Christians and Homosexuality—Part II

Historically, Christians have lost in the public arena. That is how it all began, in fact, with the greatest loss, the death of Jesus of Nazareth. His policies were not forced or voted upon to be implemented. He did not rally like-minded people for His cause. He gave up, lost, humbled himself. He loved while still proclaiming his message.

What would it cost a Christian to love without pretense? We hear of our offenses against those whom we invited to this or that social function if only to “witness” to them. Our message is so great we belie its patience and humility through our forced “boiling down” of the message and trickery. What if we gave up this battle against homosexual unions? What would it really cost us?

We tire of “the left” preaching tolerance when it seems to have tolerance only with its like-minded constituents, which is agreement, not tolerance. Yet we pretend to accept everyone with our gospel message while declaring war on them. Are we afraid that we don’t possess enough love? That God can’t love people despite their sin? Are we so sin-free that complete repentance is demanded of everyone else before we will give them an opportunity?

I want to take things a step further. What do we lose even if homosexuality is merely a preference? What battle are we really fighting? When did the gospel—allegedly our greatest responsibility—take a backseat to the issue of American citizens’ rights to homosexual civil unions? I ask because I don’t see the stand against intoxication, which is already legal. I don’t see the stand against obesity, which is already legal.

The point is not to give up and allow anything and everything. The point is to pick our battles against the right things. We are battling sin; not homosexuals. How much greater would our message of hope and love be if we conceded all the ground we feel entitled to in order to present a humble, weakened, compassionate, understanding Gospel? What impact has the gospel had in our lives that we attribute to Jesus campaigning and dividing the country on political issues? None—we proclaim his humility, his love, his willingness to die with the sinners and become one himself.

Can we still point sinful people toward the gospel? I certainly hope so. The world is sick and Jesus is its healer. Sinful people need to be pointed toward Jesus. We don’t need any more people being pointed toward homosexuals and pretending they are the enemy. We don’t need any more bad logic that says allowing homosexual unions means not preaching truthfully about sin. Do we really need to identify everyone’s individual sins before we can feel good about preaching the gospel? We are all born into sin, into a broken system. Suppose you do “fix” that gay girl or guy, what about their pride? What about their lust? What about their anger? What about their idolatry? What about their greed? Do you also need to beat them over the head about those things? Or can you stand firm in the truth of the Gospel that all are under the power of sin and all need freedom from it?

Picture this: you support homosexual unions and can tell a gay couple that you fought for their civil rights because you believe in their humanity and dignity as such; not as trickery or a “foot in the door,” but as a true display of humble love. You then let them know that you have tried to love as Jesus did, by humbling yourself even where you weren’t sure or disagreed; not to add another church-goer but because such a message of love ought to be proclaimed. You refused to dehumanize them because you love them. That is tolerance. You might have been sure that homosexual activity was sinful, but how sure were you that you needed to oppose it like you did? How sure were you that it was “the” issue it has become? How sure were you that you spent as much time sharing the gospel or sending money to impoverished people?

How much time did Jesus spend condemning people and fighting against their public rights?

How much time did Jesus spend welcoming outcasts, feeding the hungry, proclaiming hope despite sinfulness?

Christians and Homosexuality—Part I

I say “Christians and Homosexuality” instead of “Christianity and Homosexuality” or “Christ and Homosexuality” because I cannot speak on behalf of the latter two with any real confidence. I can suppose, derive, conclude, and assume; but none of those things would prove official enough. I can, however, speak on behalf of myself—a Christian—as well as on behalf of those Christians with whom I have spoken. Perhaps “Some” should go at the front of the title, but I’d like to retain enough gravity without the presumption.

Talking Past One Another

Christians who understand homosexuality as a personal preference do not understand why such a thing should carry so much weight. Of all the personal preferences humans have, why should this one make the headlines, alter legislature, or assume civil rights status?

Others, including some Christians, who understand homosexuality as equal to race or color do not understand why opponents would cite an ancient text in defense of limiting the civil rights of a group of human beings.

Do you see where we talk past one another? Both sides have a responsibility that each too infrequently assumes.

For Christians opposed to homosexual practice (as opposed to attraction without practice only) there needs to be a realization that, throughout its history, Christianity has been willing to bend and flex with science without risking biblical authority. With six years of formal exegetical training under my belt, I am fully aware of the limits within which the exegete must work. In other words, the Bible can only say so much and we can only make so much room for interpretation before we run out of textual warrant for the various interpretations we make. This does not mean that anything goes, or that anything is possible, nor that we cannot be fairly firm in our convictions about what the Bible teaches. It does mean, however, that we cannot be as reactionary. If patience is a fruit of the Spirit, our public presence should reflect that. If we are truly confident that God’s authority is behind the Bible, then we need not worry.

We need to decide what is really at stake in this discussion. I have yet to hear of such phobia, anger, outrage, and push for legislation over divorce—an infinitely more devastating problem than homosexuality could ever pose to traditional marriage. Two gay guys getting married has absolutely nothing to do with the sanctity of my marriage. It just doesn’t. Me not loving my wife like Christ loves the church? Me feeding sexual urges outside of my marriage? Where are the picketers for that? Where’s the presidential statement against that? Until I see people lined up outside of court houses protesting another divorce between two church-goers, I’ll not take seriously anyone’s “defense” of the sanctity of marriage or arguments against homosexual unions outside of those same court houses.

For others, including some Christians, defending homosexuality as a civil rights issue, please exercise patience and good judgment and take the time to actually explain things. Emotional outbursts and marches and parades certainly bring awareness and have their place; but they seldom teach anything to anyone who doesn’t already support the cause. They serve as public debates wherein the opposition hears no real argument and is given no opportunity to offer a real rebuttal. I know countless Christians, including myself, who are all-ears on this issue, waiting for good reason to overturn what was nearly universal opinion until relatively recently—that homosexuality was a merely a preference. Why? Because we strive to be people marked by love. Jesus was infinitely patient with the social outcasts of His day and we want to be just like Jesus. He also stood for things. Many things. So, we will stand where we need to while still being loving.

Christians are not bigots or homophobes for trying to be faithful to the God of the universe. If you believe that such a god exists, and act in accordance with what you think that god expects, then you are acting consistently as well as intelligently. No, really, if you think a god is “out there” and its opinion is the ultimate one and that there are consequences for siding against that god, anyone expecting you to be hypocritical about that is a fool. Granted, being faithful to God often takes forms that are anything but faithful and indeed bring shame and disgrace to the name of Jesus. But on what planet could you really lump together Billy Graham and the hateful punks of that “church” in Kansas?

That said, the argument against limiting freedom to a group of people because of their sexuality is a solid one, if indeed that sexuality is not a simple preference. If it is a simple preference, like ice cream or shoes, then it does not deserve the impact it’s having. If it does, then NAMBLA actually has a point (God forbid.) But be more proactive in educating people about the issue. Do you have solid scientific evidence that supports your view? Great! Then act consistently within the worldview to which you adhere and present your case on your terms. Holding on to what you know to be solid evidence while expecting others to bend to your emotional whims is not only irrational but ineffective. There are many who will listen, but not to nonsensical ravings. The Christian worldview has quite a history of being compatible with various philosophical systems, scientific theories, and sociological data. What would a truly “humanist” worldview look like if it promoted true tolerance and found solutions for bringing the myriad facets of humanity under one umbrella without the destructive hand-waving anger of a Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens? Anyone can be angry and exclude others; but true peacemakers appreciate the mess for what it is and work to bring the messy into the fold of the allegedly neat, which is what Jesus did.

In conclusion, each side talks past the other and both are too seldom willing to sit and listen, to actually consider the other viewpoints and maybe give a little ground here and there. Are we so committed to the “grey” areas that the only means of arriving there are “black-and-white” battles? And what if the evidence points the other way, for either side? Will that side be willing to admit a mistake? If you’re reading this and are already convinced that homosexuality is not a preference, that this is a civil rights issue, that Christians not on your side are dead wrong, how willing are you to back down if the evidence points the other way? Are you hanging your hat on evidence or on something else? As a Christian who believes in the authority of the God who somehow inspired the original words of Scripture, I’m willing to let some things go. I’m willing to admit wrong and to let God be God where I cannot be. I’m willing to let two gay guys have a wedding and get tax breaks and visit each other in the hospital. But don’t expect me to simply take your word for things, and I won’t expect you to believe the things I do.

No True Scotsman

Zach and I banter about what he calls the “No True Scotsman” defense for Christianity on account of appalling behavior by those claiming to be Christians. It goes like this: That mass-murderer calls himself a Christian, but he probably isn’t a Christian since a true Christian would not do that.

Like most issues we discuss, this has multiple layers. On the face of it, it is true that people who say they follow Jesus often do stupid, mean, or outright horrible things to other people.

How do we distinguish between those who merely call themselves Christians and those who really are Christians? In one sense, we can’t. We aren’t God so we can’t know for certain who really belongs to Christ and who doesn’t. In another sense, we can observe people’s behavior and have a fairly good idea of whether or not they are following Jesus as they ought.

The biggest indicator is repentance. Does the person have any remorse over their sin? Is it something they wrestle with and have simply lost this battle but are resolved to overcome it? Is it a sin that they are justifying? A mass-murderer is simply not someone who is following Jesus. A mass-murderer also is not in a state of overcoming their temptation and trying to not sin—by definition they are on a spree.

Usually, however, saying that someone is not a Christian comes into play when considering something like the Crusades. Anyone can take a set of Scriptures and twist it to fit whatever purpose they want. It isn’t about what the “Christian” thing to do is at that point; it’s about finding popular support for one’s ambitions—if it can be made to seem Christian enough and if the “enemy” can be portrayed as enough of a threat to God’s Kingdom, then justification and rationalization win.

I think this discussion can be more fruitful if we don’t set the goal as determining who is or is not a Christian. Since Jesus is the “author and perfecter,” we are better equipped to determine what does or does not constitute Jesus-like behavior, and leave it to God to say who belongs to Him or not.

While cliche and over-merchandized, the acronym “WWJD” is still a good question when discussing things like murderous cults and child molesters. Would Jesus murder a bunch of innocent people? Probably not. Would Jesus molest children? Definitely no. So if this or that person does things Jesus wouldn’t ever do, we can safely say that—at least at that time—they are not following Jesus. We can also safely say that a group of people acting under selfish consensus and misusing Scripture to justify horrible things is a group of people not acting Christianly. Moreover, since the Spirit works to unify believers to be more like Jesus together, then a group of people consciously acting contrary to how Jesus would act is not a group of people attentive to the Spirit’s work of unity for the purpose of being a light to the world.

So, we can stack all the cards we want against a person or a group of people, but the real point is that anyone who says they are following Jesus and acts in a way He wouldn’t is someone who—at least at that point in time—is not following Jesus.

Why I’m No Longer a Christian

It all started with a question.

I had been raised to accept the truth of Christianity along with my mother’s milk and father’s protection. The church taught me about the Bible, about the history of the Christian faith, and about my proper role in the Kingdom of Heaven. I eagerly read chapter and verse, seeking intimacy with God and better understanding of His divine purpose for me. Cover to cover I found myself traveling, a dozen times in my young life. And then I began to wonder about others outside my religious cocoon of certainty, people who weren’t as convinced as I thought myself to be. What kind of book is the Bible to someone who’s never read it, who’s never heard of it, who hasn’t been raised to accept it without question?

“Would I myself believe the Bible speaks truth if I hadn’t been raised from birth to think so?”

In an instant, my faith crumbled into dust, blown to the four corners of the Earth by a simple question. I didn’t have to mull it over. I didn’t even really have to answer it myself, since as soon as I asked the question I immediately knew…

…the answer was no.

Looking at my faith as an outsider would showed me what had been hidden for so long, by removing the plank in my own eye. So many assumptions had been fed to me, innocently if ignorantly enough by my parents, my family, my pastor, and my friends over the years that I hadn’t ever realized how many of my religious beliefs were built on sand.

Of course God exists, you can read about Him in the Bible. Of course the Bible is true, because it’s the Word of God. The circularity was breathtaking once I could see it for what it was.

Through it all, I resisted. I wanted Christianity to be true, not only because I didn’t want to be wrong, but also because I didn’t want to think about my parents lying to me, even unknowingly so. But my parents were not gods, they were not infallible. I knew they could make mistakes easily enough, so why should their beliefs about religion be immune from error?

I also clung to God selfishly. For years, I had taken comfort in the knowledge that I was a Special Creation, and that God had a Special Plan for my life. Whatever difficulties I had faced were insignificant, so I thought, compared to the power of the Almighty watching over me.

Losing God meant losing the person to thank for all the good things in my life, and all the fantastic wonders of His creation. But it also meant that I didn’t have to pretend that God wasn’t equally responsible for all the bad things in my life. Nor for the bad things that happened to other people that I could see in the world.

And there were lots of bad things. A shocking amount of evil is loose in a world controlled by what I had thought was an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. Did I really still think that divine providence was at work when children were snatched from their homes, brutally raped, strangled, and tossed in a dumpster? Could I still conceive of a God who stood back with arms crossed while terrorists in the name of their God flew airplanes into buildings? Where was the Hand of God when office workers, desperate for a futile chance of survival, leaped hundreds of stories only to splatter on the Manhattan pavement below? And how could I acknowledge the love of a God who cursed my own grandmother before birth with a disease that slowly strangled her to death? Where was God when her family stood beside her bed as the lungs were crushed inside her chest and the life ebbed from her fragile and broken body?

The God of Love, the God that I had placed so much trust in, was a cosmic disappointment.

And yet the failure of God was a blessing in disguise. The chains of unquestioning belief fell away as I began to realize that I no longer needed to look to this false deity for moral guidance. The God who commanded Abraham to kill his only son, and who was willing to send His own Son to the sacrificial altar, was no source of what I recognized as morality. The Bible taught that the faith of Abraham was willingness to kill one’s own child at God’s command. And that this kind of faith was a good thing. This I could no longer tolerate.

The death of God was the birth of my humanity. For the first time, I began to see others as not brothers and sisters in or out of Christ, but simply as brothers and sisters. Without the dictates of an invisible deity, I began to embrace the tenets of Humanism, which regard human well-being and happiness as the greatest virtue. I came to realize that my moral instincts had pointed me in this direction naturally, and that all that was required of me was to cultivate these instincts with deeper consideration and introspection on the nature of the good.

Throughout this process I have continued to hope that my fellow religious travelers could come to appreciate my revelations about the nature of God and the importance of Humanism. The last time I received a sermon in earnest, I looked around me at the congregation during the closing prayer. I was surprised to find many pairs of open eyes catching mine, silently acknowledging the futility in the inevitability of their attendance. I was also shocked to read the desperation on the faces of those deep in prayer, seeking to force a metaphysical experience that creased their brows with expectation and exasperation.

There was a certain ironic comfort in seeing this dichotomy of doubt, which has been echoed in nearly every church I’ve since visited. Christians in America today find themselves in a precarious balance between belief and disbelief. Their families and culture demand belief, if only in tribute, for the right to pass unmolested through the patterned halls of our society. And yet every aspect of the modern world screams in support of disbelief, from the latest discoveries of science to the glaring necessity of pluralism. The average American is a Christian on Sunday, and a Humanist the other six days of the week.

I suppose the biggest benefit of giving up belief in Christianity is the ability to be the same person on Sunday that I am on Saturday.