God, forgive us when we hate rather than love, when we hate and call it love, when we love and it feels like hate… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when our patriotism lacks purity, when our politics lack goodness, when our worldview is devoid of grace… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we sanctify capitalism and sacrifice the poor, when we justify enterprise and sacrifice the environment, when we erect our values, ideas, and schemes and sacrifice our humanity… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we use our faith to create fear, when we use our doctrines to cast ultimatums, when we use our spiritual ideals as litmus tests against people and groups who do not agree with us… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we suffocate the living, breathing words of God with sexism, intolerance, inequality, racism, certainty, ignorance, intellectualism, pride… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we pursue violence rather than peace, when we seek to divide rather than commune, when we choose to troll rather than pray… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we let jealousy become an excuse for sarcasm, when we use mercy as a way to shame and devalue others, when we Instagram our pride using “humility” as a filter… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we put you against science, when we put you at odds with social justice, when we position you in our corners fighting all of our causes… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we worship scripture instead of Christ, when we bow down to the beliefs and ideas of pastors and gurus instead of the teachings of Christ, when we ignore the Beatitudes in our sermonizing the Book of Romans, when we fail to remember the two greatest commandments in our efforts to get others to remember the great ten… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we turn the Easter season into a show, when we make the resurrection story into a gimmick for church growth, when we transform hope into a sellable brand, a catchy tagline, a three-minute pop song… for we know not what we do?
God, forgive us when we use Christ’s story as way to shout “Crucify him!” one more time… for we know not what we do.
Ten Thousand Kids.
Those are the words that kept ringing inside my brain as I tried to listen to Rich Stearns talk about what happened last week at World Vision.
Ten thousand kids.
Ten thousand brown, black, tan, or white faces…
Ten thousand souls…
And in only 2 days.
As Stearns chatted with a handful of bloggers about why the board made the decision it made and then reversed that decision two days later, those words—TEN THOUSAND KIDS! TEN THOUSAND KIDS!—blinked like a neon sign in my head.
And that was the two-day cost of their decision, a decision to hire married gay folk, a decision that was decided on last fall and leaked to Christianity Today last week. That was the cost.
Last Monday, the day of the announcement, World Vision’s call center received 7000 calls and a loss of 2000 child sponsorships. That’s just in 12 hours on Monday! The following day those numbers swelled. And then on Wednesday, within minutes of World Vision announcing that it was reversing its decision, the calls stopped and, according to Stearns, “the bleeding stopped.”
Rumor is it stopped almost like magic. Almost as soon as the press release hit, the cancellations stopped, the angry phone calls stopped.
It took several days to count the total loss of sponsorships, a number that eventually rose to “just about 10,000 children,” according to Stearns. A handful of people did call back, hoping to start up their sponsorships again. But the majority did not.
And that breaks my heart.
It should break all of our hearts, regardless of whether you praised World Vision’s initial decision or panned it as “godless.”
Even still, those three words should break us friends. Because it’s a number that represents 10,000 needy children, flesh and blood of various races and nationalities, little ones who are precious in God’s sight.
And yet, a large number of so-called born again Christians treated their relationships with their kids like they were little more than subscriptions to HBO. Sure, some people probably stopped sponsoring their kid and began sponsoring another kid through a different organization. But that’s not any better. A child sponsorship is not a product that can be returned and exchanged for a different brand. There’s nothing “moral” about using a kid as a bargaining chip to punish a Christian organization for making a decision that you don’t agree with. There’s nothing honoring about using children to force an organization’s hand. There’s nothing “pro life” about that. There’s nothing remotely “Christlike” about that. It’s downright disgusting, manipulative, and sad. If I was a Pentecostal, I might even call it demonic.
Not only do a lot of Christians wage war against flesh and blood, they’re willing to use child sponsorship as their weapons… like little ransom notes…
May God have mercy…
May light shine on all of us…
May we wake up from our intolerant slumber…
If you’re interested in sponsoring a child through World Vision, you can do that here.
On Monday evening, while eating a late dinner, we watched The Voice. Elias, my five-year-old, is the slowest eater on the planet and without fail, is always the last one in the family to finish his meal. As Jessica and I began taking plates and cups to the kitchen and folding up TV trays, Elias shouts “Daddy! Daddy, is that a boy or a girl? Because they look like a boy and a girl. I can’t tell.”
I walked back into the living room and Elias, wearing a slight curious grin, further explained his comment. “Daddy, this singer…” He points at the television. “They sounded like a girl, but they looked sort of like a girl and a boy.” As he tried to explain, his five-year-old brain was working over time, trying his hardest to put into words what he was thinking. Finally, he shrugged his shoulders and said, “It was funny.”
I stopped what I was doing, turned the television’s volume down, and gave him my full attention. “Well, buddy, here’s the thing. Sometimes it is hard to tell if a person is a boy or a girl. Even daddy finds it hard to tell sometimes.”
“But why?” he said.
“It really depends. Sometimes a person makes a choice to dress more like a boy or girl and other times they dress or look a certain way because that’s how God made them…”
And just before I was about to lose his attention, I added, “but the important thing is to love people no matter what they look like and to not to poke fun. Okay? Because that’s what God asks us to do. We love people no matter who they are…”
Now, the truth is, I doubt that Elias fully comprehended that short conversation. And that’s okay. I, however, did comprehend it. And though it was a short exchange, it was another step in a long journey toward instilling the value of love and acceptance into my son’s psyche, to equip him with the freedom and grace to love and value all people.
As a parent, I think a lot about what I’m proactively teaching my kids. Because I want my words to empower them to think about God and life differently than how I was raised to think. But it’s not just that. My prayer for my kids is that God will allow them to be a part of the path forward, that their little minds would be protected from prejudices, that they will love actively all people.
That’s a mouthful, I know. And perhaps it’s a lofty goal, an idea that only happens on “Care Bears” or “Sesame Street.” But why shouldn’t we try to give our kids the tools to embrace all people? Sure, unreasonable and hateful people will eventually come into their lives. But my hope is that they won’t be the people who do the hating or who are unreasonable or who bully others. And learning those lessons begin at home. And I’d rather those lessons be proactively presented by me, somebody they know and trust, somebody who they see and interact with all the time, somebody who has apologized to them on a number of occasions for using a mean or ugly tone when talking to them.
I know a lot of Christians talk about wanting to change the world. Which is all fine and good, I suppose. But honestly, that’s not what I wake up thinking about everyday. The thoughts and ideas that consume my heart are centered on how I’m going to empower my kids to love. I want to gift them with the permission to be abundant in their affections for others. I want to do my best to not weigh down their heads and hearts with a list of people or ideas that limit or complicate their understanding of God, God’s love, and God’s hope that we will love people—all people.
I want to empower them with a grace so big that they love dangerously, without fear, without all of the “Christian stuff” that so many of us had to overcome in order to love. Cuz love shouldn’t be something that people must survive, it should empower them to live, thrive, and hope.
I love World Vision.
In fact, I’ve worked alongside World Vision in some capacity—first as a supporter, then as a speaker and today as a social media consultant—since 2005. I’ve seen their work firsthand in five different countries. And I’ve gotten to know many of the dear souls who work for World Vision, some here in U.S. as well as those who live abroad. World Vision is a good Christian organization. They aren’t perfect. But they are good. Which is why I’m passionate about what they do, and why Jessica and I sponsor 5 kids through World Vision.
Over the last nine years, I’ve witnessed one thing over and over again at World Vision: Its people are driven by a sincere dedication to being the hands and feet of Jesus to children in need. Which is why they will go to just about any corner of the world, hope in hand, and do whatever they can to bring life, sustainability, and relief to children and families existing in desperate situations.
I love World Vision. I love its mission. I love its people. I love its passion for loving God by loving people.
Which is why yesterday was so hard to watch/experience. When Christianity Today released its “breaking news” and I read the headline—WORLD VISION: Why We Are Hiring Gay Christians in Same-Sex Marriages—I knew it was going to get ugly. I knew it. Still, once again I was surprised by just how downright hateful Christians can be, especially when it comes to anything involving our gay brothers and sisters. It’s just so sad. And yet stereotypical.
Watching the online conversation yesterday, which was mostly negative and vile in the beginning, was like watching Christian America beat up on my friend, a friend I value and know to be good.
Okay, so World Vision changed their hiring policy (read their statement here). Though the change is a bold and controversial move among evangelicals, the truth is, their “change” was really just a small step forward. And yes, I personally believe it was a step forward—a good and needed one! And I applaud World Vision for their decision. But it was just a step. I mean, the hate being spewed by Christians is being directed at World Vision, a very conservative organization, a conservative organization that requires its employees to be Christian and to sign not only the Apostle’s Creed but also a lifestyle contract. Here’s what the official statement said.
World Vision is a multi-denominational organization that welcomes employees from more than 50 denominations, and since a number of these denominations in recent years have sanctioned same-sex marriage for Christians, the board—in keeping with our practice of deferring to church authority in the lives of our staff, and desiring to treat all of our employees equally—chose to adjust our policy. Thus, the board has modified our Employee Standards of Conduct to allow a Christian in a legal same-sex marriage to be employed at World Vision.
And while this is very good news, it hardly means that World Vision is having a pride parade at its headquarters today. Nobody’s blaring Lady Gaga and donning rainbows today. In the grand scheme of things, though it’s a good move, it really is, in the end, just a minor change that does not warrant the hate storm by the likes of some of evangelicalism’s most elite names.
And guess what, friends? Gay people already work at World Vision. I mean, out of the 1100 people who work at the U.S. office, chances are pretty good, that a bunch of them are gay. Some of them might not be out. But they are there, doing the good work of Christ. Because they love Jesus. And because they love helping kids get sponsored. And they are, despite what some evangelicals might proclaim, good Christian people.
But as we know, a good many Christians really hate homosexuality. They HATE IT. And THEY MUST REMIND US OF HOW MUCH THEY HATE IT over and over again. And because they HATE HOMOSEXUALITY AND ANYTHING GAY-RELATED, when events like what happened yesterday occur, they feel obligated to issue official statements about why THEY HATE HOMOSEXUALITY. And so, a plethora of big names, from Franklin Graham to John Piper to David Platt all made their opinions about World Vision’s handbook change known.
Of course, some of the meanest faith-based culprits are the reformed bloggers at The Gospel Coalition. I really try to never subject myself to their messages, but yesterday, I did. And once again, I read one TGC blogger after another issue their thoughts as if God himself was speaking through their fingers as they typed. But as you likely know, these men are some of the Internet’s most trusted “Christian” voices. And yet I don’t get it. I mean, none of us are perfect and we all get angry once in a while. But is anybody ever happy at TGC? Do they ever get excited about something that isn’t at the expense of another? Anytime I read their posts–yesterday included!–I only see a coalition. I see no gospel. Oh, they quote scripture verses like Pharisees and seem to know what’s right about everything, but yet they seem devoid of love, at least, love that extends beyond their kind. For their sake, I do hope that, upon entering heaven, God says, “How much did you hate homosexuality?” And I hope that they are absolutely certain of the answer that God is expecting to hear. Because I suspect they might be surprised.
TGC’s rage against World Vision helped to fill up Twitter with tweets from Christians declaring their disgust for World Vision’s decision and announcing their plans to stop sponsoring their World Vision child. I hope that makes them happy. I don’t think it does. Not really. But they indeed inspired many to drop their support. Because I know for a fact that a good many people stopped sponsoring needy kids yesterday because World Vision changed a policy in their handbook. Do these people shop at Target? Do these people use Facebook? Do they donate to Goodwill? Have they ever bought Girl Scout Cookies? Do they watch The Walking Dead on AMC? Because all of those places and businesses allow gay married folk to work there too. So I hope that, before they make the decision to stop sponsoring, they will consider the child, consider that people come before doctrine, dogma, and religion. That’s my prayer.
The good news for World Vision is this: Jesus is bigger than the hate storm they are experiencing right now. Jesus is bigger than the mighty chorus of big names who are chiding them with tweets, press releases, and blog posts. Jesus is bigger than the mean-spirited comments that people are leaving them on Facebook and Twitter. Jesus is bigger than the disappointment and utter disgust they are seeing and reading all over the Internet.
But as we know, sometimes standing up for people, regardless of who they are and why they need standing up for, comes at a cost.
But we stand up anyway.
We brave the religious backlash.
And we keep following Jesus.
That said, I’m thrilled he’s issued an open apology to the members of his congregation. Like many have said, that’s a promising sign.
Or is it simply par for the course? This is Mark Driscoll we’re talking about, the preacher whose morphed into a myriad of shapes and ideas over the years, from “Emergent” to “Neo-reformed” to Calvinist Charizmatic to Rick Warren evangelical… and every transition has brought a new circle of friends, a new approach, a clean slate…
But maybe this time is different…
According to his apology, Mark’s taking a break from Facebook and Twitter, which are probably good choices. He writes: “I don’t see how I can be both a celebrity and a pastor, and so I am happy to give up the former so that I can focus on the latter.” That decision showcases wisdom on Mark’s part.
But Mark’s taken “public breaks” before, back in 2012 when he stepped down from the Acts 29 Network and The Gospel Coalition. Is this new break really “wisdom” at play or is it simply smart marketing, considering the last 6 months have been a public relations nightmare?
But let’s be honest… in Mark’s world—an environment that has cultivated hurts, abuses, and wrongs among a plethora of people—an open apology is really quite easy, perhaps even typical. For a somebody whose narcissism has caused a laundry list of pains and heartbreaks in other people’s lives, an open apology might just be an attempt to push a “reset” button as opposed to owning his ministry sins.
But as a Christian, I believe in grace. I believe in second and third and fourth chances. And I want to believe in those things for Mark, too. Because Jesus asks us to forgive. And I believe that Jesus is all about resurrection.
But Mark hasn’t hurt me personally, so who cares what kind “grace” I’m able to muster up? However, I’ve talked to and heard from a long list of those Mark has hurt. Apart from this open apology, has Mark given any of them a “first chance” at making peace? What about “Amy”, the woman whose body that “angry prophet Mark” said was filled up with sexual demons (spirits that he cast out)—has he given her a chance to speak her peace? Has he made an attempt to call Andrew and apologize for creating a church environment that became known for handing out discipline contracts as opposed to grace? Has he attempted to reach out to the numerous men who served for years at Mars Hill and then, upon challenging Mark’s ideas, theologies, or actions were fired, dismissed, or forced to resign? Showing earthly grace to Mark starts with those he’s hurt, right?
Mark’s apology seems sincere. His words, though perhaps chosen carefully, are heartfelt and filled with passion. He seems to truly mean them.
But bold statements about personal brokenness are easy to digest when you haven’t been affected personally, when you’re not one of the many regular people (whose stories rarely get heard because they’re not celebrities) who have been abused and/or hurt by Mark’s ministry tactics. Where’s their grace?
In his apology, Mark confesses: “In my worst moments, I was angry in a sinful way… as I’ve expressed in several sermons, I needed to mature as a leader.”
But Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill has been around since 1996. That’s a long time, a long time that has affected thousands upon thousands of people. At what point, does “maturing” mean it’s time to step down as a pastor or that it’s time to take a lengthy sabbatical?
Mark writes that, “in the last year or two, I have been deeply convicted by God that my angry-young-prophet days are over, to be replaced by a helpful, Bible-teaching spiritual father…”
But either way, prophet or father, Mark’s still in charge, still allowed to affect people’s spirituality. Shouldn’t the fact that Mark has showcased an ongoing habit of abusing souls, intentional or otherwise, cause us to receive this apology only if combined with a resignation? Or do we really not believe that people’s souls are worth protecting?
I want to believe Mark’s words represent true change.
I’m tempted to believe Mark’s words are little more than a rebranding campaign, another new beginning to a three-four year season in the ministry of Mark Driscoll…
Are his words sincere?
Or do his words represent the end of one Mark ministry cycle and the beginning of a new ministry cycle?
I believe in grace.
But is grace is not black and white. No, grace is often gray. So rather than apologizing Mark Driscoll’s second, third, or whatever chance….
I’m gonna pray for him.
I don’t trust Mark Driscoll.
And trust that God will bring clarity…
And in Mark’s case, God does bring clarity… every three to four years.
At least once a day, I look into the eyes of my kids, wait for their glance to meet mine, and then I say this:
You are strong. You are brave. You are good. You are loved.
I want them to know they are strong—to believe it’s true—because someday somebody’s going to tell them they are weak or tell them they aren’t strong enough or knock them down and cause them to feel weak or unprepared or afraid.
I tell them they are brave to empower their spirits, to embolden the corners of their young minds with words that will affirm who they are, to remind them that I believe they are valiant souls made by God to be, when necessary, fearless, courageous, and daring.
I remind them they are good because I know that someday they will likely be tempted to tell themselves that they aren’t good, that they’ll look in the mirror and see their reflections and think that the image staring back at them isn’t good enough or cool enough or skinny enough or talented enough or smart enough. My prayer is that in those moments, my words will seep to the surfaces of their brains and that they will choose to believe what Daddy has told them all of their lives, that who God made them to be is good—perhaps not perfect, perhaps not the best, perhaps not making smart choices—but nonetheless, good.
I say they are loved so that they know they belong to something bigger, that they are strong, brave, good individuals who are part of a family, a group of people who they are spiritually, emotionally, and physically connected to, and that they are important to us, that they are loved, that they are needed.
I tell them they are strong, brave, good, and loved because I believe these things are true. I tell them to remind myself of who I am and what I believe. I tell them these things, because if I don’t, somebody else will. I tell them because all of us need to know, to be reminded of who God made us to be…
So just in case you need a reminder…
You are strong, friend.
You are brave, child.
You are good, ma’am.
And you are loved…
You’ve probably heard about this World Magazine story regarding Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill buying their placement on the New York Times.
Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.
According to a document obtained by WORLD, Result Source Inc. (RSI) contracted with Mars Hill “to conduct a bestseller campaign for your book, Real Marriage on the week of January 2, 2012. The bestseller campaign is intended to place Real Marriage on The New York Times bestseller list for the Advice How-To list.”
The marketing company also promised to help place Real Marriage on the Wall Street Journal Business, USA Today Money, BN.com (Barnes & Noble), and Amazon.com best-seller lists. SOURCE.
Driscoll isn’t the only pastor to do this. For years, the rumors surrounding pastors buying their bestseller placement have gone around the Christian publishing world.
The confidentiality agreements that happen around this practice are pretty insane. Most pastors don’t want to discuss.
The way I heard about RSI was through a friend. He said to me, “So, Matthew, you wanna know how Pastor ****** got on the NYT best-sellers list?”
“Sure,” I said.
“He knows a guy in California who makes it happen. He just pays him a couple hundred grand and he gets you on the list.”
“Does this man have name or a website?”
“I don’t know. He wouldn’t give me any names. But said he’d hook me up if I was interested.”
Well, a couple weeks ago, an anonymous source sent me the following, a generic contract that authors and pastors sign with RSI.
In light of today’s news, I think this contract showcases an interesting tale about the agreement and the processes RSI goes through to make the “magic” happen.
Much about the Christian music scene has been depressing in recent years. Mainly because there really isn’t a “Christian music scene” per se. Not really. Not like the scene that I encountered in 1996. And honestly, that’s probably a good thing. That scene was a bit crazy, self-involved, and had little to do with Jesus.
When I was working at CCM magazine, the writing on the wall became rather clear. Christian music was dying. The reasons why that’s true vary according to who you talk to. My opinion? Worship music killed Christian music. The worship music movement slowly, over time, suffocated the true creatives out of record deals, pushing them to the fringes of the music scene to fend for themselves. It wasn’t personal. It was business. Christian radio started limiting their playlists to include artists like Chris Tomlin, Mercy Me, and Casting Crowns. And while they might be nice people with good voices, their music is safe for the whole family. And nothing stifles a creative scene like safety. And for a long while, there’s been a serious lack of good spiritual music coming out of Nashville. Sure, there have been a record here and there… but nothing that seemed to suggest a true revival might be happening.
Some people think that the Christian music scene is pointless anyway. I disagree. While some Christian music is downright dreadful, Christian music gave me a lot of hope when I was a kid trapped in Christian fundamentalism. From my world, Christian music was a window to an outside world, a place where Jesus still had issues but nothing like the issues he had in my world. Christian music opened my eyes to different ways of thinking. It pushed me to explore theology. It challenged my worldview. It caused me to feel God’s presence in a way that I wasn’t accustomed to… Christian music isn’t perfect. And at times, it’s downright awful. However, it also created an environment that allowed me to be introduced to artists and songs that helped me believe that Jesus was bigger and more gracious and more hopeful than what I’d been taught for most of my life.
But Hillsong music isn’t going to do that. It might make me “feel” emotionally connected to God in the moment, it does not have the creative power or means to push minds and hearts to think and experience God differently. It doesn’t have the ability to create dialogue about theology, about culture, and about philosophy. And I’m sorry, Jesus Culture isn’t going to make music that spearheads anything more than fairy dust and goosebumps. But a true artist who’s passionate about life and faith and art and truth can cause you to not only think outside your comfortable box but experience worship at the same time.
But signs of hope might be on the horizon. There’s a handful of artists, songs, and rumors about artists and songs that make me wonder if there’s a springtime coming for music about faith and spirituality. While there’s no guarantee, here are few reasons why I think a new birth of creativity might be happening Christian music…
1) John Mark McMillan’s “Borderland”
That’s just the first single. The whole album is an amazing collection of intricately constructed songs. Click the picture below to view the record at Amazon.
2) Ellie Holcomb “As Sure As the Sun”
Holcomb’s “As Sure As the Sun” is a hopeful collection of melodies and words, a bright collection that’s filled with mystery and production intricacies. Listen to more at Amazon.
3) Shawn McDonald’s new song “We Are Brave”
You can sample it here. It will be a little too pop for some, but it’s so dang catchy. Definitely give it a listen.
4) Jars of Clay “Inlandia”
Yes, it’s Jars of Clay. And they’ve been around for 20+ years. But a bright path can’t all be spearheaded by newly discovered talent, some of it must come from longtime musicians and artists. And with this remix EP of their record “Inland,” Jars of Clay showcases they’re amazing ability to evolve with age (Check out the record at iTunes.
One of Nashville’s most poetic storytellers finally released some new music last year. If you’re not familiar with Sarah Masen’s previous efforts, check out these two songs: Carry Us Through and one of the best songs about faith ever written, Wrap My Arms Around Your Name (listen below).
6) And Nichole Nordeman is rumored to be working on new music. And that is good news indeed. Nobody writes songs about God and faith like Nichole. If you need reminding, listen to “Hold On” from her 2005 record “Brave”:
Other bright signs…
-Gungor’s “I Am Mountain”
And again, these are just signs of a little creative life happening among Christians making music about God, life, faith…
How about you? Have any “signs” of your own?