Waiting For “Then”

Two of my friends died this past week. One was young and his death was a surprise to everyone. The other was a little older and had fought a long battle with cancer. Two different people living in different states with different circumstances surrounding their passing.

Yet both stung.

It seems that since we have moved to Abilene, we have attended more than our fair share of funerals, memorial services, and burials. We have attended a large number of candlelight prayer vigils trying to offer up support to those who have lost loved ones.

And it never gets easier.

There is such a feeling of loss; of defeat, when someone dies. It is so final. The family and friends left behind have no chance of seeing their loved one again. When someone is sick or dying, we can hold out hope that they will get better. But death…death is the end.

And I know what I’m supposed to believe. I know that “it’s all going to get better one day.” I know that someday, sometime, somewhere….
The verse that keeps haunting me is when the Apostle Paul reminds us what the Scripture promises: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” It haunts me because I know exactly where the sting and the victory of death are: they are within me. They are crushing me. They are often times leading me to despair. So I’m sorry, Paul (the apostle, not myself!), I’m sorry, but I think death carries a pretty big wallop. I think death is enjoying a rather large victory and a rather large sting.

But I read the verses again, and I notice a little word that I missed before: “then.”

I have a “then.”

I Corinthians 15:54,55 from the Voice translation says: “And, when we are all redressed with bodies that do not, cannot decay, when we put immortality over our mortal frames, then it will be as Scripture says, “Life everlasting has victoriously swallowed death. Hey, Death! What happened to your big win? Hey, Death! What happened to your sting?’”

Did you catch the word that I had missed? THEN!

THEN death will have no victory.

THEN death will have no sting.

But right now, it really hurts. Right now, death does hurt; death does have a sting. Death is enjoying a victory of sorts.


There is a time coming, that Paul discusses throughout I Corinthians 15, when everything will change. Death will no longer have this hold over us that it has now. But that time is not here yet. So I hurt. I grieve. I mourn.

But I remember: I have a “then.”

Symbols Matter


Symbols matter.

Certain images are forever etched into our memories both individually and collectively. That’s why people were so upset when this image:


Or this one:

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Were co-opted with rainbow imagery.

It’s why people asked me why I would dare make my facebook profile picture yellow equal sign on a blue background (or pink on red).


It’s why some people wear a cross with Jesus on it and some wear a cross without Jesus on it. It’s also why some people do not wear a cross at all.

Symbols matter.

Sometimes, the meaning of a symbol can change. The fact that the Christmas tree was once a pagan symbol is largely irrelevant. The cross was used a torture device and now it is a symbol of God’s grace and mercy and His presence in the world.

Some symbols are filled with conflicted meanings. The U.S. flag for many represents colonialism and oppression. For many, it represents freedom and courage. For others, it is simply a symbol that unites a country of diverse people.

But the meaning of some symbols cannot change. Some symbols are not conflicted in their meaning. The Confederate flag is a symbol of white supremacy and treason. It is the flag that flew for the army that seceded from the Union. It is the flag that was flown in defiance of the Civil Rights movement. While there are some people who may have grown up without that realization, it does not change the fact that the heritage the flag refers to is one of hate.

The flag coming down from the South Carolina statehouse today is an important move. May that flag never fly in a public place again. And for those who wish to use their right to fly the flag at their home or on their vehicle—go for it. You can do that.

But ask why that symbol is so important to you. Why do you need to fly a flag that represents hate and treason to show your pride? Why can you disregard the experience of generations of people who recognize that symbol as one of oppression?

We are repulsed by swastikas. We feel a sense of apprehension or anger when we see pentagrams. We are even convincing ourselves we are seeing ISIS flags at gay pride parades.

Symbols matter.

If the symbols that are important to me anger you, it falls to me to act out of love and understanding. I must ask you why. I must learn from you what your experience is.
If the symbols that are important to you anger me, it falls to me to act out of love and understanding. I must ask you why. I must learn from you what your experience is.

They are important. But relationships are even more important. If my symbols are affecting our relationship, then work must be done. Tough conversations must be had. Humility and love must be present. And a desire to be in relationship must be greater than a desire to be right.

My 40 Responses

So Kevin DeYoung wrote a blog post asking 40 questions to Christians who are “picking up your flag and cheering on the sexual revolution.” With this and other statements, the entire tone of the post reads as one of condescension and disbelief that a Jesus follower could believe something different from him.

I decided to try my hand at answering his questions. However, I don’t know why the assumption is made that I am proudly waving a rainbow flag. I don’t even own a rainbow flag. I am glad the Supreme Court made same sex legal nationwide. I do think the church needs to reevaluate its teaching on same sex attraction, especially the difference between orientation (which is not a choice) and behavior (which is a choice—in fact, heterosexual behavior is a choice; any behavior is a choice, generally speaking).

I hope these answers are beneficial. The biggest weakness is that this is still not a conversation. Face to face conversations are always better than online responses. But hopefully this will be a start. If you would like to continue the conversation, contact me on Facebook or twitter (@paulmathis2) or email pdm95k@acu.edu

  1. How long have you believed that gay marriage is something to be celebrated?

For as long as I have believed people should be celebrated as sons and daughters of God.

  1. What Bible verses led you to change your mind?

Matthew 10:11-15. Once realizing that Jesus said the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was inhospitality and not same sex behavior, it opened up a new understanding of what those verses were saying. The passages in I Corinthians and Romans also leave a lot open for a fuller understanding. Unfortunately, too many Christians take what has been told to them as truth and never dig deeper and ask the questions they should ask.

  1. How would you make a positive case from Scripture that sexual activity between two persons of the same sex is a blessing to be celebrated?

By using all of the same Scripture you would use to say that sexual activity between two people of the opposite sex is a blessing.

  1. What verses would you use to show that a marriage between two persons of the same sex can adequately depict Christ and the church?

The same passages you would use to show that a marriage between two people of the opposite sex can adequately depict Christ and the church.

  1. Do you think Jesus would have been okay with homosexual behavior between consenting adults in a committed relationship?


  1. If so, why did he reassert the Genesis definition of marriage as being one man and one woman?

To say that Adam and Eve were created to be partners for one another does not automatically exclude same sex partnerships. The definition Jesus is giving is about leaving one’s home to join with one’s partner. The main part of the definition is not man and woman.

  1. When Jesus spoke against porneiawhat sins do you think he was forbidding?

Probably any sins relating to sexual immorality.

  1. If some homosexual behavior is acceptable, how do you understand the sinful “exchange” Paul highlights in Romans 1?

This appears to be more about dominance and abuse than same sex behavior. Also, it seems to assume that the problem is men acting women, but not in a sexual way. Women were still considered inferior and Paul may be questioning why someone would willingly make themselves inferior.

  1. Do you believe that passages like 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 teach that sexual immorality can keep you out of heaven?

Just as much as I believe that Romans 8 teaches that the love of God is stronger than anything that can keep us out of heaven.

  1. What sexual sins do you think they were referring to?

That is a good question. Especially since one of the words Paul uses is only used in that verse; it is found nowhere else in first century literature. That makes it more difficult to understand completely. The word can be understood literally means “man who has sex with men as if they were a woman.” There is definitely a case to be made that Paul is saying same sex behavior is prohibited. This also leaves the door open to ask why Paul does not restrict pederasty (adult males having sex with boys). It also leaves the door open to wonder if the issue is same sex behavior or men acting like women. We have to remember the cultural context of Paul’s writings. This means women were discounted and regarded as property. (We also have to remember that Paul had no idea what “homosexuality” was. He addressed only behavior, not orientation.)

  1. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, what do you think you understand about the Bible that Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and Luther failed to grasp?

What do you think YOU understand that those individuals failed to grasp? You say this is an open dialogue in which you are genuinely curious, yet you ask questions like these that demean and insult your supposed audience (your actual audience is people who agree with you; that’s why you can get away with this type of condescension).

  1. What arguments would you use to explain to Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America that their understanding of homosexuality is biblically incorrect and your new understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned?

What arguments do you use to explain that your understanding of homosexuality is not culturally conditioned? Paul had no concept of homosexuality. Paul understood people participating in same sex behavior, but mostly in the context of extreme hedonism or abusive relationships. I would love to have conversations with Christians in other countries as they would help improve my understanding and increase my fellowship with other sons and daughters of God.

  1. Do you think Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama were motivated by personal animus and bigotry when they, for almost all of their lives, defined marriage as a covenant relationship between one man and one woman?

I have never met either of these individuals. I will not try to make a guess at their thoughts or intentions. (Can I also ask why you don’t ask about the motivations of Laura Bush or George H.W. Bush?)

  1. Do you think children do best with a mother and a father?

Not necessarily. This is not a question that can be answered adequately with a yes or no.

  1. If not, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

Although there is a lot, here a link that is a quick summary that provides other links: http://www.aamft.org/imis15/aamft/Content/Consumer_Updates/Same-sex_Parents_and_Their_Children.aspx

  1. If yes, does the church or the state have any role to play in promoting or privileging the arrangement that puts children with a mom and a dad?

No. The church has a role in nurturing all families; not privileging. The state has a role to play in making sure all people are treated equally and given equal access to resources.

  1. Does the end and purpose of marriage point to something more than an adult’s emotional and sexual fulfillment?

Marriage is about so many things. Some people are married who cannot participate in sexual activity at all. Their marriage is no less fulfilling than others. Emotional fulfillment, companionship, community, encouragement, mentoring, bettering one another, there is so much that marriage entails.

  1. How would you define marriage?

Religiously or civilly? The most succinct way would be: The covenant union of two people.

  1. Do you think close family members should be allowed to get married?

No. But can I ask why you assume incest has to be part of a conversation on same sex behavior?

  1. Should marriage be limited to only two people?

Yes. And it will be. I know that “the sky is falling” slippery slope will make people fear that polygamy is going to follow, but I don’t buy it. Especially since groups like NAMBLA have been around for almost 40 years and no laws have changed in the areas of polygamy or incest.

  1. On what basis, if any, would you prevent consenting adults of any relation and of any number from getting married?

You have already asked this question. Were you just trying to stretch the list out to 40? See my answers to the two previous questions. But I will repeat: Marriage is a two person covenant. That has not changed. It is a union between two people. I have no problem stating that.

  1. Should there be an age requirement in this country for obtaining a marriage license?

That is a culturally conditioned question with a culturally conditioned answer. Some cultures allow people to marry as soon as they are biologically able to have children. Some cultures arrange marriages. Our culture has conditioned marriage to be between adults and I don’t think that will be changing anytime soon.

  1. Does equality entail that anyone wanting to be married should be able to have any meaningful relationship defined as marriage?

Again, you have already asked this question. Do you think rewording and re-asking will confuse people so you can “catch” them? Marriage is a two person covenant, whether those two are in a same sex relationship or not.

  1. If not, why not?

I kind of already answered that.

  1. Should your brothers and sisters in Christ who disagree with homosexual practice be allowed to exercise their religious beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, or coercion?

Yes. If a pastor does not want to perform same sex marriages, they should not be forced to (and that was not part of the ruling anyway). In the same way, if a pastor does not want to perform a second (or third) marriage for divorced people, or a so-called shotgun wedding, they should have that right.

  1. Will you speak up for your fellow Christians when their jobs, their accreditation, their reputation, and their freedoms are threatened because of this issue?

This is an “if” question. Not a “when.” Again, you are showing that you are not really just curious. You are looking down your nose at people who disagree with you. If people choose to refuse people based on sexual orientation, they should be subject to the appropriate laws. If you are going to open a public business, you must be willing to suffer the consequences if you do not want to serve a portion of the public. On the other hand, no leader of any religion should be forced to violate their conscience. Which also relates to marrying divorced people, pregnant people, and serial adulterers.

  1. Will you speak out against shaming and bullying of all kinds, whether against gays and lesbians or against Evangelicals and Catholics?

Most likely. I must admit I have had trouble resisting the urge to poke fun at certain individuals. I try my best not to, but I am not perfect (as indicated by the funny picture of Ted Cruz I posted). But shaming and bullying is wrong regardless of who does it.

  1. Since the evangelical church has often failed to take unbiblical divorces and other sexual sins seriously, what steps will you take to ensure that gay marriages are healthy and accord with Scriptural principles?

The same steps I should take to ensure any marriage is healthy and in accord with Scriptural principles.

  1. Should gay couples in open relationships be subject to church discipline?

In the same manner that opposite sex couples in open relationships should be subject to church discipline.

  1. Is it a sin for LGBT persons to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage?

In the same way that it is a sin for people to engage is opposite sex activity outside of marriage.

  1. What will open and affirming churches do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found?

The same thing closed and excluding church will do to speak prophetically against divorce, fornication, pornography, and adultery wherever they are found.

  1. If “love wins,” how would you define love?


  1. What verses would you use to establish that definition?

The Bible.

  1. How should obedience to God’s commands shape our understanding of love?

Love transcends obedience. We obey because He loved and because we love in response to His love. But His love never stops; our obedience never changes God’s love.

  1. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions they make?

Absolutely. In fact, there would be a lot less division in Christendom if people would have been acknowledging that through the entirety of church history.

  1. If supporting gay marriage is a change for you, has anything else changed in your understanding of faith?

My understanding is constantly growing. The word “change” is often used in a pejorative way, but change will always occur. As we have new experiences and meet new people and interact with new cultures we will have a new and fuller understanding of what Scripture teaches. For me personally, I am much more in tune to issues surrounding racism and poverty. That’s because most of my life is spent with people who are victims of both. In my adulthood, I have become much more of a pacifist—I am much more opposed to the death penalty than ever, I am against war (while still respecting those who serve in the military), and still opposed to abortion.

  1. As an evangelical, how has your support for gay marriage helped you become more passionate about traditional evangelical distinctives like a focus on being born again, the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ on the cross, the total trustworthiness of the Bible, and the urgent need to evangelize the lost?

I don’t know that I’m an evangelical. I am an Anabaptist in many ways. But I would say this question is ordered wrong. My focus on redemption (rather than being born again), Christus Victor (rather than substitutionary atonement), a cultural understanding of the Bible (rather than what I think you mean by total trustworthiness of the Bible), and the urgent need to evangelize (everyone, not just the lost) helps me become more supportive of same sex marriage.

  1. What open and affirming churches would you point to where people are being converted to orthodox Christianity, sinners are being warned of judgment and called to repentance, and missionaries are being sent out to plant churches among unreached peoples?

Metropolitan Community Church in Abilene, TX, is the only one I have any exposure to. My family worshipped there one Sunday. It was a wonderful, God-honoring, and God-worshipping time.

  1. Do you hope to be more committed to the church, more committed to Christ, and more committed to the Scriptures in the years ahead?

Of course. Why is this a question in this conversation? This is and has been true for me for the 40 years I have been alive.

  1. When Paul at the end of Romans 1 rebukes “those who practice such things” and those who “give approval to those who practice them,” what sins do you think he has in mind?

Well, Romans 1 is a small part of a 4 chapter argument at the beginning of the letter. In that passage, the sins Paul lists include greed, hatred, and deceit. (So can I ask you why you have not put together a list of 40 questions for people who are celebrating greedy people getting married?) Studying the entire argument of Romans has been extremely enlightening. These are some resources I was pointed to by Trevor Thompson, Bible professor at Abilene Christian University:
Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation
Roman Homosexuality: Second Edition
A Companion to Greek and Roman Sexualities (Blackwell Companions to the Ancient World)
Greek and Roman Sexualities: A Sourcebook
Sexuality in Greek and Roman Culture

I think Paul is also including the sins he talks about in the next chapter when he turns his focus to those who were from a Jewish background. I don’t think Paul ever considered some sinful activity to be worse than other sinful activity. Which is why I think he used the word “sin” and not “sins.” This is why Jesus came: to redeem us from our fallen humanity.

You assume same sex behavior is wrong. And that has definitely been the traditional understanding and practice of most of Christendom for the past 2000 years. But that does not mean it is right. We have a greater understanding of sexuality and gender issues now than Paul had. (Just like we know the earth is round, which is also something Paul may not have known.) Conversations should be held. I love the work of both Justin Lee and Wesley Hill. I especially love the fact that even though the two of them disagree, they still love one another and present in different locations together.

I hope you actually will seek out people with whom to have these conversations. I hope your attitude will be one of listening and learning. If I am wrong about your intentions with these questions, I apologize. But I hope that if we were ever able to speak face to face, it would be with a Christian attitude; not one of condescension.

Thank you.