Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted

hope for the ssaOne of the most compelling aspects of Ron Citlau’s book “Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted” is that he writes from his own personal experience. CItlau is someone who has struggled with same-sex attraction and allows that to be the lens through which he sees things.

Citlau divides his book into three parts: obstacles, gifts, and final thoughts.

In the obstacles section of the book, Citlau looks at same-sex identity, claiming that for Christians who struggle with same-sex attraction, this can’t be a viable option. He says that embracing that identity does not leave room for the possibility of transformation that can be done through Jesus Christ.

Another obstacle that Citlau identifies is the obstacle of gay marriage. One of his main points in this section is that coming together in marriage is based on differences rather than sameness. One of the main purposes of marriage, Citlau claims, is procreation and creating a family through children. He also claims that gay marriage tells a fundamentally different story and creates a different narrative than traditional marriage.

His final chapter in the obstacles section is on the spiritual friendship movement. There has been a push among those who struggle with same-sex attraction to push this movement forward. Citlau claims that the men and women who are behind this movement are people who have been suspicious of evangelical methods of dealing with same-sex desires. But Citlau is critical of this approach of finding spiritual friendships because it seems like a compromise of the biblical principle of dying to one’s self rather than embracing your struggles. While Citlau applauds those who are pushing this movement forward for some things, his tone indicates a concern for the dismissal of the possibility of transformation.

In the second part of the book, Citlau moves to a more productive focus by looking at things that can act as gifts to those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. Within this section, he looks at the gift of the church, the gift of healing communities and Christian therapy, the gift of singleness, the gift of marriage, and the gift of prayerful lament. Citlau points towards positive things that can be beneficial and helpful to those who find themselves struggling with same-sex attraction and who still see it as contrary to the teachings of the Bible.

Relationships are key and Citlau suggests that it is within the church and the community there that relationships can be formed. Citlau puts major responsibilities on the church to function as the type of community that loves, supports, and encourages those who are struggling with their attractions and desires. He has strong words for the church, challenging the church to be a place where testimonies of transformation are constantly told. If testimonies are not shared, it will not be a place where hope will be found. He is critical of the lack of depth in relationships formed in general, not just the church. In order for deep change and transformation to occur in all of us, we need to be willing to move past the superficial and allow ourselves to know others and be known by them.

Citlau pulls no punches when it comes to same-sex attraction, writing that it “is caused by sin and finds its roots in a fractured sexual identity.” He points to healing communities and Christian therapy as a means to become whole in our sexual identity as males and females. He explains what healing communities are and gives examples of some that may be helpful for those who are struggling. While healing may not be the end of the struggles, he points towards it as a means to achieve wholeness.

The next sections under the gifts section have to do with singleness and marriage. Citlau quotes from the Bible and points to the fact that singleness is a calling, either temporary or long-term. He lays out the advantages of it and gives multiple examples of some who have found benefit in this gift. Citlau also talks about marriage and how he himself has experienced the benefit of heterosexual marriage despite his struggle with same-sex attraction. He is quick to say that marriage will not “fix a person’s same-sex attraction.” He is not calling it a fix all solution but says that it may be an option for some who struggle with same-sex attraction.

The gifts section of the book concludes on prayerful lament. Citlau points to the Psalms as a means for raw honesty with God. God promises to be with his children and to hear them and the Psalms are a shining example of how we can share our struggles with God while still acknowledging that he is Lord over all. Citlau does not make light of the struggle nor does he try to explain or pray it away, but he does say that admission of the struggle to God can go a long way in moving towards wholeness.

In the final section, Citlau challenges church leaders in the midst of the culture in which she finds herself. There were two things that stood out to me in this section. First of all, Citlau reminds leaders to stand “what is right and true” while at the same time not couching hatred and disgust in religious terms. Second of all, he challenges the church to constantly remember that the God that we serve is a God of the extraordinary who changes and transforms his people. Citlau holds to his convictions while at the same time challenging the church to move forward in a different way than they have in the past.

It is evident throughout this book that Citlau is passionate about that which he writes. His own struggle with same-sex attraction makes a compelling case for his writing. While his convictions are strong and he is honest and true in what he says, he never comes across as condescending or simplistic. He admits the struggle over and over again and never diminishes that at all. At the same time, he has pointed out what he sees as errors in judgment of the church, bending to the ways of the culture or running from them to hide and surrounding herself with sameness and couching hateful language in biblical rhetoric.

Transformation and wholeness are common themes within this book. Ron Citlau seems to allow for the struggle while at the same time seeking to allow for the transformative work of God to take place. He never claims that it is easy, but he offers hope for those who continue to see their own same-sex attraction and the following out of their desires as contrary to the Bible and following Christ. As with many books, there are things to take and things to leave. It’s unlikely that someone who has not faith in Jesus Christ would find this book helpful, not because of Citlau’s tone or even his convictions but simply because of a difference of ideologies and beliefs.

While not necessarily a convincing read for those who hold no spiritual convictions, I think that Citlau shares some insights in this book that are at least worth a glance for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and who find themselves wondering how to still follow after Jesus Christ.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Bethany House Publishers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Essential Worship – A Book Review

essential-worshipThere may be nothing more contentious within the church than the worship ministries. What music should be played? Is it too loud? Who should lead? How close (or far) are we to God’s plan for corporate worship? The questions go on and on and it seems that there are all kinds of answers from every possible direction.

“Essential Worship” by Greg Scheer is a helpful handbook for leaders. Whether those leaders be pastors, worship leaders, worship directors, worship pastors, or whoever, Scheer has done a thorough job of putting together a handbook that can be used by these leaders to help them in leading their ministries.

This book is divided into five parts: Principles, Past, Practice: Music in Worship, Practice: The Arts in Worship, and People.

In the Principles section, Scheer starts with the primary and most important topic: what is worship” He leads the reader through other principles such as what is Biblical worship, who is the audience, and what does worship do. He moves into the Past section and invites the reader to look at the past as well as various methods and modes of worship that have been used throughout the history of the church.

Parts three and four are a helpful foray into the practice of worship within the church. Scheer does a very good job of remaining balanced by offering thoughts and suggestions from both past as well as current repertoires and methods. While it seems that his experience may be in traditional forms of worship, it does not seem to bias his viewpoint.

Part five is about the various people involved in worship leadership within the church: pastors, leaders, musicians, and the like. Scheer offers some beneficial advice here on how to move through potential conflict.

There are nuggets of information scattered throughout this book. It’s not necessarily a book meant to be read front to back but can instead be used as a resource. After all, it is called a handbook. Scheer’s experience, wisdom, and thorough research into this book is apparent and it will serve church worship leaders well.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

How Are You?

how-are-youIt’s a question that we may speak as often as we hear it, but how often do we ask it with sincerity, sincerely wanting to know what’s going on with the person whom we’re asking? When someone asks it of us, how likely are we to give an honest answer or do legitimately think that, if we gave an honest answer, the person who was asking us really gave a rip?

As I get older and the lens of what’s really important in life seems to become clearer, I continue to see that there are certain themes and principles that seem to apply across the board. No matter who you ask, no matter where you are, these things seem to be true.

One of these things that I have come to appreciate and understand more and more over the past few years is the fact that you can never assume that what’s on the outside of the box matches what’s on the inside. In other words, when it comes to people, just because someone seems to be doing okay on the outside doesn’t mean that they aren’t hiding something….or, more accurately, not divulging what’s really going on for any one of a number of fears.

For me, as a pastor, Sunday mornings can be among the busiest hours of my week. I am trying to make sure that everything is set. Whether I am preaching or leading the music team or whatever I might be doing, it can be an incredibly stressful hour. That’s not to say that I am not focused on the goal of that time or the importance of it, it just means that there are other things that I need to maneuver through to get focused on just why I am there. But it can be easy for me to casually cast off a “How are you?” here and there without really thinking through what I’m really asking or, worse yet, without really wanting to know or hear the answer.

Like I said, though, one thing that I am coming to realize more and more every day is that there can be far more going on beneath the surface than the casual “How are you?” with the obligatory “Good” or “Fine” retort actually shows. And I wonder just how many people answer the question honestly and really feel that they can answer the question honestly. If I answer honestly, will the person asking even care? If they care and I’m honest, will they tell the world about what’s going on in my life? If they find out what’s really going on in my life, will they shun me and make me feel as isolated as I already feel?

I’ve come to realize that just because someone answers that they’re doing good or fine or whatever, that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s an honest answer. And so it’s forcing me to pay attention and to listen. How do people carry themselves? Are their words and answers matching their body language? Are they dropping any subtle hints about what’s lying beneath the surface as I speak with them?

Because I can get so caught up in the goal and the endgame, I can easily forget about the people involved in accomplishing and achieving that goal. When I do that, it cheapens the relationships that I have that are far more important than that would indicate. The last thing that I want is for the people around me to think that they are just cogs in a system of simply getting to the end. I wouldn’t want to feel like that, so why should I think that anyone else would want that either?

No, things aren’t always what they seem. There is usually so much more lurking beneath the surface, but it takes intention, patience, love, empathy, care, and time to really get there. People aren’t going to share it right out of the gate. They need to know that they can trust you, they need to know that you won’t betray their confidence, and they need to know that you really, truly, genuinely care about them and what’s really going on in their lives.

I’m learning, I’m growing, and I’m trying to do better here. I’m working to make sure that if I ask someone “How are you?” that I am ready for whatever kind of answer they might return to me. I might not always like the answer, I might not always feel like I’ve got the time for the answer, but to not listen and care about the answer is to allow someone to float off all alone out there in the world.

We can make a difference when we listen and pay attention. We can make a difference when we legitimately ask the question and want to know the answer. I know that when I’ve done it with genuine concern, it’s made a huge difference to the people to know that someone is paying attention and someone cares. I know that there have been times when the question has been asked of me and I probably gave more of an answer than the person was expecting, but in the end, it made all the difference in the world for me to be heard and to know that someone really cared. 

Sabbatical-ing

The last five years have been rough for me. It started out with the death of my mom. Then came the death of my dad a little less than two years later. I was finishing up seminary, was involved in a difficult situation in my church, and was trying to transfer my credentials into a different denomination. I was diagnosed with a weak heart and I could feel my anxiety and stress ever building within me. Thankfully, the church that I serve saw fit to extend me a sabbatical, three months away from work with the goal and intention that I rest, recharge, and study.

If you had asked me ten years ago about a sabbatical, I may have been able to tell you what it was, but it never occurred to me that I actually might have one someday. My father was a pastor for more than forty years and never took a sabbatical. While he worked towards and received his doctorate degree during that time, he never had that much consecutive time off. As he reached the end of his career as a pastor and as he reached the end of his life, I think the lack of some kind of sabbatical may have been detrimental to his health.

I was and am so incredibly grateful to my church for this opportunity. To whom much is given, much is required, and so I wanted to make sure that I was making the most of this time. I put together a plan, found an area of study that I could dive into during the time, planned some travel, and planned time with my family. Although it felt like a tall order to accomplish a lot in this period of time, I felt like I could do it.

Since I am used to sitting in front of a computer and typing a mile a minute, I knew that one of the things that I needed to do during my sabbatical was slow down. I wanted to be intentional about slowing down and that kind of intentionality can be somewhat painful. So, I went to the store and found a journal, you know, one of the ones that has paper and that you actually have to use a pencil, pen, or other writing utensil. I thought to myself, “Here goes nothing!”

The first few weeks were a little awkward. My hand hurt…..a lot. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had sat down and written so much. It was awkward because the words just didn’t flow the way that they did when I sat in front of a computer. They felt forced, contrived, empty, but I wasn’t going to give up, I was going to press on. So press on I did.

The more that I forced myself to pick up a pen and write, the easier it became. I realized that the intentional slowing down was forcing me to think things through in a different way than I did when I sat at a computer. I realized that although I couldn’t get the words out as fast as I had hoped, the slowing down was helping me to process things, helping me wrap my head around things that I had been speeding past as I typed my words so quickly on a screen and keyboard.

By the time I got to the end of the 13th week of my sabbatical, the entire journal, the one that I had wondered whether or not I would even keep up with, that same journal was nearly full. I couldn’t believe it. My diligence had paid off and I had learned an incredibly important and valuable lesson in the process: journaling could significantly improve my own processing of information and spare some of those closest to me the pain of having to listen to me verbally process my thoughts.

I’m different than I was at the beginning of the three months. I’m not quite sure how, but I can feel it, I can see it. I’m pretty sure that if you were to ask my wife and kids, they might say the same thing. I’m hoping that the difference becomes evident to those around me, I’m hoping that they see how much this time has benefited me. I’m hoping that my goal of delivering a better me at the end of thirteen weeks will be realized.

My heart is full of gratitude for my church and this gift that I received. Even in the midst of a difficult season, they were willing to cut me loose to be recharged. For this, I will be forever grateful and I’m pretty sure that my family shares that same amount of gratitude as well.

Rescuing the Gospel – A Book Review

Rescuing the GospelWhat relevance is the Reformation today? Are the issues that were in question hundreds of years ago still in question within the church today? How about the growing unity between Protestants and Roman Catholics? Are there differences in theology that prevent a true unity within the church? In his book “Rescuing the Gospel,” Erwin Lutzer seeks to give an overview of the events and the people of the Reformation and to bring some clarity and, possibly, answers to these questions.

Lutzer writes, “The better we understand yesterday, the better we will understand today.” His purpose in writing the book is to remind the reader of the issues that caused the Reformation to happen in the first place. In analyzing these issues and becoming more familiar with them, we can look more objectively and intelligently at the things that are taking place within the church today.

The majority of the book is spent on Martin Luther, fitting considering that he is known as the Father of the Reformation for most people. Lutzer opens his narrative by talking about some of the abuses within the church. Lutzer reminds the reader that, “He (Martin Luther) had no intention of breaking from the church; the idea that his actions would eventually change the map of Europe didn’t even enter his mind.” Martin Luther’s intention was to correct the errors that he saw and move forward together, he didn’t expect the results that would eventually come, some of which he saw in his lifetime, others which he did not.

What were the main reasons that Luther hung his 95 Theses on the door of the church in Wittenberg? Abuses within the papacy caused Luther concern but there were also theological differences that he saw that he believed needed to be remedied. He believed that the Bible should be put into the hands of the people and that the mass should be done in the language of the people as well. He also saw that there were issues which centered around salvation, works, and justification which needed to conform more to what he believed could be read and interpreted in Scripture.

Protestants and Catholics, Lutzer writes, disagree over the idea of justification. Does salvation come through grace perfected in the work of Jesus Christ or is something more necessary? Was Christ’s work sufficient or do we need to add something to his work? The Catholic view of salvation can be described as a “works based salvation,” signifying that Christ’s work was not enough for our salvation. This was the conclusion that Luther came to as he dug deeper into Scripture and it is the same belief that is held within the Evangelical Protestant church today, according to Lutzer. As he puts it, “…no matter how many changes the Catholic Church makes, it will not – indeed cannot – endorse and evangelical view of salvation.”

Lutzer doesn’t paint a rosy picture of Luther and the other Reformers. He is honest about some of their missteps, their faults, and their sins. About Luther and his last days, Lutzer writes, “when the irritability of age and disease took over, he said many things that would have been best left unsaid.” Zwingli watched and added sarcastic commentary as his former friend, Felix Manz, was drowned within a river for his view on baptism. Calvin was responsible for the burning at the stake of Michael Servetus. While all of these men contributed significant writings and thought to the Reformation, Lutzer makes it clear that they were not to be worshipped and that they were just as fallible as you and I.

Throughout Lutzer’s book are illustrations and pictures of various people, places, and things associated with the Reformation. For those who are not world travelers or who may have a limited exposure to the Reformation and its key figures, these are helpful to bring some context to them. Lutzer’s writing is engaging and he does a good job condensing such an expansive subject within the pages of this book.

This book is not intended for the scholar who has devoted significant amount of time to the study of the Reformation, although it may serve as a good overview to remind those already familiar with the Reformation of key events and figures. It may invoke, for some, a desire to do further study and research for one’s self. “Rescuing the Gospel” is well-written and an easy read. Whether the information is new to you or if you simply want a refresher, it’s a worthwhile read.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Baker Books. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Change Your Perspective

As a pastor, I don’t often have the opportunity to get out of my own context and see how other communities function on Sunday mornings. The Sundays that I am away I am usually visiting the church of my in-laws or friends, maybe spending a day traveling in the car. The opportunity to go visit other places is a luxury that I am not always afforded.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to visit one of our sister churches within our denomination down in Charlotte, North Carolina. Sunday morning was a little harried as I visited two of the three campuses of this church. Needless to say, I did not make the service at my second location on time. I got hung up in conversation and was about 10 minutes late (the lead pastor told me later that I arrived right around the time that everyone else did).

It was great to see what God is doing down in Charlotte. It’s always neat to see how things differ from your own context. A shift of perspective is always helpful to give me added insight. Getting outside the familiar always forces me to look more closely at things.

One thing that happens when I am able to get out of my context is that I can see what things I feel like we are doing well in my own context. I’m not afraid to admit that I look at things through a very critical lens. I know what I like and what I want and I have specific thoughts and ideas about how to make that happen. I know what things are helping to make those thoughts and ideas come to fruition and I know what things are hindering them from coming true. So, realizing that a different perspective or context can help me be more encouraging is a “Win” for me.

That’s not to say that seeing a different context and realizing that we’re doing things well in my own context means that the other context isn’t doing it well, it just means that it clarifies my vision a little better. I don’t honestly think that you can carbon copy things from one context to another and make things work successfully and smoothly. Context is key and if you don’t know your context before trying something, it could be detrimental.

Experiencing a different context also helps to get new and different ideas. While some things might simply confirm that you’re doing things well and right in your own context, there might be opportunities to experience something new and different, to see how things are done elsewhere which in turn can inject a little creativity (or “borrowing”) from this new context.

When I’ve had the chance to get out of my own context and visit somewhere else, I’ve always been grateful when I’ve seen things done well and differently than I am used to. It helps to shake me out of a rut that I might have found myself in and jumpstart something in me that rethinks how I am doing something. It might mean that I borrow something that I have observed or it might mean that seeing something different helps me to think outside of the box just enough to come up with something new and different for my own context.

The best part of seeing another context is when this new context is filled with people who admit that they’re just doing their best to make it and who never claim to be experts. Humility is always a key factor for me because I’m kind of turned off when I hear someone say (either explicitly or between the lines) that they’re doing things perfectly and have no room for improvement.

We all don’t have the luxury of getting out of our own contexts, whatever they may be, to look elsewhere and to potentially shift our thinking. When we are limited in this ability, then we need to bring that shifting context to ourselves by enlisting someone else from another context to come in and give some honest feedback. It’s not the same as going to check out something different, but it can help to achieve the same goals by giving you a different perspective outside or yourself.

I was grateful for the new perspective I had after this weekend. I’ll get to spend some more time in this new context over the next few days and know that I will gain even more insights as I soak in what’s all around me.

Sabbatical – Week 1

Here I am, finally at the sabbatical for which I have been waiting. The hours leading up to it seemed harried, stressful, and somewhat surreal. It’s very hard to step away from something in which you’ve immersed your life, all the while knowing that rest and reinvigoration need to be a part of our lives if we think we’re going to stick around for any length of time.

I continue to be grateful for an opportunity that my father never had before me. Although he was a pastor for over 40 years, he never had a sabbatical. While there are some who think he would have gone stir crazy during a sabbatical, I think that’s one of the main reasons why he should have had one, to learn to be still.

Despite popular belief, a sabbatical is not a long vacation. In order to get to this point, I had to put together a plan with goals. Just like stay at home moms don’t sit around and eat bon bons all day, I won’t be sitting at home during these 13 weeks or sipping umbrella drinks by the pool all day long. Rest is an important part of this time, but so is reflection and learning.

I’m excited to spend some time at other local churches that I’ve wanted to visit for years. Having been in this area for nearly nine years, my visits to other houses of worship have been limited…very limited. We’ve had some invites to some other churches where our friends attend and are looking forward to taking advantage of this time to do this. There are also other places where we have been wanting to visit where we don’t really know anyone, so it will be an exciting time to take that all in.

I’ll be heading to a sister church for a few days to spend time with their staff and pastors. We have gotten to know them a little over these past few years through our denominational meetings. They’ve been incredibly gracious in setting up a fairly full schedule for me while I am there. I am looking forward to hearing them share their insights and wisdom that they have gained since they were planted fifteen or so years ago.

I’ll be spending some time with a dear friend and mentor who has extended invitations to me to come visit him in Lynchburg, Virginia. I look  forward to spending time with him as I always do. We usually meet up for lunch in Charlottesville, so this will be a nice change and opportunity.

I’m heading to Minneapolis, Minnesota for four days total to be trained in StrengthsFinders. As that time grows closer, I will be updating this blog about my takeaways and insights. StrengthsFinders has been a valuable resource for me and my wife in our nearly fifteen years of marriage. I’m looking forward to digging deeper and helping others to see the potentials when they can better understand their strengths.

Our sabbatical will end with a cross country trip. Two adults, three kids, one mini-van……it’s will be an adventure, if nothing else. We’ll get the chance to see some good friends along the way. Friends from many different chapters of life spread out across the United States. Texas. California. South Dakota. Ohio. We’ll throw some family in here and there in New Orleans, North Carolina, and it will make for a full trip.

In the time leading up to my sabbatical, God was already beginning to show me some neat things. I’m still processing those out, but I plan to share them as they take shape in my head.

Looking forward to this journey!

Rules for Sabbatical

Being a pastor is a different kind of job. It’s not just a 9 to 5 job where you do your work and then go home. Oftentimes, it’s a job that last far beyond the bounds of what some might see as the typical daily grind. It’s a job that isn’t easily “left at the office” either. If you are truly called to it, there are deep ties and connections with those to whom you minister. While one might develop some deep relationships with co-workers in normal jobs, working as a pastor may result in deeper relationships with more people.

As I have been preparing to go on my three month sabbatical starting next week, it’s been mildly amusing to hear firsthand or secondhand about what people think are the appropriate levels of engagement that they can have with me along the way. Can we talk to you if we see you in public? What if we’re having a party? Can you come? How about golf? Can you play?

I was at a meeting the other night and made jokes with the others at the meeting as I imagined people seeing me in the grocery store and running the other way for fear of disrupting my sabbatical. If someone did that, I’d be really disappointed (although it might result in a good, hearty laugh). Everyone laughed at the thought of that but I told them that I was legitimately planning to write a post about the rules for my sabbatical. So, here it is.

My lead pastor gave me a piece of advice that I think can frame up a lot of my sabbatical. He said, “If it causes you anxiety or it raises your blood pressure, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.” While life will still go on throughout the thirteen weeks of my sabbatical, this is good wisdom to know the kinds of conversations in which to engage and which should be avoided.

I am a social person and to become anti-social during this time would be uncharacteristic of me. So, I don’t plan to do that. At the same time, engaging in banter on Facebook or other social media outlets may result in that anxiety and raised blood pressure of which I wrote. It also may invigorate me. I plan to continue to blog and hope to actually become a little more consistent and disciplined in my writing through this time. I am going to do my best to allow people to track with me through my blog in a way that they might normally do via more personal contact.

While I will most likely be taking advantage of attending other houses of worship when I am in town during this time, I certainly don’t want people to avoid me, especially when they see me in public. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t talk with me. I don’t want people to feel that they can’t drop me a note here and there, shoot me a text, or even leave me a message, especially if it’s to let me know that they are thinking about me and praying for me. I have a hard time thinking that kind of encouragement would raise my anxiety or my blood pressure.

When it comes to whether or not something is acceptable during this time, I think others can probably abide by the same rule about raising anxiety and blood pressure. Like I said, the thought that people are praying me through this time and the idea of me getting encouraging notes, texts, or emails (to my non-work email) along the way is a pretty neat thought.

This is all new territory for me. My father was a pastor for over forty years and he never had the pleasure of privilege of having a sabbatical. While his church was incredibly accommodating with him for different seasons of his life, especially when he got his doctorate, to the best of my knowledge, he never received an actual sabbatical. So, I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity.

I’m excited for what lies ahead during this time. It will be a learning and growing experience. When I get back, I will see just how well I’ve done at raising up others to serve in my areas of ministry. I’m excited to share just where I am along the way and what I’m being taught through the bumps, the curves, and the quiet moments on the road.

We Cannot be Silent – A Book Review

we cannot be silent

There is a revolution sweeping the nation and the world. Some are rejoicing over it while others are mourning the loss of what used to be. According to Albert Mohler, this revolution that is sweeping through our country and our world is wiping away sexual morality and redefining an institution that has been in place for thousands of years.

While some may think that this revolution sprung up overnight and suddenly appeared, others may realize that the revolution has been years and decades in the making. In fact, Mohler claims that the revolution came long before the legalization of same-sex marriage. It is this revolution that is the subject of his book “We Cannot Be Silent.”

In his book, Mohler walks through how he believes this revolution began, looking back at the sexual revolution within the United States. He carefully and thoughtfully walks the reader through this revolution, looking at the technological advancements that have taken place to aid and abet the revolution. Mohler suggests that the institution of marriage had already begun to weaken and experience structural integrity with the advent of birth control, artificial insemination, and other advancements. Mohler suggests that Christians began to compromise as well by failing to maintain “a vital voice and the ability to speak prophetically to the larger culture concerning matters of marriage, sex, and morality.”

Separating sex and procreation through the advent of birth control enabled a more carefree approach to sex. As long as sex was connected to the possibility of pregnancy, there was a biological check on sex outside of marriage and promiscuity. Birth control opened up a whole new opportunity for the two to no longer be so connected. Not only birth control, but the social acceptance of extramarital sex and cohabitation were among the other factors, “that have fueled the expansion of that revolution into terrain that the early sexual revolutionaries could never have imagined.”

Technological advancements were not the sole perpetrators, however. Mohler suggests that no-fault divorce also eroded the institution of marriage, making marriage more of a contract than a covenant. Mohler even suggests that, “In the end, we will almost surely have to concede that divorce will harm far more lives and cause far more direct damage than same-sex marriage.” Statements like this throughout the book helped me to gain respect for Mohler for his honest assessment of the situation.

Over and over again, Mohler points to the Christian church as compromising its own morals and values, not necessarily by condoning the behaviors that were embraced by society and culture but by simply not speaking out in opposition to what was being widely embraced outside of the church. Mohler is not accusatory of those with whom he disagrees but, like Jesus, reserves his greatest criticisms for the religious right who must share ownership of the current state of affairs and degradation.

Throughout this book, Mohler uses resources from both sides of the same-sex marriage debate. While he certainly has an agenda and viewpoint, he presents it fairly and humbly, without accusations to anyone but those who are within the church. Perusing the endnotes and the resources referenced there would likely interest those on both sides of this debate.

Mohler offers a humble confession and apology to the homosexual community for behaviors against them by the church. He says that the church has failed, “to reach out to our neighbors with true love, compassion, and the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The church has been guilty of an idolatrous pursuit of comfort which has lead us to associate with those who are like us. Mohler boldly states that, “Both love and truth are essential as we establish a right relationship with our neighbors in a way that consists with our ultimate commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Humble confessions like this, in my opinion, go a long way to trying to restore and repair the relationship between those within the church and those in the LGBT community.

He honestly confronts the cries of millions of evangelicals who have claimed that we live in a Christian nation when he says, “At this point, we must respond with the sobering reality that America has never been nearly as Christian as many conservative Christians have claimed.” While he still points to the Judeo Christian values on which this nation was founded, he doesn’t use them as a false support to claim that our nation is Christian.

Mohler addresses the transgender revolution as well. He is critical of the new ideology and mindset among many within the culture who are changing definitions that have been in place for years. He writes, “Arguing that we should draw a clear distinction between who an individual wants to go to bed with and who an individual wants to go to bed as requires the dismantling of an entire thought structure and worldview.” While he clearly states his points and leaves no room for misinterpretation of his own viewpoint, he still maintains a humility and Christlikeness by claiming that there is a need for the church to “develop new skills of compassion and understanding” in dealing with those who find themselves in the midst of their own personal struggles in this area.

As Mohler talks about this shift within our culture, he raises consciousness of the breakdown that is taking place regarding tolerance and religious liberty. Mohler writes, “The remaining question is whether champions of tolerance are prepared to tolerate proponents of a different ethical vision.” Mohler rightly asks this question, wondering whether or not those who claim to be so tolerant are tolerant enough to be able to accept opposing opinions and ideas. It would seem that tolerance is an easy word to trumpet while not being quite as easy to actually live out, especially when it comes to tolerance of ideas that fly in opposition to your own.

He also speaks of the death of religious liberty, writing, “This is how religious liberty dies – by a thousand cuts. An intimidating letter here, a subpoena there, a warning in yet another place. The message is simple and easily understood. Be quiet and get in line or risk trouble.” He raises the alarm on the breakdown of religious liberty that he sees. While the erosion of those liberties may seem subtle, over time, these subtle shifts can result into a significant shift over time, a point that Mohler hopes to get across throughout the entire book.

Religious liberty is dying and tolerance is being advocated while seemingly only being a ruse for the tolerance of ideas that are embraced by the majority. What happens when there are those who embrace a minority viewpoint that is in opposition to the majority? The evidence up to this point has not shown that tolerance means much more than tolerance for the majority viewpoint, all others must fall in line and succumb.

The last chapter of the book is dedicated to hard questions for which Mohler provides his own answers. While that might sound harsh, if the reader has gotten to the end of the book, Mohler’s viewpoint won’t be a surprise. Those for whom this book was intended will most likely find this chapter helpful. Mohler may not change the viewpoints of anyone, but he does offer helpful insights. His status and position within his conservative denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention, may be helpful to those who might not look as objectively at this topic as Mohler tries to do here.

At the end of the book, Mohler adds an addendum as the book had gone to press prior to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage. Mohler claims that this decision is not just a legalization of same-sex marriage but a redefinition of marriage, opening up the possibilities for further expansion in the future into areas such as polygamy and other distortions of traditional marriage.

The majority decision and the rationale of the majority of the justices alludes to the fact that, “…any opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in moral animus against homosexuals. In offering this argument the majority slanders any defender of traditional marriage and openly rejects and vilifies those who, on the grounds of theological conviction, cannot affirm same-sex marriage.” Mohler’s frustration is evident here, implying the obvious question, “Is it possible to hold an alternate viewpoint without being accused of bigotry or prejudice?”

I appreciated Mohler more in reading this book. While I was familiar with him prior to this book, I felt like this book gave me a clearer picture of him and his views. His honesty and humility were evident throughout the book and I think that it would be hard for even those with opposing viewpoints to accuse him of being unfair, harsh, or hateful in laying out his viewpoints.

I have been personally impacted by the cultural shift about which Mohler writes. I have friends who are gay, some who have embraced same-sex marriage and participated in it. While I don’t embrace their viewpoints, I still love them just the same. My disagreement does not mean that I hate my gay friends any more than my dislike for Duke or the Yankees means that I hate anyone who embraces them as “their team.”

I think it’s important that both sides of this issue begin to address and answer some difficult questions. Whatever happened to good, old fashioned differing opinions? Why is it that we can’t disagree without somehow wanting to discriminate? Regardless of whether or not you agree with Mohler, the opinions laid out within this book are important to consider and formulate our own opinions, not simply embrace the opinion of the majority or masses.

(This review is based upon a copy of this book which was provided free of charge from Booklook Bloggers. These opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review, nor was I compensated for this review.)

Chipping Paint and Oncoming Complacency

chipping paintI heard a quote this past week that has been bouncing around my cranium since I heard it. I’ve made reference to it no less than half a dozen times since I heard it because the truth of the statement resonates so deeply with me.

“Time in erodes awareness of.”

That’s it! Might not seem too profound to the average reader or hearer, but to me, who has seen it played out a lot, it makes sense and there is a profoundness in its simplicity. The basic premise being that the longer you look at something, the longer that you are exposed to something, the less impact it has on you without a change of perspective.

Let me illustrate.

In your house, you have a section of wall going up the stairs where the paint is chipping. Every time that you walk past it, you scold yourself inside your head, telling yourself that you need to take time on a Saturday to repaint that section. But the more times that you walk past that chipping paint and don’t do anything about it, the more likely you are to just start to ignore it. The longer amount of time passes, the less your awareness of it will be.

This is why it’s absolutely ESSENTIAL to always be introducing new perspectives and viewpoints into an organization that is truly seeking to change and get better. If organizations or churches continue to have the people who have been within those organizations and churches take “fresh” looks at things, it won’t matter. The amount of time that a person is in an organization can be directly proportionate to their own awareness of that environment.

That’s not to say that a person’s awareness is completely eroded if they have been within an organization or a church for a long time, but the longer they are there, the more effort will have to be taken to gain new perspectives, inviting feedback not from those whose awareness has been eroded over their time and longevity within that place, but from those whose fresh look allows them to see more clearly, without the blinders and lenses of time that have eroded that awareness.

When we stay in the same place for a long period of time, there is a tendency towards complacency if we fail to do something to combat it. Unless we are intentional about changing our perspective and getting a glimpse of things with fresh eyes, we will grow complacent to the very things, ideas, and issues that need to be addressed.

So, what can we do within an organization or a church to change things up in order to avoid the erosion of awareness and the onset of complacency?

1) Be aware – Awareness is the first key ingredient to combating this. If we fail to be aware of our own inadequacies in seeing things clearly, we will continue to do the same thing over and over again, all the while expecting different results. We know where that leads, regardless of whether or not we are willing to admit it. We need to be aware of our own propensity towards complacency and a lack of awareness.

2) Be intentional – Once we are aware of this, we can’t just leave it there. We need to be intentional in addressing the issue. We have to create a structure and environment that looks for opportunities to see the possible erosion of awareness and move towards greater awareness. Intentionality means finding ways to raise awareness and perspective.

3) Invite feedback – This is a dangerous one, I will fully admit it, so I’m following it up with #4, so be sure not to stop here. We need to invite feedback. If we fail to invite feedback, how else are we to measure things? In order to raise awareness, we need to realize our own limited perspective and invite the perspectives of others who see things differently than we do. It doesn’t mean that we take everything that we receive as feedback and implement it. That’s why we need this next one.

4) Measure feedback – This has become one of the hardest things for churches to do, at least the churches of which I have been a part. Measuring feedback is essential, yet the methods for measurement will vary based upon the individual unless there is a uniform process or procedure implemented and put into play that will allow for a more consistent measurement. In the case of awareness, time in erodes awareness of, so it’s important to measure feedback in terms of time in. Like I said, this doesn’t meant that you throw the baby out with the bathwater and you automatically dismiss feedback from someone who has been around a long time, but it also means that you carefully consider how much that person’s awareness of a situation has been eroded by their time within the organization or church.

We were never meant to be alone. In the second chapter of the book of Genesis, everything has been created and God has set Adam over these things, but he realizes that Adam does not have a suitable helpmate. His solution is to create Eve, and we see the beginning of community and partnership. We need each other, that’s how we can avoid complacency, that’s how we can avoid an eroded awareness of our current environment and situation.

As we build deeper relationships with one another, we build up trust and allow for feedback from each other. If our relationships remain shallow, the chances of us drifting down into complacency and erosion of awareness will become greater. Our lives will easily become environments of chipping paint, in need of restoration but lacking the awareness to realize that our perspectives have diminished and eroded our ability to see things as clearly as they really are.