A few days ago, Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia made news for calling an openly gay pastor. I’m proud of them for that and for many other things.
The same day, I saw a post on Religion Dispatch about Mark Driscoll’s alleged plagiarism scandal. I can’t and don’t condone stealing, but I don’t know enough about what happened to even begin to guess what Driscoll did or didn’t do or mean to do.
If you don’t already know it, there are bigger problems with Driscoll that center on his penchant for misogyny and tropes of rhetorical violence. To some, he’s controversial because he’s loud and because he curses. Very conservative Christians take offense to his working blue, but not to the things he says about gender roles or LGBT people. I don’t mind a preacher who curses every now and then. Both Jesus and Paul knew the power of a well-placed “asshole” or “bullshit” (look it up if you don’t believe me). Tony Campolo channeled all of this long ago with his pithy and scandalous truth about the word shit.
I have three things I’d like to say today. First, while you were sleeping last night, 30,000 kids died of starvation or diseases related to malnutrition. Second, most of you don’t give a shit. What’s worse is that you’re more upset with the fact that I said shit than the fact that 30,000 kids died last night.
Some conservative Christians care more about Driscoll’s cursing than they do about the high rate of suicide in the LGBT community and about the ways views like Driscoll’s (effeminate boys should be roughed up and set straight) and theirs contribute to the literal and figurative beatings so many people are forced to take. I call bullshit on that, and Jesus does, too.
I ‘m writing a new manuscript, part memoir, part manifesto about these kinds of things. At Religion Dispatch I said:
I won’t speak to the plagiarism issue, but MD’s stance on gender roles and homosexuality are far more alarming than his “cussing.”
“Christian” ought to be synonymous with with radical inclusion and true equality. The Jesus I follow is. So often that kind of sentiment can sound haughty, elitist, judgmental, but that’s not my intention. I just feel like I have come to know a Jesus who radically stands up for the marginalized, beaten down, and oppressed and who undercuts the entire system so many of our institutions and churches embrace. Upward mobility means nothing. The celebrity pulpit means nothing, or worse, it’s all too often vanity. Radical calls for justice, peace, reconciliation and a totally up-ended relationship with power…these are the hallmarks of what he called the Kingdom of God. It can be so. Imperfectly, yes, but better than it is. We have a long way to go and much work to do.
A few folks voted those comments down. That makes me sad, but I understand this much about it: Christians following Jesus to the very real ends the earth, to the very real core of his teachings and living in the very real fellowship of his kingdom as experienced through the light of freedom his radical vision for society demands, we so-called “liberal” and sincere followers of the peasant-teacher of Palestine, we must do a better job of engaging the kinds of Christians many of us used to be. Take Phil Robertson. His faith in Christ is most likely beautiful, but his understanding of what Scripture is and how the gift of it bears witness to truly good news is flawed, not because he’s an evil man but because there are bridges too far in all of us. So too among many in the mainstream of the aging evangelical movement, even as post-evangelicals or mainline Christians in rising generations search for places where they can seriously follow Jesus and seriously question their traditions, their churches and themselves, all without having to believe that homosexuality is sinful or that all without Christ are destined for literal, conscious, eternal torment. The good news is supposed to be good, and it is.
Jesus teaches an ethic in which no bridge is finally too far and more bridges must be radically built. His life and death command a fundamental deconstruction of upward ladders and spirals and other things that separate human beings from each other. Breaking down barriers and breaking down walls will find us on the wrong side of religious, political, and economic institutions and institutionalisms. It will never call us to victimize.
Plagiarism? That’s not a victimless crime, but compared to some of the things we know Driscoll has willingly done, I’ll admit to some real ambivalence. You might even say I don’t give a shit.