Monday, November 15, 2010

Bishop Swilley's "Coming Out"

   For those who have not heard;  A pastor at a church in Georgia, Church in the Now, has recently "come out" as a gay man.  According to the story, his wife encouraged him to do so.  In most stories that I have found regarding this situation I was surprised by a two things; 1)He is called a protestant royal(meaning he is a big deal in the protestant world, 4th generation pastor, large church, etc)  2) That there is no "opposing" view point presented in the story.

  Regarding 1:  Generally speaking, as a protestant, I am very well versed in the major players in evangelical christianity in America.  Even some lesser known leaders of medium sized churches are on my radar.  Yet, I have never once heard of this guy.  I spent some time trying to do some background research on him to see what had been written about him, or his church, in the past, and I found practically nothing at all.  No articles, books, conferences hosted, etc.  He is being touted right now as a great example of how the evangelical church is "waking up" to accepting homosexuality.  And that if some "revered" leader such as himself can make a stand, it is only a matter of time before the rest of the "fundamentalists" stop being so terrible.  Which leads me to my first thought about all of this.  Is this a fake leader being propped up to move forward an action line in the ongoing debate?  I do not mean, he himself was not a pastor, but was he really the type of influential leader and theological teacher that he is being presented as?

   One of the most revealing comments I read regarding that question came from a commenter on one of the news sites covering this story.  They said "if you desire in any way to incorporate some spiritual things into your life from a christian perspective, but not an exclusively christian perspective, this is the church for you"  That person went on to say that they had been watching sermons from the Church in the Now for years and they loved that they presented a very open spiritual view.  So, under the auspices of a Church, "Bishop"(self titled) Swilley had been teaching for years a spiritually relativistic perspective that was christian flavored.  If you would go to their website, it has very little theology or doctrinal statements about who they are in Christ as a congregation, but a very easy access to online financial donations!

   As I read many of Swilley's comments I see that there is a great deal of generalized proof texting of scripture going on.  A lot of Christ Loves you just as you are(true), so just accept who you are and be happy(untrue). They quote his son as talking about how Leviticus tells us to not have cloth of two fabric and compares that to why we should not longer consider homosexuality a sin.  Which again, shows very little theological and biblical understanding of those differing issues, not only in biblical theology, but Jewish cultural understandings.  All of which leads me to feel strongly that the media has taken a non-player in Biblical Christianity and created a figurehead, where none previously existed, to allow a non-biblical perspective to influence and infiltrate the Church.

 The Second Thought: The interviews he has been given have all been mainstream media journalists who have asked only very generic softball questions.  There is not one serious question presented regarding his decision.  The articles mention he mentors pastors in about 100 churches, but no indication of what does that mentoring entail or how those pastors are reacting to this revelation.  Also, when he presents some statement to defend his newly public position there is no questioning of his reasoning, philosophically or theologically.  While I do not expect some journalist from the Georgia Daily Star(made that name up) to be well versed in either to know how to ask these questions, but they also do not pursue asking for other perspectives on this story.

  Here is why the lack of multiple perspectives causes me to have a red flag regarding the intention (purposeful or not) of this story.  If you were writing a story about some potentially controversial decision that President Obama was making there would be a few things a good journalist would be assumed to be doing.  1) Interview the POTUS (or his spokesperson) about the reasons behind that decision. 2) Interview significant opposition leaders about their response to the decision(in this case, Republican House/Senate leaders).  3) Interview the "small" people affected by the decision.  If a journalist only wrote an article from the perspective of the POTUS on a significant decision, we would all be justified in thinking that there was some sort of undue influence or collusion on the part of the POTUS and the media.  We expect our journalists to not be biased, but to present a complete story regarding these issues.  In the case of Bishop Swilley, only step 1 of a journalists responsibilities has been observed.

   My purpose of this post is not to discuss the biblical position on homosexuality, or, to question the salvation of Bishop Swilley.  My intention is to observe and comment on my confusion and trepidation about the presentation of this story.  While those are both interesting, and perhaps, important, side issues, the main issue is what is the media trying to feed us?  So less of a commentary on theology, and more of a commentary on culture.


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