Duck Dynasty, Pope Francis, and “Seasoned Speech”

“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6

Gracious speech has been a struggle for believers for as long as we’ve been around. Sometimes we get so caught up in truth that we forget to treat people like people. We ignore that many will be turned off by stale speech, instead preferring the seasoned words of the practiced rhetorician. But some of our truths are rather unpalatable to the modern ear. Children may not care for vegetables, but adults stomach them, regardless of whether or not they enjoy them: the goodness requires our action. And so it is with truth: sometimes we won’t like what is true, but must find a way to stomach it, for our own good.

Seasoned language, much like seasoned food, ought not cover up the subject entirely, but rather accent and enhance it, according to the palette of the listener. Some rhetoric seeks to cover the topic at hand, winning the listener over with sweetness; good rhetoric, however, ought to enhance the subject, rather than covering it up.

Perhaps I’m late to the game to discuss Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty clan. But if ever somebody spoke some truth (mixed with some falsehoods) that wasn’t well seasoned, it was probably him.

That’s a bit of hyperbole. Phil isn’t the first harsh speaker to hit the world, and he won’t be the last.

So let’s not talk about Duck Dynasty and the unsurprising statements from backwoods Christians. Let’s talk about how we ought to speak our minds day-to-day. How do truth and sensitivity interact? Must we silence our beliefs in order to win souls?

Pope Francis lands on the opposite spectrum from Phil, and not just in his beliefs concerning the nature of a church service. The Pope has been making news by stating what the Church has always believed, despite what caricatures of Catholics believe. But he’s also carefully answering questions. When he is asked flat-out what he believes about homosexuality, he says we ought to see everyone as people first. That’s far smoother than the Duck Dynasty version (which likens homosexuals to idiots who don’t know what they’re missing). And Roman Catholic doctrine hasn’t changed regarding homosexual activity.

However, if you use too much seasoning, at some point the dish itself doesn’t matter: all you taste is the topping. Some seem to think this is the way to go with Christianity (“If we make Christianity attractive by only talking about love and not judgment, maybe people will convert!”), but that is an offense to the Gospel. Francis has been accused of seasoning his words too much, but I think he has a robust dish to land on, so to speak. Catholicism is the sort of religion that changes far more slowly, if at all, even if Protestant Christianity has shirked that particular reputation.

So if you say “I’m Catholic”, people probably know where you stand on the issue. But if you say “I’m a Christian”, suddenly the world is without clarity on your stance. If it is our job to lead the world from sin and towards Jesus Christ, it is (at least partially) our job to point out sin. But many who claim Christianity do not believe that homosexuality is a sin, regardless of what Scripture makes clear (and not just Old Testament passages). So, what do we do? Do we speak our minds and offend, or keep our mouths shut and make friends?

The answer comes down to context, more often than not. If asked flat-out what you believe about homosexuality, you should have the strength to stand by and speak your convictions. If you are misunderstood, you may need to follow Francis’ example and remind yourself and others that those in the LGBTQ crowd are, first and foremost, people made in the image of God.

But if you aren’t asked directly, should you ever bring it up? Short answer: maybe. If your friends don’t have a clue where you stand (or even that you are a believer), perhaps you aren’t living your life for Jesus as strongly as you thought. But if they know you are a believer, and even know where you stand on homosexuality issues, it isn’t worth trumpeting every time you talk to someone. Really, it won’t do you any good. Don’t serve the same dish at every meal; it gets tiresome.

If you never seek to soften your words, if you only ever speak offensively, you cannot claim that you are being attacked for your faith. The world may persecute you for Christ’s sake, but if you are attacked because you never considered your words or your actions, you are being persecuted for your own sake. And, unless you’re already perfect, that’s not going to fly.

So, step back and consider your words. Don’t be needlessly offensive, but don’t avoid all offense. The gospel is worth losing friends over, but your unnecessarily brash language isn’t. Season your words carefully, but remember to vary them as needed.

Starbucks CEO Pulls a Mycoskie, Cancels Willow Creek

Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz has withdrawn his name from the speaking schedule at the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit thanks to an online petition at Change.org—the same site credited with convincing TOMS Shoes founder Blake Mycoskie to issue his puzzling apology to the anti-Focus of the Family crowd last month.

Starbucks officials have reportedly denied that the petition had anything to do with Schultz’s decision to withdraw, but circumstances suggest otherwise. In June a customer’s open letter to Starbucks regarding “one of the most brazen and unapologetic displays of homophobia I have ever witnessed in my entire life” went viral when the customer blogged about seeing a Starbucks manager reprimand a gay employee. In 2008 Joseph Hooks and Dorothy Baker sued the coffee company, claiming they had been fired for being gay.

While Mycoskie’s response to the outcry over his appearance at a Focus on the Family event was clumsy given the shoe company has no history of activism or controversy, Schultz’s withdrawal is at least predictable.

Ironically, this comes just as Willow Creek is rumored to be rethinking its views on homosexuality:

Willow Creek Community Church says it cut ties with Exodus in 2009…

Church spokeswoman Susan DeLay told the paper that Willow’s views on homosexuality had evolved.

“They were one of the few Christian organizations having conversations with people who struggle with being gay,” she said.

Of course, these rumors may really be just rumors:

Willow Creek Community Church, a trend-setting megachurch in suburban Chicago, has quietly ended its partnership with Exodus International, an “ex-gay” organization.

Willow Creek decided to sever ties with the Florida-based ministry in 2009, Christianity Today reported, but the decision only became public in June.

Church officials described the move as a shift in approach rather than a change in belief. Susan DeLay, a spokeswoman for Willow Creek, said the church continues to welcome those who are attracted to people of the same sex.

“Willow Creek has a whole host of ministries for people dealing with these issues, and we would never intend for them to feel sidelined,” she told Christianity Today.

Either way, Starbucks’ and TOMS Shoes’ hesitation to be linked even indirectly to those who minister to homosexuals make it clear that other ministries should expect to be increasingly undermined by both business and political interests—even if those interests are unrelated to the ministry’s work.

image via flickr

 

Newsweek on Homosexuality and the Bible: A Response

According to Newsweek‘s senior editor and religion commentator Lisa Miller:

More basic than theology, though, is human need. We want, as Abraham did, to grow old surrounded by friends and family and to be buried at last peacefully among them. We want, as Jesus taught, to love one another for our own good–and, not to be too grandiose about it, for the good of the world. We want our children to grow up in stable homes. What happens in the bedroom, really, has nothing to do with any of this. My friend the priest James Martin says his favorite Scripture relating to the question of homosexuality is Psalm 139, a song that praises the beauty and imperfection in all of us and that glorifies God’s knowledge of our most secret selves: “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” And then he adds that in his heart he believes that if Jesus were alive today, he would reach out especially to the gays and lesbians among us, for “Jesus does not want people to be lonely and sad.” Let the priest’s prayer be our own.

And her boss, Newsweek editor Jon Meacham:

No matter what one thinks about gay rights–for, against or somewhere in between –this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism. Given the history of the making of the Scriptures and the millennia of critical attention scholars and others have given to the stories and injunctions that come to us in the Hebrew Bible and the Christian New Testament, to argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt–it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.

I know that this is an issue sensitive to many readers of this blog, myself included. I am writing this post because I believe that Newsweek’s editors capture what I perceive to be the mainstream left’s response to conservatives on this issue. Several writers for Newsweek‘s blog “On Faith” wrote an ecumenical response to the articles. They are worth reading because they are illustrative of the sloppy nature by which Newsweek, and others who make similar claims engage this issue.
Here’s a portion of the ecumenical response (penned in part by EO’s own John Mark Reynolds):

In the latest issue of Newsweek, editor Jon Meacham explains: “To argue that something is so because it is in the Bible is more than intellectually bankrupt–it is unserious, and unworthy of the great Judeo-Christian tradition.” Indeed, he continues, “this conservative resort to biblical authority is the worst kind of fundamentalism.” Curiously, he intends this as a defense of Lisa Miller’s cover story, which announces that we should approve homosexual marriage because the Bible tells that Jesus would want us to.
On any plane of argument, the contradiction would appear stunning, but, then, neither Jon Meacham nor Lisa Miller are engaged in argument. They’re speaking, instead, in familiar tropes and fused-phrases and easy clichés. They’re trying to convey a feeling, really, rather than an argument: Jesus loves us, love is good, homosexuals love one another, marriage is love, love is loving–a sort of warm bath of words, their meanings dissolved into a gentle goo. In their eyes, all nice things must be nice together, and Jesus comes to seem (as J.D. Salinger once mocked) something like St. Francis of Assisi and “Heidi’s grandfather” all in one.

The Bible has been one of the most influential texts in all of human history. Yet two of the top editors of one of America’s most recognized news magazines cannot even demonstrate basic competence of the text nor demonstrate an appreciation for the complexity of that great and Holy work. Even if one were to bracket the question of homosexuality, the lack of carefulness that these editors demonstrate is shameful.

Continue reading Newsweek on Homosexuality and the Bible: A Response

Prop 8 Is About the Kids

Californians, today you are being asked to vote on one of the most critical pieces of legislation that we have yet seen. I have given an extensive argument for why I believe it is moral and just to support proposition 8. The argument by those opposing proposition 8 is that it is wrong and unfair. They say that Proposition 8 has nothing to do with what goes on in your family or my family and everything to do with affirming love. However, the education that your children receive in schools directly impacts your family. That opponents of proposition 8 deny this aspect of proposition 8 reveals a stunning lack of integrity on their part. Consider the evidence:
Proposition 8: Who’s Really Lying?
Public Records Show Proposition 8 Opponents Want Gay Marriage To Be Taught In Public Schools – ‘The earlier the better.’
The top issue that has emerged in the Proposition 8 campaign is whether same-sex marriage will be taught in California public schools if the initiative is not enacted. Opponents of Proposition 8 are spending millions of dollars on television commercials telling voters that the Yes on 8 campaign’s claim that gay marriage will be taught in public schools is a lie. Yet a review of public records filed with the First District Court of Appeal in Boston shows these same organizations who claim our statement is a lie fought to make it true in Massachusetts. Specifically, they fought to ensure that gay marriage be taught in Massachusetts public schools, even over the objection of parents who sought an “opt out” for their children. Gay marriage was legalized by Massachusetts courts in 2003.

Continue reading Prop 8 Is About the Kids