Monday, 4 September 2017

What "Intolerance" Can Offer Christians

Here in Australia, as the debate continues to rage over marriage equality, there are many christians loudly and publicly lamenting that they are being subjected to intolerance when they voice their opinions in public arena. It would appear that the tide of public opinion has turned, leaving many christians feeling washed up and alone on the shore.

I understand how painful that can be. Everyone wants to feel free to share sincerely held beliefs without fear of being labelled, shamed or rejected.

Unfortunately, christians are every bit as guilty of this behaviour as anyone else. Affirming christians are being attacked, ridiculed and even having their faith categorically denied by their non-affirming brothers and sisters. LGBTI christians are suffering an even worse offensive, including open and absolute rejection.

Is it unreasonable to expect that those who claim to follow Jesus would have a better way of engaging with opposing views? If we take the name of the one who advocated that we turn the other cheek, and bless our enemies, and even lay down our lives to serve our fellow humans, how can we credibly object and lament simply because our doctrine of sin is no longer accepted or adhered to by the (non-religious) majority?

And how seriously can we expect our complaints to be taken, when we engage in exactly the same behaviour we are so loudly denouncing? How credible do we think we appear, when we "do unto others" the things we are publicly protesting having done to us?

Maybe it's time that christians realised that "the church" no longer holds the position of power in our society it once did. Even more so, that it has squandered any right to expect to be treated as a moral authority by the general population.

It's not comfortable; and it's not pleasant; and it's not what we're used to. But so far, I have not heard of any Aussie christians being beaten senseless, or criminalised, or declared mentally ill, or chemically castrated, or jailed, or murdered for holding an unpopular opinion. And yet for decades, many members of this country's LGBTI community have been subjected to these things simply because they existed.

In light of that, I would suggest that we are facing an important choice. We can continue to complain, and protest, and fight for our rights, and lobby to legislate our morality... or we can choose to see a truly redemptive opportunity for our community in this current climate. Because after living in privilege for so long - experiencing little but power and consensus - we finally have the chance to learn what it means to identify with those who have been marginalised and rejected by society (and the church).

And best of all, despite the well-voiced fears of some, no-one has to "compromise" their convictions, or "water down" their gospel, or "deny" their beliefs. All that is needed is a recognition and acknowledgement of the pain inflicted when people are rejected by their communities and deemed "unacceptable" by their peers; coupled with a willingness to stand with "the least of these" and simply love and serve them.

Saturday, 19 August 2017

Truth, Love, And The Australian Plebiscite

Dear Lyle,

As we Australians find ourselves living with the unhappy consequences of the push for a plebiscite, I couldn't help but notice your recent, impassioned plea to "let truth be spoken in love".

It's a really great sentiment, but as I read the letter you addressed to your "friends in the LGBTIQ community" it seemed to me that you might be having some trouble putting that into action.

I'm not sure that anyone has told you this, but creating a long list of the sins of your opponents, and then implying that you are better than they are because you don't act like them, is not really likely to make anyone feel loved.

You see, I know what it's like to have someone tell me about all the wrong, bad, nasty things they think I've done, and then tell me that they love me. It didn't actually make me feel loved. In fact, I didn't believe they loved me at all. (And even if they'd told me that they meant it with all their heart, their protestations of love would have remained meaningless words to me.)

So I thought I might offer you my valuable experience to help you convey your message of love. Please find attached my suggested alternative to your current offering.

Yours sincerely,
An Australian Christian.

To the LGBTIQ community, 
I know I have no right to call you friends, because you have made it clear my sincere attempts to be friendly have completely failed. I am sorry about that, and I want you to know I hope to do better in the future. Would you be willing to forgive me, and help me learn how to really be your friend? 
I know I can't compel you to comply with my way of thinking, but I'm hoping that taking the risk of sharing my heart, and showing my good will by owning my own failings, might help to repair the bridges between us that have been all but destroyed. 
So to begin, there's this ancient collection of books I read quite a lot, called the bible. (I suspect you've heard me mention it once or twice!) I know there's a bunch of other people who read this book too. Like them, I am on a journey of understanding it, but the way I currently understand what this text says is the only way I can at the moment. (Please bear with me, I'm a work in progress, just like you.) 
I know that none of us can claim to have the "correct" interpretation of what it says, but sometimes we forget that. Mostly we do try to hold on to our "truth" with humility and express it with love. (We often fail in that, but we do try.) 
Anyway, my current understanding of this religious text means I am unable to agree that SSM would be good for our society. I know you want me to, but I just can't do it. If I'm being honest, I'd really prefer you saw things the way I do, because I believe that God sees it that way too. But I guess that's not likely to happen, is it? 
So I can only suggest that we try to learn how to disagree without demonising each other. I know I've been guilty of that, but I really do want to change. To prove that to you, I'm going to stop telling everyone that you have a secret agenda to corrupt our children. (I must admit, it's only just occurred to me how much I'd hate it if you went around saying we had a "religious agenda", and acted like we were really trying to pervert your children. Wow! Sorry about that!) 
And I'm sorry that my words and actions have inadvertently sent you the message that you are somehow a lesser human being than me. The bible says that everyone is made in the image of God - so in future, I'll try to do better at seeing the image of my God in you. 
It also seems that I've been so busy talking about protecting children from you and your friends, that I've failed to see how hypocritical I must sound to you. When there is so much awful history in my religion of children suffering unspeakable abuse at the hands of its leaders, my apparent silence on that topic is indefensible. 
I've know I've complained a lot about the really disrespectful behaviour I've been subjected to by people from 'your side' - and implied that you are all the same - but I don't think I've ever acknowledged there has been some incredibly unloving behaviour from our 'side' too. That was wrong of me. I'm sorry. I don't like being judged by the horrible behaviour of some of my supporters, so I promise I'll stop doing that to you, too. 
I can't change what I sincerely believe, and I know you shouldn't have to either. So do you think we can learn how to do this better? I'd really like to try.
Hoping to show more love with my truth in future, Lyle. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Sex, Sin, And The Bible

Today, a friend of mine (who happens to identify as christian and gay) posted a link on his page to an article entitled 5 Things You May Not Have Realized About Paul’s Anti-Homosexual Words. My friend asked that people read it with a willingness to understand, rather than a desire to prove the author wrong (or heretical, or whatever).

Since he 'came out' a few years back, this friend has been treated appallingly by certain christians. People who had known and loved him for years seemed to suddenly view him as a monster to be hounded from their midst, rather than a brother to be loved. I know firsthand how maliciously christians can act towards those who fail to comply with their 'truth', and I understand his desire to be loved and affirmed by those who have judged and rejected instead.

The Bible Clearly Says...
But I suspect that this attempt to reach out will fail. Not based on the merits, or otherwise, of the arguments put forth in the article, but because christians have always disagreed over what the bible really says about a great many topics.

From human issues like slavery, racial inferiority, and the equality of women, to theological ones such as the rapture, the pre/mid/post-tribulation timing of such, and the question of whether the earth was created in six literal days, christians have shown that there is only one thing we can be absolutely certain of: the bible will always be used to "prove" completely contradictory things.

So while my empathy for my friend is real, I would suggest to him that he's on a road to nowhere. Because people who are certain of what the bible "clearly says" will simply dismiss out-of-hand any argument contrary to their own. So where to from here?

Well... rather than trying to prove who's right and who's heretical, maybe we need to go back to the example Jesus set. After all, isn't he the one we are supposed to be following?

For starters, Jesus showed he was actually willing to set aside "what the bible clearly said" in order to love. On more than one occasion he was reprimanded by the religious leaders for breaking the law regarding the Sabbath. On each occasion he had "clearly" contravened the law, and yet what was his response? Did he repent because they showed him chapter and verse? No! He basically told them to take a hike, declaring that doing good (and loving others is very good) took precedence over such rules and regulations. In other words, the 'law of love' trumps other, lesser laws.

Likewise, it is important to learn from Jesus's response to the religious leaders when they tried use a woman - caught in the very act of sexual sin - to trap him. When confronted with the law regarding sexual conduct, he turned the focus back onto her accusers, masterfully pointing out to them that they were all declared guilty under "The Law". In doing so, he was not only highlighting their incredible hypocrisy, but was also telling them, in no uncertain terms, to concentrate on their own sin, not that of others.

And before anyone thinks they have an ironclad 'gotcha' by gleefully pointing out that Jesus told the woman to "go and sin no more" just think about this: if Jesus was the only one qualified (by being sinless) to cast the first stone, he was also the only one qualified to tell the woman to refrain from sinning! So next time we hear someone use Jesus's words to this woman as a justification to point out the sins of others, just remember that we are only as entitled to do that, as we are to cast the first stone.

As far as I am concerned, we can argue theology and biblical interpretation until we are blue in the face, but it will change nothing - least of all people's opinions about their own correct thinking. Yet if there is anything that is "clear", it's that Jesus told us love is to govern everything we say or do. Judging and rejecting someone because we believe they are sinning is not an act of love - no matter how we try to spin it.

So regardless of what we believe the bible says about homosexuality, our calling (and example) is to love. If we want to worry about sin, let's worry about our own. But I think we would do far better to let God "worry" about it, and simply concentrate on how we can treat others so that they actually feel loved. If we are being honest, I think we'll agree that that task alone is enough to keep us busy for a lifetime.