31 May 2013

Striking a Nerve (aka, Kids in Church)

So several friends of mine shared this blog post on Facebook.  If you'd rather not navigate away to read the article, called "Dear Parents With Young Children in Church," here it is:
You are doing something really, really important. I know it’s not easy. I see you with your arms overflowing, and I know you came to church already tired. Parenting is tiring. Really tiring.

I watch you bounce and sway trying to keep the baby quiet, juggling the infant carseat and the diaper bag as you find a seat. I see you wince as your child cries. I see you anxiously pull things out of your bag of tricks to try to quiet them.

And I see you with your toddler and your preschooler. I watch you cringe when your little girl asks an innocent question in a voice that might not be an inside voice let alone a church whisper.  I hear the exasperation in your voice as you beg your child to just sit, to be quiet as you feel everyone’s eyes on you. Not everyone is looking, but I know it feels that way.

I know you’re wondering, is this worth it? Why do I bother? I know you often leave church more exhausted than fulfilled. But what you are doing is so important.
When you are here, the church is filled with a joyful noise. When you are here, the Body of Christ is more fully present. When you are here, we are reminded that this worship thing we do isn’t about Bible Study or personal, quiet contemplation but coming together to worship as a community where all are welcome, where we share in the Word and Sacrament together.When you are here, I have hope that these pews won’t be empty in ten years when your kids are old enough to sit quietly and behave in worship. I know that they are learning how and why we worship now, before it’s too late. They are learning that worship is important.

I see them learning. In the midst of the cries, whines, and giggles, in the midst of the crinkling of pretzel bags and the growing pile of crumbs I see a little girl who insists on going two pews up to share peace with someone she’s never met. I hear a little boy slurping (quite loudly) every last drop of his communion wine out of the cup determined not to miss a drop of Jesus. I watch a child excitedly color a cross and point to the one in the front of the sanctuary.  I hear the echos of Amens just a few seconds after the rest of the community says it together. I watch a boy just learning to read try to sound out the words in the worship book or count his way to Hymn 672. Even on weeks when I can’t see my own children learning because, well, it’s one of those mornings, I can see your children learning.

I know how hard it is to do what you’re doing, but I want you to know, it matters. It matters to me. It matters to my children to not be alone in the pew. It matters to the congregation to know that families care about faith, to see young people… and even on those weeks when you can’t see the little moments, it matters to your children.

It matters that they learn that worship is what we do as a community of faith, that everyone is welcome, that their worship matters. When we teach children that their worship matters, we teach them that they are enough right here and right now as members of the church community. They don’t need to wait until they can believe, pray or worship a certain way to be welcome here, and I know adults who are still looking to be shown that. It matters that children learn that they are an integral part of this church, that their prayers, their songs, and even their badly (or perfectly timed depending on who you ask) cries and whines are a joyful noise because it means they are present.

I know it’s hard, but thank you for what you do when you bring your children to church. Please know that your family - with all of its noise, struggle, commotion, and joy – are not simply tolerated, you are a vital part of the community gathered in worship.
So if I can summarize the arguments on this side of the discussion (not just from this article), then it would be this: children of all ages should worship (by that I mean sit in the entire church service) because...
  • it encourages families to worship together
  • it communicates to children that they are part of the community
  • it communicates that children are welcome as fellow worshipers, even if they worship a little differently than grownups.
  • it illustrates the diversity of the body of Christ
  • to send children somewhere else during the worship service communicates that they aren't ready for church, that church is only for grownups, and it doesn't prepare them to enter church later.
  • to send them somewhere else caters only to the grumpy old-fashioned people who can't "worship" without silence and no interruptions.
There may be more reasons, but I think this fairly well represents many of the main ideas I've come across.  But there is another side to the issue, and I think those arguments are the following: little children (under 8-10 years old) should not be in the worship service OR should not be with the grownups during the sermon because...
  • parents are not able to focus on the singing and/or sermon if they are constantly having to entertain/distract/chastise their children.
  • the sermon is not an age-appropriate teaching tool for today's children.  Sitting still and paying attention to a 25 minute sermon is hard enough for adults; kids just aren't wired for that.
  • making little children sit still and be quiet and not have fun in church sends a negative message to the kids, roughly that "church is where you have to do things you dislike because Mom and Dad say so," and "church is not a fun place."  This is related to the age-appropriateness argument.
  • (for those who desire it) a short break from the kids can help parents relax, pay attention to the service, and gear up for the kids again.  30 minutes away from Mommy and Daddy won't tear the family apart (and might actually be good for them!).
Again, there are more reasons on this side as well.  But to me it looks like a case of people wanting different things for different reasons.  Those who want kids in the entire service do so out of a philosophical foundation, and those who don't want kids in the entire service do so mainly out of pragmatic/logistical reasons.  Will the two sides ever agree?

Even if they don't, let's all agree not to demonize the people whose convictions on this subject differ from ours.     That said, what do you think?  Should all ages worship (not just singing, but offering, communion, sermon, and prayer time) together every Sunday?  Why or why not?

22 May 2013

On Homosexuality and Cherry Picking the Bible

I want to pass along a helpful article by Tim Keller, a pastor and writer I'm appreciating more and more.  He is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City (which is not exactly the easiest place to be a conservative evangelical!).  In the article he takes on a common accusation leveled against Christians who say homosexuality is a sin: because you say you believe the Bible, and because the Old Testament says to execute those who engage in homosexual sex, then why don't you still obey those laws?  Why pick and choose which parts of the Bible you will obey and which you will not?

His treatment is good because he understands the concept that while we do believe the Bible is true, some truths (read: commands) have an expiration date because the kind of relationship God has with the church is very different from the kind of relationship God had with Israel.  The nature of God's relationship with "his people" is fundamentally different after Jesus.  We call this the "new covenant" (which, by the way, is what "New Testament" means).

01 May 2013

I'm Confused

On an ESPN show, Outside the Lines, Chris Broussard said some strong things in the midst of the recent coming out of NBA player Jason Collins.  He says a lot of other things which are quite neutral, especially when you find out where he's coming from as a Christian.  Here are his "controversial" remarks:

 What I'm confused about is this: why is it that when a gay person stands up for their beliefs and lifestyle, it is courageous, but when anyone who disagrees (regardless of religion, but it seems to be evangelical Christians who get the most heat for it) stands up for their beliefs and lifestyle, they are hateful bigots?  Some tolerance you got there!  Just because LBGTs say the Bible

There is a lot more to this interview than this snippet allows.  I encourage you to watch the whole exchange (which is 13 minutes long and also features openly gay reporter LZ Granderson), which you can find here.  Granderson believes he is a Christian, though his primary argument is political, not theological: you [Christians] say we are sinners because we have sex outside of marriage, yet you don't want us to get married, so "a brother's gotta do what a brother's gotta do" (his words).

No, a person (gay or straight) doesn't "gotta do what a [person's] gotta do."  There is no absolute NEED to have sex; it is a desire, not a need.  Your survival as an individual does not depend on having sex.  Many people live celibate and happy lives.  God's will is for sex to be in the context of marriage alone, and in heterosexual marriage specifically.  If you are gay and a Christian, then that means you willingly become celibate because loving and obeying Jesus ought to be more important than your lust.  There are a lot worse things that can happen to a person than celibacy.

Interestingly, Jason Collins was phoned by President Obama, tweeted by Michelle Obama, and is being hailed all over the country as a hero.  Because he's gay.  And a pro athlete.  Meanwhile, hundreds of soldiers have died for this country under Obama's watch, and how many surviving families get a phone call?  How many slain law enforcement officers' families get a phone call?  I thought LBGTs wanted to be treated like everyone else.  If that's so, then announcing your sexual orientation ought to receive as much fanfare as a straight NBA player announcing his sexual orientation.

I understand that culturally we have come/drifted a long way, and that this is becoming more common (I didn't say "normal.").  Frankly, I don't really care if someone's sexual temptation comes from the opposite gender or the same; what matters is holiness and obedience to the gospel of Christ, part of which is reserving sexual activity for marriage as defined by the Bible.  Is this hate speech, or understanding what the Bible says?  Why is it "intolerant" and "hateful" for Christians to affirm what the Bible says and not blindly accept all statements as harmless truth, yet to spew oceans of vile venom about how hateful Christians are is okay, even celebrated?  "Way to go, you tell those hateful SOBs how much they deserve to die a painful death and rot in a shameful afterlife!  They are so bigoted and backward because they don't agree with us!  We are so progressive, fashionable, and enlightened because we don't agree with them!"

Since when did "The Bible does not teach ______" become hate-filled bigotry, while laughingly belittling and bullying Christians (who do not believe that homosexuality is a mortal sin) is championing civil rights?  We Christians hear this a lot (though not this clearly): "you need to learn tolerance, you backwards, superstitious, hateful, archaic, irrelevant imbeciles!"  Maybe if we had a good example of tolerance...

And when the LBGT-friendly community actually does try to speak with Christians about this issue in an irenic way, it still reeks of a superiority complex:

LBGTFriendly: we need to have this conversation, we need to come together and talk about this in a peaceful way.

Christian: I agree.

LBGTF: I'm a Christian, too, and I believe God is love.

Christian: OK, but he's not love alone.  He is also holy and righteous and wrathful...

LBGTF: That's your interpretation, and what we need is a tolerant, peaceful discussion.

Christian: I'm trying to do that, but your interpretation of the nature of God is flawed and limited.

L: It's this kind of narrow-mindedness that is stalling this conversation from moving forward.

C: You mean, like, trying to figure out what the Bible actually says?

L: Look, I know I'm a Christian.  Jesus tells me so.

C: Where does Jesus tell you it's okay to be sexually active outside of marriage?

L: I don't appreciate your tone.  I'm trying to have an intelligent conversation with you and you keep offending me with your narrow interpretation and insensitivity.

C: Look, the Bible clearly calls homosexual sex sin.

L: I don't appreciate being judged.  God is my judge, not you.

C: Judging and telling the truth are two different things.  Judging means you are pronouncing a person's eternal destiny and standing before God.  Calling something you do a sin doesn't necessarily mean you're going to hell for it.

L: I'm disappointed by your words - they are hurtful and sound judgmental.  What's lacking here is respect and tolerance for different viewpoints.

C: No, I'm tolerating you just fine.  Tolerating someone does not mean accepting everything they say as true; that wouldn't be tolerance anymore. 

L: I'm sad that you aren't on the right side of history.  I feel sorry for you.

C: There's no way to win here, is there?

L: No.

One of these two is a hero for standing up for what he believes in (even though he claims to accept everyone's beliefs . . . except those that oppose his), and one is ignorant and prejudiced.

I'm confused.