Denison Forum – Teen raised $38,000 for cancer research by cutting off his 19-inch Afro: Why I disagree with Philip Yancey on culture and grace

Kieran Moïse has always been known for what the Washington Post describes as “a stunning Afro that stood high and wide above his head.” For the last six years, he has not cut or trimmed it because, as his mother explained, “he really hated haircuts.”

When Kieran was accepted to the Air Force Academy, he knew he would have to cut his now nineteen-inch Afro. He lost a close friend to cancer when Kieran was in the eighth grade. So, he decided to make his hair cutting into a fundraiser for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, and donate his hair to Children With Hair Loss, a Michigan nonprofit that provides free human hair wigs to children and young adults facing medically related hair loss.

Both plans came to fruition. His hair was mailed to the children’s hair charity, and the fundraiser ultimately brought in more than $38,000 for St. Jude’s. Kieran is now at the Academy, where his mother says, “He’s going to do great things. I have no doubt.”

Pete Davidson is getting his tattoos removed

One of the ways God redeems all he allows is by using past suffering to make us more sensitive to present needs and future opportunities to help others. The loss of Kieran’s friend to cancer led him to do what he could for cancer patients. When we use our suffering to serve, we become what Henri Nouwen called “wounded healers.” And our story touches more lives than we may know.

Here’s another example in the news: comedian Pete Davidson is getting his tattoos removed. He says the process is incredibly painful and will take another two years to complete.

He teamed with smartwater to promote last Monday’s first-ever Rehydration Day, a day dedicated to getting Americans rehydrated after the July 4th holiday weekend. As a result, he made a video in which he had arm tattoos lasered off while confessing, “I’ve made a lot of questionable choices, and a couple of them need removing.” Then he added, “Now I’m trying to make smarter choices, hydrating with smartwater and stuff like that.”

When we recognize our “questionable choices” and use them to serve others, our humility earns us the right to share a positive message. If we follow Jesus, such compassion born from his grace enables and empowers us to share that grace with the world.

Presbyterian denomination takes stand on homosexuality

However, part of sharing God’s grace is standing against decisions and deceptions that harm those we are called to serve.

For example, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) recently adopted Overture 23, a statement that those who “profess an identity (such as, but not limited to, ‘Gay Christian,’ ‘same sex attracted Christian,’ ‘homosexual Christian,’ or like terms) . . . are not qualified for ordained office.” The overture, which was approved overwhelmingly 1,438–417 on July 1, explains that such an identity “undermines or contradicts their identity as new creations in Christ, either by denying the sinfulness of fallen desires . . . or by denying the reality and hope of progressive sanctification, or by failing to pursue Spirit-empowered victory over their sinful temptations.”

The chair of the committee recommending Overture 23 stated that it is not intended to exclude Christians who are gay but remain celibate. The overture must still be approved by two-thirds of the denomination’s regional presbyteries and then again by a majority at the General Assembly scheduled for next year in Birmingham, Alabama.

One pastor who spoke in favor of the overture called it “most consistent with the gospel—and because it’s consistent with the gospel, it is by definition compassionate.”

I agree with that pastor and commend PCA leaders for taking a biblical stand on such a pressing cultural issue. Not everyone would agree with me, however.

Why I disagree with Philip Yancey

Bestselling author Philip Yancey was asked in an interview with Religion News Service, “If you could talk to evangelical leaders right now or to people in the pew, what would you tell them?” Yancey, perhaps best known for his insightful book What’s So Amazing About Grace?, stated: “So often the church seems more interested in cleaning up society, you know, returning America to its pristine 1950s. That’s the myth we have—we are making America pure again, cleaning it up.”

He added: “Jesus lived under the Roman Empire, Paul lived under the Roman Empire, which was much worse morally than anything going on in the United States. They didn’t say a word about how to clean up the Roman Empire, not a word. They just kind of dismissed it.”

Yancey then called us to “remember why we are here. We love people, we serve, and we show them why God’s way is better. Let’s concentrate on that rather than tearing people down or rejecting them or denigrating them in some way. We’re here to bring pleasure to God. I believe we do that by living in the way God’s Son taught us to live when he was on earth.”

I appreciate Yancey’s reminder that we love people by serving them. But I disagree completely with his belief that Jesus and Paul “didn’t say a word about how to clean up the Roman Empire.”

Jesus’ earthly ministry did not extend beyond Palestine, but he addressed specifically the hypocrisy of the religious leaders (Matthew 23) and the urgency of serving those in need (Matthew 25:31–46). Paul’s ministry did extend throughout the Empire; he addressed directly the sexual immorality and other sins of his day (cf. Romans 1:26–321 Corinthians 6:9–101 Timothy 1:8–11). And don’t forget that John the Baptist was martyred for opposing the sexual immorality of Herod the tetrarch (Matthew 14:1–12).

As Yancey notes, part of loving people and serving them is showing them “why God’s way is better.” However, God’s way includes sexual purity (cf. Matthew 5:281 Corinthians 6:181 Thessalonians 4:3–5Colossians 3:5) and holy living (cf. Galatians 5:19–262 Corinthians 7:1Hebrews 12:14).

William Wilberforce’s “two great objects”

As we have seen today, we serve others best when we do so out of humility that recognizes our own weaknesses and compassion that empowers us to seek their best. Then we will pay any price to impact our culture with God’s transforming word and grace.

William Wilberforce testified, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects: the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

What “objects” has God Almighty set before you?

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