Top 12 Things to Do in Toronto

Today, I step away from my typical academic blogging life to offer you 12 things that you can do if you ever visit the lovely city of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Whether you enjoy the arts scene, sporting events, fine dining, or exotic cuisine, Toronto has it all. The sights, smells, and sounds of this city are incredible and there is definitely something here for everyone – whether you’re a nature-loving vegan hipster, tightrope walker, or adrenaline junkie. For the past 7 years I have had the incredible privilege of living in this wonderful city. Even after all that time, there are still nooks and crannies that I have yet to explore. For example, I am ashamed to say that Au Noir and Snakes and Lattes (although remaining on my bucket list… are simply items to be checked off). On the other hand, I would say that if you are a tourist and all you care about is seeing the CN Tower and Ripley’s Aquarium (as awesome as those places are), you are sadly missing out. Over the years, I have not only experienced these “must sees,” but have also discovered a few less traveled paths. So, I’d like to offer you 12 places your tour guide or tour book might not bring you to, but guarantee that if you check them out you will probably love them. I’ve even included some pictures for good measure.

  • Market St. Lawrence Market – Whenever friends from different communities (and countries) come to visit me, my first stop is usually to show them the St. Lawrence Market. Although somewhat junky in appearance, this place is a warehouse of Canadian goodness. Whether you are looking to buy some quality maple syrup, some hand-crafted products, or want to try out any number of the various delicacies they offer (from fudge to Greek food to everything in between) I guarantee you will not be disappointed. The only difficulty about this place is that it is closed on Mondays, but no worries, go on any other day of the week and I’m sure they will greet you with wide arms and friendly faces.
  • WP_20150425_031(1)The Burger’s Priest – Step out of the bustling city of Toronto and into the warm ambiance of the Burger’s Priest. Offered in two locations in Toronto (the beaches and by the airport), the Burger’s Priest is your one stop shop to picking up a “High Priest Burger”, “Red Sea”, or “Magnum” (made with blue cheese). Reasonably priced, freshly made on the spot, and owned by an alumnus of Tyndale, you will love the cheesy (no-pun intended) decorations, homemade ice cream floats, and catchy burger names. WP_20150425_034(1)
  • WP_20150606_040 (1)The Brick Works Tired of the terrible driving, increased urbanization, and snobbish people who make up Toronto? Find your oasis at the Brick Works. Carefully secluded, with hiking trails, a farmer’s market, free cooking demonstrations, and pottery workshops, the Brick Works has something that will please everyone – especially hipsters, vegans, and environmental enthusiasts. Don’t have a car? No problem! The Brick Works offers a FREE shuttle bus service several times throughout the day, where you will likely strike up a nice conversation with another wanna-be hippie. WP_20150606_007 (1)
  • 10849837_10154922204030291_7008814961151358666_nSigns Restaurant – Always wanted to be able to communicate in American Sign Language? Well, here’s your chance. The Signs Restaurant functions completely around sign language – orders will be signed, the waiters are Deaf, and the menu is also in sign language. Despite the portion sizes being rather small, Signs definitely offers a complete immersion experience and raises awareness of the Deaf population in Toronto.
  • 1380100_10153290122780291_1294922527_nMy Zaidy’s Pizza Right in the heart of Israeli town, this lovely store offers homemade kosher pizza. Can’t get enough of your Jewish fill? Walk a few more feet and you can also go to the Kosher supermarket. Makes the Jew in me geek! (Yes, I have Jewish roots on both sides of my family :)). P.S. This pizza is even better than the one I got in Israel.
  • 944627_10153350468685291_1681499210_nOktoberfest at Church of St. Luke Lutheran Don’t think that beer and church belong in the same sentence? Tell that to this Lutheran congregation. Hosting an Oktoberfest annually with real bear, apple cider, and German food, this church opens its doors for a riotous good time every year. Not only that, but several of my friends who would never be caught in a church really had a good time. Oh yes, and there are steins. (For my blog about Pub Theology, check out: https://debdebbarak.wordpress.com/2013/11/04/christian-responses-to-drinking-and-pub-theology/ ) 1393794_10153357431115291_478788078_n
  • WP_20150506_004(1)High Park Conveniently located at High Park subway station, you don’t even need a car to access the sprawling acres of greenery this place has to offer. Whether you’re a Shakespeare fan and want to see a professional production of Julius Caesar, are looking for a nice spot for a family picnic, want to toss a Frisbee around, or want to visit the animals (yes, there are animals) this place has something for you. Best of all, it is completely free….just don’t take your car there during cherry blossom season – you’ll never find a spot. WP_20150506_020 (1)  WP_20150506_048 (1)
  • WP_20150606_042 (1)Carrot Commons Although just a small section of the larger street, this place located in Greek Town is where all the hippies and health food fanatics hang out. Get reasonably priced groceries at any number of the health food vendors, buy precious rocks and jewellery, buy eco-friendly baby supplies, visit Ten Thousand Villages, or go to the Cheese factory – the possibilities are endless when you walk around the Carrot Commons (located at Chester Station). WP_20150606_043 (1)
  • 1899959_10153866557880291_106920626_nThe Green Bean Café – What makes the Green Bean any different from the thousands of other cafes Toronto has to offer, you may ask? Not a whole lot, except for the fact that it is a place that inspires. The ambiance is warm and inviting – the perfect place for an informal conversation, deep debate about the meaning of life, or a place to get away from it all and just sketch or write. You’ll notice the artwork that is painted and drawn all around this gorgeous place…also, you can get really nice virgin drinks here. Tell that to all your pub crawling friends.
  • 10357449_10154274891850291_4932527583760714099_nScarborough Bluffs – Come spend the day in nature overlooking the gorgeous water. Pack a picnic lunch to eat on the rocks (just don’t share any with the seagulls) or challenge yourself to walk or run down steep embankments. With open fields for Frisbee or just spaces to roam and walk, this free park makes you forget you are really in T.O. 10448769_10154274892040291_1877246564221920378_n
  • 11692574_10155759981025291_8899012230371536801_nThe Outdoor Train Museum – Located at Union Station, this free museum (unless you want to pay to go in to see more trains) is located completely outdoors. Climb some old trains, take a ride on the mini-train that goes around the premises (for a small fee), or play hookie and get free samples at the brewery (nope, I didn’t just say that!). Don’t let the Jays game or Ripley’s take all your attention, on your way to the TTC after enjoying these fine events, make sure you stop for a few minutes at this prime location.11707641_10155759980970291_1515557264907152517_n
  • 10612742_10154506933865291_2607962191340482106_nHonest Eds – Despite the fact that I must admit I rarely buy from this store, Honest Eds is a warehouse of cheap goodness waiting to happen. Want to buy Christmas presents under $5? This is the place to go. From pots and pans to jewellery to clothing to groceries, this place has it all. Yet, the store itself is not the only thing that makes this place popular with Torontonians. It is also has to do with Ed’s personality – every year offering a discount of his age on his birthday and often times including a free BBQ to go along with it. Definitely check out this place if you have the opportunity. 1920467_10153866558215291_432763600_n

So there you have it. Your friends said they can’t afford to spend a night on the town, but I have just shown you several ways that you and your friends can have a great time for only a nominal amount, if not completely free.

I’d love to hear from you. There are so many other wonderful places I’ve explored that I didn’t have time to touch upon in my blog. If you were to encourage your friends to tour Toronto what would you recommend they see or do? Let us know for your chance to make a difference in another tourist’s life 🙂

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Why Social Justice? Social Justice as a Theological and Spiritual Practice (Essay for Spiritual Formation Class)

index

Introduction                                                                                                                                        

At the core of social justice is engagement with the “least of these,” the realization that life is not as it should be, and the vigorous passion of an active faith.  It is a belief that Christians must challenge, disturb, and threaten the status quo, refusing to be complacent or apathetic and instead protesting on behalf of the innocent. Throughout history, many activists have taken up the cause of social justice. Whether they were interested in ending illiteracy, working among inner-city youth, or helping the disabled and elderly, each person sought to be an incarnational symbol of Christ’s love and mission to this world. According to Dr. Power, the social justice tradition forms its identity through the core values of justice, compassion, and peace or in Hebrew Mishpat, Hesed, and Shalom.[1] It is a topic frequently discussed in the Scriptures particularly through the Biblical prophets Amos and Isaiah, carried over into the life and ministry of Christ, and finally culminated by all Christian disciples whether from the past, present, or future.

Belief in social justice is so central to the Christian faith because it takes Jesus’s injunction to love our neighbours seriously and enhances our faith through service and visible witness to the world around us.  By engaging in causes to end poverty and the various levels of personal and systemic injustices, we are helping to further God’s Kingdom and proclaiming His reign of peace and justice in a tangible way.

The Strengths of Social Justice                                                                                                                  

In Streams of Living Water, Richard Foster lists six unique strengths of the social justice tradition: the re-ordering and righting of society, expanding the ecclesial theology of the church, promoting relational harmony, building ethical bridges, speaking the language of love, and striving to maintain an impossible ideal.[2] Additionally, social justice is powerful because it has extreme cultural and contemporary relevance, is inclusive, and is communally based.

Firstly, social justice is a belief that is always timely and applicable regardless of which era is practicing it. From as early as Biblical times when the prophets cried out for peace, justice and equality, to the days of John Woolman and others who tirelessly pursued the ending of the slave trade, and even to today’s contemporaries, our world never lacks situations where injustice needs to be stopped and peace promoted.

Secondly, social justice is something that anyone can practice regardless of his or her educational achievements, vocational status, age, or perceived ability. Taking our cue from the Apostle James who writes, that “faith without works is dead,” we all have the opportunity to see ourselves as Christ’s visible body on earth and to serve others as representations of His hands and feet.[3] In its simplest form, whenever we engage in mutually edifying and supportive relationships, we impact the shape of the organizations we work under and help to restructure society.

Thirdly, social justice is not simply a call for pastors to lead their church in a certain way, but a challenge to change the climate and culture of Christ’s communal body. In this way, participants mentor one another, invest in causes they believe strongly in, and find support from others they meet through fellowship, worship and prayer. Therefore, preparing for and practicing social justice does not solely rely on individual efforts, but rather fosters a communal spirit by recognizing that as humans we can achieve much more together than we can apart.

Social Justice’s Significance in Spiritual Formation                                                                          

Richard Foster writes that, “A focus on social justice enhances our ecclesiology, our doctrine of the church.”[4] Although each denomination may understand and react to social justice differently, it is impossible for Christians to follow Christ while being divorced from the idea of helping the poor and marginalized. The entire Gospel is counter-cultural to Western thought because it calls people to live simply, to love one another rather than being self-seeking, and to practice humility rather than pride. In fact, much of what Christians believe about social justice is found in Isaiah 58:5-7 which explains how true worship includes sharing bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into our house.[5] Social justice intentionally seeks out individuals who have less, who are cast to the margins, and who are in need of loving Christ-like support, finding them and making a decision to journey with them. Although many times Christians are tempted to simply see this act as being reserved for overseas missionaries, it is in fact imperative to practice these values even within our own context on a daily basis. Consider a large urban center like Toronto where Tyndale is located. Each time we go downtown we experience many different ethnic and religious cultures, hear several languages being spoken, and witness various types of moral and immoral lifestyles. As practitioners of social justice our role becomes to actively engage with these individuals, learning to understand their stories and backgrounds, and showing Christ’s love to them regardless of whether we may agree or disagree with their moral and spiritual choices.

Adopting Social Justice Into Our Spiritual Lives                                                                                                

Many of us may never become well-known leaders in the social justice arena, however, each one of us has the opportunity to take part in ending injustice primarily through practicing a vibrant prayer life. Foster maintains, “in prayer we wait on the power of God for the evil to dissipate and the good to rise up…from prayer we discern the actions we take to overcome evil with good.”[6] These prayers can take place in various ways including congregationally, through setting aside a day of prayer and fasting within our church or organization, or by practicing “flash prayers” where we pray for the immediate needs of others around us as we notice them in our daily interactions. Foster also recognizes that when we pray, something incredible can happen – our attitudes may begin to shift. We move from hating those who wrong us to “want[ing] to love our enemies [which] demands a power outside of us.”[7] In this way, we can practice being counter-cultural by beginning to show justice even to those who we may believe do not deserve our justice or mercy.

Social justice is also largely centered around relationship building for the cause of peace and harmony. This means that we can choose to respond differently to people who we may never have connected with previously. We can open our hearts to single mothers, to the homeless or to the mentally ill. Furthermore, social justice gives us the opportunity to become ecumenically involved with other churches and denominations by uniting in a single cause. In working together we strengthen our resolve to end poverty or prostitution rather than continuing to marginalize those who do not believe as we do.

The Dangers of Social Justice Theology                                                                                                        

While there are many advantages to engaging in a social justice mindset, dangers can also ensue if we are not careful. For example, becoming too legalistic about social justice may result in a works based theology, which abandons Christ as Saviour and Master and instead only focuses on human efforts. When this happens, churches and individuals have a tendency to ignore the prominent spiritual needs of the people by solely focussing on material issues. Also, activists can face burn-out quite easily because they are often idealistic and thus find it difficult to not have their issues resolved within a short amount of time.

While there is no formula for completely avoiding these challenges, there are several ways to lessen their impact. Firstly, we need to ensure that our efforts for peace building and reconciliation are rooted in Biblical truths and to realize that any actions towards justice must be with the intent of honouring Christ. Secondly, as Dr. Power alludes to in the lecture notes, it is important to choose one main cause that we are passionate about, rather than to fight for all causes.[8]   By choosing to focus on one particular topic, we give ourselves time to develop a theology and ministry practice for that issue, giving it the effort and dedication it truly deserves. Lastly, we must decide personally and congregationally our willingness to compromise our own spiritual and theological viewpoints in an attempt to foster harmonious relationships. Foster suggests that we should not negate cultural practices; however, we must find a balance between theologically safeguarding our positions while also becoming inclusive and accepting.[9]

Conclusion

Social justice is an important expression of the Christian faith because of its involvement in community affairs, its inclusion of all people groups, and its practical response to contemporary issues of injustice. While not all will have the opportunity to lead great movements, social justice is a theology all Christians are called to participate in through our prayers, our actions, and our relationships. Although we may never fully see each wrong being reconciled within our lifetimes, if we truly make social justice a priority, we will begin to see incremental steps propelling us closer to Christ and His Kingdom mission.

Bibliography

Foster, Richard J. 1998. Streams of living water: celebrating the great traditions of Christian  faith. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco.

Power, Tom. “Formed By Tradition II.” Lecture, Tyndale Seminary. North York, ON. July 6, 2015.

[1]Tom Power, “Formed by Tradition II” (lecture, Tyndale Seminary, North York, ON, July 6, 2015), 2.

[2] Richard J. Foster, Streams of Living Water: Celebrating the Great Traditions of Christian Faith (San Fransico: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998), 178.

[3] James 2:26.

[4] Foster, Streams, 176.

[5] Isaiah 58:5-7.

[6] Foster, 173.

[7] Ibid, 167.

[8] Tom Power, “Formed By Tradition,” 4.

[9] Foster, 177.

Claiming the Authority of Christ While Not Following the Prosperity Gospel

Prosperity-Gospel Between 2012-2013 I attended a small Mennonite seminary in Indiana where I met many of your typical General Conferencers and studied the usual: peace, justice, and spiritual formation. Everything about this experience was to be expected of a Mennonite community, but there was one thing in particular that stood out for me. A middle-aged woman, who I’ll call Joanna, came from the Church of God in Christ denomination. She strongly believed in prosperity Gospel and constantly brought it up in every single class. While many people became frustrated with her because of her personality and her theology, I was strangely attracted to this woman. Eventually, I asked her after class to explain more about why she believed in “Name-It-And-Claim-It.” The discussion proved to be quite eventful because afterwards I came away with the realization that I also believe in this theology.

Now before you get carried away and start thinking I have become the next Joel Olsteen, let me explain. Joanna’s understanding of Name-It-And-Claim-It (or Prosperity Gospel) was a lot different than what many of us think of today. You see, historically, Prosperity Gospel was about claiming the authority of Christ and being bold in our requests. It was less about getting a new car or a promotion and more about asking God for our daily bread. Prosperity, in her understanding, simply meant praying for our direct needs, not necessarily selfish desires.

There are Biblical verses to support this mentality. In the book of Proverbs, Agur writes, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, otherwise I might become so rich that I boast or else become poor and beg and so defile the Name of my God.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Proverbs+30%3A8&version=NASB) By looking at the Lord’s Prayer, we discover our calling to pray with boldness and integrity – not skirted with nice language, but instead in a direct way. We are also told that “you do not have because you do not ask.” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+4%3A2-3&version=NASB). The Bible displays God as a good Father who wants to bless us and who has our best interests in mind. Therefore, it is not intrinsically wrong to ask God for a special request, but we must be careful to make sure it is in alignment with His will. Therefore, I would suggest always ending these requests with a clause such as “if it is Your will” or “Thy will be done.”

Talking to Joanna radicalized my prayer life and has made me more bold as I approach God. What I have learned is that the way we pray impacts the outcome – for example, we can focus on the negative aspects of our lives, or else, we can acknowledge what God has given us and use His authority to gain even more. For example, during a period of intense loneliness I once prayed that I might have a friend. After praying this for several weeks with nothing happening, I shifted the focus of my prayers. I then began praying, “God, thank You for the friends You have placed in my life and the ones You will bring in the future.” Here, I did not pray in a weak way “Lord, if it’s Your will, I would kind of sort of like a friend,” but rather with confidence claiming the friendship. After I prayed this prayer God brought three friends into my life within a three week time period.   I also felt happier and less in need.

I believe that God deeply cares about all aspects of our lives: spiritually, emotionally, and materially. He may not give us a new car or a promotion, but He WILL provide for our daily needs if only we ask Him.

3 Things Liberals and Fundamentalists Fail To Understand About Each Other

never-sell-a-liberal-the-same-way-as-a-conservative-02-14-2012-road-sign Over time, an unfortunate belief has taken place: liberals are not truly Christians and fundamentalists are extreme. These ideas are false and sadly add strain to the relationship between both groups. While there are many ways in which liberals and fundamentalists are confused about each other, here are three things that I think we need to keep in mind when dealing with each group. NOTE: While recognizing that many conservative Christians tend to be more fundamental than not, I also want to be very clear to say that the words “conservative” and “fundamental” have two distinct meanings. Nevertheless, for the purposes of this argument, they will oftentimes be used in conjunction.

  1. The core value remains following Jesus Christ

While there are some extreme liberals who deny the divinity of Christ and are outside of the realm of Orthodox Christianity, and while there are extreme fundamentalists who are hard-headed and accusatory, for the most part, both groups are simply trying to serve Christ. It is false to say that liberal Christians are entirely self-serving and will renounce the Bible just to fit their own needs and likewise it is unfair to suggest that Conservative Christians are proof-texting 100% of the time.

That being said: 2) Both Groups Have Slightly Different Priorities

One of the biggest priorities for the Liberal Group is fostering places of inclusion, embrace, and service. In fact, I am often amazed at just how much the liberal church is doing to reach out to others… often in ways that the conservative and mainline church seems to be ignoring. Whether it’s protesting for Indigenous Land Rights, promoting good ecological practices, or trying to end discrimination, we have much to thank our liberal brothers and sisters for. Conversely, the Conservative Church tends to place more of a priority on the liberation not of humanity, but of souls. Fundamentalists tend to care about the law, about sin, and about salvation. Nevertheless, to say that they disagree with the concept of grace is erroneous. They believe that grace has first and foremost been magnified through the life and personhood of Jesus Christ who came to abolish the reign of darkness and to establish a new reign in which Christians have an intimate relationship with Him.

3) We Can Learn From Each Other

Liberal churches can learn from more Fundamentalist churches the importance of having a right relationship with Christ. Many liberal churches tend to get caught up in projects for the “here and now” and while it is important to help stop world hunger or alleviate poverty, we must remember the true reasons behind why we are doing what we are doing. The main reason we promote justice and peace should be on behalf of Christ rather than simply to “make the world a better place.” Ultimately, whenever possible, it should be done as a living testimony to non-Christians of who Jesus is and while we may not overtly proselytize, it should make others take notice. At the same time, fundamentalist churches can learn from more liberal Christians the importance of not just preaching Biblical doctrine, but truly being active in carrying it out. Preaching a message on sin and salvation has little weight if we are not showing the world why such a belief is of any value and benefit to them.

Liberal and fundamental churches may have a long way to go before fully accepting one another. Nevertheless by recognizing our unique priorities and remembering that we are both invested in serving Christ, we will be able to work together rather than working apart to help build up Christ’s Kingdom here on earth.

What Constitutes a Bible-Believing Church?

Bible-believing-church Over the years growing up as an Evangelical, I have heard the same line being given essentially every time someone accepts Christ as their personal Lord and Saviour: Now that you have received Jesus, you can continue to grow in your faith by reading the Bible, praying, and attending a Bible-Believing Church. Sound advice; there’s only one problem.   With so many different churches out there, each one saying that they keep Christ at the center of who they are, how can you actually determine which church you should go to? Should you just go to the first church that you see when you are walking down the road, or is there a deeper process than that? At the same time, how do you know when a church really suits you and you should stay rather than simply continuing to church shop (which can get out of hand)?

Well, I am no church expert, but as a budding theologian and ministry practitioner and as someone who has spent considerable time in various denominations (both as a worshipper and as a staff member), I can offer some suggestions for how you can know if a Church is truly Bible-Believing or not.

  • A Bible-Believing Church Should Discourage Proof-Texting

Bible-Believing Churches can come in both the liberal and the conservative varieties. It is very important to remember that the title “Bible-Believing” does not simply refer to fundamentalism, but rather to a desire to uphold Christian values. At the center of a Bible believing church should be Jesus Christ’s personhood and example as well as His injunction to live in ways that promote service, peace, and hope. Therefore, such a church has no place for proof-texting or the erroneous usage of passages for one’s personal gain. The church is not a place to argue on faulty pretexts or to make a theological case based on an isolated verse (or two) in Scripture. Rather, a Bible-Believing Church carefully explores the historical and social culture of the Biblical day, making every effort to remain true to what Christ said based on the resources He had available to Him at that time.

  • A Bible-Believing Church Should Never Go Contrary to Scripture

Pastors who preach from the Word of God, must stay in line with what Scripture actually says. While it can be helpful to use outside books and resources for story illustrations or even to enhance a sermon, the main thrust should be on what the Bible actually says and how that can be lived out in our daily lives. When someone makes false claims about the Bible or says something that another part of the Bible rejects it is time to take note. Of course, sometimes the New Testament contradicts the Old, in which case it is important to understand Jesus’s rationale rather than to be burdened by the Law, but I am going further than this. A great example of such a contradiction would be the “get-rich-quick” schemes of many of our Mega Churches today. While the core of historical prosperity Gospel is quite different than what people propose today (keeping in mind that we are asking God for our daily bread), churches that promise a pain-free life or suggest that any form of suffering is not in line with God’s Will can be cultish. Here’s why: Jesus never promised an easy life to His followers. He actually promised the opposite. He said those who truly rely and depend on God would face trials and persecution, they would need to be willing to give up everything (including wealth and worldly possessions) and they would need to take up their Cross daily. Therefore, churches which promise immediate healing in all circumstances, popularity, or shame the marginalized are churches to be avoided.

  • Biblical Churches Should Be Open to Testing

The Apostle Paul told his flock that they should not blindly accept all that he said, but rather should test it out for themselves to see if it was truly in line with the Scriptures (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=1+Thessalonians+5%3A21&version=NASB). A good pastor is one who studies, regularly spends time in prayer and Scripture reading, and also relies on older mentors in the faith to guide him or her. A pastor should not be caught off guard by a congregant who wants to ask him a question nor should she become defensive when a congregant disagrees with her. If something in the message makes your ears perk up and just doesn’t sound quite right, it is time to stop and re-evaluate what went wrong and why.

  • Does the Church Live the Gospel Out?

It is easy for churches to say that they are passionately on fire for Christ, it is quite another to actually see this take place. The Apostle James writes that, “Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God our Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress” (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1%3A27&version=NASB). James later went on to say that faith without works is dead and useless (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+2%3A14-26&version=NASB). Even Jesus Himself said that whatever we do to the least of these, we have done unto Him (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew+25:31-46).

Take a look at your church. Are they living into these words or ignoring them? What programs and policies do you have in place to help those who are in desperate need? How do you treat people who come into your doors who identify as having a mental illness or a disability? Are they an openly welcoming environment to all people regardless of race, culture, or socio-economic background or only of a privileged few? Does the church have both a local and global reach or are they segregated to only themselves?

I would even extend this further to ask how they are treating their staff. Pastors and lay leadership alike should be treated fairly and in a way that honours their unique gifts and abilities. Church interns should be mentored and included in decision making processes. If this is not happening, I would have serious reservations.

  • As Much As You Can Tell: Does The Pastor Have Integrity?

While we can never fully answer this question, we can still do our part to answer it to the best of our knowledge. Does the pastor preach one thing and then live another? Do they suggest a life of peace-making, while having a violent temperament? Have they ever been involved with a scandal, and if so, have they received proper healing for it? Are there any sins you are openly aware of that they refuse to surrender to Christ? Are there any reasons they should not continue in the ministry?

While you will never be able to find the “perfect church,” by being aware of how Biblically solid they are, you will be able to make a good choice of whether to continue going there or not. Being Bible-Believing goes further than simply denominational or fundamental levels, rather it goes to the very heart of what the Gospel is truly about: following Christ’s commands to love those who are poor and marginalized and by doing so, building up the Kingdom of God one brick at a time.

 

Actually….You’re Both Wrong (My Response to MC USA’S Decision Regarding LGBTQ Rights)

891fcfa904f4cb8f760f8752aeac9cddebbd8804eb0467a041338a88c9b3d4e4 Those of you who follow my blog frequently will know that I have not posted anything for over a month. I apologize for this, but with full time work and full time ministry, it has been difficult for me to share my thoughts on a more regular basis. However, I currently have a break from work and school and so would like to share some thoughts that I started formulating right after the news from the Mennonite Church USA conference came out.

I personally was not at the MCUSA conference, but after scrolling through hundreds of Facebook posts, reading other Mennonite blogs, and talking to people who were in attendance, I think I have a fairly good grasp of what happened. I also have enjoyed reading some other blogs on the topic of LGBTQ rights (primarily: 40 Questions to Ask Christians Now Waving the Rainbow Flag by Kevin De Young: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2015/07/40-questions-for-christians-now-waving-rainbow-flags/ and the subsequent responses shown here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2015/07/40-questions-for-kevin-deyoung-now-stomping-the-rainbow-flag/ and http://knittingsoul.com/2015/07/03/1-question-for-people-who-wont-wave-the-rainbow-flag/).

While these articles have been thoughtful and intriguing with a hint of witty sarcasm, I believe they only relay half of the message that the Evangelical (and the Liberal) church needs to hear when it comes to LGBTQ rights. I realize that what I’m about to say next is going to put me in a spot of being disliked by both groups, but Jesus Himself warned us that if we follow Him we aren’t exactly going to be popular…so here goes: I’d like to suggest that while both groups have their reasons for holding to the ideas they currently possess, both groups are almost completely wrong in their approach towards each other. I’d like to suggest that the apology does not necessarily belong only to Evangelicals or only to Liberals. Instead, I’d like to make the case that we have both hurt each other, we have both not always acted like the Body of Christ, and ultimately, we have gotten too tied up in one issue while failing to see the other person’s point of view.

I’ve been a student of theology for the past seven years. During this time I have slowly moved away from being a Fundamental Christian (who believed the Bible was black and white and tried as much as possible to be a literalist) to someone who is more progressive in my approach. Even so, because of my years of training, I can still easily spot a proof-text or a faulty argument when it comes to Christians using the Bible to make a case about or against homosexuality. While reading through the articles I linked above, I was immediately caught up in the arguments citing Biblical examples that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. This is true of both cases. Firstly, the Bible does not explicitly say much on the topic of homosexuality because the word itself was not coined until much later. Despite the fact that the Bible does mention it being an abomination for a man to sleep with another man (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+20%3A13&version=NASB) and even that lust for the same gender is abnormal (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A26-27&version=NASB) and while we have examples of men who would rather violate other men than women (such as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+19&version=NASB) we all must agree that Jesus Himself never uttered a single word on the topic. Along with Paul apparently suggesting that homosexuality is a sin (or so some conservative Christians think), he also said that women must be quiet in church, that a wife must submit to her husband, and that it is an abomination for a man to have long hair. After much research, I can readily make the case that oftentimes these letters referred to a very specific time in Christian history in which such issues were predominantly a problem and can also suggest that in many cases these laws can be interpreted in other ways today.

As an Evangelical Christian, I would take this a step further by admitting to the fact that we have often mistreated our gay brothers and sisters. By shaming those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, suggesting that by prayer and counseling they can change, or denying them access to their intrinsic human rights I deeply believe we are failing to accurately represent the Body of Christ. I grieve alongside my brothers and sisters who have been denied a church wedding (despite the fact that in Canada we have legalized gay marriage for years), have been denied ordination or church leadership positions because of something the church believes is your choice, and have been marginalized or oppressed. I fully recognize that those who identify as straight have it much easier when it comes to serving in vocational ministry and that oftentimes we have created a social structure that promotes ourselves at the cost of those who are different from us. Due to this reality, I think it is necessary that all straight Christians pause and consider the hardships our LGBTQ brothers and sisters face, offer them our apologies, and make a conscious effort to create welcoming and inclusive spaces for all.

Nevertheless, even if we did all of these things like we should, I believe it will only take care of half the problem. The other half of the responsibility comes from those within the LGBTQ community. You see, I think that those who are marginalized often have a persecution complex. Sometimes this complex is almost justifiable because of the violence and oppression those outside of the group have created for its members. Sometimes this complex can spur us into action as we consider how we can better engage with the needs of the marginalized. Almost always this complex makes complete sense when we take time to look at the history and tract record our church has with the gay community.

Even so, to stay within this persecution complex rarely does any good and oftentimes continues to add fuel to the proverbial fire. You see, when it comes to the LGBTQ debate, neither party is completely at fault and neither party is completely innocent. While, I agree that in general the conservatives may be more at fault than the gays, I still hold fast to what my roomate’s father once told me: “even if you think the other person is 90% wrong, you are still 10% wrong, and you are 100% responsible for your 10%.”

As I read through the various heated arguments over  De Young’s work, I couldn’t help but notice a hint of arrogance and a faulty (and dare I say it, immature) belief that if someone doesn’t agree the way you do, they must be some bigoted and patriarchal individual. While that is definitely true in many cases, I’d like to argue that to make a blanket statement that it is always the case is a huge disservice.

Here’s why: * I know many committed Evangelical Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin, but still are incredibly loving and gracious towards the gay community. I don’t think it is right to lump them with the staunch conservatives who have been less gracious and more judgmental.

* While you are busy judging people who “proof-text” and take Biblical verses out of context or twisting what you believe to be Jesus’s Gospel message of peace and acceptance, take a reality check. You likely are doing the same thing. Taking random verses of Jesus offering forgiveness or extending His hand to the marginalized, does not always equal Jesus’s views on gay rights in general. Remember, Jesus never told us what He actually thought about the issue (one way or the other), any suggestions on our part saying He would or wouldn’t accept certain things if He were on this earth today is simply putting words in His mouth and if taken to the extreme can be dangerous and get out of hand.

* While you are busy telling Conservative Christians to be more Christ-like and to stop bashing you, also try to model gracious and loving attitudes on your part. There’s no reason to gyrate in the streets during a gay pride parade, to start arguments with someone who believes differently than you and likely will never change their mind, or to sue a bakery for not making you a cake instead of just going to the competitor. I know you are trying to make a point and have often been silenced, but really think about how you want that point to be made.

* Let’s not label every Christian who is convinced based on careful research and Biblical study who disagrees with homosexuality as being “homophobic.” Let’s remember that just like you want us to accept you and to not judge your Christianity, the others also want you to respect them. In Canada, we have freedom of religion. That doesn’t mean that people can use their religious and moral viewpoints to harm or belittle another person, but it does mean that everyone gets to decide for themselves what the Bible means to them.

Here’s what I suggest: * Let’s talk to each other. Let’s allow positive and inclusive spaces where gays and straights can sit down and openly discuss their fears and ideas. Let’s create gay-straight alliances, let’s hire pastors who are sympathetic towards homosexuality (even if they aren’t gay themselves) so that when gay Christians attend our church they have someone to counsel and encourage them without necessarily trying to change them.

* Let’s be approachable with each other. Let’s remember that we are all on a learning journey together and we may fall and slip up at times, but we are still trying to mend relationships all the same.

* Let’s remember that at the core of our belief is the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s not get into arguments, but simply try to love and embrace each other. Let’s make space for questions without shutting someone down as not truly being the Beloved of God or conversely writing them off as a homophobic. Let’s make sure that when we do question we do it in ways that are loving and gracious and that we are choosing the appropriate means and mediums to do so.

Well, those are just my thoughts. I recognize that both parties are going to disagree with what I just said on this topic, but that’s fine with me. Feel free to push-back or send me a personal email at: deborahruthferber@gmail.com so we can discuss further. I look forward to hearing from you!