Wednesday, May 31, 2017

For Evangelicals-The times they are a changing

After the Tribune-Eagle published news that Highlands Presbyterian was certified as an “Earth Care Congregation,” I received an email warning that I was leading my flock into a “Lake of Fire.” The story mentioned Highlands is a More-Light church, meaning it welcomes the LGBTQ community. It’s uncertain whether the Lake-of-Fire destination is located at the end of one or both of those paths.

Then there’s Rev. Bob Norris’s columns asserting Cheyenne’s faith community is divided between what he says is a large number of “Bible-believing” churches and a small number of liberal churches. His proposition is that Christians cannot be both liberal and “Bible-believing.

To paraphrase Satchel Paige, “Hey, liberals, don’t look back. Something might be gaining on you.” That “something” is a growing number of evangelical churches who are coming to believe that welcoming gays, lesbians, bisexual, transgender, and gender-questioning folks is quite Biblical as is working to protect God’s creation. Don’t take my word for it. Ask these evangelicals what happens when judging is replaced with curiosity.

Highlands was inspired to join the green movement by conservative Christians. Mitch Hescox and Paul Douglas both grew up in coal country, joined the Republican party, and are devoted evangelicals. Douglas is a meteorologist and Hescox, after pastoring a church, heads the Evangelical Environmental Network.

The two are also writers. If you doubt that Bible-believing can inspire you to become an environmentalist, read their book, “Caring for Creation: The Evangelical’s Guide to Climate Change and a Healthy Environment.”

These two conservative Christians may be the vanguard but they are not alone. A PBS documentary on the subject opened, “In the rising Eco-Right movement, you could say these are the Eco-Righteous.” Listeners were introduced to a few of the more than 10,000 members of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action.

They weren’t sitting in the pews. They were marching in the streets, chanting, “Hey, hey! ho, ho! Fossil fuels have got to go.” One young evangelical connected his pro-creation stand to his anti-abortion sentiments. “To be pro-life,” he said, “means that you care about human life, you care about humans flourishing free from the impacts of a changing climate on people’s ability to grow their food and provide for their families.”

These conservative Bible-believing Christians share the respect that liberals exhibit for the data and the science telling us what the Apostle Paul said is true. “The whole of creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth.” Paul Douglas erases the lines some draw between liberal and conservative Christians. “Being open to data, facts, and science doesn’t make you a liberal,” he writes. “It makes you literate.”

Even more surprising to the fellow who issued the “Lake-of-Fire” warning is that a growing number of conservative Christians are finding that Bible-believing leads to welcoming the LGBTQ community into the life of the church.

A recent story on the Religious News Service (RNS) reported, “over the last eight years, a number of evangelical scholars have argued for alternate readings of key biblical texts that would make space for LGBT relationships.” That was background for a story about the change of heart at a large evangelical church in Denver.

Rev. Michael Hidalgo, pastor at Denver Community Church, said change came after members “committed to pray together and to study scripture, not just about the verses that speak to same-sex behavior, but also about the history of biblical interpretation.”

The RNS story calls Hidalgo “the latest in a string of evangelical leaders who have studied the Bible, committed to a period of discernment, and then publicly changed their minds on same-sex issues.”

Being a “Bible-believer” demands more than having some preacher tell you what it means. Before laying claim to that title while asserting that others are not Bible believers, work at taking the Bible seriously, though perhaps not literally. It won’t lead to a “Lake of Fire,” but it can lead to other surprising places.

We liberal Christians are pleased to see some of our conservative brethren gaining on us.

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