Saturday, June 6, 2015

My Response to J.D. Hall

J.D.,

I am writing, as you likely assume, because you included a screenshot of my tweet regarding Bruce Jenner in a recent post of yours on the same topic.  My tweet simply stated, “Grace won’t let me treat Bruce Jenner like a freak.  Truth won’t let me treat him like a girl.”

I stand by every word of that tweet.  Every one of them.

While you seem most bothered by the word “freak” and my refusal to treat Mr. Jenner like a “freak,” you must see the word “freak” in light of the other words in the tweet.

GRACE

As a fellow pastor and Bible student, I know you don’t need an explanation about the unmerited favor of God.

I would simply point out for the sake of my readers that grace and truth are not opposing forces that need to be balanced.  Too many in this debate seem to think so.  Our Master was filled with grace and truth (John 1:14).

All grace is truthful.  All truth is full of grace.

I do not believe there is any such thing as truthless grace or graceless truth although I know how those phrases are commonly used.  If it's not the truth, it's not gracious.  If it's not overflowing with the grace of the gospel, it's not Biblical truth even if it's factually accurate.  For myself, I've been guilty of sharing a lot of graceless facts through the years.

On this subject, it's important to note, we don't ultimately show grace to Bruce Jenner (or anyone else in the LGBT life) by withholding truth.

WON’T LET

When I’m walking in grace, there is an inner compulsion that simply will not allow me to act certain ways, at least not without conviction.  As a fellow believer I know you’ve experienced those times of brokenness and repentance where the indwelling Spirit made His displeasure known.

It’s not that we are incapable of sinful actions but rather we are incapable of acting in an ungodly way without conviction and chastisement.  As much as the chastisement hurts at the time, I appreciate the fruits of peace and righteousness that it yields in the end.

ME

I can’t speak for everyone.  That’s obvious.

I can’t speak for the lost church member who quotes Scripture all the while putting a black eye on the gospel.  But grace won’t let ME…

I can’t speak for the political conservative whose moral deism is leading him straight to hell.  But grace won’t let ME…

I can’t speak for a fellow believer whose hasty use of social media does more harm than good.  I’ve been guilty of that myself more times than I’d like to admit.  But when I get alone with the Master, His grace won’t let ME….

TREAT

The Christ that lavished grace on me did not treat me as I deserved to be treated.  The very nature of my sins might not have looked “freakish” to an on-looking world but they were every bit as repulsive to our holy God.  I deserved damnation and eternal punishment.  I get forgiveness and eternal life instead.

Now He calls me to a life of paradox.  A life of grace.  A life that treats my enemies with love.  That blesses those who curse me.  That prays for those who spitefully use me.  A life that doesn’t treat people the way I believe they deserve to be treated.

That doesn’t mean I roll over dead and ignore their behavior.  I just love their person.  I am to love the child molester but I’ll never let them within reach of my kids.  I am even to love the false teacher although I’d never ask him to lead silent prayer at the church I oversee.

I wish I were better at this grace-life than I am.  My tongue has wounded both friendly critic and sworn enemy alike over the years.  I request your prayers in that regard.

God will one day treat sinners as they deserve.  In His righteousness, He will do so.  But even on that great and horrible day, treating sinners as they deserve to be treated will be His place and His place alone.

BRUCE JENNER

I join you in exhorting Bible-believers to not call Bruce, “Caitlyn.”  Far different from a more typical legal name change, such as “Fred” to “Bill,” the name change from a male name to a female name in this case is inextricably linked to the transgender behavior itself.  I believe to embrace the former is to normalize the latter, even if unintentionally so.

I am grieved beyond measure that leading voices in my denomination seem to lack enough Biblical discernment to make this simple distinction.  I even wrote a lengthy satirical post to address this troubling trend.

Truth restrains me from calling a man a woman.  It’s just not true.  And therefore, it's not gracious.  Hence, my second sentence.  But that’s not the line that troubled you.

LIKE A FREAK

You make your case that you believe Jenner is a freak.  For the record, I firmly believe his behavior is sinful, strange, odd, unusual, and even freakish.  I agree with you on that point.  I didn’t say his behavior wasn’t freakish.

But grace doesn’t treat freaks like freaks. It doesn't treat jerks like jerks.  His common grace even presently treats the unrepentant far better than they deserve.  Thankfully, God’s grace didn’t treat His people like the sinners we were before His grace came.

Far from treating us like we deserved, He pressed His way up a blood-spattered path to a skull-shaped hill.  There He took my sin upon Himself and suffered under God's wrath for me.  In that moment of holy justice, God treated the Sinless One like I deserved that He might treat me as the Sinless One deserved.

The essence of the gospel involves God treating people like they do not deserve to be treated.  Should God save Bruce Jenner, it won’t be because God treated him like he deserves to be treated.  That grace, like the grace given to Mike Stone and J.D. Hall, will be unmerited to its core.

And when God’s grace is at work in me, His grace won’t let me treat Bruce Jenner like a freak any more than His truth will let me treat him like a girl.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Be Careful on the Caitlyn Issue

NOTE:  For those who do not understand satire, this article is a tongue-in-cheek way of addressing a simple issue.  Leading voices in our own Southern Baptist Convention are urging us to address LGBT issues in a way they would NEVER ask us to address any other issue.  When you replace LGBT issues with any other sin, such as animal cruelty, the flawed argument becomes obvious to most people.



It’s been all over the news this week.  From USA Today (1) to the LA Times (2) news outlets have bombarded the nation with stories about her.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

All of my social media accounts have been buzzing about this story.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Some have recoiled in disgust.  The photos are particularly troubling for many.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

Many Christians say, “This is not what God intended.”  Even moralists say, “This just isn’t right.”  It’s obvious that surgery will be required to address the damage done to the body.  But the real issue is a heart issue.

Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.  Caitlyn.

I’m talking about the strange and sad story of Caitlyn, the dog.

According to a June 2, 2015 story in the LA Times, “Caitlyn, a 15-month-old chocolate staffie, was found wandering along the streets of Charleston, S.C., seemingly looking for her former home. The dog probably had wandered for at least a day, or even two, seeking safety and security after being horribly abused. Her jaw was bound so tightly in thin black electrical tape that the blood flow had been cut off and her tongue was trapped between her teeth, officials said.”

41-year-old William Leonard Dodson has been arrested on various felony charges related to cruelty to animals.

But as strange as the case is, I want to issue a gentle but firm plea to my fellow believers.  Please be very careful how you address the “Caitlyn issue."

Pastors, your friends, neighbors, and church members are watching.  The way you address this matter will give them a clear insight into how you will address any issues of animal abuse subsequently revealed in their lives.  It is a gospel issue at its core.

Animal abuse is much more common than most people think.  The National Humane Society is forced to acknowledge that, “Most cases are never reported, and most animal suffering goes unrecognized and unabated. Cruelty and neglect can also cross socio-economic boundaries.” (3)

That means that statistically, you have an abuser on your Facebook feed.  It’s highly doubtful there’s no animal abuser numbered among your Twitter followers.  And pastor, you are very likely to have an animal abuser in your congregation this Sunday. 

And I don’t just mean you mega-church pastors.  I’m talking about the secret abusers who teach Sunday School at New Ebenezer #27.  I’m talking about the choir member at Mountain Look Primitive Baptist Church and the usher at Greater Macedonia AME.  I’m talking about US.

I beg you, be careful how you speak, tweet, and post about animal cruelty. Be aware that the testimony of the gospel in the animal-abusing community is at stake with every word, click, and keystroke.

Animal abuse takes on many different forms and expressions.  Of the nearly 2,000 cases reported in the last statistical year, about 65% involved dogs, 18% involved cats, and a full 25% involved horses, livestock, and other domesticated animals.

I know what some of you are saying.  I grew up in the church.  I know all the clich├ęs.

Yes, the Bible says, “The righteous man cares for his animals.” (Proverbs 12:10).  But we must also be careful that we do not become unloving, needlessly dogmatic, and hurtfully judgmental in declaring what the Scripture says about animal cruelty.  Saying that righteousness requires a man to care for his animals is, well, awfully narrow.  Such statements necessarily imply that animal cruelty is unrighteous.

Now, as believers we understand that animal cruelty is not righteous.  But people in your realm of influence may have taken a different view.  We will never convince the modern, culturally-savvy animal abusers of our day that animal abuse is unrighteous if we tell them that animal abuse is unrighteous.  If we declare our message, we will lose the credibility to declare our message.

See, this post isn’t even really about Caitlyn.  It’s about the William Leonard Dodsons of this world.  The William Leonard Dodsons of your town.  The William Leonard Dodsons in your church.  Honestly, it’s about the William Leonard Dodson that lives in each of us.  In those dark, quiet, hidden places that you don’t talk about at your Sunday School social.

It’s so easy for us to share a post, write a tweet, and click the “like” button as we arrogantly exalt ourselves above the Caitlyn issue.  For a small minority, it’s about their hatred of animal abusers.  For others, it’s a subconscious desire to deflect attention from the animal hater that lurks in each of our depraved hearts.

I mean, who among us can honestly say we’ve never wanted to harm the neighbor’s screeching cat?

Who among us can say we’ve never wanted to shoot the neighbor’s barking dog with a BB gun…or worse?

Who among us has never considered contacting the dog catcher or the local pound with a reckless disregard for the euthanasia that most certainly awaits the culprit?

When the neighbor’s dog poops in your yard or their cat leaves claw marks on the hood of your mini-van, who among us hasn’t muttered under their breath, “I’d like to get my hands on that varmint?”

When you said it with your mouth and thought it with your mind, you are as guilty as the nationally-vilified Mr. Dodson.

If you dare say, “I’ve never wanted to harm an animal,” then that’s all the more reason you should speak slowly…and tweet even more slowly.  If you’ve never known the inner confusion and struggle from animal-abusing desires you tried to hide and suppress, you have no business speaking to this issue.

Simply put, if you have EVER wanted to harm an animal you have no room to speak.  If you have NEVER wanted to harm an animal you have no place to speak.  In either case, only God can judge William Leonard Dodson.  And we’re not God.

Rather than throwing around our Proverbs 12:10 verses, we should remember Matthew 7 and John 8.  Judge not lest ye be judged.  Ye without sin cast the first stone.

Without grace we'd be just like him.  Cat-killers, dog-deserters, and maybe even bird-beaters.  Our animal-hating depravity may not have manifested itself in full measure but if we recognize its presence in the ugly corners of our soul we will speak more softly and much more slowly about another man taping a dog's mouth shut and leaving her alone to die of starvation and heat exhaustion (an act I chronicle here only in the most loving and compassionate way).

William Leonard Dodson is created in the image of God.  Be careful that in your denunciation of his actions that you don’t lose sight of the Imago Dei that resides even within Mr. Dodson.

Pray for Caitlyn and William.  And pray for yourself.  Especially that self-righteous part of you that wants to declare animal cruelty is wrong with reckless disregard for how your words hurt those who live in the animal-abusing community.

Perhaps Providence has allowed this issue to come to the forefront of our national consciousness to remind us all of a simple truth:  We are all broken and depraved William Dodsons in desperate need of grace.