Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Peterson made some good points in response to my recent post on love. I'm quoting what he said here for the benefit of those who might not regularly check the comment sections of each post...

Here's a little equation I've been working on--

Perfect Love casts out Fear

Therefore the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.

When I espoused the beliefs that gays and other "heretics" went to hell for their sins, I did so out of fear. The God of love did not compel me to picket abortion clinics, preach hell fire and brimstone on street corners (while handing out Chick tracts) and to practically destroy myself through impossible ex-gay transformation.

What motivated me was fear--fear that if we don't eradicate evil, society will unravel and we will all go to hell in a handbasket. "Tough Love" shielded me from a world that terrified me and threatened my beliefs and challenged my hidden desires.

Tough Love does [not] save; it contains and that only for a time and at great cost.

But in spite of all the walls I set up, the weapons I hurled at family and friends, Love found me and helped me to stop the war within. "Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away."

To that I would add: whether or not fear is the opposite of love (I think there's also a case to be made for indifference/apathy), it's definitely an opposite of love.

It wasn't until I began to understand the true breadth and depth of God's unconditional love for me that I found the confidence to seriously examine the issue of homosexuality in depth. I'd read plenty of ex-gay/religious right literature on the subject, of course, but fear of God's condemnation drove me to turn a blind eye to the contradictions, inconsistencies and gaping holes that riddled those books and articles.

But God's love is far larger than the human parody of love that tempts us to drive away anyone who doesn't believe exactly as we do and behave precisely the way we think they ought to. I'm not a universalist in my theology, but at the same time I don't believe that there will be nearly as many people in hell as most Christians seem to expect (sometimes all too gleefully). If a loving human parent won't easily give up on even the most rebellious child, how much more would a loving God strive to reconcile with every one of his children (even *gasp* the gay ones)? Indeed, God often has to undo the 'work' of his church before he can reach those of his children that need him the most.

And, yes, there are those parents who react to the revelation that their child is gay with anger, words of shame, threats, ostracism and even physical violence, but ultimately it's fear - not love - that motivates them to act so horribly. Although most of these parents truly love their children, fear for their child's eternal soul drives them to push their child away just when they have an ideal opportunity to speak directly and positively into their child's life.

But if God's love is perfect and perfect love casts out fear, then fear of damnation can never be a godly motivation. And yet it's precisely that fear that corrals us toward legalism and away from a dynamic relationship with the One who loves us more than we could possibly comprehend.

Monday, June 26, 2006


Without necessarily endorsing everything said by Bertrand Russell, he did make a number of observations that seem to apply to the state of the church as much as they do to the world at large...

If a man is offered a fact which goes against his instincts, he will scrutinize it closely, and unless the evidence is overwhelming, he will refuse to believe it. If, on the other hand, he is offered something which affords a reason for acting in accordance to his instincts, he will accept it even on the slightest evidence. The origin of myths is explained in this way.

If there were in the world today any large number of people who desired their own happiness more than they desired the unhappiness of others, we could have paradise in a few years.

Passive acceptance of the teacher's wisdom is easy to most boys and girls. It involves no effort of independent thought, and seems rational because the teacher knows more than his pupils; it is moreover the way to win the favour of the teacher unless he is a very exceptional man. Yet the habit of passive acceptance is a disastrous one in later life. It causes man to seek and to accept a leader, and to accept as a leader whoever is established in that position.

The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.

Friday, June 23, 2006


And now, some quick pointers to things I've been reading lately...

Steve Boese at A Tenable Belief has been blogging on his recent experience attending a Love Won Out conference. In part four, he analyzes the presentation given by Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH. Dr. Nicolosi is a textbook example of an individual who has chosen to place ideology ahead of what the facts might say if allowed to speak for themselves, as Boese aptly illustrates.

The guys at Positive Liberty always have a number of interesting discussions going on, not the least of which is their debunking of the myth that America's Founding Fathers set out to establish a 'Christian' nation. As Jonathan Rowe reiterates in this installment of that ongoing discussion, the beliefs of the key Founding Fathers bore a closer resemblance to Unitarian Universalism than anything that modern-day Evangelicals would consider to be within the realm of orthodox Christianity.

And speaking of Evangelical politics, Gregory Boyd's latest book, The Myth of a Christian Nation, is one I'll definitely be quoting from in future posts. This book is a must-read for anyone questioning whether groups like Focus on the Family really represent how a Christian can best engage in politics (and society in general).

Finally, on a lighter note, here's what Stephen Colbert has to say about the gay threat. (If you have any trouble with the YouTube link, here's one to Comedy Central's Colbert Report page.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


What does it mean to be a Christian? Theologians and other "true believers" have gone to war with each other (sometimes literally) over the answer to that question throughout church history. Is it about espousing a list of doctrinal positions, or about adhering to a particular list of dos and don'ts, or about immersing oneself in a subculture that spouts 'Christianese' lingo and wears evangelistic T-shirts?

Or is it about following the example of Christ, who sacrificially gave of himself to others, freely associating with the dregs of society and transforming the hearts of those around him, not by lecturing them about their 'sin' or using political power to coerce good behavior, but by modeling unconditional love and welcoming anyone who was willing to do likewise without question.

And certainly there are Christians today who follow that example, feeding the poor, comforting the hurting and helping their neighbors - but they're rarely the ones who spend time in the spotlight. The ones who speak the loudest about "Christian values" are most often those who do not give of themselves self-sacrificially, who instead advocate a "tough love" approach to dealing with sinners (particularly homosexuals) and heretics (by whatever criteria they use to define heresy).

The 'tough love' approach endorses the use of shame and ostracism as tools to coerce particular behavior from others (all for their own good, of course). It differs only in degree from the use of imprisonment, torture and execution by the church (both Catholic and Protestant) in previous centuries to save the souls of pagans, Jews and heretics, the reasoning being that the end of advancing the Kingdom of God justifies any and all means. Most modern advocates of the 'tough love' approach would recoil at the thought of killing in the name of Christ, of course, though some might silently approve if the government were the one pulling the trigger.

But can that really be called love? The Bible that these Christians claim their authority derives from seems to suggest otherwise:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. (I Cor. 13:4-7, NIV)

Some might argue, perhaps, that since "love does not delight in evil," it is the Christian's duty to initiate hostilities against evil wherever it's perceived to exist, but there's little in the context of the passage, and even less in the example of Christ, to support such a creative interpretation.

One might possibly find support for 'tough love' elsewhere in the New Testament, but only if those passages are interpreted apart from the teachings and example of Christ. Separated from the context of Jesus' life and the self-sacrificial love he modeled, our reading of the rest of the Bible can very quickly degenerate into legalism, from which it's an alarmingly short distance to the torture chambers of the Inquisition.

And so Christians continue to go to war with each other (and just about everyone else) in the name of advancing the Kingdom of God and stamping out heresy. But if we are truly committed to being followers of Christ, what greater heresy could there be than failure to love self-sacrificially? Can any doctrine or moral issue even begin to compare to the importance of giving wholeheartedly to others with no strings attached like Jesus did?

Of course, that makes me a heretic. It makes most of us heretics. The monthly tithe I give is only a fraction of what I really have to offer, and certainly not sacrificial in any meaningful sense of the word. We can formulate the soundest doctrines, preach the best sermons, build the nicest churches, live the cleanest lives and pass legislation against all of the worst sins, but if we fail to love others the way Jesus showed love to others, we might as well not even bother.

It's easy enough to denounce 'sin.' It's a relatively simple matter to stand up and demand legislation to 'save' marriage by outlawing gay relationships. Attempts to usher in the Kingdom of God by force meet with resistance, certainly, but ultimately it's far easier to take up the sword than it is to follow the example of Christ. There's nothing at all easy about setting aside one's personal agendas to give everything one has to those who don't deserve it, without expecting anything in return. And yet, at the end of the day, it's the only way we can truly advance the Kingdom of God.

No exceptions, no conditions, no 'buts.' True love is costly to the giver and directly beneficial to the recipient; 'tough love' almost always costs the recipient more than the giver (if indeed it costs the giver anything at all). Every 'sinner' who met Jesus instinctively understood that he loved them; he never had to rationalize how some action that increased their pain was really in their best interest. If we truly love the way Jesus loves, our love won't require explanation either.

Friday, June 16, 2006


The older I get, the less time and effort I find myself willing to invest into political matters. Aside from creating and widening divisions between people, political debates seldom seem to accomplish much of anything. Not that there isn't a time and place for defending one's (and others') freedoms, but the church never presents an uglier face to the world than it does when it abandons its God-given calling in favor of organizing as a political force.

The debate over the federal marriage amendment is certainly a good example of that. Even when I was otherwise fully invested in believing everything that I was told by Exodus, I recognized the damage that such an amendment would do to our federal system of government.

The U.S. Constitution was carefully crafted to protect individual freedom by regulating the size and scope of the federal government. The primary focus of the Constitution (and its first dozen or so amendments) was on strictly limiting federal power so that its citizens would be safe from tyranny. The federal government had a handful of specific responsibilities; everything else was left to the states or to the individual.

In stark contrast to that original formula, the federal marriage amendment would expand the power of the federal government at the expense of individual liberty by nationalizing an issue once left to the discretion of the states. The last time the Constitution was tinkered with to satisfy the whims of the moralists of the day (Prohibition), it arguably did far more to unravel the moral fabric of the nation than it did to improve it.

Anyway, Tom Ehrich has said it as well as I ever could. Hopefully this article won't disappear into a subscription-only archive anytime soon, but just in case, here are a few key excerpts:

The Constitution doesn't exist to implement a certain "American way of life." It exists to ensure an environment of freedom in which the ways Americans live can flourish and evolve, within a common commitment to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," as stated in the Declaration of Independence.

The Constitution doesn't exist to implement certain religious beliefs. The colonies had been down that road and it was disastrous. The Constitution exists to provide an environment in which all citizens are free to worship and to believe as they choose. It is difficult to imagine a situation more antithetical to the American way than faith by fiat.

Contrary to the notions of some, the Founding Fathers never set out to establish a 'Christian' nation, but one in which freedom of conscience was extended to all, within the limits of those few basic laws minimally necessary to the functioning of a free society.

It is remarkably short-sighted to think that one part in that morality debate is so compelling that it merits undermining the entire fabric of rights and laws. That is theological nonsense. If any topic of Christian morality deserved such a spotlight, it would be the one Jesus actually addressed -- namely, wealth and power.

And finally,

The stability of American society depends far more on freedom, justice, fairness and common sense than on banning certain expressions of human sexuality. History has taught us to ask: If gays are today's target for moralistic repression, who will be tomorrow's?

When they came for the Jews I said nothing, because I wasn't a Jew. And, well, you know the rest.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Eye of the Beholder

It can get downright exhausting having to constantly battle the stereotypes that most Christians still hold about gay individuals. There was a time when I (however naively) hoped that the rising profile of the ex-gay movement would lead to a greater understanding of homosexuality among churchgoers, but instead all that groups like Exodus and Focus on the Family (and, by extension, the poorly named Love Won Out) have done is to reinforce those old stereotypes and guarantee that no meaningful dialogue will take place over this issue in the foreseeable future.

Even the ex-gay testimonies that these organizations promote deal in stereotypes. Without fail they involve an individual finding deliverance from a self-destructive lifestyle that they equate with being gay. There are individual ex-gays whose testimonies don't fit that pattern, certainly, but the ones that get the most press time inevitably include the same basic refrain: "Being gay caused me to become promiscuous/alcoholic/unhappy/etc. until Jesus saved me and took away the gay." Seldom is there an acknowledgment that the individuals' own poor choices played any significant role in their self-destructive behavior, or that being gay in and of itself does not compel a person to engage in anonymous sex or develop a drug addiction or whatever.

Of course, most (not all, but certainly the majority) of the men who enter ex-gay programs seem to fall into one of two categories: those who engaged in a lifestyle of self-destructive activities (promiscuity, anonymous sex, heavy partying), and those who largely or entirely avoided the gay world due to a strong conviction that anything even associated with being gay was a sin. For these individuals, there's nothing more to the gay world than the portions they personally explored (or heard about from other ex-gays). And those who do know better are rarely given permission to say so, even within their local ministry.

Given this, it's not difficult to see where ex-gay advocates get the assumption that there's no such thing as a stable, healthy gay relationship. If the only straight people you knew were individuals you had met in singles bars, strip clubs and sex parlors, how many stable, healthy heterosexual couples do you think you'd meet? But monogamous gay couples don't hang out in bathhouses and public parks any more than monogamous straight couples hang out in brothels and pick-up joints.

Likewise, the majority of lesbians who seek help through ex-gay programs are women who have been sexually abused. But is it any big surprise that people (male or female) with abuse in their backgrounds would be more highly motivated to seek outside help? So again, we see how ex-gay advocates can keep a straight face (pun intended or not at your discretion) while claiming that all (or even most) lesbians have been sexually abused. Not because their assumption truly takes the real world into account, but because by the nature of their work they simply aren't going to cross paths with very many emotionally healthy gays.

And it is true that there's a lot of dysfunction within the gay community. If nothing else, the rate of alcoholism and the number of people seeking psychiatric treatment are reportedly higher than in the population as a whole. But why should that come as a surprise, given the emotional abuse that most gay individuals experience growing up? It may not be directed at them personally, but a lifetime of hearing gays referred to in derogatory, condemnatory and outright hateful terms takes its toll. The horror of coming to the realization that you are one of those terrible, hopelessly depraved gays is no small matter to try to reconcile; for many it leads to years of denial, self-loathing and any number of attempts to be something (anything) else.

Given that self-esteem issues lie at the root of addictive behaviors for many heterosexuals, why would it be any different for homosexuals? It's interesting that the same people who believe that a single 'defensive detachment' in early childhood can fully explain a phenomenon as complex and multifaceted as homosexuality can so adamantly insist that the deep psychological pain I just described is somehow inadequate to explain the dysfunction found in the gay community.

Personal experience does a lot to color one's perspective. My own experiences have recently led me to conclusions vastly different than those reached by the ex-gay spokespersons in question, but at the end of the day my experience only carries so much weight with those who have had different experiences. The problem lies in the fact that ex-gay advocates have chosen to universalize their personal experiences while simultaneously invalidating the experiences of anyone who disagrees with their conclusions.

But then, we evangelicals are prone toward the conceit that anyone who disagrees with us on anything of substance is simply rebelling against the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and that deep down inside they know that we're right and they're wrong. It's a very convenient way of ensuring that we can dismiss those who disagree with us without ever having to seriously consider anything that they might have to say. And it would be just as wrong for me to accuse ex-gay advocates of ignoring the Spirit's conviction as it is for them to assume the same about their opponents.

Thursday, June 08, 2006


You lock me up with your expectations
You lock me up with your expectations
Loosen the pressure you choked me with
I can't breathe
I can't breathe

You stripped my heart with your accusations
You shut me into an affectation
Loosen the pressure you choked me with
I can't breathe
I can't breathe

Let me pull down on your high ideals
To sweet earth honest and wide
Tumble with me in an undoubted craze
Don't hold back the tide

-Leslie Phillips, Expectations

One of the great travesties in the debate over homosexuality is the conservative church's refusal to offer anything in the way of practical life solutions for the individuals it has commanded to permanently abstain from acting on their same-sex attractions. A few moderate evangelicals like Tony Campolo have attempted to open up such a dialogue, but by and large conservatives continue to advocate reorientation as the sole acceptable option for all homosexuals, and their demands have only become more shrill in the face of the ex-gay movement's failure, over the course of three decades, to produce more than a small handful of success stories.

Homosexuals who fail to develop heterosexual attractions are looked down upon as second-class citizens in many congregations, even if they're firmly committed to celibacy and leading exemplary lives. Some conservative churches are better than others in this regard, of course, but even when their doctrine acknowledges the inherent dignity and worth of every human being (regardless of sexual orientation), in practice only those who marry an opposite-sex spouse are ever truly viewed as equal by most of their fellow congregants. Even the Catholic church has taken a step backward recently, with its ruling that anyone who is constitutionally homosexual is uniquely unfit for the priesthood.

If pressed, some conservatives would concede that many homosexuals simply can't change their orientation (and that God doesn't appear interested in intervening), but few of them would be willing to address the questions that admission raises any further than to say that Jesus is the answer to everyone's problems, and that the Holy Spirit will reveal to each individual how they should live the rest of their lives. Which wouldn't necessarily be a bad answer (despite being a bit of a copout), if not for the strict boundaries that conservatives have set on what the Holy Spirit is and isn't allowed to say to individual believers.

Conservatives might take offense at that wording, since their boundaries are based on what they have extrapolated from their interpretation of the Bible, but even if one were to agree with their basic premise (all gay relationships are evil and endanger one's salvation), the fact is that they don't stop there. The Spirit is given minimal leeway to set a progression and time frame that's tailored to the unique needs of the individual believer; formulas must be adhered to and deadlines must be met, or the individual is judged to be outside of God's will.

But then, most conservatives seem to have bought into the notion that ideology must trump all other considerations. The church's stance on homosexuality has, since the time of Thomas Aquinas, rested heavily on the doctrine of natural law. Unfortunately Aquinas' formulation of natural law (which owes at least as much to Aristotle as it does to the Bible) potentially works against the church's position if it can be demonstrated that homosexuality is a naturally occurring phenomenon in balance with nature (as its consistent presence in similar proportions in every known society throughout human history, as well as in hundreds of animal species, strongly suggests). Without the full support of natural law the church still has the same set of proof texts (the "clobber passages") to fall back upon, of course, but the broader biblical themes that are employed to justify their use in this debate begin to unravel.

Thus, for the sake of keeping natural law firmly in its corner, the conservative church sees an obligation to maintain, at any cost, the position that there are no true homosexuals, that every individual is naturally heterosexual from birth, and that homosexuality is merely a psychological deficiency that can be dispelled by properly treating the underlying cause. The consistent failure of every method of reparative therapy to produce results in the vast majority of participants simply means that the right methods weren't employed, or the individual gave up too soon or didn't want "change" badly enough (or wanted it too much), and cannot ever be allowed to suggest that some of those individuals are, in fact, genuinely hard-wired to be homosexual in their orientation.

In reality, conservatives would likely find greater success in formulating a position resting on a paradox in which homosexuality is simultaneously natural and unnatural (not unlike the Catholic position), but such a stance would require them to admit that homosexuals really do exist and that God has little interest in changing more than a handful of them into heterosexuals. It would also require them to admit that gays are not the hopelessly depraved, society-destroying ogres they've been portrayed as in Christian bedtime stories, and that in a free society they have a right to self-determination and to the same legal protections that heterosexuals take for granted.

Unfortunately, even setting aside that such admissions would require conservatives to admit that they were mistaken about something, all three of those statements would be anathema to the dominionists that hold sway over large segments of the evangelical movement, who believe they have a moral obligation to force all people to conform to their particular moral standards by any and all means necessary.

And so the war rages on with no resolution in sight. If it means trampling on all of the same-sex-attracted Christians caught in the middle, well, it's a small price to pay for the cause.