Monday, April 30, 2007

14 Days in a Civic

Amusing in an 'I'd feel terrible for him if this was for real' sort of way, but it did make me laugh all the same...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Originally posted at Ex-Gay Watch under the title Book Review: ‘Sex and the Single Savior’

For those wrestling with the question of what a Christian position on the issue of homosexuality should look like, Dale Martin's new book Sex and the Single Savior: Gender and Sexuality in Biblical Interpretation could be a valuable resource.

Unlike most who have written books on this subject, Martin (Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University) focuses much of his attention on how we interpret the Bible. As he likes to point out, the Bible, being an inanimate object, doesn't say anything; it's the reader that brings meaning to the text based on his or her experiences, preconceptions and cultural baggage. The historical-critical method of interpretation favored by most modern theologians, though useful when regarded as one tool among many, falls far short of being able to pinpoint the one "right" interpretation of any given text that so many turn to it for, and can in fact produce contradictory results even when used correctly.

Martin does spend two chapters addressing the New Testament "clobber passages," exposing the bias that colors the 'traditional' interpretations of those verses, and another chapter examining Paul's view of human sexuality and how vastly it (and the majority of historical Christian opinion) differs from the modern Christian perspective. He also provides compelling evidence that suggests that neither Jesus nor Paul would have been cheerleaders for the 'traditional' family so highly revered by the religious right, and demonstrates how Jesus' prohibition against divorce was far more radical than anything any modern Christian would be willing to accept. Martin closes by proposing a more holistic method for reading and interpreting the Bible.

Some of the essays included in Sex and the Single Savior have appeared elsewhere, but the whole book provides a lot to consider and reflect on for Christians of all stripes. He puts forward his most direct challenge at the end of his chapter on the meanings of malakoi and arsenokoitai:

...I take my stand with a quotation from an impeccably traditional witness, Augustine, who wrote, “Whoever, therefore, thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all” (Christian Doctrine 1.35.40).

By this light, any interpretation of Scripture that hurts people, oppresses people, or destroys people cannot be the right interpretation, no matter how traditional, historical, or exegetically respectable. There can be no debate about the fact that the church’s stand on homosexuality has caused oppression, loneliness, self-hatred, violence, sickness, and suicide for millions of people. If the church wishes to continue with its traditional interpretation it must demonstrate, not just claim, that it is more loving to condemn homosexuality than to affirm homosexuals. Can the church show that same-sex loving relationships damage those involved in them? Can the church give compelling reasons to believe that it really would be better for all lesbian and gay Christians to live alone, without the joy of intimate touch, without hearing a lover’s voice when they go to sleep or awake? Is it really better for lesbian and gay teenagers to despise themselves and endlessly pray that their very personalities be reconstructed so that they may experience romance like their straight friends? Is it really more loving for the church to continue its worship of “heterosexual fulfillment” (a “nonbiblical” concept, by the way) while consigning thousands of its members to a life of either celibacy or endless psychological manipulations that masquerade as “healing”?

The burden of proof in the last twenty years has shifted. There are too many of us who are not sick, or inverted, or perverted, or even “effeminate,” but who just have a knack for falling in love with people of our own sex. When we have been damaged, it has not been due to our homosexuality but to others’ and our own denial of it. The burden of proof now is not on us, to show that we are not sick, but rather on those who insist that we would be better off going back into the closet. What will “build the double love of God and of our neighbor”? (pgs. 49-50)

Thursday, April 19, 2007


Recently my church lost a valuable member of its leadership team. This leader had come with a vision for the social activism he believed we were all called to engage in. The activism he had in mind involved organizing, as a church, to support GLBT civil rights measures - a cause that most (if not all) of us sympathized with, but which ran against the church's longstanding commitment to remaining apolitical on a collective level. Seeing that his plan had very little support among the congregation, he decided to leave the church.

In his eyes, the cause he wanted to advance was strictly a moral issue and not a political one, and hence not in conflict with the church's commitment to being a safe haven for anyone who walked through its doors. But is it ever realistic to elevate a cause that calls for legislative action by defining it strictly in moral terms?

Most pro-life advocates would view the protection of unborn children as a moral issue that deserves to transcend normal political considerations, while most pro-choice advocates would consider it immoral to take away a woman's right to choose. Many on the religious right would say that opposing gay marriage (and most likely any legal recognition of GLBT individuals) is a moral imperative, even as advocates of gay rights believe it immoral to deny anyone those rights.

And the list goes on. Religious left advocates view their own social justice issues in moral terms, Al Gore is on the record as declaring that he sees global warming as a moral issue, George Bush sees a moral imperative for invading and occupying Iraq, and Bono calls for increasing the amount of aid that Western governments are sending to Africa in similar terms.

So which of them is right? Who has the authority to declare when a matter of public policy carries a moral obligation? I can understand the reasoning that led to each of those declarations, and in some cases I sympathize, but in each case there are valid - and sometimes even superior - arguments for opposing the 'moral' policies being advocated.

The problem with the statement "it's a moral issue, not a political issue" is that it is, at its heart, an attempt to silence all dissenting voices. Anyone who opposes the "moral" solution to a particular problem, after all, is by extension an immoral person.

Thus, with a single proclamation, dialogue on an issue can be completely shut down. Since those who disagree with me are immoral, I can dismiss anything they say without further thought. My opponents, meanwhile, have just been belittled and insulted. They certainly don't consider themselves immoral individuals, and most likely don't consider their political stances to be immoral, either. So why bother trying to talk to someone who holds them in such obvious contempt?

And so we see why true dialogue is all but nonexistent in the American political scene. Major issues are dominated by two or more warring camps, with each side viewing its opponents as enemies whose very existence threatens everything that's good in the world. Searching for common ground is out of the question, since even the slightest compromise is a bargain with the Devil himself.

Christians can be found on both sides of most of these issues, not that one can find much Christ-like behavior in the midst of all of the name-calling and doomsaying. It's easy enough to say that about the religious right these days, yet the religious left is scarcely any better behaved; neither side puts much stock in the notion that those at the opposite extreme could truly be people of sincere faith.

It's difficult to envision any truly positive resolution ever being reached, when everything is couched in terms of war: the culture war, the values war, the war on poverty, etc. Such acrimony is hardly unique to the modern era, even within Christian circles, of course. But if Christians who supposedly worship the same God can't learn to live together peacefully, what hope is there for a nation divided by deeper differences - much less the rest of the world?

Friday, April 13, 2007

What Is a Christian?

Originally posted at Ex-Gay Watch.

Can a person be both gay and Christian? It's an important question that has only begun receiving serious attention over the last couple of decades. Many evangelical Christians would respond with a flat "no" and refuse to engage the question further. Exodus International's answer is a bit more nuanced, but the strong implication one nonetheless gets from most ex-gay publications is that individuals who accept a "gay identity" (even the celibate, sometimes) are just kidding themselves if they think they'll one day join the chosen few in paradise.

So what, then, is a Christian? Many evangelicals would respond that it involves having a "personal relationship" with Christ, beginning with the act of asking him into one's heart. In theory it's as simple as that, though in practice one is then supposed to begin changing one's behavior to better conform to Christ's example. In theory (again), that transformation is supposed to be an outgrowth of one's relationship with Christ, but in practice outward appearances are usually all that matters; one merely needs to agree with a checklist of do's and don'ts, accompanied by a properly liberal use of Christianese terms and Bible verses in one's speech, to be regarded in your average church as a "good Christian."

Even setting aside the gap between theory and practice that exists in many churches, we quickly run into a dilemma when we realize that different Christian sects have different ideas about what makes a person a Christian. Is it enough to say the sinner's prayer and join a church? Which beliefs does a person have to agree with? How many (and which) good deeds, if any, does a person need to perform? What role does the sacrament of communion play? How important is baptism? Is confession before a priest/minister necessary, or can one confess directly to God? Does denomination matter? Can Christians lose their salvation, and if so, how? Disagreements over these and many other questions have fueled a thousand schisms.

On the positive side, many evangelical groups are beginning to move toward a more ecumenical definition of their faith, centered around the Nicene and Apostles' creeds and allowing for disagreement on matters of doctrine not found in those creeds. In theory, agreement is only necessary on the "essentials" spelled out in the creeds for a person to be considered a Christian.

In practice, most evangelical groups still have "hot button" issues that they treat as being comparable in importance to core tenets like the divinity of Christ, including (but not limited to) Biblical inerrancy, the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis, and, of course, homosexuality. "Liberal" Christians who challenge the party line on these issues aren't necessarily unsaved, but license is granted to question the authenticity of their faith.

But is it fair, or even biblical, to use such issues as litmus tests for determining who is and isn't a Christian? John 3:16, after all, merely states that "whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." It's supposedly as simple as that - no doctrinal litmus tests, no laundry lists of rules - yet the church is constantly trying to complicate it with an endless list of disclaimers, qualifications and additions.

In the case of homosexuality, 1 Cor. 6:9 is cited as proof that "practicing homosexuals" are all going to hell. The other "clobber passages" come into play as well, but this is the verse that can be interpreted to directly suggest that individuals in gay relationships may be in danger of losing their salvation.

Setting aside the very serious contextual and linguistic questions that surround the meanings of the two words (malakoi and arsenokoitai) that some modern translators have rendered as "homosexual offenders" (or the like), it's worth noting that homosexuality is often the only alleged sin given attention when this passage is cited. If Christians who commit any of these sins are truly in danger of losing their salvation, why wouldn't the church be more concerned about the entire list? Two groups in particular stand out:

The greedy. Sometimes translated as 'the covetous,' this sin appears far more often on Paul's "vice lists" than the arsenokoitai do, and yet the sin of greed gets a far softer touch in most evangelical churches. Granted, 'greed' is a somewhat abstract concept, but it was obviously an important subject for the biblical authors, given how frequently economic injustice is condemned in both the Old and New Testaments.

And how many middle-class evangelicals are mortgaged to the hilt for the sake of having a fancy home, a pair of SUV's and the latest electronic toys, while giving little or nothing to charitable causes? It's not necessarily a sin to own nice things, but what does it say about a person when those purchases take priority over meeting the needs of the less fortunate?

Adulterers. According to Christ's own words, anyone who divorces and remarries is an adulterer (Matt. 5:32, 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). This is not a single act of adultery, but an ongoing state, since God does not recognize the dissolution of the original marriage bond (1 Cor. 7:39). Matthew does allow for divorce in the case of unfaithfulness (the other gospel writers don't), but the only allowance made for remarriage in the New Testament is the death of the first spouse.

Many modern theologians have "discovered" that remarriage following divorce really is okay, at least under certain circumstances, but their reasoning is considerably weaker than that used by pro-gay theologians (whom they would accuse of twisting scripture to "justify an immoral lifestyle"), given that they have to overcome the explicitly worded statements of Christ himself.

Despite that, we have yet to see any promotion of "ex-adulterer" groups to support those who choose to submit to God's perfect plan by leaving their sinful second marriages and living celibately until such time as they can reconcile with their original spouse. But surely this should be a priority for evangelicals, given the gravity of such a sin and how commonly it's practiced within the church.

Or maybe we're missing the point entirely by assuming that Christ freed us from one legalistic system so that he could impose another on us. Evangelicals prefer to speak in terms such as "God's design" and "God's best," of course, but the demand for conformity is just as strong as it is within any explicitly legalistic group.

If we are going to decide who is and isn't a Christian based on performance, however, we could do no better than to use the words of Christ himself:

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matt. 25:34-46, NIV)

Monday, April 09, 2007


Most of you who read this blog have probably already seen the news elsewhere, but Beyond Ex-Gay is now online. Several of my essays have been reposted there, along with a brief account of my ex-gay experiences. Knowing how long this site has been in the works, it's great to see it up and running (and looking so well).

On a related note, Christine's ex-gay experiences are the feature of an article in the latest issue of Glamour magazine. The article (which was also a long time in the making) can be read online here.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


My current ideas aren't quickly forming themselves into posts, so in the meantime take a moment out of your busy day to bask in the brilliance that is Bob.

(For some reason YouTube keeps giving me error messages when I try to post the video here - but seriously, click on the link. It's not every day you get to hear palindromes set to music...)