his message taken from Paul’s prayer to the Philippians (Phil 1:3-11):

  1. Gospel is about love and the Church in Philippi was a partner in Paul’s Gospel of Love
  2. God will complete and bring maturity if we are receptive
  3. Growth happens as we grow in knowledge and truth of who we are in Christ Jesus

Many of us do not know the gospel that Paul was referring to, nor do we know who were are in Christ. Divisions arise when the basic elements of the gospel are neglected in a given church. Michael said that winds of disunity are revealed when the Gospel is not understood. Many people at VCDC had an authentic conversion experience and know when they became followers of Jesus, but many cannot explain what it means to be a Christian. They can testify and bear witness what God is doing in their life, but many (myself included) mix our culture with our faith.

The gospel always starts with love. Love is the essence of God and is the element that makes God holy. In God’s love for us, Jesus became human to demonstrate God’s Kingdom on earth. In Christ, heaven and earth meet. John writes:

Knowing God through Love

7 Dear friends, let us love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us[a] in this way: God sent his one and only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice[b] for our sins. 11 Dear friends, if God loved us in this way, we also must love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God remains in[c] us and his love is made complete in us. 13 This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and we testify that the Father has sent his Son as the world’s Savior. 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God—God remains in him and he in God. 16 And we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us.

God is love, and the one who remains in love remains in God, and God remains in him.

From <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+John+4%3A7-16&version=CSB>

Our identity as humans is characterized by when we were baptized (Rom. 6:3-4). We became new creatures, in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). We became united to God as we became followers of Jesus. God’s grace is an exchange where he that had no sin became sin so that we can become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). God’s love is manifested in Christ Jesus. As we identify with who he is and the gospel, we can grow, mature, and become more Christlike.

I was encouraged that Michael emphasized growing in God’s love. Unconditional love and knowing God’s love is so essential to sharing the Gospel and growing in Christ-likeness.

Going to both VCDC and BCMC

Unfortunately, due to my deconstruction, I am weary of getting too involved because I differ from them when it comes to who are included in the gospel of Christ and how that affects the LGBQT community. Knowing how outspoken I am about human sexuality and sexual ethics as it relates to LGBQT people and the need for justice for them, I will upset people that go to the church that may believe otherwise. I don’t want to be put-offish as I get reconnected to the church, respect its leadership, but also know that it is okay to agree to disagree as it relates to human flourishing. Inclusiveness is secondary to the gospel.

Again, when I attend VCDC, I need to be open minded as I am with BCMC and be hospitable with others that may be different as I am and focus on our similarities, not our differences. I am there to love God, and see others grow in their relationship with Jesus, not be political as I am with the BCMC to see people find God in our sacred sang-ha.

As with the BCMC, I need to understand that there may be people coming who don’t believe in God, yet want to learn how to practice mindfulness as taught by Thich Nhat Hanh, and that there may be people who believe in God as they understand the divine to be, but may not believe in Jesus, or may not see things as I see things such as the divinity of Christ. Being open-minded and aware of the differences and diversity that will be fostered at the BCMC is a good thing even though it can be tense at times since my ego wants uniformity not unity within diversity.

Conclusion

What makes both Buddhism and Christianity similar and where they can coexist is both are a way of life. Both are based upon love or God’s love as the foundation for the way of life. Whether or not I am practicing mindfulness and meditation spelled out by Thich Nhat Hanh, or I am praying and reading my bible, my identity is a Child of God. The BCMC is an inclusive church where people can practice and know God as they understand the divine. It is a place where the church can water beneficial seeds to the community as it serves the greater Columbus area, and be a place where we can learn how to take care of the earth. Most importantly, it is a place where my family can connect to the divine.

VCDC is a place where my daughter can learn about Jesus. It is a local church in Sunbury (where I live) that can make a difference in the community and also be a place where I can grow as well as a Christian. A place where I can partake in the sacramental elements of the Eucharist, and it is a place where I can be encouraged by other brothers in Christ.