Friday, November 30, 2007

Toward a Nonjudgmental Life

One of the hardest spiritual tasks is to live without prejudices. Sometimes we aren't even aware how deeply rooted our prejudices are. We may think that we relate to people who are different from us in color, religion, sexual orientation, or lifestyle as equals, but in concrete circumstances our spontaneous thoughts, uncensored words, and knee-jerk reactions often reveal that our prejudices are still there.

Strangers, people different from us, stir up fear, discomfort, suspicion, and hostility. They make us lose our sense of security just by being "other." Only when we fully claim that God loves us in an unconditional way and look at "those other persons" as equally loved can we begin to discover that the great variety in humanity is an expression of the immense richness of God's heart. Then the need to prejudge people can gradually disappear.
Henri Nouwen, Bread For the Journey, March 8 entry

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Cause and Effect

Actions have consequences. That's a basic fact of life that everybody (hopefully) learns early in life. Some actions result in positive consequences, some in negative, and others in a mix of good and bad. Every gain comes with a cost; that cost may be borne by someone else, or it may be deferred far enough into the future as to be meaningless to us now, but even most 'free' things come with a price tag of some sort.

That basic equation is one of the reasons that I lean toward the libertarian end of the spectrum politically. Government action can seem, on the surface, to be the most expedient way of solving any given social problem, and the up front cost often makes it seem like a bargain. Over time, however, the hidden costs quietly accrue and, in many if not most cases, ultimately outweigh the benefits.

Government is a necessary institution in an imperfect world; wisdom lies in figuring out when and how to use it while maintaining adequate restraints to keep those who would abuse its power in check. Unfortunately we've become so accustomed to looking for a 'quick fix' for whatever problem we're facing at the moment that we don't even pause to consider what ramifications a new law or government program might have in the long run, or whether there might be a better (if more difficult and not as immediately gratifying) solution that doesn't involve using the blunt instrument of government power.

A parallel situation (with the same underlying attitude) exists in our overuse of pharmaceutical drugs. In some cases drugs really are the best possible solution, particularly when emergency situations arise. In many more cases, though, it's just another attempt to find a 'quick fix'; make the obvious symptoms go away for a while, and one can ignore the underlying problem.

Unfortunately drugs seldom resolve the actual problem, and almost always come with negative side effects of their own. Many health issues can ultimately be resolved by changes in lifestyle - eating healthier foods, exercising regularly, getting more sleep, etc. But why make such sacrifices when there's a drug that promises immediate relief? And when that drug creates another problem, there's another drug to help with that, and so on. It's a downward spiral that gets progressively harder to escape.

Today, even those who once valued freedom have succumbed to the 'quick fix.' Rather than taking care of the problems in their own lives, rather than modeling positive community, rather than offering compassion and healing to a hurting world, the church would rather address what it sees as moral decay by picketing abortion clinics, slandering GLBT individuals in public forums and lobbying for all sorts of laws to force 'moral' behavior on others.

Even when the religious right has succeeded in passing laws, however, it's done little to check the 'moral decay' that prompted their crusade in the first place. They may succeed in deterring a few individuals from certain activities (while driving the rest underground), but they pay dearly for that limited success. While most moral crusaders would sincerely describe their actions as loving and compassionate, the rest of the world has received a much different message.

When millions turn away from the church in disgust, it's not the majority's perceptions that are to blame. By assuming the role of a stern parent disciplining a rebellious child, Christ's message of unconditional love has been drowned out by one of condescension and condemnation, and no amount of protestation about the purity of its intentions will soften the ugly face the church has turned to a watching world.

But even as the religious right's power begins to wane, its legacy secure as one of the greatest producers of atheists in world history, the church runs the risk of swinging the pendulum too far in the opposite direction. Many on the religious left similarly view government power as a primary means for advancing the Kingdom of God, merely substituting a slate of social and environmental issues for the religious right's moral agenda. The consequences of going for the 'quick fix' will differ, but in the end our society's root problems will remain unaddressed, just as they have under the current regime.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Ex-Gay Survivors Conference

It's been posted elsewhere, but here it is again for anyone who hasn't seen it yet. I don't appear in the video, but one or two of my contributions to the Chalk Talk are visible in a few shots. It was a memorable weekend, and I'm glad I was able to be a part of it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


It amazes me now to look back and realize just how much fear was interwoven into most of my experiences growing up in various evangelical churches. When your entire life is steeped in fear you tend not to notice it, but now it seems so obvious I can scarcely believe that I wasn't more conscious of it. It's like climbing a mountain in Southern California and looking down on the smoggy haze that you paid so little attention to as you went about your daily life down in the valley.

That fear took on all sorts of forms, one of the most prominent of which was fear of the outside world. The World (with a capital W) was out to get us, and the Great Persecution was always just around the corner. Anyone who wasn't a believer (including those Christians whose beliefs fell outside of our definition of orthodoxy) was in the Enemy's camp, and any hostility that a Christian faced was a sign of the hostility that the entire world had toward Christ and his message.

Granted, there are some people in the Western world who are hostile toward Christianity in general, but quite a few of them are ex-Christians who have been hurt by the church. Outside of that, most people are as respectful of our beliefs as we are of theirs.

Case in point: J. Michael Straczynski, the creator of Babylon 5, is an atheist. Despite this, Christianity still exists in the future he envisions (as do all of the other world religions), and when Christian characters appeared on the show they were portrayed respectfully. One episode (Passing Through Gethsemane, which Straczynski wrote) even centered around a group of monks living on Babylon 5 and contained an exploration of Christian themes as deep as any ever found on overtly "Christian" shows (Christy, Seventh Heaven, etc.).

According to the stereotypes that most Christians have of atheists, such a thing shouldn't even be possible. To rationalize this contradiction away by describing him as "seeking" or as just pretending to be an atheist is to miss the fact that it is, in fact, possible for a person to genuinely respect the beliefs of others without feeling compelled to convert.

Another case in point: the talk show I hear during my drive home on the music station I listen to is hosted by a pair of guys who are most definitely not Christians. It would be inaccurate (and patently unfair) to call them amoral, but they nonetheless have no problem with some things (premarital sex, divorce, gay relationships, etc.) that most conservative Christians strongly oppose.

Yet while there are probably many Christians who find some of their choices of topics distasteful enough to tune out, you'll never hear them mock Christians or Christian beliefs. On the occasions that they do get self-identified Christian callers, they listen respectfully and will even applaud callers who live according to their convictions.

What they would be less likely to respect is the "and so must you" attitude that so many evangelicals carry around like a giant chip on their shoulder. In my experience most people are willing to respect my beliefs, and sometimes even open to considering what I have to say, right up to the point where I try to force those beliefs on them. There's an ocean of difference between politely and humbly sharing what one believes, and declaring "this is the way it is, and you're going to hell if you disagree." Christians are quick to complain when they feel like they're being disrespected, but in most cases that disrespect is earned through the lack of respect they show the rest of the world.

To some it may seem like nothing less than moral relativism to assert that Christians should respect the "wrong" beliefs of others, but in reality it's merely a call to treat others like the equals that they are instead of as children in need of a good spanking. If others consistently describe us as arrogant and condescending, chances are we really are arrogant and condescending.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

From The Onion

Christian Charity Raising Money To Feed Non-Gay Famine Victims

Yes, like all parodies it's hyperbolic, but sadly there are Christian groups that I could almost imagine doing something like this...

Monday, November 05, 2007


Peterson brought up a good point in response to the video in my previous post: as unfair as Chaser's War's caricature may be to the many ex-gays who have nothing to do with the Colin Cooks or Richard Cohens of the world, it does accurately represent how many people (including more than a few within the United States) view the ex-gay movement.

When presented with such a disparity between their intentions and others' perceptions, evangelicals are quick to rattle off dismissive-sounding biblical quotes about God's wisdom appearing as foolishness or about the world hating those who follow Jesus or the like, without taking any time to reflect on why they're so misunderstood or whether there is in fact a problem on their end.

It is true that Exodus (and other evangelical endeavors) will always have detractors no matter how effectively they communicate their message, but the same can be said about virtually any movement throughout history. The existence of opposition doesn't automatically signify persecution any more than it should be considered validation on the basis of a handful of biblical proof texts.

Even though parodies like the aforementioned video are virtually inevitable, that should not diminish the fact that they provide feedback of a sort as to how outsiders view an organization. As I've pointed out before, it's Exodus' responsibility to communicate its message in a way that the rest of the world can understand. As tempting as it may be to blame others when they don't understand what we're saying, it's ultimately little more than a copout.

Evangelicals in particular seem prone to placing their own definitions on words, and then acting surprised when outsiders misconstrue their messages. At this point, however, it's extremely unlikely that any spokesperson for Exodus or Focus on the Family could still be ignorant of the fact that there's a large gap between the way they define buzzwords like "change" and "former homosexual" and the way the average member of the general public understands them. To willfully and repeatedly ignore such communication problems once they are known to exist is to engage in base dishonesty.

There was a time not long ago when Western civilization was practically synonymous with Christianity, but those days are largely over. It's time that we set aside our self-centered pride and stopped acting like the universe revolves around us and started acknowledging that we must compete in the marketplace of ideas on the same terms as every other group.