September 30, 2006

Love That Kills

On Sunday, September 24, 2006, another guest speaker stood in the pulpit of Capo Beach Calvary, as the senior pastor Chuck Smith Jr. continues his absence since the publishing of an L. A. Times article that honed in on his spiritual differences with his father, Chuck Smith Sr. The guest speaker at CBC was Craig Detweiler, co-author with Barry Taylor of "A Matrix Of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture," who teaches at Fuller Theological Seminary in the film department. His sermon sounded more like an in-class presentation – plenty of power point pages, but little or no Bible verses. He began his talk with a back-handed slam at "the church" that he sees as out of touch with people of today. He held up the eunuch in the eighth chapter of the book of Acts as representative of homosexuals today and the disciple Philip as one unafraid to approach a sexual outcast in his day.

Detweiler connected to his audience by referring to today’s popular hit TV programs such as Fear Factor, Lost, Desperate Housewives, Survivor, and The Apprentice. He then focused in on a movie he saw at a film festival called "Forgiving the Franklins." The story is about a southern Christian family who get in a car accident and come back from the brink of death having lost original sin. In supposed purity, they walk around for the rest of the film stark naked. The film had a profound impact on the speaker – even bringing him to tears. One reviewer pointed out that the film exaggerated church goers:

"The early scenes with the ‘Franklins’ will likely be a turn-off for most viewers since their brand of moralizing and robotic behavior make them distinctly unpleasant even to the most regular of those keeping holy the Sabbath day. However, this does make their transition all the more enjoyable as they break free of their constrictions and begin living their lives without every waking moment being Judgment Day of their fellow man. Frank & Betty’s discovery of each other as sexual beings is wisely not treated for laughs and instead becomes a beautiful moment ... For every hilariously frank conversation they have around others, somehow writer/director Jay Floyd keeps coming back to the sex... By contrast it softens the point of creating two extremes of behavior that neither most liberals nor conservatives can condone without suffering a label of radicalism. Surely there’s a middle ground that Christ would condone….Even the acceptance of homosexuality within the family becomes about how great the sex was." 

But for CBC’s guest "preacher" the film was a transforming experience. "It is the most savage satire on the Christian community that I have ever seen," said Detweiler, introducing CBC’s congregation to his topic. "It’s about a repressed southern family who are hit by a car enroute to a church potluck. They die and are ushered into heaven and they meet Jesus who is wielding an axe, chopping down a cross. He said, ‘I’m sick of these things. It’s a bad marketing idea. We need a new image.’ Very strange. Jesus reaches into the backs of their heads, pulls out a bloody apple and says ‘I’m not done with you yet,’ and sends them back down to earth. So what did Jesus remove? They came back and they now have no guilt, no sense of shame. He took out original sin."

After that, the "preacher" explains, the family got bored at church and couldn’t sit through a service. "They suddenly just start walking around the house naked… Their son, a football player, ends up having, basically an affair with his coach. And the family kind of says, ‘well, that’s lovely. I’m so glad you guys found each other. It’s so rare when there’s love in this world.’ So you have a homosexual relationship with your coach? That’s great. We support you." He continued, explaining how the film ended when the Christian community responded by giving them a poisoned apple pie that killed the Franklins and resulted in the suicide of the coach.

"And as the credits rolled, I wept," said Detweiler, with an obvious lump in his throat. "I was devastated by this portrait of the Christian community as murderers, as killers. Not just judgmental or hypocritical but vengeful. And yet the audience…gave the film a standing ovation. While Jay (the gay film maker) answered questions, I felt the Holy Spirit stirring within me, urging me to speak up."

Detweiler stood and identified himself as "an evangelical Christian" and a hush came over the crowd. "And I got real emotional. I started crying and I said ‘on behalf of whoever or whatever has been done to you in the name of God, I apologize. I’m sorry.’ And the entire energy in the room shifted in an instant. All that anger was blown away by the love of God. The spirit entered in when my apologetics began with an apology." He was then surrounded by the crowd who hugged him. And then he said he was approached by "gay couples saying, ‘If this is true, we’d be interested. If this is what church is like, we’d be there.’"

He continued sharing his excitement, "My students (he took Fuller Seminary students to a sexually explicit film?) ran up to the cast and the crew thanking them for the movie, inviting them to come to our class which was meeting in a local church the next morning. And much to our surprise, they came."

And he concluded with the moral of the story: "But this story isn’t just about what happened in the cast and crew but what happened in me and my students, because as we made more room for God’s love and forgiveness to invade our lives, it made us more compassionate people. And so I wonder, what does God want to do in this community? In this moment for you? What kind of power and love is God waiting to unleash by the Holy Spirit in Capo Beach?"

He returned back to the story of the Ethiopian eunuch. Detweiler quoted him as saying to Philip, ’What prevents me from being baptized?’ "Odd question," Detweiler concluded with one of the most convoluted renderings of a scripture passage I have ever heard. "Why does he ask that? I think it’s because he already dealt with rejection. He knew that as a eunuch he was not allowed in the temple. His sexual deviation had disqualified him, so now he wonders, is the Christian community any different than the Jewish community? Is this Jesus love that you told me about really unconditional? He’s worried about the fine print, that he’s gonna take a risk…How does Philip respond? Philip breaks social, religious, ethnic, and sexual barriers by baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch.… Philip tramples the entire religious tradition that excluded people based upon external appearances."

"What happens when Philip listens to God and breaks these cultural barriers?" Detweiler concluded. "It’s a mystery.… May Capo Beach become the house of prayer for all peoples." And the Capo Beach Calvary crowd applauded and cheered.

Cancellation of Next Guest Speaker

On the heels of this, I wasn’t really surprised when the guest speaker scheduled for the following service on Thursday called off at the last minute. (Could he have heard about this blatant attack on his position of gays in the church?) The junior pastor at CBC had to call up a stand-in for Chuck Smith Sr. The speaker began his message with a disclaimer that he really didn’t have much time to prepare because he and the Mrs. had just been planning a quiet evening at home when the desperate call came through. CBC’s website had been promoting Pastor Chuck Sr.’s upcoming visit for September 28th and October 5th, but whether or not he makes the second scheduled service remains to be seen. It is notable though that they removed his promotional photograph from the home page though the October date is still showing.

One reason this subject could be a little awkward is in how the L.A. Times article referred to earlier ended. The last paragraph read, "Though Smith Jr. demurs from that thesis, he appeared in the film (the documentary about former Calvary Chapel evangelist Lonnie Frisbee who died of AIDS), looked at the camera and pointedly asked: If the church shuts its doors to gay people, where are they supposed to find God?" It sounded like a direct plea to his father. Smith says no, he wasn't really speaking to Dad. Then he pauses. "Maybe I was," he says."

Earlier in the year CBC had a similar guest speaker, former President Clinton spiritual advisor Tony Campolo, who likes to refer to himself as part of the "religious left" (as those like the National Council of Churches and the World Council of Churches like to label themselves). He has made a name for himself in evangelicalism for his efforts to make homosexuals in the church acceptable. Years ago, I heard him speak at Ocean Grove, New Jersey, blaming Christians for the elevated numbers of gay men who have committed suicide. Could he have been an influence on Craig Detweiler? Hard to say.

Tony’s wife, Peggy Campolo, has been a frequent keynote speaker at annual gatherings of a group called "Evangelicals Concerned" who claim to be both evangelical and homosexual. One so-called "Gay Christian" organization spells out the difference in the Campolos’ pro-gay views:

"Dr. Campolo's position on homosexuality is conservative: he believes that the Bible forbids all homosexual activity. However, he does not support attempts to "convert" gays into straights; rather, he advises gay people to pursue celibacy…Peggy Campolo, Dr. Campolo's wife, takes a different view. She supports monogamous, same-sex relationships, and believes that marriages should be recognized in the church for both heterosexual and homosexual couples." 

Two Extremes

This is one end of the pendulum swing regarding gays in the church. The opposite extreme is exemplified by the loonies holding up the "God Hates Fags" signs at the military funerals of fallen soldiers. The world sees these creeps and paints all Christians with a broad brush.

Another element in the church that is used to castigate all Christians is the politically active religious right led by people like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and D. James Kennedy. Falwell’s Moral Majority and other Reconstructionists put all their energies fighting specific sins, an activity not seen in first century Christianity. When did you see the apostles picketing the coliseum as gladiators fought to the death? Did they lead believers to picket the sex orgies of the Roman citizens? No, rather they preached the Gospel that teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. They told people to repent without itemizing their various sins. And they shared the grace and love of Jesus and testified of His atonement for the sins of many. The good news set these people free and the Holy Spirit took up residence and gave them a new heart so that they would no longer even want to do the sinful things they had been involved in.

Can you imagine after a person received Christ in the early church being told by the apostles that Jesus would condone them continuing in the sinful lifestyles from which they had just been rescued? The convicting power of the Holy Spirit is giving them victory over the sin that so easily besets them, and then an elder in the Lord tells them that it’s quite all right to ignore their regenerated conscience and just go on as before? That is what I’m getting from messages like the one spoken at CBC.

Detwiler and the Campolos seem to be saying that Christians who try to turn a Christian away from a former gay lifestyle are being judgmental and mean, but they are the ones being mean. They are telling homosexuals that God loves them just the way they are. They are quenching the Spirit Who is leading them away from their sins as they affirm them in their sinful lifestyle. In doing so, they fight against God and they are not showing the struggling homosexual the love of God at all!

This subject hits me very close to home because I have many life-long friends who are gay and aren’t saved. These are people I love. I’ve even lost one dear to me with AIDS. I share my testimony with them without condemning them any more than I would condemn unbelievers who are caught up in sins of adultery, fornication, and alcoholism. Their lists of offenses are not my focus. They have to get real with the Lord themselves and He will reveal the truth to them. All I can do is give them the truth of Scripture. The Apostle Paul makes it very clear:

"I wrote to you in my epistle not to keep company with sexually immoral people. Yet I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I have written to you not to keep company with anyone named a brother, who is sexually immoral, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or an extortioner--not even to eat with such a person. For what have I to do with judging those also who are outside? Do you not judge those who are inside? But those who are outside God judges. Therefore "put away from yourselves the evil person" (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

As Christians we should exhort new believers to follow the leading of the Spirit and God's word on any subject and give them emotional and prayer support. If evangelism is done by focusing on the problem and not the solution, we'd be in a losing battle trying to get people to change their behavior instead of relying upon the One who can transform lives to be pleasing to their Lord. We shouldn’t curse the darkness, but shine the light. And, on the other hand, if we affirm a sinful lifestyle we are quenching the Spirit of conviction and working against the drawing of the Spirit and we shoot ourselves in the foot.

This is another dire sign of the dangerous end times that was predictable by Bible prophecy students long before homosexuals came out of their collective closets:

"And as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man…Likewise as it was also in the days of Lot: They ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they built; but on the day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. Even so will it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed" (Luke 17:26,28-30).

♥♥♥

Purify my heart
Let me be as gold and precious silver
Purify my heart
Let me be as gold, pure gold

Refiner’s Fire
My heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You my master
Ready to do Your will

Purify my heart
Cleanse me from within and make me holy
Purify my heart
Cleanse me from my sin, deep within

Refiner’s Fire
My heart’s one desire is to be holy
Set apart for You Lord
I choose to be holy
Set apart for You my master
Ready to do Your will 

(Brian Doerksen)

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