Pope Francis Speaks to the John 17 Movement at Pentecost Celebration

I have mentioned in the past few months that I am deeply supportive of what is called the John 17 Movement. This movement held a wonderful Pentecost event in  Phoenix, Arizona, last Saturday, May 23. The event was at the Phoenix Convention Center. I could not attend but spoke by video to this gathering. The same friends who invited me to address this magnificent crowd also invited Pope Francis to speak. Here is his address given from his office at the Vatican. Watch it and then pray for the unity of the church of Jesus Christ globally. His words about the role of theologians are so moving and faithful. Pray for Pope Francis and then pray for the unity of the church.

Posted in ACT 3, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 6 Comments/Likes

A Film Series on the Protestant Reformation

Two weeks ago I did a three-and-a-half hour video session in Souderton, Pennsylvania. I sat down with Vision Video, one of the premier Christian video production companies in the world. I had a profoundly enjoyable experience and hope that the time I invested in a forthcoming project will bear much fruit.

IMG_5027Vision Video is making and producing a three-hour series for the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. I believe this series will be available in 2016. It is to be determined how many videos there will be in the series, what kind of resources will be added and how it will be marketed. The entire project anticipates the anniversary year of 2017. It has a number of well-known people in the series. It should make a significant contribution to churches and Christian viewers in general. Vision Video has produced some noteworthy films and won a number of awards for their work over the years.

This particular series was nearing completion when the production and film team decided that the series was missing several things that were needed. First, it needed a Protestant voice that was a little more sanguine about the Reformation. Second, it needed a conclusion that celebrated the great contribution of the Reformation while it also showed a new way forward that included greater displays of Christian unity. Finally, it became apparent that several important Catholic voices were missing in the series. Enter the discussion I had with Bill Curtis at Vision Video.

I have known Bill for some years, having been a good friend of his late father, Rev. Ken Curtis. Ken and I shared many common points of vision and mission and he loved church history as I do. He also founded Christian History Magazine. The magazine was begun by the Christian History Institute (CHI) and later was marketed by Christianity Today (CT). After CT no longer published this highly acclaimed magazine CHI took it back and began to publish it again a few years ago. The quality is as good as ever. There really is nothing else in the marketplace of Christian publications like Christian History Magazine. I highly commend it to you.

In my long interview with Vision Video I addressed questions such as:

How do you define ecumenism?
What was the impulse of the ecumenical movement in the twentieth century and how is it changing now?

What are the marks of good ecumenism?

How do you discern between tolerating reasonable difference in opinion and maintain orthodoxy in essential matters?

What is your view of the World Council of Churches?

What ecumenical actions have evangelicals taken in recent years?

What does the ecumenical movement look like today on a local, national and global level?

Did the 1999 Catholic-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification settle the question of justification by faith? Why or why not?

What are the major reasons for divisions in Protestantism?

Was Rome right when it said schism will breed more schism?

What are the legitimate reasons for churches to divide?

Is the diversity of denominations are good thing?

Is there an alternative between the two extremes of doctrinal disputes that create divisions?

What did Jesus mean when he prayed for us to be “one” in John 17?

How do you view the Reformation in the light of John 17?

How should this prayer impact us today?

Is it possible for churches to come to consensus about some of the difficult doctrines that divide us, especially among Catholics and Protestants?

Is institutional unity possible and is it desirable?

Should the Reformation be celebrated or lamented?

What is the lasting legacy of the Protestant Reformation?

What do you think this all may look like in 500 more years?

Describe the actions of recent popes with regard to unity?

Talk about the “Francis effect” in the present global context of Christian unity?

Are we living in a post-Christian world and how should we deal with this if we are?

There were not the only items we discussed but this is a good representative list. Some received short answers while others longer ones. In the end only a few minutes will be in the three-hours on the finished product.

My personal hope is that more of this interview can be salvaged and used in due time. If that can happen we will publish come of this on the web. Meanwhile pray for ACT3 as we seek more opportunities to film and present Christian unity in a positive and realistic way that fosters a positive response to Jesus’ words in John 17:21-23.

I noted three reasons that Vision Video had for completing this project with a stronger overall story. The third one is to get some other Catholic voices on tape. I am working to help this happen. Pray for the right people to help us complete what could be a wonderful series if it is done well.

Posted in ACT 3, American Evangelicalism, Church History, Church Tradition, Current Affairs, Missional-Ecumenism, Personal, Protestantism, Reformed Christianity, Roman Catholicism, The Church, The Future, Unity of the Church | 8 Comments/Likes

Mark Moore on Christian Unity

My friend Rev. Mark Moore, of Plano, Texas, spoke with ACT3 about Christian Unity during our Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical meeting last September. Mark has just recently become a regional director for International Justice Mission, a ministry that is a fantastic gift to the whole church.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story, Unity of the Church | 3 Comments/Likes

Reflections on Forgiveness and Forgiving (Tom Masters)

Tom ncp portraitReading the text and commentary for the Focolare Movement’s “Word of Life” for May, 2015, brought to my mind an experience from two years ago when I was in Rome to meet with the editorial staff of the publishing house Città Nuova.  On March 13, the very day that the meeting began, it happened that Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, who took the name Francis, was elected pope.  The following Sunday he appeared in St. Peter’s Square for the customary noontime Angelus address. He offered a reflection on Jn 8:1-11, the story of Jesus’s response to the woman caught in adultery.  He illustrated the meaning and quality of divine mercy with a personal anecdote:

Feeling mercy. . . changes everything. . . . We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient…. Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow. This mercy is beautiful!

I remember, when I had only just become a bishop in the year 1992, the statue of Our Lady of Fatima had just arrived in Buenos Aires and a big Mass was celebrated for the sick. I went to hear confessions at that Mass. And almost at the end of the Mass I stood up, because I had to go and administer a First Confirmation. And an elderly woman approached me, humble, very humble, and over eighty years old. I looked at her, and I said, “Grandmother” — because in our country that is how we address the elderly — do you want to make your confession?”

“Yes”, she said to me.

“But if you have not sinned…”

And she said to me: “We all have sins…”

“But perhaps the Lord does not forgive them.”

“The Lord forgives all things,” she said to me with conviction.

“But how do you know, Madam?”

“If the Lord did not forgive everything, the world would not exist.”

. . . .

Let us not forget this word: God never ever tires of forgiving us! “Well, Father what is the problem?”  Well, the problem is that we ourselves tire, we do not want to ask, we grow weary of asking for forgiveness. He never tires of forgiving, but at times we get tired of asking for forgiveness.

(https://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/angelus/2013/documents/papa-francesco_angelus_20130317.html)

Members of the Focolare understand that God is love.  Inspired by John 17:21, they seek to live out Jesus’s prayer “That they may all be one.”  To make this practical, each month a text is chosen and a commentary is offered suggesting how to make it the watchword for daily life.  The text for this month is Ephesians 2: 4-5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.”

Fabio Ciardi, the commentary’s author, points out that we can witness to the reality of God’s love by sharing the tenderness of mercy with each person we meet.  God revealed himself to Moses as “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Ex 34:6).  Ciardi explains that the Hebrew word used to name God’s merciful love, “raḥămîm,” recalls a mother’s womb, the place where life begins. The passage in Exodus also uses “ḥesed,” suggesting “faithfulness, benevolence, goodness, solidarity.”

As Pope Francis gently suggests in his anecdote, we who have become “alive together with Christ” are called to manifest an unceasing and tireless mercy like the Father’s.  The pope sees this mercy manifested in the humble grandmother he met, and in Jesus’s response to the woman caught in adultery; Fabio Ciardi recalls other episodes from scripture—Mary’s response to the Angel Gabriel, and the parables of the Good Shepherd, the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son.

You may be familiar with Henri Nouwen’s commentary on Rembrandt’s “The Return of the Prodigal Son.”

 

In the figure of the father, Nouwen sees God the Father:  “The Father is not simply a great patriarch.  He is mother as well as father.  He touches the son with a masculine hand and a feminine hand.  He holds, and she caresses.  He confirms and she consoles.  He is, indeed, God, in whom both manhood and womanhood, fatherhood and motherhood, are fully present” (The Return of the Prodigal Son [New York: Doubleday, 1992], 99).

So this Word of Life reminds me that to live the Gospel I need to broaden my conception of God, and of myself.  As Pope Francis reminded me during his Angelus address, I must never grow weary of asking for forgiveness. Likewise, I must never weary of offering it.  Fabio Ciardi explains how to do this in everyday life:

If God for us is rich in mercy and of great love, we too are called to be merciful towards others. If he loves those who are bad, who are his enemies, we too ought to learn how to love those who are not “lovable,” even our enemies. Did not Jesus tell us, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Mt 5:7)? Did he not ask us to be “merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Lk 6:36)? Paul too invites his communities, chosen and loved by God, to clothe themselves “with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Col 3:12).

If we have believed in God’s love, we too can love in our turn with that love which makes us draw close to every situation of pain and need, that forgives all things, that protects, that knows how to look after the other person.

Living in this way we will be able to give witness to God’s love and help those we meet discover that also for them God is rich in mercy and of great love.

Guest Author

Dr. Tom Masters, the editorial director for New City Press, is today’s guest author. He writes this personal introduction:

Growing up I wanted to live for an ideal. God granted that, but not how I expected.  Soon after I married Kathleen, a fellow-Chicagoan also studying at DePaul University, we met and joined a community of people living for the Gospel ideal of unity, the Focolare Movement. Then came a “temporary” stint as a teacher. After forty years, with side adventures in raising three children and earning a PhD (Language, Literacy, and Rhetoric at the University of Illinois at Chicago), I discerned a new vocation as an author and editor with the Focolare’s North American publishing house, New City Press. That vocation to build unity includes promoting a culture of life through John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, a culture of justice through Catholic Social Thought, and a culture of interreligious and ecumenical dialogue through shared endeavors such as John Armstrong’s Act 3 Network.

Posted in Faith, Forgiveness, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Who Needs a “Jubilee of Mercy”?

“Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us.”

UnknownEach one of us, many times during our lives, have raised our voices and cried, “Lord have mercy.” Mercy is the kind of forgiving treatment of someone who could be treated harshly. From a Christian perspective, it is the gift that God or another person offers to someone by not treating him/her in the way they deserve.

For many, this cry for mercy is a perpetual line of their daily prayers. It expresses our deepest inability to cope with the pain in our hearts or the desperate frustration with the challenges of our sinful human condition.

We all long for mercy. The tragedy is that we are not prone to offer it to others.

This past March, Pope Francis announced, to the surprise of many, a holy year. From Dec. 8, 2015 to Nov. 20, 2016, Catholics throughout the world are called to celebrate a “Jubilee of Mercy.” The celebration of a jubilee originated in Judaism and it was the occasion to offer forgiveness and reconciliation.

I tend to believe that mercy is not something we should celebrate in an extraordinary way, like in a “year of jubilee”. The fact that Pope Francis feels the need for such a celebration speaks to the reality that we, as the people of God, have forgotten or relegated this grace to be given only on extraordinary circumstances.

Maybe we need to be reminded that God’s mercies are not extraordinary. The prophet Micah said: “Who is a God like you? You forgive sin and overlook the rebellion of your faithful people. You will not be angry forever, because you would rather show mercy.” (Mich. 7:18) And we are reminded that the mercies of the Lord “are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:23)

We may not be conscious of the reality that, in order to successfully live in community, we are dependent on the mutual exchange of the gift of mercy. For most people, this is something natural, at least when required by our normal misunderstandings or common offenses. Things get complicated when we are challenged to offer mercy when major offenses has been committed, or when one of the sins in our “top ten” list has been committed.

Allow me to demonstrate this with a very contemporary issue. I recently read an article by Jeanne Bishop titled, “Lord, Have Mercy” (America Magazine). Ms. Bishop works as an assistant public defender in the Law Office of the Cook County Public Defender in Chicago. In the article, she articulates in a very profound way her journey from pardoning, to experiencing and offering mercy. Ms. Bishop’s sister, her unborn child and her sister’s husband were killed by David Biro. She shares how, after a long struggle, she has forgiven the killer, said his name, and even prayed for him. But she still was not certain if she wanted him to serve less than his full life sentence.

I suppose that this would be the bottom line for many of us. Doesn’t he deserve at least to be put away for the rest of his life? Some would even question why this man was not given a death sentence.

Ms. Bishop had, what I must call, an epiphany moment. She writes: “And in the very next moment, like daylight breaking into darkness, I knew something else. I’d always thought that the only thing big enough to pay for the life of my sister was a life sentence for her killer. Now I understood: The only thing big enough to equal the loss of her life was for him to be found.

What a profound and revolutionary truth. In dealing with His children, God is not driven by revenge or a sense of satisfaction or even pleasure. At the very heart of God, there is a desire for redemption, for restoration. The psalmist clearly expresses this truth on Psalm 130:

  1. Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord;
  2. Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.
  3. If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand?
  4. But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.

7. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with Him is full redemption.

Full redemption is what God is all about. That redemption is experienced when God shows His unfailing and redemptive love towards us. Pope Francis said that, “Mercy is not just a pastoral attitude; it is the very substance of the Gospel message.” The redemption and transformation of our hearts and souls can only be achieved by the mystery of God’s mercy and love operating in and through us.

A “Jubilee of Mercy” can be a redemptive event; it will certainly do good, not only to Catholics, but to all Christians.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt. 5:7).

Guest Author:

Carlos L. Malavé, a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCUSA), lives in Louisville, Kentucky. He served for eleven years as associate for ecumenical relations in the Office of the General Assembly. Since 2012 he has been the executive director for  Christian Churches Together (CCT).

Created in 2001, CCT is a forum of more than 35 churches and Christian organizations that encompasses the broad diversity of Christianity in the U.S. ― Evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Pentecostals, historic Protestant, Racial and Ethnic churches.

 

Posted in Biblical Theology, Forgiveness, God's Character, Jesus, Roman Catholicism, Spirituality | 11 Comments/Likes

Fr. Leo Walsh on Christian Unity

Fr. Leo Walsh serves as a priest in the diocese of Anchorage, Alaska. He is an active participant in the Lausanne Catholic-Evangelical Conversation. He is also actively engaged in ecumenism, both in his local parish and in the wider context of the North American church.

Posted in ACT 3, Missional-Ecumenism, My Christian Unity Story | 8 Comments/Likes

What You Can Do About the Kenya Massacre: Choose to Love

Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe

IMG_9498Once again the senseless massacre of almost 150 students in Kenya has demonstrated the fallenness and depravity of humanity. It is impossible to comprehend the depth of brutality that human beings can perpetrate against others, particularly children and young people. Lives filled with so much hope and potential were snuffed out by the barbarity of those who seemingly will stop at nothing to promote their twisted ideology and beliefs.

What should be responses to such acts of cruelty? We have already seen swift military action by the Kenyan government in retaliation for the atrocities committed. Yet what should your response be, and the response of every individual Christian before God? The natural inclination is anger, to lash back, to punish the perpetrators. Yes, justice demands we respond and hold accountable the killers. But is that all we can do and will it bring an end to these senseless attacks?

It is a primary responsibility of governments to protect its citizens. However, given the fact the growing threat of terrorists is not contained within a specific geographic border, no individual government can be the sole solution. International cooperation amongst nations must become the norm rather than the exception. This shared action goes beyond cooperative military, intelligence and relief initiatives. In order to diminish the growing impact of these radical movements we must deal with the very ideology that seems to be mobilizing thousands of willing and young terrorists.

I am convinced a part of the strategy to challenge the underlying foundation of the radical jihadists is found in the followers of Jesus. That’s where you come in.

Jesus calls His followers to another way. A way that seems contrary to our human instincts. The best way to visualize this new way is to be reminded of those brave Egyptian Coptic women who extended forgiveness to the brutal killers who massacred their husbands, their sons, their fathers. They chose the path of love, not hate. They chose the path of Jesus.

Some say this is naive. They object and say it’s no way to respond to the brutality of radical jihadists.

I remember a conversation with a pastor who has a deep hatred for Muslims. I asked him about the words of Jesus, who asked us to love our neighbors. His response, “We tried, and didn’t work.” Really? Did Jesus really propose something that does not work? I don’t think so.

So when we think about the slayings of innocent young students in Kenya what does choosing to love actually mean? It can be expressed in the following ways:

1. Seeking to enter into the pain of those who are suffering from the loss of their loved ones and pray for them;

2. Understanding from Scripture suffering, persecution, and forgiveness. We can engage devotionals* around these themes to acknowledge our own prejudices against and stereotyping of Muslims;

3. Seeking to build friendships with “the other”. The others in this case are Muslims. One of the goals of the radical jihadists is to create a narrative that Christians hate all Muslims and Christians are the enemy. In the midst of feeling helpless we can deny the radicals victory by loving our Muslim neighbors. Multiply these loving friendships by the millions and you begin to change the narrative:

4. Seeking to educate ourselves about the current global struggle with radical jihadists separating myths and reality; and

5. Supporting the humanitarian efforts for those organizations who not only assist the victims of persecution but also the disenchanted youth who are the most vulnerable for radicalization.

At the end of the day, what we should not do is be complacent or overwhelmed into paralysis. Recognizing that Jesus offered another way, not a short-term solution but a radical way, we as Christians move toward changing the world by choosing love.

Guest AuthorIMG_9498

The Rev. Dr. Geoff Tunnicliffe is Chairman of the Board of Advisors of Christian Media Corporation International (CMC); advisor of “A.D. The Bible Continues”; global strategist for Crossroads Global Media Group; YouVersion International Ambassador; “Unashamedly Ethical” Global Ambassador and Strategist; and former secretary general of the World Evangelical Alliance.

 

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Current Affairs, Politics, Separation of Church & State, Spiritual Warfare, The Church, The Future, The War on Terrorism | 2 Comments/Likes

The Spirituality of Designer Religions (Monte Wilson)

DSC00542You can’t read a magazine or watch TV without hearing some rock star or movie actor gushing on and on about being a “spiritual person.” Same goes for Facebook, where people post such profound bon mots as, “I am not religious. I am spiritual.” Maybe it’s just me but this always leaves me wondering: You’re spiritual? To what spirit are you referring? It begs the question, doesn’t it?

“Being spiritual” doesn’t say enough for me to have even the slightest clue as to what you are describing or asserting about your beliefs. If we have a Buddhist, a Baptist, and a believer in Brahman, each saying he is spiritual, aren’t they all saying something categorically different? And if a word can mean so many different things to different people, why confuse your listeners with such an amorphous word?

Why, indeed.

While there are probably more reasons than I can imagine, I believe that most all of them can be traced back to two.

When I say that I am spiritual, I am letting you know that I believe in something higher than myself, but am not suggesting – the pantheon of gods forbid—that my spirituality is superior or higher or nobler than your spirituality. Well, unless, that is, your “spirituality” includes what you believe are divinely given moral codes with which I disagree: then you are “religious.” My spirituality makes no base and disgusting judgments about the behavior of others because doing so is my one sacred prohibition.

Okay. There are some behaviors upon which my spirituality demands I call down hell and damnation.

It always baffles me when people go on and on about the horrific nature of God’s Ten Commandments, only to discover that they actually have created far more sacrosanct laws than we find on Moses’ two tablets. They sit there telling me how restrictive The Ten Commandments are, how morally reprehensible or barbaric it is, and then, when I light up a cigar or order a 24 oz porterhouse or they hear about my stash of banned light-bulbs I am still using or my belief in a free market economy or of the one hundred other sacred cows of theirs that I am goring by my behavior, they want me stoned or shunned…or at least have my right to vote taken away.

Which brings me to the second reason. By referring to myself as being “spiritual and not religious,” I get to believe and behave however I choose. Is that cool, or what? There are no dogmas, no codes of behavior, and no traditions, other than those I create for myself. Maybe I’ll take a little from Buddha, a smidgen from Hinduism, and something from Jesus about loving others, and, Voila: I have my self-created designer religion that demands nothing of me other than what I want it to.

Why not just say, “I have designed my own religion”? I can’t say that because it would make me sound like I have a god-complex. Then what about professing that I practice syncretism: a combination of various beliefs and practices taken from many religions that were chosen according to what makes me feel good about myself, fits my personality, and supports my chosen cultural mores.  O. Wait a minute. Those are basically saying the same thing, aren’t they.

Guest Author

Monte E. Wilson

Monte Wilson trains individuals, teams, and organizations to develop personal and team effectiveness. His work has taken him around the globe and for 40 years he has trained thousands of international leaders in the fields of communication and persuasion, education, and non-profit organizations. As a Corporate Trainer and Life Coach, he has specialized in working across cultural lines throughout the world to establish and sustain successful businesses, both large and small. ESPN, ABC, United Technologies and Best Buy.

As an authority on leadership development, Monte has worked with men and women across five continents, teaching them how to reinvent themselves, their communities and their organizations.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

Posted in American Evangelicalism, Discipleship, Leadership, Spirituality | 1 Comment/Like

Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian (A Review)

DanToday’s guest writer is Dan Brennan, author of the important book, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women.

Where was I to find love? Where was I to give love?

If Scripture and the Christian tradition were right that I shouldn’t

try to find a husband, surely the apparent corollary couldn’t also be

right—that I was therefore cut off from any deep, meaningful

form of intimacy and communion. Could it?”

Wesley Hill

 

As an evangelical who has significant interest in the connection between sexuality and friendship, I was eagerly awaiting the delivery of Wesley Hill’s Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian. He did not disappoint.

Although Hill writes from the perspective of a gay celibate, he writes as an evangelical who seeks to integrate a post-Freudian view of sexuality with friendship. To be clear, Hill doesn’t use that phrase. That comes from take. In my own language, some of the distinctive features of a post-Freudian sexuality are that it 1) affirms we are all spiritual-sexual beings, 2) expands the meaning of sexuality beyond genital engagement, and 3) embraces friendship love in relational sexuality.

Friendship love has two different dimensions for Christians in a post-Freudian world. Evangelicals are just beginning to explore the friendship love within marriage. That’s the first dimension. What does spiritual friendship mean in marital sexuality? The second dimension focuses on the question of what it means for two sexual persons to love one another wholeheartedly not as romantic partners but as friends. Hill’s book centers on this dimension exploring the meaning of friendship love as a gay celibate.

For gays who are committed to a traditional sexual ethic, the friendship love in the first dimension is not an option. However, what about friendship love in the second dimension? Gays living within the current evangelical sexual milieu are faced with a rigid two-choice dilemma: seek the almost impossible task of changing their orientation or face a life destined for despairing loneliness.

Hill’s book courageously offers gay celibates a breakthrough out of that evangelical gridlock by boldly claiming friendship love in the second dimension. In popular evangelical sexuality, the message for evangelical gays is so strong: they have no choice other than this two-choice dilemma. This evangelical gridlock is a powerful narrative precisely because it is comprised of a number of mini two-choice dilemmas presented as gospel truth. In contrast, Spiritual Friendship explores how friendship offers gay celibates authentic, life-giving, life-affirming choices beyond those dilemmas. We’ll look at three such dilemmas for this post.

Unfulfilled or Neutered?

In this courageous book, Hill dares to forge in the midst of the evangelical world a sexually safe space for gay celibates to enjoy friendship as gays without neutering their sexuality. In so doing Hill has to challenge conservative evangelicals who have uncritically accepted a When Harry Met Sally ethic as heterosexual gospel. If the sex part always gets in the way of friendship between two sexual beings, then evangelical gays are consigned to a haunting two-choice dilemma with no authentic alternative.

Can gay men be profoundly and authentically sexual as celibates and friends? Suddenly, evangelicals who enthusiastically endorse a When Harry Met Sally sexual ethic are faced with their own reductionistic corner into which they have painted themselves. Hill wants us to think deeply about authentic love in friendship without neutering sexuality.

For gay Christians and heterosexual Christians who hold to the When Harry Met Sally ethic, only romantic love/marriage provides an authentic way out of loneliness. Matthew Vines, the author of God and the Gay Christian, sets up this dilemma with his insistence that marriage for gays is the path out of loneliness. When I heard him speak, he immediately dismissed friendship for gays as a serious and authentic alternative to loneliness.

Hill deftly and daringly leads us deep into the heart of the landscape of sexual beings seeking authentic spiritual closeness in friendship as celibates. Sex is not the only place for sexual beings to experience the fullness of God’s presence; friendship, too, offers authentic fullness with no neutering of our sexuality.

Slippery Slope or Integrity?

As I stated earlier, evangelical gridlock poses a number of two-choice dilemmas. Gay celibates aren’t stuck with the narrow dilemma: slippery slope or integrity. Both choices are undesired alternatives for gay celibates. Of course, it’s immediately apparent that sliding down the slippery slope into gay sex is not a virtuous path for gay celibates.

Evangelicals typically cannot conceive of life-giving intimacy between two friends where romantic attraction may arise with no choice for marriage. But simplistic evangelical accounts for sexual integrity are also undesirable for gay celibates. In popular evangelical sexual ethics, integrity means staying sexually pure in the eyes of God.

For many evangelicals this would mean gay celibates could never enter into deep intimacy with someone to whom they could be physically attracted. In many popular straightforward evangelical books on sexuality, the message is to run away just as fast you can. Some even conflate sexual attraction and lust. This kind of integrity, of course, dooms the gay celibate to life-long shallow relationships.

Hill rejects those narrow two-choice dilemmas for gay celibates. “My being gay,” he writes, and saying no to gay sex may lead me to be more of a friend to men, not less.”

Unconsummated Love or Distant Intimacy? 

A sexuality centered on body parts coupled with a When Harry Met Sally sexual ethic pressures evangelical gay celibates to another narrow two-choice dilemma: unconsummated love or distant intimacy. Either choice is undesirable for gay celibates.

There is no deep peace when two individuals who are committed to celibacy desire an intimacy that leaves them just short of a consummated love. For evangelicals deep love and sexuality mean consummated love. Wholehearted love in evangelical sexuality translates into would-be, could-be, ought-to-be consummated lovers.

Distant intimacy for gay celibates would also be a frustratingly undesirable alternative. Contemporary evangelicals regard this kind of intimacy as the only kind of friendship connection that is appropriate. For straight evangelicals, friends can be left behind when romance enters the picture. Evangelical sexuality conflates romance and deep intimacy between two adults as the only road to fulfilling, generative, and longlasting love.

According to evangelical sexual scripts, friends don’t have to work at deepening intimacy. There is no expectation among evangelicals for two friends to intentionally pursue deep intimacy over the long haul. Distant intimacy between friends is what passes for meaningful connection with friendship lite expectations. Nor is there any expectation for romantic couples to share a life of intentional deep intimacy with celibates or with any others beyond the couple.

Hill peers into both the theology of friendship and the history of spiritual friendship; he wants evangelicals not to be stuck with these undesirable options of fragmentation. He does not gloss over the difficulties and challenges of nurturing a spiritual closeness within intimate friendship; nor does he run scared.

For Christians (progressive or conservative) who anxiously need to keep friendship as a distant intimacy in order to keep their sexual scripts, Hill’s book might not be good news. But for those who embrace a post-Freudian view of sexuality, the integration of the freedom of friendship with sexuality offers twentyfirst century Christians many “patterns of the possible” (the title of one his chapters).

While it may appear to the casual observer that sexuality is all about sex, a post-Freudian shift posits that there is much more meaning to sexuality than just sex. It is this shift toward a holistic meaning of sexuality that gives celibate gays like Hill a strong hope that deep intimacy of shared life between friends holds great promise.

The conversation of integrating sexuality and friendship advances another step in the evangelical world in Spiritual Friendship. Friendship no longer takes a back seat to the connection between deep intimacy and sexuality.

Guest Author

Dan Brennan has been married to his best friend, Sheila for thirty three years and has one adult son, Jonathan. He is a blogger, and author of Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions: Engaging the Mystery of Friendship Between Men and Women. Dan has been researching sexuality and friendship for the past decade. In his day job, he oversees quality control for a large limousine company in the Chicago area.

Posted in Culture, Current Affairs, Friendship, Sexuality, The Church | 20 Comments/Likes

Are We Ignoring Domestic Violence?

20138370-domestic-violence-and-abuse-as-a-abstractThe growing problem of domestic violence has come under profound scrutiny in recent months because the problem has surfaced quite often in the world of professional sports. Sports Illustrated, which has a great knack for solid journalism and good writing, has done some remarkably insightful reporting on the problem in several recent issues.

In the April 13, 2015, issue of Sports Illustrated, in a column called “Say What?,” the magazine reports that Dallas radio broadcaster Tim Cowlishaw asked female Dallas Cowboys fans to call into his program to complain about the team’s signing of defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy, a talented and needed defender, recently had charges of domestic violence against him dropped. Cowlishaw writes that, “We got [only] three callers, and [they were] fully in support of it [signing him].” Cowlishaw added, “Cowboys fans want to get that next victory more than they care about moral implications.”

Before you castigate sports in general, or even Dallas in particular, think about this again. 20134666-illustration-depicting-a-set-of-cut-out-printed-letters-arranged-to-form-the-word-abuseWide-scale cultural shifts are not created by sports but they are reflected within it because s[ports puts issues on the center stage of life as we know it in our broader society. The fact that a solid football player’s signing trumps domestic violence is not shocking to me once you realize that domestic violence is not alarming to most people. From what I have seen this includes many Christians who are offended by other sins that are easier to criticize and single out but take a pass on domestic abuse. I am quite certain that significant numbers of the perpetrators of domestic violence are present within our churches. Thus I would also guess many pastors and leaders are loathe to take a strong stand against this serious issue and many fail to deal with it aggressively when this response is called for in specific instances. (I know some great exceptions and have encouraged pastors in this work.) Sadly, I know churches that counsel women to put up with violence rather than abandon their abusive husband. Something is terribly wrong with this picture. Are we reflecting culture or shaping it?

Posted in Culture, Current Affairs, Marriage & Family, The Church | 9 Comments/Likes