Thursday, August 30, 2007


The other day I pulled out an old CD I hadn't listened to in a long while. In fact, it had been some time since I listened to anything by PFR, even though they used to be one of my favorite groups.

What caught me off guard was the strength of the old memories that hit me as the CD started playing. PFR was a major part of my personal soundtrack in the mid- to late '90s (my mid- to late 20s), an era that holds a lot of positive memories for me. During that time I met some incredible friends, attended a unique and wonderful church and got promoted to a job I could finally regard as a career. For a while I had an annual pass to Disneyland. It was also within that time period that I went through the Living Waters program which, whatever else I may think of it now, did help me work through a number of personal issues.

If I only focused on my positive memories from that time, it would be easy to look back on those years as the best of my life. But if PFR's music mainly reminds me of those happier moments, then it paints an incomplete and potentially misleading picture.

It doesn't speak to the pain and frustration of building up yet another circle of friends, only to watch them marry off and/or move away one by one, leaving me just as alone as I'd been at the start. It fails to take note of how I traded one form of denial for another, coming to terms with my sexuality just long enough to latch onto the delusion that I was on the verge of growing into my 'natural' heterosexuality. It says nothing about the final two years of that era that I spent in what, in retrospect, was an extremely unhealthy roommate situation and Bible study group; the constant stress I was under during those 21 months (from a variety of sources) probably aged me five or more years.

Of course, dwelling on the negative side of those years can be just as misleading. As with any era, the good and the bad came together - often at the same time. In the long run it's probably better that I spend more time remembering the positive side of that period than the negative, provided I don't become so wrapped up in "the good old days" that I become unhappy with my present situation. And provided I don't start repeating the mistakes I should have already learned from.

Would I ever want to go back and relive those years? Not a chance. But every now and then it's nice to pop in an old CD and remember what was.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Tell me again how gay people are the ones undermining the traditional family?

While we're at it, let's not forget to properly thank those great champions of family values representing us in Washington...

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Theological Disputes

Great essay from Real Live Preacher on the difficulties we face in our efforts to interpret the New Testament, the value of humility in our debates over theology and the incompatibility of absolute certainty with genuine faith. The points he makes underscore why I could never go back to any system of belief that rests on strict black-and-white thinking and an us-vs.-them mentality.

Life is far too complex for anyone to claim that they've got it all figured out, and far too precious to waste on arguments over whose part of the elephant is the truest.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Around the World

1. Radical Christianists may not openly endorse acts of violence like their Islamist counterparts, but sometimes they're not as different as we'd all like to think.

2. It seems like every week there's another reason to avoid buying Chinese products. As if not subsidizing the military buildup of a human rights nightmare wasn't enough of an incentive.

3. Yes, Virginia, there really is a reason to provide legal recognition for gay couples.

4. Finally, on a lighter note, we now have a sound rationale for keeping gays out of the military.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Spirit of the Law

Cross-posted from Ex-Gay Watch

As I've discussed here before, adherence to the letter of the law can have odd results. By reducing the Bible to a rulebook, we run the risk of binding ourselves to all sorts of regulations that have no context in real life other than "God said so."

Fortunately we have precedents in church history for placing the spirit of the law ahead of the letter of the law, even when doing so appears (on the surface) to place us in violation of what had previously been accepted as a direct command from God. Remarriage following divorce is the most obvious example of this, but there is another that demonstrates this principle even more clearly. The sin of usury was once strongly and universally condemned by the Christian church (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant alike), yet today some Christians aren't even familiar with the term.

The biblical authors clearly and unambiguously condemn usury (the practice of charging interest on loans) on multiple occasions: Exod. 22:25-27, Lev. 25:35-37, Deut. 23:19-20, Neh. 5:10-11, Psalm 15:5, Prov. 28:8, Isa. 24:1-3, Jer. 15:10, Eze. 18:7-9, Eze. 18:13, Eze. 18:17 and Eze. 22:12 all speak against the practice. Although the New Testament has far less to say on the subject, many theologians have interpreted Luke 6:35 ("lend, expecting nothing in return" - NASB) as a command against usury. With so many references to the practice outside of the Pentateuch, usury cannot be automatically dismissed as a matter of concern only for ancient Israel.

Furthermore, the Bible contains no positive references to usury or those that practice it. Although the idea of collecting interest on a bank deposit is brought up in the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-29, Luke 19:11-26), it is at best a neutral statement. Jesus does not condemn the words of his fictional property owner (who is described as a "harsh man"), but neither does he endorse them.

Church leaders and theologians from Augustine and St. John Chrysostom to Thomas Aquinas and Martin Luther unanimously and harshly condemned the practice of usury, which remained punishable by excommunication into the early years of the Reformation. The Medieval church did permit Jews to charge interest on loans, since Jews were already regarded by the church as accursed, but no other exceptions were entertained.

So what changed? A few advocates of permitting certain forms of usury rose up from time to time, but they were either ignored or shouted down. Meanwhile, the world was changing. What had worked within the context of a tribal society with an agrarian economy didn't translate well to the medieval world with its growing cities and rising merchant class. Without the ability to charge interest, there was no incentive to lend money since doing so would result in a net loss to the lender. And with such limited access to loans, only the wealthy could afford the startup costs of new business ventures.

John Calvin was the first theologian to formulate a comprehensive case for lifting the ban on some forms of usury. Among other things, he pointed out the context in which the biblical command was given, namely, helping the poor (Lev. 25:35). The spirit of the Law was not concerned with regulating all forms of commerce, but rather with encouraging compassionate treatment of the poor and prohibiting the wealthy from exploiting the less fortunate for personal gain. It was meant to protect the poor, not to hinder any efforts they might make to rise out of poverty.

In a similar fashion we can uncover the intent of the authors of Leviticus in regard to the command that appears to prohibit all male homosexual conduct. Lev. 18:3 and 20:23 instruct the Israelites not to emulate the behaviors of the surrounding nations, whose religious practices were known to include most of the acts listed in those two chapters.

Within this context we can see why lesbianism was overlooked entirely (it was not practiced in any known temple rituals at the time), and why the command against male-male sex is one of the few Levitical prohibitions not repeated in the book of Deuteronomy (or anywhere else in the Old Testament) unless one counts references to the qadesh, the male "holy ones" who had sex with male patrons as part of certain pagan fertility rituals.

In the New Testament Paul echoes that condemnation of pagan fertility rituals (which were still common in Roman times) when he speaks of the "unnatural" passions that arise out of idolatrous practices in Rom. 1:18-32. Although Paul's discourse includes an apparent mention of lesbian activity in verse 26, theologians have not always interpreted this verse as a reference to lesbianism. Verse 26 is not at all out of place within the context of the fertility rituals, given that some of those rites involved female priests who dressed up as men to simulate sex with male priests who were dressed as women.

A few scholars have also proposed that the word arsenokoitai, which appears in 1 Cor. 6:9 and 1 Tim. 1:10 and which Paul apparently coined, was derived from the words used in the Greek translation of Lev. 18:22. If that is the case, then all of the Bible's references to homosexual behavior (not counting the attempted rape and murder in the Sodom narrative) point specifically to the idolatrous qadesh and those who patronized them.

Equipped with such an understanding, we are freed to examine the issue of committed same-sex relationships from broader biblical principles, as the church has done and continues to do for a variety of issues that were not directly addressed by the authors of the Old and New Testaments - modern commerce, representative government, abortion, biotechnology, and many others. Within such a framework there are numerous principles we can apply to this issue, including marital fidelity, mutual commitment, avoidance of immoral behavior and self-sacrificial love.

Some might object to the comparison of an economic issue (usury) with a matter of sexual morality. Given that the biblical authors spend far more time discussing economic justice than they do addressing sexual ethics, that's not an unfounded reservation; the modern church has simply reversed the order of importance.

Where the letter of the law demands that our highest devotion be reserved for rules and regulations, the spirit of the law frees us to truly love others by placing people ahead of ideas. As Jesus himself said when confronted by the religious leaders for not adhering to the letter of the law, "the Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath." (Mark 2:27)

Saturday, August 11, 2007


It's fascinating just how quickly stress can make my attitude toward the world in general one of anger, cynicism and fear. Every slight that I perceive becomes a deliberate injury, or at least an act of pure selfishness on the other person's part. It's all about me and my feelings, and anyone who fails to cater to my needs and expectations is at best an obstacle and at worst an enemy.

It's also fascinating how quickly that attitude (and the negative feelings that flow from it) evaporates when I set "me" aside and consider the perspectives of those "obstacles" - their feelings, their view of the world, their needs and hurts and longings and aspirations. Suddenly they become three-dimensional human beings, and I come a little closer to seeing them the way God sees them as my contempt gives way to compassion. My need to change them evaporates as I get a glimpse of the image of God within them.

"Dying to self" (which seems an apt description of the above process) is exceedingly difficult to do, even for a brief period of time - but within it lies the power to change the world. "What Would Jesus Do?" has become so cliché in evangelical circles that it's a common subject of parody (not altogether undeservedly), yet there is a kernel of validity in the question for those committed to following Jesus' example. When a person dies to self, however, the answer often presents itself before the question can even be asked.

I've got far more room for improvement in this area than I care to admit. Even when I make a genuine effort to place myself within that mindset, it can easily dissolve into an exercise in legalistic thinking, of shoulds and shouldn'ts and formulas. And then I'm right back to trying to be in control of everything.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Unintended Implications

But Ruth replied, "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." (Ruth 1:16-17)

It's no wonder that the above passage is so frequently recited at weddings; Ruth's pledge to Naomi is one of the most powerful covenantal statements in the Bible. Even though I don't see any good reason to believe that there was anything sexual about Ruth and Naomi's relationship, it is nonetheless interesting to stop for a moment and ponder the fact that so many heterosexual couples are taking a promise spoken between two women and using it in a romantic (and sexual) context.

Ultimately it's only as big a deal as you choose to make of it, but I do wonder how many of those couples would have found a different biblical passage to use if that thought had ever occurred to them.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Around the Blogosphere

There's always plenty going on. Here are a few highlights:

Peterson Toscano has just completed his "Change Was NOT Possible" series, in which he conveys many of the nuances of ex-gay life that often get brushed aside in the war of ideas.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Part 5 of Jim Burroway's series on his experiences at a Love Won Out conference is finally up, and well worth the wait:
A Candid Explanation For “Change”

Misty Irons presents an all-too-sadly-accurate primer on How to write a conservative Christian article on homosexuality.

And, on a slightly different note, a defense of the ability of atheists to formulate a coherent moral code. Makes sense to me, even though I'm not likely to become an atheist anytime soon. I can see strains of Stage Four/Stage Five thought in his reasoning, which is perhaps part of the appeal of his case for me.