Bad Weather or God’s Punishment?

Why is that every time something bad happens there always seems to be a preacher around to give God the credit for whatever disaster or tragedy that has occurred? John Hagee was one that let us know that Hurricane Katrina was punishment for the wickedness of New Orleans. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson concurred that the attacks of September 11, 2001 were God’s judgment on a sinful nation. Last week, John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, once again saw the judgment of God in a tornado that hit downtown Minneapolis.

Who was God’s target this time? The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) was meeting at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Why did Piper assume that the tornado was intended for them? They were discussing sex — homosexuality to be exact. Piper’s understanding of God and homosexuality led him to the conclusion that God sent the tornado “as a gentle but firm” warning to the ELCA to terminate the discussion.

I have read the Bible and I just don’t get it. The Bible talks about sex, and there are even some passages that refer to homosexual behavior; but it is not in proportion to all the disasters and tragedies that preachers blame on it. In contrast, the Scriptures are filled with teachings about the poor and how they are treated. In Luke’s gospel, Jesus begins his preaching ministry by declaring that he has been anointed to bring good news to the poor.

If God were a God that used disaster and tragedy to chastise God’s creation in this fashion, then one would think that individuals and groups that create and perpetuate poverty, along with those who exploit and demean the poor, would be constant targets for such vengeful acts. Such does not appear to be the case, at least according to the preachers who divine such things. Did you hear any of them declaring the banking collapse as God’s punishment for a greedy nation? Maybe some did, and I missed it. If they did, then at least they were being more consistent with scripture. In the Bible, greed seems to bother God much more than homosexuality. In fact, the list of moral and ethical imperatives that receive more ink in the teachings of Jesus than homosexuality is a long one.

Why do we do this to God? I mean, why do we turn the hand of God into an instrument of terrorist threat? You displease God and God will wallop you! How can you fall intimately and passionately in love with a God that is liable to crush you when you mess up? Why would the same God who took on flesh and dwelt among us in order to demonstrate God’s sacrificial love for us, and amazing grace to us, turn around and inflict pain and suffering upon us?

I try to assume that preachers who label devastation and disease as punishment from God mean well. Sometimes I wonder, though, if such characterizations of God only serve to rally their core of constituents. When, in their interpretation of events, small groups of easily picked-on minorities always seem to be the recipients of God’s punishment, I wonder if they are merely giving us permission in a not so subtle way to keep those who are different from us at arms length.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that God can do anything that God chooses to do. I also believe that God does amazing things in the lives of sinners and saints. I just have an increasingly difficult time believing that God uses God’s power to hurt, harm or even kill people. Jesus came to love us, to heal us and to reconcile our broken lives with the One who created us. When we turn away from the offer of that love, we break God’s heart. Yet, God continues to love us, seek us and reach for us even when we turn and run from God. When God wanted to do the very most that God could do to show God’s love for us, God did not send a tornado, or a hurricane, or a terrorist hi-jacked plane. No, when God wanted to love us like we have never been loved, God sent his Son.

May you know that love today and always.

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Homosexuality and the Local Church

The church is local and the church is universal. These seemingly contradictory claims have given expression to the way Baptists have sought to understand being the body of Christ for 400 years. While we have recognized that the church is made of all believers, we have found that the richest expressions of church are local ones. That is certainly not to say that local congregations cannot and do not join together to accomplish amazing deeds for the kingdom of God, because they can and they do. Yet, it is in and through those local congregations that God speaks most clearly and effectively to those local congregations. Who better to hear and to recognize the voice of God for a particular time, place and situation than the people of God living through that particular time, place and situation. We, as Baptists, have always given priority to the local church, while happily joining together with likeminded believers to share Christ’s love.

Two decisions rendered by national church bodies underscore for me the wisdom of this approach. The first occurred in Louisville, Kentucky, at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. Messengers there took all of thirty seconds to approve, without discussion, a recommendation to cease fellowship with Broadway Baptist Church of Fort Worth, Texas. What made Broadway unworthy of fellowship with the Southern Baptist Convention? They refused to distance themselves from members of their own church who are homosexual. Simply put, the Southern Baptist Convention was trying to tell Broadway Baptist what kind of church it should be and how it should conduct its business. Broadway refused to be bullied, which is their prerogative. The Southern Baptist Convention gave them the boot, which is their prerogative. What Broadway held onto through it all was the notion that the local church is the final authority for what happens in a local church, not some outside body.

Several months ago, a proposal was made for a workshop focused on the topic of “Homosexuality and the Church”, to be offered at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Houston this summer. The purpose of the proposed workshop was to give those who had an interest an hour to gather, listen and ask question about how homosexuality is impacting the church, and how the church could approach the issue. No decisions, pronouncements or recommendations would have resulted from the meeting, simply conversations — maybe heated conversations — but conversations nonetheless. Someone made a decision not to offer the workshop. It was not on the schedule. Why not? Because someone recognized that the only meaningful place to have such a conversation is in the local church. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship wisely chose to leave the matter there.

Those kinds of conversation do take place in our church, though I have never participated in one or known one that occurred in a large group setting. No, they happen informally between trusted friends. Such topics come up from time to time in Sunday School classes and in conversations in the parking lot. We have a way of seeking out the people we need to talk to and listen to when we face challenges in our lives.

We do have conversations about Sharing Christ’s Love. With whom do we share it? What restrictions or limitations do we put on it? Are there those with whom we will not share? What hungry person does Christ not want us to feed? What thirsty person does Christ not want us to give a cup of water to? What lonely person does Christ not want us to share coffee and conversation with? What we strive to do each day is to share the love of Christ with whomever comes our way. In short, love first, ask questions later. That is really what the Apostle Paul was saying last week to the Ephesians and to us when he wrote about living blameless lives. To be blameless is to love as Christ loved. To do less, to limit, to restrict, to exclude is to be less than blameless, less than Christ calls us to be.