Jeff Iorg Blog
Why We Are Writing a Book
Oct 27 2014
Last year, about this time, Golden Gate hosted a conference called “Ministry in the New Marriage Culture.” It was a very successful and helpful event. One of our vice-presidents suggested our faculty write a book, expanding the conference contents and providing a ministry primer to guide churches as they address current marriage issues. We are hard at work on it and the book will come out in 2015. Two recent events remind me how helpful this book will be.
A few days ago, a pastor called and asked for advice on this scenario. A girl grew up in the youth group of his church. Ten years later, she has re-engaged the church – only this time as a man who has undergone a sex change operation. Her specific reason for re-connecting was to ask the pastor to officiate a wedding with his female partner.
Last Sunday, a last minute scheduling change had me sitting in the balcony at my home church rather than preaching anywhere else. I sat near a man who had feminine features and was dressed as a woman. We spoke briefly and pleasantly after the service. Turns out, he was a guest looking to connect with a good church.
Since we live near San Francisco, where the first same-sex marriage was ten years ago, these are fairly common occurrences. Maybe not so much where you live – but it’s on the way. So what should you do to get ready for ministry in the new marriage culture?
First, forget the easy answers. There aren’t any. Get ready to grapple with thorny problems. And, be ready to be criticized by Christians who “have all the answers.”
Second, share the gospel. Jesus died for everyone and you don’t get to pick and choose who you will tell about him. Conversion and sanctification are still the ultimate solution for everyone.
Third, train church members – particularly those who teach or work with youth and children. Many Christians don’t know how to respond to transgender people, same-sex couples, open homosexuals, or their children. Teach them.
Fourth, tighten up your church membership policies. A robust ecclesiology is essential for accountability and consistency in complex situations involving church members.
Finally, toughen up. If you haven’t already, you will be criticized for standing for biblical morality and marriage.
We are living in difficult times when our culture is embracing aberrant behavior in unprecedented ways. Sounds like a good time for the gospel to flourish!
You may have heard about the recent brouhaha in Houston concerning the subpoenas issued for four pastors and another ministry leader to produce their sermons in opposition to the LGBT-promoting law called the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO). Baptists have united with other groups to strenuously oppose this infringement on pastoral communication. While First Amendment issues demand this strong response, here are some additional thoughts on what they mean.
First, thank God that there are at least five Christian leaders in Houston who are standing strong and speaking out against destructive redefinitions of gender, sexuality, and marriage! They must be perceived as really dangerous if political leaders are attacking them in this way. Good job, men. Keep it up. May God increase your tribe!
Second, the power of preaching is underscored by these subpoenas. Politicians know pastors have a weekly opportunity to declare Truth, motivate their followers, and catalyze social movements. Sadly, some pastors have forgotten this. They are wasting time on “five steps to a happy life” rather than seriously communicating timeless Truth and calling people to act on it. People outside the church seem to value preaching (and its fearful impact) more than many inside the church. These subpoenas remind us politicians should be intimidated by the preacher with a legitimate message from God.
Third, these subpoenas motivate those of us who preach to weigh our words carefully and be ready to stand behind them. We are moving toward a new era in American history when preachers will be vilified for preaching historic Christian positions on gender, sexuality, and marriage. My perspective is this will improve preaching, and separate the proverbial men from the boys. Preacher, there won’t be any middle ground on these issues. You will either preach the Bible’s message on these issues, or you won’t. For the sake of your hearers, make the right choice!
The politicians will run for cover and make hollow apologies for these subpoenas – this time. While the subpoenas will likely be withdrawn, their reasons for being issued aren’t going away soon.
A Hearty Bunch
Sep 30 2014
Students at Golden Gate are a hearty bunch. They enroll in challenging coursework, while doing effective ministry, often while building young families, and while making ends meet financially in ways both creative and inspiring. So, I guess I should not be surprised by some recent enrollment data – but I am.
This semester, we enrolled 305 new students in all our programs system-wide. That’s a good number – particularly when you realize these 305 new students enrolled in a school they know is in the midst of a significant relocation! Here is the really astounding fact. This fall, we have enrolled 34 more new students than we did last year.
Yes, you read that right. We have more new students enrolled in the fall semester after we announced we are relocating than we had in the previous fall semester. I have actually had students tell me they enrolled because of the relocation. One student said, “I could have gone to seminary in other places; but here, I can go to seminary and watch history being made.”
One of the reasons we are able to stay strong while we are relocating is our diversified delivery systems. We have long taught at multiple campuses, now including a burgeoning online campus, so we are accustomed to flexibility. Both students and faculty are comfortable with different learning venues and methods. And, while many students are taking advantage of those options, many more are still coming to the campus in Mill Valley to sit in classrooms – knowing those classrooms will soon be on the move.
Once again, the students here amaze me. They are the best part of being a seminary president. It’s a privilege to serve them, train them, and yes, be humbled by seeing them make sacrifices to prepare for future ministry.
Jimmy Carter’s Comments
Sep 25 2014
Former President Jimmy Carter, in a recent speech in Grand Rapids, Michigan, made two important points – one of which was ridiculous and the other quite correct, but not rightly applied.
In the first case, Mr. Carter affirmed gay civil rights and same-sex marriage by saying Jesus Christ never discriminated against anyone. As a Sunday School teacher for most of his adult life, it seems Mr. Carter would know a little more about Jesus than that.
Jesus had clear moral standards which he communicated on numerous occasions (like the woman at the well, the greedy young ruler, the woman caught in adultery, the arrogant Pharisees, etc.). Mr. Carter, and those who share his views, reduces Jesus to a sweet non-confrontationalist who just loved everyone. Jesus did love everyone, unconditionally, even enough to confront their destructive behavior. So, on this point, Mr. Carter’s biblical interpretations are shaped by current culture – not the other way around.
Mr. Carter’s second point is more salient. He advocates for autonomy of local Baptist churches and the necessity of government staying out of their decisions. He is right on that point but he does not finish the thought. Baptist churches and Baptist denominational bodies are both autonomous, meaning they determine their membership. When a church decides a person no longer represents its convictions or a denominational body decides the same thing about a church, separation is permissible and inevitable. That’s not discrimination or even theologically complicated; it’s just common sense.
Jimmy Carter is a wonderful humanitarian who has used his post-presidential years to do much good for many people. For that, he deserves our appreciation. But on these issues his compromising and convoluted message will ultimately do more harm than good.