TIME Religion

Florida Atheist Kicked Out of City Meeting For Refusing to Stand During Invocation

"I don't have to do that," he said

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

At yesterday’s meeting of the Winter Garden City Commissioners (in Florida), Mayor John Rees announced that they would begin with an invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, as many government meetings do, and asked everyone to stand up.

John Thoreau, an atheist, remained seated. Normally, that would be irrelevant since he has every right to do that, but Rees had other ideas.

As the first syllable of the invocation was uttered, Rees told everyone to hold up because Thoreau was still sitting down…

Rees: We’re waiting for everyone to rise.

Thoreau: Sorry, are you waiting for me?

Rees: Yes, sir.

Thoreau: I don’t have to.

Rees: Well, we appreciate — you may rise or you may leave the room as we give our prayer and our Pledge of allegiance to the flag.

Thoreau: I don’t believe I have to do that, thank you.

Rees: I believe you have to [unintelligible]…

Rees didn’t press it and the sectarian invocation (in Jesus’ name) continued. Then when it time for the Pledge, the conversation started up again:

Rees: Now, sir, please stand while we do the Pledge… please stand. Children have to do it in school, too.

Thoreau: Yes, and they don’t have to be there…

Rees: This is respect for our country…

Thoreau: I understand that, sir.

Rees: You have one of two choices, sir. You may please stand for the Pledge. You don’t have to say it. Please stand.

Thoreau: I don’t have to do that.

Rees: Okay…

Audience member: Just stand up, man.

Rees: [I'm] asking you to either stand or please be escorted out [as we do] the Pledge. It’s just not fair to our troops and people overseas, sir.

Cop: What do you want to do? Do you want to stand or leave?

Thoreau, a member of the Central Florida Freethought Community, was quickly taken out of the room.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation wrote a letter to the city today spelling out the constitutional violations of which the Mayor is guilty and telling them how they must remedy the situation:

(1) The government may not force citizens to stand for the Pledge of allegiance.

(2) Government officials may not ask citizens to stand for prayers or, (3) say prayers themselves.

To remedy the Pledge violation, at the next meeting, Mayor Rees ought to explain that citizens are within their rights to remain sitting for the Pledge and that it does not reflect a lack of patriotism… [Police] Chief [George] Brennan should make a similar statement. Patriotism and religiosity are not one and the same

To show solidarity with Thoreau, several atheist members of the CFFC will attend the city’s next meeting in two weeks and remain seated during the invocation and Pledge. (That should be fun.)

I should point out that “John Thoreau” is a pseudonym because the real person doesn’t want to face any public backlash or threats.

That the Mayor doesn’t understand First Amendment rights is appalling. That he would single out one member of the crowd for not standing is even worse. Can you imagine how much more awful it would’ve been if this was a teacher calling out a teenager in the classroom?

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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TIME Religion

5 Reasons Christians Are Rejecting the Notion of Hell

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France, Haute Savoie, Saint-Nicolas de Véroce, Hell painting in Saint-Nicolas de Véroce church Fred de Noyelle—Photononstop RM/Getty Images

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

More and more Christians are beginning to reject the traditional view of hell which states the unjust will experience “eternal, conscious torment”. Perhaps you’ve seen this change in the Christian landscape and grown confused as to why so many of us are experiencing shifting beliefs. While my Letting Go of Hell series goes further in-depth on many issues surrounding hell, here are 5 key reasons to help you understand why we are rejecting the notion of “eternal, conscious torment”:

1. Something in our spirit tells us that torturing people is morally wrong.

During the historically recent debates over whether or not it’s okay to torture people, it has only been the most sick and twisted minds among us who have defended torture as being anything less than morally reprehensible. In fact, we know that torturing is such an egregious offense to morality that we even have laws against doing it toanimals. The assertion that God himself would not only torture people but take great pleasure in it, is something that many of us in Christianity are finding utterly offensive.

2. The concept of eternal, conscious torment runs contrary to the whole testimony in scripture.

Part of the reason why a growing number of us are rejecting the traditional view of hell, is that we’ve actually re-read the scriptures without our prefabricated evangelical filter, and find scripture describe something different than a traditional hell. Yes, there are some verses that seem to hint or describe eternal torture, but like many issues, the Bible is inconsistent on the matter. However, when we look at the entire testimony of scripture, we most often see the disposition of those who refuse to enter into God’s love described as a “second death”. Traditional hell isn’t death at all; traditional hell is instead an eternal life of torture. This simply isn’t what the Bible describes when taking into account the entire testimony. Instead, we find that those who ultimately reject God– the one who sustains life– to be granted their wish: their names are blotted out of the book of life and it is as if they never existed.

3. The final judge of each individual is Jesus, and torturing people seems contradictory to his character.

We believe in a coming judgement, and believe each one of us will have to stand before the “judgement seat”. However, we often forget that this judge will be Jesus! Most of us still affirm those who refuse to be reconciled to God’s love through Christ will ultimately be eternally lost, because we believe love must always be chosen– it cannot be forced. However, the idea that the end result of rejecting God’s love will be a slow-roasting eternal torture session with Jesus at the controls, is almost asinine. This isnot the Jesus we find in the New Testament. The Jesus we find in the New Testament is loving and just– but not dementedly cruel. In fact, in the New Testament we see a Jesus who notices suffering all around him and repeatedly states “I have compassion for them”. That compassion consistently moves Jesus to action, often breaking the taboos of his day to alleviate their suffering. The Jesus of scripture is hardly the type of person who’d enjoy torturing people.

4. Jesus would become a hypocrite, demanding that we nonviolently love our enemies while he does the complete opposite.

Remember, Jesus is the ultimate judge of humanity so anyone who ended up being tortured in hell would only go there by the decision of Jesus himself. This is the same Jesus who pointed out in the Bible of his day the permissiveness of using a tit-for-tat system of justice (an eye for an eye) in dealing with enemies as being wrong. Instead of affirming we should follow this part of scripture, Jesus taught his disciples to no longer obey this part of their Bible– instructing that they should become nonviolent enemy lovers instead (Matthew 5:38). In fact, Jesus goes as far as telling them that loving enemies is a requirement of becoming a child of God. If Jesus commands that we love our enemies, refuse to use violence, and that we actually do good to those who hate us yet– eternally tortures his own enemies– he’s guilty of hypocrisy. I don’t believe this is the case– I believe Jesus commands we love our enemies because he loves his enemies… and torture is never loving.

5. We simply can’t get past the idea that we are more gracious and merciful than Jesus himself.

This is the key area I cannot reconcile with eternal torment: I have been wronged by a lot of people in my life, but I have absolutely zero desire to torture anyone. I could never make the call to sentence one to torture or “pull the switch” to commence torture, because seeing people suffer is something that disrupts my spirit. I want no part in the causation of suffering, but instead want to be an agent who helps to relieve suffering. Furthermore, the longer I follow Jesus the more and more I desire that people be shown mercy. If I were to sit on the judgement seat (something I never will), there’s just no possible way I could ever sentence people to eternal torture– especially for things like being born into an Amazonian tribe who never heard the message of Jesus. If I were judge, I would always lean on the option of radical mercy.

The question then becomes: am I, a hopelessly flawed and sinful human being more merciful and compassionate than Jesus? There’s no possible way that is true, which tells me there might be more mercy than I can even fathom dished out at the final judgement.

As more and more Christians return home to a radical faith centered squarely on Jesus, we will continue to see a growing number of bible believing, soundly orthodox Christians, reject the evangelical concept of “eternal, conscious torment”. This should be viewed as a beautiful thing, not a travesty, as we rediscover that God actually is altogether wonderful, altogether lovely, and altogether like Jesus.

Benjamin L. Corey is an Anabaptist author, speaker, and blogger. His first book is Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus (Release date, August 2014).

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TIME Religion

Athlete Says His Coach Is Making Him Choose Between Football and God

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Most high school and college coaches will make reasonable accommodations for their athletes if there’s a conflict between the game and something else. Have a wedding to attend? No problem. You can leave practice early in order to catch a plane. Celebrating your bar mitzvah on game day? Okay, you can skip the one game.

But those accommodations have to go both ways. The athletes know the practice schedule and competition days in advance. They need to work around those obligations.

In Oregon, Portland State University football player Vincent Johnson hasn’t figured that out. He wants to skip several practices in order to attend church. His coach, Nigel Burton, was willing to let him do that a couple of times, but no more. Now, Johnson is complaining that the coach is forcing him to choose between two things he loves:

“He asked me to choose between church and football,” Portland State University student Vincent Johnson said. “I said, ‘Coach, you can’t ask me to do that. It’s like asking me to choose between God and football.’”

Johnson said it’s a decision he didn’t want to, and shouldn’t have to, make.

“I just really want to play,” he said.

But he hasn’t played since spring when he said he went to his coach with a problem. Four services at his Milwaukie church, World Mission Society Church of God, fell at the same time as football practice.

Johnson claims his coach would only allow some of the absences.

“There’s a lot of people that miss practice due to if they have academics, or anything like that, so it could have been arranged,” he said.

He’s filed a complaint, which is still under investigation, with the university.

It’s a ridiculous complaint for several reasons.

  • Johnson knew the practice schedule in advance. He should be able to schedule personal things around that, just like other players do all the time.
  • Going to church, as many Christians will tell you, isn’t necessary to practice your faith. Many churches even have multiple services in order to accommodate people who can’t make it a particular time. Why not attend a different service? If that’s not an option, why not ask the pastor to meet with you separately? Since when does God only care about you if you attend services at set times?
  • The coach was willing to allow a couple of absences. But when you’re a scholarship athlete on a college team, that has to become a top priority. By skipping practice multiple times, you’re letting down your teammates and making it that much harder for coaches and the other players to see the full team in action.
  • If all the players made similar requests as Johnson, there would be chaos. It’s not the coach’s responsibility to schedule practices around everyone’s personal preferences. It’s the players’ responsibility to schedule their religious and personal lives around the team. You may not agree with that being their priority, but the players knew it in advance, well before they accepted their scholarships.
  • Professional football players — many of whom are Christian — have no problem practicing their faith despite being a little busy on Sundays. Same with other professional athletes. Sure, college is different, but the principle remains: When you commit to a team, you can’t also commit to another time-consuming activity that goes on at the same time.
  • Johnson is upset he’s not getting playing time, but if he’s skipping multiple practices (for any reason), that’s not surprising. He hasn’t run the routes. He won’t know what the plays look like in real time. He’d be a liability on the field. The coach isn’t punishing him for his faith; the coach is punishing him for not being there when the plays were being drawn up and practiced.

There’s no evidence of religious discrimination at play. What you have is a scholarship player who is putting another activity before his obligations to the team. Johnson claims students who struggle academically get time off, so he’s being treated unfairly, but I doubt players who miss multiple practices for academic reasons get more time on the field.

Remember: The coach was willing to make some accommodations. What Johnson is requesting, though, is beyond reasonable.

University officials say they’ll finish their investigation within two weeks.

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. His latest book is called The Young Atheist’s Survival Guide.

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TIME faith

Yes, You Can Be Gay and Still Be Attractive to the Opposite Sex

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Last week, U.K. Christian singer Vicky Beeching won some queer friends — and lost some Christian ones — when she came out as gay in an interview with The Independent.

Right off the bat, Beeching crushed the notion that you can’t be simultaneously gay, Christian, and content with yourself. In an interview with notorious homophobe Scott Lively, she shot down every one of his bigoted remarks, including his suggestion that she look to God to “change” herself.

Beeching went on to say that we need to “accept our sexual orientation as a God-given gift.”

Lively replied, “There is no such thing as a gay person. It’s this identity you adopt.”

“I believe God has made me the way he’s made me. It’s taken me thirty-five years to come to terms with that, and I believe that’s it’s part of my God-wired identity,” Beeching retorted.

After Lively said that God has the ability to help her “overcome your sexual inclinations,” Beeching replied, “That kind of thinking has been so damaging to me and it damages so many people.”

Beeching is easily a role model for LGBT people (Christian and otherwise) who need the validation and affirmation they don’t get from most churches. That’s why it’s so upsetting that Ed Vitagliano, a writer for the Christian site Charisma News, is not only “disappointed” in Beeching’s coming out, but claims she’s “broken” for saying it.

First, Vitagliano states that he loves homosexuals. It’s literally his first sentence: “I love homosexuals.” He “feels compassion toward them,” he says later, because he simply can’t imagine what it would have been like to have a crush on a boy as a kid. Then, he tests my ability not to throw my computer out a window by saying it’s hard to imagine Beeching is gay because men find her attractive:

I think most men would think that Vicky is a pretty lady, and those sorts of appraisals are usually made without thinking. This makes the subject of sexual orientation rather difficult to understand at times.

What’s truly offensive is his stream-of-consciousness attempt at explaining the origins of homosexuality. To preserve its horridness, here’s the bulk of his rant:

What causes homosexuality? I think there’s probably a web of causes — some apply to this group, some to that, etc. I believe that some homosexuals have endured sexual abuse or other trauma; others suffer from a deficit of some sort that turned them toward the same-sex side of the aisle in an attempt to heal.

At this point I realize I have offended most of the homosexuals reading this. So let me even the score and offend some Christians: I believe some percentage of homosexuals (I have no idea how large or small) simply grew up just like me — only different. Instead of having a crush on an opposite-sex person, they experienced a crush on a same-sex person. To them it appeared just that natural.

But if there’s a God who designed us — and I believe there is — then we obviously aren’t designed to be attracted to the same sex. With my apologies to the Vicky Beechings of the world, the human race is clearly designed as male and female, with sexually complementary equipment. We are obviously intended to grow through childhood and enter puberty attracted to the opposite sex — because that’s the only thing that makes sense of the biological design inherent in humankind.

So for Vicky and Ray and Jennifer and Clay — how do we explain the fact that their attraction developed in complete disregard for design? Here’s the short answer: They’re broken. Why is that so hard to say? Sexual and romantic attraction was supposed to develop one way, and it developed another. Maybe it was because of something that was done to them or around them; maybe it wasn’t. But it is different.

His conclusion isn’t new, but that doesn’t make it any less awful. He’s claiming, as so many do, that love, relationships, and basic human existence have no significance beyond reproduction. Never mind that most LGBT people are still physically capable of producing offspring (and they do); Vitagliano’s perspective is that nothing about us as human beings matters except our ability to pop out kids. Personal experiences? Nope. Emotions? Glitch in the system. Would he use this logic to call elderly different-sex couples broken? Or those who can’t have their own children?

Actually, he might. He goes on to compare homosexuality to blindness, both “conditions” that make a person broken. He says this over and over:

Are we not all broken in small and large ways? As a fallen race, isn’t there a web of characteristics about us all that doesn’t reflect the way God designed us? If a child is born blind, does that mean God approves? Isn’t it a sign that something is not as intended?

Eyes were created to see. To not see is not the same as being able to see. The blind are still human, but their brokenness is still brokenness. But isn’t that what we’re doing with homosexuality? Aren’t we denying the obvious — that there’s a disconnect between design and operation in the homosexual? Aren’t many in our society applauding as courageous those who declare their brokenness to be wholeness?

If by “we are all broken,” he means that we all deal with unique challenges over the course of our lives, then yes, we are all broken. But my fear is that he’s being far more literal than that. He perceives LGBT people — and apparently blind people, and people who are paralyzed, and who knows who else — as somehow unable to live and exist freely, happily and, yes, wholly. And he shames people who embrace their differences, an accusation that I can only assume extends beyond LGBT people, but also to other groups of people he considers “broken.”

Only God can make a broken person whole. Sometimes it is done as a miracle, as when Jesus healed a blind or lame or paralyzed person. Sometimes we must wait for our entrance into the kingdom of heaven, when all brokenness is finally healed.

I believe God can make homosexuals whole in this life. Despite the ridicule that follows such a statement, I believe that does happen. 1 Cor. 6:9-11 says so. However, for many — or even most — homosexuals, in order to be Christians they will have to accept that their “orientation” is a manifestation of brokenness, not wholeness. Like the rest of us who are broken in some other way, they will have to reject that lameness and give it to God. They will hobble through life learning to love Him more and more — and yes, learning to obey Him.

In that way, homosexuals are just like me. No better and no worse, but broken nonetheless.

(For the record, I don’t see Vitagliano standing up to proudly claim his own “brokenness” the way Beeching and so many others have. But that’s beside the point.)

While being gay does bring some people hardship, asserting that it will inherently affect a person’s quality of life — or worse, take away from their very worth as a person — does nothing except drive more LGBT people to deny their true selves, resent and loathe their feelings, and, as Beeching said, live a lie. We are more than the function of our bodies. I don’t know what’s taking so many people so long to realize it.

Vitagliano claiming that he feels “compassion toward homosexuals” is an outright lie. It’s gravely offensive to me, to Vicky Beeching, to my fellow queer folks, and even to Christians that he would dare say it.

runs an LGBT news blog at gaywrites.org.

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TIME Religion

Selfies and the Puritanical Self

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

This summer a relative put aside resistance and got his first smartphone, soon after sending us a picture of himself taken with his phone, captioned: “My First Facie.” Initial mirth over this mistaken terminology—“facie” instead of “selfie”—gave way to conviction that his was, in fact, the much better word.

That strange new-ish cultural form the selfie is usually a picture of the face, sometimes captured in an odd expression, sometimes decorated with the presence of others or an interesting backdrop. It is a pose, a mask. It is certainly not a picture of the self.

The self is much too elusive to be captured by a phone snap. And the self as a thing, an identity, seems almost necessarily a religious category. Many writers have pondered the self, but late southern novelist Walker Percy’s words rise to mind most readily, in his whimsical treatment of the lost self in the cosmos.

Why is it, Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos asks, that you can “learn more in ten minutes about the Crab Nebula in Taurus” than you “presently know about yourself, even though you’ve been stuck with yourself all your life?” The self, even our own, or especially our own, is hard to see. We try to see ourselves by looking–in the mirror, in a picture–but hardly can. Percy lays bare the difficulty with reference to a few common experiences: “You have seen yourself a thousand times in the mirror, face to face. No sight is more familiar. Yet why is it that the first time you see yourself in a clothier’s triple mirror—from the side, so to speak—it comes as a shock?”

Or this: “Why is it that, when you are shown a group photograph in which you are present, you always (and probably covertly) seek yourself out? To see what you look like? Don’t you know what you look like?”

No.

What could we possibly want with a lot of ephemeral pictures our own face? Selfies are by us and for us. Elements of selfie-taking include showing off, trying to show others the kind of person we want them to envision us, in a glamorous place, or wearing something nice, or with a celebrity. But the compulsion to take selfies seems very secondarily about to showing off someone else. More, they are efforts to see who we are. Many such attempts get instantly deleted out of refusal to believe that is how we really look. But we persist in taking them, because we still haven’t seen what we’re after. It is hard to figure out what the self looks like.

Percy’s odd but wonderful book starts with a quiz for the reader to identify himself with a bunch of options (the “scientific and artistic self,” the “role-taking self,” the “standard American-Jeffersonian-high-school-commencement Republican-and-Democratic-platform self,” etc) but presses on this point. The self can only really know who it is in relation to someone else, and not just a fellow creature. In what Percy describes as the “Christian (and, to a degree, the Judaic and Islamic self),” the self “sees itself as a creature, created by God, estranged from God by an aboriginal catastrophe, and now reconciled with him.” In contrast, the “lost self”—the one the book assumes many readers resemble—is left amidst the “fading of Christianity as guarantor of the identity of the self” and has become dislocated, so that self, “Jefferson or no Jefferson, is both cut loose and imprisoned by its own freedom.”

In this light the pictures we call selfies bear an urgency: who am I? can you tell me?

Christians, generally speaking, are or should be interested in these questions, but among groups in American religious history, few match the self-scrutiny of the colonial New England settlers we call Puritans. Because for a time Congregational churches in New England required prospective members to give an account of how they came to think themselves saved, surviving church records preservesome of these testimonies. A fine collection of these is gathered in Michael McGiffert’s God’s Plot, which presents the private spiritual reflections of Cambridge minister Thomas Shepard along with testimonies from many in his flock. These documents are remarkable for a number of reasons: for words from the lives of mothers, farmers, sailors, servants, students; for illustration of the ways laypeople interpreted the Word as preached; for signs of the shaping of a new identity. Not least, though, they show individuals’ keen interest in an understanding of themselves, the “inner man,” or “man of the heart.” The conversion narratives show men and women trying to answer the mystery most often by looking inside, and most often what they find inside is not pretty or share-worthy. One man “saw no hope of help” in his condition. Another confessed that “I saw an emptiness in myself.” One woman admitted migrating to New England because “I thought I should know more of my own heart.” Another said, “I found myself ignorant…I found my heart dead and sluggy.” “I found my heart altogether dead and unprofitable…I saw myself indeed in a miserable condition,” admitted another.

Many features of these narratives deserve reflection, but two seem most relevant here. First, while these confessions have a dour tone (and I admit I picked some for that reason), they were articulated in the context of great good news, the speakers’ conviction that that self-knowledge was part of a process wherein they discovered grace. And that discovery of grace helped place them not only in a heavenly sense, but in some very practical, earthly ways helped to establish their identity. Second, these were not private self-assessments but speeches informed by others’ words, examples, interactions; “shared” out to their “friends,” the testimonies revealed what was internal, personal, significant. While there is some anachronism in using the term, these are type of presentation of the self. These are real selfies.

But those casual snaps of ourselves, and those tedious off-center, peace-sign-gesturing portraits that middle-schoolers take of themselves and send, those are not selfies. Those are facies.

teaches history at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, specializing in early America.

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TIME Religion

Christianity Can’t Replace My Zoloft

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

I have been taking Zoloft (anti-depressant) for four years. I began taking it during my freshman year in college because I had been suffering from severe panic attacks for about five years and they were beginning to severely interfere with my ability to function in school. Before I became a Christian at the age of twelve, I suffered from severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. When I came to Jesus, I was told that I would be healed and finally find joy and lasting peace.

For the first few months it worked. I didn’t have any panic attacks, my suicidal thoughts went away, and my depression vanished. It was a miracle! But slowly, as the new-Christian buzz wore off, my struggles began to reemerge. I would suffer regular panic attacks almost every day and would experience severe bouts of depression. When this began to happen, I was sure that I was doing something wrong. Jesus was, after all, the Prince of Peace. I was told that if I would just cast my anxieties at the “foot of the cross” then I would be released from the burdens that weighed so heavily on me. I so desperately wanted the formula that I had been taught to work- read my Bible, pray everyday, and go to church and all will be well. But the problem was nothing I was doing was working. In fact, it was causing me more anxiety and depression. I hung crosses around my room, only listened to Christian music, and would never lay down in bed to sleep unless I had spent time reading my Bible. When nothing worked, I began to suppress and hide my struggle. I was, after all, one of the leaders in my Youth Group. I wanted to be a Pastor. I had to have it all together.

This struggle has plagued me for years. The fact that my depression and anxiety didn’t go away when Jesus “came into my heart” and the reality that I had to be medicated to live a normal life made me feel like a second-class Christian. I have been told multiple times that God doesn’t want me on depression medications. I have been told that the root issue of this all is my sinfulness and the Jesus would heal me when I dealt with my depravity. But as I have grown in my faith and studied more about psychology and theology, I have finally come to a realization that has been liberating for me:

Jesus isn’t going to take away my Zoloft and none of us will ever find lasting satisfaction in life.

Now I know that this may sound pretty cynical and well…depressing. But in the words of philosopher Peter Rollins, “I am not making you depressed, I am just telling you that you already are depressed and just don’t know it.” Just think. What if Jesus didn’t come to make us happy? What if his message and mission has less to do with improving our “quality of life” and more to do with equipping us with ways to cope and live within our various neuroses?

What if “becoming a Christian” doesn’t actually psychologically change us in any real way and that “Sanctification” is really about living and loving in the midst of our brokenness? What if the cross isn’t there to offer us satisfaction but rather to show us love amplified in suffering?

For far too long, Evangelicals have preached a Gospel that says if you come to Jesus that you will find shalom, satisfaction, health, wholeness, rightness, certainty, a foundation, clarity, abundance, and direction. This message doesn’t belong to the “Prosperity” churches, but also to the neo-reformed, the mainstream, and the progressive Evangelical communities. We have promoted a Gospel that says peace and wholeness can be yours today, when in fact, they cant. We have said that “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in him” when the reality is “God is most glorified in our reliance on him in the midst of our brokenness, dysfunction, and lack of satisfaction.” There isn’t a single human being on earth who has “perfect peace” or “total wholeness”. And maybe that’s a good thing.

Everyone is searching for meaning and satisfaction and no one has ever found it. Not even in Jesus. Because that’s not the point. Throughout the Bible the narrative of Exile is found in almost every story. The reality that we have not arrived at home and that we are, in fact, wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. We all are hoping for the Promised Land. We even get to taste glimpses of it- in our manna from heaven, water from the rock, and seeing it from a distance like Moses. In our wandering, we see glimpses of God to remind us that we are not alone and that there is more than this. The pillar of fire by night and the cloud of smoke by day. God is guiding us. But the reality still exists- we are not satisfied. We aren’t in the Promised Land. We are still dry, thirsty, and lost. I’m still depressed. You still have you’re struggles. None of us are “Whole”. None of us are “satisfied”. But very few of us are humble enough (or free enough) to admit it.

The truth is, I will probably always need my Zoloft.

No, I am not “limiting God’s ability to heal me”, but rather am admitting that maybe “healing” would be the worst thing God could do. As Christians, we have over-realized our eschatology. We believe that the full benefits of salvation are meant to be experienced today. But that’s not true.

The Christian life and indeed, the human life, is one of sojourning and traveling through brokenness and pain. It’s one of struggling and failed expectations that are occasionally interrupted by a glimpse of “the Kingdom”. We all live for those moments of joy, peace, and fulfillment. Whether that is the embrace of our lover, the satisfaction of a job well done, our the moment of peace we experience in worship. But the embrace ends. Another job comes along. And the worship experience will pass. And the fallenness of this world will become our reality once again. It’s in this fallenness that God is most present. It’s in this suffering that our longing and motivation to work for the Kingdom of God is fueled. It’s in this brokenness that faith becomes essential- we must hope for a better day. And it’s that hope that quenches our soul in the desert of life. The hope that we will one day be united with God and neighbor. The hope for no more fears, tears, or suffering. The hope of lasting satisfaction. But until then, I’m going to take my Zoloft. You’re not going to be satisfied. Life is going to be hard. We all will continue wandering. But take heart- Jesus wanders with us. And maybe its time that we start to admit that. Live into that. And embrace that. Because that’s Good News.

Brandan Robertson is the host of the Project:Awaken Podcast and the director of an action-oriented social justice initiative called Revangelicals for a Better Tomorrow.

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TIME Religion

Pastor Mark Driscoll Booted From Evangelical Network

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

In a stunning move, the Acts 29 Network leadership has removed network co-founder and Mars Hill Church lead pastor Mark Driscoll from the organization’s membership. I obtained a letter from several Acts 29 pastors which was sent to Driscoll and Mars Hill Church removing Driscoll and the church as members of the network, as well as calling on Driscoll to step down due to a pattern of complaints from Acts 29 pastors. Mark Driscoll was instrumental in founding the Acts 29 Network and has been president of the group. According to the letter, the information will soon be posted on the Acts 29 website.

The letter is below:

Mark,

As the Board of Acts 29, we are grateful to God for the leadership, courage, and generosity of both you and Mars Hill in not only founding the network but also sustaining it through the transition to this board three years ago. The very act of giving away your authority over the network was one of humility and grace, and for that we are grateful.

Over the past three years, our board and network have been the recipients of countless shots and dozens of fires directly linked to you and what we consider ungodly and disqualifying behavior. We have both publicly and internally tried to support and give you the benefit of the doubt, even when multiple pastors in our network confirmed this behavior.

In response, we leaned on the Mars Hill Board of Advisors & Accountability to take the lead in dealing with this matter. But we no longer believe the BoAA is able to execute the plan of reconciliation originally laid out. Ample time has been given for repentance, change, and restitution, with none forthcoming. We now have to take another course of action.

Based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help. Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29. Because you are the founder of Acts 29 and a member, we are naturally associated with you and feel that this association discredits the network and is a major distraction.

We tell you this out of love for you, Mars Hill, Acts 29, and most significantly, the cause of Christ, and we would be irresponsible and deeply unloving not to do so in a clear and unequivocal manner. Again, we want you to know that we are eternally thankful for what you as a man and Mars Hill as a church have meant to our network. However, that cannot dissuade us from action. Instead, it gives added significance and importance to our decision. We hope and pray that you see this decision as the action of men who love you deeply and want you to walk in the light—for your good, the good of your family, and the honor of your Savior.

Shortly after sending this, we will be informing the members of Acts 29, your Board of Advisors and Accountability, and your elders, as well as putting out a public statement on the Acts 29 website. It brings us no joy to move forward in this direction, and we trust that the Lord will be at work in all of this.

In sorrow and with hope,

The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network

Matt Chandler

Darrin Patrick

Steve Timmis

Eric Mason

John Bryson

Bruce Wesley

Leonce Crump

All Mars Hill Church locations have been removed from the Acts 29 website.

The news has been added to the organization’s website:

A Message from the Board of Acts 29 concerning Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church

It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored.

Matt Chandler

Darrin Patrick

Steve Timmis

Eric Mason

John Bryson

Bruce Wesley

Leonce Crump

According to the organization’s website, the network includes over 500 churches and focuses on church planting:

Over the last ten years Acts 29 has emerged from a small band of brothers to over 500 churches around the world. We want to allow a unifying, uncommon movement of God to happen through Acts 29. Centered on the Gospel, we desire to advance the mission of Jesus through obediently planting church-planting churches. It is our hope to see this leading to millions of lives changed by the power of the Spirit for the glory of God.

Acts 29 is not a model or a style. We have churches with live preaching and others with video-delivered sermons. We have independent church plants, replants, and existing churches that want to focus on planting new churches out of their existing congregations. Simply, we seek to be a movement of church-planting churches.

In 2005, when Driscoll headed the group, charges were filed against him by Ron Wheeler. Wheeler planted the first Acts 29 Network church in Mt. Vernon, WA and was an early protege of Driscoll’s. However, Wheeler later became disillusioned with his former mentor and asked Acts 29 to discipline Driscoll. Yesterday, Wheeler posted a lengthy open letter to Driscoll asking him to resign based on his experience with the Mars Hill pastor.

The Acts 29 action comes on the heels of the resignations of Paul Tripp and James McDonald as members of the church governing board and a recent protest primarily by ex-members.

Update:

One of the Mars Hill ex-pastors who has been initiating mediation with the church, Kyle Firstenberg, had this reaction to Acts 29′s announcement.

I have been greatly discouraged with the response from the BOAA in the charges that both I and others have brought. Years have gone by with what appears as only damage control and not any clear act of love for Mark in holding him accountable as brothers in the faith should.

This action from Matt Chandler and the other members of the board of A29 is one of the most loving acts I have seen in leadership in the Church world in recent years.

I do believe that these men love Mark and Mars Hill just as I and countless others do. I agree with their findings and pray that Mark Driscoll, Sutton Turner and Dave Bruskus would repent and step down. I believe this would be the most God honoring thing to do as it would show their love for Jesus and the Gospel is greater then their position, authority and influence.

Warren Throckmorton is a Professor of Psychology at Grove City College and Fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values which is a part of Grove City College.

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The Bachelorette’s Nick Viall: Why I Brought Up Sex

Adrien Brody, Nick Viall And Tony Hale On "Extra"
UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JULY 30: Nick Viall visits "Extra" at Universal Studios Hollywood on July 30, 2014 in Universal City, California. (Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images) Noel Vasquez—Getty Images

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

On The Bachelorette, the lights dim and the cameramen leave when it comes time for the Fantasy Suites. There’s an unwritten rule that no one really talks about what happens on those nights. However, what happens there actually affects the relationships in profound ways. It’s a time when a couple can be together and share special time without the cameras. It doesn’t have to mean sex, but, of course, we all know that happens. Sean Lowe believes sex should happen in marriage, but I like that he’s open about the discussion surrounding the topic.

When people are hesitant to discuss sex, especially in the context of The Bachelorette fantasy suites, it feels a little inauthentic.

By now, everyone knows what happened in the fantasy suite between Andi and me. In the “After the Final Rose” episode, I had no intention of confronting Andi with my now infamous question about why she had sex with me. I figured she had been conflicted about what must’ve been a tough decision. The world of The Bachelorette is a complicated one, after all.

However, she started explaining away our relationship in the tidiest terms. In her explanation, she confessed that she had never loved me.

I let that sink in.

She never loved me.

As I sat there on national television, I tried to process this information. In my mind, I went back to that night in the fantasy suite. Though she couldn’t tell me that she loved me, I’d told her in no uncertain terms how I felt. I loved her. This was no fling for me. As far as I was concerned, we’d be engaged in a few days.

To me, sex between us was a big deal, and she knew it.

That’s why I feel Andi’s decision to have sex with me was not appropriate. Either she was unsure about our relationship or – worse – she was certain she was choosing Josh. In both of those circumstances, I felt as if she didn’t respect my feelings and that she should not have had sex with me.

Why? Well, once we had sex, my feelings of love would be solidified in that scenario.

That’s not unusual – that’s normal.

In the After the Final Rose, her demeanor and perceived disregard for the relationship that we had took me back. That’s why I decided to ask her that very simple question.

“Why did you make love to me?” I asked.

I used the phrase “make love” because that’s how I felt. It was more than just physical. It was an act – I thought – of love.

Whatever your beliefs about sex, we live in a very sexual world. To me what’s most important is that the two people involved have a clear understanding of what sex means to the other person. If the emotional attachment to sex isn’t equal, sex can be hurtful. Consequently, it should be treated with the greatest amount of respect.

Yes, both men and women need to respect it.

Sometimes people laugh off any emotional damage that sex can do to guys. The boys-will-be-boys mentality suggests the majority of men are really just looking to add another “notch on their belt.” Because of this unfair – inaccurate – stereotype, it’s often considered unmanly for a man to speak about the emotional repercussions of sex. But I’m here to attest that men fall in love just as hard as women do and that sex can be just as powerful to a man as it is to a woman.

Sex, when enjoyed in the right context, is a wonderful way to solidify a relationship. But when expectations aren’t the same for both partners, it can be devastating.

Let me say this: don’t shame Andi to support me. We all make mistakes, I’ve made mistakes. In a culture where sex has no bounds, it’s hard to figure out how to fit it into your life without hurting each other. That’s why it’s important to be sensitive to the emotional attachment that sex has to your potential partner and to treat it with the greatest amount of respect.

Also, I want to emphasize that I wish Andi and Josh all the best. I hope they have incredible happiness in their life together for years and decades to come.

I’m speaking out about this incident because I hope Bachelor Nation will have a more honest conversation about the Fantasy Suites and the emotional repercussions of sex.

Nick Viall was the runner-up on The Bachelorette.

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What if Palestinians Became Israeli Citizens?

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This article originally appeared on Patheos.

Dear Rabbi, Do you think there is any hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians?

“Any hope” is setting the bar quite low; we can all entertain some sliver of hope, so the answer to your question “is there ANY hope for peace” is “yes.” But I doubt peace will come the way our pundits and politicians imagine it.

They still talk about a two-state solution as if this is possible, but I have little hope that it is. Israelis and Palestinians are trapped in a lose-lose scenario, and only some bold new initiative can change the status quo. Given the nature of Israeli politics, I’m not sure what that would be on the Israeli side. On the Palestinian side, however, the initiative would be Israeli citizenship.

If I were advising the Palestinians I would suggest they drop all efforts to secure a state alongside Israel, and demand full Israeli citizenship instead. I would suggest a media campaign with slogans like “Let My People In” and “Let us in or let us go.” If citizenship were granted, demographics would see Israel become a majority Palestinian state within a few generations. If it were not granted, the world would turn on Israel at it did on South Africa during the apartheid regime. The result in either case would be a democratic but no longer Jewish state. Democracy would, I imagine, lead to Islamic rule that would in time lead to Jews fearing for their lives in what was the Jewish state.

US Jews would then pressure the United States to rescue Jews from Palestine (I imagine the state would be renamed Palestine) and allow mass migration of former Israeli Jews into the United States. This may or may not work, but if it does American Jewry needs to prepare itself now to assimilate Israelis on a massive scale.

Of course I am probably wrong about all of this. Perhaps Israel will agree to withdraw to the Green Line, share Jerusalem as a capital, and repatriate Palestinian refugees; Palestine will eschew all militarization and violence, welcome the Jewish settlers in their midst with open arms as fully enfranchised citizens of Palestine, and become a secular, democratic and economic dynamo; and Hamas and the Islamic Jihad will become nonviolent social organizations helping the poorest of the poor to get into the middle class.

Or perhaps not.

A congregational rabbi for 20 years, Rabbi Rami currently co-directs One River Wisdom School and Holy Rascals Foundation.

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Arie Luyendyk: Why I Want to Be the Next Bachelor

8th Annual BTE All-Star Celebrity Kickoff Party
Auto racing driver Arie Luyendyk attends the 8th Annual BTE All-Star Celebrity Kickoff Party at the Playboy Mansion on July 15, 2013 in Beverly Hills, California. David Livingston—Getty Images

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“Party of one.”

I walked into the Cracker Barrel, was seated, and fiddled with the wooden triangular brain teaser. Normally, I can solve those things, but on that day – after driving thirteen hours straight – I was struggling.

“I can only get it down to four little pegs,” the waitress said as she approached my table and saw my frustration.

“What does it mean that I have five left?” I asked. When I looked at the waitress, I saw a wave of familiarity flash across her face. I’d gotten used to be recognized and never minded connecting with people who’d watched Season 8 of The Bachelorette… when Emily Maynard broke my heart in front of the world, instead choosing my buddy Jef Holm. The waitress never mentioned anything, but she smiled very kindly.

“Maybe you just need some coffee,” she said.

It had been a pretty big season for me, because it was the first year I’ve owned my own team. Normally I am just hired to drive, so I faced a great deal more responsibilities. “The Off-Road Championship” (TORC) consists of fourteen races over the course of several months. The first race of the year – in Primm, Nevada – shook me up a bit, when I crashed and broke my collar bone. After the first race, we moved onto Charlotte where rounds three and four were held. I was short on help for the weekend so a fellow race team referred a guy named Fred to me for help. Fred, who works on Hendricks NASCAR team, agreed to come help out my team for the weekend.

On the day of the race, Fred and his two sons showed up and proved themselves to be tireless workers, and it paid off. It was first podium finish of my off-road racing career!

I was thrilled!

After the Saturday night win, we celebrated my first podium of my Off-Road career. As the night wore on, we still had so much work to do: breaking down the pit space and loading the truck and equipment.

“It’s getting late,” Fred said. “It’ll take you until three o’clock in the morning, at this rate.”

I looked at the pit space and sighed.

“Listen, I’ll come back in the morning with my sons and help you out,” he said. “On one condition.”

“What condition?” I asked.

“If you’ll join me at church tomorrow morning.” Apparently, Fred was a preacher at a Baptist church in North Carolina and was determined to get me into a pew. But the offer was enticing to me and my tired mechanic, so we went back to the hotel for some well-deserved sleep. The next morning, we took a cab to the church and sat in the row next to the others. Church was not my natural habitat, but I liked Fred, his sons, and all they’d done for me.

As I sat there in that building, I was skeptical. Pastor Fred wasn’t speaking – there was a guest preacher that day, who happened to be hilarious. The message which was about accepting God into our lives, but I didn’t feel any pressure to make a spiritual commitment. The service was inspiring, and – as the preacher wrapped it up — I felt I’d fulfilled my part of the deal.

To my surprise, at the end of his sermon, the Pastor asked if anyone would find it in their heart to come to the track directly after the service and help me break down and load up. Half of the little church, which was located near the track, came and broke things down. Pastor Fred and I spent some time getting lunch for everyone and chatting about where I was at with life, my faith, and what I thought about the experience at church.

It was very touching that these strangers were willing to come out to the racetrack and help me.

When all the work had been done, I shook Fred’s hand.

“Thanks so much,” I said, before reaching into my wallet. He’d done so much work that weekend, it was time to pay him and his sons for their help before I went to my next location. That’s when he turned down payment and instead handed me a book.

It was an old Bible that looked like it had been in his family for years. I could tell someone had read that thing, because the pages were worn and certain passages were underlined, and he held it like a prized possession. He wrote in the front, saying he was giving the book to my mechanic and me.

“Take it so you don’t forget what you learned this weekend.”

“Are you sure you want me to have it?” I asked, touched by his selfless act.

He did.

That book came along with me as I traveled from that point on. In fact, the Bible sat next to me in the front seat of Betsy (yes we named our race hauler). It began to change me as I read it at night before going to sleep, though sometimes I felt I needed help understanding. Regardless, I knew there was powerful stuff in there. The Bible comforted me as I traveled from place to place… sometimes it was hard to keep track of where I was or where I was going.

When I made it to Cracker Barrel for lunch that day, I had another three or four races under my belt and had made it to Springfield, Missouri. I’d been driving thirteen hours – straight through the night — and was completely exhausted.

To be honest, I was a little lonely.

The yellow embroidered name on the brown uniform of my server read, “Tara” and she came back to the table quite often to make sure I had everything I needed. She never mentioned the show, but we talked for a bit and she was very kind. Before I left, she asked me for a photo.

Later I received a message on Facebook from her, and what she wrote has stuck with me ever since. She told me that she enjoyed getting to know me, and that she found me to be humble and kind. (She also included a Bible passage – which was very endearing — plus, it made me think more deeply about where I am in my life.)

Her note gave me the realization that I may have let things get to my head in the past – the television, the resulting embarrassment of Emily’s rejection, and the race track — and I finally realized I was back to the same old me, the same person I was before being on TV. I hadn’t become someone completely different, but all of that does change you in a way. After the show, I was more guarded and a bit less open to finding someone.

Meeting Tara at Cracker Barrel somehow showed me that I was finally myself again. She said that she sensed that I was compassionate and humble… she also said this Bible verse reminded her of me:

“Lord, thou hast heard the desire of the humble: thou wilt prepare their heart, thou wilt cause thine ear to hear.”

It struck me.

Actually, it gave me hope. Emotions are easy to hide when your distracted, being in the race car has always been my therapy. But I don’t want to be distracted from life’s promises any more.

Since America last saw me, I’ve been running around the country racing my cars and trying to figure out a lot about life. As you may have heard, I’m being considered to be the next Bachelor. However, I don’t want to be on the show for the attention, or to go to exotic locations. In fact, I travel too much as it is. I want to go on the show for the opportunity to dedicate the time to find love instead of traveling for racing. I’m tired of letting my relationships take a back seat to my career. The show would give me the opportunity to slow down and meet someone willing to be a part of my life – as crazy as that life is. I want what my parents have always had… a lifelong partnership of love and adventure. I know I’m ready for change. I’m ready for marriage. I’m ready to open my heart up again for love.

More than anything, I guess, I want someone who can join me as I continue my spiritual journey that Pastor Fred jumpstarted and that Tara has inspired.

The Bachelor is all about journeys, right?

I’m ready for my next one.

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