There is no “Us or Them”


“We reject the either or
They can’t define us anymore
Cause if it’s us or them
It’s us for them
It’s us for them”

– Gungor

Last year Gungor released a delightfully dark, lyrically deep, and musically sophisticated album entitled I Am Mountain. Michael Gungor, the band’s founder and front man, also wrote an honest and insightful blog exploring his doubts about biblical literalism and fundamentalism. As a result, they were heavily criticized and even anathematized by many conservative evangelicals (Cf. Ken Ham, Q90 FM Radio, & Al Mohler).

On a personal note, I was living in Wake Forest at the time the controversy broke out and very disappointed when, at the last minute, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary canceled a Gungor concert I had been planning to attend for six months.

Gungor recently released a new song entitled “Us for Them” (which is embedded above). I find the song both moving and inspiring; especially in the wake of the tragedy in Charleston and the backlash regarding the recent Supreme Court ruling on same sex marriage. Nevertheless, I suspect, it will only embroil Gungor in even more controversy.

The reason for this is simple: it calls for us to love unconditionally. 

Rejecting the Either/Or

Gungor’s song decries our fallen tendency to divid people into categories (e.g., white/black, cool/uncool, rich/poor, educated/ignorant, gay/straight, etc.), to stigmatize and judge, and to segregate and hate. This is the either/or that Gungor rejects and which fuels their declamation against those who would “define us”. Many, however, will misunderstand the message. They will, instead, interpret it as an attack on objective truth.

After all, one might argue that, to reject the either/or distinction is to violate the law of non-contradiction; literally to say that A is both A and Not-A at the same time and in the same sense. If this is true,”Us for Them” advocates the logically absurd and is, ultimately, a misguided call for us to embrace moral relativism.

To interpret the song in this way, however, would be misguided. For Gungor is not attacking the laws of logic, nor are they denying the possibility of objective truth. They are, in fact, doing the exact opposite. They are affirming the objective existence of the God who is love and who loves all men unconditionally; and calling for us to follow His example. 

Two Ways of Viewing Humanity

Broadly speaking, there are two ways of viewing humanity. The first way denies that human beings have an essential nature–i.e., a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is merely a random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is contingent upon the vacillating whims of society and individuals.

The second way affirms human beings have an essential nature–i.e., that there is a “what-it-is” to be human. According to this view, humanity is more than a mere random collection of accidental properties and what it is to be human is an objective feature of reality. This means that what it is to be human does not depend upon accidental features of individual human beings (e.g., the color of your skin, your social status, your sexual orientation, etc.).

Christianity views humanity in the second way.  It maintains people are essentially good, in as much as they are made in the image and likeness of God. For the Christian, all human beings are intrinsically valuable and worthy of love in spite of their accidental properties. This means that you are valuable, you have dignity and worth, and are lovable, in spite of the way you look, the level of your IQ, or the things you’ve done.

It is the second way of viewing humanity, through the eyes of Christ, that Gungor’s new song champions. As such it stands squarely against those who define and judge other human beings in terms of some accidental feature of their existence. It is, thus, opposed to any worldview that would cause us to hate another human being due to their race, age, religion, or sexual orientation.

“Our Only War is Love”

To reject the either/or–i.e. humanities fallen tendency to divid, categorize, and judge others based upon accidental features of their existence–is to call for us to love one anther as Jesus does: unconditionally.

To embrace the way of love is literally to wage war on our fallen dispositions and against the fallen world system. It is to stare in the face of ISIS with open arms, as Jesus did on the cross: praying for the very people who murdered him.  It is to look at all of humanity, regardless of their sins, and to see the very image of God; to see that there is no “us or them.”

It seems appropriate to close with these words from St. Maximus the Confessor:

“For him who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between his own or another’s, or between Christians and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because he has risen above the tyranny of the passions and has fixed his attention on the single nature of man, he looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who ‘is all, and in all”

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Wealth vs. Same-Sex Unions or, the Convenience of Moral Relativism


DSC02085Whether or not Scripturally justified (via various hermeneutical gymnastics), the traditional Christian approach to homosexuality is that the action is wrong (though historically the Church is silent on attraction). Whether that’s right or wrong is certainly up for debate, but historically the Church has been against such actions. The historical trend has led Catholics, Evangelicals, and Orthodox to stand in the way of allowing same-sex unions, a stance that of course futile. Within a generation every state will allow same-sex unions. Regardless, it hasn’t stopped Christians who follow the traditional teachings on homosexuality from doing all they can to prevent same-sex unions from occurring.

Another often ignored Christian teaching is the teaching against greed, or against opulence. Both the Bible and Church tradition clearly speak against the displays of wealth, of gaining wealth on the backs of the oppressed, and of generally holding onto that wealth. Ironically, such a history on the teaching of wealth has led to Christians really doing nothing. Granted, the Catholic Church has typically held a “liberal” approach to economics (along with its own economic system of Distributism) and the Orthodox have encouraged personal giving, but Evangelicals have almost moved entirely away from the issue. Even Catholics and Orthodox don’t like the idea of condemning the wealthy for being wealthy. Such an approach is almost uniquely American; it is also a new approach based on a progressive interpretation of Scriptures.

See, the Bible is clear that when the greedy hold onto their wealth, the entire society suffers for it. It is why God commanded rich Israelites to give a portion of their gains to the needy. Ignoring the spiritual purposes for giving (such as the fact that God gave His own Son as a gift for all, so we can give our income – something that is not from us to begin with – to help those in need), there are very practical purposes for being against the centralization of wealth. Study after study shows that when wealth is held in the hands of the few, the many suffer. Part of what made the American economy so powerful and successful for a number of years is that income inequality simply wasn’t an issue. With the rise of income inequality in the past few decades we’ve watched the middle class virtually disappear within America, and the ramifications are horrendous.

The above arguments aside, the Bible is very explicit on how the wealthy are to handle their money. Paul instructs the wealthy to be ready to share their money with those in need (1 Timothy 6:17-18). Proverbs 28:27 says that a wealthy man who gives has found true wealth, but the one who doesn’t give is cursed. James curses those who curse the poor man, arguing that the poor are called to be rich in faith (James 2:5-6), which of course contradicts the modern attitude toward the poor as “leeches” and “lazy.” Deuteronomy 8 explicitly states that it is God who grants wealth, not the individual. There is no such thing as a “self-made man,” merely one whom God has blessed. Proverbs 14 goes further to argue that whoever oppresses a poor man insults God. Paul again states that those who desire to be rich will simply fall into temptation that will result in destruction (1 Timothy 6:9-10). John says that those who fail to give lack the love of God within their hearts (1 John 3:17). God condemned the nation of Judah for illicit gain and protecting the wealthy, which harmed the poor (Jeremiah 22:17).

There are hundreds, possibly thousands, of passages on wealth and poverty, with most condemning those who are wealthy by illicit gain or for not giving to the poor. In Amos 2:6-8 God condemns Israel for their treatment of the poor, specifically for making money off the poor and oppressing them. The entire fifth chapter of Nehemiah is about him stopping the oppression of the poor. What is the oppression he is so against? The charging of interest, the mortgaging of fields, the borrowing of money to survive a famine. In fact, Nehemiah demands that the nobles redistribute their wealth and give back to the poor all they have taken. We then find out that Nehemiah did this while he was the governor of the land.

The entire point of the above is to show that God’s moral commands and legislative commands tend towards social justice, or at least not oppressing the poor. In the Bible, oppression seems to be when a worker is given a wage that is below what is livable, or when people make a profit on the poor (that is, increasing profit margins by keeping workers impoverished). Or when banks and other companies make a massive profit on the interest they charge people, especially when those people took out loans simply to eat or survive.

The Bible is incredibly explicit on the treatment of the poor, that when the wealthy become richer and the poorer become poorer, it is against God’s natural law. This is why no single society has ever lasted long in which the rich became richer and the poor became poorer; such a trend violates natural law, which is no different than trying to violate gravity. At some point, negative consequences follow.

Yet, Christians are relatively silent on the massive social injustices that have occurred in the past few years. In fact, many praise the rich. For those that recognize the problem, they argue against government involvement because, “it’s not the government’s place to place Christian morals on the rich.” Or, my favorite, “How can the government decide how much is too much.” I actually agree with these arguments, but then these Christians turn around and argue against homosexual marriage and homosexual unions, which is the government placing Christian morals on sexual actions! We quickly  become moral relativists when it comes to wealth, arguing, “We can’t know what wealth truly is” or “how much is too much?” But when it comes to sexuality, we’re ardent absolutists. These positions are incompatible – you can’t be a relativist when it comes to your pocketbook, but an absolutist when it comes to your pants.

Every single argument I’ve ever seen used to prohibit homosexual unions can in turn be used to prohibit the rich from being greedy. “It harms society,” “it’s disgusting,” “it goes against nature,” “it goes against God’s law,” “it goes against God’s intentions,” are all arguments that can be used against both homosexual unions and greed (if one follows a traditional interpretation of Scripture). If anything else, two men marrying each other does far less harm to society than a rich business owner hoarding his wealth. From a practical perspective (and spiritual perspective), the rich oppressor damages a society far more than someone engaged in sexual sin.

I am not taking a stand on these issues, at least not a legislative stand. I don’t want the government involved in my marriage or in my pocketbook, at least beyond what is necessary. What I’m arguing for, however, is some consistency. It is nothing more than relativism to argue that the Bible condemns homosexuality, but turn around and say nothing about wealth. It’s hypocrisy to push for legislation banning homosexual marriages, but fight any and all attempts to curb the greed implicit within our economic system.

While there’s nothing wrong with Christians pushing for economic justice or improvements to our economic system (as this is a way to promote aiding the oppressed), perhaps we would be better served to follow the example of Christ. Christ didn’t hold protests outside of brothels, nor did He attempt to convince the Romans to increase taxes on tax collectors (who did oppress the poor). Instead, He dined with them. He dined with both the sexually and fiscally immoral, showing them there was a better path. Rather than engaging in politics – which is necessary at times, but comes with a cost – He pursued the issues personally. The reason is because the Gospel extends beyond moral actions. Even if we legislated morality to the point that people had no choice but to lead moral lives, this would still not save them, nor would it save our society. It is only through holiness that a society can be saved, not the hypocrisy of picking and choosing which culture war we will fight.

The Real Battle for Marriage


The real battle for marriage is not taking place in the political arena.  It’s not being waged on the street corner with ‘colorful’ signs and bull-horns.  It’s not occurring at your favorite chicken restaurant  with a side of waffle fries.  The real battle for marriage is being waged on an entirely different front: our homes.

With every broken promise and broken heart, every adulterous wife and lecherous  husband, every abusive or neglectful parent, every struggling single mom, every distant and removed father, every argument or divorce . . . there you will find the real battle for marriage taking place.  Have you ever asked yourself why it is that the majority of young people are rejecting the traditional definition of marriage?  Certainly, there are many factors which are contributing to this trend–one of them being the overarching influence of Secular Humanistic, Nihilistic, thinking in our universities and in the popular media–but I’d like to focus on one factor which is often downplayed by Evangelicals.  The factor to which I refer is the uncomfortable reality that there are very few examples of stable, long-lasting, healthy, heterosexual, marriages for young people to look up to.

It’s one thing to talk about how the ‘traditional’ conception of marriage is of God’s design and will lead to true intimacy, fulfillment, and joy.  It’s quite another thing to demonstrate the truth of this proposition.  Conservative Evangelical Christians, along with the rest of the population, have pretty much failed to model the very institution they claim to be the foundation of society (just take one look at the average divorce rate among Evangelical Christians).

Hence, while Evangelicals scream for traditional marriage, young people often go most of their lives without ever seeing a good example of a traditional marriage.  Whether it is logical or not, when the people ardently in favor of a position fail to exemplify their own ideals, it becomes harder to see why their position is important or even preferable.  Evangelicals are like the mother who punishes her children for saying a curse word right after calling the driver who just cut her off on the highway an “F-ing idiot!”  In light of such hypocrisy, we shouldn’t be surprised when we discover young people fail to see why a seemingly ‘rigid, restrictive, outdated, ineffective, outmoded, socially contrived institution’ like traditional marriage is desirable.

Frankly, I’m tired of hearing Christians scream, and watching them hold signs, and attend rallies, and sign petitions in order to defend traditional marriage.  When are we going to start taking marriage and the family seriously?  When are we going to practice what we so ardently preach?  Where are the godly men, unwaveringly committed to one woman, actively engaged with their children, giving of themselves to their families as Christ gives of Himself to the Church?  Where are the godly women, remaining true to their husbands, in the good times and the bad, pouring their hearts and souls  into their marriages and into their children?

Instead of waging a hopeless ‘culture war‘ built around the naive idea that we can transform our culture from the top down, I have another idea.  Why don’t we start demonstrating traditional marriage?  Why don’t we spend as much, if not more, energy building, cultivating and nurturing successful, loving marriages so that the world might see God’s design in action?  After all, actions speak louder than words.

Go Therefore and Wage a Political Cultural War, Legislating In the Name of the Father, the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!


The Battle for Chick-fil-AIt is time for Christians to stop thinking like politicians, to stop attempting to effect change in our culture through political legislation and activism, and to start loving people.  If the values in American society are crumbling it is because people have turned away from God and embraced Secular Humanism—and this problem, the hardening of man’s heart against God, will not be solved through polemics and legislation.  We can rally together at Chick-fil-A, draw a line in the sand, and fight for our rights to free speech; but even if we “win” this battle, it is only a temporary solution.  We are dealing with a deep sickness and attacking the problem with political activism is as ineffective as trying to heal cancer with a band-aid.  The real problem is not a political one but a spiritual one.  The real problem is that people are lost and, in consequence, held captive by vain, irrational, dehumanizing forms of worldly thinking.  While we puff ourselves up, stomp our feet, and scream about our “rights’ as American citizens, lost souls are desperately searching for meaning and love and finding it in all of the wrong places.

The truth of the matter is:  we have lost our youth.  They do not accept objective moral values, they don’t understand what truth is, and they are not interested in the Christian worldview.  They are impulsive, emotionally driven, materialistic, superficial, and have absorbed Secular Humanistic, nihilistic, thinking without even realizing it.  In about twenty years, when these kids in our illustrious high schools are doctors, lawyers, teachers, politicians and entertainers, we will find that all or our political grandstanding was ultimately a waste of time.  The very democratic system that we are currently relying on to fight the “cultural war” will be turned against us in the end; because this was never a political battle in the first place—and, more to the point, truth is not determined by a vote.  So, we are faced with a choice: we can drum up huge crowds of evangelicals to eat at Chick-fil-A, to fight for our right to free speech and “take a stand for marriage;” or, we can start focusing our efforts on loving people.

When I speak of loving people I don’t mean having a warm and fuzzy feeling inside.  I mean loving them with the same self-giving, sacrificial love that Jesus demonstrated on the cross.  I mean that we start truly caring for the left out, down hearted, misunderstood, people in our society.  That we stand against hate crimes against homosexuals and alongside hurting families who have had loved ones commit suicide because they were gay; that we stop drawing a line in the sand and start opening our arms.

This is not to say that we give up our values or compromise our beliefs.  It is to say that we value people more than our own right to free speech.  The fact is, Christians in America are simply scared of persecution.  Much of the political posturing we participate in is simply done out of fear:  fear of losing our right to free speech, fear of Secular Humanistic ethics dominating our legal system.  Fear, however, is contrary to the teaching of Jesus who explicitly told us not to fear and who said shocking things like: “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12).

How many of you considered it a blessing when the media lashed out at Dan Cathy for simply making the statement that he believed in the Biblical definition of marriage?  How many of you rejoiced and were exceedingly glad when the mayor of Boston stated that Chick-fill-A was not welcome in his city?  Or, were you simply indignant, angry, and fearful?  It’s difficult for us to wrap our heads around Jesus’ teaching on persecution because, quite frankly, we have it so easy.  We are not really persecuted in America; but one day we might be if we continue waging a hopeless political battle.

A culture is made up of people; we, therefore, only effect change within a culture if the people who give life to a culture have a change of heart and mind.  People are changed by Christ, not legislation, and this only happens when Christ’s people die to themselves, start demonstrating His love to the world, and make true disciples.  Jesus said it best: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19-20).  Please note how non political sounding Jesus’ final command to his followers was.  The kingdom of God is brought about through His people bringing the gospel to the world in a tangible way; not through manipulating the democratic political system.  Only love, the self-giving, self-sacrificial, love of the cross can change hearts, renew minds, and ultimately revive a culture.

Bovine Haters, Gospel Loving Chicken Crusaders, and the Fight for Same Sex Marriage


Earlier this week, the president of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, announced in an interview with Baptist Press that he believed in the Biblical  definition of marriage.  Naturally, his comments generated a media frenzy and all out social assault on those proud producers of the most tasty chicken sandwich on the planet.  As a result of his statements, many people are now boycotting Chick-fil-A and some groups are even staging protests.  To make matters worse, the Jim Henson Company announced today that they would no longer partner with Chick-fil-A; therefore, depriving millions of children the joy of purchasing a chicken meal with pictures of creatures form Jim Henson’s Creature Shop.

This is truly a strange turn of events for a company known throughout the world for its staunch support of Bovine Rights.  Yet, in spite of years of stalwart support for one of the most under-appreciated species in our country . . . the cow! . . . Chick-fil-A is now being accused of supporting the suppression of human rights.  On top of this, the mayor of Boston, in response to Mr. Cathy’s revelation,  tragically stated that, “Chick-fil-A doesn’t belong in Boston” . . . can you imagine how depressed the people of Boston are going to be?  They shall never know the joy of ordering food from a place in which the employee’s say with a huge smile on their face, “it’s my pleasure,” after serving you one of the most flavorful chicken sandwiches ever invented,  next to a massive mound of waffle fries, and a giant cup of ice cold sweet tea!  Nevertheless, one can understand the mayor’s position.  As he further noted in his statement to the press:  “we’re an open city, we’re a city that’s at the forefront of inclusion.”  Considering Boston’s status as being an open and inclusive city, it is only natural that its mayor would seek to exclude Chick-fil-A.

I must confess I’m a little baffled at the level of outrage Mr. Cathy’s comments (which he made to a Southern Baptist news agency) have generated.  I mean, let’s be honest — was anybody truly surprised to learn that the Baptist president and chief operating officer of a company which closes on Sunday’s and has the phrase, “to glorify God by being a faithful steward of all that is entrusted to us,” in its corporate purpose statement, is not a supporter of Gay Marriage?  Why is it that everyone is now up-in-arms over something which, in my mind, was already clear?  The reason, I think, is because everyone (no-matter their age, race, gender, or sexual orientation) loves a good chicken sandwich.  No one wants to boycott a place with such great service and yummy food; but now that the “cats out of the bag” people are being forced to chose between the food they love and their political activism.

For now it seems the majority of people are suppressing their love for great food in favor of their stance on Gay marriage.  However, I wonder how long this will last?  Every day, as people head over to McDonald’s on their lunch break, only to be greeted by a menacing overweight cashier who snaps at you for taking too long to order, a seed of doubt will take root in their mind.  Every time an activist sinks his/her/it’s teeth into one of those greasy, bland, burgers on the value menu or takes a big bite out of a cheap imitation chicken sandwich, a sense of longing will begin to grow in their heart.  Every parent whose child discovers a three-day-old diaper or razor blade in the ball pit will experience an existential crisis.  Soon questions will enter their head: “why . . . why did the cashier blow her nose on her shirt sleeve before handing me my order?” . . . “why are these french fries so skinny and mushy?” . . . “why are their lumps of lard in my ice cream?”

Meanwhile, while Gay Rights advocates come to terms with a world devoid of safe, clean, healthy fast food, Christian activists are rallying together to defend the rights of gospel preaching chicken sandwich lovers around the country.  At the forefront of spreading the good news of Chick-fil-A is Gov. Mike Huckabee who is calling for Christian’s everywhere to order a chicken sandwich on the first of August!  When Jesus Christ, the eternal Word of God, suffered and died on the cross for the redemption and restoration of creation, I’m sure He had in mind this day–the day when thousands of His followers would come together and take a stand for good chicken sandwiches.  Just the thought of this brings a tear to my eye.

Finally, evangelicals have found a way to reach out with love to the Gay and Lesbian community and demonstrate the humility and sacrifice of the cross–and the best part is, they get to do it while slurping down a pepper-mint milk shake.  Admittedly it’s been hard to get Christians to rally together and tackle such problems as Human Sex Trafficking and Homelessness; so, it’s good to see so many devout followers of Jesus joining hands and saying with one loud voice, “we love Chick-fil-A!”  I’m certain this massive effort to show their love and appreciation for fast food will go far in helping conservative Christians connect with the Gay and Lesbian community.

NoH8


There’s a big grassroots movement right now against California’s Proposition 8 (banning homosexual marriages) called “NoH8.” 

I find this group very interesting. For one, I’m assuming that their end goal is to change California’s constitution. But what bothers me is the automatic assumption that if you’re against homosexual marriage or against the homosexual lifestyle, you somehow hate homosexuals. This baffles me. 

I’m hate promiscuity – as are many other Americans (including homosexuals). Does this mean I hate people who are promiscuous? I hate alcoholism. Does this mean I hate alcoholics? I hate drugs. Does this mean I hate drug addicts? Just because I hate the action does not mean I hate the person involved in the action. The reason for this is that what we do does not always define who we are. 

So I can disagree with a lifestyle choice and think that choice is wrong, but still not hate the person who made the choice. 

Unfortunately, however, the hope of civil discourse is thin. If you disagree with a lifestyle, then you are automatically branded as a “hater.” I can’t disagree with homosexual marriages without likewise being called a hater. Thus, any hope of a “civil discourse” on the matter is impossible; any opposing views are pushed into the same category as “racism” and other social taboos and subsequently shut out. It’s the attitude of, “Let’s discuss this…unless you disagree with me.” 

Thus, the whole “No H8” rhetoric is disingenuous. Being against homosexual marriage is not the same at hating homosexuals.