Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pentecostals & Secular Politics

"Daniel answered and said: 'Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.'" - Daniel 2:20-21a (ESV)

The depth of anger which has been manifested openly and without restraint during the 2016 United States Presidential election cycle perhaps has been greater than at any time in a generation or more.  At the center of the debate for many people has been the religious beliefs of the candidates or, perhaps more accurately, what people believe the candidates believe.  On the Democratic side there was an ethnic Jew named Sanders who teeters between agnostic and atheist.  And, though he did much better than many expected, the Vermont Senator fell short of gaining the Democratic nomination for President.  Instead the laurels fell upon Hillary Rodham Clinton, a self-described follower of the "Methodist Tradition," who laid the blame for the repression of women's rights at the feet of people of faith in an April 2015 address at the Women of the World Summit saying, "...deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."

This says nothing of the Democratic Party platform which stands in stark contrast to the fundamental doctrines of the three global Abrahamic Faiths.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a fierce battle raged among over a dozen candidates each hoping to convince the American Right that they were the most qualified to defeat a Democratic challenger in November.  Among these were individuals such as Ted Cruz, a Senator from Texas.  Cruz stormed onto the campaign trail with all the vigor and pulpiteering of the itinerant clergymen of the Great Awakening with a host of "Holy Warriors" riding metaphorical, philosophical white horses following closely behind.  In contrast to this was a businessman named Trump who, when interviewed in August 2015, said the Bible was his favorite book but couldn't name a favorite verse.  This was followed up by an address at Liberty University where 2nd Corinthians was cited by Candidate Trump as "Two Corinthians."

In the end, Cruz - the superhero of the Evangelicals - fell to King Donald of Combovershire.

Meanwhile, rioters and protesters have taken to the streets of America many of which have been spurred on by the sense of anger engendered by the current campaign season.  News media has been riddled with headlines from "Trump Supporter Assaulted With Crowbar" to...well, okay, there hasn't been a lot of reporting about Clinton supporters having their bodily features rearranged by crazed, right-wing, tool wielding assailants (not to say it hasn't happened, just that I haven't seen it).  But that's all outside the realm of the Church, right?


In some incidents, Pentecostal Ministers stood and declared that, "God has sent us a man," while pointing at Ted Cruz.  Others looked to Dr. Ben Carson as the most moral of the candidates while others still heralded perennial candidate Mike Huckabee as the bastion of the Religious Right.  Others, poor unfortunate souls, saw which way the wind was blowing early on and cast their lot with Donald Trump.  (I call them "poor unfortunate souls" because they were being pelted with stones much longer and by a larger group than anyone else.)  Regardless of who the candidate of choice was, lines were drawn.  Now, this is not normally a problem because, in the end, there is usually a consensus and a return to normalcy once the primary season has ended.  But what transpired during the 2016 Primary in regard to the reaction from within Pentecostalism was unprecedented.

In my opinion, the great divide started in earnest back in August 2015 with the County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, one Kim Davis, who refused to allow her name to appear on documents sanctioning the union of same-sex couples.  It was that event more than any that brought a sudden "cause" for Pentecostals because, as the news media soon made everyone aware, Mrs. Davis was a member of an Apostolic Pentecostal Church.  To suggest that Mrs. Davis decision might have been unwise or her methodology misguided suddenly was treason against the very cross of Christ.

When she was jailed for her decision, some Pentecostals, including ministers, actually quit their secular employment to protest in front of the jail.  One individual posted on Facebook, "Following the voice of God - headed for Kentucky."  They had to quit their job to go.  Later that same day, while the individual was en route to Kentucky, it was announced that Davis had been released.  The next Facebook post was one of confusion over why "God would tell me to go."  The answer to that scenario is quite obvious, but we needn't digress down that trail at the moment.  Suffice it to say that the Pentecostals who, normally, had been fairly quiet in political hostilities, were now very quick to look at their own Brethren and chastise them for what was, by their definition, inactivity.

This event was not yet cold when Republican Presidential candidates began pouring out of the woodwork.  Pentecostals, fresh on the heels of the Davis matter, felt compelled to choose sides again.  On social media, the "block," "unfriend" and "unfollow" buttons began to be engaged with ferocity.  Forums and discussion groups saw a dramatic increase in arguments due to whom individuals had chosen as "their candidate" in 2016.  Pentecostal Cruz supporters began "cyber disfellowshipping" Pentecostal Trump supporters.  "The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" began to give way to, "get on my bandwagon or you're a reprobate."  In some instances, people were chided as "unholy" and "backslidden" for supporting certain candidates.  Some individuals even issued "prophecies" against such individuals for their support of "unrighteous" candidates.

Why did this happen?  The Word of God gives us the answer:

"No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." - 2 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)

The Greek word translated "entangled" gives the sense of being "entwined" in something.  It is used only one other time in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 2:20, where it speaks of the effect of returning to sin after an individual has been delivered.  The problem that has arisen in this election cycle is that many of us have turned into the Pentecostals of Entanglement becoming so entwined in secular politics that we would lash out at our Brethren in the most cruel and improper of ways.  Sadly, many acted in this manner claiming to be "aiming to please" the Lord.  How distracted, if not deceived, must one become to really believe the Lord Jesus Christ is a supporter of ignoring the unity of the Spirit, the bond of peace and the unity of the Faith in the name of a political candidate or party platform?

The very moment we become so entwined, entangled and completely enveloped in secular politics that we can no longer treat our Brethren with civility, honor and respect while following peace with all men, we need to disconnect from politics until we can get our spirit under control.  At that point, we have bypassed godliness and holiness and, forgetting our calling, entangled ourselves in the wrong pursuits.  In the end, we fail to please the One who enlisted us in the great Army of the Living God.

No one is suggesting that there is not a way to be involved without being entangled.  Even soldiers have opinions and vote.  In fact, soldiers tend to be a fairly consistent voting bloc.  There is no reason a Pentecostal could not run for elected office nor serve his/her country in a political position.  But the primary purpose of a Christian must be to seek first the Kingdom of God.  The pursuits of any Christian, whether in regard to their education, career or any other facet of life, must be centered around the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Any other hub will result in the wheel falling apart.  If one can maintain that focus, why couldn't they hold elected office?

But when anything of the outside world brings a child of God into its mastery, disaster awaits.  This is the premise behind the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12: "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything."  When politics causes you to compromise your integrity, you've been dominated.  When it robs you of your ability to faithfully and dutifully serve God wholeheartedly, you've been dominated.  When political talk and opinion leads you to drive a wedge between yourself and your Brother or Sister, you've been dominated.  When you can't control your anger in a political discussion, you've been dominated.

Ultimately, we must come to the realization that God turns the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), removes them and sets them up (Daniel 2:21) and that He ordains authorities and expects us to be obedient to them (Romans 13:1-7).  In short, even in politics God has it all in control.  Why, then, should we violate the commandment of God by being anxious over it?  Or why should we allow wedges to be driven between us as Brethren?  Or why should we be the ones used as tools of Satan to bring about division within the Body of Christ because of the affairs of this present life?  No, there is no reason Pentecostals should not have a seat at the table.  But they should realize that it's not their seat nor their table and, ultimately, serving God in unity is paramount.

In the not too distant past I was involved in a conversation on Facebook with a Minister concerning a certain politician.  The conversation went from an exchange of opinions to a question of callings.  It was the first time in my life an individual had called into question my calling as a Minister because of a secular political opinion.  At first, I thought it was a joke.  When I tried to contact the individual privately I was met with a radical rebuff.  I was shocked to the point of tears.  No, I'm not one of these "crybaby" individuals who turns the waterworks on every time someone raises their voice in my general direction.  But, on this occasion, I was flooded with emotion.

The reason was that I couldn't understand how a Man of God could be so twisted by politics.  I felt nothing but absolute sympathy for the individual.  In fact, I felt absolutely sorry for them.  If secular politics has become our measuring stick by which we gauge the validity of another Christian's calling in the Kingdom, we have missed the mark and become altogether too entangled in the affairs of this present world.  The source of such anger is not holy no matter how much "righteousness" is claimed in the indignation.  It is a spiritual shortcoming and an altogether unrighteous attitude.  Repentance must follow lest destruction overtake.

But it is not only one man who has fallen prey to the desire to act in such a manner.  Social media has allowed insignificant individuals to have broad platforms from which to spew whatever venom pleases them.  Furthermore, it has removed the barrier of personal contact thus making a person feel comfortable saying that which they never would have said to another individual face to face.  In the avenue of doctrine, every false prophet has been made into an international evangelist thanks to the internet.  In sports, the armchair quarterback now rules and reigns from behind a laptop.  For the philosophically minded, their pedantic ramblings may be pounded out until the letters rub from their keyboard to be disseminated to a multinational audience.

Meanwhile, on the political front, Christians beat other Christians over the issue of Cruz v. Trump, Sanders v. Clinton, Trump v. Clinton and forget that the real issue is Salvation v. Damnation in the arena of eternity.  Focus, Christian!  Stop getting so distracted!  God is in control.  Let us all endeavor to at least act like we still believe that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Pentecostals & Gay Bashing

A member of the infamous Westboro
Baptist Church holding signs during
one of their many protest events.
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." - 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

"You really feel like it's your right to look down your nose at me, don't you?"  That was the statement made to me by a very angry homosexual male.  It was my first time to meet him and the discussion up to that point had been completely neutral and far from any conversation about sexuality.  It was not until the subject of marriage came up that he informed me he was a homosexual.  As more time passed in our conversation, I asked what he did for a living.  He told me and asked what I did.  I told him.  Upon hearing that I was a Pentecostal minister, the opening question of this paragraph came into play.  His eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed and his entire demeanor changed.

I was being stereotyped and, unfortunately, I could understand why.

Groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, an absolute plague to Christendom, proudly stand in protest at the funerals of slain servicemen and women, political rallies and various other events holding large signs and screaming various anti-American, anti-military, anti-LGBT and anti-everything-else-under-the-sun sentiments.  They have done a horrifically wonderful job of creating the "go to" image of the Fundamentalist Christian attitude toward the homosexual community.  Sadly, they are not the only ones who have contributed to this image.  Certain groups from within most every denomination or system of faith and doctrine have come forward voicing similar statements of hate and, sometimes, aggression.

The Pentecostal Church, sadly, has not been exempt.  Over the same pulpits where the Truth of the Gospel and the Mysteries of God have been declared, some of the most hateful language in regard to homosexuals has also been proclaimed.  From echoing the Westboro mantra, "God hates fags," to children singing gleefully of the eternal damnation of "queers," the Pentecostal Church has not always done the best job of putting forward a proper Biblical attitude toward homosexuals.  In the strictest sense of the term, yes, some Pentecostals have been guilty of "gay bashing" as have some Baptists, some Nazarenes, some Church of Christ, etc.

Within some ranks of Pentecostalism is the philosophy that there are two options in regard to the treatment of homosexuals: bash or condone.  In other words, it is assumed by some that to say anything less than the most hurtful and derogatory of things to or about homosexuals is condoning, accepting or sympathizing with homosexual behavior.  That is not at all the case.

The Holy Spirit spoke through the writing of the Apostle Paul in regard to who would not inherit the Kingdom of God.  The list found in 1 Corinthians 6, though not extensive, is impressive in its own right and gives us nine categories to consider:

  • the sexually immoral
  • idolaters 
  • adulterers 
  • those who practice homosexuality
  • thieves 
  • the greedy 
  • drunkards 
  • revilers
  • swindlers

Three of the nine deal with sexual behavior and none of the nine are intended to be categorized by degree of sinfulness.  In other words, there is nothing to indicate that the Holy Spirit intends for the Christian to view one of the nine as any better or worse than the rest.  God expects this out of Believers because it is the same consistency of judgement that He practices Himself.  Because one does not "bash" a drunkard does not mean such a one is promoting drunkenness.  Neither was this list given so that nine particular categories of individuals could be shunned by the Church.  Rather, the list was given as a reminder:

 "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."  - 1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV)

The early Church was made up of the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers and swindlers who had come to Christ, been washed in the name of Jesus Christ, received the gift of the Holy Spirit and been given a new life.  For that motley crew of Believers to suddenly engage in "bashing" those who are engaged in that which they formerly partook of would be foolishness.  Instead, the attitude of the Christian was intended to be the same as that of God:

"He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent." - 2 Peter 3:9b (NLT)

Early Christians were forbidden from assuming the right to look down their nose at anyone who was engaged in any lifestyle choice which was contradictory to the Word of God.  They were told to consider themselves in matters of spiritual restoration (see Galatians 6:1).  Certainly the same rule should apply in matters of extending the hope of salvation to all mankind.  The opposite of "bashing" must be "holding out hope to" the homosexual just as we must hold out hope to anyone else who has not yet come to Christ for salvation.

We are not saying that we agree with your lifestyle choice.  No matter the inclinations of our own opinion, we defer to the Word of God to define what is and is not acceptable in the eyes of God.  Why do we do this?  Because, as the Creator of all things, God has reserved for Himself the positions of Lawmaker and Judge.  We are not saying that you have a disease or mental disorder.  We acknowledge that you have made a choice and that it is your choice to make.  However, we wholehearted believe that it is the wrong choice even though you might act out your choice in your understanding of love and mutual consent.  Any sin, be it sexual or otherwise, might feel very natural to the one committing it.  We are not denying that, for you, your choice feels natural.  We are saying that the one who Created all mankind has a plan for your life that excludes homosexual behavior while offering a life of love, joy and peace you've never even imagined.

We are not saying that we want you to die physically or spiritually nor do we want you to be beaten, discriminated against or otherwise mistreated.  You're a human being and, as such, possess marks of Divinity as being created in God's image.  We would be foolish to encourage any violence or mistreatment in your regard.  Yes, the Law of Moses issued the death penalty for homosexual behavior.  It was among 23 capital offenses under the Law.  Understanding those Laws within their context in history is extremely important.  Understanding how the Law is to be understood through Christ is of equal importance.  Suffice it to say, we do not want to kill homosexuals nor do we want homosexuals to die.  Yes, the Apostle Paul told the Church at Rome that those guilty of sexual sins are "worthy of death."  As Christians, we accept the fact that, in reality, we are all worthy of death.  That's the message of the Cross - man is worthy of death, but God has provided a means of eternal life.

We are not saying that we hate you.  Furthermore, we are not saying that God hates you.  When the Lord Jesus uttered the words, "For God so loved the world," you are included.  It is not our desire nor God's desire to exclude you from access to salvation.  In fact, the Scriptures make it clear that the call to salvation is not based upon gender, ethnicity or any other qualifier.  All of humanity is called to the foot of the cross of Christ and all of humanity is given access to God by the blood of the Lamb.  But to enter into the Kingdom of God, the benefit of that sacrificial act of grace, you must come through Christ who is the Door.  That involves repentance and a part of repentance is submitting your entire life, including your sexuality, to the will of God as outlined in His Word.  We aren't standing here cheering for you to go to hell.  We don't want anyone to go to hell.  We stand with open arms desiring salvation for you and ready to help you any way we can in making that decision to follow Christ entirely.

The gentleman in my opening statement was guilty of stereotyping me.  And, as I said previously, I somewhat understand why.  There is little doubt that, as a homosexual, he had encountered those professing themselves to be Christians who felt their spirituality justified looking down their nose at him and others like him.  What the Church must understand is that making fun of sinners, and I use that term realizing it might be repulsive to some, is neither acceptable nor righteous - but feeling compassion is.  The Pentecostal Church cannot allow herself to be guilty of taking so much pride in the whiteness of our robes that we forget the darkness of our past as individuals and allow ourselves to fall into the trap of turning people away from Christ because of our abrasiveness, mercilessness or lack of compassion.  If we are too clean to touch the lives of those unlike us, we are not, in reality, as clean as we might want to think.

To the homosexual community, the Pentecostal Church must say, "Please, come!"  We must, with great love and mercy, find ways to communicate that our desire is to see all humanity come to the Lord Jesus Christ and, in Him, find the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We cannot close the door of the place of Assembly in the face of anyone nor make it so narrow that only those already healthy and in no need of the Great Physician can enter in.  The real and powerful presence of the Almighty God is a tremendous catalyst for conviction leading to godly sorrow working repentance toward salvation.  Why would we want to exclude anyone from that possibility?  And so, to the homosexual, we ask that you not assume how the Pentecostal Church will receive you, treat you or act toward you.  If you have a bad experience, we ask your forgiveness and hope you'll understand that we're not all a bunch of Westboro Baptist types.

Pentecostal people, who can be among the most merciless if you fall among the wrong group of them, can also be the most merciful if you find the right circle of Believers.  You'll find them willing and wanting to help you in your pursuit of Christ and the salvation, eternal life and abundant life that only He can offer.  You'll find now, just as in the First Century Christian Church, flawed individuals with very diverse and interesting backgrounds who once walked according to their own will but have now submitted their lives entirely to the will of God and found therein the most wonderful life imaginable.  No, you should not expect them to embrace, condone or excuse your choice of homosexuality but you should expect them to love you and to patiently explain why they believe God has a plan for your life that is more fulfilling than any sexual relationship or gender identity.

In writing this article I have gone to great lengths to phrase things very precisely and with the utmost caution and sensitivity fearing, as I really shouldn't but must, that I would be misunderstood in my intention.  To the Pentecostal reading this article, please allow me to be very clear in my final remarks:  I do not believe homosexuality is correct, ordained of God, righteous or acceptable.  Furthermore, I do not believe that closing the door of the Church and the possibility of salvation in the face of a homosexual is correct, ordained of God, righteous or acceptable.  This article is not intended to be an advocacy for the inclusion of unrepentant homosexuals into the Body of Christ.  God has already, through His Word, excluded those who engage in homosexual behavior from His Kingdom.  Rather, my purpose is to demonstrate that there is a right and wrong attitude toward and manner concerning homosexuals on the part of the Church.

To the homosexual who might be reading this article, please allow me to be very clear in my final remarks to you as well.  Yes, the Word of God condemns your lifestyle choice.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that the same Word of God offers you a lifestyle choice that is unimaginably fulfilling.  God offers you the gift of the Holy Ghost - His very real presence living inside of you; Christ with you now and always.  If you would like more information on how to receive this gift that God wants to give you, please click HERE to be taken to a very brief introduction to the topic.  There you will also find a link where you can submit questions and a request for a more in-depth conversation on the subject of who God is and what He wants.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Pentecostals & Body Shaming

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God." - Romans 12:1-2 (KJV)

"Body shaming" is a term which, quite honestly, I was blissfully ignorant of until the past year.  Growing up as an overweight child with thick glasses and all the athleticism of a three-toed sloth, I was constantly bombarded by snide remarks and rude comments in regard to my size, blindness and bumbling ways.  I can't remember ever coming home from school crying because of what other kids had said to me.  I guess I didn't really care or was accepting of the fact that such is what kids do to other kids.  It was in a time when kids didn't commit suicide on LiveLeak because someone called them names.  It was a time when, I must confess, we knew how to handle things like that better as a whole.  That time has passed and, now, we are faced with just such a reality.  Is it because of bad parenting, soft kids or a societal emotional devolution of some kind?  I don't pretend to have that answer.

What I do know is that "body shaming" is a part of life today that has gone beyond just pointing out the obvious (I was a fat kid after all - and a very cute fat kid, I might add) and escalated into hurtful stereotyping.  For example, an overweight person who is automatically labeled as lazy because of their size is a victim of "body shaming."  Such would also be the case of, let's say, a very skinny blonde woman who would be characterized as ditzy and snobbish based on her appearance.  These are physical characteristics reclassified as lifestyle and personality indicators which might or might not have any basis in reality.  Because of this, it is safe to say that this form of "body shaming" should be seriously reconsidered since it is quite a dishonest and self-deceptive practice.

Up to this point, we have properly defined "body shaming" and, I think, can all agree that it is not generally appropriate.  This doesn't mean people shouldn't be able to joke and kid with one another.  In fact, having a thicker skin would help all of us in this age of political correctness and emotional sensitivity.  But it does mean that we should be careful and mindful not to make judgments about people based solely on their physical characteristics.  Now we should venture in to the other "body shaming" which, thanks to popular culture, has redefined and incorrectly defined the term.

All of a sudden, nude selfies became a trend.  Now, that's quite an introductory sentence and I can only hope it doesn't dissuade you from reading further.  It is a fact.  From popular singers and musicians to people who are famous for being famous and not really accomplishing anything meaningful in life beyond surviving multiple plastic surgeries (no, that's not "body shaming" - that's reality), social media began erupting not too long ago with nude or semi-nude selfies accompanied with captions declaring, "I'm not ashamed of my body" or "I won't be shamed into covering up" or any other similar platitude.  And, yes, I realize that, by this point, my bias must be showing quite clearly.

We are faced with a popular culture which has redefined "body shaming" as: "if anyone tells me I need to cover up any part of my body, they're just trying to make me feel ashamed of myself and I'm not going to stand for it.  So, I'll show as much as I can and, if they don't like it, they can look the other way."  But this, in and of itself, is no new thing.  Haven't we seen this same attitude, in one degree or another, for a century or more in America?  Once it was considered taboo for a woman to show her knee in public.  Now it is taboo to ask a woman to keep her reproductive organs covered in a public place.  

What happened?  "Well," some would say, "we have finally reached a place where we have abandoned those old Victorian sensitivities which restricted the progress of our culture."  These would also agree that it is a good thing and that, as time passes, the old order of "traditional morality" must be abandoned in the name of societal evolution.  Furthermore, such behavior is, in their opinion, teaching our children and young people to be bold, brave and fearless.  It is a right of passage into a world of empowerment and unprecedented self-confidence.  In short, it is a form of virtue if not virtue itself.

After all, why should there be any shame in something as natural as nudity?  Well, for whatever it's worth, using the restroom is every bit as natural as nudity, but I really don't want everyone joining together with me and sharing in the experience no matter how liberating and empowering that might be.  Asking that people, men and women, should consider being modest in their behavior and dress is now a cardinal sin and the basis for squelching individuality and self-confidence.  Are not our public schools coming under fire in some places for implementing dress codes requiring students to cover their bodies?  And is it not the parents of these children who are complaining the most about the dress codes being violations of their children's "rights?"

Pain is not a pleasant experience.  I, personally, am blessed with a fairly high pain tolerance.  I have had doctors look at me in particular situations and scratch their head wondering why I wasn't crying with pain.  When I do feel pain, it is an indicator that something is wrong and needs correction.  In this, pain is also a blessing.  What would happen if you were unable to feel pain in your hands?  Perhaps you would place your hand on a hot surface and not realize it until irreparable damage had been done.  Isn't the salvaging of a finger or two well worth the experience of pain?  Most certainly!

Shame, likewise, is an unpleasant experience which can serve as a positive.  One definition of shame has been given as, "a painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior."  The ability to feel shame is, to a large degree, a self-protective mechanism designed by the Creator to help an individual understand universal morality and guard one from potentially damaging action.  It is a product of the conscience which is a product of the Creator.  The ability to feel shame is a self-corrective mechanism directing one away from "wrong" and pointing them toward "right."  In this, shame is a very positive experience which manifests, initially, as a negative.

But the ability to feel shame can be overridden.  The Prophet Jeremiah wrote of this:

"Were they ashamed when they committed abomination? No, they were not at all ashamed; they did not know how to blush..."  -  Jeremiah 6:15 (ESV)

The people had reached a place where no matter how abominable and offensive their actions were, they could not even blush about them.  This is not an overnight event.  It is a process over time.  For example, one might feel squeamish the first time they look at a catastrophic physical injury but, with time and regular exposure, the feeling changes and the individual is more emotionally passive.  It is no different with the ability to blush.  Losing that ability is very possible and is not a positive.  It is a symptom of what the Apostle Paul spoke of in 1 Timothy 4:2, "having their conscience seared with a hot iron" (KJV) or, as the New Living Translation puts it, "their consciences are dead."

To begin with, let it be clear that we are talking about the redefinition of "body shaming."  Or, in other words, the wrong definition.  It was not too many years ago that a rabid feminist (and I call her that for a reason that will be disclosed shortly) hurled herself at me, metaphorically speaking, in a screaming tirade.  Her face was blood red with beads of sweat forming on her forehead, fist clinched with flecks of foam flying from her lips as she punctuated every word with unbridled anger.  Her ire was touched off, not by anything I had said, but by my very presence at an event.

"You Pentecostal people have done more to hurt women than any other religious group in the world," her impromptu lecture began.  "You teach girls to be ashamed of their bodies," she continued, "and that's not only wrong, it's immoral and you should be ashamed of yourself!"  I smiled at her and, realizing there was nothing to be said, said nothing.  This drew another salvo which was intermittently laced with profanity.  With that, I smiled at her again and said nothing.  Finally, she walked away.

Now, this is an extreme example of something that I have witnessed many times over the years.  People seem to get the idea that we, as Pentecostals, are guilty of "body shaming" women (and men) and robbing them of self-confidence.  I will not deny that there have been some within the Pentecostal movement who have taught modesty in such a way that is not only abrasive, it borders on abusive.  (Please note that the same could be said for many far beyond the scope of Pentecostalism.  The most abrasive message I ever heard on the subject of modesty was from a minister of the Church of Christ.)  But, by in large, what I have taught as a Pentecostal Minister and what I have heard others teach has been a message, toward men and women, which says the body of a Christian is dedicated to God just as much as the soul of a Christian.  It has been a message of dignity; not degradation.

Simply put, Pentecostals are not guilty of "body shaming" when we say that God has asked Christians to dress, act and live modestly.  When we say, "A woman shouldn't dress in such a way as to draw attention to physical areas of sexual desire," we are not saying that a woman should be ashamed of her body.  Rather, we are saying that a woman should have self-respect and her self-esteem should radiate from that instead of her ability to accentuate her sensuality.  We are not saying, "don't be proud of your body."  We are saying, "be proud of yourself - a being which is more than a body and has an internal value which remains long after physical beauty fades."

Asking people to "cover up" is not the same as telling them "to hate their body."  It is teaching them that, in life, you will be respected by the respectable when you act respectably.  It is teaching people that they are above needing to depend upon the pull of lust.  It is the difference between being attractive and being seductive.  It is not telling people they must walk around dressed in burlap sacks but, rather, in modesty which becomes godliness - fashionable with dignity.  Modesty is not telling people not to dress attractively; it is teaching that the attention one gains by dressing immodestly is not of the superior quality of that which is gained by modesty.  With seduction someone might want you but with modesty someone will respect you.  The former dies with time; the latter is maintained in perpetuity.

Pentecostals are doing the exact opposite of what we are accused of.  We are telling people to be proud of who they are rather than depending on their physical beauty to turn heads.  We are telling people that modesty is beautiful.  We are telling people that they are enough as they are and do not need to stoop to exploiting their bodies for attention.  It is teaching them that there is a way to dress in a modest, classy, and attractive fashion that does not hide their physical beauty, but rather displays it in a fashion that will garner the admiration and respect of those around them.

Are Pentecostals guilty of "body shaming?"  No.  Are Pentecostals guilty of teaching some things are shameful?  Yes.  Is that wrong?  No.  It's right and so desperately needed today.  We teach that modesty is a beauty which transcends the physical and radiates the spiritual.  It is that through which the inner and outer man unite in a visible witnesses of character, integrity, strength, virtue and confidence.  It is our way of saying, "I don't need you to look at me for me to have a strong feeling of self worth."  We are not guilty of "body shaming."  The real guilty party in "body shaming" are the ones who are treating their body shamefully for lack of an active and healthy conscience.

We are not ashamed; we are empowered.