Steven Furtick, Ted & Gayle Haggard and Elevation Church

A few months ago I stumbled across a blog that intrigued me.  The post I read was insightful and I forwarded it to the entire Exodus Leadership Team worldwide.  I went back the next day and the next and finally decided that it was going to be one of the only blogs that I was going to read each day.  I am so glad that I made that decision.  You can check it out for yourself.

Last week as I read that blog I was surprised to see that its author, Steven Furtick, who is also the pastor of Elevation Church, was hosting Ted and Gayle Haggard during the weekend service.  I was pleasantly surprised.  As I stated in an email to Steven's assistant, "I am grateful when any church with so much to lose does something so risky for the sake of grace."

On the Elevation site I found the MP3 of last weeks service and wanted to share it here.  It is rare to hear a pastor share my thoughts on this issue almost word for word, but Steven did. 

Let me know what you think.

Uganda and Beyond

There has been a lot of talk lately about Uganda and their laws which
criminalize homosexual behavior.   This is not a position that I
understand or support.  And as I have been in touch over the course of the
last month with numerous church officials in Uganda I have shared my thoughts
on that–some agree with me and others do not.  Thinking about Uganda and
talking with people there about this caused me to wonder what the laws are like
in other deeply religious countries.  My friend Randy Thomas did a quick
search and found the following:

 BRAZIL

Report:
One LGBT Person Killed Every Two Days in Brazil

http://www.towleroad.com/2009/04/report-one-lgbt-person-killed-every-two-days-in-brazil.html

IRAQ

Fliers,
Videos Reveal Ongoing Death Campaign Against Iraqi Gays Iraqi Gay Men Face
Lives of Hell

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/8005420.stm
(via towleroad)

Report:
Iraqi Militia Killing Gay Men with Painful Anal Glue Torture

http://www.towleroad.com/2009/04/report-iraqi-militia-killing-gay-men-with-painful-form-of-anal-torture.html

 http://www.edgeboston.com/index.php?ch=news&sc=&sc2=news&sc3=&id=90236

http://www.marketwatch.com/news/story/six-gay-men-killed-iraq/story.aspx?guid={68D2C2DD-93A0-4E7B-BAE6-A51A9B7003C5

IRAN

A life or
death decision – Mehdi Kazemi is a gay teenager from Iran.

He sought
sanctuary in Britain after his boyfriend was hanged for homosexuality. So why
is Britain so determined to send him back to Tehran – to almost certain
execution?

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/a-life-or-death-decision-792058.html#a

So, while some
others are only talking about Uganda—probably because they want to
link it to Exodus–I was grateful that www.Towleroad.com was covering a
multitude of stories on the atrocities being carried out against gay or
perceived-to-be-gay people around the world.

So what's the answer in these countries?  I don't know.  Sadly, there seems to be no good way to respond because coming at this from a Christian viewpoint in Muslim countries is pointless.  And while others jump on the bandwagon of the United Nations and government sanctions I cannot support going in to a country and forcing them to deal with this issue as the gay activist community would suggest.

Like what is needed with the issue of bullying in the public school, can't a broad coalition of non-like-minded people band together and say, despite our agenda (and we all have one), "violence against people who are different from what is considered normal is wrong and must end."  No religious or social cause is promoted, just love and respect for our fellow man.

Is that possible in today's agenda driven society?  I'm interested.  I really am.

Confessions of an Evangelical Christian

A recent hullabaloo over a
conference in Uganda has had me thinking and praying about some things.  The conference centered on a conservative, presumably
Christian, response to gay issues in that country.  In Uganda, homosexual
behavior is punishable by imprisonment and there is talk of stiffening the
penalties.  Several American gay activists and even some conservative
Christians have raised a ruckus about the event and rightfully so. Uganda's
policies seem reprehensible. Publicly exposing or arresting gay-identified
men and women for homosexual behavior or forcing them to undergo therapy is a
true violation of free will and a compassionless transgression.

 
I'm not an expert on Ugandan law or even on
U.S. law. I am, however, a Christian and can share my perspective on an issue
that I believe transcends legal and cultural boundaries. I know a few things relevant to this discussion.
For one, Christ came for all of us or He came for none of us.  I know He loves us
equally regardless of our skin color, religious beliefs, affiliations or
orientations.  Nothing can make Him love us more or less.  I also
know that there is a right and a wrong as well as a good and an evil.  I
know every single human being who has and ever will be born, aside from Jesus
Christ, of course, is a sinner in need of a Savior.  And I also know that
love transcends hate.

 
About 40 years ago, the gay rights movement really
took off in America.  The Stonewall riots occurred. Organized groups began
looking at how they could bring about social change in psychology, religion and
government. I'll freely admit they did an amazing job in accomplishing the
task. They were far more brilliant in how they capitalized on something deeper
and infinitely more significant – the hypocrisy, apathy, pride, division,
laziness, ignorance and un-Christlike attitudes that existed in the Christian
church.

 
Surprised to hear me say that? It may not make
me sound like much of a Christian, but I am. I'm a follower of Christ and
believe every word of the Bible is true and infallible.  However, I have
to be honest. I am troubled by what I see as one of the most significant
failures in church history. I wasn't alive in the 60's and I barely remember
the early 70's, but I watched enough Christian television and took in enough
news in the 80's to know that the Christian church didn't experience its finest
moment at a time when gay individuals desperately needed to know God's
unconditional love. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that 100% of all
Christians or all churches failed, but if we are truly to be a united group as
the Bible suggests, then what one of us did wrong, we all did wrong. We must own
that, deal with it, turn away from it and move forward with humility, honesty
and compassion.

 
I will never forget the early days of the AIDS
epidemic. I remember reading about entire families that were run out of town
simply because a member of their family contracted AIDS through a blood
transfusion.  One family in Belle Glade, Florida that had three
hemophiliac sons with AIDS were kicked out of school, forced out of their home
and subjected to cruel torture by angry mobs.  I wondered where the Church
was. Then there was the story of young Ryan White who contracted AIDS from
tainted blood. Unfortunately, it wasn't the Church that became known for
embracing him and his single mother and sister – it was the gay
community.  I applaud the gay community for doing what the Church should
have done.

I think of actors like Rock Hudson who was the
brunt of cruel jokes after his diagnosis with AIDS for being gay.  I
remember the sermons I heard about the abominable sin of homosexuality – as if
it was the only abominable sin in the Bible.  I vividly remember the
all-too-common sentiments I heard from many Christian people entrapped in
ignorance and fear who said, "Ship the gays all off to an island and let
them have at it" or  "AIDS is God's judgment on the homosexual." 
A dear friend of mine with two gay sons once said in response to that comment,
"Aren't you glad there isn't a cancer for a judgmental heart and vicious
tongue?"  The horror stories are endless.  And they served as an
open door that many gay activists walked through to obtain sympathy from a
detached and even ignorant society.

While Christians were pointing the finger at
homosexuals, many were shacking up with secretaries, shooting up in bathrooms
and paying for sex on the street.  Hypocritical for sure.  Many
Christians can tell you the story of Sodom and Gomorrah, but they don't know Romans
2:4
(NAS) states, “….the kindness of God leads you to repentance.”
Many of our shortcomings, as a church, set the stage for they gay
rights movement that ensued.

I unapologetically believe what
the Bible says about homosexuality just as much as I believe what it says about
every other sin, too.  I know Proverbs 6:16-19 by heart in a dozen
languages.  You know that reference, right?  It's the most famous
verse listing abominations:

"There are six things the
LORD hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that
are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who
stirs up dissension among brothers."

Ironically, there is no
reference to homosexuality.  While there are plenty of other direct
references, I think every Christian needs look no further than their own heart
to see themselves in these verses. Lying tongues? Haughty eyes?  We're all
guilty of those things and I'm thankful that the ground is level at the foot of
the Cross.

Most recently, our nation has
been engaged in marriage initiatives like Proposition 8 in California. 
While I supported this initiative and all others that uphold what I believe is
God's intention for marriage, I have often wondered what things in California
might be like if the Church had spent the $39 million dollars they raised for
Proposition 8 to show the love of Christ to the gay community.  The visual
impact of that overt gesture would be undeniable – Christians raising a small
fortune simply to show their love for gay people.  I can't imagine. And I am
sad that I can't. Consequently, I believe that policies on social issues do
matter, but only because the people behind them do. Losing that truth means
losing the full heart of God.  When conveying the heart of God becomes impossible to do in policy battles then we need to stay silent.  And, if there is
a way to express the heart of God and forgo the policy battle altogether—even
if it is a much longer and more rigorous process—then by all means, choose
it.  For instance, might there be a way to strengthen marriage as the
union of one man and one woman for one lifetime that isn’t reactionary and
based on policy?  Even if such an effort took longer and was far more
labor intensive?  Isn’t it always better to have a campaign for something
rather than one that is against?  Just my honest questions here.

Confession is good for the soul,
they say. There's a reason for that. So, to my fellow Christians in Uganda,
California and elsewhere around the world, my suggestion as you engage in
social dialogue over this issue is this: pray, confess your own sins and
remember where you were before God found you.  And to the gay community:
it is my great hope that we as a Christian church will give you no more reasons
to justifiably doubt God's love for you.  I am sorry for the times when I have contributed to that.