Taking up an appropriate amount of space

Today an older man made fun of my appearance as I walked along the street in the southern coastal town in which we are vacationing. He was sitting in front of a coffee shop with several other retirees and he pointed at me, calling me “young man,” and making a wisecrack about my beard and hat so that his friends would all get a chuckle. It wasn’t particularly mean-spirited but it hurt my feelings. The difficult part was how flippantly he cracked a joke at the expense of another person just to make himself and his friends have a good time. The ease with which he did it suggested that it was a fairly common practice that he probably didn’t think much about later.

The day before, we were on a delightful eco-tour led by two people, a white man and a woman of color. The guy was funny and gregarious; the lady was warm and engaging. However, multiple times during the tour when it became her turn to speak, the man would quickly interrupt her to divert our attention away to something he wanted to show us. The first time or two felt accidentally rude; the third or fourth time felt like a habit of focusing the attention on himself at her expense. The ease with which he did it suggested that it was a fairly common practice that he probably didn’t think much about later.

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A Traditional Plan?

On my Facebook feed, many of my progressive and LGBTQ Christian siblings are hurting and shocked by the recent United Methodist vote to affirm the “Traditional Plan” of marriage while many of my conservative Christian siblings are celebrating and praising this move. The conservatives are saying the progressives are unbiblical and unorthodox, thereby denying the Christian Faith. The progressives hold that the conservatives are unloving and exclusivist, thereby denying the Christian Faith. And yet the reality is that they are all claiming the name of Jesus Christ and are all part of the Church, thereby making them siblings in Christ (even if somewhat estranged).

I have been praying, struggling, listening, learning, studying, and conversing about sexuality and gender for many years. At different points in my life, I have not had a clear understanding of how to live into my own identity in these areas. I will not weigh in on my personal journey or personal convictions via social media, but it may be helpful for the sake of our conversations to understand what a traditional Christian view of marriage actually entails. I fear that both what many are calling a “traditional plan” and the practices of the vast majority of the worldwide Church are a far cry from what the tradition actually has to say. It seems that many of those who say they want a traditional plan do not actually understand it or have not lived by it themselves. Meanwhile, some of the same folks speak out strongly against gay marriage. In my PhD studies in theological ethics and in the years that have followed, I have read many thinkers from throughout the tradition and here is the broad consensus of how they have interpreted Scripture:

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The bitterness of reconciliation

I just finished reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom. I used to be inspired by such stories of overcoming difficult odds on the road to achieving something great. But this time, I finished this book sad and angry. After resisting the brutality of apartheid, Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. During that time, his wife Winnie was a single mother who was often harassed, arrested, fired from jobs, forced out of her home, and separated from her children. After his release from prison, their marriage fell apart. The cost of the Mandelas’ political advocacy for racial justice was unspeakable suffering and the loss of their family. And it only moved the needle of progress so far.

After years of working for justice and reconciliation and experiencing a regular white backlash (even one that pales in comparison to the suffering endured by true freedom fighters), when I read stories of activists whose entire lives were ruined by the pursuit of freedom, I am more angered than inspired. Continue reading “The bitterness of reconciliation”

Clergy: How do you handle allegations of sexual abuse?

Dear pastors, counselors, professors, and teachers:

It is always ethical best practice to believe people who allege abuse. Training for each of these vocations dictates that, if someone confides in you that she or he was abused, you have the responsibility to believe that person. Especially in the area of sex crimes, which are vastly underreported and of which the vast majority of those alleged actually happened, it is extremely hurtful and damaging to put the probable victim on the defense by not trusting her / his story.

The opportunity for further truth to come out would be if there were an investigation of the case. It is not your responsibility to determine the truthfulness of the claims. You are always to serve as an advocate for those under your care. These crimes are notoriously hard to adjudicate. Of course there is the tiny chance (possibly as low as 2%) that a false allegation has been made. However, it is statistically more likely that an abuser will go free than that false allegations will result in a conviction against an innocent person (only 6 out of 1000 sex abusers are ever incarcerated).

As someone who has served in multiple of these vocations, I am aware that a false claim could be made against me. It would be hurtful and damaging. However, the hurt and damage to those who have been abused and have not been believed is comparably a far greater tragedy. Also, as a Christian, I have the example of Jesus who “opened not his mouth” to false accusations but allowed the truth to be made clear in light of his resurrection. People and organizations of faith have no business being defensive. We need to look no further than church sex abuse scandals to see what kind of cover-ups result from defensiveness.

If you find yourself being defensive every time allegations are made against someone else, I would encourage you to ask yourself why that is the case. Are there areas of hurt in your own life from which you need to find healing? Are there times that you have been abused and not believed? Alternatively, are there times that you know you have crossed a line in how you have treated or talked to someone else? Are there abuses you need to confess? If not, then why are you afraid of the rare possibility of being lied about? Are you confident enough in your own identity to say no to fear and lies and to entrust yourself into the hands of God?

For more information on sex abuse and sexual violence, check out:


Liberal Fundamentalism

I’ve spent much of my life running from conservative fundamentalism. Fundamentalism says, “I know what is right. I’m sure of it beyond the shadow of a doubt. I know that I am on the side of right and that you are on the side of wrong.” Fundamentalism is scary; it is exclusionary; it is choking; it is oppressive.

I am often criticized by conservative fundamentalists when I talk about racial justice, environmentalism, critiques of police brutality and mass incarceration, gun control, womanism / feminism, nonviolence (anti-military, anti-death penalty), universal access to healthcare, and accessibility – all of which are in line with the general trajectory of the Christian tradition and much of the diversity of contemporary Christian thought.

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US Embassy Theology

Robert Jeffress and John Hagee do not represent theologies of people of color, the vast spectrum of contemporary global Christianity, historic Christian orthodoxy, Roman Catholic thought, Eastern Orthodoxy, theologies of liberation, or moderate evangelicalism. They represent a group of fundamentalists and end-times obsessionists whose theologies are relatively recent innovations confined to cultural and political conservatives in the West. Their theological expectations are enmeshed with Empire and happen to hold inordinate influence in our current political climate.

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Reconciliation and Sh*t

“Those kids are little sh*ts.” The words interrupted my thoughts as I sat at a table with my sons. I glanced to my right and noticed two white college-age females at a table nearby. “I feel like I’m gonna get killed working there,” one young woman caustically remarked.

Her friend said, “Yeah the kids come from the city in Indy and get to go to that camp for free! My mom says I won’t last there a week!” The young ladies laughed. “I don’t really like kids ‘like that’ but at least I get paid.” Continue reading “Reconciliation and Sh*t”