Protestant Planks – A Lesson in GraceFeatured, Social Justice — By Michael D. Bobo on May 27, 2010 at 11:15 am
Two headlines weave through my mind as I consider what our current evangelical quandary means for the larger scope of Christianity. “Knapp comes out” and “Waltke resigns.” While the Catholic Church is embroiled in one of the most scandalous and damaging seasons in my life, we Protestants have ours. My heart is heavy as I write this because we have made such a mess over two pet doctrines. Lest we point fingers at those “pedophiles” we need to carefully consider our own blemishes. The proverbial plank blinds me from seeing much else wrong in other religious traditions at present. So, I proceed to consider what the state of our faith and our pursuit of social justice entails in the midst of two stories which both illustrate the lengths and widths of our plank.
First, Jennifer Knapp’s recent admission of her sexual preference. I cannot help but remember Philip Yancey’s relationship with Mel White in this conversation. I am betraying my sentiments early in this if you are familiar with What’s So Amazing About Grace? The initial questions and doubts surfaced in my heart and mind when I read the headlines. How could she? I loved her music. She is so talented. What does this mean for her upcoming album? Can she really be a homosexual Christian musician?
I had to research this story further and eventually landed upon Knapp’s Facebook page. And there, I really was surprised at what I saw. Surely there would be her fans right? I mean it is her own Facebook page. Shouldn’t she have some support on her own page? To my grief, I read comment upon comment reading something like, “I love your music, but I can’t support your sinful lifestyle” or “I am not going to buy your new album.” To some people’s credit there were comments about Knapp’s courage and words of praise for openness and transparency that is so rare for a celebrity of her status.
The dimensions of the proverbial plank are first defined tragically by the heated debate over homosexuality within Protestantism. Considering this first story from a perspective of social justice immediately suggests why Yancey and White are so pertinent all these years later. Yancey had been friends with Mel White without the least consideration of his sexual struggles. White’s disclosure rocked Yancey’s mind. But it demonstrates a tremendous principle in Christian friendship.
I believe it is safe to assume that most of us have friendships that do not center on sexuality as a basis for connection. Consider your closest friends and consider how often your sexual life is a topic of conversation with them. Even the most intimate of friendships seldom delve into this realm of life. So, when a person like Knapp openly admits her sexual preferences, there has to be shock. Not just for the object of her affections, but for the openness which is increasingly rare in our media saturated society. Admission of guilt is the norm. Preemptive honesty is virtually extinct. Especially for an artist such as Knapp who is a former Grammy nominee.
So given this understanding, she must be commended for her tremendous bravery. Her interview is amazingly candid. As I read her responses, I could feel the pain and anticipation in her words. She is a human first, not just a sexual preference. The first corrective measure to cut down the plank has to be a restructuring of our thinking about homosexuals as complex people. Their faith in God is no different. Their Bible is no different. Knapp is a beautiful Christian woman whose journey is a fascinating study. We have a lot to learn about her willingness to reenter a music career with a clear conscience which is not living a duplicitous our secretive lifestyle. She deserves to be commended for this, not disparaged.
Her confession that she is not in a church presently disheartens me. Not for the obvious reasons. I just wonder if she feels like she would be welcome. I do not know of another personal struggle that would warrant an ostracism like that of homosexuality. Is this really what the Christ-like response would be? Come to me all you who are weary, . . . Oh, but not if you are attracted to the same sex . . . and I will give you rest. I cannot help but imagine that Knapp has been weary. She needs the rest of Christ evidently. But we do not extend her this grace because we cannot condone her lifestyle. Really? Are you serious, Mr. Evangelical holier-than-thou? When did Christ’s gracious call to rest have a sexuality clause? I have never read that in my version of Matthew’s gospel.
And then there is the second dimension of the plank – evolution. Waltke’s endorsement of creation by evolution has created an equally turbulent discussion within similar circles. One of the greatest Old Testament minds embraces evolution. This is no news since he has published it previously. However, it is a sad commentary upon the state of our Christianity and a gripping study in the potency of the online media. Ironically, Christians are less likely to pick up a commentary on Genesis, but they can watch a video clip which traversed through the Evangelical blogs and hot spots with blazing speed. Waltke embraces evolution! Round up the troops, we’ve got another target. First Knapp and now Waltke. Homosexuality and Evolution. The spiritual blood hounds have had a heyday this past couple of weeks.
My admiration for Waltke soars after his amazingly gracious retraction of the video and eventual resignation from Reformed Theological Seminary. A man whose body of work is truly astounding has to back away from his career, his sphere of influence, and yet he never casts blame. He chooses the higher ground. My hero.
This situation in many ways is even less just than Knapp’s treatment. How we can judge Knapp is tragic, but it is somewhat understood since we are all sexual beings. Maybe we can claim some moral high ground in matters of sexuality, in our more legalistic moments. How we judge Waltke is just flat out wrong. If the average person who casts judgment upon Waltke spent as much time and energy studying the Hebrew text of Genesis as Waltke has there would be complete equity. But, alas, the judgment falls upon one of the great minds today and there is nothing but ignorance and arrogance in the judge’s seat.
A second whack at the plank needs to be considered here. Have we read, have we worked, have we made our due diligence to know the facts before casting judgment? Restructuring our thinking about science will take some time and energy focused upon opposing arguments. Rather than reading the same pat answers which are based upon Christian presumptions, there must be serious reflection about what science says about the Earth’s origins. One must also seriously study the Biblical record – research in original languages, research in ancient Hebrew culture and mythology, research in creation accounts from other religions, etc. There must be honest labor before a man such as Waltke can be justly evaluated.
Yet we have two remarkable individuals sitting on the “wrong” side of their respective fences standing out as examples of candor, poise, and grace. The injustice in these two cases is evident to me. We need to step back and in our pursuit of social justice for the impoverished and racially oppressed for just a few moments and add two more categories which need a voice. What about the wrongly judged and criticized such as Knapp and Waltke? Who will cry for them? I hope to be one voice of many that would at least give us pause to consider this issue more carefully before stones are cast and the Church castigates any more beautiful minds such as Knapp and Waltke.