The Loving Militancy of Church Clarity: 5 Ways its just like the Nashville Statement

I choose messy relationships over Church Clarity.

And I choose messy relationships over the Nashville Statement (as I’ve said here and here, and David Fitch and I discussed on our podcast).

In fact, as I process the launch of Church Clarity I see 5 ways that Church Clarity is just the inversion of the Nashville Statement, albeit as a loving militancy.

What is Church Clarity?

You can read a supportive or critical summaries.  But roughly, Church Clarity believes (from their site)

“that churches have a responsibility to be clear about their policies on their primary websites [about being affirming or not of LGBTQ]. Following a simple, yet consistent method, our crowdsourcers submit churches to be scored on how clearly their website communicates their actively enforced policies. Once the information is verified by Church Clarity, it is published to our database. We believe that ambiguity is harmful and clarity is reasonable.” (emphasis added)

Their desire is to minimize confusion by maximizing clarity.  All of which—on the one hand—seems reasonable enought.

But let us think about the implication of a website like Church Clarity evaluating websites of local churches and posting the results. All of this is so abstract and disconnected—so far from the lived realities of local church life.

For this reason, beyond all their differences, Church Clarity is just like the Nashville Statement—but in an inverted way.

5 Ways Church Clarity is Just like the Nashville Statement

1) Truth and Love Dichotomy

On the one hand, the Nashville Statement pushed the agenda of truth without much regard for love or mercy.  This was the complaint for many people I know.

Church Clarity, however, is pushing hard for love without regard for truth—except expressing the “truth” of being either affirming or non-affirming.

Church Clarity explicitly says it doesn’t care about matters of doctrine, only of policy.  This is a typical progressive-liberal bifurcation of how love and truth need to work together.

Those of us upset with the “need to stand for the truth” posture coming from the Nashville State are likewise uncomfortable with the militancy—yes, militancy—of the Church Clarity site.  Church Clarity positions itself on the side of love, but a love reduced to one issue, an issue reduced to whether or not it is posted clearly on the church website.

2) Push Toward Statements—Away From Relationships.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity lead us away from relationships. They prefer to substitute relationships for statements.  The Nashville Statement says this explicitly, that we should separate from church that don’t sign.  But Church Clarity also says this implicitly.

Church Clarity suggests that churches are merely a different form of consumerism and that churches who are not clear on the LGBTQ stance are engaging in false advertising (See their FAQs, first section).  “Customers” could join a churches—engage in real relationships— and then find out the product was not what they thought.

This is a disastrous reduction—not just of the Church, but of all human ways of relating—the to principle of consumer choice. The application of this kind of clarity amid consumerism will just continue the deep antagonisms of our contemporary culture.

My questions is, Did Jesus function this way? Did he provide such clarity on his identity, the means of salvation, and every other question he was asked? No, he didn’t.

3) Tendency To Instrumentalize Humans and Institutions.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity drive toward reductionism and instrumentalization.

On the one hand, the Nashville Statement does this by instrumentalizing human beings for “God’s Glory.”  Humans are just a tool by which God accomplishes certain goals, principally the exaltation of God’s own glory.

But Church Clarity goes the opposite direction. It instrumentalizes the church according to the goals of the state.  As they say, churches

“are recognized by the IRS as tax-exempt religious organizations. In exchange for these subsidies, churches are expected to play a vital role of serving their communities. But there is very little accountability to demonstrate that they are earning that subsidy.” (emphasis added)

This continues the reductive, capitalistic view of human institutions—see the words “exchange” and “earning”.

But it adds the twist that the church is ultimately a tool of the government.

This is a curious inversion of the goal of the First Amendment where church and state would be separated—i.e. tax-exempt (esp. see this on tax-exemption)—so that government wouldn’t interfere with the Church.

But now, for Church Clarity, the government is expecting a return on investment from the church, with accountability pending if there is not (this is partly why I said this is more militant than the Nashville Statement.  It is not for nothing that people fear this database is just a precursor to litigation).

The signers of the Nashville State undoubtedly seek to use the government in service of the church.

Church clarity inverts this and seeks to use the church as a tool of the government.

4) Engaging in Culture Wars

It is interesting that Jonathan Merritt quotes conservative Al Moler of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary on the importance of gaining clarity.

As Merritt states, “If one can set aside [Church Clarity]’s leadership team for a moment, it’s obvious that the organization shares a common goal with conservative Christians like Mohler: to pressure pastors and churches with unclear positions on homosexuality to unambiguously state their views.”

Yes, it is obvious that conservatives and progressives agree.  Which means they agree that they are playing the culture war game, but from different sides. The church, however, should not engage in this war any longer (see the previous three reasons for why).

5) Ideological in Nature

I suppose this is a restatement of #2 and #4, but I just want to say it again.

Both the Nashville Statement and Church Clarity, in the name of helping and serving people, reduce the entire complexity of human relationships and interactions to a narrow grid of ideas and affirmations.

This approach sucks the humanity right out of the situation, all in the name of clarity.

How Peace is Achieved

I spent 11 days in Israel this summer learning about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the different ways they are seeking peace there.

The ONLY ONES working are the ones worked out on the ground in actual relationships.  I heard of a water ministry helping to secure drinking water for everyone living off the Jordan River. I heard of school programs that brought Israeli and Palestinian children together. I heard of farming co-opts bring Palestinian and Israeli neighbors together.

On the ground relationships are the only way toward peace, mutuality, and reconciliation.  Everything else is lost in abstraction and will only reproduce the entrenched tendencies present between people.

The Clarity of Jesus

To both the signers of the Nashville Statement and the directors of Church Clarity, I ask this: If clarity is so important, why did Jesus offer so little of it?

Why did he answer questions with more questions? Why did he speak in parables? And why do we have FOUR different Gospels instead of one?

It is because the clarity we often seek is not the kind of clarity God is drawing us into. God is drawing us further and further into the messiness of relationship, and further and further away from ideological encounters.

And it is time for people on all sides of the ideological—cultural war—spectrum to get used to it.  Relationships are messy.  Let’s get to work.


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In All Things, For God’s Glory

Obviously my mind is stuck on the theme of God’s glory (see previous posts here and here).

Which way does God’s glory flow? Back to God? Or out from God?

This is today’s question.

The glory of God’s keeps bouncing around in my mind as I feel out objections to the view I’m often put forward.  Why do people so quickly connect God’s glory to other concepts like “honor” and “reputation” and “praise”?  Not that any of those are bad when talking about God. I’m just not sure God cares about them as much as some claim or that these concepts are directly connected to the idea of God’s glory.

But 1 Cor. 10:31 was sticking with me when I woke up.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for (or to) the glory of God.

This seems a straightforward proof text that our lives are for God’s glory, for giving God honor and praise. And the next short step is that God is seeking God’s glory at all times, and we are to join him in this work, the work of glorifying God.

Now it is that second step that really bothers me—that God is seeking God’s glory—, but that is another large issue. Let’s just return to this text.

In What Things?

What is the context here?

Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to “flee from idols” (v. 14). He then links this to the Lord’s Table (vv. 15-17). The cup and the bread is a “sharing” or “participation” in the blood and body of Christ. Surely, Paul says, we cannot partake of Christ and partake at the table of idols!

This naturally shifts to a comparison of the sacrifice of Christ and the food sacrificed to idols (vv. 18-22). If we are partaking of the food of Christ then we can’t partake of the food offered to idols.

Paul ends by turning to God’s jealousy (v. 23). This is a common enough theme in the Old Testament.  Idol worship provokes God’s jealously because God is like a husband to Israel, but Israel takes the good gifts God has given his bride and offers them to others (to idols). She is cheating on God and God is jeolous (now this is not the time to discuss how God’s jealous and anger—even wrath—fit into all this…that’s also for another time).

So the context for the “do everything” statement is that of idolatry, but also the context of the Eucharist, and the implicit context of temples—God’s are worshipped in temple, but the church is now the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:9; Eph. 2:21).

Glory of God

So what does the “glory of God” mean in this context, toward which, or for the purpose of which, we do all things?

Too often we see the flow of “glory” as returning to God, as something “for” God—as if God was in short supply.  When we look at glory this way (usually in reference to honor and reputation) then we think of “in all things” or “do everything” being all our work and actions oriented toward bringing or giving honor or esteem to God.

But what if we turned it around, and the flow of glory was outward?

God’s glory most often refers to the visible manifestation of splendor. God’s glory is God’s overwhelmingly majestic presence. God’s glory is something that goes out from God for the amazement and wonder of other, of all creation (and yes, it often is a threat to others, but after Christ—as Paul well knows—God’s glory is not a threat to those in Christ).

With this in mind, to do all things “for or to” God’s glory is to do them so that God’s splendor is manifest to others. When Paul talks about whether or not to eat meat sacrificed to idols (vv. 23-30) he ends with the concern that “they may be saved” (v. 33).

This is the goal of mission, and the purpose of God’s glory manifest in the world—that they might be saved.

Why we were made

So, if l may be so bold, the purpose of God’s glory—and our purpose for everything we do— is not upward but outward.

And this is what humanity was made for, to be God’s image in the world, the visible, tangible manifestation of God.  And when we properly image God (in Christ) then God’s glory is known through us.

Which, returning back to idols, is the main problem. It is not just that humanity is supposed to worship God that makes idolatry so odious. It’s that humanity IS God’s idol in the world. Humanity is the idol that God made to show forth God’s glory in the world.


(This post it is part of my “
20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here.)

Made for God’s Glory? another on the Nashville Statement

Is there a better way to understand the idea that God made us for his glory?
 
Yesterday we focus at this phrase from the Nashville Statement:
 
“Many deny that God created human beings for his glory.” ~ Preamble to Nashville Statement.
 
I ended my post asking this question. And, “Yes,” there is a better way.

Glory

In the Old Testament, the main understanding of “glory” when applied to God is God’s visible splendor, or God’s overwhelming presence.
Where God’s glory IS there is God’s presence.
 
We see this in God’s appearance at Sinai when God’s glory rests on the mountain.  We see this with the construction of the tabernacle—God’s glory rests on it. The same with the Temple.
 
In Ezekiel’s vision of the glory of God roaming the desert the idea refers to God’s presence. And in Ezekiel’s vision of the glory leaving the Temple—this also refers to God’s presence.
 
Indeed, the psalms and prophets speak of God’s glory filling the earth and the heavens. This can only mean God’s presence—an overwhelming display of splendor when God is near.

Made for Glory

If we are to affirm that humanity is made for the glory of God, then this means we are made for the presence of God. We are made to dwell with God.
 
Now that is Good News.
 
And you know what else is good news?
 
That God’s main desire and main work in the world is to overcome whatever barrier keeps us from dwelling with God.
 
God is working to bridge the distance by coming to humanity, coming to us. From the call of Abraham, the raising up of Israel, the promises of David, to the send of the Son, to Jesus’s death and resurrection—God is coming to dwell with us.
 
This is the hope coming at the end of all things:
 
“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.” (Rev. 21:3)

Glory and the Nashville Statement

What does all this have to do with the Nashville Statement?
 
If we have been made for God’s glory—meaning God’s presence—and if God is constantly seeking to to dwelling with us so we can dwell with him, then public statements like the Nashville Statement should be acts of hospitality and welcome.
 
If God longs for us to live with him then our theological statements should express this. Indeed, they should be expressions of God’s love with and for us and others.
 
Certainly we should not reduce God’s love and living with God to vacuous statements and platitudes. Living with God is rigorous work.  The Old and New Testaments are witness to this. And God’s presence demand standards of holiness and purity.  
But those proper concerns should not be elevated to a controlling theme in our theological systems.
Immanuel—God with us—should be our theme, our inspiration, or hope, and our joy. Nothing less. Nothing more.

 

(I know this is short, but it is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days.  So these are quick thoughts as I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here. I’m planing on expanding these two posts for Missio Alliance, so look for it there).

God’s Glory? On the Nashville Statement

“Many deny that God created human beings for his glory.” ~ Preamble to Nashville Statement.

I have a bunch of thoughts about the Nashville Statement released last week and how it positions itself within the American sexuality and identity. But for now I just want to focus on a typical statement from the preamble.

The focus on God creating humans “for his glory” is very typical among this crowd. And “for his glory” has a very specific meaning which, I think, leads to some of the other disastrous positions and postures evident in the document.

For this crowd, that humanity is made for God’s glory is mean to highlight and emphasize God’s sovereignty, power, and majesty in comparison with all creation.  It is mean to be an affirmation that God is Creator and all else should be put in it’s proper place.

But—and this is a “but” this crowd would deny—but we see it plainly in the Nashville Statement, this view all too easily also includes a debasing of humanity to a merely instrumental status.

What does that mean?

It means the worth and dignity of humans are only instruments—or tools—for God to receive glory. And often pastoral cares is equivalent to reminding people that everything in their lives—their hopes, struggles, fears, and dream—is either increasing or decreasing God’s glory.

But when our theological systems implicitly instrumentalize humans, then our theological statements will also instrumentalize humans.

Too often the desire to put everything in it’s place before God (theologically) tips toward “putting them in their place” (practically…think of subordinationism in marriage and the Trinity).

I often say that stating your theological conviction IS NOT the same things as offering pastoral care.  But when you have a instrumental view of human beings (coupled with an overly cognitive view of faith as affirmation) then shooting out a document like the Nashville Statement seems perfectly reasonable.  

If we are going to base theological statements as “for God’s glory” then we need a different way of understanding this. And thankfully there is a different way that does not tend (even if inadvertently, even if they best of that tradition doesn’t do it) toward instrumentalizing us.

I’m turn to that tomorrow.

(This post is part of my “20 for 20” post where I write for twenty minutes a day for twenty days in order.  So these are quick thoughts and I push out my ideas and practice writing.  See my explanation here).