I am a Christian who believes…
I am tired of feeling misrepresented. I see what is going on in the world, and the voice of “Christians” who are the loudest and I see a faith in them that I don’t recognize in myself. I see a faith that is judgmental, hypocritical, anything but compassionate, homophobic, anti-science and exclusive. Worst of all, I see a faith that is based in fear. It is a faith that is trying to avoid hell, rather than be embraced, along with the rest of creation, by the God that created us all and is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ, specifically Christ on the cross.
I believe there is something I call, “Cultural Christianity.” It is a generic form of Christianity that many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, think Christians actually believe. It comes, not because “the media” portrays Christians as this, but rather this is what certain Christians portray themselves as, whether on their own network (in which they are “the media”) or as guest commentators/speakers on other shows and networks. More and more I am disheartened by the way the faith that I hold dear is represented.
I am going to write about 3 aspects that I think are most commonly misrepresented. This will not be a full theological treatise, but it will mainly consist of talking points to help me articulate key aspects of my faith and hopefully, will be intelligent and coherent enough to help you. By writing, I hope it lets you and others know there are plenty of Christians who are not those characteristics listed above. (Alright, I am judgmental and hypocritical, but I am trying to admit it and do it less.)
While I am an ordained pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (www.elca.org) and currently serve at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Combined Locks, WI, I am not writing to directly represent either of those larger institutions, although I do believe I am being true to the training and schooling that I have received. I am writing of my own personal beliefs. Within my denomination, there will be people who disagree with me, either in my reasoning or in the belief itself. I hope I do my professors at Wartburg Seminary proud and, if they were to read this, they would be pleased to have had me as a student and a current graduate of that institution and a colleague in ministry.
I am a Christian who believes in EVOLUTION.
I used to teach 7th grade science. The curriculum at that level is a bit of everything. We cover physics, chemistry, we dissect frogs, we learn about the 6 types of fossils and we learn about evolution. When I told people that I became a pastor, many people assumed I had issues with teaching evolution. Here is a synopsis of one conversation.
Q: What did you teach?
A: 7th grade science.
Q: Science? Huh? How did you deal with…the people saying the earth is however many years old it is and…evolution?
A: I didn’t have a problem with it because I believe the earth is 4.8 billion years old and I believe in evolution.
Q: Huh? (Silence until someone in the group changes the topic.)
I could explain my reasoning for believing in evolution either through science, or scripture, but since scripture has led me to a deeper understanding of science, I will use scripture.
The Bible does not have one creation story. It does not only tell of the world being created in 6 days and God resting on the 7th. That is one story and it is found in Genesis 1. In that story, God creates the world and all that is in it, and at the end, creates a male and female equally, in God’s image God creates them. Afterwards, God looks at all God had made and didn’t just call it good, but very good.
Then, in Genesis 2, there is another creation story. In this creation story, God creates man out of the dust first. Then God creates the rest of the world. Then God says it is not good for man to be alone, so God puts the man to sleep and takes a rib out of the man and creates a woman.
These two stories do not say the same thing. They agree that God created, but they do not agree in the order in which God created. This means, that we should not be reading the Bible literally, as trying to explain science. If we try and do that, we need to decide which story we are going to use. If we do that, we need to say the other story is incorrect, which means we can’t read the Bible literally anymore, which means we can’t use the other story to say this is literally how God created the world. It just doesn’t work.
Plus, the Bible was not made to be read that way. It contains history but is not a history book. It contains songs, but is not a hymnal. It contains parables but is not a story book. In fact, it is not one book at all. It is a collection of books into one book. It is a collection of writings of people who are trying to figure out what it means to be a child of God and God constantly chasing down these people, ultimately coming in Jesus. The first 2 chapters of Genesis are trying to help us understand who we are and who God is. It is helping us understand what it means to be human. It is not explaining how God created, it is explaining why God created and what God’s hopes and dreams of the creation are. Science is trying to explain how God created. It looks at the wonder and beauty of the natural world and can then marvel and the wonder and beauty of God. It does not discredit God. Science and faith are not trying to disprove one another, they work hand in hand to illuminate one another. To quote Rob Bell, “Let’s read the bible literately not, not literally.”
For more on this topic I highly recommend the following books and website.
“The Language of God” by Francis S. Collins
“What is the Bible? How an Ancient Library of Poems, Letters, and Stories Can Transform the Way You Think and Feel About Everything
I am a Christian who SUPPORTS FULL INCLUSION OF LGBTQ in the life of the church.
I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, my opinion has turned 180 in the last 10 years. Some might say this is capitulating to culture. That I am letting culture influence my faith and, as a Christian, we need to stand strong, and make my faith influence the culture. There are times I fully agree with that, hence I am writing this blog and specifically this post. Also, it might be true. I might be letting the culture influence my faith, and you know what? I am okay with that. Maybe it isn’t something to be afraid of. If God created everything, created all of creation, maybe we can learn something from others about what it means to be a child of God and human.
First, let me tell you what finally brought it home for me, what convinced me to change my opinion. Youth who are Gay, Lesbian and Bi- are 4 times more likely to die by suicide than those who are straight. This statistic is most likely higher because it is not uncommon for families to never know the full story of why a loved one killed themselves. Also, youth who struggle with their sexuality or abused, bullied, picked on, have low self-esteem and higher rates of depression and other mental illnesses. This is not right. People are literally killing themselves over what they feel and the church has done more harm than good to help. And by help, I do not mean, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.” From my understanding, that does not help. The church is supposed to advocate for the oppressed and ostracized and not add to that group. If nothing, else, we need to change our beliefs for the sake of all those people who identify sexually differently than what is considered “normal.”
To learn more about the harm that youth who are gay, lesbian and bi-sexual undergo, please go to…
Secondly, I believe you can do a faithful reading of scripture and support the full-inclusion of LGBTQ. We need to remember and study what was written, why it was written, who wrote it and who it was written to. Essentially, we need to remember context when we read the Bible, both the context of long ago and the context of today. The Bible rarely mentions homosexuality and, depending on your interpretation, those verses are about rape and sexual lust and not about mutual love between two people. For a full and much better explanation of a different view of homosexuality in scripture I would ask you to use one of the following resources.
“God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines
The following is a great article from Dr. David Lose, and ELCA Pastor, Professor and former seminary president about how to read the few passages which mention homosexuality.
Lastly, what really made sense to me is what I heard from someone at seminary. “If I am going to be wrong, I would rather err on the side of grace.” I put it this way. I would rather stand in front of God and say, “Forgive me for being radically inclusive with your love for your people” and not say, “Forgive me for being exclusive with your love for your people.”
I am a Christian who hopes for and believes in UNIVERSAL SALVATION.
This does not mean I am a universalist. I do not believe that Jesus, Muhammed, Buddha and all other god’s people believe in are equal. I believe that Jesus Christ is the fullest revelation of God on Earth. I believe that what God has done in Jesus Christ covers all of creation, not just part of it.
Like my other points, I can come to this conclusion scripturally and through reason. Again, I don’t have the space to deal with all the scripture on this topic. I also will not deny that there is scripture that speaks of a coming judgement. But too often, this is the only scripture that we know or use. We forget that there is scripture like Colossians 1:19-20, where Paul writes, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things (italics mine), whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.” When Paul uses the phrase “all things” it means “all things.” There is nothing left out. All is reconciled.
Which gets me to a second point. We need to get away from the concept of “going to heaven when we die.” We are not escaping this world for some ethereal, non-body, spiritual existence. The biblical witness is that the whole creation will be restored, renewed and recreated. The Bible ends with this vision in Revelation 21 in which God comes down and dwells with God’s people. God comes to us, not we “go up” to God. Death will be no more and God will be with God’s people. Heaven and earth will be one, no longer separate. To learn more about this I highly recommend anything by N.T. Wright but specifically the following. (I cannot say with certain the Mr. Wright would agree with universal salvation, but I believe he leaves the door open for that hope.)
“Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church” b N.T. Wright
Lastly though, I think it just makes sense that all will be saved. I think the main reason why most people don’t go to church, or believe in God, has very little to do with Jesus. It has to do with those of us who speak for Jesus. People see us open our mouths and think, “If that is what God is like, if God is like those people, I want nothing to do with God.” I can’t say that I blame them. While the church has been responsible for some beautiful moments throughout history, it also has more than its share of ugly ones. I have often thought and wondered if I did not grow up in a Christian family, would I be Christian? As I look around at the loudest “Christian” voices, I don’t believe I would. Therefore, I don’t blame others for not believing in Jesus. Their lack of faith is not because of themselves, but it is because of those of us who claim to be Christian. I think the church, and myself, need to ask for forgiveness for the way we have failed to adequately convey God’s all-encompassing love for the world and have inserted our biases, prejudices and fears into it. We have led people astray. That is our fault. My fault. Not the fault of the “un-believer.” I believe God knows that and understand that.
I am not arrogant enough to think that my theology, or understanding of God, is perfect. It is not. I am trying to do my best to convey the love of Christ as it has been revealed to me, both through my interactions with people and through my study of the Bible. I will sometimes get it wrong. Many times I will get it wrong. I hope and pray though, that I get some things right. In the end, I rely on the love of God, revealed in Jesus, to do for me, and to do for you what we cannot do for ourselves, and that is to save.
If you disagree with the points I make or the reasoning behind it and feel the need to comment below or on facebook, I hope you will do so with respect. Too often these conversations can quickly devolve into name calling and ostracizing of the other. I want no part of that, and all comments that even lean in that direction will be deleted. If you have other thoughts on aspects of the Christian faith that are misrepresented by “Cultural Christianity,” please comment below or on facebook. I would love to hear them. May we remember, “What unites us is greater than what divides us.” And I mean that not within just Christianity, but within all humanity.
Grace and Peace and don’t be a jerk,