Thabiti Anyabwile on Church and Culture

Thabiti AnyabwileOver at the Gospel Coalition, Thabiti Anyabwile has a thoughtful post asking whether Christians are prone to over-compensate for cultural losses, which echoes some of the concerns over politicizing the Church’s witness that Aaron Taylor raised earlier this week. Anyabwile writes:

Or consider the current debates regarding same-sex issues. The church is perceived as “losing” on that issue and a good number of leaders are exercised about it. I’m not making light of their concerns and I share much of it. But when well-meaning leaders fall prey to the subtle temptation to make state legislation granting same-sex marriage rights a report card on the church, strange things can happen. Like the pastor who ceases his ministry of regular exposition to do a series on homosexuality. The series isn’t so much an exposition of key texts or a sensitive approach to discipleship in this area, but a jeremiad against “the culture” and a desperate ringing of the church bell to alert everyone to the impending doom. Public policy figures prominently in the sermons and in after church discussions. The pastor gets exercised. The church gets politicized. People get ostracized–and not just those who may be addressing same-sex desires in the course of their Christian discipleship.

The whole post is thoughtful, and offers some good practical advice for how to approach controversial issues in an informed, pastorally sensitive way. Since I criticized an earlier post by Anyabwile (and Spiritual Friendship also published a critique by Kyle Keating), I think it’s important to highlight when I think he really gets it right.

It’s a sad fact about the Internet that posts expressing criticism can easily go viral, while posts pointing out good thinking rarely get the same level of attention. Still, I want to do what I can to give credit where credit is due.

14 thoughts on “Thabiti Anyabwile on Church and Culture

  1. I read Mr. Anyabwile’s article and it is really interesting Ron. To me it comes down to lack of trust in God, in Christ. And this lack of trust develops into an attempt to control other people’s free will.

    But my question to you is, do you think this happens a lot in the Catholic Church? My experience is that social issues are barely touch during the mass. There are no long sermons about gay marriage or divorce and all of its evils. I don’t see these brought up at all during mass or even during other church activities…

    • I think it’s less common in the Catholic Church, but I’m in the Archdiocese of St. Louis, which used to be headed by Cardinal Burke. In the lead-up to the 2008 election, homilies at the Cathedral were highly politicized. So it’s not unknown for Catholics, either.

      • Really? WOW! Ok. Your experience is sort of different than mine… I will be paying more attention from now on, that’s for sure!

    • I wonder if the “preaching from the pulpit” question is missing the point, though. If a child experiences same-sex attraction, he does not listen to the silence from the pulpit and say, “Oh, it looks like the Church doesn’t judge me. O goody.”

      Rather, he does a number of things: (1) He listens to the ways Catholics talk about the priest scandals. This is what I did growing up, and it gave me plenty of reasons to believe that Catholics thought gay people were evil, (2) He watches the news and listens to the way Catholics are portrayed in the media, or (3) He seeks out Catholic media (radio, TV, online), which is often portrays homosexuality, again, as an evil to be fought against, not a sinful disposition to be ministered to.

      If the Church wants to be compassionate, we must meet kids in those places. Francis understands this, thank God! I hope he leads the whole Christian church into a new era of discipling gay people.

      • Agree. But can you point me to a catholic web site where gay people are portrayed as evil please? Where no difference is made between homosexual tendency and homosexual acts and gay people in need of redemption just like everyone else? I have read my share of catholic sites but I’m probably missing something…

      • Well, if you look at posts that talk about how to pastor gay people, you’ll see a lot of loving and insightful stuff on Catholic websites. (Much of it is misguided, in some way, but it is loving). However, if you look at political posts on the same websites, you’ll see plenty of “the sky is falling” rhetoric about how homosexuality is destroying the fabric of culture and how homosexuals are hell-bent on destroying all moral and religious truth.

        The people on these websites think they can define “homosexual” as “person who proudly has sex with people of the same sex”, but their use of the words “gay” and “homosexual” catch chaste or struggling-to-be-chaste gay people in their nets. Humpty Dumpty strikes again. It’s all very sad.

      • Daniel,

        Ignorance is always very sad… But then there are people like you that can minister to ignorant people and try get them away from their ignorance… We all need to be ministered to…

        God bless

  2. Sometimes abortion or divorce is mentioned. Particularly during the Prayer of the Faithful. But I’m having a reeally hard time remembering a single mass where gay marriage has been mentioned… Now that I think about it…

    Poverty, a very important social issue, is also not really mentioned… That I can recall.

  3. Good of you to post this acknowledgement about the value of Anyabwile’s article.

    I read his gag-reflex post last year, as well as his follow-up post defending his position based on the “success” of it in certain African countries. Though he cited Zambia, I found this second article particularly distasteful considering the things going on in Uganda and Nigeria because of similar tactics and attitudes. Because of this, I pretty much wrote Anyabwile off as someone for whom I had no use and didn’t care to hear from on anything else.

    Yours is clearly the better, more charitable response.

    • Thanks for sharing your responses to this.

      I was fairly frustrated after the gag-reflex stuff last year and I agree that the “success” of gag-reflex appeals in Africa is disturbing. My reaction, at the time, was similar to yours. But a friend brought this to my attention, and I thought it was only fair to acknowledge that he seemed to be taking a very different approach now, and encouraging others to do so.

      I certainly don’t want to let grudges over past statements get in the way of building less political, more pastoral approaches in the Church moving forward. If anything, hearing this encouragement to rethink from someone like Anyabwile will carry a lot of weight with Christian leaders who are skeptical of the new approaches we want to explore here at Spiritual Friendship.

  4. Not being familiar with his previous articles, I just looked at this article on its own, and was struck that it seems to depict the culture and the church as 2 separate and completely disjoint entities. But in actual fact there is very much overlap, especially in the black community. Pastors like this should be MORE concerned with these issues, but WITHIN the church. How many regular church goers are fornicating? Is that an inappropriate question?, considering the out of wedlock birth rate of the black community. Perhaps church goers are very much better than the average, which I would congratulate them on and should be a point of pride that they should continue and build on. But if the people in the pews have disconnected their faith from their personal actions and beliefs, then yes I would say they very much do need a series on sexual ethics. The same holds true with homosexuality. Blacks overwhelmingly vote Democrat, and there is hardly a Democrat anywhere who can keep his standing in his party without supporting homosexualization of marriage in the law. I know you guys don’t like to talk about politics, but it really is a fact of life we need to deal with, as the HHS mandate is a good example of how it can come back to haunt us. As more people lose their jobs and are denied jobs and promotions based on their opinions on homosexuality and marriage, I predict this connection will become more apparent as the years and decades go on, and this latest onslaught against marriage is compounded on top of those already suffered in previous decades.

    • Broken record alert!

      Most of us who come here are gay Christians who are interested in an honest back-and-forth discussion, e.g., a discussion that actually engages with what other people write. In contrast, you seem to be here as an anti-gay troll, who’s simply trying to disrupt the discussion.

      On a separate thread, it was pointed out to you again and again that cultural engagement is far broader than political engagement. In fact, political engagement is a small piece of it, and usually comes at the end. Namely, political changes generally occur in response to cultural changes that have already been occurring for 2-3 decades or more.

      It’s not that people here don’t like talking about politics. To the contrary, we’re more than happy to talk about politics, but only when politics is viewed within the larger context of cultural engagement. Further, we’re rightly suspicious of the motives of someone who’s largely come to terms with the broader cultural redefinition of marriage, but who wages political battles to ensure that gay people–and only gay people–are denied access to the redefined institution. When that’s your program, excuse us for questioning whether your alleged commitment to the institution of marriage. From the vantage point of any reasonable observer, your political activism looks a lot more like anti-gay bigotry than anything else.

      We’ll talk politics, but we expect your politics to flow from an intellectually consistent rubric. Your political engagement is inconsistent with the rubric that you allege motivates it. If you’re really concerned about the cultural redefining of marriage, it’s hard to understand why you’ve apparently come to peace with every aspect of that redefinition expect for the narrow issues of same-sex marriage and out-of-wedlock births in poor African-American communities. The bottom line is this: Your conduct is not consistent with your professed motives. Rather, your conduct appears to be more consistent with that of an anti-gay bigot, and now a racist. I don’t think that that’s what you’re intending to be. I imagine that you simply swim in a subcultural bubble where heterosexist (and maybe even racist) assumptions are implicit parts of the prevailing script, and that you’ve adopted them unwittingly without even thinking about it.

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