Tuesday, November 1, 2016
Is Hatmaker Riding Balaam's Donkey?
"Hell hath no fury like Christians destroying other Christians".
That's what liberal pastor John Pavlovitz has written about the explosion of confusion and angst over popular Christian personality Jen Hatmaker and her recent embrace of same-sex marriage.
Lifeway, a prominent chain of Christian stores, has already pulled Hatmaker's products from its shelves, which likely represents a significant economic loss for the company, considering the breadth of Hatmaker's franchise not just of self-help books, but also clothing, jewelry, and household knickknacks.
Sheesh - she sells baseball caps, framed motivational one-liners, leaf-shaped earrings, coffee mugs, and things called "buckle cuffs" made out of leather. What this stuff has to do with one's personal faith must be one of those mysteries for which women are notoriously famous. After all, how many male Christian celebrities sell leather buckle cuffs?
Of course, that last paragraph is chock-full of snide vitriol, according to Hatmaker's fans, and they are legion. Do not judge, her admirers parrot, erroneously quoting Scripture. She does a lot of good things. She ministers to me. She's a very loving person, unlike you!
Indeed, that is Pavlovitz's point when he complains about the backlash fomenting within our evangelical industrial complex over Hatmaker's self-professed blessing of gay marriage. Where's the love from people like me to somebody holy and hip like Hatmaker? After all, she's simply demonstrating the love of God to people who were born that way.
And yes, it would be cruel of me and others to question Hatmaker's position if God actually creates people with a tendency towards same-sex attraction. But first of all, we don't know that people who are same-sex attracted are born that way. Personally, I'm coming of the view that same-sex attraction is simply one of many sinful manifestations of the otherwise good sexual urges God gives all of us. What makes homosexuality comparatively rare is that, for most of humanity's existence, it's been a taboo form of sexual sin, whereas "ordinary" heterosexuality (including heterosexual adultery) has not been.
Of course, people like Hatmaker and Pavlovitz - and their patrons - would again consider that last paragraph to be rife with unloving anti-Christian demagoguery. Surely, Jesus loves all of us, and He wants us to love each other, they'd insist.
And that sounds true enough, doesn't it? Jesus loves all of us. People say stuff like that a lot. Yet how accurate is that statement? The Reformed, predestination-believing part of me balks at blanket statements like that, because the word "love" is being used sloppily.
The extent to which Jesus "loves" all humankind is true only in His providence of what's called "common grace", a benefit that even the worst, most hardened unbeliever gets to enjoy during their time on this planet. Common grace includes life itself, plus things like water, air, food, the love of others, the ability to work and acquire things, and the ability to appreciate a beautiful sunset. But it does not include salvation. For salvation, one has to be "predestined" by God, and since not everybody is saved, God's salvific grace is only available to those He's chosen to spend Eternity with Him.
Okay, have your eyes now glossed over? Too much theology for you? Is the topic of predestination not "loving" enough for you? Or do you immediately tune out everything that sounds mean and judgmental about God?
Indeed, Jesus does love us, because He created us. But He does not love our sin. And indeed, it is loving to recognize sin.
It's not "judging" as much as it is discernment. Sure, the word "love" is bandied about quite a bit when it comes to homosexuality and gay marriage, but how accurate are we being in our use of the term? Yes, God is love, but that's just one part of a broader doctrine of love that the Bible carefully explores across God's many perfect characteristics. God is love, but He is also pure, righteous, and fiercely protective of His holiness. And sexual holiness is a lot less pliable and evolutionary a concept than folks like Hatmaker want it to be.
You can choose not to believe this, but doing so doesn't make you correct. Shucks, you can choose not to believe in gravity, but that won't make you right.
Hey - you don't even have to believe this because I'm saying it. But why do you believe anything Hatmaker says? Is it because her speech is more persuasive than mine? Is it because she's more photogenic than I am, or because she can sell you leather buckle cuffs, and I still don't even know what they are?
I'm not saying you have to take her word over mine, or mine over hers. Simply compare what she's saying about gay marriage - and what I'm saying about it - with what the Bible has to say about it.
I have an idea that Hatmaker and most of her defenders, including Pavlovitz, know full well what the Bible says about gay marriage. They simply choose not to believe it. They consider themselves more enlightened than the folks who have interpreted the Bible all these millennia as being exclusively pro-heterosexuality. I'm merely being hateful for sticking to an outdated understanding of culturally-malleable religious texts.
Meanwhile, God Himself has told us that He does not speak "in riddles". His Word is not designed to deceive us. It does not say one thing but mean something totally different. Which means that when God says anything apart from heterosexual sex between a married husband and wife is sin, then that means homosexuality is a sin.
The only riddle is when we try to second-guess what God intends to say in His Word.
I may believe in predestination, but that doesn't mean I don't believe that God gives us a certain amount of free will. Which means you're entitled to live a life of delusion if you choose to. Which, frankly, also means that my view of the Gospel has a greater element of love and freedom than yours does, if you're telling me I absolutely have to believe something or I'm the one being hateful and unloving. I can still believe that gay marriage is wrong, and yet be loving. Indeed, Biblical love recognizes wrong, and abhors evil. Christ says that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments.
It's not rocket science, but it is hard. And often, unpopular in the context of what the unsaved world around us interprets as love.
And of course, we Christ-followers often get love wrong. Which helps explain why people joke that Hell has no fury like Christians destroying other Christians. But I'm not destroying Hatmaker, unless reminding her and her supporters of Gospel truth is now considered a suitable definition of "destroy". Then again, to demonstrate one's allegiance to God and His honor, temples have historically been destroyed, at least in the Bible. Christ Himself cleared the money-changers out of the Temple, and maybe that's what riles Hatmaker the most: Just as she's been able to capitalize (literally) on her celebrity status within America's vast evangelical industrial complex, she stubs her stylish toe by alienating a large cohort of potential customers with a religiously unpopular stance.
Which, among other things, proves that we evangelicals need to stop our unholy fascination with celebrity. It's too easy to give popular people a pass on crucial issues when we've already invested part of our identity in creating theirs.
Thankfully, many evangelicals still can spot heresy when they see it. We might not do the best, most sympathetic job of pointing it out, but nevertheless; if we were silent, the rocks would then be crying out, right? Or Balaam's donkey... remember her?
Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you...” Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse before me."
Consider what former lesbian advocate Rosaria Butterfield - now a repentant Christ-follower, and contentedly married to a man - points out in her gracious response to Hatmaker:
"When we advocate for laws and policies that bless the relationships that God calls sin", admonishes Butterfield, "we are acting as though we think ourselves more merciful than God is".
In other words, if we love Christ because He first loved us, we seek to put Him first in everything we do and say.
And we pray that His perfect mercy - full of truth and justice - will withstand our temptations to deviate from it.