I think that the term “celebrity pastor” is an indicator of how spiritually lost some of us are. I have received several invitations over the past year to visit someone’s church where they referred to their pastor as a “celebrity pastor”. It really turned me off personally.The church is the one place which should remain uncontaminated by pop culture but sadly, what we have been seeing is not just the influences of celebrity/pop culture on many churches, but the outright surrender to said cultures, on the part of church leadership. The body of Christ should influence and lead pop culture not be lead by it. There is no balance with too many pastors. With all of the caveats in the New Testament regarding the persecution that believers did and will face, quite frankly, popularity, to a large degree is not something that necessarily attracts me to a church. Of course, this depends on what a pastor or his church is popular for (teaching the word of God or how well the choir performs in a competition for example). The Christian church is not a club, restaurant, sports franchise, or clothing line. Spreading the gospel of Christ does not require that we must brand churches in the way the world does any of those things named.
I’m not attracted to the churches of pastors who are not just assigned this title (anyone can call a pastor this without his knowledge or acceptance of it, he can’t help that) but who embrace them & build brands around themselves rather than Christ. Our Savior, Jesus Christ often stands in the shadow of the celebrity pastor rather than front & center, where He belongs.
Celebrity culture in churches also fosters what I call the “untouchable” & “irreproachable” complex we see so often these days. Meaning, no matter what a pastor does wrong, he cannot be criticized, admonished, held accountable or in some cases, prosecuted. Even in the aftermath of scandal, when there is very clear evidence or admission of guilt & in some case illegal acts, many still worship these pastors as if they are Christ returned in the flesh & refuse to acknowledge that they are no less corporeal than any other person. I’m not suggesting pastors cannot be forgiven for sin because according to Romans 3:23 “We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” So, it’s not a matter of whether or not we should forgive but rather, should we continue to allow them to lead us? Should we obstruct secular punishment when the law is broken? After all, we are also commanded to obey the law, title of pastor notwithstanding. Sometimes a demotion (or punishment) is the best way to obtain the humility required for church leadership. As Christians, we must have something that separates the body of Christ from the secular world & the more pastors allow celebrity/pop culture to infiltrate & influence their churches, the more those lines are blurred. The notion of a celebrity pastor is oxymoronic at best but the only celebrity in Christian churches should be Christ himself. Think about it…
“But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” James 1:22
Amid the controversy of statements made by Chick-Fil-A CEO Dan Cathy, about his support of traditional marriage, I want to share with you my proposal to solving this seemingly never ending issue on same sex marriage vs traditional marriage. For the record, I am a Christian Conservative who supports traditional marriage between one man and one woman, therefore, although I respect proponents of same sex marriage, I oppose their platform on the matter, in favor of the tenets of my religious faith. Those who would oppose me because of their secular humanist philosophy or religious views even, certainly have the freedom to do so, however, if such opposition includes ad hominems such as bigot, homophobe, religious zealot or any other such labels, immediately, they demonstrate a lack of the very same tolerance which they demand from me, rendering their arguments exponentially futile to my ears.
Since this missive is not about the current Chick-Fil-A controversy, I will not discuss it, however, you can read Dan Cathy’s statement here if you are unfamiliar with it. Currently, only six states have legalized same sex marriages – Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont & most recently, New York. Although these states recognize same sex marriage, the DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) means that the federal government does not have to recognize these unions performed in those states. Also, Washington, DC, Maryland, Rhode Island and two Native American tribal jurisdictions recognize these unions from those six states but does not perform them. According to Wikipedia:
“Same-sex marriage has been established through court rulings and legislative action, but not via popular vote. Nine states prohibit same-sex marriage in statute and thirty prohibit it in their constitution. The movement to obtain marriage rights and benefits for same-sex couples in the United States began in the 1970s, but became more prominent in U.S. politics in 1993 when the Hawaii Supreme Court declared the state’s prohibition to be unconstitutional in Baehr v. Lewin.
Throughout the 2000s decade, public support for legalizing same-sex marriage grew considerably, and various national polls now show that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. On May 9, 2012, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to publicly declare support for the legalization of same-sex marriage.”
Before the current Chick-Fil-A controversy, the last event to re-ignite the debate on same sex marriage was indeed President Barack Obama’s open support of same sex marriage which some celebrated & others stood against. President Obama is no different from any other citizen in that he can personally choose to support or oppose any view he wants but since he is a self-professed Christian, this decision disappointed me greatly. As a Christian, I believe in the biblical scriptures on which I base my opposition to same sex marriage. The Bible is explicitly clear on homosexuality in both the Old & New testaments, therefore a marriage based on a homosexual union is utterly invalid to those whose religious faith inherently prohibits it:
“You must not have sexual intercourse with a male as one has sexual intercourse with a woman.”
“That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other.”
Christianity is not alone in it’s condemnation of homosexuality:
“We also sent Lut: He said to his people: Do ye commit lewdness such as no people in creation (ever) committed before you? For ye practice your lusts on men in preference to women: ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds. And his people gave no answer but this: they said, “Drive them out of your city: these are indeed men who want to be clean and pure!” (Qur’an 7:80-82)
“If any of your women are guilty of lewdness, Take the evidence of four (Reliable) witnesses from amongst you against them; and if they testify, confine them to houses until death do claim them, or Allah ordain for them some (other) way. If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 4:15-16)
In Theravada Buddhism, it is explicitly mentioned in the Vinaya (monastic discipline) and prohibited. It is not singled out for special condemnation, but rather simply mentioned along with a wide range of other sexual behavior as contravening the rule that requires monks and nuns to be celibate.
Of course there are non-religious persons who support homosexuality and believe that it is as normal as heterosexuality and two persons who love one another should be able to join together in marriage legally. The arguments for same sex marriage are vast but predictable (in my opinion) and there are some religious persons (self-professed Christians included) who present arguments in favor of same sex marriage as well. I won’t present them here but the point is that regardless to the arguments from both sides, a solution to this dilemma will require compromise from both groups. Here are some major points in my proposal to resolve the issue:
Rather than re-defining marriage as well as civil unions for every citizen as an arrangement based on gender and sexual preference, let’s re-define them based on the institution ordaining the marriage or presiding over the civil union (religious institutions vs. the government). In other words, a marriage becomes a union ordained by a religious institution and a civil union becomes a union presided over by the government. This removes the entire issue of sexual preference by redefining it based on who performs the union. One complaint from those in the LGBT community is that “civil unions” have a negative connotation and are inherently inferior by name. Since a civil union would now be defined by merely being a union sanctioned by the government, regardless of the gender of both parties, non-religious heterosexual couples would also be “merged”under governmental civil unions.
With marriages & civil unions re-defined in this manner, certain terminology would also change. A religious institution will “marry” couples & the state (government) will “merge” a couple. Partners in a civil union will be called “life partners” and in marriages they will be called “spouses” . Religious institutions may or may not specify this with “husband”and “wife”. Civil unions will designate a “life partner A or B” (or I & II) on documentation.
Leaders of individual religious institutions or entire denominations as a whole will not be required to maintain licenses, the couples they marry will not either. Each religious institution may issue it’s own marriage licenses or permission to marry (or not)based on their own decision making processes. Each denomination or individual institution must submit their marriage requirements or procedures to the state government for the purpose of record keeping and in case of divorce proceedings.
The State (government) can continue to issue licenses as is for same sex and heterosexual couples alike who choose state sanctioned “mergers”.
It is the couples’ decision alone on which arrangement to seek. It is the religious institution’s decision to accept or deny a marriage based on their religious dogma or their interpretation of it.
Divorces would have a two step process for marriages (for filing), first, the religious institution would issue an certificate or decree (written consent) to divorce and take on the responsibility for any emotional distress and counseling. This certificate or decree would be presented to the state for the sole purpose of dividing assets, calculating child support or alimony payments to either spouse. The religious institution will deal with the spiritual and emotional, the state (courts) will only decide material & monetary divisions. The religious institutions may give a recommendation with the divorce decree/certificate/written consent for custody of any minor children, but this too, will remain the role of the courts. Civil Unions would only have a one step “dissolution” process, filing directly with the state and settling all monetary/material distributions with the courts just as marriages will.
Religious institutions must adhere to the law in each state with regards to the legal age of consent. In other words, a religious institution cannot marry a 40 or 18 year old man and an 11 or 14 year old girl in Georgia (for example), whose age of consent is 16. Religious institutions must also adhere to the law in each state not allowing blood family members to marry one another. This is because there is a proven biological risk for birth defects and other medical problems when close family members procreate. Such relationships includes siblings, cousins, parent-child…etc. Marriages of this type performed by a religious institution knowingly, can be annulled by the state and the religious institution would pay a penalty.
Now I have shared only a portion of my marriage proposal here and will share more as I fine tune it but with this proposal, marriage is defined by religious faith which is in accordance with today’s marriage practices, because for the overwhelming majority of marriages in the United States, the date of actual marriage (and anniversary celebrations) is based on the date of the ceremony and not the date when marriage licenses are issued by the state. Now as I briefly alluded to above, there are religious persons who support same sex marriage and believe that the Bible does not expressly forbid it, because although the New Testament mentions it (Romans 1:26) their main argument is that Jesus himself does not forbid it in his words. This is a spiritually dangerous technicality in my view, but everyone has the right to believe what they want. For the religious institutions in support of same sex marriage, as you may have deduced, they will in fact, have the freedom to marry couples of the same sex in theirindividual institutions or denominations.
Before my fellow Christians in opposition of same sex marriage start cursing me or my proposal, this is not problematic, because although we know and believe that homosexuality is expressly forbidden based on the scriptures, we cannot dictate to a church, synagogue, mosque or other religious gathering that they must share our interpretation of scriptures or sexual morality. Sinners are allowed to sin. If an entire church body decides to approve a same sex marriage, in short, that’s their business and we don’t have to attend such a church. I refuse to. That’s my personal decision. To find this problematic spiritually, you’d also have to take issue with any denomination that has any practice which yours does not based on a difference in scriptural interpretation or a lack of one. We cannot pretend as though all denominations are the same theologically or otherwise.
Now to some that begs the question, “Why can’t the federal government just legalize same sex marriage everywhere? What’s the difference?” The answer is simple – because in doing so the government is legislating morality for all. When an umbrella is opened fully, whoever is under it will be in the shade regardless as to whether they want to be or not. In order to get back in the sun or rain, one must have the freedom to do so and this is impossible with only one umbrella or a federal mandate.For some, this is the same problem if a majority vote does not go in their favor. If the federal government (or for that matter individual states) makes a law to legalize same sex marriages everywhere and the government decides who gets licenses and requires them in order for a person to perform a marriage, what is to stop the government from refusing a license to someone who refuses to marry a same sex or heterosexual couple? Wouldn’t a same or opposite sex couple be able to sue a religious institution for discrimination? Of course they could because as it stands now, marriages in the church are subject to the authority of the state, because without a license, a minister cannot marry anyone.
If we sever this relationship, the decision of who to marry becomes the sole decision of the religious institution and they cannot be punished or rewarded in any way for it. If you are thinking that such a scenario will never happen, think again, it already has in this instance. There have also been instances where churches refused to marry same sex couples and homosexual pastors have refused to marry heterosexual couples, which is their prerogative. In my opinion, this is inherently in conflict with anti-discrimination laws because of the existing license requirement imposed on leaders of religious institutions by the state. If we take away license requirements, we cut the religious umbilical cord to the state.
To avoid all of this, the decision of who can marry should rest in the hands of each religious institution or entire denominations and we must eradicate licensure requirements in this regard. What I am advocating for are individual umbrellas for each religious institution and one for the state. A religious institution has the right to oppose and refuse gay marriage or allow it. My proposal renders the state non-partisan as it should be and restores autocracy to religious institutions as far as marriage is concerned. Others will ask, will a church or mosque be able to deny interracial or interfaith marriages? The answer is yes as they should be, because religion is a predecessor of government and religious institutions can define marriage how they want with a few limits. Contrary to what some think or recent events, institutions who refuse interracial couples are not popular nor widespread. Ones who refuse interfaith couples (for example a Christian marrying a Hindu) are doing so because of religious dogma and are within their rights to refuse such a union. For every religious entity which discriminates for these reasons, there are ones that don’t. In America, we have options, let’s utilize them.
Both spouses and life partners would also have equality in civil and legal matters which are not covered by legal documents such as wills, for example. If same sex or opposite sex couples do not want a merger under a civil union because of any perceived inequality or inferiority because of naming, they can seek a marriage from a religious institution which will marry them and these days there is no shortage of institutions willing to do either. I must reiterate that neither marriages or civil unions are defined in my proposal by the gender or sexual preference of the individuals which make up the couple by the state. It’s up to the religious institutions to restrict their definitions to same sex or opposite sex couples, or allow both. This also would mean that DOMA would not need to be repealed necessarily, but rather it would be amended to define marriage as a union of religious origin rather than gender, for two or more** persons. A religious institution, however, can define marriage by gender in it’s decision of who it will and will not marry.
What one religious denomination decides to allow or refuse has no bearing on the religion as a whole. Denominations were created because of varying religious interpretations for the most part. If a religious institution presided over your ceremony you’re married, if the government did so you are merged. Your gender is irrelevant. From my perspective, this is the best way to compromise while keeping the state in it’s proper place with regards to marriage – limited but allowed some regulation, which is no different from private sector commerce. Think about it.
**Stay tuned, Walter Myers III will explore the topic of polygamy & marriage in Part II to this blog!
My brilliant friend Walter Myers III knocks it out of the ball park with this one:
Last week, the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church, which is the oldest religious denomination in America, hosted Michelle Obama as a keynote speaker at their General Conference. They were impressed with her “commitment to family” and her “leadership” in fighting childhood obesity. Now the Obamas are a lovely family, but as people of influence, it is not just a matter of what they are, but just as importantly what they stand for. And the Obamas stand for anything but family values in terms of actual policies and positions. In fact, Michelle Obama, during Barack Obama’s campaign for the U.S. Senate in 2004, wrote a fundraising letter defending the gruesome practice of partial-birth abortion. In this letter, she argued that the federal ban on partial-birth abortion was “flawed law” that was “clearly unconstitutional.” She closed the letter with a promise that if Obama was elected to the U.S. Senate, he would keep George Bush from appointing a Supreme Court justice that would vote against Roe v. Wade (the Supreme Court decision that stated a woman had a constitutional right to an abortion).
In 1997, while an Illinois state senator, Barack Obama opposed a ban on partial-birth abortion. In 2001, he was the only senator to speak against the Illinois Born-Alive Infants Protection Act (BAIPA) which would have protected babies who survived a late-term abortion. Essentially, if a nine-month old fetus, against all odds, survived an abortion, Barack Obama did not believe the child had a right to live, so it should be denied any medical assistance and left to die. He subsequently led opposition against this bill in 2002, and eventually killed the bill in 2003 at a committee meeting in which he presided as chairman. The bill referenced fully born infants, but nonetheless, Obama felt a “previable fetus” does not qualify as a human person. We already know that he is unsure if life begins at conception, but apparently he’s not sure even if a fetus is in its ninth month of development. And clearly, his wife, Michelle Obama is in complete agreement with him. Well, so much for their “commitment to family.” How the AME church missed these facts is highly troubling, and indicates that like the Obamas, the Bible may not be their ultimate authority either.