Monday, October 29, 2007

Chasers War on Reparative Therapy

Edit: This is from an Australian TV show. I haven't watched any other clips, but these guys seem like the sort who will make fun of just about anything.

As John pointed out in the comment section, this clip may be offensive to some. While there's certainly a time and place for exposing - and even laughing at - absurd claims and practices (and every movement has its Richard Cohens), there's a fine line to be walked between shining a light on those fringe elements and conflating them with the larger group they claim an affinity with.

Since, as always, your answers may vary, I'm leaving the clip up (at least for now) to let viewers decide for themselves which category this falls into.

Thursday, October 25, 2007


I can recall being at an age when I thought I pretty much knew it all. Not literally everything, of course, but certainly everything that was important. Most teenagers seem to go through such a phase, at a time when the knowledge they're soaking in is increasing at a faster pace than the size of their world. That phase hit me when I was about fourteen and peaked fairly quickly, but it took me a number of years to completely outgrow that arrogance.

It wasn't until my college years that I began to develop an understanding of the truth behind the somewhat cliche notion that the more you know, the more you realize how much you don't know. Even then, as my horizons finally began broadening sufficiently to narrow the gap with my book learning, it was a realization that I wore like a badge of honor more often than I allowed it to humble me. I still thought of what I didn't know largely in terms of book learning, being too inexperienced to fully appreciate the value of life experience, and still too full of myself to grasp the ramifications of the limits of human knowledge and the infinity that lies beyond them.

Unfortunately those who grow beyond that stage of intellectual and spiritual development are greatly outnumbered by those who never do, especially within the confines of organized religion. Within most strains of Christianity the Bible is viewed as an Answer book (with a capital A) that contains the sum total of everything important. Even the most rigid fundamentalist will acknowledge that there is knowledge outside the Bible (one can't turn to it to fix a line of HTML code, for instance), and even that there are things that are simply beyond human comprehension, but none of that is genuinely important. In their view the Bible contains a complete and unambiguous prescription for any life issue that a person could possibly face, and anyone who disagrees with their church's Answers or who finds an alternative ("unbiblical") solution that works better is deluded by Satan if not actively in collusion with the forces of evil.

Within most conservative evangelical circles, even those with an academic mindset have a strong tendency toward intellectual arrogance. Disciplines like science and philosophy are only valuable to the extent that they can be used to prove to the rest of the world how right we are. Every issue that's of any real consequence has already been resolved, and if only the rest of the world would acknowledge our God-given wisdom and authority its many problems would soon be a thing of the past.

Within such a mindset there is nothing of value to be learned from non-believers (including 'liberal' Christians), aside from thoroughly mundane matters and perhaps feedback on how to better refine our proselytizing techniques. All those who believe differently (give or take certain minor doctrinal points) are merely rebelling against God, and deep down inside they secretly agree with everything that we espouse.

Therein lies one more reason I was never willing to evangelize (at least beyond my high school years): sharing one's faith was all about being right and having all the answers - and I knew I didn't have all the answers. On top of that, I knew that a lot of the answers I did have were riddled with holes and assumptions. In recent years evangelism tactics have come to include acknowledgments that we don't have perfect answers for everything, but it's still very much about being right and about having the best arguments. It's still about telling, with listening serving only to pinpoint what to tell the other person. We patronize others with the best of intentions, but even the purest motivations make it no less belittling.

And how much do we really know, compared to infinity? The Bible has a wealth of knowledge and wisdom to offer, and to the Christian it's our greatest and most indispensible resource, but it's still a finite book written thousands of years ago in cultural and linguistic contexts that even the most educated scholars of our modern era struggle to relate to. If that fact alone doesn't humble us sufficiently to remove the condescension from our words, perhaps our world (and our perception of the God who created it) is still too small.

Twenty years from now I'll most likely look back with bemusement on how little I knew when I was in my 30s. At least, I hope that I never stop growing. God's creation is filled with wonder and I've only barely begun to scratch the surface.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


For those who aren't regular readers of Ex-Gay Watch, here are links to two articles I've written there recently:

James Dobson: The End of the World Is Near

Allies, Too: A Step Forward or More of the Same?

Writing for XGW leaves me with less time to collect my thoughts here, but some things just need to be done.

Also, since YouTube has apparently decided to thwart my every effort to post more videos on my blog, here's a link to Box Turtle Bulletin, which isn't having such problems...

Shirtless in Abercrombie

It's an excuse for a bunch of guys to take off their shirts in public and a social statement!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


The other day I was reminded of a church youth group I attended back when I was in junior high school. I hadn't thought about that group in years, perhaps because it wasn't one of the happiest times in my life. For more than a year I tried my hardest to fit in with that group - I attended nearly every one of the group's events, including several that probably cost my parents a lot of money we didn't necessarily have.

But I might as well have been trying to knock over a concrete building with my head for all the progress I made. I was completely ignored by nearly everyone in that group, with the final straw coming during a hiking/camping trip where I was openly snubbed and left out of most of the weekend's activities. As I learned some time later, we were a lower middle class family attending an upper middle class church that taught a prosperity gospel; my parents would have started looking for another church much sooner if I hadn't been involved with that youth group.

As a result of that and other experiences I've had being on the outside looking in, whenever I am one of those on the inside I expend a lot of energy trying to bring others in with me. Not that I always do as much as I could; being one of the strongest introverts in world history sometimes hampers my outreach efforts, but I do hate to see people being excluded.

It might seem like a non-sequitur, then, to note that I could never share about my faith with non-Christians. I could talk about politics (rather outspokenly, in my younger days), and I loved introducing people to the Myers-Briggs personality system, but when it came to evangelism, which was supposedly about inviting people to join the best group of all, I couldn't have said anything to save my life. Even anonymously journaling my thoughts on a blog to a faceless audience would have been out of the question.

Or maybe it isn't so surprising, considering the capricious, hyper-critical picture of God I was given in churches and Christian schools from an early age. It wasn't until college that I heard God's grace presented as anything more than fire insurance, and even then there were always conditions and endless caveats attached to God's supposedly unconditional love. God loves you, but.

God loves you, but he's going to inflict endless, unimaginable torment on you if you don't believe all the right things. God loves you, but he's just waiting to smite you with a great big lightning bolt if you break the rules one too many times. God loves you, but he's going to destroy your entire nation and everyone in it if you don't actively persecute gays and coerce them into pretending to be heterosexual. Come to think of it, why would I have ever wanted to try to sell people on a God like that?

Perhaps I'm biased by my personal desire to include those stuck on the outside, but I do find myself drawn to Spencer Burke's depiction of grace as an "opt out" system (as opposed to the church's traditional "opt in" view) and his proposal to get the church out of the business of trying to determine who's "in" and who's "out" when it comes to salvation. All but the most extremist Christians would protest being associated with the picture of God that I laid out in the previous paragraph, but for most their own picture of God only differs from the one I used to hold by degree.

By fixating on the question of what a person has to do to get into heaven (even if it's nothing more than saying the "sinner's prayer"), Christians quickly start to resemble that clique that I once tried so hard to be a part of. Where that clique only accepted kids who wore the right clothes, knew how to act cool and had enough money, most churches will only truly accept those people who sign off on all the right beliefs, adopt all of the right outward behaviors and learn to speak fluent Christianese.

That's certainly not how any church would articulate its terms and conditions, but it's effectively how things work out in practice. Even most legalistic churches like to see themselves as welcoming to anyone who wants to be included, but "come as you are" carries an unspoken caveat: "as long as you become like us." God is theoretically free to work with people where they're at, but in practice the church has only limited patience for those who don't properly conform.

Chances are that clique would have welcomed me if my parents had held higher-paying jobs, and if I had learned how to be more hip and glamorous. In their eyes there was nothing unreasonable about placing such conditions on their friendship. But it wasn't actually me they were interested in; what they really wanted was another clone of themselves. So it is with human nature in general, and the church is no exception - what we really want is validation of our beliefs and lifestyles and perspectives. So it all too often is with me, too, and I don't always manage to break out of my comfort zone when I see others on the outside looking in.

But is that the way church should be? If I'm in danger of projecting my desire for inclusiveness onto my perception of God, then those who seek to exclude others based on even the most righteous-sounding set of criteria are no less susceptible to doing the same. And which of those two pictures reconciles better with the Jesus who freely associated with prostitutes and tax collectors and Samaritans, and who spoke of a shepherd willing to place his entire flock at risk for the sake of finding a single lost lamb?

Your answer may differ from mine, but in any case it wouldn't hurt to keep in mind what Jesus said about how we should treat the "least of these."

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tagged Again

It would appear I'm not a fast runner, as I've been tagged by JJ. So here goes...

1. What were you doing ten years ago?

Life was going very well – I was attending a great church, finishing up the Living Waters program and hanging out with the best group of friends a guy could ask for. At work I was promoted into a position that I could regard as the beginning of an actual career. There was even a girl at church that I thought I might be interested in. There was no physical attraction to speak of, but surely that was bound to follow eventually.

By that fall all three of the guys in my inner circle had met the women they would go on to marry, and two of them proceeded to drop off the face of the earth. The third would move away the following spring, which left me feeling hurt, confused and more than a little disillusioned. Here God had brought these incredible friends into my life just when I needed them, and poof, just when we were really bonding they were gone again.

The following year I’d jump into another group that promised to provide the same level of community. Unfortunately that group turned into a rather dysfunctional and unhealthy environment, and on top of that the lengthy commute from my new residence would soon leave me perpetually stressed out and sleep deprived. To top it all off I had yet to become any straighter, but I’ve already talked about that aspect of the story plenty of times.

2. What were you doing one year ago?

Life wasn’t much different than it is now. Last spring I officially stopped attending the ex-gay ministry I’d been a part of, right around the same time that I finally resolved the whole Side A/Side B debate in my own mind. I also started attending a new (affirming) church and building some friendships there.

3. What are five snacks you enjoy?

Fresh fruit (most varieties), trail mix, chips & salsa (or guacamole), popcorn, beef jerky

4. What are five songs you know the lyrics to?

-4:12 (Switchfoot)
-Why Georgia Why (John Mayer)
-More (Matthew West)
-Liquid (Jars of Clay)
-Wait For the Sun (PFR)

5. Five Things You Would Do If You Were A Millionaire

-Start a charitable foundation
-Buy a house
-Travel to Europe
-Learn more about tax shelters
-Patronize the arts

6. Five Bad Habits

-Not getting to bed on time
-Drinking too much caffeine
-Playing computer games on warm, sunny days
-Avoiding confrontation
-Blogging during slow work days

7. Five Things You Like To Do

-Play board games
-Collect (books, DVDs, CDs, games)
-Watch SciFi-themed TV shows
-Eat out

8. Five Things You Would Never Wear

-Anything orange
-Baggy pants that hang below the waistline
-Speedos (and the world rejoiced)

9. Five Favorite Toys

-My computer (a Mac, of course)
-My DVD player
-My car
-The Minas Tirith replica that came with my Return of the King DVD set
-My game collection

10. Five Things You Hate To Do

-Conduct business over the phone
-Move to a new residence
-Say goodbye to friends
-Get up before 8 am

So there you have it. Now, it's time to see who's paying attention: I tag Peterson, Christine and David.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Ninety-Nine and the One

Cross-posted from Ex-Gay Watch

“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off. In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.” (Matt. 18:12-14, NIV)

Thus did Jesus summarize what Christian ministry should look like as he set the example by going out of his way to reach out to the outcast, the wounded, the “sinner” and all those looked down upon by society.

From the perspective of Exodus, Focus on the Family and their allies, members of the GLBT community would certainly be considered “lost sheep.” Surely, then, Christians in the above groups would consider it all the more urgent to give freely and sacrificially of their time, energy and resources to identify and meet the needs of those “lost sheep,” following Jesus’ example of unconditional and self-sacrificial love that hopes for the best without demanding anything in return.

And we do see a considerable outpouring of time, energy and resources from these groups. Unfortunately all of that effort has been redirected to support a declaration of war against the aforementioned “lost sheep,” who have been labeled a deadly threat to the rest of the flock by virtue of their current location.

Compassion gets redefined out of existence as love becomes something to withhold pending a sinner’s repentance. Ministries that once sought to help those in need divert more and more of their resources to political crusades as the church sets aside its spiritual mission to wage a holy war against the rest of the world.

On the rare occasion that a lost sheep does return (usually on hands and knees, and only let back in after acceding to a list of ultimatums), it’s immediately paraded around as a trophy and its testimony wielded as a weapon against those that remain “unrepentant.”

But maybe God won’t mind if a few million of “these little ones” fall through the cracks as a result of the church’s crusade to establish a “Christian” nation. It’s all being done in His name, after all.

Sounds like a good time to ask: What would Jesus do?

Thursday, October 04, 2007


More from Spencer Burke's A Heretic's Guide to Eternity. I must admit that I find most of what he has to say very compelling, but then again I already agreed that the church needs to significantly change the way it goes about its business.

I'm still not ready to advocate the complete elimination of the institutional church, though there's certainly a lot to be said for placing more focus on following the example of Christ and less on rules and doctrines and making sure everyone toes the party line. My reticence may be partly due to having little personal experience with the spirituality that many today are finding outside of organized religion, but I still think there's something to be said for having some form of formal organization.

That said, Burke does aptly describe what's wrong with the church, especially its more conservative manifestations:

The business of religion is the sacred in all its forms. Christianity’s part of that business is grace. The church wants to put a copyright on grace and seeks to hold power and control over it by making itself the only mediator. “Grace is available only through us, and you must come to us to gain access to it,” declares the church. Determining who is in and who is out is the primary way that the church as institution tries to control grace.

Jesus told a story about this in the gospel of Matthew. It concerned a wheat farmer who had spent a hard day planting. While he was sleeping, his enemy crept onto his land and sowed weeds among the wheat. When the wheat began to sprout, the laborers noticed the weeds growing, so they went to the landowner and asked him if they should pull up the weeds. “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling up the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

This story reflects the tendency humans have to want to do God’s business. Institutional religion usually aspires to do the landowner’s job – God’s job. They want to determine who is wheat and who is weed.

Churches assume their role is about eternity when in fact eternity is God’s business. The landowner in Jesus’ story is very clear that his workers cannot separate the wheat from the weeds, for they might pull up perfectly good wheat in their zeal to remove the wayward weeds. When explaining this story to his followers, Jesus makes it clear that the task of determining who is in or out is not the responsibility of humans, no matter how qualified they believe they are. I would likewise argue that the church should not be so focused on eternity. The church’s task is to help people follow Jesus here on earth. [pgs. 118-119]