Missing The Point: An Exercise In Zeal

Passion so blindly fuels our lives. We humans revel in the words of the enthused like lizards in the sun. We idolise those who can chase their goals with single-minded determination, writing and reading biographical tomes with the relish of a glutton at a buffet.

Nowhere is passion as wildly followed as in religion. The religious impulse has, after all, an inherent need for some kind of existential connection to the subject matter.

Now, if Christianity is true, that is obviously the correct attitude to take. If any religion is true, the only legitimate reaction would be one of total immersion. Unfortunately, it’s hard to hear others when you’re underwater.

A recent example is the backlash that North Point pastor Andy Stanley received on his April 15th sermon. Now I need to insert a disclaimer here: I have not heard the sermon. I am not commenting on the message itself. What tickled me was one of the reactions to this sermon.

Andy Stanley was supposedly delivering a message about loving like Jesus. About how messy grace can be when confronted with the real world’s complexity. Probably already stepping on a few toes there, but not the most challenging part of the sermon, it seems. The backlash came when he used the example of a husband who left his wife for a man. When the gay couple took up leadership positions, Andy asked them to step down, since the one partner was still married.

“This is just good old fashioned adultery,” Stanley told the other man. “You’re in a sexual relationship with someone else’s husband.”

The man protested, saying his partner was almost divorced.

“You can’t be almost divorced,” Stanley told him. “You’re married or you’re not. As long as he’s married, you can’t serve on a guest services team.”

–Christianity Today Magazine.

Stanley used the reconciliation between the wife, her daughter, her boyfriend’s family, and the gay couple as an example of the messy and painful process of grace. It’s not perfect. It’s not fun or easy, but here’s a group of people trying to sort themselves out and love each other like Jesus.

I found it resonating quite strongly with me. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the complexities of life. People are shown screwing up in the most horrific ways imaginable; they’re shown trying to do the right thing for the wrong reasons. A big part of the point of making your holy book a book of stories is that lists of rules very quickly break down when confronted with life. Jesus explores this masterfully in the parable of the good Samaritan. Which incidentally happens to be a story too.

So when people start bashing the pastor because he “missed a key opportunity to address homosexuality,” I start losing my mind. Have they been listening to the point of the sermon? It’s not about whether homosexuality is or is not wrong. That’s such a messy subject in itself that you could do a whole sermon series on it and still not plumb the debate’s true depth. And anyway, how is who the man is sleeping with a bigger issue than the fact that it’s not his wife? Actually, whether the partner should be allowed to serve as a leader is also a giant can of worms in itself. Potholes abound.

When we believe so strongly in something, it sometimes blinds us to the rest of the world. I realise this, because I have seen it in myself time and again. We tend to nit pick little things that bug us until we lose the plot completely. This is the problem with a lot of fundamentalists. They forget that, in the end, it’s not about a six-day creation or whether Noah really lived. It’s about Jesus. The zealous focus on (possibly very important) theological points often blinds us to the greater ones right in front of our noses.

If Stanley needs to talk about homosexuality, does that mean that a pastor has a duty to include every possible theological question that could arise from a given sermon? Down that road lies madness. It would necessitate a full systematic theology of the whole Bible in every single sermon.

I don’t mean to demean what is a burning topic for many Christians today. I don’t know what Andy Stanley’s position on the matter is. Truth be told, I don’t really care that much. He was pointing to Jesus and the implications of following Him. He was showing light in a situation that often breeds escalating darkness. He was trying to help us understand what it means to love each other unselfishly. To obey the great commandment.

Anything else would just have been a distraction.

Or am I just being blind?


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