In case you have not heard yet, Jennifer Knapp recently came out. I’ve been living under an intentionally large rock recently (and I always try to stay under one concerning mainstream/pop Christianity news) so I’m not sure how many waves this news made. The one article I caught on the Christian radio and bookseller reaction suggests it’s exactly what I’d expect: mostly ignoring the new album and hoping the news goes away.
In a nutshell: She’s finally back to the music business, and is in a committed (8 year) same-sex relationship. And she still loves God, and wants to make music. How do those work out for her?
The Bible has literally saved my life. I find myself between a rock and a hard place—between the conservative evangelical who uses what most people refer to as the “clobber verses” to refer to this loving relationship as an abomination, while they’re eating shellfish and wearing clothes of five different fabrics, and various other Scriptures we could argue about. I’m not capable of getting into the theological argument as to whether or not we should or shouldn’t allow homosexuals within our church. There’s a spirit that overrides that for me, and what I’ve been gravitating to in Christ and why I became a Christian in the first place.
I’ve always struggled as a Christian with various forms of external evidence that we are obligated to show that we are Christians. I’ve found no law that commands me in any way other than to love my neighbor as myself, and that love is the greatest commandment. At a certain point I find myself so handcuffed in my own faith by trying to get it right—to try and look like a Christian, to try to do the things that Christians should do, to be all of these things externally—to fake it until I get myself all handcuffed and tied up in knots as to what I was supposed to be doing there in the first place. If God expects me, in order to be a Christian, to be able to theologically justify every move that I make, I’m sorry. I’m going to be a miserable failure.
While I can’t say I agree with her theologically, I can at least see where she’s coming from. She’s found a fulfilling relationship and lives in it monogamously, and is trying to work out her faith inside that context, and has decided that that is, for her, one of the negotiables allowed by the grace of Christ.
Let me say again: I disagree with her. However, I wish more people would follow her example and struggle through, wrestle with, and intentionally choose their negotiables of Christianity. Because we all have them. All of us.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.
If you have been a Christian for more than a month, you have read this bit from the Sermon on the Mount at least once, and probably heard a few sermons on it as well. After Jesus explains how a few older outer-edge restrictions (adultery, murder) needed to be restricted inward (not even lust, hate allowed) he goes after the former rule of maximum allowed repayment for evil and says what may be the most radical line in Scripture: “Do not resist an evil person.” If the bar could be set any higher, I can’t imagine how.
And though this was, for the first 300 years of Christianity, taken to mean Christians were to live completely non-violently, and there have been always been non-violent groups throughout Church history, most Christians today take a watered-down view of this at best. The positions vary, but the fact that polls show Evangelical Christians had (have?) a higher support than the general American populace for the war in Iraq and even for “torture against suspected terrorists”, and that there are multiple Christian-based gun ownership sites, suggests that most would take a more “nuanced” view of these texts.
Or, to put it another way, if you are a Christian not living radically non-violently (turning the other cheek, not resisting an evil person, praying for good for those who persecute you), you have made a literal interpretation of these scriptures one of your negotiables.¹
Some of the people in this camp have struggled through, wrestled with, and intentionally chosen this as one of their negotiables of Christianity. If they have, I respect them for it. But having grown up surrounded by, and having been taught by, a large number of them, I suspect that an unfortunately large percentage of them have not.
There’s another area where far too many American Christians have negotiables without struggling over them. Let me tell you about one of my own uncomfortable negotiables.
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal….
No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. [link]
Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” [link]
Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. [link]
Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” … Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.” [link]
I live in a nice house, on acreage, in the country, in the USA. Any of those things puts me in a small percentage of wealth by some measure (local, global, horometrical.) I have a European sport sedan, an SUV, and a motorcycle. More than half the foods I eat are whole or organic or natural. There are a whole lot of people with more wealth than I, but there is no way I can be intellectually honest and still claim, in the long run, that I do not have wealth. And it should be quite obvious from my description that I have yet to sell all I have and give it to the poor.
I do not take this lightly. Christy and I agonize over how to both hold to the teachings of Christ and, well, have things, live in America and automatically be in the top 2% of world wealth, and more. It’s really hard.
One thing we have tried to do, and do more and more, is reduce/reuse, buy used, make it ourselves, etc. And when it comes time to buy something, actually spend a little more to buy one that will (probably) not wear out, causing us to spend more in the long run. And we often just don’t buy things, and intentionally reduce our exposure to any media that will try to convince us we need to buy something. And we give away things and money and time and effort, though really not anywhere near what we could. It’s really, really hard. And we have struggled with it, are not totally at peace with it now, and will probably always wrestle with it.
But I have not sold my house, cars, iPhone, clothes, furniture, books, computer, tools, and everything else and given it to the poor. Because it’s one of my negotiables.
Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.[link]
When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”[link]
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.[link]
If you somehow manages to get through all three of the previous sections without judging Jennifer, me (for wealth and/or writing this at all), or a militaristic church culture, congratulations. But I find it unlikely that you did. I know I didn’t, even though I’ve been trying the whole time I’ve been writing. Because we are repeatedly, blatantly called to not judge, and yet it seems impossibly hard not to. (Just do a Google search on “judging others” for pages and pages of rationalizations for it!) It seems to be one of the negotiables that is held by every single person I’ve ever met. (I will admit that there are some who find it more negotiable than others, and a few heros of mine that strive to make it non-negotiable)
Here’s the whole point. We all fail. We all have negotiables. Some are big ones, some small. Some we struggle over, some we defend as God’s truth. Many we inherit from our culture, and they are so ingrained that we absolutely will not see them. But we all have them.
And there comes a point where we have to extend grace. I believe that, as Christians, that point should come immediately, always, regardless of circumstance. But I suggest that that point must come at the point where someone says, “I know there are scriptures against this, I’ve fought about it, reasoned on it, and though I may not be comfortable with it, I think it’s probably acceptable, so I’m going to call it a negotiable and do my best to serve God.”
At this point, they (and I’m part of they, and so are you) are still sinning. But that’s part of being human. And that’s where that whole undeserved grace thing comes in. We are sinning, all of us, but that does not mean we cannot love and serve God as he cleanses us.
We all fail. The trick is to fail forward into the grace of Christ, and allow his Spirit to help us fail a little less.
¹ There is SO much to write about this. Yes, I know about Just War Theory, and the Old Testament, and Jesus telling his disciples to buy swords (and the counterarguments) and probably any of the other arguments you may pull out. I grew up hearing them spoken as if Gospel. And I’m not trying to refute them here. Really. I just want to point out that they, like the other bits mentioned, are all arguments that we use to not follow Jesus’ words explicitly. If enough people bug me about it, I’ll try to expound in another blog tome.