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Jen Hatmaker1, best-selling author and producer of funny blog posts, speaker on the 2017 cancelled Belong Tour, podcast tribe builder on For the Love,2 who skyrocketed her career by boldly and publicly endorsing same-sex marriage, which resulted in getting punted out of Lifeway Christian bookstores, has even been interviewed by Time magazine.3
Lifeway removed Hatmaker’s books from their stores in 2017 for what she describes as standing up for “the LGBT community and their inclusion in every manner of church.”4 Since that time she has become increasingly political on her podcast and other media platforms.
Some issues have been made political that manifestly do not need to be so. The inclusion of LGBTQ people and others in every “manner” of church is something that isn’t fundamentally a political calculation. First, to say that it is about unqualified “inclusion” is an ugly lie. None of us get to be “included” just because of who we are. The church is about Jesus Christ who laid aside His glory and His throne and came to earth to rescue some of the lost, sinful, and rebellious creatures whom He had made. He came to snatch some out of the jaws of death and eternal punishment. Christ takes those whom He rescues and joins them to others and this collective, this group of the rescued is called the church, which is likened to a bride, adorned and cleaned up for her perfect husband (Rev. 19:6–8). This is a theological issue.
The church doesn’t get to do whatever she wants. She has to do what the Bridegroom says, which He has been abundantly clear about in a book available online, on an app on your smartphone, on Amazon, and even on the bookshelves of actual bookstores –– a book called The Bible. None of us — not Jen Hatmaker, not the Pope, not Billy Graham, not the president, not the Neo-Nazis, not Antifa — get to change what it says to suit ourselves. Oh sure, many give it their best shot. In the long run, however, each will answer for every word taught — rightly or wrongly — about Scripture.
One thing the Bible teaches is that you should not devalue or hate people based on the color of their skin. If you think it says this, you are misreading it and you need to do more study. It doesn’t say that. It makes distinctions about belief and practice, about being in the covenant community of the church and out of it, but those are not racial distinctions, those are spiritual ones.5 Do you trust in God Most High as He has revealed Himself in the Old and New Testaments? Do you put your whole self into His hands? Do you repent of your sins and turn away from your own darkness and toward the light of Christ? If the answer is yes, you can be “in,” you can be included in the church, no matter what you look like.
But that inclusion does not extend to what you do and what you believe. You can’t unconditionally be “in” if you don’t believe, and have faith in, not only Christ, the One who came to save, but also all the things He says about Himself and about you. God says, for instance, that you are a sinner (Rom. 3:23) and that He is perfectly holy (Lev. 20:26; cf. Isaiah 6:3 Rev. 4:8). Sinning, doing wrong things, will separate you from Him (Isa. 59:2). If you don’t say you’re sorry and repent, and trust Him, you can’t be reconciled to Him (Rom. 6:23; 1 John 1:8–9). Sin is described, enumerated, and laid out in detail in the Bible. Homosexuality is included therein (1 Cor. 6:9). People who trust in Jesus fully and completely for their lives now and their lives later can’t reinterpret what Scripture teaches and decide that the practice of homosexuality is not included among the list of sins (1 Tim. 1:3–11).6 We are not free to choose what is sin and what is not based on politics and feelings. We, if we want to be a Christian, have to accept what God says in Scripture.
Hatmaker says, “I love leading women. The women that are in my community are unbelievably smart and talented, passionate, goal-oriented, ambitious, hilarious. Women at this point in history — certainly in our culture — we can do more, we can say more, we can go further, we can lead stronger than ever before in history….And so it’s really wonderful to see women rise up in their gifts right now, unhindered.”7 This is curious, fascinating, and troubling because Hatmaker’s views are clearly and unequivocally outside the bounds of historic Christian, biblical faith. But she made this step after she had built, through much hard work I imagine, what we nowadays call a platform –– a personal brand. In other words, Hatmaker got women to listen to her over time, and began to “lead” them. I wonder how many of the women who read her books and blogs would have thought she was “leading” them, or if they have just thought she was chatting and sharing her life in a compelling and interesting way.
Hatmaker is right though. She does lead women. Right out of the center of the church and into big auditoriums where she gives her thoughts and feelings about life and the Bible, unchecked by the spiritual authority of leaders in the church that the historical, orthodox church has vetted. Indeed, she rejoices that women, like her, can now lead unhindered by anything that anyone, particularly men, might say.
I do think that the church should not be anxious and alarmed by women who want to do ministry, who want to teach Bible studies, and who come and ask for theological training, blessing, oversight, and accountability. Those Christian women are not the problem. Those women should be brought closer in — their gifts should be assessed, built up, given theological grounding, and used in the local church. What is not helpful at all is the phenomenon of women rising up as teachers by marketing their spiritual brand, “unhindered,” in the name of Christianity, and without accountability to any visible and biblical manifestation of the church.
Because while they themselves may not be hindered, they hinder others from seeing the full orbed, uneclipsed glory of God’s mercy expressed in Scripture. And Jesus was very firm about that kind of “leadership.” “Do not hinder” these little ones, He said, probably gesturing not just to the children, but to His disciples as well (Matt. 19:14). Better that you tie a millstone around your own neck and fling yourself into the sea than lie about who God is and what He is like (see Luke 17:2).
Everyone is welcome to accept the gospel — the sinner, the troubled one, the confused one, the suffering one, and the person caught in a place that is evil and wrong. Everyone can come and be joined to the body of Jesus –– His own flesh. Christ left His Father’s house to come to earth and rescue His people, to cleave to them and make those who would believe in Him into a holy people (1 Pet. 1:13–21). But Christians have to hear the truth of Scripture and obey it, even if the political sphere does not agree.
Anne Kennedy, MDiv, is the author of Nailed It: 365 Sarcastic Devotions for Angry and Worn-Out People (Kalos Press, 2016) and blogs about current events and theological trends at Preventing Grace, a blog on Patheos.com (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/preventingrace/).
“Too often in our contemporary culture, theologically informed beliefs are not considered a legitimate claim to knowledge.” — Frank Beckwith