Tag Archives: homosexuality

How KRudd’s selfie-centred flip-flopping alienates the Christian right, left, and centre and shows he doesn’t get the Gospel

Did you catch last night’s Q&A? The Fairfax press is hailing KRudd’s exchange with New Hope Brisbane pastor Matt Prater as the “answer of the century.”

Kevin Rudd has lurched right on Asylum Seekers, and lurched left on marriage, and in the process has alienated those Christians – and I’d put myself in this category – who want to take the words of Jesus seriously when it comes to issues of justice for the oppressed, and the nature of the church/state relationship. Personally, I believe that marriage as God created it, is a lifelong union between one man and one woman, but I don’t believe my views should be enshrined in the legislation of a secular state where all minorities need to be protected and catered for equally.

While this election is something like a battle of the evil of two lessers – Rudd’s constant movements of his moral compass with the political ebb and flow on moral issues has me despairing for the nature of leadership in opinion poll driven politics – and despairing for the impact his soap box theologising has on how people understand what the Bible is about and what Christianity is. This is the big concern for me coming out of last night. Rudd just doesn’t seem to get the gospel.

He tried to explain his asylum seeker backflip in the earlier minutes of Q&A last night – but I missed that. I tuned in about 15 minutes after the show started. But it was when a pastor from Brisbane stood up and asked him a question about his flip-flopping on marriage equality that Rudd problematically made the shift from politician to theologian.

Slamming the pastor in the process.

It’s odd that you can get so much mileage from lambasting a position you held publicly until just three months ago – when KRudd made his move on marriage equality based on his theology (I’d say illegitimately) – rather than his political philosophy (which I’d say would be legitimate).

Here’s the video of the exchange.

Here’s the question Rudd faced. From the Q&A transcript.

“MATT PRATER: Hi, Prime Minister. I’m a pastor of a local church and work for a national Christian radio network. Most of the listeners and callers we have had in our radio station have been saying they won’t be voting for you because they’re disillusioned because you seem to keep chopping and changing your beliefs just to get a popular vote with regards to things like marriage. Why should we vote for you?”

I’m sad he didn’t say “like marriage and asylum seekers”… but the question is what it is.

The video makes for awkward viewing – and I’m not particularly interested in the marriage debate. As outlined above. So lets focus on the claims Rudd makes about the Bible. Because that, ultimately, is where he’s winning praise outside of the church.

The ‘abnormality’ of homosexuality

“Number one, I do not believe people, when they are born, choose their sexuality. They are gay if they are born gay. You don’t decide at some later stage in life to be one thing or the other. It is – it is how people are built and, therefore, the idea that this is somehow an abnormal condition is just wrong. I don’t get that. I think that is just a completely ill-founded view. Secondly, if you accept that it is natural and normal for someone to be gay because that’s the way they are, then it follows from that that I don’t think it is right to say that if these two folk here, who are in love with each other and are of the same gender, should be denied the opportunity for legal recognition of the duration of their relationship by having marriage equality. If you accept that – if your starting point is that homosexuality is abnormal – I don’t know if that’s your view.”

Choosing the terminology one employs in a debate and forcing the person you’re talking to to adopt that terminology and all its baggage is a really horrible way to conduct a civil conversation. By framing the question the way he did, Kevin Rudd skewed the theological playing field. The normality or otherwise of a sexual orientation is irrelevant. We are all sexually broken because our sinful natures – which mean we sin naturally – taint every aspect of our being. That’s a pretty foundational tenant of the Protestant stream of Christianity. The relationship between being made in God’s image and being sinful is something Paul grapples with in Romans. It’s properly basic Christianity.

Here’s what Paul says in Romans 7, from verse 18.

“For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

This is the first point at which KRudd’s position poses a significant threat to the Gospel. If there is no dilemma – if what is natural is good, if what is natural is created and “what ought to be” – then there is no human dilemma. If sin is not natural then there is no need for humans to be rescued by God. There is no need for God to send Jesus into the world. There is no need for Jesus to go to the cross to deliver us and to redeem our nature. There is no need for the Holy Spirit to work in us, as Paul says it does in Romans 8:29, to conform us into the image of God’s son. Which leads neatly into the next problem with KRudd’s understanding of the Gospel.

Slavery, Born this way, and transformation

Here’s the follow up from Matt Prater.

“Jesus said a man shall leave his father and mother and be married and that’s the Biblical definition. I just believe in what the Bible says and I’m just curious for you, Kevin, if you call yourself a Christian, why don’t you believe the words of Jesus in the Bible?”

Here’s the next significant issue from Rudd’s answer.

“Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St Paul said in the New Testament, “Slaves be obedient to your masters.”

Ignoring the false link Rudd then draws with Slavery in America – let’s have a look at what else St Paul actually says about slavery. In 1 Corinthians 7. From verse 21

“Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave.”

Rudd doesn’t seem to grasp his hero Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the Christian life…

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

If slavery is a “natural condition” as Rudd says the Bible says it is – then there should be no escape. And yet, here Paul calls those who are slaves to take their freedom if available.

The ability to change your state from bondage – your natural state or in this case literally being a slave – is a huge part of Paul’s understanding of the Gospel. Why should our sexuality be removed from this equation?

Here’s what Paul says about the outworking of our broken nature and the pursuit of freedom just a little bit earlier in that same letter to the Corinthians.

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.

This seems, from Paul’s logic earlier in Corinthians, and elsewhere (like in Romans), to involve a natural state – especially because of how he describes the transformation happening…

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.

This is the problem with the born this way argument. It makes people slaves to their nature – unable to exercise freedom to self-determine one’s identity – sexual or otherwise. It’s a horrible position to take. It pigeon holes people based on factors they can’t choose. The question often asked here is “what sort of God would create people who do the wrong thing by nature?” – but a question on the flip side that is rarely asked is “What sort of God would make people a slave to their biology or environment with no potential for growth or transformation?”

The answer, from Paul, is that the sort of God who does exist is a God who not only makes transformation possible – he equips broken people with the capacity to be transformed through his intervention in the world in the person of Jesus. Who offers transformation. That’s a pretty key idea in the New Testament – in fact I would say it is the BIG IDEA of the New Testament (and the whole Bible). This is the third problem with Rudd’s answer last night. The biggest problem.

The big idea of the New Testament is not about our love for others, it is about God’s love for us in Jesus.

“What is the fundamental principle of the New Testament? It is one of universal love. Loving your fellow man. And if we get obsessed with a particular definition of that through a form of sexuality, then I think we are missing the centrality of what the gospel, whether you call it a social gospel, a personal gospel or a spiritual gospel, is all about.”

The centrality of the Gospel – the word means “good news” and in the Graeco-Roman setting meant the good news about the arrival of a king – is the arrival of God’s promised king. Jesus. Jesus is at the heart of the Gospel – not “universal love” or “loving your fellow man” – these are outworkings of the character of God who reveals himself in Christ. These are the way we respond to being loved by God so much that he became human and died our death to offer us new life. This is how we respond once our nature is transformed. It is not something we are naturally capable of. It is not something that makes people “Christian.” It is not the Gospel. There is no social Gospel without the person of Jesus. There is no personal Gospel without the person of Jesus. There is no Spiritual Gospel without the person of Jesus.

The gospel is about Jesus.

It is clear Rudd doesn’t get this.

He should stop talking as a theologian and work at speaking as a politician.

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A letter to Charlie Pickering on the exodus of Exodus

Charlie,

I like you. I’ve been a fan since the early days – since the Mel and Charlie show on JJJ. I’m not a Jonny-come-lately Talking About Your Generation Pickering bandwagon jumper. You’re a smart guy. Whip smart. It’s fun watching you pull politicians apart on The Project, the show normally strikes a nice balance between smart advocacy on serious issues and humour – and I reckon that is largely a result of your own personality. It seems that’s the mix of most successful comedians.

But I had some issues with last night’s show (Friday June 21). I loved the segment on Refugees – and Walk Together – a good initiative from a Christian pastor, Brad Chilcott, I enjoyed most of the program, but I was a bit surprised with the segment on Exodus International’s Alan Chambers recent apology to the gay community. I understand it’s a story – but I didn’t think this was the quality of some of your better advocacy work. I appreciate that the panel has pretty strong views on the nature of same sex attraction. That people are born gay, or don’t choose to be gay. That it’s immutable. And while as a Bible believing Christian I’m happy to agree with the first – that people don’t generally have a choice when it comes to their sexual orientation – I’m puzzled about the idea that any aspect of any human will is something that individual does not have a right to attempt to change. As an exercise of their humanity. 

I know the Psychological Associations have moved from classing homosexual attraction from a disorder, to classing discomfort with one’s sexual orientation to a disorder – but surely we can think a little bigger, and a little more progressively on this front. I’m with you in not wanting to see vulnerable people forced to conform to a norm in society, or being taken advantage of – I don’t think Exodus International was particularly interested in a vendetta against unwilling converts, this isn’t a modern equivalent of trying to stamp out left-handedness. I’m also sure – as Alan Chambers himself seems to indicate – that there have been people who have been in these “conversion therapy” programs against their will, and I’ve got no doubt that this is potentially psychologically harmful. But what about people who go willingly? What about adult individuals who haven’t been brainwashed but simply want to exercise some self control in accordance with their religious beliefs? What about my friends who are Christians, same sex attracted, and want to enjoy a heterosexual relationship as an avenue for sexual expression? Both you, and Carrie, said some odd things, that to me suggests you really do believe that this kind of counselling never works.

Carrie’s nice line was:

“Sexuality can’t be changed but attitudes can.”

I have friends who are testimony to the fact that it does. Your absolute claim can’t be maintained. The research suggests you’re wrong too. Alan Chambers is responding to the problem with the idea that reparative therapy always works. It doesn’t. Sexuality occurs on a spectrum – we’ve known that since Kinsey. Some people can move along that scale, others can’t. Some people can move (probably the ones closes to the middle of the scale, some people who want to be faithful to their beliefs might simply live as celibate same sex attracted Christians.

I’m with Alan Chambers and the research (a study from Yarhouse and Jones in particular) that suggests that “reparative therapy” won’t always work. Especially if it’s defined as flicking some binary switch from gay to straight with no space for “neutral.”

Here’s what the study found.

“In addition to clarifying what we found, it is equally important to clarify what we did not find. First, we did not find that everyone can change. Saying that change is not impossible in general is not the same thing as saying that everyone can change, that anyone can change, or that change is possible for any given individual. Second, while we found that part of our research population experienced success to the degree that it might be called (as we have here) “conversion,” our evidence does not indicate that these changes are categorical, resulting in uncomplicated, dichotomous and unequivocal reversal of sexual orientation from utterly homosexual to utterly heterosexual. Most of the individuals who reported that they were heterosexual at T6 did not report themselves to be without experience of homosexual arousal, and they did not report their heterosexual orientation to be unequivocal and uncomplicated.”

Personally, I think “Reparative therapy” is a horrible name that somehow suggests homosexual orientation is more deviant than the standard heterosexual attraction that leads heterosexual people to all sorts of sinful sexual activity outside of marriage – we’re all broken on the sexuality front…). Let’s call it what it really is – a tool for helping equip individuals to live as they wish to live if their sexual orientation does not match their chosen identity.

The problem is that this study suggests reparative therapy does sometimes work – which means sexual orientation isn’t actually immutable. If it never worked there’d be a good reason to stop individuals pursuing this avenue for change. They also found that the process, when adults are deliberately engaged as individuals, is not actually harmful by any measure – this isn’t to deny that the process is possibly harmful – but it isn’t inherently harmful.

This data is backed up by the people who are staffing groups like Exodus, like Liberty, in Australia – and by my same sex attracted brothers and sisters in churches all around the world who are either content being single and remaining same sex attracted without being sexually active. These people are to be admired. Not ridiculed. They are taking Jesus’ call to “carry the cross” and applying it to their sexuality – dying to their own desires in order to be part of something bigger.

I can’t throw stones at groups like Exodus for trying to love and support these people.

You can. It seems.

It doesn’t help that Alan Chambers’ apology is so nuanced that it is the proverbial jelly being pinned to a wall – but he’s a guy who is same sex attracted and in a heterosexual marriage who will continue to maintain his position on gay marriage and gay sexual expression. The apology says so. He’s just wanting to change the tone of the conversation – and that’s admirable.

I cannot apologize for my deeply held biblical beliefs about the boundaries I see in scripture surrounding sex, but I will exercise my beliefs with great care and respect for those who do not share them.  I cannot apologize for my beliefs about marriage. But I do not have any desire to fight you on your beliefs or the rights that you seek. My beliefs about these things will never again interfere with God’s command to love my neighbor as I love myself.   

But back to last night. And your stone throwing. In the heat of the interview with Doug Pollard from the Rainbow Report he mentioned Liberty Inc and Living Waters as groups operating in Australia. Now Doug isn’t objective – that’s why he’s good talent. But you didn’t even feign objectivity in your line of questioning. You didn’t quiz him on where the evidence for his assertion that these groups involved people with no formal training came from. You Dorothy Dixed him. With this question/statement in particular. To which he responded “yes”… That means this isn’t just a leading question. It’s a statement.

“Given that we are about to head into a Royal Commission into various forms of abuse within religious organisations as it is. This strikes me as something that maybe in ten, twenty years time we’ll need a royal commission into these gay conversions as well.”

I’m going to call you out on this one. Shenanigans! The Royal Commission is broader than “within religious organisations” – deliberately. Sure. I’m with you on the horrific abuses perpetrated by people operating within religious organisations being terrible and heinous. Which is what makes this comparison truly awful. You, rightly, got stuck into the ACL when it made unflattering and unhelpful comparisons between homosexuality and other things – like smoking, and the Nazis, but here you’re comparing two equally horrible and unequal concepts – the systematic abuse and cover up of the abuse of children within institutions, and a voluntary activity undertaken by individuals with appropriate consent by groups with appropriate training. Far from “hiding” – Liberty Inc has a website. Which says:

All our counsellors are professionally trained and accredited

It is mandatory for all counsellors working with Liberty Inc to be degree qualified and be a member of the Christian Counsellors Association of Australia. The Christian Counsellors Association of Australia maintains minimum standards of ethical practice including privacy and confidentiality.”

Degree qualified. Seems Doug was misleading you. Farbeit from me to teach you about television and stuff – but you enabled Doug Pollard’s slander of an opposing group without giving the opposing group recourse to respond to the slander. This is low brow television at its worst under the veneer of a progressive agenda.

Doug mentioned smart phone apps that have been responsible for “uncovering the lie” that gay-to-straight conversion people are perpetrating. I can only imagine he’s referring to Grindr and a recent outing of a proponent of gay to straight conversion in the states. A guy named Matt Moore. Far from being a testimony to the failure of groups like Exodus, Moore’s story is a testimony to the grace and forgiveness for sexual brokenness found in the gospel.

I suggest reading his interview to get a sense of what it looks like to struggle to live out a life following Jesus within the sphere of your sexuality. What it means to take up your cross – which is what Jesus called people who followed him to do. And then I suggest that on Monday’s program you find someone who is carrying that cross and ask them about it. Rather than shouting down their sacrifice from a position of ignorance and hate.

CP: What would you say to a Christian suffering from same-sex attraction after this experience?

Moore:  The same thing I have always said: Jesus is better than sin. It doesn’t matter what the specific sin is, Jesus is better. He is more valuable, comforting and satisfying than homosexual behavior, and I can say that from experience. If you fall, get back up and keep pursuing Him. If Jesus went as far as to die for your sin, why would He not help you up when you stumble? The world will tell you to embrace your homosexual desires because it’ll make you happy in this life. Jesus tells you to deny yourself and follow Him and promises to give you eternal life if you do. You must decide everyday who you will believe and who you will follow: the way of the world or the Way of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

On Gay Marriage, Kevin Rudd, the ACL, and “taking up your cross.”

It feels like a long time since I’ve written about gay marriage. It feels like a long time since I’ve written about Kevin Rudd. It feels like a long time since I’ve written about the ACL. It feels like a long time since I’ve written about anything much. But here goes…

The “Current” Background

The gay marriage debate is firing up again because the Australian Greens are going to introduce a bill to parliament. The bill is, at this point, destined to fail, because while the Labor party has given its members a conscience vote, the opposition is keeping their members in lock-step with their pre-election commitments on marriage. Kevin Rudd, a Christian politician, has decided to vote in favour of an amendment to the marriage act. The Australian Christian Lobby has said something dumb and inflammatory in response.

The Background on K-Rudd

Kevin Rudd is Australia’s former Prime Minister. He was knifed and unceremoniously dumped from the job by his deputy and a bunch of “faceless men”… Though he sits on the political left he’s been something of a darling to the Christian Right, because he is a politician who takes his faith seriously. Read his Bonhoeffer Essay published in Australia’s high brow “intellectual” mag, The Monthly in October 2006. Before he was Prime Minister.

I’m not a huge fan of Rudd’s. He often seems robotic and calculated. But I respect him – his approach to political campaigning was positive and refreshing, and he is a man of principle – sticking to his word in a recent leadership coup even though it cost him hugely. But I do like the thoughtfulness he applies to the question of the relationship between church and state. This is from the Bonhoeffer essay linked above:

“For its first three centuries, Christianity had represented an active counterculture, but what was to be Christianity’s message in a new age in which the church had become culturally dominant? This became the continuing challenge of Christianity in the Christian West for the subsequent 1500 years.

Over the last 200 years, however, we have seen an entirely different debate arise, as Christianity has sought to come to terms with a rising and increasingly rampant secularism. The impact of independent scientific enquiry, the increasing impact of secular humanism itself, combined with the pervasive influence of modernism and postmodernism, have had the cumulative effect of undermining the influence of the mainstream Catholic and Protestant churches across the West.

Where this will lead, as Christianity enters its third millennium, remains to be seen. But there are signs of Christianity seeing itself, and being seen by others, as a counterculture operating within what some have called a post-Christian world. In some respects, therefore, Christianity, at least within the West, may be returning to the minority position it occupied in the earliest centuries of its existence. But whether or not we conclude that Christianity holds a minority or a majority position within Western societies, that still leaves unanswered the question of how any informed individual Christian (or Christians combined in the form of an organised church) should relate to the state.”

Here’s Rudd’s conclusion for how Christians should engage in the political process:

“I argue that a core, continuing principle shaping this engagement should be that Christianity, consistent with Bonhoeffer’s critique in the ’30s, must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed.”

He says, a bit later:

“The function of the church in all these areas of social, economic and security policy is to speak directly to the state: to give power to the powerless, voice to those who have none, and to point to the great silences in our national discourse where otherwise there are no natural advocates.”

He identifies five approaches that Christians take to politics.

1. Vote for me because I’m a Christian.

“This is the model that is most repugnant. It is the model which says that, simply on the basis of my external profession of the Christian faith, those of similar persuasion should vote for me.”

2. Vote for me because I’m a morally conservative Christian and tick the right boxes on your sexual morality tests.

These tests tend to emphasise questions of sexuality and sexual behaviour. I see very little evidence that this pre-occupation with sexual morality is consistent with the spirit and content of the Gospels. For example, there is no evidence of Jesus of Nazareth expressly preaching against homosexuality. In contrast, there is considerable evidence of the Nazarene preaching against poverty and the indifference of the rich.

3. Vote for me because I’m a morally conservative Christian and I’m into family values.

4. Combine all of these, but then respond negatively when someone suggests there might be a political position to be taken on economic policy, not just moral policy.

5. Believe the gospel is both a political and social gospel.

In other words, the Gospel is as much concerned with the decisions I make about my own life as it is with the way I act in society. It is therefore also concerned with how in turn I should act, and react, in relation to the state’s power. This view derives from the simple principle that the Gospel which tells humankind that they must be born again is the same Gospel which says that at the time of the Great Judgement, Christians will be asked not how pious they have been but instead whether they helped to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the lonely. In this respect, the Gospel is an exhortation to social action. Does this mean that the fundamental ethical principles provide us with an automatic mathematical formula for determining every item of social, economic, environmental, national-security and international-relations policy before government? Of course not. What it means is that these matters should be debated by Christians within an informed Christian ethical framework.

K-Rudd and I share a vehement rejection of approaches 1-4. We both think there’s a roll for Christians to play in advocating for the voiceless, not lobbying for our own special interests. There’s a pretty obvious dig at the approach the Australian Christian Lobby (not to be confused with the Australian Cat Ladies) takes to politics in this article.

But fundamentally, though I will agree with our former Prime Minister on the wide ranging implications for the gospel on how we conceive of politics, ethics, and society, I don’t think he’s really grasped the magnitude of how the Gospel’s content –  the crucified Lord who calls us to take up our cross, follow him, and die to self – the qualities he so admires in Bonhoeffer’s understanding of the gospel at a social and political level – applies to the moral and sexual sphere of the Christian life. Jesus is Lord over sexual morality, just as he is Lord over workplace relations policy.

Which leads me to the current situation…

Kevin Rudd’s changing opinion on Gay Marriage

Kevin Rudd has applied this rubric for the relationship between church and state to the question of gay marriage, and arrived at this conclusion (posted on his blog overnight):

I have come to the conclusion that church and state can have different positions and practices on the question of same sex marriage. I believe the secular Australian state should be able to recognise same sex marriage. I also believe that this change should legally exempt religious institutions from any requirement to change their historic position and practice that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. For me, this change in position has come about as a result of a lot of reflection, over a long period of time, including conversations with good people grappling with deep questions of life, sexuality and faith.

I’ve suggested in the past that this is, I think, the way forward in a secular democracy (short of the government simply legislating civil unions for everybody). I’m sure there are good natural arguments (ie non-Christian arguments) against gay marriage. I’m not sure those arguments are “marriage is for making children”… That would seem to rule out a greater purpose for marriage for people who know they are infertile, or people who are elderly. Which will, no doubt, bring me to the ACL. Shortly.

Lets parse the problems with Rudd’s statement from the Christian side of the ledger – rather than the political side. He’s making a potentially correct political decision, given the system he operates in, from incorrect theology. Incorrect theology that is there in the Bonhoeffer thing. If Jesus can’t make claims over our sexuality – our “natural” state – then he’s no Lord at all. He calls us to come and die in every area of our life. Including our natural, hard-wired, sexual urges.

Here’s Rudd’s narrative.

“One Saturday morning in Canberra, some weeks ago, a former political staffer asked to have a coffee. This bloke, who shall remain nameless, is one of those rare finds among political staffers who combines intelligence, integrity, a prodigious work ethic, and, importantly, an unfailing sense of humour in the various positions he has worked in around Parliament House. Necessary in contemporary politics, otherwise you simply go stark raving mad.

And like myself, this bloke is a bit of a god-botherer (aka Christian). Although a little unlike myself, he is more of a capital G God-Botherer. In fact, he’s long been active in his local Pentecostal Church.

Over coffee, and after the mandatory depressing discussion about the state of politics, he tells me that he’s gay, he’s told his pastor (who he says is pretty cool with it all, although the same cannot be said of the rest of the church leadership team) and he then tells me that one day he’d like to get married to another bloke. And by the way, “had my views on same sex marriage changed?”.”

So, to recap, for those who skip over quotes, a staffer Rudd respects, a Christian, is gay and wants to marry a man. So Rudd has had a rethink on his opposition to gay marriage.

Very few things surprise me in life and politics anymore. But I must confess the Pentecostal staffer guy threw me a bit. And so the re-think began, once again taking me back to first principles. First, given that I profess to be a Christian (albeit not a particularly virtuous one) and given that this belief informs a number of my basic views; and given that I am given a conscience vote on these issues; then what constitutes for me a credible Christian view of same sex marriage, and is such a view amenable to change? Second, irrespective of what that view might be, do such views have a proper place in a secular state, in a secular definition of marriage, or in a country where the census tells us that while 70% of the population profess a religious belief, some 70% of marriages no longer occur in religious institutions, Christian or otherwise.

These are the two questions.

He starts to move the goalposts a little on the “Christian view” thing by playing the “literalist” card. Now. I’m a Biblical Literalist. I do not think it means what Rudd think it means, or what many extreme Biblical Literalists think it means. I think Biblical literalism means reading a text in its context, trying to understand what the author literally meant, and in part that comes from understanding what the original audience would understand something to literally mean.

“In fact if we were today to adhere to a literalist rendition of the Christian scriptures, the 21st century would be a deeply troubling place, and the list of legitimized social oppressions would be disturbingly long.”

This is a purely speculative begged question – and it ignores the contribution to the 21st century made by Bonhoeffer’s contribution to the 20th century. He also throws Wilberforce under a bus. It’ll surprise Wilberforce to one day learn that people considered he was ignoring the plain meaning of the Bible when he opposed slavery.

Here’s Rudd’s guide to reading the Bible.

The Bible also teaches us that people should be stoned to death for adultery (which would lead to a veritable boom in the quarrying industry were that still the practice today). The same for homosexuals. And the biblical conditions for divorce are so strict that a woman could be beaten within an inch of her life and still not be allowed to legally separate.

The point is that nobody in the mainstream Christian Church today would argue any of these propositions. A hundred years ago, that was not necessarily the case. In other words, the definition of Christian ethics is subject to change, based on analysis of the historical context into which the biblical writers were speaking at the time, and separating historical context from timeless moral principles, such as the injunction to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

Nobody in the mainstream church has argued for stoning adulterers, with any credibility, since Jesus stopped the angry mob stoning an adulteress, or since Jesus met a divorced, adulterous, Samaritan woman at the well. The very model of the oppressed whom Bonhoeffer says we should be looking out for – and Jesus claims to be the promised king of the Old Testament and doesn’t stone her. Clearly the plain reading of the Old Testament, so far as Jesus was concerned – and he’s better positioned to read it than we are, as a Jew, and as God.

Christian ethics aren’t subject to change. Christian ethics are the ethics of the cross. It’s not just “love your neighbour” – Christian ethics are a call to deny yourself and to love your enemy.

Rudd presents such an anaemic view of Christian ethics here that it’s not surprising his conclusion is theologically incoherent.

The call for all people who follow Jesus is that we die to self, die to our desire to base our identity on our sexual orientation – gay, straight, bi, or otherwise – there is no unbroken sexual orientation – and if we do want to pursue sexual intimacy, regardless of orientation, Jesus affirms the traditional view of marriage.

Here’s a thing Jesus says when he also shows that K-Rudd is wrong about divorce.

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?”

Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”

11 Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12 For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others—and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

Some people won’t have sex because being part of the Kingdom of God calls them to that. We’re really bad at acknowledging that category, culturally, and in our church.  I suspect singleness would be much easier if we were better at looking out for those who are single. So that it’s not a cross they bear alone.

Anyway.

It’s hard not to read this following bit in the light of his conversation with his friend – and suspect that it underpins his theological move.

“Which brings us back to same sex marriage. I for one have never accepted the argument from some Christians that homosexuality is an abnormality. People do not choose to be gay. The near universal findings of biological and psychological research for most of the post war period is that irrespective of race, religion or culture, a certain proportion of the community is born gay, whether they like it or not. Given this relatively uncontested scientific fact, then the following question that arises is should our brothers and sisters who happen to be gay be fully embraced as full members of our wider society? The answer to that is unequivocally yes, given that the suppression of a person’s sexuality inevitably creates far greater social and behavioural abnormalities, as opposed to its free and lawful expression. “

Rudd’s statement would be heaps better if he just said: “We are a secular democracy, and people in our secular democracy desire something, and the only good reason not to appears to come from a religious understanding of the thing.” By trying to play theologian he has left himself a little open to criticism.

The Bible says that humanity is born sinful. That we’re born with a natural propensity to sin. It shouldn’t be a huge jump for Christian theology to acknowledge that homosexuality is natural – it’s only a problem if we think our nature is a pristine, untainted, God honouring canvas. The image we bear of God in Genesis 1 is broken in Genesis 3.

Jesus is the image of God (Colossians 1:15), and calls people to come and die. Like he did. But if you’re not coming and dying then I am not so sure you can be called not to base your identity on anything you want – including your sexuality. Including defining your relationships using the word “marriage.” That’s why Rudd should have left the theology alone and just gone with the politics. He’s better at that.

Rudd moves from the theological point to the argument from nature about children needing a mother and father. I believe that in the ideal circumstances this is true (though I’m sympathetic to the idea that an emotionally healthy child needs much more than just a mother and a father – who love them sacrificially, they need a “village”). But I also, like Rudd, believe that we’re a long way from the ideal.

“Which brings us to what for some time has been the sole remaining obstacle in my mind on same sex marriage – namely any unforeseen consequences for children who would be brought up by parents in a same sex married relationship, as against those brought up by parents in married or de-facto heterosexual relationships, by single parents, or by adoptive or foster parents, or other legally recognised parent or guardian relationships. The care, nurture and protection of children in loving relationships must be our fundamental concern. And this question cannot be clinically detached from questions of marriage – same sex or opposite sex. The truth is that in modern Australia approximately 43 per cent of marriages end in divorce, 27 per cent of Australian children are raised in one parent, blended or step-family situations, and in 2011-12 nearly 50,000 cases of child abuse were substantiated by the authorities of more than 250,000 notifications registered. In other words, we have a few problems out there.

That does not mean, by some automatic corollary, that children raised in same sex relationships are destined to experience some sort of nirvana by comparison. But scientific surveys offer important indications. One of the most comprehensive surveys of children raised in same sex relationships is the US National Longitudinal Survey conducted since 1986 – 1992 (and still ongoing) on adolescents raised by same sex partners. This survey, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics in 2010, concluded that there were no Child Behaviour Checklist differences for these kids as against the rest of the country”

These longitudinal studies are interesting. I do wonder what the results would look like if you reverse engineered the ideal parenting situation from the outcome of parenting. If you asked a bunch of successful and emotionally healthy adults about their background – if you didn’t take a broad cross section to measure against the average, but selected some sort of high achievement criterion. Maybe that study is out there somewhere. But anyway, Rudd makes the point that the horse has already bolted on this front…

“Either as a result of previous opposite-sex relationships, or through existing state and territory laws making assisted reproduction, surrogacy, adoption and fostering legally possible for same sex couples or individuals in the majority of Australian states and territories. Furthermore, Commonwealth legislation has already recognised the legal rights of children being brought up in such relationships under the terms of Australian family law.”

One thing I do appreciate is the tone Rudd has brought to the debate – he acknowledges that this is his opinion, and that people, like Julia Gillard, will use their own consciences and reasons to develop their own convictions. This is what life in a democracy is about.

So good on him for that.

Which brings me to the ACL.

The ACL is apparently indignant that a back bench MP would dare exercise his right to conscience. They’ve taken a leaf from the Greens, their political nemesis, in comparing this policy decision to the stolen generation.

Here’s Christine Milne’s impassioned statement about a recent asylum seeker decision.

“In 10, 15, 20 years when there is a national apology to the children detained indefinitely in detention for the sole, supposed crime of seeking a better life in our country because they are running away for persecution with their families, not one of you will be able to stand up and say “Oh we didn’t, oh, it was the culture of the period.”

That’s a nice piece of rhetoric – but it’ll only take so long before this becomes the Australian equivalent of Godwin’s Law. The ACL is working on it…

Here’s the title of their Media Release.

Rudd’s change on marriage sets up a new stolen generation

Really?

Do go on.

The Prime Minister who rightly gave an apology to the stolen generation has sadly not thought through the fact that his new position on redefining marriage will create another.

Australian Christian Lobby Managing Director Lyle Shelton said Kevin Rudd’s overnight change of mind on redefining marriage ignored the consequence of robbing children of their biological identity through same-sex surrogacy and other assisted reproductive technologies.

“What Kevin Rudd has failed to consider is that marriage is a compound right to form a family. Marriage is not just an affectionate relationship between two people regardless of gender.

I’m sympathetic to this argument. I’m just not sure it’s a particularly Christian argument. It’s a politically conservative argument based on concepts of personhood that admittedly come from the Christian tradition. But it doesn’t seem particularly informed by the person of Jesus. The Jews could own this position.

This is a nice call to take the question of the raising of children away from selfishness:

“What Mr Rudd has not considered is whether or not it is right for children to be taken through technology from their biological parent so that ‘married’ same-sex couples can fulfil their desires.”

This objection is just weird. I would hope that given the sexual health issues in the homosexual community we would want some sort of education to happen to prevent these issues (oh wait, the ACL has form in this area on sexual health billboards, and with those smoking claims).

Mr Shelton said Mr Rudd had also ignored the fact that this inevitably means parents will have their children taught the mechanics of homosexual sex in school sex education classes, something that would surely follow the redefinition of marriage.

Here’s a little case of adopting the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” mantra while trying to have one’s cake and eat it too. Read the heading of this media release again, and then read this rebuke…

“The so-called ‘marriage equality’ debate has been conducted by slogans without proper consideration of the consequences. Kevin Rudd is the latest to fall victim to shallow thinking on this issue,” Mr Shelton said.

The ACL is disappointed in Rudd – not primarily because his theological account of sexuality misrepresents the Gospel. But because. Umm. Marriage.

“Mr Rudd’s announcement that he supports same sex marriage will be a huge disappointment for Christians and leaves their hopes for the preservation of marriage clearly with the Coalition and Christian-based minor parties.

Oh. And because it’s bad politics because it doesn’t protect the bigger minority from the smaller…

“No government has the right to create these vulnerabilities for the church-going twenty per cent of the population in order to allow the point two per cent who will take advantage of this to redefine marriage,” he said.

And now Christians won’t vote for him. Because the ACL speaks for Christians.

“Mr Rudd seems intent on burning bridges not only with colleagues, but with a constituency which had long given him the benefit of the doubt,” Mr Shelton said.

Something is either true and demands our support, or not. The truth doesn’t change with popular opinion, to which he is now saying he seems to be responding.”

“If this is an attempt to wedge Julia Gillard, it will cost Mr Rudd the last of his following in the Christian Constituency,” Mr Shelton said.

And finally. When it comes to the question of the theological stuff, where you might expect something related to the gospel, we get another statement that the Australian Sharia Law Lobby would be happy to sign up to if we changed “Christian teaching” to “God’s Law”.

His views on homosexuality and changing the definition of marriage are not in line with orthodox Christian teaching.

“All major Australian church denominations officially oppose same sex marriage and over 50 of Australia’s most prominent church and denominational leaders signed a statement against it in August 2011.”

The ACL is playing the game that K-Rudd pointed out is a problematic game for Christians in his Monthly article. Jesus calls us to come and die. He calls us to die to our sexual desires in order to submit to his Lordship. That’s where Kevin goes wrong. The ACL goes wrong not because they think Jesus is only interested in our sexuality – they’re trying to speak out for children too. Clearly. Or they wouldn’t use such dumb headings. They go wrong when they try to make Jesus the Lord of petty politics. On the one hand the ACL’s Lyle Shelton says “things are either true or they aren’t” and on the other he argues against certain courses of action because the political numbers are bad. Their whole model is broken.

Christians don’t take up our cross by railing against the political empire from a position of power – for starters, the political empire put Jesus to death. Or by playing the political game as though might makes right. There’s not much of a theology of the cross being displayed in the ACL’s statement.

K-Rudd should have left the theology and focused on the politics. The ACL should have left out the politics and focused on the theology (Jesus). Church and state should listen to each other. Especially when everyone is claiming they’re trying to follow Jesus. If you want to do politics like Jesus you’ve got to do politics shaped by the cross. If you want to speak theology about politics you’ve got to show how your theology relates to the cross. If you want to speak as Christians about politics why would you not speak of politics in the light of the cross?

Jesus’ pitch is the same for everybody. It’s not just about the poor, or about social justice – we’re all oppressed. We’re all broken. We all need intervention.

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? (Matt 16).

Same Love? No Love? Real Love?

I wrote a bit about Macklemore’s gangbusters pro gay marriage anthem Same Love a while back. It’s an incredible piece of persuasive writing set to music.

And it’s resonating with a generation of people. Check out this open letter to the church written by someone who buys into Macklemore’s thesis on Christianity and homosexuality

Here’s the parting words from the open letter…

My whole life, I’ve been told again and again that Christianity is not conducive with homosexuality. It just doesn’t work out. I was forced to choose between the love I had for my gay friends and so-called biblical authority. I chose gay people, and I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one. I said, “If the Bible really says this about gay people, I’m not too keen on trusting what it says about God.” And I left my church. It has only been lately that I have seen evidence that the Bible could be saying something completely different about love and equality.

So, my advice to you, the Church: if you’re looking for some intelligent biblical liberal opinions on the subject, have a little coffee chat with your local Methodist or Episcopal pastor. Christians can be all about gay people, it’s possible. People do it every day with a clear biblical conscience. Find out if you think there’s truth in that view before you sweep us under the rug. You CAN have a conservative view on gay marriage, or gay ordination. You can. But I want you to have some serious conversations with God, your friends that disagree with you, and maybe even some gay people, Christians or not, before you decide that this one view is worth marginalizing my generation. Weigh those politics against what you’re giving up: us. We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends). Help us find love in the church before we look for it outside.

This letter makes me incredibly sad – especially the comments, which make me a bit angry (all contributors equally), and make me despair a little for how the church has articulated its message about the place of sexuality, and how poorly we love people who fall outside our norms.

Here’s one comment…

“You say that you hope you would be willing to at least take a vow of chasitity if God calls you to be homosexual but let me just make this point: Why did God make Adam a partner? Because he should not be alone, it was not good that Adam was alone. God made us so that we survive better when we are not alone. Now, I’m not saying that there are not people out there that are called to be chaste, but what I am saying is that being called to be chaste is NOT the same thing as being called to be homosexual. It’s not fair for you to tell all homosexuals that they must be chaste because of the way GOD MADE THEM! Afterall, God said that everything he made was good (including sexuality) so how come you get to say that your sexuality is better than mine?”

You know how people always bring in that caveat before they say something that singles out a particular group, “I’m not against x, I have friends who are x” (eg I’m not racist, I have friends who are Asian, but here’s what I think…) – that always seems a little bit trite and tacked on.

But I do have some friends – or acquaintances – who are gay. I have no problem with that – I’d love them to know Jesus, but short of knowing Jesus there’s not a whole lot I have to say to them about their sexuality. Paul says in 1 Corinthians that the sexual behaviour of people outside the church isn’t really meant to get us all fired up. But I’m not really interested in this debate for their sake, because while I have some friends in this boat, there are people I love dearly, brothers and sisters in the family of Jesus, people I would do much for, who are attracted to people of the same sex. These brothers have voluntarily sacrificed their “happiness” (if happiness is defined as pursuing every natural inclination to its full extent, or beyond that point) because they believe, and they’re smart people, that this is part of being a follower of Jesus.

This “enlightened” open letter, and Macklemore’s “enlightened” view of love and the church has no place for the humanity or value of a decision these brothers of mine have made. And that makes me angrier and sadder than anything else in this debate.

I can understand the passion that drives people to fight for equality. But lets make it equality for all. Equal opportunity to determine your own sexuality, and your own view on an appropriate expression of your sexuality, rather than this ridiculous “Born this way” group think that leaves people as slaves to something beyond their control.

Both Macklemore and the enlightened commenter quoted above by into the born this way trope, with a dash of “whatever makes me feel good is not just good but right” approach to decision making. Here’s Mackelmore:

The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing god, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And god loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
I don’t know

Such rewiring is problematic if it’s not voluntary. It’s like trying to teach kids to be right handed. But nobody has problems with a left handed kid teaching themselves to bat right handed to advance their sporting career.

Maybe people want to give up something “good” or a type of “happiness” to chase something better and more fulfilling. Maybe my brothers in Christ want to pursue something bigger than sexual satisfaction.

That’s what the liberal theologians the letter writer calls for us to read are missing (that and any sense that our nature (Genesis 1) may have been frustrated by sin (Genesis 3) in the narrative arc of the Bible) – following the Jesus who typified sacrificial love for others, and sacrifice of self for others, will necessarily involve some sacrifice of self.

It’s horrible that the letter writer thought she had to choose between loving gay people – who are really just people, adding a label is part of the problem – and being part of the church. The church is called to love people, and we’re called as people who are aware that we are broken. That we are a horrible mess. We can’t come to Jesus for help without realising we need it. There’s nobody too messy for the church. Part of the problem, indicated in the comments, is a complete refusal to acknowledge that there could be any mess in me. Or in the people I like. All the mess is in those other people. Or that any aspect of our identity can be free of selfishness or the messiness of our humanity.

It’s horrible that the commenter thought that there are two choices in life: sex, or solitude. Fulfilment or being alone. What a shame that our understanding of human relationships has come to this. Maybe it’s easy for a straight, married, guy to say this. But I want to do everything I can to support people as they make voluntary choices – and I want to be especially helpful if they’re making voluntary choices because they want to follow and honour Jesus. I think all Christians should want this, and perhaps the real tragedy identified in the letter and the comments is that the church does a really bad job at making single people, whether by choice or not, feel anything other than alone. We need to get better at community. It isn’t good for man or woman to be alone – but the answer doesn’t have to be sexual intimacy.

I wish people in this debate would stop dehumanising my brothers and sisters who have voluntarily chosen not to conform to their ideals or to how they’re “made”… Surely we can approach this debate with a bit of maturity, and recognise that tolerance and equality is based in individual freedom, not in meeting whatever parameters are set by people on either extreme.

The problem with Macklemore, and this open letter, is that both are devoid of the love they claim to be looking for – love for people who live messy lives. They are pushing a new conformism that is as hateful as the one they’re trying to overthrow. Their pictures of church are also devoid of Jesus. Which means they’ve got a crap view of love. A broken, selfish, and dysfunctional definition of what love is.

Here’s a bit of the Bible (written by John) on love, based on Jesus, that all of us could learn from.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

But the key to this sort of genuine love for others – brotherly and sisterly love, is in the love God showed us first.

This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

People who don’t get God won’t get what it is that compels my brothers and sisters to give up temporary pleasures, companionship, and fulfilment now – but it’s this real love. All we offer one another without that is the “same love” – inadequate love, selfish love, love based on what meets my needs. That’s why Macklemore’s song resonates with people – it seems so wrong to rob people of the ability to satisfy their desires, or have their significance recognised. But it’s a hollow form of love. A shell when compared to the love God showed in Jesus.

Ultimately Macklemore might be right people should be free to enjoy the same love – there’s no logical reason to stop people who don’t believe in God pursuing equality (with constraints like power dynamics and consent taken into account), but the love he’s singing about isn’t real love.

“Born this way,” sexual orientation, freedom, and “slavery to the flesh”

I don’t know about you, but I find the idea that the outcomes of my life are determined by my biology – something I have no control over – pretty repulsive. It robs me of my individuality, my identity is chosen for me… who’d want to live like that?

The whole “born this way” juggernaut has been rolling for a while now – championed, most famously, by Lady Gaga and her anthemic Born This Way…

Image Credit: Mashable

I reckon the best bit about Easter Sunday – and the resurrection – is that it kills the idea that “born this way” cuts it when it comes to deciding who we are.

The song isn’t just musically problematic – it’s also both anthropologically problematic and theologically problematic.

The anthropological problems with Born This Way

Let’s take the anthropological issues first – because their solution shows why Christianity is actually one of the most progressive accounts of what it means to be human competing in the intellectual marketplace…

In the Bridge of Gaga’s song, we’re given a comparison between race, gender, and sexuality that many of us take for granted – and each is said to be both innate (something we’re born with), and essential (something that defines part of our essence).

“Don’t be a drag, just be a queen
Whether you’re broke or evergreen
You’re black, white, beige, chola descent
You’re Lebanese, you’re orient
Whether life’s disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied, or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
’cause baby you were born this way

No matter gay, straight, or bi,
Lesbian, transgendered life,
I’m on the right track baby,
I was born to survive.”

Doing what our genes tell us – what our birth gives us as “default” is something that we should apparently embrace without question as “the right track” which will apparently lead to our surviving (especially if we love ourselves).

That’s a level of biological fatalism that I’m uncomfortable with – and I’m the sort of Christian who takes such a high view of God that I sign up for predestination. I’ve got no qualms with agreeing that people are born with a race, a gender identity, a physical gender, and a sexual orientation, and that these are complicated, and that our society should not just accommodate people with whatever biological permutations and inklings the complex biological sequencing that makes humans humans throws up, but see people as people. Equal. Complicated. Messy. Broken. No matter what state we’re born in – choosing “straight” or “gay” or “bi” or anything as a marker of identity, on the basis of biology is, I think, a silly use of labels. Especially the “straight/not-straight” binary – if you’re going to bring a Christian account of humanity and sexuality to the table – we’re all sexually broken. Anyway, I’m drifting into theology…

When it comes to the “born this way” argument, It’s politically useful to keep trotting this line out when you’re fighting for whatever “rights” or “equality” you want to be tied up with something you’re born with. How can we argue with biology, mother nature, God, or whatever entity we choose to ascribe such a choice, and such control to… Gaga gives God the credit..

I’m beautiful in my way
‘Cause God makes no mistakes
I’m on the right track, baby
I was born this way

And we’ll get to the theology later.

But what sort of life does this leave you leading? What about one’s capacity to move beyond one’s station – what about liberty and the pursuit of happiness? What if deep down I don’t want my biology.

The whole born this way thing is clearly ridiculous as soon as you throw gender into the mix. If there are two aspects of gender that are biological – anatomy (your bits), and identity (how you are wired to think of yourself) – then which bit wins out? Typically it’s thought to be your identity – because the bits can be chopped and changed. But this is pretty arbitrary… It’s even more clearly ridiculous if we start suggesting that people are born biologically wired to all sorts of behaviours that are socially unpalatable – but that’s where the Bible goes… but again, we’ll get to the theology later…

Anyway. I read this interesting article from a blog called Social (In)queery suggesting maybe, just maybe, the GLBTI community should move beyond the “born this way” trope towards something a little bit more, well, freeing. Something that gives the individual a little more liberty to move away from their unchosen biological tendencies.

“The problem with such statements is that they infuse biological accounts with an obligatory and nearly coercive force, suggesting that anyone who describes homosexual desire as a choice or social construction is playing into the hands of the enemy.”

It’s worth a read. It’s about time people started thinking this way. The idea that we’re slaves to our flesh… err… I mean our “biology” is one of the more depressing outcomes of our modern naturalistic approach to human identity – and it immediately falls foul of what Hume called the “naturalistic fallacy” – he said we can’t say that something is how it ought to be, simply because that’s how it is in its natural state.

Who wants to be stuck being allergic to peanuts if that’s biological and can be fixed. We can’t force everybody to be fixed – that’s an equally dangerous flipside. But denying individuals the opportunity to make decisions about their own lives because we decree they have no choice in the matter because of their biology… Well. That’s an awful form of slavery.

The theological problems with Born This Way

The first theological problem with Gaga’s account of humanity is the idea that because it is “natural” it is something that God says is good.

That’s certainly not true for a Christian understanding of life in the world described by the Bible.

Sure. We were made in God’s image. But that was broken pretty early on. The whole point of the narratives in the Old Testament and God’s repeated use of sexually broken characters, who couldn’t be trusted to keep their sexuality on the straight and narrow (as defined by God at creation – one man, one woman, one flesh), is that all people are broken. That even those who are meant to be most explicitly bearing the image of God can’t. Or won’t. Or don’t. The patriarchs, the priests, the kings – they all stuff up. From Abraham (who pretends his wife is his sister and gives her to Pharaoh), to David, to Solomon… the big characters in the first half of the Bible are clear examples of this.

The OT stuff is relevant because people still want to claim that Paul made up the idea that people were broken, or that God’s image was tainted by what’s called “original sin,” when he wrote Romans. But Romans is completely consistent with every other description of humanity in the Bible. Especially the image of God stuff.

The idea that we have to obey our biology – without choice but with total compliance – is something Paul would describe as slavery. Here’s what he says in Romans 6.

 

16 Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey.

The best thing about Paul’s account of humanity is that he isn’t claiming to be anything other than a broken human himself. In fact – he claims to be just a normal bloke, a human, who experiences a struggle between two powerful internal forces – the residual bits of being a person made in the image of God, and the bits of him that want to serve his biological desires – his selfish genes – the genes that tell him that the way to be truly happy is to “love himself” because he is “born this way”… that’s slavery. Paul doesn’t want to be a slave to his nature (which he says is “sinful” – which he means leads him to do things that aren’t consistent with bearing the image of God)… but he can’t help it. Here’s what he says in Romans 7.

“I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me

Paul is saying exactly what we should all be saying – the idea that we must conform to our biology to be truly happy is a limiting prison that defines our lives, rather than frees us.

We’re faced with two choices – when it comes to our anthropology – as humans. We can conform. Or transform.

We can be slaves to our broken nature – or even just to our biology if we want to reject the idea that our nature could possibly be broken. Whichever way you cut it – this is a form of slavery. Not liberty. If who you are is determined for you, not by you, and you have no choice, that’s awful.

Or we can try to transform ourselves in a positive direction – this might mean taking the path suggested towards biology-free sexual enlightenment described in the link above, or it might mean, if we’re like Paul, looking for some sort of rescue.

24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

This is where Christianity is truly progressive. 

If the resurrection that will be celebrated all over the world tomorrow really happened. In history. If Jesus really is “Lord” – if he calls people everywhere to turn to him for their identity – which is the scope of his claims over people, if he is God, and became man, and died and was raised… If these things are true then the implications for every aspect of our lives – not just our sexuality, not even just our biology – are huge.

And we have a choice. It’s not forced on us – this reality being forced on people would bring the same lack of liberty that being forced to conform to your biological reality would bring. But it’s a choice about who to serve, and where to draw value and fulfilment from – flesh, nature, biology… or Jesus.

Paul might step out of the frying pan of slavery into the fire – but at least he’s making a choice. He says following Jesus is just another form of slavery (to righteousness, not the flesh), but a slavery of your choosing, a voluntary slavery, is, in his mind at least, superior to a slavery you can’t choose.

The delivery Jesus offers – the transformation Paul says he offers – is a stunning account of what it means to be human. To be free from biological obligation. To be free of slavery to things beyond your control. To find your value in something outside of yourself. To find your identity based on choice, not just biological complicity. And to have the image of God not just restored in your life – but renovated. Here’s how Paul opens chapter 8…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.

He starts fleshing out the anthropological and identity implications of this freedom. It changes what it means to be human.

How we think…

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.

Our future prospects…

11 And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.

Our identity – we’re not slaves, but loved children…

14 For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”

Christianity offers a more compelling and progressive vision of what it means to be human because it’s not about conforming to something you can’t choose – that was chosen by the random intersection somewhere in space and time, of two people who carry the biological data that made you, who bring all sorts of genetic baggage, and leave you as a person made in their image – forced to embrace your biology… it’s about being transformed, voluntarily, into the image of the person space and time was created to host – Jesus – and becoming a loved child of God – a God who knew you, planned you, and loved you, before your biology started kicking into gear.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

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Same Love: the pathos power of music, and what love truly is

Heard this?

It’ll probably hit somewhere near the top of the Hottest 100 today (UPDATE – it got number 15, but it is number 1 on the ARIA charts at the moment).

It’s pretty powerful. It’s catchy. Its mix of perspectives works as a stand alone song, and is intensified in video form, where you get the additional benefit of seeing a young man, presumably the singer’s uncle, find happiness in his gay relationship.

That’s the fundamental premise of the song. Happiness is the ultimate end, and how can we deny someone the warmth and fulfilment a relationship offers.

It’s fairly convincing. Sort of. It’s just a shame it gets so much wrong. At the very least it’s persuasive, in the technical sense, and it got me questioning why I’m more persuaded by a song like this, than by the same premise put forward in dry argument.

For those getting ready to throw stones at me for being bigoted, or a heretic, let me remind you of my position – I am willing to cede the point that so far as our legislation is concerned this is the “same love” – in that it is voluntary, between two free individuals, and because I’m not huge on letting the government dictate what morality is and isn’t, I am not opposed to changes to the marriage act that reflect the wishes of the population – we live in a democracy, after all. But I’m also not willing to budge on the theological question – God says proper sexual expression that is in line with the order he established at creation (before the fall), and is good for the flourishing of humanity, is the kind of expression found in a loving, heterosexual union, for life, where man and woman become one… though neither, as individuals, were “less than one” beforehand – and it’s absolutely ok to be single without feeling like you’re missing out on an aspect of humanity – which this Same Love thing kind of glosses over in its bid for sameness. Pushing same sex attracted people towards heterosexuality isn’t really the answer, showing all people that the ultimate form of love and identity is found in a relationship with Jesus, and the community of the church (and being a community that people want to be part of) is ultimately far more valuable for everyone.

Anyway. Back to why I felt my head moving as my heartstrings were tugged by this song…

Part of the power of music is that as a song is catchy, and as it bounces around in your head, and as the lyrics start to resonate with your experiences and observations of the world, suddenly you find yourself giving assent to whatever conclusions the songwriter offers.

Old Testament theologian Gordon Wenham has some great things to say about the power of music in shaping our ethics, perhaps especially if we sing along to something, via the power of a little speech-act connection where the words we say become the words we think, a little bit of reader-response theory being applied through something called democratisation, where use of the first person can make something feel like it’s about us, and via this reality regarding the value of some sort of performance in shaping our thinking, which he describes in a piece on the teaching value of ritual:

Educational psychologists tell us that we remember 10% of what we hear, 30% of what we see but 70% of what we do”

Anyway, in a piece called “Reflections on Singing the Psalms,” Wenham makes the following points about how music is perfectly geared to shape our thinking on moral and ethical issues…

“But even mere recitation is a more powerful instructor than listening to stories, commands or wisdom sayings. Listening is passive, indeed the message can be ignored by the listener, but recitation and especially singing is an activity which involves the whole person and cannot be honestly undertaken without real commitment to what is being said or sung…”

Here’s a little on the power of first person – which the song Same Love uses extensively. We become part of the story and identify with the protaganist.

“Another device inviting the worshipper to identify with the sentiments of the Psalm is the use of the first person. The psalmist often speaks in the first person ‘I will bless the LORD at all times’ (34:1). Someone singing or praying this Psalm later is thus invited to do the same… This switch between first and third person encourages the user of the Psalm to identify with the viewpoint of the psalmist. But particularly the use of the first person encourages such identification: ‘The experience of the I of the psalm embodies a religious ideal, whose reality is open to the reader to experience…

And here’s a little more on why music is more powerful than other mediums.

I have already observed that the Psalms differ from other parts of the Bible in that they are meant to be recited or sung as prayers… This involvement of the worshipper in expressing assent to these sentiments makes the Psalms quite different from the other modes of teaching ethics in the OT. The OT narratives were presumably recited by storytellers within the family or in the tribes, but they rarely make explicit their judgments on the actions that are recited, so the moral of the story might have been missed and certainly did not have to be endorsed by the listeners. They could have just ignored the point, as I suspect many listening to worthy sermons often do… When you pray a Psalm, you are describing the actions you will take and what you will avoid. It is more like taking an oath or making a vow… Promises for example change the situation and impose obligations on the speaker and create expectations in the listener. A promise is an example of a speech act.”

It’s powerful stuff – and I reckon Same Love will form a pretty powerful part of the case for gay marriage in Australia, it makes me think we need to do heaps better at writing music that is artistically good for a bigger portion of the world than our congregations on a Sunday. It worked for Luther.

But as powerful as it is – it makes some pretty interesting assumptions about what Christians believe about homosexuality, and about the motives of Christians in shutting down love.

Here’s a little bit from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis themselves…

The right wing conservatives think it’s a decision
And you can be cured with some treatment and religion
Man made rewiring of a predisposition
Playing god, aw nah here we go
America the brave still fears what we don’t know
And god loves all his children, is somehow forgotten
But we paraphrase a book written thirty-five-hundred years ago
I don’t know

Look – I’m sure reparative therapy (the cure with treatment and religion) has been harmful when people have been forced to undertake it against their wishes by bigoted parents or something… but the only real research I’ve seen that does something like a longitudinal study, by Jones and Yarhouse (it’s a fairly controversial study – as is anything Christians write on this issue), on the effectiveness and effects of such therapy found that it doesn’t actually cause harm, even if it doesn’t always work. And it doesn’t always work – contented celibacy is a statistically more probably result. I’m not sure that this is a “right wing conservative” issue either…

I’m also not sure that for a Christian the idea that something is a predisposition means that it shouldn’t be changed – or at least not acted upon. We call constantly try to challenge ourselves to leave predispositions behind. I’m lazy, I’d say all the evidence suggests this is my predisposition. That’s bad for my ability to be productive. We do this all over the aspects of our person, identity, and personality – without being accused of “playing God” – and the notion that “predisposition makes right” is patently impossible to demonstrate as soon as you throw in an example of someone who is predisposed to doing something heinous. The Christian account of human nature which sees us as simultaneously “children of God” made in his image, and broken by sin, such that the child-God relationship needs restoring through Jesus, the true child of God, means we can simultaneously say God loves all his children, while he punishes some for the broken relationship, and the broken acts that result. You don’t need to paraphrase the Bible to find this either. It’s right there. Especially in Genesis and Romans, but also in Psalms – the Bible’s biggest insight into what it means to be human but want a relationship with God.

There are some great bits about the song – it really nails why we need to be careful in how we speak of those who are homosexual in orientation, and who identify according to that orientation. There’s not much to disagree with here – except to say there’s a tragedy that you could easily replace hip-hop with “church”…

If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me
Have you read the YouTube comments lately
“Man, that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily
We become so numb to what we’re saying
A culture founded from oppression
Yet we don’t have acceptance for ‘em
Call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board
A word rooted in hate, yet our genre still ignores it
Gay is synonymous with the lesser
It’s the same hate that’s caused wars from religion
Gender to skin color, the complexion of your pigment
The same fight that led people to walk outs and sit ins
It’s human rights for everybody, there is no difference!
Live on and be yourself

That is a powerful reminder – even if it’s feeling the hate somewhat vicariously – that we’ve got to be sensitive and clear when we talk about issues that surround the areas people choose to identify themselves by… The song doesn’t really seem to be all that interested in letting one or two categories of humans be themselves though – Christians who want to disagree with the stance it takes, and perhaps more importantly, those who are same sex attracted who do want to make the choice, free of coercion, to not pursue a relationship with a member of the same sex. That is an ultimate act of “being yourself” – but it’s implicitly, and somewhat explicitly denigrated by this song.

The chorus, where we hear from Mary Lambert, singing in the first person, about her love, who keeps her warm, is where the real thrust of the song’s argument is – we’re talking about denying somebody this love. This happiness. How could we?

And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
I can’t change
Even if I try
Even if I wanted to
My love
My love
My love
She keeps me warm
She keeps me warm

The same sentiment is repeated in the final verse…

“Whatever god you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up”

Again – he attributes opposition to gay marriage or “equal love” to “fear”… I don’t doubt that some of the negative aspects of the way  those in the GLBTI community are treated is the result of fear, but I’m not sure that’s always true.

Sometimes it’s love.

The love that counts.

Sometimes we do actually disagree with somebody, and say something is wrong, because we love them. It’s not just possible to disagree with somebody and do it with love, it’s possible to disagree with somebody out of a greater love. Sooner or later, to be really loving – we’ve got to stop saying it and keep loving people despite this disagreement. But it is never loving to stay silent.

 

Not all love is the same. That’s why there are five Greek words for love. The song ends with a few little snippets of the famous 1 Corinthians 13 passage about love (love is patient, love is kind), but there’s a better passage about love in the Bible – one that shows that not all love is the same, and where real love is found.

It’s from 1 John 4… and while Macklemore, Lambert, and Lewis would like you to think that because we’re all God’s children this means everything we do naturally is good – John, who wrote this following passage, also wrote that famous bit of the Bible that describes the manner of God’s love as tied up in the death and resurrection of Jesus – which had to happen precisely because everything we do is naturally bad… anyway that’s there in verse 10 of this passage too.

Here’s 1 John 4 on real love, the kind of love that makes singleness a possibility if we do community well (we need to be much, much, better at this – we need to be very noticeably different from the comments section on YouTube), and makes giving up eros or epithumia (greek words for lust and desire) worthwhile in the pursuit of the true happiness that comes from knowing God.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

19 We love because he first loved us. 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

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Russell Brand meets Westboro Baptist

This is weird.

Via 22 Words.

This highlights some of the weird problems with this debate. You’ve got Russell Brand essentially, at one point, equating love with wanting to kiss someone on the mouth (for cheap laughs), and generally suggesting that tolerance and love trumps understanding what sin is – and you’ve got the Westboro Baptist guys who are trying to be loving by proclaiming sin in an incredibly unloving and insensitive way. Why they go to Leviticus, and not to the New Testament, Jesus, and the created order, is beyond me. Especially if they eat prawns.

Christianity’s branding problem out of Russell Brand’s mouth:

“I just feel, from what I’ve read of Jesus, and what I’ve had explained to me, is that his main message was tolerance, and love, and beauty, and acceptance.”

I thought his main message was:

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”

So sadly, the Westboro Baptist guys are closer to the mark – Jesus’ main message was that he is Lord, and that access to God is through him…

The Cross in the Closet: reviewing one straight man’s gay year

Timothy Kurek is a braver man than I. If spending a year living “Biblically” by obeying every command of the Bible sounds hardcore – imagine spending a year out of the closet as a gay man, when you’re straight. Lying to your friends and family, leaving your old life behind, and immersing yourself in the gay community.

That’s what Tim Kurek did. He wrote about it in a book called The Cross in the Closet.

Cross in the Closet

His paradigm is that Jesus “became something he wasn’t” in the “ultimate act of empathy” – this is incarnational mission on steroids. Only there’s not a huge amount of mission going on, rather, a lot of soul-searching, and an interesting insight into conservative American Christianity, and what it’s like to be part of a gay sub-culture in the Bible Belt.

I’m increasingly passionate about the need for Christians to do much better when it comes to talking about, and to, those who are same sex attracted, and those who are actively homosexual. This means thinking carefully about how we approach the pastoral issue, the political sphere, but most importantly – how we articulate the gospel to our homosexual friends, family, and neighbours, and how we love and care for them in all these areas.

This book was helpful in capturing something of the emotional fragility of those people Tim interacted with. Tim clearly loves people, and especially broken and fragile people who have been hurt by their interactions with others. Others who haven’t loved them like they are called to, as followers of Jesus. But it ultimately, I feel, misrepresented what it means to follow Jesus, and what it means to love people.

It’s a powerful book. It’s moving. Especially when Tim shares a story of his own past as a homophobic bully, who contributed, in a small part to the misery of a homosexual co-worker he hated. It’s an immersive work, a great piece of gonzo journalism, It’s not an experiment I can see being repeated any time soon, so there’s a certain kudos that comes just from denying yourself for your mission that comes with this.

What struck me as I read this book was that while Tim Kurek is an incredibly brave man, I think the experiment would have been more worthwhile if he was a little more emotionally mature, though, paradoxically, a more mature person probably wouldn’t have thought the experiment was a good idea. He’s open, reflective, and honest about his struggles throughout the experiment. It’s raw. But it’s ultimately largely unhelpful.

While he empathises with those he is championing, and tries to present them positively and as a diverse community that can’t be understood monolithically, and makes some attempts to empathise with the tradition he left behind, he tars all “conservative Christians” with the Pharisee brush, and fails to consider any responses to the homosexual issue along the total acceptance/total rejection spectrum. He attempts to empathise with the Phelps family from Westboro Baptist, but can’t truly begin to fathom, past describing through the eyes of another person, how a person who believes in sin, judgment and Hell, while believing homosexuality is sinful, can truly love a homosexual person without fully accepting them, their orientation, their practice, and their homosexual identity.

This whole “issue” of homosexuality is only polarizing because conservative religion dictates the standards of religious people. It controls their motives and their reactions. It especially controls their politics. I hope to see the day when my conservative Christian brothers and sisters realize that separation is not the way of Jesus.

Conservative Christianity teaches us to love everyone; however, that love can take many different forms. It seems to stem from an “I’m right, you’re wrong” biblical perspective, which imposes only two rather limited options: Insist others conform to your spiritual world view, or ignore those who don’t. A friend of mine calls it the “brother’s keeper” method.

He then tosses out the ability for anybody to be right about the Bible.

“I think about those trapped in the closet who see only two options: stay miserable in life or seek peace in the hereafter. And I wonder what Jesus would do. Would he go door to door campaigning for Proposition 8, or would he rebuke the Pharisees who dole out condemnation like a commodity, for missing the point? I think he would do the latter. But do I think that only because I have lost my focus on what my former pastor used to call the “panoramic landscape of the gospel”? My Pharisee said as much. But it just doesn’t make sense. Life is too short to live out two-thousand-year-old prejudices from Leviticus, Greece, or Rome. Either way, I am starting to believe that people have the right to believe as they wish. My finger pointing has to stop, and thanks to Revive, I am starting to see why.”

This is what happens when you put experience in the driver’s seat when it comes to interpretation.

His emotional immaturity comes through in the assessment criteria he applies to the reaction he receives from friends and family. His brother and sister-in-law accept his announcement almost without blinking, but a schism develops when they find out mid way through the experiment that he is lying to them. His mum hugs him. Plenty of his friends turn their backs on him. His pastor tells him he needs to repent, but that he’s welcome at church like any sinner – and he does it by email, sent from his blackberry. Tim is adamant that the pastor should have called him – and he should have. People from his old life largely ignore his birthday. He feels isolated. Cut off. He was hard done by. He was wronged.

But the experiment would’ve been more genuine, I think, if he’d tried to maintain these relationships rather than expecting everybody else to come after him. It’s easy to criticise without having lived the experience, but love and relationships go two ways. And the picture Tim paints of his gay friends who have been hurt by their parents is that in the main they are still keen for old relationships to continue, even if the people they love aren’t. They’re making an effort – Tim didn’t (or certainly didn’t give any evidence of trying). Not with his church friends, anyway who he condemns for abandoning him.

In the eight days I have been out, that fear has permeated every social sphere I have been part of. I have been rebuked in the name of Jesus, lost four friends who refuse to be close to an “unrepentant homosexual,” and I have even been told that Jesus does not love me…

My phone no longer rings with calls and texts like it did only a short week ago. I have been waiting, preparing myself for numerous conversations about my revelation, but so far most friends seem to desire only distance. It is that distance, I think, that has pushed so many people over the edge, the excommunication from believers, friends, and loved ones that disagree and disengage. My news spread like a plague, but I was the only real casualty…

There is a fine line between tolerance and rejection. Waking up to that fact has cost me dearly. In the past three weeks, I’ve received emails and text messages from people whom I always believed loved and valued me. But now I know the truth. Instead of speaking with me in a personal way to understand my decision, many of these people took the easy path of judgment, and they did so using the impersonal and soulless tools of social networks and email to do the dirty work.

Besides, the Christian friends and community I spent years building seem to have forgotten about me. So many people have disappeared from my life that it is almost as though they never existed. Fair-weather friends? No, just people firmly stuck in their bubbles, I think. On the other hand, the people I am meeting now seem to accept me more than anyone ever has. Perhaps that is because the gay men I spend so much time with don’t judge me by my piety but let my actions speak for themselves. If I make them laugh, they like me for my sense of humor. If I am kind, they like that I am sensitive. Those are earned actions. It is nice not to be judged for my gauged ears, or for the fact that I didn’t read as much of the Bible as a fellow parishioner. It is nice not to be judged by how well I can present a righteous façade.

Here’s a passage from when he eventually goes back to his old church, and sees a friend in the car park:

“An old friend sees me standing by my car and runs over to greet me. The smile on his face is enormous, and it warms my heart. “Tim Kurek! How are you doing?” He ignores my outstretched hand and pulls me into a hug. “I’ve missed you, brother. How are you?” “I’m doing well. How are you?” I say, somewhat shocked by his genuine greeting. “I’m doing great. I’ve missed you, man.” He’s always been a good guy, my friend, and standing with him makes me realize how much I have missed him, too. It feels odd, though…wrong, somehow. How can I miss someone who hasn’t tried to reach out to me? How can I feel a connection to someone who thinks of me as an abomination?”

He’s right. Cutting people off because you don’t like a decision they’ve made is stupid – if they’re no longer claiming to be part of your church community. If someone says “I’m gay, I don’t think I can be a Christian anymore” and you cease contact with them – you’re a jerk. That’s a big secret to reveal and it comes at a cost. But the church has to be really careful about how it deals with sexual immorality within its walls, and within the community – Paul’s pretty clear on that (1 Cor 5). He’s also pretty clear that being a Christian transforms our sexuality – be it gay or straight – that it involves a leaving behind of the old, and a realignment of our identity in Jesus (1 Cor 6:9-11).

If you’re in Tim’s shoes though, or the shoes he’s trying to walk in, I’m not sure you can complain about being cut off if you’ve essentially cut yourself off first, and make no apparent effort to continue relationships. Tim’s gay friend Will, who he grew up with, and pursued/persecuted at the request of Will’s mum when Will came out, is more understanding about his mum cutting him off than Tim is…

“I just try to put myself in her shoes. If I believed what my mother believes, and I had a son come out as gay, I would be mortified because that would mean my blood, my offspring that I love unconditionally, was going to Hell. Now think about Hell from a conservative Christian’s perspective. Wouldn’t you do whatever you could to steer your child away from that path? It is simple enough for me. Her belief separates us, but her motivation helps me understand and accept her, even though it hurts me.” Will steps away for a second and makes a drink for another customer.”

His model of incarnational ministry is a bit skewiff, because while Jesus certainly became human, and lovingly lived amongst sinners – he didn’t become a sinner until the cross – and even then the sinner he became was vicarious (2 Cor 5), and doesn’t push us to joining sinners in their sin, but towards a share of God’s righteousness:

20We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Jesus identified with sinners. Yes. And Tim summarises it like this:

I have been taught that I need to be Jesus to the people I meet, that I need to live the love and the faith and the commitment of my God, so that others can see Him, too. If it is true that we can be Jesus to each other, then I will never see Jesus the same way again. Tonight… Well, tonight, I saw Jesus in drag, and now I feel incapable of hate.

Being Jesus, for Tim, means not “shoving theology down people’s throats”… when he’s thinking about how he suddenly finds himself not liking the church very much he says this:

Can I truly claim Jesus and be at odds with his children? Are they even his children? I remember the scripture that says “by your fruit you shall know them.” Yes. They are his children, as much as I am his child. Salvation is not a country club, and we do not have the right to deny anyone admittance. People and their relationships to God are their own concern, and no good can come from my shoving my theology down someone else’s throat.

Shoving “my theology down someone else’s throat” is bad. The very notion of “my theology” is bad. But that’s not the same as telling people the great and freeing news of the gospel of Jesus who sets people free from oppression, particularly the oppression of sin. One of the classic texts used in the relationship between Jesus and an “incarnational” approach to evangelism is Luke 4:18-19.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I’d argue that you can’t just proclaim by being, though loving and empathy are part of our proclamation. This is, I think, The Cross in The Closet’s biggest failing. 

Tim is clearly angry at the institutional church. He says, after he returns to his church during the experiment:

“It’ll probably be a long time before I’m comfortable at any church again. I will always do my best to follow God with my life, but being part of a brick and mortar church doesn’t appeal to me at all.”

The book paints his progression from “conservative Christian” to “liberal” – in his own words. His contempt for his former self – who he depicts throughout the book as a pharisaical interlocutor – and his former way of thinking, and love for his new found ability to love people for who they are, means he throws a lot of baby out with the bathwater.

He preempts criticism by both adopting the spiritual high ground, through an account of a moving spiritual event where a gay community group sang praise songs along with “Jesus in drag,” and through the recording of a prayer that a gay man prayed when he re-outed himself as a straight man. He also swears off labelling people, saying people should just be seen as people – while depicting himself, and by extension, anybody who articulates the thoughts the Pharisee version of him was thinking, as Pharisees.

Here’s a couple of passages on the power of labels.

Being a second-class citizen feels like being a tenth-class citizen. If I really were gay, I feel like my life would become such an issue for people that I would be constantly exhausted. Gays and lesbians are looked at as different, perverse, and the label alone seems to illicit an association with the lowest dregs of society, morally speaking. No one wants to be thought of that way! Is it really so unrealistic to let people’s actions speak for them rather than the stigmatized label?

“That was the first time since coming out that I heard that word and understood what it actually meant. It means that you are a lesser, a second-class citizen, and an anathema. It means that your life is relegated to a single word, and the details of that life don’t matter. It means that your thoughts, experiences, loves, and struggles should be painted over because you aren’t an equal, that yours isn’t as valuable as other lives. It meant you are hated. Even though I am not actually gay, I felt that hate, and it still disrupted something sacred in me. Faggot denotes rejection and epitomizes unwelcome, and it was a vile epiphany that I came to. Without knowing anything about us, the man walking the pugs told all of us that we were not worthy to be in community with him.”

Here’s how he poisons the well as the experiment ends – so that nobody can possibly impeach his testimony, with the prayer his gay friend Ben prays when he has revealed that he’s been straight all along.

“Ben begins to cry. Tears roll down his cheeks like shiny beads, and his lips quiver. He breathes heavily, but still says nothing. And then, as if in a dream, Ben lightly touches my lips with his hand and begins to pray:

“Lord, be with your servant, Tim. Inspire the words that come out of his mouth as he shares the reality of this news with the masses, and as he shares your love and your grace with the masses.”

He slides his hand to my eyes. “Lord, protect his eyes and what he sees. Help him not to see any hatred, but only love, as he sets out on this journey of grace.”

His hand once again moves, to my ears. “Lord, block his ears from hearing the hateful words directed at him from people in the religious community and from this one. Protect his ears from the words of hate that they’ll inevitably speak.”

His hand moves to my heart. “Lord, thank you for this heart! Thank you for the sacrifices he has made. Lord, bless this beautiful heart with every power you possess. Help him never to change, Lord, to be jaded, to be hurt. I love you, Lord, and Tim loves you. Thank you for letting us love each other. Amen.”

Clearly it’s a moving experience for him. Clearly Ben appreciates what he’s done. And by reporting this third party endorsement of his words, from within the gay community, he can now argue from his own experiences that his position is the most authentic position on the gay issue, perhaps with the exception of the gay Christians he lionises throughout the book. And that’s all very post-modern. But am I speaking hatred by disagreeing with the direction Tim took with his experiment? I hope not. It’s such a binary way of viewing the world. I disagree with him – but I don’t hate him. To frame criticism as hate, and to do it before you’ve even faced the criticism, to delegitimise criticism, is a clever rhetorical move, but ultimately pretty empty.

Perhaps my biggest concern, pastorally at least, is that he tosses any same sex attracted Christian who resists identifying with their sexual orientation under the bus. Not because he takes the “born this way” argument, but because he rejects the view of original sin he was brought up with and over-emphasises the importance of being made in the image of God – or at least, his view of the imago dei has no account for the impact of the fall.

“I am sure of my God, who I believe more than ever sent his Son for me, and I am sure of the reconciliation he offers, whether that be between families split apart over divisive issues, or members of opposing political parties. I am sure of the beauty that all mankind has inherited—a beauty that can never be stripped away by bad words or deeds, or even other humans”

Kurek hates on, dismisses, or jokes about, reparative therapy a few times, and perpetuates the myth that attempting to realign your sexual orientation is harmful.

If my mom tried to shove ex-gay literature at me, I’d probably throw it right back at her. Reparative therapy, they call it. They should call it “repression therapy.”

The only thing close to a longitudinal study on the impact of reparative therapy, by Jones and Yarhouse, concluded that it isn’t always effective, but it’s not really harmful.

It’s horrible that coming out, for some people, results in being disowned and ostracised by their family, friends, and ministers – rather than producing loving concern. But Kurek seems to judge people on their inability to show an empathy, or even sympathy, for others that he isn’t prepared to genuinely extend to people who are struggling to reconcile their faith with their sexual orientation with their identity. It’d also be tempting to suggest that he gets a bit of Stockholm Syndrome during the experiment – but I think he actually genuinely loves, and is loved by, the people he lives with for his year. And that’s great. If only it translated to being prepared to love people despite their sin, while still acknowledging sin, and trying to move the locus of human identity to a right relationship with the God who created us all.

I think he’s ultimately right about labels – labels are powerful. They carry stigma. And it’s bad to label people according to their sexuality. It’s bad to let your sexual orientation define who you are. But there are labels that it’s important to own, as a Christian. Adopted. A new creation. A child of God. A follower of Jesus. And adopting all those labels has a powerful effect on your life, and it changes your identity. And it changes your approach to sex and sexuality. I just don’t think Tim quite got there…

But I’m thankful for his experiment, wrong-headed and relationally damaging though I think it was (I think the experiential gains from deceiving his family were minimal, and contributed nothing to the book – especially because they essentially whole-heartedly continued loving him, even though it was hard for his mum). I’m thankful because it did open my eyes to some unthinking prejudices of my own, to times when I might be insensitive to the people around me, to the importance of personal contact rather than hiding behind a keyboard when it comes to dealing with difficult issues, and to the need to keep the love of Jesus for all people at the front of my thinking. And I’m hopeful that as Tim, freed from the shackles of the hatred that constrained him and his understanding of Christianity in the past, will keep looking to the Bible to find out who Jesus is, not just to human expressions of spirituality, I’m hopeful that his experiences will shape him, and others, so that the cross of Christ continues to shape our identity, not whatever closets we feel the need to hide in.

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The Presbyterian Church of Queensland on gay marriage

For the last 18 months or so my friend and co-worker Dave Bailey and I have been on the ethics and communications committee for the Presbyterian Church of Queensland. This committee is now called the Gospel in Society Today committee. Because everybody likes an acronym if you get my gist…

Our committee recently drafted this letter to Julia Gillard, CCd to Tony Abbott, on the issue of Gay Marriage. I think it’s fantastic. For obvious reasons. I wasn’t sure if I could post this – but Dave has on his blog – so it must be ok…


 

The thinking and wording in this letter reflects a changing emphasis that will go into a redrafted position paper on homosexuality and gay marriage at some stage in the near future.

I think one of the slight weaknesses of this letter is that it is potentially legislatively short sighted. I’ve said before here, and elsewhere, that we might need to shift the goal posts a little, by explicitly, rather than implicitly, arguing for our right to continue “discriminating” within the boundaries of the church when it comes to how we choose to define marriage, and the marriages we choose to celebrate, or officiate over.

What do you think?

Why clarity matters when talking about homosexuality, same sex attraction, and identity

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s post about Vaughan Robert’s compelling interview about his refusal to be defined by his same sex attraction, comes this post from another Christian who is kinda, sorta, not really gay. This guy Bryan shares his testimony in a really clear and compelling way – and the more people like Bryan and Vaughan who do this without being stigmatised or bashed over the head by well-meaning Christians… the better the church will be able to pastorally care for those Christians struggling with this form of sexual temptation, and will help us offer a more hopeful future to members of the GLBTI community who are considering making Jesus their Lord, and the basis of their identity.

The title of this post only really makes sense in the context of my post from yesterday called “Why Christians suck at talking about homosexuality.” UPDATE: In fact – the title (Why other people suck at talking about Christianity and homosexuality) was bad. So I’m changing it…

Before looking at Bryan’s testimony and the bizarrely sanctimonious response it drew from atheists and liberal Christians let me just clearly say this…

The idea that sexual activity is the basis of what it means to be human is truly bizarre.

Think about it – not everybody gets to express themselves sexually – single people who are single by choice, happenstance, or necessity, children, the widowed, the divorced – these are all categories of people who aren’t necessarily able to fulfil whatever sexual urges they might have – and they’re truly human, and the idea that they’re any less human is patently ridiculous. Even worse is the idea any less able to experience Christianity – which is what I think must happen sometimes when we trumpet the relationship between marriage and the inner workings of the Trinity and suggest we understand God any better on that basis.

It’s more bizarre for Christians to push a position like this when you consider that Jesus, and Paul, were both single (despite what a now debunked “ancient” papyri might suggest).

Anyway, here’s some helpful stuff from Bryan’s testimony, which I’d encourage you to read if you’re concerned for looking out for your brothers and sisters, and neighbours, who are same sex attracted. If we want to stop making it really hard to hear someone we love saying “I’m kinda, sorta, not really, gay” without jumping to judgment or solutions – we need to listen to those people who are brave enough to say it, and who put the kind of time and effort into clarity and tone that Bryan has…

I’ve had years to think about it: if someone asked if I’m gay, how would I answer?

Saying “no” risks people thinking I’m another brainwashed fundamentalist in denial, suppressing my sexuality to please my parents, my pastor, my peers. Saying “yes” risks people thinking I’ve assumed a gay identity, that I’m out and proud, affirming and celebrating the homosexual lifestyle.

Neither is true.

The reality is that I acknowledge my same-sex desires. I talk openly with family and friends about homosexuality, especially as it relates to my commitment to Christ. More importantly, I’m honest with God about my struggles with same-sex attraction. I don’t pretend the feelings aren’t there; on the contrary, I consider them very real temptations. The only denial happening here is self-denial, the daily charge to take up my cross and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). That’s the calling of every Christian, not just those who fight against homosexual desires. 

A more important question to answer is one that Jesus asked Peter: “Do you love me?” My answer is yes. A thousand times yes! By the grace of God, my love for Christ is greater than my attraction to men. Love enables me to pursue holiness rather than homosexuality. Love compels me to serve God rather than my own selfish desires, however “natural” they may seem. Jesus makes singleness, celibacy and everything else that comes with same-sex attraction worth it. Indeed, the life I’m choosing to live can hardly be called a sacrifice.

As I’ve grown in my relationship with God and trusted more in Christ’s finished work on the cross, I’ve learned not to define myself by sins or temptations. My identity is not bound to my sexuality, but to my Savior (Galatians 2:20). That’s why I don’t call myself a gay Christian; I’m a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction. I haven’t given up hope that God can change those attractions. But I’m living in the reality that he has not, and he may not. In the meantime, my highest goal is not becoming straight, but knowing and loving Christ.

I like the idea, I think it was from Arthur at meetjesusatuni.com, that “straight” is actually a really unhelpful label and category for Christians – because we need to acknowledge that we’re all actually broken in the area of sexuality, as we are everywhere else, when it’s not something we submit to the Lordship of Jesus. There is no part of the life of the Christian that Jesus is not Lord over.

Bryan’s post isn’t a really popular point of view with people who either want to limit the Lordship of Jesus to a wishy-washy command to “love”… and with people who want to limit the Lordship of Jesus to nothing at all…

For a few years I’ve enjoyed the poking and prodding of Stuff Christian Culture Likes – but its increasingly becoming a home for people who aren’t just disenfranchised with Christian Culture, but with the church, and with Jesus. Steph from Stuff Christian Culture Likes posted a link to Bryan’s piece on her Facebook page, and the comments indicate that her community cares as much about sex as the culture they’re rejecting. They are as hung up on sex as the Christian moral lobby they hate so much – which they see wanting to control what happens in bedrooms everywhere. Here are some of the choice comments in response to Bryan’s post. There are very few about Bryan’s freedom as an individual to determine how his sexual orientation does, or doesn’t, define him… because they all believe that we can’t help but be controlled by group think.

” On the basis of that I would say gay and in denial; a denial brought on by being taught that there is only one right way to read the Bible.”

Which pretty much ignores everything Bryan says in his opening paragraph.

I am so, so sad for this man that he feels that he must deny who he is to be “holy”. Also, it’s increasingly disconcerting that the fundamentalist way of viewing homosexuality is pushed as the “only right” perspective/theology, whereas there are many excellent theologians who have done great work in this area. Currently reading Wendy Farley’s “Gathering Those Driven Away”, which is an excellent book about the theology of embracing, supporting, and celebrating the GLBTQ community.”

This comment kind of misses the whole “take up your cross” part of Christianity. Denying who you are is fundamental to following Jesus, who even without the notion of a sinful nature (which we’ll get to in a second), provides a model that we’re called to follow, check out this bit from Philippians 2:

“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!”

If Jesus gives up his whole life, and we’re called to have the same mindset, then who are we to say that sexuality is something you check in at the door when you’re following Jesus. Following Jesus means, at the very least, being prepared to give up your sexual expression for others, and for him.

Here’s the next one.

“”homosexuality” is an ambiguous term translated from an ambiguous text. Would you like to know what the writer intended for certain? Wouldn’t it make a big, big difference if the terminology used referred to, say, pedophilia instead of homosexuality?

Additionally, I was born and raised in a non-denominational background that taught that humans are inherently sinful and therefore need the mercy and salvation of Christ. It was understood that everyone was in a perpetual state of “sin” due to our “sin nature”; no one could ever be perfect, or they would not be human, and separated from god. 

So, yeah, it might be a sin according to a book that has been translated, interpolated, and edited over the course of thousands of years…but so is jealousy, greed, pride, being inhospitable, being cruel, etc. etc. Point being, every person that met in that church every Sunday, the whole room of them, was in a state of sin (of some degree or another – if the outward stuff won’t get ya, the thought crimes sure will) – so why single out a specific kind of sin and lay earthly punishments upon it?”

There are quite a few begged questions in there – people trying to muddy the waters on what the New Testament says about homosexuality are often pretty sketchy about the translation of a Greek word, and bring in arguments from its semantic range… it’s hard to justify that when the two disputed words are paired (in 1 Corinthians 6), and when they’re used by Jewish interpreters talking about the prohibitions of homosexuality before the New Testament is written. The argument against homosexuality in Romans 1 is an argument from creation. You can read more about this here… the real point that sits at the heart of the church’s ongoing objection to homosexuality is that it’s treated as an identity definer. If a person came to church and said “I’m a Christian adulterer and there’s nothing wrong with that” I hope they’d get pointed to the same passages and told that being a Christian requires a change of identity, and a movement away from being defined by the flesh, and our desires, to being defined by Jesus, and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Where the reaction gets really interesting is where an ex-Christian atheist weighs in. He says much the same stuff, just with more pain. He ad hominems Bryan, introducing a claim that Bryan never makes (he simply claims to be somebody who has studied, and experienced, same sex attraction):

“declaring yourself the absolute authority on the 3 passing mentions of homosexuality (which are contextually mute on committed same-sex relationships) in the bible is pretty arrogant, especially for someone who is evidently untrained in biblical history, exegesis, Greek, Hebrew, or anything that might actually matter to the interpretation.”

He commits another fallacy when he launches a studs up two footed tackle at Bryan because the Bible is soft on slavery.

Know what is crystal clear in the bible? Slavery.

However, you may purchase male or female slaves from among the foreigners who live among you.  You may also purchase the children of such resident foreigners, including those who have been born in your land.  You may treat them as your property, passing them on to your children as a permanent inheritance. Leviticus 25:44-46 NLT

As Sam Harris says, the bible got the easiest moral question of humanity wrong.  Why should we trust it on any other matter?

Firstly – this is fairly anachronistic. It imports the moral values we’ve developed after about 5,000 years of culture, led in many ways in the last 2,000 years by Christianity, into a world where slavery wasn’t just the norm, but a terrible thing – and it ignores the other laws about how slaves are to be treated. Would he prefer the command to be “kill all your enemies when you take their land” – you can argue the morality of taking land if you like, but again, we’ve got to be mindful of the historical context and the types of nations and armies that were around at the time… That’s why context matters. Slavery was an ancient reality, it’s great that it’s not a present reality – and we can trust the Bible’s moral compass because people better at reading it than this guy Patrick realised that the Bible made all human life something valuable (because humans are created in the image of God), and pushed people towards abolishing slavery.

If you argue from God’s creative act as one of the foundational point for Christian ethics, and understand the law as a tool for moderating behaviour rather than legislating ideals – then you’re left with the decision that homosexuality, and slavery go against the created nature of humanity. It’s not rocket science.

Anyway. We’re not going very well here – because slavery is a bit of a red herring, and the comparison is drawing a false equivalence. The Bible’s claims about sexuality are a demonstrably different issue to the Bible’s claims about slavery – and each should be considered on their own merit. Patrick is clearly a pretty hurt, and angry guy. It makes me sad that Christians have caused him this hurt. He blames Christians for all sorts of terrible things. But his real hang up with Bryan’s post is on the identity thing.

How many people hear that God hates them because they’re gay? I’m sure you can rationalize it away (and in fact you did): “I still have a moral problem with lots of things that I do.” But guess what; homosexuality (see Step 2) isn’t a moral problem. It’s an identity, like your nose, hair color, or gender. Or your height.It’s not immoral to be tall, just like it’s not immoral to be gay.

Meanwhile I’m glad that you have unanimously declared yourself to be the only person in possession of this elusive ‘hope’ you seem so fond of.  What hope is that? The hope to live in self denial for the rest of your life, to be ashamed of an unchangable God-given inadequacy that can only be salved by a Jesus, the very one who said you were broken in the first place?”

It interests me that he lists gender there – given that gender is widely understood to be something you should change, surgically, if it doesn’t match up with who you think you are. But suggest a Christian can either change their sexual orientation, and not use it as an identifier, and wow.

“I wish that I could individually talk to every delusional person one-on-one for 5 years to explain to them how the hodgepodge of mythology they believe in causes repression, self-hatred, warped self-identity, and piles of dead bodies whose corpses could build cities of grotesque tribute to human’s imaginary friends through the ages.Religion is the cause, directly. The cause of gay suicides.  The cause of faith-healing deaths…

…We are the firstborn to consciousness in this little husk of dirt, and to teach our children, our family, or our friends that we should be ashamed of being exactly who we are is the beginning and end of an abusive, manipulative, emotional slavery the likes of which deserve the utmost contempt from every human being that has breathed air into their lungs.”

I don’t know. I like Bryan’s version of reality better. I like a world that lets individuals choose how they’d like to be identified better than a world where you’re told your identity is chosen for you by nature, where you can do nothing about it. The atheist position pushes a more fatalistic view of identity than the Christian one. Here’s how Bryan concludes:

“Jesus is that hope. He came into the world to save sinners—gay, straight and everything in between. God reconciles us to himself when we put our faith in Christ, who died in our place so that we may be called righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). That faith doesn’t take away our temptations—sexual or otherwise—but it takes away the condemnation (Romans 8:1). That’s the gospel. That’s a story that needs to be told. That’s why I’m talking now.”

Vaughan Roberts on why the church sucks at talking about homosexuality

Vaughan Roberts is an evangelical. An Englishman. A minister at a growing church. He’s also same sex attracted. He recently revealed this in the foreword to a book he wrote, then he put out a press release and did this interview.

He’s a man who speaks with clarity, and sensitivity. He brings a much needed perspective (particularly needed in the English Anglican Church).

You can read big chunks of the release and interview at David Ould’s fantastic blog… but I particularly liked this answer to the question of why the church communicates a negative message on homosexuality. The whole interview is a worthwhile read.

“The problem is largely caused by the fact that most of our comments on homosexuality are prompted, not primarily by a pastoral concern for struggling Christians, but by political debates in the world and the church. We do need to engage in these debates, but it’s vital that we’re alert to the messages that some of our brothers and sisters may be hearing.

Media reporting often doesn’t help and can give the impression that we think this particular sin is especially heinous. Also, in countering the simplistic binary model of the world that people are either born gay or straight (or, occasionally, bi), we are prone to make overly dogmatic comments ourselves about causation and cure. These can be heard to imply that homosexual attraction is just a matter of personal choice. This only increases the sense of shame already felt by those who experience unwanted same-sex attraction and can leave them with the impression that this is a battle that is not safe to share with others in the church. I have become convinced, therefore, that we need not only a greater openness in discussing issues of sexuality, but also a more positive vision and presentation of the nature of faithful discipleship for those who struggle in this area.

We need to be better at this.

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The Press Release I wish churches would put out on the Same Sex Marriage issue

I was talking to a friend this week about a statement his church might put out on gay marriage and he said “have you seen any good press releases on this issue” and I said “no”… which isn’t entirely true, I could probably find one or two. So I wrote one (P.S – to that friend, I’ve tweaked this a bit since).

It’s a bit wordy, and I’d want to edit some bits out depending on context, but it does, I think, incorporate our “key messages”…


CHURCH NAME seeks way forward in Same Sex Marriage Debate

CHURCH/DENOMINATION NAME apologises to LOCATION’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex community for any hurt caused to them in the name of Jesus when homosexuality has been singled out as a special sin. We recognise that this apology is particularly necessary given the heat involved in the current debate surrounding the redefinition of marriage.

As a church community we are interested in people of all sexual orientations, and from all backgrounds, meeting Jesus, and having a long term relationship with the God who created the universe, we believe all human relationships come second to this one relationship.

CHURCH NAME, Spokesperson name, said that while it will inevitably cause tension for people, CHURCH NAME must continue to define homosexuality as contrary to God’s design, as the Bible is clear on the matter, but admits the church has done a bad job whenever homosexuality has been singled out for special treatment.

“As a church community we have to recognise that whenever the Bible discusses homosexuality as contrary to God’s created order, it does so in long lists of sins too often given a free pass by Christians speaking out in the same sex marriage debate.”

“As a society we need to work hard at fostering debate which is inclusive and loving, where loving disagreement is not just tolerated but encouraged. It’s unfortunate that standing up for the current definition of marriage is inevitably framed as standing against those who seek changes to the definition. We are not seeking to question the personhood, or limit the freedoms, of the GLBTI community so much as seeking to uphold an institution that we believe was created by God.”

“Perhaps, as a society, we should be taking stock of the heavy emphasis we put on sexual expression as a fundamental human right in the first place, this seems to inherently discriminate against those who are asexual in orientation, or the unhappily single. We believe that sexuality is important, but that it cannot function as the basis of one’s identity.”

“We believe, as Christian churches have for almost 2,000 years, that Jesus Christ, who claimed to be the son of God, was crucified by the Roman Empire, and was raised three days later. We believe that this historical event verified his claims.”

“From the beginning of Christianity this event has been called the gospel, which means good news, because it has implications for every human, it makes a relationship with God possible because the fundamental truth of human nature is that we cannot avoid doing those things that the Bible calls sin, that is stuff that isn’t in line with what the God who made all things would have us do.”

“We’re not arguing that homosexual orientation is a choice, simply that what is natural to us can still be wrong. All of us are naturally wired to do these things. And the Bible says Jesus undoes that wiring. Not in a way that means we don’t do the wrong thing, but in a way that frees us from defining ourselves by those things.”

“We believe, as churches have since the canon was established by councils 1,700 years ago, that the Bible is the word of God, containing the collation of documents necessary to guide us, but ultimately to tell, and foretell, the story of Jesus as the central event in history. Our calendar years still recognise Jesus arrival as a turning point.”

“Jesus taught that marriage, from the beginning of humanity, was instituted by God as between one man and one woman. While we acknowledge that there are many cultures that have made modifications to this design, or that have no ties to the Judea-Christian tradition, we believe that this design is self evident from the anatomical sexual compatibility of men and women.”

“Because we believe that Jesus, as God’s son, and God himself, speaks as the creator of humanity, and we believe the Bible is God’s word, we must continue to oppose the redefinition of marriage, and to continue to define homosexuality as part of the brokenness of our human nature.”

“This is not a decision we take lightly because we recognise that some people in our community are hurt by disagreement, but it’s a decision we must take in order to continue to offer the hope that Jesus offers to all people.”

“While we believe strongly in the separation of church and state, and have no wish to legislate our belief system for everybody, we recognise that all people in a democracy have a right to participate in policy debate. We continue to oppose a redefinition of the marriage act on the basis that we believe that defining marriage as a lifelong commitment made between a man and a woman is the best way to enable human flourishing. We believe that this is the type of family structure that God intended, though we understand that families are complex and all families need love, support and care, which we humbly offer in our church community.”

“We are always happy to have conversations with people who disagree with us, and will continue to offer love, support, and prayer to those people, and anyone struggling with any sin, or people who want to understand who Jesus is.”

ENDS

For more information contact SPOKESPERSON on PHONE NUMBER


What do you reckon? Is it missing anything vital? What would you cut, or add?

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What’s wrong with this picture? A stupid “gay marriage” flow chart coming soon to a Facebook wall near you

Gay Marriage Flowchart

While I’ve argued elsewhere that perhaps in a democracy which we recognise is secular, if we think the government should be allowing individuals relative freedom to define their own identity, we could possibly curtail the debate entirely by just selecting the “no” option here, I have real problems with the way this flow chart characterises legitimate arguments that Christians bring to the debate and turns the focus “in house.”

Notice one of the questions is “shall modern-day churches live by all of Paul’s values”… and then the conclusion to answering yes to that question is that such a response is a “sexist, chauvinistic, judgmental, and xenophobic lifestyle” and then there’s some throw away line about culture moving on.

It’s fair to say that while I don’t like Christians being nasty to homosexuals, I also have problems with Christianity being misrepresented like this.

I just want to make it clear – I don’t think the “so you still think homosexuality is sinful?” To which I answer “yes,” necessarily leads to the conclusion “therefore gays shouldn’t be allowed to marry.” So I don’t think I’m the target market for this flowchart.

I also want to acknowledge, from the outset, that the church has been unhelpful on this topic in a couple of ways:
1. Homosexual attraction is not, in any meaningful sense, a “choice” in the vast majority of cases (I would suggest it’s the product of both one’s environment (nurture),and biology (nature), (I think predominantly nurture, but I don’t necessarily think there’s anything preventing a “gay gene” existing – and a person does not choose their environment when that shaping is happening).
2. The church has consistently been bad on this issue, particularly in the last thirty years, when treating it as some “special sin” – the only thing special about homosexuality is that there’s a proactive move to not define it as a sin at all. But we Christians have been hateful, bigoted, oppressive, and intolerant. And I’m sorry about that.

However, that a behaviour is natural is no argument for its inherent value. This is called the naturalistic or is/ought fallacy, and it also doesn’t work with Christianity and the doctrine of man’s natural inclination to sin.

If you’re a non-Christian reading this – please keep this in mind. I’m not discussing this to support the anti-gay marriage campaign, I’m not saying this because I think homosexuals who aren’t Christians need to be stoned, legislated against, persecuted, or even forced to give up their loving relationships – I’d much rather you, and they, meet Jesus, and reconsider what “identity” actually is, and whether sexuality should be the foundation of human identity in the first place. What I am interested in doing is correcting the misconceptions about Christianity this chart perpetuates, because I think it gets in the way of people meeting Jesus. And it does a disservice to the important discussion of sexuality, homosexuality, and marriage, that is still happening in Australia.

So lets take a look at the arguments here…

We’ll work from left to right…

Jesus and marriage

While a direct statement like “homosexuality is wrong” would have been really convenient for this debate, some 1,980 years after the fact, there were plenty of other things Jesus didn’t directly speak against. This is an incredibly odd category to bring to Christian ethics. Jesus wasn’t really on about moral proclamation in the way this box assumes. He spoke about morals, but his major moral sermons, like the Sermon on the Mount, don’t leave much scope for assuming Jesus was interested in doing away with the moral law of Israel, if anything he intensifies them (or explains how the way they were operating was a long way from the picture of holiness the law was designed to create). I can’t, off the top of my head, or with a couple of quick word searches, find any passages where Jesus forbids building idols – the second commandment – but there aren’t a lot of people out there arguing that this is a reason for idol worship. And this was a major issue for the early church (see, for example, Acts 15, and Paul’s instructions to flee from idols (1 Cor 5:11, 6:9–10, 10:7, 10:14, Gal 5:19–21, Eph 5:5, Col 3:5)).

What Jesus did do was, whenever the issue of sexuality came up in his teaching, affirm an Old Testament position on marriage, based on creation, in Matthew 19:

Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?”

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

So, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5), on adultery, it doesn’t occur to him to use gender neutral terminology, as if anything goes…

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

This isn’t a great argument – it’s sort of a modified argument from silence. But then this “box” is an argument from silence, and I’d say the onus is on the author of the flow chart to demonstrate why their argument is most logical in the face of the facts that Jesus was a Jew, who consistently upheld the Old Testament.

There is a sense where much of the subsequent argument in this post (this box, and subsequent boxes) relies on understanding that Jesus fulfilled the law in a way (I’d say by keeping it perfectly) that meant its incredibly difficult standard of morality is not what saves God’s people, and thus certain aspects (like the food laws) don’t continue… This doesn’t actually mean the law is of no value for determining what is right and wrong behaviour. There aren’t many Christians who would argue that the Old Testament isn’t in some way useful for Christian ethics. In fact, Paul seems to suggest the law continues to play a role in making us aware of sin in Romans 7.

But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”

This is a good post that deals with this question in a bit more detail. On to the next box…

The Old Testament

This is an interesting argument. I have some sympathy with the point it tries to make – it is hard to figure out why we’re ok with pork, but not ok with homosexuality. Most of this, for me, hangs on how Jesus fulfils the law, and a lot of the answer to that is pretty clear in the pages of the New Testament, it’s not exactly silent on the relationship between the Old Testament and Christian living, given that this was the big issue Jewish and gentile Christians were grappling with in the early church.

The Old Testament is pretty clear (Leviticus 18:22, 20:13). If this was all the Bible said anywhere then you could try to make a pretty weak case (if you buy into the tripartite moral/civic/ceremonial division of the Old Testament law) that somehow this isn’t a moral issue but a purity law that was symbolically meant to distinguish Israel from the nations. Personally I don’t think there’s a good reason to operate with that sort of distinction, it seems a bit arbitrary. It’s important to point out that Christians are not often Jews, we’re typically gentiles, so the law in the Old Testament doesn’t really have a function for us beyond pointing us to Jesus and explaining something about God. I think the best answer to why these particular passages are still valid for Christians is that when the early church sits down to figure out what expectations of the Old Testament carry through for the church (a mix of Jews and Gentiles), they come to this conclusion (in Acts 15)…

19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
It’s pretty clear that those passages in Leviticus think homosexuality is sexually immoral, and pretty clear that the NT writers treat it the same way… but that’s the next box.

The New Testament

First of all, this whole “the Bible might have said homosexuality but it meant something different” argument is kind of bizarre. A guy named Richard Hays wrote a book called The Moral Vision of the New Testament which considers this argument (ie the one in the box) by looking at the words that Paul, a Jew, might have been familiar with, to figure out what he meant. He says (page 382) that the Greek words describing homosexual acts in 1 Corinthians 6 are “almost certainly” derived from Leviticus, and that the words were common in Rabbinic texts describing homosexual activity.

The first part of this box is at best a hotly debated minority position produced by people with an agenda to undermine the most basic understanding of the text. I’d say it’s much clearer that the New Testament views homosexuality as negatively as the Old. Especially Paul. But Peter thought Paul’s writing carried the authority of Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). So dismiss one, and you’ve essentially got to dismiss them all – especially given the Jerusalem Council’s decision in Acts 15.

The second part of this box, which essentially acknowledges our conclusion here, which dismisses Paul because he said women should be silent is confusing two issues, and is what some might call a genetic fallacy that suggests this position is bad because it comes from Paul (essentially this is a poisoning the well fallacy too), an ad hominem fallacy that suggests Paul is “sexist, chauvinist, and judgmental” so shouldn’t be listened to, an appeal to emotion fallacy that says because something else Paul does is considered bad and makes people angry – everything he does must be bad, a false cause fallacy, a strawman fallacy that links the two issues as though they are one simply because they are both culturally out of fashion.

It should be clear that my answer to “shall modern day churches live by all of Paul’s values” is a resounding yes. By making the statement “values” not “commands” this would even give wiggle room if you could argue for some principle underpinning some of his commands that is the binding part (like what is the deal with head coverings in church?). Paul’s values were thoroughly loving, thoroughly interested in winning people to Christ despite their natural rejection of him, and thoroughly concerned for others. Sometimes that means telling other people that their natural desires are wrong.

In conclusion – the argument is inherently bad – but it does at least attempt to make a point (ie Paul is out of date and we shouldn’t listen to him). Assuming, for a moment, that there is merit to the argument regarding the language used in 1 Cor 6, and assuming that Paul’s views on women are archaic (for the sake of argument, I don’t think they’ve really grappled with what’s going on in Corinth that Paul is addressing here), this still doesn’t actually deal with the substance of Paul’s argument, particularly in Romans. His argument in Corinthians is that Christians shouldn’t be like the people around them, and should be changed from the types of people they used to be. This is primarily a pastoral approach to the question. His argument in Romans 1 is that homosexuality is a result of what happens to human nature when we reject God. When we overturn the created order – Paul’s problem with homosexuality (explicitly) is the same as the Jesus’ implicit problem outlined above – God made man and woman to be sexually compatible. Which is interesting, because it’s the next box…

Adam and Eve v Adam and Steve

The argument from nature/creation is an interesting one – it risks running the same is/ought fallacy as the argument that homosexual attraction is essentially “natural” in that it isn’t a choice. This comes down to a theological account, or perhaps a philosophical account, of what being human is, and what nature is.

If you believe there’s a creator (God), who made a good world (which the Bible says he did), which was then broken by sin so that what is “natural” now is not what was intended then (which many Christians believe is the case), then arguments from what “was” before the fall, are more theologically compelling for Christians than arguments from what “is” now. It’s a was/ought thing. So because God created man and woman for relationship, before the fall, we can say this is the ideal. It helps that both Jesus and Paul, two pretty influential figures in Christianity, reaffirm this truth and its relationship to sexuality.

Overpopulation seems a strange place to go next. The argument that people should be gay because we don’t need more children (implicit in that box) is kind of a weird approach to the development of homosexual attractions that bears no resemblance to how psychologists think that actually happens. People aren’t condemning (necessarily) homosexuality because it can’t fulfil the mandate to be fruitful and multiply, the condemnation rests a step earlier, homosexuality is against the created order because God created man and woman – marriage isn’t about children, though raising children should happen in marriage. If you tow that line you end up ruling out marriage for elderly or infertile couples – and that’s dumb.

The argument from creation is one of the most legitimate arguments from a Christian perspective – not only because it’s there from the beginning, but because it’s where other people go (I suspect you could make the case that Leviticus bases its prohibition on the same thing). This box also seems to be contradicted by the flowchart author’s willingness to see Jesus as an authority in box 1. If Jesus is an authority, then this argument has merit when it comes to marriage.

The Bible’s Definition of Marriage

This one is interesting. While the Bible contains descriptions of polygamous marriage, and laws regarding the other types of relationships listed, descriptions aren’t prescriptions. You can’t argue from laws regarding what Israel was to do in the process of conquering its neighbours, that the ideal behaviour is to marry a female prisoner-of-war. Laws exist, in any culture, to tell you what happens when things aren’t ideal. Law isn’t ethics.

You can’t even argue from characters like Jacob, David, and Solomon, that polygamy was the “Biblical definition” of marriage, in fact at least in Solomon’s case it was a big problem. Just because something happens in the narrative bits of the Bible doesn’t mean it is being affirmed. A plain reading of the whole storyline of Israel makes that pretty clear.

It’s also fair to say that if you follow the whole storyline of the Bible, as something that unfolds chronologically, the Bible does define marriage as between one man and one woman (see what Jesus said).

The biggest problem with this flowchart is that it has a broken model of interpreting the Bible. There aren’t many people who don’t think that the arrival of Jesus in the New Testament was a significant moment that changed the way the Old Testament should be read.

The Old Testament exists to provide a backstory for Jesus.

You can’t just rip bits out of the OT and say “the Bible says” without qualifying that statement by considering how that part applies to Jesus and applies to us, just as you can’t say the movie Titanic says “the Titanic sailed safely on its maiden journey,” because you caught the middle but not the end, and stick with that as your account of the maiden journey. That’s dumb.

I wrote a pretty big ethics essay, essentially on why these boxes are wrong, you can read that if you want another few thousand words to add to this one.

That is all.

Ten (or more) thoughts on “praying away the gay”

“Pray Away the Gay” was a heading the Brisbane Times used to describe a prayer meeting that some Christians held in the centre of Brisbane yesterday (here’s a follow up). A bunch of young Brisbanites turned out to protest against the prayer meeting on the basis that it was promoting a message of hate and intolerance. And I tend to agree with the protestors – though it didn’t help that the Brisbane Times sensationalised the story with a horrible headline more at home in the Republican primaries in America.

Here’s what the group, led by Christian Democrat Candidate, Peter Madden, from Sydney, said about the meeting (I’m trying to be as sympathetic to my fellow Christians as possible here.

“It is vital that we pray that God will have His way in Queensland in this election against the wickedness proposed by Anna Bligh and others, (who have pushed hard for the evil agenda of homosexual marriage in Queensland, clearly aimed at Australian children and families).

Please pray that God would raise up righteous leaders and remove the ungodly from power would send a clear message to the ALP Federally and in every state in Australia that they must not change the Marriage Act! That they might realise their foolishness and change their party policy back to the way it has always been!”

Now. This isn’t exactly “praying away the gay”… the Brisbane Times headline wasn’t particularly accurate there. I thought this may have been a slogan on the truck. But it wasn’t. This was what the truck, which the Brisbane Times articles suggested was hateful, featured…

Now. These aren’t nice. They’re emotive, and it’s a bit of a moral scare campaign. But they aren’t linking homosexuality to pedophilia, like the spokespeople for the LGBT lobby suggested in the Brisbane Times article. It seems Madden and his ilk are worried about sex ed classes promoting homosexuality as normal.

I’m actually more worried about the language Madden uses in the media release than about the posters.

I don’t want to sound like I’m advocating political quietism, where Christians never speak out on issues, nor do I want to present some sort of trite “Jesus wouldn’t have been interested in homosexuality” approaches to this issue. Neither is particularly compelling for either side of the debate. Both are cop outs. And both fail to comprehend the complexity of governing for myriad competing world views. This post is getting too long as it is, so I’ll try to wrap this up pretty quickly.

I’m fairly convinced that Jesus would have been interested in this debate – following Jesus means ditching your previous identity, and submitting your life to him. That’s pretty much the nature of being a Christian. This means submitting one’s sexual identity to his authority. Which means, if you’re going to take the Bible seriously, fighting against your sexual orientation. Just as if you’re going to take the Bible seriously you need to submit your heterosexual orientation to Jesus. One of my ethics essays last semester pretty much involved exactly this question – feel free to read it here.

So I think that line is a cop out. But it does not follow that because Jesus would have been interested in the issue, we should legislate according to what Jesus thinks, or what we think. If that were the case, for starters, Jesus would have spent a bit more time as a political lobbyist, or revolutionary – rather than calling for people to turn to the kingdom of God and find their identity in him. Here are a couple of problems with the idea that we should be praying for the demise of the Labor party, or the “wicked Anna Bligh”…

1. Homosexual attraction is not (necessarily, or even in most cases) a deliberate or conscious “choice” – this was a big part of the essay I linked to above – attraction is complex, there are all sorts of factors that can influence attraction, potentially including biology. One does not choose one’s orientation in the same way that one chooses their identity – in Christ or otherwise (nor does sexual orientation necessarily lead to identity – this is a bizarre modern western assumption).

2. It follows, that if one has not chosen Christianity, than there is no good case to be made for “praying away the gay” or seeing homosexuality as anything other than normal. The gay community has every right to contribute to a democracy, as do the Christians. Elected officials have a responsibility not just to the special interest group that brought them to power, but to every member of their electorate.

3. It is not “evil” to try to look after the interests of all members of society – especially those who are marginalised, bullied, and at greater risk of suicide or mental illness.

4. Nor is it evil, or “homophobic,” to believe that a particular human lifestyle is contrary to the intentions of God. That something appears “natural” is not a reason to say that this is how things ought to be. That is called the “naturalistic” or “is/ought” fallacy.

5. While the case regarding abortion, that it involves protecting children, is obvious, and potentially democratically legitimate, this doesn’t seem to be obviously the case in the question of gay marriage (no matter what the Christian Democrats might say), unless somebody is forcing children to choose to be gay, so the issue of gay marriage doesn’t really appear to be a political issue. It’s a moral issue, or theological issue, and not one that should necessarily be the subject of political debate.

6. The idea that Jesus would be more concerned about “the gay” than about “the adultery” or “the fornication” is bizarre. I don’t recall any sex ed class I ever went to advocating marriage as the only place for sex. We do ourselves, and the message of the gospel, a disservice if we focus on a particular sin.

7. Because homosexuality, and particularly gay rights and the question of marriage, is a hot-button issue, and a point at which the Christian message is in conflict with the way the world thinks, we’re always going to get hammered when we speak about homosexuality, and any attempt to be gracious is going to be lost in a negative headline. This means we need to be careful to only speak graciously, and not even attempt to talk about morality outside of talking about the gospel.

8. Nowhere, so far as I can see, are Christians called on to pray against the government. The Roman Empire was more opposed to the Christian message than any western government prior to the 20th century. And Christians were called to pray for those in authority (1 Tim 2:1-3).

9. The idea that Jesus loved sinners, and that we’re all sinners who need Jesus, gets lost if we keeping banging on about particular sins. And we oversimplify life, and politics in a democracy in particular, if talk as if life is a binary case of good and evil. While this may be true – most Christian theology, in most mainstream denominations (I want to say “all”), begin with the foundation that all people – not just those with same sex attraction, or a homosexual identity – are sinful. Life is complex, and messy, and driving slogan laden trucks around in protest about something is always going to be reductionist, hurtful, and interpreted as hateful.

10. Wouldn’t we be better off focusing our energy on clearly articulating the gospel – on spreading a message of hope for all, rather than anything that could be interpreted as hate for some? I don’t get why anybody would book out a public space in Brisbane to pray against our politicians rather than to meet people and tell them about Jesus in a way that listens to, empathises with, and cares for, the people of Brisbane where they’re at.

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How not to use billboards, and other things the Australian Christian Lobby should learn about the media

What a fortnight it has been for the outdoor advertising industry. Never has religion won them so much mainstream media coverage. Well. Not since the last atheist outdoor advertising campaign in the states.

Here’s the thing. From an advertising perspective, campaign wise, billboards are a pretty rubbish way to do things. If you have a $10,000 budget for a campaign just about the last thing you want to do with it is hire a billboard. You could phone the number of people who will care about your billboard for less than that cost. Billboards are good as part of an integrated media campaign, and they are an especially good way to get media coverage if you put up something outlandish. In fact, the only reasons I’d ever advise using a billboard (and ever have in the past) is a) if it’s free. Like a prize, or some sort of in kind deal with the billboard company, b) if you’re selling high volumes of low value impulse products (like a chocolate bar or a soft drink – Coke reckons if you see their logo six times in a day you’ll buy a bottle), c) if you’re saying something incredibly outlandish and you want to generate media coverage.

This last option is where my interest lies, and in the last few weeks (well months) there have been some interesting case studies in outdoor advertising from religious groups that have become mainstream media stories.

PR companies calculate the value of their marketing efforts using a metric called “equivalent advertising value” or some multiple of the advertising value to get equivalent exposure. I think this method is bollocks, but it can be hard to quantify the value of PR. You can ask why in the comments. It’s not really worth going into.

First cab off the rank was the hugely successful rapture readiness campaign that probably received, in EAV terms, significantly more than the initial advertising spend globally. Billboards don’t come cheap. But neither does TV air time, and this billboard campaign was getting a story an outlet per bulletin for days leading up to the event on broadcast media and features pre-and-post. All because this guy bought some billboards. That’s what you want when you buy billboards. People to notice, to talk, and for buzz to start. That’s why billboards, generally speaking, are more shocking than other ads. You only see them for short bursts so they have to grab you, but they also need to be newsworthy if you want maximum exposure. This is why the push to get g-rated ads is bound to fail, eventually, because shock value is so intrinsic to the medium (we’ll talk more about the ACL below).

Some people would say this billboard is offensive because of its use of Papyrus and the fact that the guy in silhouette looks like he’s constipated. But the message got cut through because it was such an outlandish claim, and because the guy buying them had spent so much money. But you don’t have so spend millions of dollars not talking about Jesus to get media coverage for your religious billboard.

You can also, as it turns out, make claims about Jesus that shock people. Especially if you’re Islamic. And you claim Jesus as your prophet. One wonders if most Muslims have stopped to read what Jesus claims about himself in the Bible which would seem like a pretty natural approach to history (though the Bible is seen as an unreliable witness to Jesus’ prophecy, or so I’m told). So this billboard campaign offers interesting opportunities to have that conversation (see DavidOuld.net for how that might work). But not all Christians view the billboard this way. Evidently. Because some clown tried to tear it down. Which would be a masterstroke of media manipulation if it ended up not being a Christian who did it – because again, a controversial advert, with a controversial follow up, is gold for newspaper editors everywhere. And represents value for money for the advertiser.

Generally speaking, I’m a fan of freedom of speech, which means I am naturally opposed to censorship. Not viewing guidelines. But the prevention of ideas being able to be freely transmitted. Some ideas are criminal, and transmitting them is worthy of being locked up. But as a general rule people I disagree with should be allowed to advertise their messages. Because that’s consistent. The playing field is level. I hate the idea that we are a “Christian country” so therefore other religions shouldn’t be allowed to advertise. It’s wrong on about eight levels. Well. Two. We aren’t really a Christian country, and even if we were, that shouldn’t stop us letting minorities have a voice. There’s censorship of ideas, which is bad because liberty is good, and there’s restrictions on liberty for the sake of not hurting others. Which is good, because hurting others is bad… which brings me to the big gay controversy…

Two people. Cuddling or engaging in foreplay. Necking. Condom in hand, lowered suggestively towards groin. Clothed. The words rip and roll displayed prominently.

Safe sex message or not, I think you’d have a hard time convincing most people that the above scene is “G Rated”… it’s simply not. The subtext is clear. And while being “G Rated” is framed as being about children, it’s really not. It’s about protecting people from things that offend them in public places. I don’t think you need to worry about protecting people from things that offend them where they have a choice to turn off. But a bus stop doesn’t present you with that sort of choice. So even if the subtext goes over the heads of children, which I think it probably does, and even if the message of that ad is important, and it is. I don’t think a bus stop is the place for it.

Wouldn’t it be great if we had somebody out there fighting for G-Rated outdoor advertising.

Oh wait. We do.

The Australian Christian Lobby.

I’ve said before that I’m not really a fan of the Australian Christian Lobby. I’m not a fan of their approach to church and state, to morality, to the fundamental assumptions they have about what is a good witness to people, what will change behaviour, and how Christians should contribute to society. But I could support them on the outdoor advertising thing. I really could. But in this case. Their message is lost. And the advertisers win again. Because the Australian Christian Lobby’s Wendy Francis has a track record of being “homophobic” – thanks to an ill-advised tweet while she was running for Family First. I use the quotes there because she’s not actually homophobic, but rather is said to be. I don’t think she’s scared of gay people, I just don’t think she knows how to approach the issue of homosexuality in public from a Christian perspective. For more on homophobia and a Christian response to homosexuality you should read Brad’s post. I’ve written a couple of things about a Christian approach to gay marriage too.

The problem with the ad described above is that it features two males. Which meant that rather than being about “G Rated Advertising” this was always going to play out as a Christian Lobby Group being homophobic gay haters. “They’re not just scared, they don’t want gay people in the public eye.” That is how the response played out. It was like watching a car crash. And it has made this campaign, and this billboard, one of the most talked about advertising campaigns in Australia at the moment. One of the most talked about topics. And Wendy Francis and the Australian Christian Family First Lobby played right into their hands. Poe’s Law says Christian fundamentalism will be indistinct from Christian satire, and if the ACL hadn’t complained about the billboards the company behind them should have started a Christian satire organisation and complained. It was predictable. It was geared perfectly to not be outrageous and be outrageous at the same time. The company behind the campaign said:

In designing this advert to appear in general settings we were careful to ensure:

  • the models are fully clothed
  • the picture does not depict or imply a specific sex act
  • there are no rude or offensive words used
  • the men are depicted in a non-discriminatory way

While this might be true, I’d still suggest that the ad wasn’t G Rated, and therefore isn’t suitable for outdoor advertising, which should be designed to accommodate the twin poles of freedom of speech and reasonable protection of people (including children) from offense. This was an ad designed to evoke a response. Rip’N’Roll is provocative. I don’t think you can dodge that. Be it describing condom use, or the situation in which such use arises, it is clearly not family friendly.

But the real clincher, and what must have had the company rubbing their hands together with glee was the way the story unfolded. Adshell, the company responsible for the ads, pulled them (strategy anyone?), as a result of a “grass roots” campaign from ACL supporters, possibly in response to this Facebook update from Wendy Francis (that again sails close to the “homophobic” wind – it is clear the two males are an issue, despite what she might have said to Sunrise this morning).

This prompted an outcry. A hoard of angry men and women descended on the ad company waving placards featuring the picture from the ad. This made the news. Politicians got involved. Twitter erupted. The model in the photo chucked a tantrum throwing emotive language around. The billboards are now back up and everybody wins. Except the ACL. Whose important campaign about Outdoor Advertising standards is doomed to failure because they’ve got some idiot idea that talking about your opponents campaign and marketing message is somehow going to get it less attention.

If you get a bad review from the media you shut up. You don’t show all your friends. You don’t fan the flames. You wait for the hubbub to die out. Why bring attention to somebody else’s story. The better move from the ACL would have been to take photos of the billboards and interview people catching buses from the bus stops in question to build a case against non G rated outdoor advertising. But they’re all about pigheaded tenacity in every battle. And not about the war. And apparently about as interested in talking about Jesus as Harold Campling. How can a “Christian Lobby” bang on about stuff so much saying so little about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. You get a free hit on national television on a popular breakfast show and you paint us all as moralising potentially homophobic wowsers. Why not talk about Jesus, even if it’s linked to what Jesus said about marriage and sexuality.

The more we get distracted on the little things, and the more our reputation is built on the way we deal with the little things, the less people listen to us on the big ones. It’s interesting to me that while a guy like Wilberforce was obviously motivated by the gospel, and a passionate witness for Christ, the good deeds he did are in some sense kept separate from that. I can’t ascribe motives to the guy. I don’t know what he was thinking. But I like that things like the RSPCA and the abolition movement, while motivated by his faith, had their own identity. While I think the outdoor advertising campaign is a good thing for society I’m not sure it needs a “Christian” stamp. Maybe we’d be better served if we weren’t creating confusion between what Christians are on about (Jesus hopefully) and what people interested in morality (Christians included) are on about. We don’t want our good deeds to be separated from our motivations – but we don’t want them to cloud the gospel either. That needs to be clear.

We’re Christians because we love Jesus, not because we don’t like other people putting safe sex messages on billboards. Even the Muslims want to talk about Jesus. And we can’t get it right.

That is all.