New Opportunities in a Post-9/11 World

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In 1988 I spoke the words, “The only country I’d never want to go to is America.”
I’ve now lived here more than half my life.

When I first arrived I felt the expected loneliness of an outsider. After years here, that outsider feeling has continued. It became clear at a missions conference as I heard stories of missionaries and the love they had for the places God had called them.

Why didn’t I love the place I lived? Was my heart hard?

As I took time to ask these questions of the Lord I began to sense that my call was to not assimilate, to bring a different voice to my context. It’s a very lonely place to be—not quite an Australian but not allowed to be an American either, to feel my difference was part of my call.

An Awkward Perspective

Although I long to belong, I got used to being the person in the room who raised the awkward question. Usually the awkwardness wasn’t because my perspective was so controversial but the controversy seemed to be that there was another perspective. It often seemed an affront that someone had offered a different view at all. The response I got often seemed to say, “We weren’t asking you to question the question. The framework is set, don’t mess with it. It’s worked fine up until now and we don’t like how you’re making us feel.” When the system works for you, it’s invisible. When the system doesn’t work for you and there’s no way to question it, it’s all you see.

When I went to the Missio Alliance Truly Human gathering I had a new experience.

It was one of the most enjoyable ministry events I’ve ever attended. So it was surprising when a friend said, “Wow, I’m really struggling this week. We’re talking about so many hard things. They’re important but I can only take so much at once.”

It was true: the event raised some incredibly difficult questions—about race, gender, sexuality, the future of our crumbling system and church. So why did I feel so light-hearted? It wasn’t because I had answers to all the questions that were being asked but because, for the first time, I wasn’t the only one asking the questions. I wasn’t happy because these issues are fun to talk about but because we’re finally talking about them!

I felt at home for the first time in years because I was among people who wrestle. I had finally found Americans who could look at the framework and begin to wonder if it worked for everyone. Underneath all those questions was a release of our own exceptionalism. Perhaps we’re not untouchable afterall? Perhaps we’re just like everyone else? Which feels like a loss when you’ve felt exceptional and untouchable. But to the rest of the world it feels like a gain—we can be one again. I rejoice as Americans join in the humbling mess with the rest of humanity, knowing our limitations, our need for each other.

9/11 and New Questions

As I’ve watched this shift as an outsider in American culture from 1989 to the present, a huge turning point was 9/11. If 9/11 has humbled us, made us question the way we’ve always done things, revealed to us how our comfort is built on the suffering of others, our assumptions built on the silence of others, that feels like a stripping away. But Scripture is filled with such scenes.

Jeremiah 4 is one of the lectionary passages for Sunday, September 11, the 15th anniversary of 9/11. It describes a scene that feels like the creation story in reverse:

I looked at the earth,
and it was formless and empty;
and at the heavens,
and their light was gone.
I looked at the mountains,
and they were quaking;
all the hills were swaying.
I looked, and there were no people;
every bird in the sky had flown away.
I looked, and the fruitful land was a desert;
all its towns lay in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
This is what the Lord says:
“The whole land will be ruined,
though I will not destroy it completely.”

The people of Israel have so perverted God’s ecosystem that there is no saving it. It’s tempting to want to find a shortcut back to how things once were but the only way forward is to go back to nothing. Like the people of Israel, we just want to just keep building, gaining, growing. But if the whole framework is corrupt, there’s a time to knock everything down to nothing and rebuild.

As we watch everything collapse, we mourn the loss of all we’ve ever known, we feel desperation at the questions it raises, the assumptions it undermines, the blank future ahead. But God sees potential in a stripping away. He looks at formless, empty things and sees a blank canvas—in the story of Israel and in the story of contemporary America.

We mourn the loss of all we’ve ever known, God sees potential in a stripping away. Click To Tweet

How can we join him in his imagination? How can we begin to release what has been, grieve our loss, confess our desperation and hope that from the ashes God might be shaping something new? We may find that there are some unlikely leaders in our communities who can face the change with courage, some for whom the system didn’t work and wasn’t comfortable—outsiders, foreigners, minorities, the sick and the poor. As we see the hope in their faces we may begin to see the creative potential God sees in destruction.

Behold! He makes all things new!

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27 responses to “The Failed Arizona Anti-Gay Legislation: The Lesson for Christian Mission

  1. What do you think?</i<
    I think you have mistaken the nature of the issue on two fronts. First, "talking face to face" is not what the LGBTQ lobby wants. They are not interested in conversation. I am quite sure that if talking would suffice, there would be no lawsuit. They want a free reign to compel others to give full recognition to their relationship. But we need to recognize that this is an agenda for them; it is a mission to compel social recognition of their sexual preferences and behavior. That's why the statement of Merrit and Powers is so egregious. On no front can we let society determine the religious convictions of people, no matter the religion. That statement is so misguided as to think it must be a misquote. Remember that there was a day when society determined slavery was acceptable, and separate but equal was acceptable, when the extermination of Jews was acceptable. We dare not travel that road.

    On the second front, here is where we need to separate our Christianity from our politics. the AZ law appears to have been crafted to allow religious objection, but require that religious objection to be brought out if a lawsuit was brought. It wasn't carte blanche. It was narrowly tailored.

    As Christians, we can endure shame for this, and the loss of business. And were our political system set up that way, that would be our cross to bear. But as Christians in this society, we are free to avail ourselves of every opportunity to use the law in our favor, as Paul did. We are not compelled to volunteer religious liberty, nor are we allowed to demand it just for ourselves. It is for all people. Only the confusion of politics and Christianity can sustain your view that we should just standby and suffer when there is a legitimate legal process by which we can defend our rights, and the rights of all Americans regardless of religion.

    While I believe that conversation should be had, I feel no need to share tears, and I have no fear to share. I think we should love people who live a homosexual lifestyle and we should treat them with dignity and respect due to every human.

    But I also think you should rethink this whole thing.

  2. Remember that there was a day when society determined that people who feel sexual desire towards the same gender could be harassed, jailed, turned away from public businesses, treated as second-class citizens, and rejected from the church.
    Oh, wait a minute…

  3. What the GLBTQ community wants is full and equal access to civil rights under the law, the same as any other citizen. The Arizona law would have established a de jure second-tier of citizenship.
    Most of the ugliest, most shameful, and most sinful episodes in the history of the church are characterized by just those attempts: the Spanish Inquisition; the internecine wars in the UK and on the Continent; the American stain of racism – including from the end of the Civil War to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and to this very day.

    There is no possible justification for attempting to refuse those rights; certainly no possible justification in the Name of our God!

    1. That’s not true on two counts. First, they don’t simply want full and equal access to civil rights under the law. They already have them. Second, the AZ law would have done no such thing. The AZ law would have protected the freedom of conscience for all people, but in a limited way. Any refusal of service under this law would have had to be defended in court, and shown to be an actual religious conviction.
      No one should be compelled to compromise their beliefs in our society, Christian or not. The AZ law was a step in that direction.

  4. Scott,LR, thanx for the good reminders. These are both well rehearsed answers and it’s always good to be reminded. But did you have a response to the post? or did the point get missed? entirely?

    1. My comment was in response to some of LR’s false claims in his long post earlier. His counter-response indicates that he continues thoroughly to misunderstand. (“They already have (equal rights)”. Yes! To the limited extent that they still do, it’s *because* the starve-the-gays law failed!) But her/his last remark is accurate enough: the Arizona law was a step in the direction of people being compelled to compromise their beliefs – that second-tier citizenship is a violation both of the American ideals of ‘liberty and justice for all,’ but also of the absolute value of every person in God’s eyes.
      I do object to the “well-rehearsed” descriptor, though, at least for me: if that were so, I would have been much more articulate and compelling!

      As to your original post itself, there was a lot of meat in it, and you come from a position less well-rehashed (if not well-rehearsed) than mine, and I’ll have to think about it some more.

      1. Scott, A few questions for you:
        1. What rights do people who participate in homosexual behavior not have?
        2. What are “starve the gays” laws, what do they say, and where do they exist?
        3. Do you believe someone should be compelled to violate their religious convictions to work and earn a living in this country?
        4. Have you actually read the Arizona law?

        1. 1. Had this bill been ratified, there are numerous rights which LGBTQs would not have had, and it would have established precedent for the further curtailing of their rights, and those of other rejected political minorities. This bill would primarily have curtailed LGBTs – and anyone who was thought to be LGBTs – right to expect fair and equal treatment under the law in several areas, primarily commercial ones.
          2. This is an expression of my own coinage – an obvious analogy to the “Kill the Gays” laws in Central Africa – which attempt to marginalize gays as full participants in society in any respect, though not nece4ssarily to the point of death.

          3. If their religious convictions deny Christ’s New Commandment, to love one another as He loves us, and to do so in the name of the Church, then, well, I think there’s an argument to be made….

          4. Not the full bill; only in summary.

          1. BTW – today is the Feast day of Perpetua, Felicity, and their Companions. I would rather spend this first Friday of Lent reflecting upon their courageous witness in the face of religiously-based political oppression, than upon the defense of political oppression on religious bases.

          2. 1. That’s not a response. Name one right that a person who participates in homosexual behavior has that would have been curtailed under this law?
            2. That was a very unfortunate and egregrious coinage of a term by you. You should retract that.

            3. No one is disputing whether we as Christians should love others, so I am not sure why you bring that up. Right now, in Philadelphia, there is a religious rights case being made by an employee who was denied employment over his beard. And his attorney says that no one should be denied the opportunity to work over religious convictions. I happen to agree with him. Do you? Should a baker or a photographer be denied the right to earn a living because of his religious convictions? Let’s a say a homosexual baker is asked to bake a cake for a celebration of Fred Phelps’ birthday. Should he be required to do so? Or can he refuse? Should a black photographer be required to take photographs of a KKK rally for a commemorative book? I don’t think so in either case. I think they can (and should) refuse to do so. And I think Christians (however wrong they might be) should have the same right in this society. That is not unloving. It is possible to lovingly deny or refuse to do something. i do it all the time with my kids, and with others. It is a faulty view of love that says we must allow anything or do anything someone wants us to.

            4. It might help you to actually read the bill before commenting on it.

            You are actually encouraging setting up a system by which religious people are discriminated against because of their religion. I think that’s a bad precedent in this society.

            Again, in another society, I am fine. I am a Two Kingdom guy, so I have no desire to see religion legislated. But our system provides basic religious rights, and we are not permitted from exercising or defending them simply because we are Christians.

            You want to encourage political oppression on religious bases, by encouraging the denial of religious rights to religious people. You can’t do that.

            I say let homosexual people live their lives. Treat them with human dignity and respect. Love them in Christ and with the gospel. But do not require anyone to violate their conscience by force of law. It is unjust. We, as Christians, should stand up for those who are oppressed, who are being forced to choose between making a living and honoring their conscience. That applies both to homosexual people and to Christians.

  5. Dave – you know I love ya! And I’m so glad you’re against the failed Arizona legislation. I agree fully with your critique of the religious right here. But I think this conversation is always gonna find its way to the ‘position’ question, and it seems – correct me and I’ll submit – that your position here is that at least some of the times it would be wrong for a Christian to serve a gay couple the wedding cake, etc., and they should be willing to submit to peaceful arrest. Or at least that you envision that situation as legitimate.
    My Q is, can you see a fully peaceful/subversive Christian position to the contrary? One that supports legal protection against discrimination in the same way peaceful Christian civil rights leaders supported it in the 60s, while locally committing to serving all customers regardless of identity?

    1. Zach …I think it’s stupid that Christians would unilaterally seek to protect themselves for serving wedding cakes to any group period. I can’t imagine a situation where I would not offer hospitality and love to people (yes, there’s a difference between presiding over a wedding and providing a wedding cake). So I think the whole thing is absurd. I suggest this kind of legislative move is just plain counterproductive on a number of counts.
      The thing that really bothers me however is how any such legislation works counter to the Kingdom of God in opening up space to be with each other and talk, unpeal the layers, of what is actually going on in our lives under the auspices of the Holy Spirit. There needs to be spaces to actually talk reveal and “be present” with each other and let God work in the midst of our conflicts. This goes not just for those in a church body but outside of it as well. Instead we legislate these spaces out of existence in our society and it’s Christians that are doing this.I’m sick of it. Then, and it’s all so predictable, the Christian right and the Christian left start shouting at each other as to why each side is right or wrong which just plain bloody violent. And we use “rights” language which is violent as well (I’ve read my Milbank!). I’ve had it with that bull-crap too. And it’s never more obvious than when people read this post and miss my entire point and then go on repeating the same old right or left wing drivel.

      Alright … I’ve calmed down.
      Pause .. reflect … I submit, where am I wrong? (there’s at least 1 overstatement in this rant)
      … love yu bro!

      1. Thanks for the rant bro – loved it. And I hear you on the violence of polarizing language, ideology entrenchment, all that stuff. The church IS being called to a humble posture in the midst of these issues, finding a kingdom way beyond culture war politics. With you on that, and hopefully growing in these areas :).
        The only dissonance I feel is on the topic of our relationship to legislative issues where some kind of discrimination or harm or inequality is at stake. IOW, I don’t see the church lobbying these issues (at all); but when asked, I think we should have an answer that reflects kingdom values, a love for neighbors (especially “outsiders”), etc. Like, if we blog about it, we should have a clear word for gay brothers and sisters who are feeling like they just narrowly avoided a harshly discriminatory bill (supported mostly by conservative Christians) that could have led to all kinds of unsafe scenarios and possibly physical harm in some communities.

        That’s probably the practical Wesleyan civic service side of me coming out though. And perhaps the desire for a clear prophetic voice when the church is basically in bed with the state to actively oppress others. I just don’t see us being able to give an uncertain sound on this – though, I hope, it won’t be with a polarizing kind of violence toward the “other side.”

  6. Dave, I think you’re right on in your post. This is an issue of Christians still clinging to Christendom models of thought & politics. For whatever reason, our North American church seems to think it has arrived on Jerusalem’s shores, when she is still exiled in Babylon. I think your generous words point us to exactly the kind of life that “seeks the peace of the city” we live in.

  7. I feel your angst. Thanks for your thoughts here David. It seems to me that Jesus dances well throughout the New Testament to not be labeled and caught up in the polarizing debates of his day. Every time people try (So . . . what d’you think about divorce? what d’you think about taxes?) he always manages to rise above the polarities. What I hear you saying . . . whether one agrees or not with your particular perspective . . . is that whatever posture we take, we must seek to rise above the polarities. Don’t get labeled . . but we have come to love, and fight, for our labels. And when we add “rights” language, it ups the ante and we feel as though we’ve laid the trump card – “Bam! You don’t wanna go back to pre-Civil Rights, do you?”
    In our polarizing world of selective news outlets, conversation is more important than ever. And conversation with a diverse audience. What the legislative process does is say, “To hell with conversation, you’re wrong, and we’ll put you in jail if you disobey.” Not very Christ-like at all. But the important message for the church on this particular matter is (at a higher plane than the legislative discussion) – why would you ever refuse hospitable service to someone – ever? Especially for those outside the church? It seems to me that’s a question of discipleship and spiritual formation for our brothers and sisters.

  8. I often follow Brother Fitch’s writings. Always learning something for sure. So, I have some thoughts or perhaps they are questions.
    There are Scriptural reasons, at least I think, to not walk in the midst of things that are not of God. Grant it, we live in a world full of sin and we sin ourselves.

    Homosexual weddings are pagan in nature, because God does not condone homosexual in the Scriptures. So, if am attending a pagan ritual, then am I where I should not be? To provide a service for such a wedding is to placate that sin? I do not attend drunken parties, etc because is basically debauchery. Yet I do speak to people who drink and I speak to people who are gay. I am an elder in a church that openly welcomes homosexual people, but we do not make them leaders and they are welcomed in our small groups as any sinner is.

    So, am I to go to these events so I can say as Jesus, “Go and sin no more”

    I am not arguing points, I am asking for clarity as to how I am to read Scriptures about such sins and yet not see a need for laws to protect Christians from being forced into participating in things that are not lawful according to the Word.

    What happens when the churches cannot turn down a gay pastor or sau no to a gay couple who want to start a class on marital relationships.

    If we think that such laws are not going to be implemented by this government…we have our head stuck in the sand for sure.

    Persecution, etc will come. But, I am not for sure that we as Christian are to sit around and not speak to these issues and yes, legislate morality. It is wrong to murder, it is wrong to rape, its wrong to steal…these we have laws for. So, why are we afraid of laws that say homosexuality is wrong and not acceptable?

    Just asking?

  9. James my bro … sometimes the best thing we can do as a church is go to prison for what we have seriously discerned and believe with our whole mind, body and soul. But the reason why we never get to the whole mind, body and soul … is we never are forced to discern it (we can depend on legislation that happens because we have engineered power)…. good questions thanx!

  10. David,I’m a total pessimist about mutual conversation happening in the civic arena. I don’t see the New Testament letters giving much bandwidth it it.

    I’m so convinced the best political formation is cultivating seedling-communities that contend for covenant space for genuine conversation rather than positioning.

    Pulling Conservatives and Progressives to the center (in Jesus-community) to talk, listen and learn from each other is brutally counter cultural and could potentially be the most timely witness of God’s in-breaking Kingdom.

  11. So, David, I think the truest anabaptist response is to let the State do what the State does … our calling is to meet the neighbor where the neighbor is and to convert the enemy into the neighbor.
    By fighting those who fight or sponsor the legislation we are drawn into the coerciveness of the State in both instances.

    Perhaps the State has its own justification for its right to coerce the cake-maker; what is that to the follower of Jesus?

    BTW, I wasn’t able to read all the comments above.

  12. LR, thanx for the good reminders. These are both well rehearsed answers and it’s always good to be reminded. But did you have a response to the post? or did the point get missed? entirely?
    No, I think I got your point, and as I stated, friend, I think your point is wrong. Again, understanding the legislation is a beginning point. This first part of this article gives good summary of it:

    My point is that, given the biblical teaching on two kingdoms vs. cultural transformationalism, Christians in America are perfectly entitled to live out the claims of the gospel in the context of constitutional rights. We should, as Christians, speak the truth in love and converse with homosexual people. Nothing in this bill changes that. We should explain to them, on the basis of Scripture, why their sinful lifestyle has consequences far beyond whether or not I will bake them a cake or take their pictures. It matters for eternity’s sake.

    Second, as Christian citizens, we are not obligated to violate our conscience in order to live as faithful citizens of both kingdoms. This is not about Christians trying to control the world. It is about conservatives trying not to be controlled by the liberals. No one, aside from strict reconstructionists, desires to see homosexuals killed or banished. But we have a desire to live in the freedom that our society provides. Should our culture deny that freedom, we should gladly suffer the consequences of it. But so long as our system allows it, we should use it. There is nothing wrong with being a Christian in the society in which we live. With all due respect to Scott, the Anabaptists were manifestly wrong on this issue.

    No one should be compelled by force of government to violate their conscience. That was the basis for separation of church and state, that the state could not compel faith or religious exercise. By the same token, neither can (or at least should) the state prevent it.

    As the article linked above points out, this bill was very similar to the RFRA passed in 1983 by a broad bipartisan vote and signed by Bill Clinton. It is not an extreme bill by any means. All it does is allow a religious conscience objection to be a valid defense in court. It does not guarantee that it will be upheld. It simply guarantees the right of a citizen to claim a religious objection that he will then have to demonstrate to the satisfaction of a judge.

    So my point is not that I disagree with your point about us talking, conversing, loving, and even giving up business. My point is that the bill does not address that, and we, as Christians, are not compelled by our Christianity to accept less than the law allows us in whatever country we live in.

    1. LR.Cool … what do you think about the idea that legislation, and pursuing ‘transformatiom’ through legislation, actually shuts down conversation, creates distance and defensive posture. Any merit to that?
      Violate conscience? Christians for years, paradigmatically the first three centuries, went to prison instead of violating conscience. What about that option?
      peace …

  13. Hey David,
    I appreciated your article and I share your concern with legislating the Gospel. As a Canadian I have always tilted my head a bit at the inclination of my American brothers and sisters to impose Gospel principles through the mechanics of government and democracy. Christians have never had that option in Canada because we are so few. We have never had a controlling stake in culture and have therefore had to maintain a “salt from the side” approach in many of these issues. Gay marriage has been legal in Canada for some time and so the conversation within the church tends to be about how to reach out without selling out. However, recently I’ve been hearing about some issues that appear to call for further thought about the appropriate posture for Christians increasingly on the margins of civil society. Are you familiar with the issue at Bowdoin College? I’d love for you to read the article at the link below and provide your thoughts on how we should approach such things. In this case it appears that the culture has opted out of the dialogue and adopted a rather aggressive posture. How should we respond?

    Thanks again,


  14. David, I’ve been thinking about this situation a lot. I think your post and perspective is the most honest and consistent with itself.
    Many are arguing that “Christians should not discriminate, period”, and act as if their opinions about homosexuality do not come into play at all. I wonder if those people would say the same thing if the cakemaker in question was asked to make a cake for a KKK rally (racists probably eat cake too, right?). I realize that being gay and being racists are two totally different things, but to turn down a job based on racists subject matter is by definition “discriminating”. So I disagree with the idea that “Christians don’t discriminate”. Sometimes it would be the best/right thing to do.

    As you point out, that doesn’t make this law a good idea.

    To play devils advocate, I could hear an Al Mohler type making the argument that as Christians we are suppose to follow laws, so why would making laws follow-able be a bad thing? Does that make sense?

    To be clear, I’m with you, but I’m wondering how I would answer someone with an argument along those lines.

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