Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Bill Baldwin's blog

My friend Bill Baldwin, whose exegesis of Romans 1 appeared in an earlier post, has started a blog called Better Covenant, Better Promises. I was going to wait a couple of weeks to let him get going before mentioning it, but already he's posted something that's too good to ignore. Here's Bill talking about Christians who call for gays to "take up their cross," while caring little of what that would entail for them:

We don’t suffer, yet we call gays to a lifetime of suffering. And we behave as though we, unlike they, don’t need to suffer. We’ve redefined discipleship so it isn’t about bearing the cross, it’s about family. Now the Christian life is centered around a husband and father who’s the head of his house, a wife who submits, and children who obey. It’s hard enough for straight singles to latch onto this paradigm. But at least singles have hopes. One day they too may enter the ranks of full-fledged Christians by becoming a loving husband or a submissive wife with children in tow.

But what about gays? We call them to become eunuchs for the kingdom while we live comfortable lives. Or perhaps we tease them with the enticement that God will “cure” their homosexuality if only they have faith. That’s even less kind than telling cancer patients they’ll be healed if they convert.

As gay marriages and civil unions become more common, that call to costly discipleship gets even tougher. We’re calling them to abandon the family they have (or at least to complicate that family life rather severely). And for what? So they can come to a place where they’re not allowed to have a family. When we define the Christian life in family-focused terms, that essentially means we’re calling gays to be second-class citizens in the kingdom of heaven. Come to Christ! You can sit in the back of the bus. The call is snobbish and condescending if, indeed, we bother to make it at all . . .

But wait. It gets worse.

The problem is more than calling gays to suffer when we don’t suffer ourselves. The problem is that Reformed and evangelical Christians have been the cause of much suffering among the gays. Sure, we say we hate the sin and love the sinner; but do our words and our actions really reflect that? How many gays would look at the evangelical church and say “Those Christians sure do love us”?

Why don’t they see our love for them? Is it perhaps because the love isn’t there? Or is it that the love is unexpressed? At the very least we’ve got a serious communication breakdown, don’t we?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

This day

Today some of you will be sharing Thanksgiving with family or friends, but some of you may not. If you are fortunate enough to have your loved ones around you this year, there may have been Thanksgivings in the past where it wasn't so. I know that a lot of us straights don't understand that. We blithely wish you a "Happy Thanksgiving," taking the many things we have in our own lives for granted. A lot of you will be in my thoughts today. This day I'm grateful for what you've taught me and shared with me that has made my own growth possible. Thank you for that.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"They Will Know Us By Our T-Shirts"

I've added another defunct blog to the sidebar. They Will Know Us By Our T-Shirts is a real gem, though sadly short-lived, created by an evangelical who comments on the ridiculousness of Christian culture, and was able to write from a particularly keen angle during his brief stint working at a Christian bookstore.

Thoughts on his job:

My coworkers and I are thinking about writing a book. We'll call it, How I Almost Lost My Faith and Committed Murder Working At a Christian Bookstore.

And on the merchandise:
We sell these bumper stickers that say, "Angels protect this car."

I'm probably evil for thinking this, but if I ever see a car with that bumper sticker, I want to run it off the road. Then I'd ask them, "Where were your angels? On their cigarette break?"

Like I said, I'm evil.

Enjoy, and be sure to start from the beginning.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Gay Restorationist

Sadly, Gay Restorationist stopped blogging last May. Nevertheless I'm adding this short-but-sweet blog to the sidebar for the quality posts you can find there, written by a 25 year-old gay man who is grappling with his homosexuality and his ultra-conservative Church of Christ upbringing. One of his best posts is called A Letter, written to his father but never sent (as far as I know). I've linked to it before on my Musings On website, but in case you haven't seen it, here's how it begins:


I’ve given much thought in recent months about our relationship. I’ve wanted to call you, tell you everything that’s going on in my life and in my head. I’ve wanted to open myself up to you in hopes that you could understand what, exactly, I am doing and thinking (and correspondingly, why I am doing and thinking those things).

But I haven’t called to talk. I haven’t written, and I decided not to talk to you when I was visiting home. I can think of a few possible reasons why (but, frankly, I’m not sure which is the real reason):

I think I haven’t talked to you because I’m afraid of losing you and Mom again . . .

Read the rest of the letter here.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Moderate evangelicals on Haggard & homosexuality

Normally I'm hard-pressed to find any good in the media frenzy that feeds off scandals and personal failures surrounding public figures. Yet it seems that one positive fall-out from Rev. Ted Haggard's situation is that it has given more politically moderate voices within the evangelical community a chance to sound off.

From Tony Campolo
I have heard so many of my colleagues in ministry express deep concerns over what this scandal will do to the image of the evangelical movement, but I have heard little concern among us for how all of this will impact those Christian gays and lesbians that we know. They are in our churches. They teach in our Sunday schools and sing in our choirs. Most of them are closeted brothers and sisters who suffer in ways that are impossible for the rest of us to even imagine. They are good people who do not take drugs or visit prostitutes. Will the ugliness of this sorry mess feed a diabolical stereotype of them, which is too often circulated in our churches by unkind preachers who have little, if any, understanding of homosexuals?

From Meredith Efken at Violet Voices
I’m angry that our leaders–with our support and encouragement–have made things like gay marriage such a key battle that we destroyed any opportunities to reach out to the gay community and build friendships and open honest communication with them. And then when one of our own is struggling with his sexual identity, he had no safe place to turn, no network of support.

From Brian McLaren of the Red Letter Christians
Perhaps this painful story will help more preachers (like myself) to back away from the easy answers and binary thinking that are so easy to dispense, and to reject the simplistic moralism Jesus diagnosed in the Pharisees, who, he said, loaded up burdens on the backs of others that they themselves couldn't bear.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Fresh insights on Romans 1

Here are some terrific insights on Romans 1 sent to me by an ordained Reformed minister, my good friend Bill Baldwin:

I've been thinking a bit about Paul's point in Romans 1 where he singles out the "degrading passion" of homosexuality as an example of ungodliness and wickedness. Why this particular passion among so many others that degrade? Many Reformed and evangelical Christians assume the answer is obvious. Paul chooses homosexuality because the particular sins resulting from that passion are of the most depraved sort. It doesn't get any lower than that.

But of course a thoughtful reader of Scripture has two immediate problems with that idea. 1) It does get lower than that. Most of us would rather have a homosexual than an axe murderer for a neighbor. 2) Paul never again spotlights homosexuality as the worst of perversions. Nor does any other New Testament writer. In fact, whether you consult Paul or Jesus, you'll get the same answer when asked what the worst of sins is: Pharisaism. Jesus and Paul really just held legalists in utter contempt. They couldn't stop talking about how bad such people are.

So why in Romans 1 does Paul go after the homosexuals? What's so special about homosexuality? Well, it's a Greek sin, isn't it? He's writing to his audience of converted Jews and he's setting them up. I imagine those Jews as being something like the conservative Christians today. Family-oriented. Squeaky clean on the outside. Primly disapproving of the excesses indulged in by the surrounding culture. The way to "witness" to your homosexual neighbor is by making sure he's aware how shocked you are by his behavior.

So Paul starts by talking about how God has given some people up to homosexuality and how they've followed that perversion by rejecting God and embracing behavior contrary to his image. And the converted Jews all say, yeah brother Paul! Preach it! Tell them how dirty they are.

That's when the gotcha comes.

He suddenly turns on his audience. He doesn't say, "Therefore they have no excuse." That's a sentiment his Jewish hearers could get behind. He says, "Therefore YOU have no excuse, WHOEVER YOU ARE, when you judge others." And he goes on to tell those Jews they're just as bad, just as sinful, as ... the homo Greeks! They never saw it coming.

In short, Paul chose homosexuality because it was the worst of sins in the eyes of his audience, not in God's. That way, when he tells them they're just as bad, they sit up and take notice. It's the same rhetorical ploy Jesus uses when he tells the Pharisees that tax collectors and prostitutes will enter the kingdom ahead of them.

The real perversion enters in when modern evangelicals read Romans 1 and stop there. "Look!" they say. "The Bible says right here that homosexuality is the most degrading of passions, the most sinful of sins." They imitate the self-righteousness of the original audience and fail to notice how Paul implicates them as well.

So what's worse than a homosexual? A "Christian" who looks down on homosexuals and says they are the worst sorts of sinners. And what's the easiest way to drive that "Christian" into a rage? Tell him the homosexuals will enter the kingdom ahead of him.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

I guess I shouldn't have worried . . .

James Dobson has already quit the panel to counsel Ted Haggard.

But when I predicted in Monday's post that Haggard's support would dry up, I didn't expect it to start happening so soon.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Thoughts on Rev. Ted Haggard

My thoughts on Rev. Ted Haggard have oscillated between feeling like the chickens came home to roost for someone who tried to run with big boys James Dobson and Chuck Colson in opposing same-sex marriage, and feeling sick at heart knowing what he will have to face over the next few years, in repairing his relationship with his wife and kids, and finding out how many friends and supporters will actually stick around now that the whole house of cards has collapsed. After reading his letter yesterday to his former congregation, I feel relieved for his sake that he finally stopped running, opened up his soul and came clean.

How can I begin to talk about the problems in the evangelical church that lead to this sort of thing happening over and over again? Let me put it this way. It seems to me Rev. Haggard basically has two options from here on out: 1) he can continue living at some level of denial about the reality of his own homosexuality, or 2) he can try bravely to grapple with this issue in a brutally honest, soul-scouring way. Evangelicals will continue to be supportive of him as long as he goes with option 1, treating it as merely “temptation,” “addiction,” or “demonic oppression” that can be fixed. But taking that road is what has caused the pressure cooker to explode into this current mess in the first place. Surely Haggard must know that. As he explained in his letter, “Through the years, I’ve sought assistance in a variety of ways, with none of them proving to be effective in me. Then, because of pride, I began deceiving those I love the most because I didn’t want to hurt or disappoint them.” In other words, he had to pretend to others that he was making progress in overcoming his homosexuality because he couldn’t bring himself to admit to them (or maybe even to himself) that, in fact, no progress was being made.

Yet how can Haggard go with option 2? Even though it would be the road toward a genuine healing of the soul and most likely lead him to the conclusion that he will be homosexual the rest of his life (i.e., that he is gay), it might also mean watching the support of his family and friends dry up faster than rubbing alcohol in desert heat.

While I’m not unaware of the hypocrisy Haggard has indulged in, in the end I can only look upon his situation with a heavy heart. Being evangelical means being in a culture where facing the truth about one’s own homosexuality is not an acceptable option. Even if someone does eventually face up to the truth about himself, managing to fight his way out of the dark maze of his own soul, he does not emerge blinking and smiling into a warm and welcoming light. More often than not his reward is bile and accusations and painful rejection from those closest to him. There is so much incentive to stay in the darkness of the maze, lying to oneself and to others.

I was disappointed to learn that one of the counselors Rev. Haggard will be submitting himself to during this “healing and restoration” process will be James Dobson. On the other hand I also sense from Haggard’s letter that there is a genuine person in there, who seems to understand that embracing honesty and humility is the only way to be free from this nightmare. As I’ve learned from various experiences in own my life, sometimes undergoing the humiliation of a big crashing failure is the best thing that could ever happen to your faith. I hope this is the case here. I hope and pray that Rev. Haggard will find his way out of the maze and into a place of peace with himself and with God.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rev. Ted Haggard's letter to New Life Church

You may find Rev. Ted Haggard's letter to the congregation of New Life Church at Chris Rice's blog, A Desperate Kind of Faithful

Important quotes:

"The fact is, I am guilty of sexual immorality, and I take responsibility for the entire problem. I am a deceiver and a liar. There is a part of my life that is so repulsive and dark that I've been warring against it all of my adult life. For extended periods of time, I would enjoy victory and rejoice in freedom. Then, from time to time, the dirt that I thought was gone would resurface, and I would find myself thinking thoughts and experiencing desires that were contrary to everything I believe and teach . . ."

"Our church's overseers have required me to submit to the oversight of Dr. James Dobson, Pastor Jack Hayford, and Pastor Tommy Barnett. Those men will perform a thorough analysis of my mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical life. They will guide me through a program with the goal of healing and restoration for my life, marriage, and my family . . ."

"Please forgive my accuser. He is revealing the deception and sensuality that was in my life. Those sins, and others, need to be dealt with harshly. So, forgive him and , actually, thank God for him. I am trusting that his actions will make me, my wife and family, and ultimately all of you, stronger. He didn't violate you; I did . . ."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Why I favor the "m" word

The latest ruling in New Jersey has gotten a lot of people talking about the question of “civil unions” vs. “marriage” for gay couples. The general feeling these days is that taking the “civil unions” stance is the more moderate position, with people such as mainstream Democrats and even a few centrist Republicans willing to get on board. But supporting full-on marriage rights is supposed to be more radical and extreme. Although most professing social conservatives would prefer that gays just stayed in the closet so we wouldn’t be having this discussion at all, even they are hoping to hold the line at civil unions. Maybe tossing that bone out would help keep the peace, and prevent gays and lesbians from breaching the dam into the sacred ground of marriage.

Here’s why I support civil same-sex marriage with the “m” word and all. It is basically the point Jonathan Rauch made several years back, which is that as a social conservative I have never been comfortable with the idea of rewarding heterosexual “domestic partnerships” with the same legal benefits as regular old married couples; and as far as I can tell establishing a “civil union” status for gay couples would be the same situation. I am actually more sympathetic toward a gay couple that is “C-U’ed” than toward straights who shack up with their girlfriends/boyfriends, because most likely that gay couple would be married were they not legally barred, whereas the straight, live-in girlfriend-boyfriend couple is avoiding marriage by choice. So now we have a situation where after years of griping about the moral cesspool this country has become with people shacking up in sexually irresponsible relationships while demanding benefits for their “partners” just the same as us married couples, along come gay couples who want to be legit and take the plunge into the full nine-yards of marriage, and social conservatives would rather tell them, “No, no, just shack up and we’ll allow you the same benefits just like the rest of us.” Whatever.

Now as you can see from my previous post, I live only 15 minutes from this bizarre place called Hollywood. Hollywood folks are always bombarding the rest of us ignorant civilians with their high moral pronouncements, one of which is to decry the institution of marriage as a hideously unromantic, love-killing institution where the shackles of legal commitment intrude into a perfectly blissful live-in relationship and destroy all feelings of tenderness and authenticity. If you want true love, they say, shacking up is the way to go because then you know he is staying because “he wants to” not because “he has to.”

I guess there’s nothing more romantic than a guy who insists on keeping the back door open so you can wake up every morning for ten years and rejoice to see that he hasn’t walked through it. And how unromantic of you to suggest that maybe he ought to love and respect you enough to get rid of that back door altogether. Marriage is the ultimate declaration of love because it is about commitment. Awesome, ballsy, B.S.-free commitment. There is no greater gift a person can give than him- or herself, and this commitment says, “Everything I am, all that I’ve worked for, all that I hope to become, I give to you unreservedly.”

“Oh, but my boyfriend just said those exact words to me the other night after we finished making love. He says he’s totally committed to me, only he doesn’t want to get married, that’s all.” Well, dear, I’d say that’s because he wants all the privileges of “commitment” without any of the responsibilities that come with it, that's all. The reason why marriage means commitment, and anything other than marriage is less-than, is because getting married means he is becoming family with you. Your parents become his parents, your siblings become his siblings, your gossiping aunt and alcoholic uncle become his problem relatives too. It is the deepest of moral commitments because he is willing to pledge to your ex-military father and overprotective mother that he will take care of you, their baby, as if you were his very own family, as if you were the child of his own parents. Just as someone would have to be some kind of sick bastard to abuse his own sister, that’s the stigma he’d be willing to bear if he ever mistreated you--not to mention the wrath of your parents and siblings--because now he is family and is expected to act the part. But he is willing to do it because he loves you and it would never cross his mind to do otherwise. That is what marriage means.

Social conservatives are a slightly cynical bunch when it comes to human morality. We suspect that if left to ourselves without any social constraints to encourage us in the right moral direction, we would all be on the verge of degenerating into some kind of Lord of the Flies chaos. That is why the institution of marriage fits into our moral agenda so perfectly. It brings the ideals of love and the dubiousness of sexual drive together into a socially respectable relationship under the watchful eyes of parents. Oh yeah, it doesn’t get any better than that, baby.

And now along come these homosexuals, at whom we have been spitting bile for years because of their shoddy sexual morals, and they want to be a part of this thing too. They don’t want just sex and shacking up with the back door wide open. They want the in-laws, the joint bank accounts, Thanksgiving at Aunt Bessie’s every year even though you are allergic to her cats, and the stigma of being “divorced” if this whole endeavor should fail. Yet instead of being smugly delighted and giving that fatherly, “I knew you’d come around someday” smile, we’re panicking and falling all over ourselves to prevent them. Uh . . . why?