The (Carl Lentz) View

(Courtesy of Getty:
http://heavy.com/entertainment/2017/07/carl-lentz-hillsong-church-justin-bieber-cancels-purpose-tour-laura/)

I feel the need to address a recent controversy that involves me, my family, and my church.  First off, I am in NO way a spokesperson for Hillsong church — any of them. And pastor Carl Lentz can handle himself.  My main issue in all of this has been the willingness (or even excitement) for some to just “light up the torches” and start shooting off their fiery arrows.  This is for me and my family.

Let me begin with this quote that I picked up in college because it will undergird much of what follows:

A text taken out of context is nothing but a pretext. You can make anyone and anything say what you want.

We live in a culture of soundbytes and video clips. And because of our ADD, laziness, and attraction to gossip and controversy, we think that because we listened to an interview, we know a person or if we watched a movie, we’re an expert on a given situation.

I’ve had a few people approach me on the topic of Carl Lentz and his interview on The View. Some have kindly asked for my input, others have just decided to use online platforms (including mine) to tell others what they should think. And since the “trolls,” “watchdogs,” and “thought tyrants” have awakened from their slumbers to “grace” us all with their heavenly wisdom, I figured it was time to engage.

 

In case you have not seen the interview that is causing concern for many conservative Christians, here it is:

So here’s how the interview went. The question was:

“How do you address those issues (abortion, gay marriage, etc.)?”

NOTE: The question was not, “What is your belief on them?” Similar but very different.

Here’s what pastor Carl’s responses were:

“Our job is to help people. It’s not our job to change how people think but to point people to what God has said, to what we believe the Bible says. I grew up in a religious system, and many here have, where conversations and discussions are really limited. You get told a lot of views, but you can’t work it out. We believe that the Bible is clear: God is good, that He loves everybody, that Jesus came to set people free, and that’s still the good news of the Gospel. Our fight in NY is to make sure everyone can get in and hear it. We’ve been told that if you disagree, then your disconnected — we don’t believe that.

He continued:

“That’s a kind of conversation we’d have, finding out your story, where you’re from, work through it. God’s the judge. People have to live with their own convictions and if I have to tell you…
That’s such a broad question. I’m going higher and ask, “What do you believe?” I’m trying to teach people who Jesus is first and then finding out their story. Before I start picking and choosing what is sin in your life, I’d like to know your name.”

Courtesy of SuperSoul TV (http://www.supersoul.tv/supersoul-full-episodes/pastor-carl-lentz-full-episode)

WARNING: Here begins my itemized rant-response.

1) Carl Lentz has a conservative view on abortion. If we take the time to get to know him (I mean just check out social media, his book, or his other interviews since this isn’t the only one), it’s not too difficult to find his views on this topic or others that many of us are demanding answers to.

(see https://twitter.com/carllentzNYC/status/927955785417506817 for example)

For some reason, however, his public clarification isn’t satisfying the Church’s self-nominated jury.  Like many others, he could have just continued in pride and left any broken pieces where they fell. He didn’t, and I applaud him for re-addressing something I’m sure he wants to bury in the past.

For many, the problem, therefore, really isn’t his belief on abortion but his philosophy of ministry while living in the limelight.  A discussion on “form vs. function” is for another post, but for now let’s at least agree that we (the Church, including Carl Lentz) are united for life.  

2) The man was set up. Now, I know that he should known this was coming (it’s not his first rodeo), but let’s be real: the question was really disingenuous.

He’s there for his book, and after the ladies joke around about his looks they immediately charge in with, “So how do you address abortion?” Really?! I loved his response for kindly, but bluntly, calling them on it: “So, we’re gonna go right there?”

Anyone who’s honest knows that this topic takes a long time to unpack in a setting like this (that’s why someone like Ravi Zacharias, an individual dedicated to truth and who is probably very respected by a good portion of “Carl-haters,” will take around 10 minutes to answer this, which is longer than this entire interview by the way!)

The light-hearted laughter about his clothes and tattoos was nothing but a bait-and-switch.  If they were honest, the interviewers probably would have said something like: “Okay, Carl. Now that we’ve had our fun with you, here’s a minefield that we laid out…walk! And we took the liberty to custom fit this target for your back. Our archers are standing ready, so just put that on and enjoy.”

I say this in love, but some Christians need to up their sympathy and understanding. He came on to discuss a book (that’s at least how the show made it seem) but just like coach Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers pointed out a few weeks back amidst the kneeling controversy, pastor Carl gets dragged into a hot mess that he didn’t create and purposely stays away from. It’s as if the interviewer was purposely trying to pigeon-hole him into a pre-determined box with all of its associated labels. I can just imagine her saying to herself, “Okay, so you’re a Christian pastor. I need for you to admit in front of our viewers that you’re a judgmental bigot.”

Remember, this is how the interview started: “Welcome, pastor and author, Carl Lentz… You dress different than other pastors…And you have tattoos!” Cue awkward, subtly flirtatious giggling…And then BAM! Curveball bomb drop: “So what do you think about abortion?”

If you know anything about Carl, he is more disclosed in safe environments with people he can trust. Who isn’t? But there definitely are times where he becomes like jello and you can’t pin him, and given how the media works, I applaud him for that.  Typecasting is, in my opinion, a major tool of the enemy (and even an enemy against truth itself), so I celebrate the attempts, albeit messy at times, to resist and revolt against this unfair, unbalanced approach that fosters division and disables understanding.

A question I have is why does Carl shoot straight sometimes and then avoid direct answers on other occasions. Could that fact reveal more about the interviewers than about him? I’m not saying that it’s my personal approach, but if I’m honest, I must admit that there’s far more going on than what meets the eye and so I choose to trust rather than slander.

If you and I were in his shoes, living in a world where everything is misinterpreted and follows you forever, we probably wouldn’t open our mouths. It is a bold, risky thing to go into these places.

3) I would love to see some of the “naysayers” in a situation like this. Not hiding conveniently behind screens, editing responses ten times, and not just talking in a group of people who are mirror images of yourself, but on television with a live audience and multiple questioners who are looking to set you up with millions viewing at home. Some perhaps would be better “prepared,” or so they think, but I’m sorry, they didn’t ask you to come on, did they? Realistically, based upon what I have seen and heard, many of the “haters” would do the church and our fragmented society a disservice if given the same platform, so I’m thankful that they weren’t asked.

Just because we know our opinion doesn’t mean we know how to convey it in a manner that diffuses the bombs and wins over the opponents. And just because we have a passionate view doesn’t make us the litmus test. So, I’m sorry that Carl did not satisfy some of you, but then again, it’s now about you (or me for that matter). Carl doesn’t answer to us.

4) Even if pastor Carl did not “knock the ball out of the park” on this one, I certainly hope that strangers, under the guise of Jesus, will not judge and slander you, your walk, your faith, your ministry, etc. based upon a 60-90 second soundbyte set up.

Tell me Church, is this really what Jesus’s love poured into our hearts looks like? Judge, condemn, and vilify a brother based upon a 2-3 minute contentious conversation over a brutally divisive topic?! Many of us will live approximately 37 million minutes on this earth (that’s 70 years for you math majors), and some of you supposedly know Carl Lentz based upon a couple minutes of him discussing abortion?! You know nothing. Just like strangers who may try to “peg” you over a two minute discussion on a difficult matter.  It’s absurd.

Where’s the grace, people? Where’s the love? Are you seriously telling me that none of you have ever become tongue-tied? Or you haven’t struggled, not with your beliefs, but how to articulate those beliefs as you sit in a lion’s den?

C’mon guys, be real. Or are you really that perfect? We need more humility and less hubris here.

Now, even though the original question had to do with Hillsong NYC’s approach to difficult social issues, Joy Behar did blatantly ask Carl (probably because his “jelloesque” maneuvers were bothering her): “Is abortion a sin in your church?”

Is it me or did it almost sound Roman Catholic of her to ask it in such a way? Does anyone’s church have a running list of behaviors that are deemed sinful? Maybe I’m reading into it.

I honestly think that he felt to throw up a wall in response to Joy in order to “defend the truth” would have burned a significant bridge. She likes to fight; he didn’t join her. And as much as I love truth, I must admit that the example of Jesus shows us that certain occasions call for something higher and deeper than defending or sharing the truth. If there were ever a time to “defend the truth” from the mountain tops, my flesh cries out that it should have been at the unjust, crooked trial of Jesus.  Our Lord, however, took a different path.  His life, the confusion of the disciples, nor the lostness of people did not compel Jesus to always disseminate the truth.  Jesus didn’t just scream, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!”  Sometimes, the context warrants silence.

5) Our world’s need goes much deeper than truth.  If you know me, or the former me, I just swallowed a huge piece of humble pie there.  Facts, nor church doctrinal statements, don’t change people. They should; I wish it were that simple, but our hearts are far more depraved than what some simple seeds of knowledge can fix.  We need an encounter with a Personal God, not a principled argument.

Ravi Zacharias, purveyor par excellence of truth, rightly tells his audiences that our postmodern culture, “Listens with its eyes, and thinks with its feelings.”  Living within a postmodern culture should inform how we engage our culture.  It’s not compromise to change the strategy; it’s necessary.  Some are still operating like it’s the Reagan era and that possibly explains the results they are getting.  Honestly, how many women watching “The View” today are going to put up with a man telling them how to handle their bodies?!  A man who doesn’t even know them or their story.  A truth-only approach will put one on the shelf in no time.  This is counterintuitive, counterproductive, and why Ravi stresses that apologetics must have a touch.  Throwing out facts and logical arguments may be entertaining, but it is pretty useless if not kept in its proper place.  Again, I speak from experience.

If any of the hosts hold a pro-choice view (or their viewers), and we know that some do, then I think we also know that no one is going to change them in 2-3 minutes on their show where they pull the strings. I’m not saying that it can’t happen, but it’s usually in a very different setting where people have the “scales” removed and embrace major life change. Carl declaring that abortion is a sin in the eyes of Hillsong won’t swing the pendulum for the pro-life movement near as much as it will cause people to shut their minds and hearts to potentially hearing the Gospel. Let’s be honest, many people link these social issues directly to Jesus. They’re okay with Jesus so long as their political views aren’t touched. It’s wrong, infuriating, & unfair, but the Church has lost a lot of ground with our culture because it leads with the wrong foot. Instead of jumping on the political hamster wheel and fighting on their level, fact vs. fact, experience vs. experience, stat vs. stat, how about the Church just die to itself and love and serve these people as we’re commanded. Preach Christ and use words if necessary, right?  It’s all about loving God and people still, right?

Real change happens one person at a time and it’s often through a progressive relationship built upon trust and respect. Besides, let’s remember that our views on abortion and pronunciations of those views have little to nothing to do with humanity’s ultimate need – to know God. Abortion is a surface matter, although a very serious one at that. These days, I don’t even waste my time with arguing these issues anymore. I hate confirming people’s presuppositions and offending them in the name of Jesus. If someone is pro-choice, I can usually predict right away where they are coming from. The philosophical argumentation is quite simple. But in order to be effective, I have to be more concerned about the “why.” That takes time. That forces me to stop talking and to listen. It’s messy, humbling and uncomfortable. But it’s worth it.

Abortion is an extremely personal matter; it’s the reason it’s so “prickly.” I believe that true victory will only be achieved when our methods are just as deep and personal as these choices and wounds we’re seeking to fix. There’s a problematic “marriage” in the world of politics when the Church just aligns itself with a particular political party because they simply agree on the “ends.” Means do not justify ends, the means must always justify themselves. We know that the truest and most effective law is self-law (something many of our Founders even believed). Getting it on paper means nothing, but getting it into their hearts is everything.

We seek to not tell people what to do but to love them where they are. We love to control, manufacture, and measure, but God is looking for gardeners who till the soil, plant, and water…then Holy Spirit comes in (cue Miley) like a wrecking ball.

The clip below is from a movie called “Holy Ghost.”  R.T. Kendall drops some truth bombs here, but there is something more amazing that happens at around this point of the film (I can’t find a clip currently).  It shows a couple of the guys in the clip below witnessing to some kids in Salt Lake City.  Ironically, across the street from them is an old-school street evangelist who has literally screamed “truth” at Mormons for 30 years!  In that 30 year period, this man’s wife admitted that they have seen around 5 people come to the biblical Jesus.  But across the street where the evangelists were ministering, they lead 5 teenagers to Jesus in 30 minutes.  No shouting, no correcting, no truth-dispensing…just love.

(Courtesy of The View, abc.com.)

Here’s where the rubber meets the road.

Do people who have had abortions come to your church? Are they welcomed?

Or are they reminded of a past that God forgave them of?

What ministry does your church offer these individuals?

The majority of times we hear this topic brought up in a church setting, it’s only discussed at a theoretical, philosophical, or theological level and the conclusion is always the same: “If you had an abortion, you’re ________. God hates abortion. You need to __________.”

And that’s it!

But is this really a complete solution to the problem? Is there anything more that can be brought to the table on this issue?  I would humbly suggest that there is far more.

Telling people what’s right and wrong isn’t ministry, it’s religion. If you’ve noticed, telling people they’re wrong doesn’t really help anyways. It’s just simple-minded, rude and childish. Also, it’s way too broad and over-generalized.

Do you know the story behind the abortions?

Wanting to have a conversation with someone and earning the right to speak on heavy issues in his/her life so that what you say actually is effective doesn’t come from impersonal, truth-filled messages, it comes from a relationship (first and foremost with God, then you). It takes face-to-face work.

Here’s a shocker for some readers: People who have abortions might not be as pro-choice as you assume.

But if we don’t care to get to know these individuals and their story, how would we ever know? Unfortunately, many Christians don’t care about getting to know others, especially if the “others” don’t agree on important issues. Some believers are comfortable to just dismiss, label, and judge people based upon a decision rather than investigate a little more. What many of us just see is an abortion, but we totally miss the person who lived through it.  And what many of them see and feel is an overwhelming, isolating, crippling fear and shame.

What we so swiftly dismiss as murder may just be a horrendous outworking of incredible loneliness or anxiety.

We can’t afford to play a stats game and just categorize everything.  These are people and they have stories!

The point? There’s an issue behind “the issue.” Always is. But some of us are too content to just latch onto labels and in convenient, broad brushes we just herd everyone together like cattle in one fell swoop. I’m sorry, but this is probably why many of us don’t have any friends who are different than ourselves. I speak from experience! There are details and nuances to every situation and story, but people who “know everything” don’t bother with these.

Presumption is an enemy. It’s stops us from reaching, moving, learning, growing, and changing. We can NEVER think that we possess the entire perceptual market on a situation. Don’t settle with thinking that “you know” something until you actually know something.

So why do people get abortions? Some may just hate children, I guess.  It’s horrific, but perhaps true in some cases.  Others are more likely immature and selfish, looking to avoid the natural consequences of their actions.

But there’s a lot more to the picture of this topic. How do I know? Because I know some who have had abortions. I talk with them, I listen to them. I find out that many don’t operate off of a Christian worldview, or that they have little to no community, or sometimes they were victims of a heinous act.  Whatever the reasoning, most are filled with fear and regret, shame and disgust.

The Church has a major opportunity here, and it has nothing to do with behavior modification!  Whenever we separate people from the issue, we have lost. Yes, hold your conviction. Hold fast to the truth, but too many of us stop there!

When’s the last time you walked a single-to-be mother through her pregnancy? When’s the last time you were serving at the local crisis pregnancy center? When’s the last time you adopted or fostered a child? Do you even know people living through these struggles or is this just completely an impersonal, theoretical argument for you? Being pro-life doesn’t stop at having the “correct” views on abortion, in fact, it hardly even begins there!

Now, as I mentioned earlier, I’m no official spokesperson for Hillsong, but here’s what I notice:

Hillsong, including pastor Carl Lentz, is about people, not political points. Religion demands that people “come as they should,” while Hillsong prides itself in championing a “come as you are” culture. People do not need to believe to belong. This is probably disturbing for many because for us, Church is not a club or clique. We take the “Great Banquet” parable quite literally out of Luke 14.

If you’re church philosophy demands that Sunday sermons be turned into divisive soapboxes delivered from a high nose and pointy finger, you probably will not be comfortable with us. But let’s at least be honest and humble enough to admit that there are various philosophies of ministry out there, and not a single view owns the market.  Unity is NOT uniformity and ministry methodology is NOT a monopoly.

By the way, if we pride ourselves in contending for the truth and letting the Scriptures be the authoritative lead for our church’s sermons, good luck in finding a sermon text for the topic of abortion because it’s not there! Now, for the few of you who have a pastor willing to preach out of the Old Testament and your text maybe brushes up on the customs and culture of Molech, then there’s your open door if you feel the need, I guess.

Yes, Jesus is the author and sustainer of Life. He came that we might have life and its abundance, but to take passages like these and force a political discussion seems to reveal an eisegetical motive rather than exegetical integrity. Again, I speak from experience — God help those poor souls!

Avoid abortion, no.  But stick to the text if it’s really the authority.

 

Courtesy Toby Zerna/Newspix/Getty Images

Now I’m wrapping this up!

If we want to see advances forward, may I humbly request that we stop conveniently launching arrows at each other, especially at people we don’t even know. Disagree, but don’t belittle yourself by becoming disagreeable. Learn the benefits of grace. Seek to contend well. Get to know someone and give the benefit of the doubt. Assume the best in people. The world never benefits from a jerk for Jesus.

Besides, a lot of the “haters” already don’t like Carl, so quit pretending like this interview is the problem.

Who knows what happened outside of the 9 minute interview we all got to see. Who knows what will follow in the future. Bridge-building is a slow process and we have to give these people at least the amount of time it took some of us to finally “get it.” The misplaced question of abortion begs more questions. I’m praying that Carl has developed more inroads with media elites (as he seems to do) and will be able to get beyond the question to the questioner.

If we know anything about Carl, it’s that he prides himself in being about what he is for and not what he is against. Plus, he sees only the good in others (maybe to a fault?). He’s not jaded like some of us when it comes to viewing others.

Remember, a text taken out of context is nothing but a pretext.

We live in a culture of soundbytes and video clips. We think because we listened to an interview, we know a person or if we watch a movie, we’re an expert on a situation.

So in what ways did pastor Carl really lie to his audience?  Look at what he said one last time to inspect for the supposed deception:

“Our job is to help people. It’s not our job to change how people think but to point people to what God has said, to what we believe the Bible says. I grew up in a religious system, and many here have, where conversations and discussions are really limited. You get told a lot of views, but you can’t work it out. We believe that the Bible is clear: God is good, that He loves everybody, that Jesus came to set people free, and that’s still the good news of the Gospel. Our fight in NY is to make sure everyone can get in and hear it. We’ve been told that if you disagree, then your disconnected — we don’t believe that.

That’s a kind of conversation we’d have, finding out your story, where you’re from, work through it. God’s the judge. People have to live with their own convictions and if I have to tell you…
That’s such a broad question. I’m going higher and ask, “What do you believe?” I’m trying to teach people who Jesus is first and then finding out their story. Before I start picking and choosing what is sin in your life, I’d like to know your name.”

Personally, I didn’t see any lies.  Avoidance, sure.  But that’s on purpose.  When dealing with the media, one must be extremely “thoughtful” in his or her approach.

Righteous indignation, the seductive certainty that we are right, self deifies us on our soapboxes.  We are the ultimate arbiters of truth. But rightness never justifies rudeness, assuming you’re even right in the first place.

Let’s close with some timely and yet timeless words from Jesus:

“He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” ~ Luke 18:9-14

Let’s stop fighting each other and start fighting for one another.  Peace, unity, and love all take work. Are you up for it?

With much HOPE,
Your HOPEful Hipster

This interview addresses The View interview a bit.

Liked it? Take a second to support HOPE4Hipsters on Patreon!

Leave a Comment