Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A Pastor's Journey from Gay Pride Parades to the Pulpit

How Caleb Kaltenbach shed his anti-Christian upbringing...

Interview by Morgan Lee/ October 14, 2015

When Caleb Kaltenbach was two years old, both his mother and father came out as gay, then got a divorce. Growing up, he absorbed their antagonism toward Christians, but went on to embrace Christianity as a teenager. In Messy Grace: How a Pastor with Gay Parents Learned to Love Others Without Sacrificing Conviction (WaterBrook Press), Kaltenbach, a pastor in Southern California, charts the path to reconciling with his parents, who are now both believers. Christianity Today assistant editor Morgan Lee spoke with Kaltenbach about his experiences ministering to people with same-sex attraction.

Where did your youthful hatred of Christians come from?

My mom and her partner were active in gay-rights organizations. They took me to gay clubs, parties, and campouts. I marched in gay pride parades and went to political events. That was just my life.
I hated Christians because I saw how they treated gay people. At the end of one parade, I saw signs saying, “God hates you.” Protesters were spraying water and urine on people. I asked my mom, “Why are they acting that way?” She said, “Caleb, they’re Christians, and Christians hate gay people.” My dad and I sometimes attended an Episcopal church, but it didn’t teach me much about God. I was an altar boy but fell asleep during most services. I learned that evangelicals were people who wouldn’t like you if you weren’t a white Republican.

How were you able to repair the relationship with your parents?

After I came to Christ, my parents were irate. My dad grounded me. He told me I was basically disowning him. My mom wouldn’t talk to me for months. When I told them I believed that God intended sexual intimacy only for one man and one woman, that created more trauma.

But I always told them that God loved them, not based on their sexuality but because of what his Son accomplished on the cross. I had to continually show them examples of people, including my friends, who were not like the Christians they had known before.

How has reconciling with your parents influenced your ministry?

After I first brought my mom to one of my former churches, two elders basically said, “If you want to keep preaching here, don’t ever bring someone like your mother again.”

That was my last Sunday there. I prayed, “Lord, if you give me the chance to lead a church, I want it to be a place for people struggling with sexual identity, for addicts or gangbangers, for people who are bankrupt, for people having affairs.”

At my current church, we absolutely believe God has expectations for sexuality. But I am not called to change anyone’s sexual orientation. My goal is to preach the gospel and to share Jesus. The LGBT people who attend know about our traditional views. That doesn’t stop us from loving and embracing them.

What can evangelicals learn from the LGBT community?

We can learn that homosexual identity goes much deeper than sexual habits. Before her partner died, my mom told me they had stopped being sexually active years ago. But she still called herself a lesbian. When gay people are invited to give up that lifestyle, they think, “You want me to give up my friends, my community, my movement, my acceptance? No, thank you”—especially when the church hasn’t offered them an alternative community.

We can also learn a lot about loving other people. Are there militant activists like my mom? Sure. There are extremists in just about every community. But for the most part, they are some of the most loving and accepting people I know. They’re not looking for the next battle to fight. They just want to live their lives.

At its best, the LGBT movement has many qualities we’d associate with the church. There’s a love for people. There’s a strong sense of justice and a commitment to a shared cause. They’re intentional about sharing their views and unashamed to be recognized for what they believe.

What do you find most frustrating about the divide between evangelicals and the LGBT community?

I see many churches digging in their heels instead of wrestling with issues of grace and truth. For example, how would you react if two men were holding hands in church? Could a lesbian couple attend a parenting class? Could they attend your small group or Bible study? What if a lesbian wants to be baptized, or an openly gay man wants to go on a men’s retreat? These questions will come up eventually.

The Genuine Courage Not To Be Silent on Issues of Sex, Gender and Sexuality

It takes no courage to write a book that simply drifts and bobs along in the cultural mainstream. It takes no courage to say the things that are already popular in the world around us. But to stand firm on ideas, on truths, that people despise—now, that takes courage. In that way Albert Mohler’s We Cannot Be Silent is a genuinely courageous work. It closely and critically examines the defining moral issues of our day—sex, gender, and sexuality—and stands firm on the unpopular, traditional, biblical viewpoints

Mohler begins by positing “The Christian church in the West now faces a set of challenges that exceeds anything it has experienced in the past. … This is a revolution of ideas—one that is transforming the entire moral structure of meaning and life that human beings have recognized for millennia.” Some might accuse him of exaggeration, but I believe he is exactly right. We are caught up in a full-out moral revolution that is changing everything. “This new revolution presents a particular challenge to Christianity, for a commitment to the authority of Scripture and to revealed truths runs into direct conflict with the central thrust of this revolution.” As Christians come into conflict with the revolution, they will inevitably come into deep conflict with those who are swept up in it. “The moral revolution is now so complete that those who will not join it are understood to be deficient, intolerant, and harmful to society. What was previously understood to be immoral is now celebrated as a moral good.”

We Cannot Be Silent is Mohler’s attempt to speak truth into this moment of crisis. He does so with boldness and conviction. He looks first at the cultural shifts that preceded and birthed this revolution. Then he shows what the Bible says about sex, gender, and sexuality. He lays out the current and future challenges to the church. He concludes with brief answers to thirty challenging questions: The biblical authors did not have the category of orientation, so aren’t they talking about something different than we are? Is homosexual sin worse than other sins? Are people born gay? Should a Christian attend a same-sex wedding ceremony? Can a person with same-sex attraction change his or her orientation? If so, how?

The chapters that may bring the most unique value are the ones that trace the history and growth of this revolution. Most of us see how it is playing out around us today, but few understand how we got to this point. Mohler proves that any consideration of the rise of same-sex marriage must first look to other developments that have rocked society and set the stage: birth control and contraception, divorce, advanced reproductive technologies, and cohabitation. Marriage, gender, and sexuality would not be up for redefinition today without these four prior developments. And then he shows how there really was a gay agenda that was very successful in transforming society’s understanding of sex and sexuality. He explains the rise of transgenderism and shows that redefining marriage is actually obliterating marriage. Only when he has explained this revolution in the light of history does he advance to the present and future.

While the book’s subject matter is unsettling and even discouraging, Mohler leaves the reader with hope. “As a historian and theologian, I submit that the church has often been most faithful during times of exile and cultural marginalization.” The Bible promises that Christians will be strangers and exiles on this earth, so we should not be surprised at the current and coming state of affairs. Rather, we should see it all as an opportunity in which the gospel will shine brighter than ever in contrast to the darkness around us.

We Cannot Be Silent
is an important and timely work that addresses urgent matters, and Mohler serves as a trusted guide to many of our deepest, most difficult, and most perplexing questions. The book will equip you to better understand this world and to live as a Christian in it.

by Tim Challies, who serves as a pastor at Grace Fellowship Church in Toronto, Ontario, edits Discerning Reader and is a co-founder of Cruciform Press. He has written The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, Sexual Detox and The Next Story.

Monday, October 26, 2015

When sports becomes your god

When I hear someone say, “War Eagle,” or see someone wearing Auburn sports gear, I almost reflexively feel obligated to respond, “Roll Tide!” It seems like a duty, a moral responsibility even. To call football in the South culturally a big deal is akin to saying the Grand Canyon is a big hole in the ground. Any time Alabama and Auburn meet on the football field, everything else in the state grinds to a halt. Football analyst Beano Cook once said, “Alabama-Auburn is not just a rivalry. It’s Gettysburg South.” The thought of a wedding or funeral in the state of Alabama on the day of the Iron Bowl would be met with a “Bless their heart.”

I am an unabashed sports fan, but I do not write this article as a fan — rather, as a Christian pastor and a seminary professor. Any discussion of the widespread love of sports begs the question, Is this good or bad? My answer is an unequivocal yes. It all depends on whether sports are summed up in Christ or abstracted from him. God did not create sports — people did. But people created sports in a reflexive response to the world God created. Sports are capable of providing spectacular glimpses of truth, beauty, and goodness, as athletes tune and discipline their bodies to perform amazing feats. I consider sports to be a competitive manifestation of the performing arts.

But God’s good gifts are always in danger of being corrupted into idols. Idolatry is often subtle because we tend to make idols of good things — like sports. We can fixate so much on a particular good thing that it becomes an ultimate thing to us. Any time we think that we cannot be happy or satisfied without something, we have made it an object of worship — an idol.

Is your commitment to sports becoming a substitute god rather than a means of delighting in God? To help you decide whether or not you are corrupting God’s good gift of sports, I have offered several guidelines.

Do you enjoy sports as a good gift of God even when your favorite team loses?

Tragically, it is not difficult to find, even among professing Christians, idolatrous excesses in devotion to sports competition as a player or as a fan. In my home state, the Alabama-Auburn rivalry has been connected to incarceration, divorce, violence, and recently, the poisoning of majestic trees that were a part of one of the grandest traditions in college football. For such people, allegiance to a favorite team is not an enjoyment of God’s good gift of athletics, or a rooted cultural identity marker, but an obvious idol. Most who read this article will never contemplate such atrocious acts; however, idolatry that is more subtle is no less an act of rebellion.

If one cannot delight in God with thanksgiving for a hard-fought contest when your team loses, then you are perverting God’s good gift of athletics and teaching those around him to do the same. Christian parent, if you cannot root like crazy with your children for your favorite team — only to see them lose — and afterward laugh and play in the yard with your kids, you have a problem; it’s called idolatry. I have known children who desperately wanted their dad’s favorite team to win, not because they cared all that much but because they knew their father would be sour the rest of the day if his favorite team lost. Such behavior is pathetic for one whose identity is in Christ.

Do you sever your participation in sports or cheering for your favorite team from your Christian faith?

I once knew a godly man who just happened to have season football tickets for the local college team and invited me along to attend a game. During the middle of the game, I was stunned when he blurted out an occasional profanity I had never before heard him utter. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. His demeanor was also aggressive and rude to those around him. When I saw him later at church or at his job, he was back to the godly and faithful man I had always known. At the stadium, the outcome of the game was functionally his lord, which is a problem for one who confesses Jesus is Lord.
If your behavior at a game would make it awkward for you to shift the conversation to your faith in Christ, you are making an idol of sports. I have known Christians who prefer to watch games alone because they did not want others to observe the way they act.

Abraham Kuyper’s dictum should shape our interest in sports: “Oh, no single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
Does your involvement in sports inspire you to faithfulness in your vocation and endeavors?
Paul seizes the metaphor of sports as a key image to explain Christian living because success in athletics demands purposeful self-sacrifice and requires self-discipline for a cause greater than the individual (1 Cor 9:24-27; Phil 3:13-14; Gal 2:2; Eph 6:12; 2 Tim 2:4-7). A Christian approach to sports as a participant or as spectator involves being inspired to worship the Creator through witnessing the honed physical gifts and agonizing determination of his image-bearers who compete with excellence. Therefore, Christians should be challenged to offer a similar purposeful, sacrificial devotion and discipline in their vocation and endeavors.
How many Christians rigorously critique the job performance, dedication, and work ethic of the coach of their favorite team while simultaneously complaining about their job and excusing their own lack of work ethic and dedication? Such is a sad commentary on their lack of commitment to the priority of the kingdom of Christ. Where this is happening, the love of sports has become detached from the Christian life and transformed into a barrier rather than a bridge to worshipping Christ. Participants and fans watch and enjoy the beauty, effort, and focus that the sporting contest brings out in its participants and Christians should be challenged to agonize in similar fashion for the glory of Christ in their own vocation (Col 3:17).
A Christ-centered approach
Throughout church history, Christians have struggled with their relationship to sports, which is appropriate since we are called to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). Unthinking rejection or enjoyment of sports are both a failure of Christian discipleship. I believe that the Christian with a rightly ordered, Christ-centered worldview is uniquely in a position to enjoy athletic competition as a good gift from God. Nevertheless, we must be aware of the danger of rendering sports an idol rather than a gift.
David E. Prince is assistant professor of Christian preaching at Southern Seminary and pastor of Ashland Avenue Baptist Church in Lexington, Kentucky.

Bad News, Indeed - Playboy Opened the Floodgates and Now the Culture is Drowning

A venerable parable from Confucian China told of an elderly man who had seen emperors and events come and go, and observed from his Confucian worldview that good news and bad news were often difficult to tell apart. “Good news? Bad news? Who’s to say?,” he would reply to any news from his neighbors.

I thought of that parable when I read the headlines that announced the news that Playboy would cease the publication of nude photographs of women in its magazine. From any moral perspective, that should appear as good news. The headlines might suggest that Playboy has had a change of heart. A closer look at the story, however, reveals a very different moral reality. Playboy acknowledged that its decision had nothing to do with any admission that pornography is morally wrong. Instead, the publishers of the magazine were acknowledging that their product was no longer commercially viable as explicit pornography because pornography is so pervasive in the Internet age that no one need buy their product.

Scott Flanders, Playboy CEO, told the media that his product had been overtaken by the larger culture. “You’re just one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And it’s just passé at this juncture.”

That is one of the most morally revealing statements of recent times. Playboy has outlived its ability to transgress and to push the moral boundaries. As a matter of fact, it was a victim of its own sad success. Pornography is such a pervasive part of modern society that Playboy is now a commercial victim of the very moral revolution it symbolized and promoted for decades.

Reporting on the story, Ravi Somaiya of The New York Times commented: “Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.”

That is a stunning and sadly accurate assessment on all three fronts. The iconic magazines of the sexual revolution, the very magazines that promoted the sexual revolution and opened the floodgates to even more explicit and graphic pornography, have lost their ability to shock, their ability to sell themselves to the public, and their cultural relevance — and it is precisely because the culture has become Playboy and what was once shocking is now a feature of mainstream American culture.

Playboy once had a paid circulation of near 8 million. According to the Times, it has only 800,000 subscribers now. The market is much larger than ever, but the marketplace is now the polymorphous perversity of the digital age.

“That Battle has Been Fought and Won”

Another very revealing comment from Flanders was more ambitious. “That battle has been fought and won,” he said. “That battle,” we should note, was the declared battle to overthrow an entire system of sexual morality that had once defined pornography as sin and affirmed the responsibility of a civilized society to uphold the dignity of sex and the sanctity of marriage.

As Elizabeth Fraterrigo, author of Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America, noted: “Playboy magazine played a significant role in defining an alternative, often controversial, and highly resonant version of the good life.”

That was the goal of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner saw himself as a moral revolutionary, even bragging that Playboy “certainly made it possible to open up the floodgates” to the deluge of sexual libertinism that it encouraged, commercialized, and symbolized.

Flanders told the Times that the world has now adopted the Hefner worldview to the extent that his libertarian views on an entire range of moral and social issues are now so widely shared that the magazine’s ability to package pornography is outdated.

By almost any measure, that statement rings true. Pornography is now mainstream entertainment and available 24/7 just a click away. The vision of sexuality glorified by Playboy is no longer on the cutting edge of moral change. Playboy won the battle and can now leave the battlefield commercially wounded but culturally victorious.

The Playboy Philosophy and its Underlying Theology

Hugh Hefner was never less than ambitious and he was never covert in his goals. He wanted to transform American sexual morality and break down the Judeo-Christian sexual morality that was once dominant in the culture. He presented what he identified as the Playboy philosophy of life, and he packaged his product as a way of selling men on the sexual objectification of women — while claiming to present a portrait of sophisticated male sexuality that was both glamorous and free from the shackles of traditional morality.

Underlying every moral philosophy there lies a theology. In Hefner’s case, that theology was also in public view. He told journalist Cathleen Falsani that he was a “spiritual person, but I don’t mean that I believe in the supernatural.” He said that he believes in a creator, but not in the God of the Bible.

As he explained: “I do not believe in the biblical God, not in the sense that he doesn’t exist, just in the sense that I know rationally that man created the Bible and that we invented our perception of what we do not know.”

Further: “I urge one and all to live this life as if there is no reward in the afterlife and to do it in a moral way that makes it better for you and those around you, and that leaves this world a little better place than when you found it.”

As Falsani understood, there was a “Playboy Theology” that explained the Playboy Philosophy:

“Hef doesn’t believe in a ‘biblical God,’ but he is fairly adamant about the existence of a ‘Creator.’ He hasn’t been to a church service that wasn’t a wedding, funeral, or baptism since he was a student at the University of Illinois in the late 1940s, but says he worships on a regular basis while walking on the grounds of his own backyard. And he follows a system of morals, but not those gleaned from the Methodism of his childhood–or at least not the ones that pertain to sexuality.”

A theology that rejects the “biblical God” and any notion of divine judgment or the afterlife is integral to the Playboy Philosophy, and the overthrow of Christianity as a belief system precedes the rejection of Christian sexual morality. And all this came as Hugh Hefner made millions exploiting women and mainstreaming pornography.

“Good news? Bad news? Who’s to say?”

The headlines announcing that Playboy would no longer feature nude photographs of women looked like good news, but the underlying story is horrifying in moral terms. Playboy did open the floodgates and pornography now pervades the entire culture. Hefner’s moral philosophy and its underlying theology are now mainstream in America, and the current Playboy CEO can claim “that battle has been fought and won.”

What you should hear in that claim of victory is the fall of an entire civilization and the moral consensus that made that civilization possible. Any morally sane person must recognize that as horrifyingly bad news, indeed.

by Dr. Al Mohler, President, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary