Does Highpoint Get It?

ICYMI:  Andy Savage, teaching pastor at Highpoint Church in Memphis, resigned last week.  This was the culmination of a two-plus month investigation into allegations that Savage had sexually abused a student while serving as youth pastor at a Houston church twenty years ago and that church leadership covered it up.  These allegations surfaced back in December 2017 as part of the #metoo movement.  Savage had stepped down as teaching pastor while the investigation was ongoing.

Savage issued a statement via the church website upon resigning, from which I quote:

Your passionate opinions on this important matter have truly helped me to gain perspective that I simply could not have achieved on my own. I have come to understand Jules’ vantage point better, and to appreciate the courage it took for her to speak up.

When Jules cried out for justice, I carelessly turned the topic to my own story of moral change, as if getting my own life in order should help to make up for what she went through and continues to go through.

Church leadership issued a statement as well, in which they said they had “come to recognize that it was defensive rather than empathetic in its initial reaction to Ms. Jules Woodson’s communication concerning the abuse she experienced, and humbly commits to develop a deeper understanding of an appropriate, more compassionate response to victims of abuse.”

Larry Cotton, one of the church leaders involved in the cover-up, resigned last month.  He had since joined the staff at Austin Stone Community Church in Austin, TX.

Stories like this hit me in a special place because, when there is a beautiful young woman on the horizon of your world and you’re trying oh so hard to be the very best you that you can possibly be because she’s oh so worth it…well, stories like this hit you in a special place.

As the Church, we should be leading the way in regards to being a safe place for victims of sexual abuse.  We should be way out in front of this whole #metoo thing.  Yet clearly we are being dragged along kicking and screaming by the secular culture.

I don’t have it all together. Every woman (not related to me) who has ever gotten close enough to me to see this is now happily married to someone else. (Which is why I am still with my imaginary wife and 2.6 imaginary kids.) My last two attempts to connect romantically with a woman ended badly:  each time with the woman in question telling me that I was making her feel uncomfortable around me and would I please back off and give her space. One woman said I was a distraction in her pursuit of a meaningful relationship with Jesus Christ. I had to do the hard work of genuine contrition and repentance and humble submission to the consequences of my social/emotional misdeeds. This included making myself scarce to these women so as to provide the requested space, watching them go safely and happily into the arms of other men, then enduring a lengthy season of life in which it seemed as if God had hidden Himself from me behind an impenetrable wall of anger and wrath, filling my days with anguish and distress to (I believe) give me a taste of what these women must have been feeling as I was attempting to pursue them.

Thankfully my sin was only social and not sexual.  At least I don’t have that baggage to carry around.

At any rate, while I was going through all this I would not have wished it on anyone, not even my worst enemy.  But I am wishing it on Andy Savage.  I want him to feel everything I ever felt, to experience everything I ever experienced during that season of life, in hope that it might bring him to a place of genuine contrition and repentance.  Based upon what I see in his public statements, it appears that at least he is on the way, and that is a start.


If You Stood Up and Applauded Andy Savage

Today’s post is directed toward those of you who stood up and applauded Andy Savage at Highpoint Church when he confessed to sexual misconduct a few weeks back.

Okay.  If I were in the room that Sunday, I might have stood up and applauded as well.  It is a powerful thing when it is your pastor who is confessing to this stuff, and I have no way of knowing how I would respond if it were my pastor.  BUT…

As I said in the previous post, worship and justice are inextricably linked.  Where there is no justice, there is no worship.  And there was no justice in what transpired at Highpoint that Sunday.

There is a real victim out there.  And you stood up and applauded her attacker.

I refuse to accept that the victim’s–and our–duty to forgive in instances such as this outweighs the perpetrator’s duty to do the hard work of genuine contrition and repentance and humble submission to the consequences of his misdeeds, whatever they may be.

We all love a good story of forgiveness and redemption.  I do too.  It’s part of who we are as Americans.  But don’t go looking for forgiveness/redemption stories where they do not exist.  This is not a place where such a story exists.  Not at this point, at least.  Savage’s statements to the contrary notwithstanding.  Dee at The Wartburg Watch has parsed this out in great detail and I find it very difficult to make a case that genuine repentance has occurred as of yet.

“But it was only a minor indiscretion!!!” you say.  Okay.  So he didn’t get her into bed and…well, you know.  The things he did would likely be described by most people as sexual foreplay.  You can read the descriptions of Savage’s sexual misdeeds in Woodson’s story here and here, and judge for yourselves.  BUT:  Savage was Woodson’s youth pastor.  He was a clergyman, and one of the responsible adults in her life.  She was a minor under his authority and entrusted to his care.  Savage’s actions represented a MASSIVE breach of said care and should never have happened in a million years.  If Woodson’s math teacher had done what Savage did, he would have lost his job and his ability to teach ever again, and be looking at jail time.  Why does the youth pastor get a pass?????

“But it was twenty years ago!!!!!” you say.  Sexual sin is in a completely and totally different category from other types of sin.  The New Testament writings which address this subject bear this out.  Sexual sin leaves a mark that does not go away with time.  Thus far Savage has only confessed to committing a minor indiscretion.  Even if it legitimately felt like only a minor indiscretion from his perspective, it sure as hell did not feel that way on Woodson’s end.  Savage’s misdeeds left a grease stain on her psyche that has not come out even after all these years, and likely will not come out anytime soon.  Read her story and judge for yourselves.

“But he was only 22 at the time!!!!!  What do you expect?????” you say.  There are 22-year-olds who serve in a variety of professions with dignity, class, and professionalism–and who know enough to keep their pants up.  With those words you impugn every last one of them.

When Vanessa Williams was Miss America she caused a scandal by posing nude for Playboy (kids:  Google).  She attempted to defend her actions by saying that she was only nineteen at the time.  Lewis Grizzard, then a syndicated columnist for the Atlanta newspaper, responded thusly:  “I don’t know where y’all are from but where I’m from nineteen is old enough to know whether or not to take your britches off!!!”

“But we’re all sinners!!!” you say.  “Who are we to judge?????  Any one of us is just a hairbreadth away from what Savage confessed to, given the right circumstances.”  Okay.  We are all sinners.  We all have different areas and varying degrees of sin and brokenness in our lives.  But as noted earlier, sexual sin is in a completely and totally different category from other types of sin, and the Scriptures bear that out.  I roundly disagree that all adult males are only a hairbreadth away from molesting underage women.  I certainly hope that isn’t the case.  People, if you legitimately believed that, you would never let your daughters out of the house for as long as they live!!!!!

I refuse to accept an understanding of total depravity that excuses the worst among us because hey, we’re all sinners.

The secular world did not let this go unnoticed.  Neither did the Christian world outside of our evangelical fishtank.  Look at the titles of these news stories:

Pastor admits to ‘sexual incident’ with teen, receives standing ovation from congregation: NBC News

–-Pastor gets standing ovation after admitting ‘sexual incident’ with teen: New York Post

Pastor admits to “sexual incident” with teen 20 years ago, gets standing ovation: CBS News

Tennessee pastor gets standing ovation after admitting “sexual incident” with teen:   Newsweek

–-A pastor admitted a past ‘sexual incident’ with a teen, saying he was ‘deeply sorry.’ His congregation gave him a standing ovation: Washington Post

Yep, that’s just about every major news outlet.  And they all noticed the standing ovation.  Some are calling it “the standing ovation heard round the world“.  There’s a reason for that.  It tends to be lost on us, as are a lot of things here inside our evangelical fishtank.  The evangelical fishtank is a funny place.  But the rest of the world, and the rest of Christianity outside our evangelical fishtank, is watching.  It isn’t lost on them.  The reason is this:  When you stand up to applaud a sexual abuser after he confesses said misdeeds, it is wrong.  It is monumentally inappropriate.  It is unjust.

There is a real live victim out there, people.  And you stood up and applauded her abuser.

Think about this from the standpoint of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to stand up and applaud a pastor who admits to sexual abuse when his victim is out there somewhere…no.  There is no case to be made for that.  Not in this universe.  Not in any universe.

When Worship Becomes a Shitshow

As mentioned previously in this space, there is a beautiful young woman on the horizon of my world.  As also mentioned previously, this is just a crush, the sort of thing experienced by young boys just starting out and finding their way in the world of love, romance, and dating.

One thing about crushes is that one tends to lose track of the outside world.  One becomes so focused upon one’s feelings of love and the object of said feelings that the outside world just falls away.

But of course, life and the outside world go on, regardless of whether or not we are paying attention.  And while I was off basking in the glow of this beautiful young woman and my feelings for her, this happened.

ICYMI:  Andy Savage confessed to sexually assaulting an underage young woman twenty years ago.  Savage is the teaching pastor at Highpoint Church, a multi-site megachurch in Memphis, Tennessee.

The confession occurred during a Sunday morning service a few weeks back.  Jonathan Aigner at Ponder Anew gives his take on how it went down.  He was not impressed.

Savage read a prepared statement which expressed contrition for the incident.  When he finished, the congregation gave him a standing ovation.  You can listen and judge for yourself:  Here is the video of the service.  Savage’s statement begins at around 16:00.

Aigner was not impressed.  He found it exceedingly disingenuous, a blatant example of corporate crisis management/damage control.  He called it a “dog and pony show” and I consider that quite generous.  I would have called it a shitshow.

In the moments leading up to Savage’s statement, the worship band performed “One Thing Remains”, an old favorite Passion song which has been done several times at my church over the years.  (Aigner attributes it to Jesus Culture and for all I know it may have been a Jesus Culture song originally.  But Hillsong, Passion, Bethel, Jesus Culture, etc. –they’re all basically interchangeable so that’s beside the point here.)

The point is this:  Worship is not about singing songs.  But you knew that already.  You didn’t need me or Aigner to tell you that.

Worship is about justice.

Worship and justice are inextricably linked.

Where there is no justice, there is no worship.

There was no worship at Highpoint Church that Sunday.

At this point let us back up a layer and have a look at the incident twenty years ago which gave rise to Savage’s statement.

The victim’s name is Jules Woodson.  At the time, Savage was a newly minted seminary grad in his first real job, youth pastor at what was then Woodlands Parkway Baptist Church in The Woodlands, a suburb on the northside of Houston, Texas.  Woodson was a high school senior.  Here is her story in her own words, as told by Amy Smith at Watch Keep and by Dee Parsons at Wartburg Watch.  The story is deeply disturbing and contains graphic descriptions of Savage’s nefarious sexual doings, so be warned.

Here is the TL:DR version:  One night Savage gave Woodson a ride home from a youth group function at church.  He took the long way home, as it were, and brought her to a remote spot.  There he did the nefarious deed.  When he was done he suddenly fell to his knees and pleaded with Woodson to forgive him and to never speak of it again for as long as she lived.

Woodson came forward to the leadership at Woodlands Parkway.  They basically made her feel that she was complicit in all of this–at a minimum–because she did not resist.  Never mind that Savage was bigger and stronger than her, that they were in a remote spot where no one would have heard any cry for help from her, and for those reasons any attempt to resist on her part would likely have made things much much worse for her.

Church leadership did not report any of Savage’s doings to the authorities.  He was honorably discharged from his role as youth pastor, allowed to quietly leave after admitting only to a minor indiscretion.  Because Savage was an immensely popular pastor, Woodson was tried and found guilty in the court of the rumor mill.  But leadership kept mum on the reasons for Savage’s departure and allowed the rumors to fester.  Woodson was hurt grievously by this and couldn’t get out of that youth group fast enough.  She hoped that by going away to college in another city she could make a fresh start, but alas, no.  The demons unleashed by this incident followed her to college, and continue to haunt her to this day.

Savage, meanwhile, returned home to Memphis where he rose to prominence as a megachurch pastor, speaker, writer, blogger and podcaster.  Woodlands Parkway went on to become StoneBridge Church.  The incident was never spoken of again, until just recently when it resurfaced as part of the #MeToo movement.

Your love never fails, and never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love never fails, and never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love never fails, and never gives up
It never runs out on me
Your love…

So goes the chorus of “One Thing Remains”.  But as the Church, as the movement that is evangelicalism, our love has failed, it has given up, it has run out on Jules Woodson.

That bothers me.

Does it bother you?

If not, then get alone with God, get on your knees–no, on your face–before God, until it does.

Evangelical worship songs nowadays are all basically a ginormous wall of sound and emotion, calculated to overwhelm your emotional resistance and force you to your knees with no choice but to surrender to Christ, to God and to God’s will for your life.  It is ridiculously easy to hear such a song, to experience the rush, and to think that you have met God, that you have worshiped.

But as stated earlier, worship is not about songs.

Worship is about justice.

Worship and justice are inextricably linked.

Where there is no justice, there is no worship.

You can sing the song and feel that you have encountered God.  But if you hear a story like this and your first reaction is “Why is she bringing this up now, after so many years?”

…if you believe that Woodson in any way brought any of this upon herself,

…if you were among those who gave Woodson’s attacker a standing ovation after his less-than-fully-ingenuous statement of contrition,

…if you believe that Savage should be allowed to continue in ministry as if nothing had ever happened, without experiencing any consequences, legal or otherwise, for his nefarious sexual doings,

…if you believe that #MeToo is basically just a bunch of bitter and disillusioned feminazis who sit around reading angry blog posts all day and need to just shut up and get a life and get over themselves already,

…if you believe, in this and other stories of this nature, that the victim’s duty to forgive outweighs the perpetrator’s duty to do the hard work of genuine contrition, repentance, and humble submission to the consequences of his misdeeds, whatever they may be,

…you have not worshiped.

Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!

–Amos 5:23-24

The Scriptures are abundantly clear that God’s sympathies are with the powerless, the vulnerable, the oppressed and marginalized, those who do not have a voice in our world.  That would not be Savage or his enablers/defenders at Highpoint or the other churches where he served.

I wish to God that I could somehow reach out to Woodson and wrap my arms around her, reassure her that she is not alone, that she is not to blame, that she did nothing wrong, that Savage and his enablers/defenders do not speak for me or act in my name.  Alas, I cannot.  And that would be creepy anyway, almost as creepy as what Savage did to her in the first place.  Regretfully, all I can do from where I sit is write this angry blog post.

But you can join me.  You can join me in genuine contrition before God that this is what we as the Church and as an evangelical movement have come to:  that our love has failed, it has given up, it has run out on Woodson–and God knows how many other victims there may be out there who have yet to come forward.  You can join me in crying out to God for justice, for genuine contrition and repentance from the perpetrators and their invertebrate enablers, whoever they may be, however powerful and well-known they may be.  You can join me in speaking out, in having nothing to do with the deeds of darkness but instead exposing them to the light of truth.

My fellow evangelicals:  It’s put-up-or-shut-up time.  If you truly believe that, as the song says, “Your love never fails, it never gives up, it never runs out on me”, now is the time to put some action to that–by joining your voices with those of the victims who cry out to God for justice, by joining in the fight for justice and raising your voices to let the watching world know that the victims are not alone and not to blame and the perpetrators and their spineless enablers/defenders do not speak for you or act in your name.

You’re on the clock, people.

Donald Trump’s War on American–and Christian–Ideals

By this point I am fairly certain that most if not all of the Donald Trump supporters have long since left the room, so I feel fairly safe in saying what I am about to say.

Now I generally do not talk about politics.  Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion is not a political blog, and I have no intention of making it thus.  I do not have the taste for it, and I feel that there is little to nothing to be gained by it.  Political subjects are excruciatingly contentious and political convictions are very deeply held; thus nothing can be accomplished by talking about politics save to convince the already convinced.  Although there is the possibility that some of you out there are sitting on the fence and open to being convinced by a reasonable argument.

Yet there are occasions when the need to talk about politics is inescapable.  These seem to be recurring with alarmingly increasing frequency in the present political climate.  Indeed there are times when silence on an issue is complicity with the worst among us.  So talk about politics we will, when I feel it is necessary.

ICYMI:  There was a government shutdown last weekend.  This was triggered–in part, at least–by inflammatory and racist remarks from our current president during an important meeting with high-ranking legislators.  Specifically, he referred to certain regions of the world as “shithole countries”.

So where to begin here?  I think it best to begin with the obvious.  The statement that we need more Norwegian immigrants and fewer from “shithole countries” is racist.  That’s all there is to it.

Some defenders of Donald Trump might argue that the above statement is not racist–it is just a way, albeit a crude one, of arguing that we need a more skilled immigrant pool.  It isn’t.  That argument goes like this:  “We need a more skilled immigrant pool.”

But is that really what Donald Trump said?  At first he owned it but later he attempted to backpedal, saying via Twitter that his comment was “tough, but this [the profanity] was not the language used”.  His supporters went on the offensive forthwith.  They heaped all manner of reproach upon Dick Durbin, a Democratic senator who was in attendance at the meeting in question and who first reported Donald Trump’s comments, impugning his integrity in no uncertain terms.  “Dicky Durbin,” they called him.  “Never trust a Democrat,” they said.  “All they do is lie, cheat, and steal.”

Yet this much is undeniable:  Whatever Donald Trump said, profanity or no profanity, it was so harsh that it was found shocking by all who were in the room.  And at no point has Donald Trump denied the underlying sentiment.

This is not without precedent.  While on the campaign trail Donald Trump said of undocumented Mexican immigrants:  “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some, I assume, are good people.”  He has routinely stoked the long-debunked conspiracy theory that Obama is of Kenyan citizenship.  He claimed that the “Central Park Five” were guilty despite DNA evidence which clearly indicated no such thing.  He attempted to implement an unconstitutional “Muslim ban”.  He equivocated on the Charlottesville protests/murders, saying that there was violence “on many sides”.  Given this prior record, Donald Trump has long since forfeited the benefit of any possible doubt.

Yet the issue here is not whether or not Donald Trump uttered a profanity in that meeting.  It is much deeper than that.  Our president believes that certain people are disqualified from immigrating to the United States by virtue of the living conditions in their country of origin.

There is no way in hell to square this with our deepest and most cherished ideals of who we are as America.  For immigrants who come here, it isn’t about healthcare or economic benefits or social services or whatever.  Well, there may be some who look at it in terms of all the great social services/healthcare/welfare programs that we have here and how can they get in here and mooch off of all that.  I don’t know.  But for the vast majority, I would be willing to bet that it is about the freedoms we all take for granted, freedom to speak, work, worship, and advance, and the possibility of a better life, if not for themselves, then for their children or their children’s children–all things they could never in a million years hope to attain in their countries of origin.  Our highest ideal of who we are as a nation is a place where all can come and better themselves, become whatever they are capable of becoming, and we are all the better for it.

Furthermore, there is no way to square this with who we are as Christians and as evangelicals.  The countries which Donald Trump disparages as “shithole countries” are places where evangelical Christianity is burgeoning.  In many parts of Africa, growth of evangelical Christian communities is off the charts.  Africa is on track to become the largest evangelical continent.  In other words, many of the people living in those “shithole countries” are our fellow evangelicals.  Evangelical Trump supporters:  That is worthy of pondering.  Will you sit back and let our president disparage your fellow evangelicals because they come from places with less than desirable living conditions?

But it’s bigger than that.  As Christians, we believe that all people are created in the image of God, and that all people are people for whom Christ died.  Regardless of the living conditions in their country of origin.

If you are an evangelical, ask yourself:  How do I square these things with Donald Trump’s belief that certain people are disqualified from immigrating to the United States by virtue of the living conditions in their country of origin?

And now I will answer you:  You don’t.

Think about this through the lens of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to support a president who besmirches your brothers and sisters in Christ because of the living conditions in their countries of origin…no.  There is no such case to be made.

Am I advocating open borders or an unrestricted immigration policy?  No.  Much of the Democratic rhetoric on immigration is just not consistent with present-day economic reality.  In prior generations, when our economy was largely industrial, anyone from any part of the world could come and plug right in to our industrial economic machine and make a decent living for themselves.  But that picture has changed and we need an immigration policy which takes that into account.  And yes, we do need a more skilled immigrant pool.

But it is inexcusable to speak of certain parts of the world with less than desirable living conditions as “shithole countries”, or to support and/or defend a president who does so.  All people, including those who come from such countries, are made in the image of God and are people for whom Christ died.  As such, they deserve better than that from our president, and they deserve better than that from us.

Roy Moore: A New Low for Evangelicalism

As mentioned in the previous post, there is now a beautiful young woman on the horizon of my world.  As you have probably suspected, this is just a crush, exactly the sort of thing experienced by young teenage boys who are just starting to find their way in the world of love, romance, and dating.  (That I, at my advanced age, am still capable of such a thing–well, I leave it to you, dear reader, to form your own estimation of me in light of that.)

Crushes suck, but when you get to the other side you would gladly do it all over again.  Every time.  Why?  Because there is a payoff:  You have this beautiful young woman on the edge of your world and you are trying oh so hard to be the very best you that you can possibly be because she’s oh so worth it…

And then there’s Roy Moore.

ICYMI:  Alabama just had a special election to fill one of their US Senate seats.  Roy Moore was the Republican candidate.  He lost.  It was in all the papers.  (Kids:  Old school slang.  Ask your parents.)

Moore was the odds-on favorite in this election, until allegations surfaced that he had had inappropriate sexual relationships with as many as nine different women, some of whom were way underage.

Formerly the chief justice of the Alabama supreme court, Moore was an arch-conservative firebrand who said and did all the right things to reach those who believe that we need to “take our country back” for Jesus Christ–outlaw abortion, run off all the gays and the Muslims, put prayer back in public schools, the whole bit.

When the allegations surfaced, the big question was whether Moore’s evangelical supporters would stick with him.  They did.  To the tune of 80 percent, according to all the exit polls.

James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, was emphatically in Moore’s corner.  “I have been dismayed and troubled,” said Dobson, “about the way he and his wife Kayla have been personally attacked by the Washington establishment.”

This is where we are in evangelicalism:  I now feel exactly like an English professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

I have spoken previously in this space about the “post-evangelical wilderness”.  Despite what you may think, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is not simply some fanciful construct created by young punk bloggers living in their parents’ basements with nothing better to do with their lives than sit around all day in front of their computer screens and write whatever strikes their fancy. This post-evangelical wilderness is a real place inhabited by real people with real stories.  I found myself in the post-evangelical wilderness through a series of life events/challenges which all converged over the course of the previous decade, when I suddenly looked up and found that I was no longer quite the young hot-blooded evangelical that I had been back in happier times–and also that the world of evangelicalism around me had quietly morphed right before my very eyes into something almost unrecognizable to me.

This has accelerated over the past year, as I have watched my faith–the faith that proclaimed the Gospel to me and discipled me and gave me a spiritual home through a goodly portion of my collegiate and young adult existence, and has been very good to me over the years–sell its very soul right out from under me, linking arms with some of the worst specimens of humanity to elect a president who is the complete and total opposite of anything even remotely Christ-centered or Christ-shaped–even going so far as to claim that as a Christian I have a moral imperative to support this president.

This Roy Moore thing has just dumped several truckloads of nitroglycerine on that fire.

Almost two decades ago, and it really doesn’t seem that long ago at all, evangelicals, including me, were all up in arms because of allegations that our then-president Bill Clinton was having inappropriate sexual relationships with White House interns.  We believed that he ought to be impeached because character matters.  The Democrats and the liberal media all doubled down on their support of their guy and they all called us out of line because look at all the good things he was doing and how dare we get our panties all up in a wad over some quaint pedantic notion like character because what he does in his bedroom is his own business.  But we persisted because by God CHARACTER MATTERS!!!!!  But now here we are and suddenly character doesn’t count for jack shit.  Not when there’s tax reform legislation to pass and Obamacare to repeal and Supreme Court justices to appoint and Roe v. Wade to overturn and we’ve got to have our Republican majority so we’re giving you a president who brags incessantly about sexually exploiting women.  And if you don’t like that then by God we’ll give you Roy Moore the child sexual predator.

The world outside of evangelicalism is watching this shitshow.  We know that some things are right and others are just wrong.  We know that Jesus treated people with love and respect, especially those on the outer fringes of society, and that he calls on us to do likewise.  Moore’s treatment of the women with whom he had relationships flies in the face of this, and to believe that his positions and/or voting record excuses all of this–no, people.  It doesn’t.

Every person with whom you will ever come eyeball to eyeball is a person created in the image of God, and a person for whom Jesus Christ died.  Thus, every person has intrinsic worth and deserves to be treated in that fashion.  Roy Moore’s actions fly completely and totally in the face of this.  It is therefore impossible to support Roy Moore while maintaining that people have intrinsic worth because they are created in the image of God and because Jesus died for them.  The two just don’t square.

Think about this through the lens of “What does love require of me?”.  If you can make a compelling case that what love requires of you is to support Roy Moore and his inappropriate sexual relationships with underage women–no, people.  There is no such case to be made.  That’s all there is to it.

I cannot possibly imagine myself going after this beautiful young woman, trying oh so hard to be the very best me that I can possibly be because she’s oh so worth it–and then telling her that I supported this toxic waste dump and all his inappropriate relationships with underage women.

Ladies: R. C. Sproul Says COVER YOUR HEADS!!!!!!!!!!

Yes, friends, this really is a thing.

It has been said that conservative, reactionary evangelicals can be described as “Trinitarian Muslims”.  Today I give you an example of that:  The Head Covering Movement.

Sadly, this is far from being just your run-of-the-mill rogue evangelical fringe movement.  They have the full backing of evangelical theological heavyweight R. C. Sproul, who on the front page of the organization’s website states:

The wearing of fabric head coverings in worship was universally the practice of Christian women until the twentieth century. What happened? Did we suddenly find some biblical truth to which the saints for thousands of years were blind? Or were our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?

Here we see another glaring example as to why systematic theology, at least as practiced in the Neo-Calvinistic universe, is on my shit list.

Sproul and other head-covering proponents make an egregious error in their reading of this particular Pauline directive:  They assume that Paul’s letters are open letters addressed to all Christians everywhere, in all places, times, ages, cultures, and other possible situations.

They’re not, people.  Paul was writing to specific churches in specific places in a specific age, facing specific challenges which he felt the need to speak to.  Paul had not even the foggiest notion that those letters would ever make it out of first century Rome, let alone make it into our present-day Bible.  By the grace of God those letters were preserved and we get to listen in on the conversations Paul was having with the churches he planted.  But get the notion out of your heads that Paul was sitting down to write the New Testament and he knew he was sitting down to write the New Testament when he wrote those letters.  Because he wasn’t and he didn’t.

As to the head-covering thing:  Some say that in first century Rome a woman’s hair was intimately tied up with her sexuality, so much so that the modern equivalent of going with uncovered hair in first-century Rome would be going topless.  In first century Rome the only women who went with uncovered hair were prostitutes and slaves.  Prostitutes in all places and ages are generally treated as subhuman, as objects and products instead of people.

In light of that, Paul’s head-covering thing is actually very pro-woman.  Paul is basically saying “Hey ladies:  You are not a product or an object, but a person who has value to God and others.  So do not dress like a prostitute or a slave because I do not want anyone treating you like that.”

Yet the head-covering proponents do not see Paul’s directive in that light.  They wrench it out of that context and bring it into our day and age as a club with which to quash a modern cultural/political movement which threatens their preferred status quo, demeaning and subjugating women in the process.  Sproul makes this clear in his quote on the Head Covering Movement website:  “[W]ere our biblical views of women gradually eroded by the modern feminist movement that has infiltrated the Church…?”

Here we see what this is really all about.  It is about a certain view of who and what women are and ought to be in the home, in church, and in the world.  A view in which it is men who call the shots and woman can do and be nothing more than what men will allow.  In short, it is about the dehumanization and objectification of women at home and in the church.  It is about bringing back a practice which reinforces said dehumanization and objectification, despite the fact that the original intent of this practice was to give worth and dignity to women.

Luther Never Wrote a Systematic Theology

One of the chief selling points of Martin Luther is that he never wrote a systematic theology.

Neo-Reformed Calvinism is the new black in evangelicalism.  One of its big selling points is that it offers a rigorous, intellectually satisfying way of looking at things.  One has to admire the rigor of thought produced by John Calvin and his heirs, how it all fits together into a tidy system which explains everything there is to know about God, life, and faith, all with chapter and verse to back it up.

But at the end of the day, this way of looking at things is too divorced from the reality of human life.  The vast majority of us are real, flesh-and-blood people who do not live in a universe where truth is precisely defined and the path of obedience explicitly delineated, all with chapter and verse to back it up.  We live in a real world with real struggles, real doubts, and real messiness.

Luther understood this.  He started and stayed where all theologians should:  in the pages of the Bible and in the mess of day-to-day living.  His earliest preaching assignments were from the Psalms, which captures the full range of human emotion.  In the midst of divine majesty there is also human darkness, doubt, and despair.  Luther insisted that Scripture must be taught pastorally and only in ways which lead to Christ.  The example of Luther shows us that theology is worthless unless it begins and ends with the messiness of human life, in the world in which we all live.