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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Jesus. It’s Complicated

It's Complicated

Jesus is love. But he sometimes seems like such a jerk.
Jesus is kind. But calls out his disciples.
Jesus is compassionate. But gets all cranked up about stuff.

It’s complicated.

A woman pleads for the healing of her daughter and Jesus talks about how scrapes shouldn’t be thrown to dogs. A dad ask for his son to be healed and Jesus rages against the unfaithful generation.

It’s complicated.

Jesus speaks in parables so that people won’t understand. He teaches his disciple who seem set on misunderstanding.   He heals, but tells people not to talk about it. He preaches and sends the crowd away.

He’s traditional, but not conservative.
He’s non-traditional but not progressive.

Where does he fit in?

It’s complicated.

Jesus. It’s complicated.

It’s almost like…like Jesus is a real person.

He’s like someone you really need to get to know. Someone with a personality.

He’s like someone trying to make the best out of a bad situation, like all of us.  Someone who is navigating an impossible situation with people coming at him from a bunch of different angels and agendas.

When you read him one way in one situation he then moves off in a different direction in a different situation.

It’s so confusing.

Or, at least, it should be!

It Should Be Complicated

But too often we box in Jesus around a couple of ideas, a couple of stories, a couple of teachings that fit our agenda, our strategy, our hopes for the salvation—be it of our church, for heaven, or the country.

And when we box in Jesus two things happen.

  1. We stop listening to Jesus. We tune out what doesn’t fit the theological or political angle we are promoting. We cut out statements of judgment because we want the “Jesus of love.” Or we cut out the radical hospitality because we want the “Jesus who is just.” Or whatever.
  2. And Jesus becomes a tool. We stop treating Jesus as a real person who longs to know and be known, who longs to help us know and be known. Instead we treat him as a tool to accomplish something in the world—be it “God’s glorification in all things” or “The expression of God’s love to all people” or some other theological or political project.

But can we just admit that Jesus is complicated? And that our relationship to him is complicated. Can we be OK relating to Jesus as a real person.

For some it is a copout, pushing the “It’s Complicated” button.

But really—Jesus…He’s Complicated.



(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.)

Grieving For Ferguson and Beyond

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(I’m in information overload about Ferguson right now. I can’t sort out my thoughts, which is rare, but I have an overriding feeling: GRIEF)

I grieve for those who think justice was served.
I grieve for those who think justice was ignored.
I grieve for those who lost property.
I grieve for those who destroyed property.
I grieve over death (every death).
I grieve for Ferguson.

I grieve for those confirmed in their opinion about black people.
I grieve for those confirmed in their opinion about white people.
I grieve for those who don’t feel they can trust our justice system.
I grieve for those who are in our justice system.

I grieve for those who do not want to understand the need to grieve these things.
I grieve for those who understand the reasons all too well.
I grieve for those who think they understand.
I grieve for those who know they don’t. 

I grieve that often it seems Black lives don’t matter.
I grieve that often the police see Black Men as enemies rather than citizens.
I grieve that often Black Communities see the police more as occupiers than servants.
I grieve because it is often thought that just because a police force is integrated this will make it trusted and trustworthy for a Black Community. 

I grieve that White people often only SEE the anger
but don’t seek to UNDERSTAND the anger of the Black Community.

I grieve for Mike Brown and his family.
I grieve for Darren Wilson. 

I grieve that I am not sure if I am even grieving the right things.
I grieve that I can’t trust my grief and I dare not to. 

I want to grieve as Christ grieved in the Garden of Gethsemane, over Jerusalem, how he still grieves for the whole world.Gethsemane

The poor you will always have with you.

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For the poor you will always have with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish:
but you will not always have me. (Mark 14:7) 

From crude realism to hopeless resignation, this quote from Jesus is confusing at best and disheartening at worst.

What? So poverty and inequality are just a fact of life?  Things really aren’t going to change?  In Kingdom of God is really so ineffectual?

But Nicholas Perrin has helped me see a different perspective on this saying that revolutionized how I read it and how we should see the vocation of the church (in his excellent Jesus the Temple).

Counter-Temple Movement

Perrin understands Jesus and his movement as a “counter-temple movement”, and by counter-temple he doesn’t mean against the temple all together, but against the current sinful administration of the temple.  Jesus is against the temple as it is because it isn’t participating in and pointing toward the true eschatological temple to come (Ez. 37:26-27).  Jesus was seeking to establish a true and living temple centered on himself and his movement outside the jurisdiction of the current temple establishment (just think of the temple sayings and activities of Jesus and the temple imagery applied to the early church… I’ll post on this more latter).

In light of this, part of what it would mean to establish the true temple would be to instituted the jubilee practice of forgiving debts (Deut. 15:7-15; Lev. 25), an action that was supposed to be regulated by the priests through the temple treasury, which rarely, if ever, happened.

Jesus and his movement, through living with and as the poor, and as those who attempted to be a clearinghouse for the redistribution of wealth, was in fact functioning like the temple as it was supposed to.

“The Poor You Will Always Have With You”

So when Jesus says, “The poor you will always have with you” he isn’t making a broad social observation about the current and future state of the world, certainly not one based in crude realism (as if he were saying, “There just is and always will be poverty in the world.”)  Rather, he is naming part of the inherent calling and purpose of his movement: “You will always have the poor with you because you will be the place that poverty is being overcome through the alternative economy of grace as the new temple”. 

Jesus is really naming a vocation for the church, not a reality in the world.

The church will have the poor because part of being the church is being with the poor.  If the church is not with and among the poor it is in danger of encountering the prophetic critique of Jesus himself through his Spirit, the same critiques he directed toward the temple establishment of his time.

The Work is With

This could mean all sorts of things for a local congregation: working in homeless shelters, educational programs, debt relief, or other practices of living an alternative, Kingdom-economy.

But we must remember this vocation is not just for the poor, it is with the poor.  This is not a vocation from a distance, but a work that is with the people.

Is your local church with the poor in some tangible way that makes sense in your community? If not, then perhaps you are not being built into the temple of God’s dwelling, a place in which God dwells among the fatherless and the widow, the downtrodden and the poor.

Christology of the Temple: in Heaven and on Earth

marcantonio-raimondi-jesus-before-the-temple

Temple Christology

So I’ve been reflecting on N.T. Wright’s claim that Christology should properly begin with an understand of the Temple as the initial place of God’s dwelling on earth, of the union of heaven and earth (I believe this is in Simply Jesus, but I don’t have it in front of me right now).

In Jesus, as John reports, we have God taking on flesh and tabernacling among us (John 1:14).  John is indicating the return of a portable dwelling of God among his people just as the first Tabernacle was for the Israelites.

I’m currently working on a sermon on John 3:1-21 which covers Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus and the famous “For God so loved the world…” statement.

But sandwiched in-between these are two “Son of Man” statements (vv 13-14) which echo a previous “Son of Man” statement by linking this figure to the theme of ascending and descending (John 1:51 where Jesus alludes to Jacob’s Ladder).

Where is Jesus?

In support of his own authority to teach about heavenly things Jesus says, “No one has ascended into eaven, but He who descended from heaven; the Son of Man.”

This statement makes it sound like Jesus has already ascended again into heaven (“has ascended into heaven”) even though he is currently still on earth speaking this statement.  So what is up?

Solution #1

The greek word for “but” (ei me) in the second clause should be taken as “except” so as to claim that only the Son of Man has come down and will return.  But this does not follow the normal usage of ei me, especially in the flow of the sentence.

Solution #2

Some say the author is here adding a clarifying statement about the person of Jesus, that he indeed is God who descended from heaven and ascended again, setting Jesus apart from all others.  But this doesn’t really work because all the verbs and linking words hold the statement of Jesus together from v. 11 to v. 15 (they all seem to be part of Jesus’ “Truly, Truly…” statement).

The problem is that both solutions argue from the “obvious fact” that Jesus is not in heaven, and so thereore there is a problem here that needs to be solved.

But I say

There is no problem here if we think of Jesus as the place in which “heaven and earth” overlap.

Jesus’ ascending to and descending from heaven is the very nature of he being (both pre-/post-incarnation) because he is the dwelling place of God as the enfleshed tabernacle.

In other words, being the temple of God, Jesus describes himself as both in heaven (ascended) and on earth (descended) without contradiction or paradox.

This kind of temple Christology seems to be the proper place from which to elaborate the more classical themes of the two natures of Christ.

Convinced? Or no?  Let me know.

Jesus Walking on Water: Interpretation Needed

I love this rendition of Jesus walking on water. This piece is just begging to be interpreted.  I see several nuances, but most interested in how Jesus seems not to be looking at the boat.  And is that Peter? Are those even the disciples? Are is that just a yacht on a pleasure cruise that Jesus is totally ignoring? Thoughts?

Jesus-Walking-on-Water-by-David-Mach-collage-completed-2010-credit-Richard-Riddick@thedpc.com-1Artist: David Mach
Piece: Jesus Walking on Water
Exhibit: Precious Light