Thursday, December 12, 2013

More Links

Some more interesting stuff for your week...

1. This Denver Post editorial clarifies why private businesses can't be allowed the right to turn away customers solely on the basis of personal prejudice.  It also points out the distinction between that and freedom of speech exceptions, which answers my own concerns about cases like this.

2. Although I was never homeschooled myself, I knew a fair amount about the homeschool movement back in the 90s when evangelical groups were pushing hard for it.  Thus, it's very interesting to get this update on the results of that grand experiment.  Granted, there are many homeschooled children whose experiences are far more positive than these, and there are cases in which home schooling genuinely is the best option for a kid, but we now have a generation of young adults that can attest that separatism and indoctrination are never good reasons...

3. ThinkProgress points out five ways in which the world is becoming a better place.  In the midst of all the reasons we have to worry for the future (destruction of the environment, terrorism, the decline of the American middle class, etc.), it's helpful to be reminded that all is not bleak.

4. From the "this is cool" department, a collection of maps that will help to clarify the way you see the world.

5. Finally, a plug for an upcoming project that I'm personally excited about: a live-action version of the long-running comic Knights of the Dinner Table...

Friday, December 06, 2013


A few interesting articles to round out your week with:

1. First, this article on a side of C.S. Lewis that most people have never been aware of.  Some people want to keep their spiritual heroes on pedestals; personally, I like him more now that I know a little more about his human side.

2. Rob Bell on how to read the Bible.  It comes to life in a myriad of ways as soon as we stop trying to read it like an instruction manual.

3. Building on this piece from John Shore, perhaps the billboard Times Square really needs this Christmas is one that says Don't Feed the Fundies (of any stripe).

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I've blogged before on the challenges of being an introvert, which even today often comes with a stigma (good luck with job interviews when you're hopelessly terrible at making good first impressions).  I was inspired to bring up the topic again by Glennon from Momastery's recent post on the subject.  I can relate to a lot of what she says (I'm not a big fan of telephone calls either).

Fortunately people (at least in the Western world) are generally more accepting these days of introverts (and geeks, and gay folk, and people of mixed race, to name the other major ways in which I fail to conform to the majority).  At my current age I can embrace being different, but it wasn't until I hit my 30s that I really began to feel comfortable in my own skin.  And even now sometimes it can be a struggle.

So, for those extroverts who have never quite known what to make of me (and other introverts), here's a helpful primer that's been making its way around the internet.  (It should be possible to enlarge the picture to readable size in your browser.)


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Quote of the Week

"I'm still struggling to break free of the notion that faith is an argument to be won. Lord have mercy."
-Rachel Held Evans

God knows it's a tough habit to break...

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Inerrantists vs. Inerrantists

Boy, get a little busy and suddenly that post I've left sitting unfinished is several weeks old.  Anyway, I thought this essay was worth pointing out:

It highlights a very problematic point for biblical inerrantists: if the Bible is indeed free of error and intended by God to be usable as a clearly stated instruction manual for all people in all places and times, why is there such vast and irreconcilable disagreement between different groups of believers who consider themselves inerrantists?

The short answer, of course, is "Satan," by which the speaker always means that everyone but the speaker's group has been led astray by the enemy.  Being an inerrantist also means never admitting to the possibility that one's own interpretation of the Bible might be in error (at least not in any significant way), since ultimately there is no clear dividing line between biblical inerrancy and personal inerrancy.

Note that this applies primarily to fundamentalists like McArthur and not to all inerrantists equally, since more moderate evangelicals have a far more nuanced take on biblical inerrancy, but the problem never completely goes away.  At least, not until we stop treating the Bible like a divinely perfect rulebook and allow it to speak to us on its own terms.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Life Soundtrack 36

4:12, by Switchfoot

One of my favorite Switchfoot songs, and an oft-needed wake-up call for all those times I get caught up in the busyness of life.

Also, for the record, the original track runs exactly four minutes and twelve seconds.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Few Good Links

A few recent items from my reading (and viewing) list that were worth sharing:

-Justin Snow's Decline and Fall of the Ex-Gay Movement provides an accurate and fairly comprehensive history of the movement.  While it still feels premature to announce its fall, I certainly pray that its decline is terminal as people continue to wake up to the fact that gay people are no more broken and no less valuable than everyone else.

-Nakedpastor's version of the blind men and the elephant nicely sums up how foolish we make ourselves look when we claim to have God all figured out.

-Momastery's Glennon responds to her critics, some of whom sound a lot like those blind men arguing over the nature of their elephant.

-Finally, on a lighter note, here at last is a horror movie that doesn't insult my intelligence.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Random Links

Well, not so much random as diverse.  Just a few interesting things I've come across recently.

1. If it happened there - how the media might report the US government shutdown if it were happening in another country.  We Americans could only benefit from occasionally engaging in the academic exercise of judging ourselves by the same standards that we judge other countries.

2. 19 everyday situations that are impossibly difficult for the socially awkward.  I can identify with almost all of these, and think Chandler Bing's quote at the end sums it up perfectly.

3. Every LGBT person could use a brother like this.

4. Another case to be made that Romans 1:26-27 works best as a clobber passage when its context is ignored.

5. Finally, a bit of geekery: size comparisons for a whole slew of ships from various science fiction properties.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Myths of the Not As Good Kind

Twelve Myths Too Many Christians Believe, nicely deconstructed here:
Part 1
Part 2

It wasn't that long ago that I believed all of them...

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Great Debate

At last, a conversation between a Christian and an atheist that makes me smile rather than cringe.  It's not our differences in belief that we need to fear, but how we treat those we disagree with...

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Hell Within Heaven

This makes what Jesus does in his story about [the prodigal son] particularly compelling.  Jesus puts the older brother right there at the party, but refusing to trust the father's version of his story.  Refusing to join in the celebration.

Hell is being at the party.  That's what makes it so hellish.  It's not an image of separation, but one of integration.

In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other.

If the older brother were off, alone in a distant field, sulking and whining about how he's been a slave all these years and never even had a goat to party with his friends with, he would be alone in his hell.  But in the story Jesus tells, he's at the party, with the music in the background and the celebration going on right there in front of him.
-Rob Bell, Love Wins

I've wondered more than once what it would be like for an individual like James Dobson to reach Heaven, only to discover himself surrounded by the people he had spent a lifetime denouncing and condemning to hell.  Would he learn to accept that God's love is more radical than he believed, and eventually reconcile with those he wanted to spend eternity apart from?  Or would heaven be an eternal hell for him?

I suppose it's not really fair of me to single out Dobson; history is rife with individuals (pious and otherwise) whose hatreds run even deeper.  And even the best of us have our own sets of prejudices and grudges that we must either battle or feed on a daily basis.

If reconciliation is indeed our future, as Bell proposes, what kind of eternity are we preparing for ourselves?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013


And now for another installment of people saying things I wish I'd said...

-Donald Miller would rather be hated than loved with conditions.  I'm inclined to agree.

-Fred Clark points out how conservative Christians make the power of Gay more powerful than anything else in Creation.

-Australia's Prime Minister makes a principled case for supporting marriage equality.

Friday, August 23, 2013


"My freedom ends where yours begins."  While my politics aren't quite as libertarian as they once were (the Tea Party drove the final nail in my idealism's coffin), I still regard that principle as a good starting point for evaluating public policy.  In an ideal society I should be as free as possible to conduct my life as I see fit, but that cannot include the freedom to impinge on your freedom.  Viewed another way, it's a corollary to the Golden Rule.

It's never quite that simple in real life, of course; the boundary between my freedom and yours is a hazy line at best.  But simply stated principles can still act as beacons to help us navigate through that haze.  Applying this principle we can, for example, quickly see through the flimsy claims of discrimination that religious right groups have begun hurling around in the wake of victories for LGBT rights.  Allegedly, by treating LGBT individuals as equals, society is infringing on the right of conservative Christians to treat them as inferiors.  It's a shallow claim that fools nobody, in part because we instinctively understand that principle.

But freedom does extend in both directions, which is why I get uncomfortable when I hear about cases like that of the New Mexico photographer who was sued for refusing to photograph a gay couple's commitment ceremony.  I say that not because I personally approve of the photographer's inhospitality, but because it raises issues surrounding freedom of association.

I do recognize the need for non-discrimination laws; the government (and its employees) must, in the name of justice, treat all citizens equally and apply the law without bias against disfavored groups.  Likewise, in matters of employment, housing and health care (and other essentials), denial of service on the basis of personal prejudice can cause undue hardship.

And I can see where, in some cases, a gay customer in a socially conservative region might find him- or herself unable to find any photographer (or baker, or electrician, or pet-sitter, etc.) who wouldn't discriminate.  For that reason I lean toward agreeing with the opinions of those courts that have ruled against the photographer and similar defendants, even though I'm not entirely comfortable doing so.

But it does still beg the question: are we willing to accept this interpretation of the law when the shoe is on the other foot?  Should a gay-supportive photographer be forced to accept the business of a fundamentalist pastor known for his fiery anti-gay sermons?  Should a bakery that celebrates diversity be legally obligated to bake a cake for a church that believes in white supremacy?

These questions are hypothetical, but I pose them as a reminder that anti-discrimination laws cut in all directions, and that each of us may one day find ourselves in the position of having to provide our services to someone that we find morally objectionable.  For the most part that's simply the price of living in a free society - but it behooves us to be certain now that we're setting that price at an amount that we ourselves are willing to pay.

Monday, August 12, 2013


Lately I've been coming across a lot of good reading material at Unfundamentalist Christians (which I keep up with through their Facebook page.  Here are a few of those items of interest:

1. A post with a few thoughts on the doctrine of "Biblical" Inerrancy.  A watershed moment in my own journey was coming to the realization that this doctrine was neither biblical nor helpful.

2. This is the second time I've come across the blog Sacred Tension.  This post on the tragically high cost of forcing celibacy on gay people nails the problem on the head, through individual stories that deserve to be given a fair hearing by those who make that demand.  One of these days I hope to get around to writing about the compartmentalization I did in (and prior to) my ex-gay days and the ways that continues to impact my own life.

3. Finally, a quote:
For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error…
- Benjamin Franklin, Speech before the Constitutional Convention, Sept. 17, 1787, recorded by James Madison

Saturday, August 03, 2013


There are always those who take it upon themselves to defend God, as if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless.  These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, "Business as usual."  But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story.  Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words.  The degree of their indignation is astonishing.  Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside,  They should direct their anger at themselves.  For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out.  The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.  Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God's, that the self-righteous should rush.
-Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Tuesday, July 30, 2013


It is really shocking how little Jesus is shocked by human failure and sin. In fact, it never appears that he is upset at sinners at all. He is only and consistently upset at people who do not think they are sinners. This momentous insight puts him centuries ahead of modern psychology and right at the center of rare but authentic religion. So much so, that most Christianity itself never notices or addresses this pattern. It is an “inconvenient truth.”
-Richard Rohr

What we get out of the Bible seems to say far more about us than it does about the Bible itself - the legalists find rules and punishment, the skeptics find inconsistency, the revolutionaries hear a call to arms, the compassionate see grace and mercy.  But that is, perhaps, a separate topic - one that could no doubt fill volumes...

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Life Soundtrack 35

Safe and Sound, Capital Cities

I love the use of juxtaposition in this video.  Whether or not the artists intended a political statement (I'm not familiar enough with them to say), it works well as a commentary on American foreign policy.  But either way, I like both the song and the video.

Monday, July 08, 2013


Found via Truth Wins Out, an agnostic explains why faith cannot exist without doubt - a subject near to my own heart - and why fundamentalism is therefore the antithesis of faith.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Happy 4th of July

Today I, with millions of others, celebrate American Independence Day.  Although I'm not necessarily proud of everything that our country has done, there is still plenty of good in the United States that is worth celebrating.

But I do so as an American, not as a Christian.  I've written in the past on why I believe the church loses its way whenever it entangles itself in politics (a viewpoint the religious right seems determined to validate on a daily basis), as have others (I still recommend Greg Boyd's The Myth of a Christian Nation).

So, in honor of the holiday, here is a new voice reiterating why the church should not treat the Fourth of July as a holy day.  That said, enjoy the day and the freedom that it symbolizes.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Blogosphere Roundup

It's been a very long time since I posted three times in the course of a week.  Don't count on that pace continuing, but it does feel good to be back in the saddle (with shoulders that are feeling better than they have for the last two and a half years - whatever my physical therapist earns, it's probably less than he's worth).

There's more than enough commentary being posted already over the Supreme Court's big gay rights decisions yesterday, and I don't feel like I have much to add to that.  But here are a few links related to various things that are worth not missing:

1. Christine is back in the blogosphere, at least for the moment, and she has a thoughtful take on the closure of Exodus International that I haven't read elsewhere.

2. This wonderful post from a straight ally is not to be missed.  If we had more people like her in our churches, we might not have the problems highlighted in #3:

3. Since it apparently still needs saying, here is a quick recap of the religious right's legacy to American Christianity.

4. Finally, a quote shared by a friend of mine on Facebook.  It's a timely reminder that our current situation is not so different from the conflicts faced by previous generations.
"The tree of abolitionism is evil and only evil - root and branch, flower and leaf, and fruit; that it springs from, and is nourished by an utter rejection of the Scriptures. When the Abolitionist tells me that slaveholding is sin, in the simplicity of my faith in the Holy Scriptures, I point him to this sacred record, and tell him, in all candor, as my text does, that his teaching blasphemes the name of God and His doctrine.”
-Rev. Henry van Dyke, Princeton-trained theologian and minister, 1860

The more things change, the more they remain the same...

(A shorter version of this statement was quoted by Rachel Held Evans a few months back.)

Monday, June 24, 2013

What Comes Next

The impending closure of Exodus changes many things - but it another sense it changes nothing.  It does symbolize the sea change in American opinion on the issue of gay rights.  A mere decade ago, the religious right was still parading its handful of "successful" ex-gays before an anti-gay majority to prove that LGBT individuals didn't need rights because they were just repressed heterosexuals.  Today, even many evangelicals who still oppose gay rights recognize that the sort of change Exodus once promoted (at least implicitly) isn't, in fact, possible for the vast majority.

At the same time, the ex-gay movement lives on through the Restored Hope Network, PFOX, NARTH and other smaller organizations.  And the leaders of Exodus themselves are merely changing how they do business; they still hold strongly to a Side B viewpoint theologically, even if they have largely pulled back from the political side of the culture war.

Wendy Gritter, who moved her ministry away from the ex-gay realm several years back, offers some valuable insights on the process of building the sorts of bridges that Alan Chambers seems interested in.  One of the largest questions Chambers will have to confront is whether one can truly build those bridges while still holding to a Side B stance.

The idea that gay people are "broken" may seem pretty basic from a conservative perspective (everyone is "broken" in one way or another, and all have sinned), but I have yet to hear an articulation of that belief that doesn't sound condescending and belittling to any gay person who doesn't hold Side B beliefs.  So while I don't question the sincerity of Chambers' apology (both because I understand where he's coming from, and because of how he has reached out to Jeremy Hooper and others), I do think it's valid to question whether his apology is adequate to build any bridges or initiate any sort of healing process.

And in the meantime, the religious right shows no sign of repentance.  The threats they've been issuing over the advance of marriage equality may well be bluster, as Fred Clark theorizes, but in any case we can still count on them to do their best to burn down any bridges that do start to go up between the two sides in this conflict.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Turning Points

Exodus International Closes Its Doors

When the news first broke last night I was stunned, but in reality the writing had been on the wall ever since Alan Chambers admitted that orientation change almost never happens at the 2012 GCN conference.  Of course, Exodus isn't really going away completely, but it is morphing into something that appears at first glimpse to be considerably more honest.

It's not the end of the ex-gay movement by any means, but it is a crossroads - a parting of the ways between the ideologues (who have already formed their own splinter group, the ironically named Restored Hope Network) and those who genuinely value people ahead of dogma.  Exodus is going away because Alan Chambers and some of his colleagues cared enough to listen to the people they were trying to serve - and for that they have my appreciation, even if we still disagree on some important things.

So today we have something to celebrate, though I still find it to be a bittersweet occasion.  I'm happy for the progress that this represents, but sad that it took so long to get even this far, and more than a little frustrated that so many of us had to spend so many years trapped in a wilderness of false expectations and self-hatred before the evangelical church could begin to awaken to its error.  For me, those lost years lie largely in the past; for others, the damage runs deeper.  For a few, the wounds ran so deep that it cost them their lives - human sacrifices on the altar of doctrinal purity.

And the struggle isn't over.  While it's unlikely that RHN will ever be as large or as influential as Exodus once was, it still wields enough power to cause harm to thousands before history finally reduces it to a footnote.  Numerous conservative Christian groups continue to fight hard against equality and would still take away the right of LGBT people to even exist, if they could.  And in many parts of the globe, religiously motivated governments still do deny our right to exist.

Today we celebrate, but there's still much work to be done.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


Brighter Than Gold, by The Cat Empire

No deep thoughts here - just a song I don't at all mind having stuck in my head...

Thursday, June 06, 2013


[G]roups define themselves and even hold themselves together largely negatively—by who they are not, what they are against, and what they do not do. We need a problem or an enemy to gather our energies. We usually define ourselves through various “purity codes” to separate ourselves from the “impure” and the presumably unworthy. Simple worship (“what we are for,” or in support of, and what we love) is much harder to sustain.
-Richard Rohr

(hat tip: Wendy Gritter)

Friday, May 31, 2013


They say it's what you make
I say it's up to fate
-Imagine Dragons, "Demons"

Growing up in a fundamentalist environment, one is conditioned to view the world in stark "us vs. them" terms.  Outsiders are recognized as human beings (united primarily by our "sin natures"), but they're still viewed as fundamentally different.  "Our" beliefs not only set us apart but make us superior - wiser, more virtuous, favored by God - even if it's not stated so explicitly.

As such it's an adjustment for those of us who break free from our sheltered upbringings to adapt to the fact that "the world," far from being the shadowland of murky grays and inky blackness that we were scared into avoiding, is a diverse and colorful realm populated by people who, while admittedly flawed, are far more complex and three-dimensional and alive than we ever dared imagine.

Corollary to that is the eventual realization that the fundamentalist community one came from is far less unique than its members think themselves.  This is most evident in comparison to the many other religious groups (Christian, Muslim, Jewish and otherwise) throughout history that have seen themselves as uniquely favored by God (or the gods, or whatever), but the ways in which we are alike aren't limited to religious belief.

Take the New Atheists, whose adherents seek to convert others to atheism with a zeal to match that of any Christian evangelist.  While their enthusiasm for making new disciples cannot be accurately described as "religious" (for obvious reasons), that is the only sense that sets them apart from their religious counterparts.  Underneath, we're not really all that different.

Or take the many forms of determinism that have appeared in philosophy and theology throughout history.  Fatalistic thought is not limited to the religious realm by any means.  But while a Calvinist, a Sunni Muslim and a materialist might all object violently to the notion that they have anything in common (and would no doubt bristle at being described as "fatalistic"), to the extent that they believe that individuals cannot meaningfully alter their own destinies, they do have something significant in common with each other (and with millions of others throughout history).

The adage "history repeats itself" has become so overused that it's often little more than a political talking point anymore.  To the fundamentalist (religious, atheist or political), failure to heed the superior wisdom of the chosen few is the primary reason that history's mistakes occur over and over.  To the determinist, it's God's will, or our DNA, or the workings of Fate that prevent us from breaking those cycles.

But if history's negative cycles can be broken (a goal worth striving for, even if it turns out to be nothing more than our DNA programming us to try), perhaps our best starting point lies in acknowledging just how much we have in common, rather than in trying to set ourselves apart from the rest of the world.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Space Janitors

And now for something completely different - a quick plug for a very funny web series...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013


A friend pointed me toward this article about evangelical homeschoolers who want to teach evolutionary theory to their children.  It's easy to forget, when the media focus on the loudest voices (typically the strident, anti-science fundamentalists), that the evangelical realm is a diverse one (and I have forgotten that on occasion).  Even at my strongly conservative Christian college there was (and is) no uniformity of opinion on this issue, though those who accept evolutionary theory were (and likely still are) a small minority compared to young- and old-earth creationists.

And, as this letter writer pointed out to John Shore, not all young-earth creationists are narrow-minded fundamentalists, and not all of them have an extreme political agenda.  Just as LGBT individuals can be found scattered across nearly every demographic spectrum, so too we need to allow every individual we encounter to be just that - an individual.

Saturday, April 20, 2013


First up, a call for bridge building between Christians and non-Christians.  It will take a lot of work from both sides of the aisle, but respectful dialogue is not impossible.

Second, a tale of the sad reality of the way many evangelicals still treat those who fail to conform.  While it's not that bad everywhere, the legacy of fundamentalism still taints many churches and organizations.

Finally, an interesting observation about the positive side effects of LGBT equality.  Justice is not a zero-sum game; it has a positive impact on everybody.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Margaret Thatcher's recent passing provided a stark reminder of the highly polarized nature of our political culture.  To those on the right she was (and is) a patron saint, one of the great heroes of the late twentieth century.  To those on the left she was (and is) a demon, a villain who callously trampled the working class and the poor.  Love or hate her, the Iron Lady evoked strong emotions in just about everyone.

Granted, the same could be said about many politicians present and past, a fact that helps underscore the peril of entangling the church as a body in the political process.  In politics, anyone who votes against us is an opponent to be fought.  We are continually trained to view our neighbors in simplistic terms as allies or enemies.  Politicians who take the "right" stances are our heroes, whether they really deserve our respect or not.  Politicians on the "wrong" side are the embodiment of evil, again regardless of what they are really like.  A politicized pulpit can quickly become a forum that dehumanizes friend and foe alike by reducing them to two-dimensional caricatures.

Lost in the melee is the fact that we are all human beings who bear the image of (and are equally loved by) God, that we are all complex, gloriously messy three-dimensional persons whose lives cannot be reduced to a label.  Forgotten is Jesus' instruction that the Republican is my neighbor as well as the Democrat, and the Apostle Paul's reminder that even the most righteous among us is not superior to anyone else.

That's not to say that Christians living in a democratic society can (or should) avoid politics entirely, but if ever there was a time for followers of Christ to remember the command to be "in the world but not of it," the political process provides it.  Whenever we find ourselves claiming that we are "loving" our neighbors by passing laws that force them to do what we believe to be the right thing, it is perhaps time to release our death-grip on the reins of power and remind ourselves what our real mission is supposed to be.

And whenever we begin to see our political leaders as larger-than-life icons (good or bad), it couldn't hurt to pause and refocus until we can once again see them as human beings.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Life Soundtrack 34

Stronger Than That, by Cliff Richard

Never officially released in the US (to my knowledge), this song found its way onto the playlist of my local Christian radio station back in the late 1980s.  Cliff Richard's Christian faith had been receiving publicity in the evangelical subculture at the time, which made him a celebrity of sorts in Christian music circles, even though his albums were difficult to obtain in the U.S. at the time.

The song itself could be placed in the "God or girlfriend" category that Christian music fans are well acquainted with - it works equally well as Cliff singing to a girlfriend or as God speaking to us.  Whether that was his intent or not, that's what landed the song on at least one Christian station.

Rediscovering the song now, it would also work well for a same-sex relationship facing disapproval from relatives and neighbors - an interpretation Cliff Richard himself would undoubtedly disapprove of, given his repeated denial of the rumors that have circulated regarding his sexual orientation.  But because of those rumors it's an intriguing notion.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Turning Tide

I have to admit to a certain amount of surprise at the amount of momentum the LGBT rights moment has gained since the 2012 elections.  It's a pleasant surprise, to be sure, but my more pessimistic side was expecting resistance to temporarily increase - the religious right's last big push, as it were.

That could still be coming, of course.  As social conservatives find themselves increasingly outnumbered, desperation may push them to extremes before the fight is over.  And the Supreme Court has yet to issue its own verdicts that could further alter the political landscape.

For now, though, the good news keeps rolling in.  The latest positive signs of change:

-Rob Bell has officially come out in favor of marriage equality.  This is perhaps the least surprising of the three, given how quiet he has remained on the issue for quite a few years, but it's still a telling sign of the changes taking place even within the evangelical community.

-Less expected was Senator Rob Portman's change of heart.  It's not every day that a staunch social conservative - even one with a gay family member - does a 180.  And whether it was a sign of courage or political expediency on his part, every ally counts.

-This year's CPAC gathering was also quite revealing.  When opponents of gay rights are outnumbered by supporters at a conference full of Republicans, even the most pessimistic have to admit things are looking up...

Saturday, March 09, 2013


There's no question that general acceptance of LGBT individuals is at an all-time high.  Enough Americans now support their gay neighbors that even Republicans are beginning to jump onto the bandwagon in meaningful numbers.

Even so, there's still enough anti-gay sentiment in the world that it's helpful to be reminded that many straight people are on our side - people who could choose to sit quietly on the sidelines at little or no cost to themselves.  A few such stories, to brighten your weekend...

-Brian McLaren talks about the Sunday that catalyzed his journey toward acceptance.

-Another pastor shares why he opens his church's doors to everybody.

-A straight guy exhorts his friends to consider how their words affect others.

-An ally talks about her gay best friend.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

One More Episode

Okay, so they exaggerate - but only slightly.  A friend of mine speculated that Battlestar's enduring appeal, despite its flaws, may stem from the fact that it offers us with a modern creation myth.  In any case it represented science fiction at its best - offering us a lens through which we can view everyday issues from a fresh perspective.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Heart and Mind

Recently some discussions have cropped up related to a book from the 1990s, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. I vaguely recall it causing a stir in the evangelical circles that constituted my entire world in the mid-90s, though I never read the book myself. But its message is still relevant today - perhaps even moreso as the rifts within the evangelical church begin to widen and the religious right wanes in influence.

The ever-thoughtful Rachel Held Evans offered a slightly different perspective, pointing out the state of the evangelical heart. Although the circles I ran in allowed for a degree of soul-searching over difficult issues like the advocacy of genocide in the Old Testament, there is still a point where a literalist, inerrantist approach to the Bible inevitably leads to some degree of cognitive dissonance. A paradox develops in which the God of love that Jesus and the prophets revealed is also a God of unspeakable destruction - a paradox that leads not to wonderment and deeper spiritual understanding but to fear and a dehumanizing of those seen as deserving of God's wrath.  Obviously the Canaanites deserved to be exterminated, the literalist concludes, so why should we worry about it?

Because that cognitive dissonance lies at the root of Evans' dilemma, however, I cannot give greater weight to her concern than I can to the Deeper Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, as Peter Enns labels it.  What we believe intellectually doesn't always match up with how we treat others, but the former cannot help but influence the latter. And while genuinely compassionate people who hold to a literalist, inerrantist view of the Bible do exist, they seem to do so in spite of their beliefs.

I have many positive memories of my years at a Christian college; while academic freedom was limited in many ways, it is still the place where I first began to learn how to think for myself.  Compared to the fundamentalist churches I'd grown up in, it was positively liberating.

At the end of the day, though, the situation at my alma mater was (and is) as Enns says; academic inquiry and independent thought are only tolerated as long as one reaches the "correct" conclusions with them. Another Christian institution I'm familiar with advertises that it encourages freedom to think "within the limits of Scripture." To an evangelical that sounds very generous; students and faculty are allowed to disagree on many theological points where more conservative schools and churches might try to squash any dissent. When scrutinized, however, that motto is reminiscent of the constitution of the former Soviet Union, which made sweeping statements about various human rights that were officially recognized - only to render those protections meaningless by declaring that exercise of those rights "must not be to the detriment of the interests of society or the state," while leaving the government free rein to determine what constituted its interests.

Freedom of speech, as long as you say the right things.

(The above motto also fails to genuinely engage with the fact that "Scripture" is not nearly as clear-cut as conservative Christians so casually assume it to be, but that's a separate discussion.)

Even so, there are genuine intellectuals within the evangelical realm. One won't find them in the theology department (where free thinkers have a shorter lifespan than a piƱata at a little leaguer's birthday party - and experience roughly the same fate), and even in other fields they don't always survive, but they do exist. It was my college history professor who first taught me that a real research paper interacts with multiple viewpoints and gives them a fair hearing, rather than just quoting sources that agree with one's conclusions and shooting down everything else. Granted, that professor was never completely happy at my alma mater and ended up leaving a few years later, but he was (at least when I knew him) a bona fide evangelical as well as a genuine scholar.

Another such scholar is Warren Throckmorton, whose commitment to pursuing the truth no matter where it leads has placed him in opposition to the many evangelicals who still believe that sexual orientation can be changed through prayer and/or therapy. He has added his own contribution to the above discussion.

Is there hope for reform within the evangelical church? It doesn't appear very hopeful; as Enns points out, "Evangelicalism is not fundamentally an intellectual organism but an apologetic one." Scratch the surface of nearly any evangelical organization engaged in any sort of research or scientific pursuit and that fact quickly becomes apparent.

But change is possible; the writers I've cited are all proof that some who identify with evangelicalism hope for its transformation into a more open-minded (and open-hearted) movement.  One can only pray that their voices won't be ignored.

Friday, January 25, 2013


Some interesting stuff that I've come across in recent weeks, all recent if not quite brand new...

In archaeological news, the lost city of Myra (home of St. Nicholas) is no longer lost.  (If that link disappears behind a subscription firewall, here's another link with similar info.)

In astronomical news, scientists are now confirming that Earth-size planets are considerably more common than once thought.  How common biological life (much less sentient life) actually is on those planets remains to be seen, of course.

But it may someday be possible to actually find out for ourselves, if this NASA scientist is correct.  He believes that travel via warp drive, once thought to be impossible for all practical purposes, may in fact be achievable.  Perhaps some future generation of explorers really will roam the galaxy in the USS Enterprise after all.

Finally, on a Trek-related tangent, here's a link to a very funny new webcomic, LARPTrek.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Thought For the Day

Thank God we all have fallible parents!  Through their mistakes, they force us to take stock of our lives, grow up, make personal decisions, and take responsibility for them.  Thank God, too, for the fallibility of the human church - otherwise we could never distance ourselves from it and mature spiritually.
-John J. McNeill, Taking a Chance on God

Sunday, January 06, 2013

Life Soundtrack 33

Pride (In the Name of Love), by U2

When U2 first became popular in the mid-80s, I avoided them.  Not because the music wasn't good, but because I couldn't get away from them (walk through my college dorm on any given day and *someone* was listening to one of their albums).  I don't always avoid things just because they're popular, but this was one of those instances.  In addition, their social justice themes seemed a bit 'liberal' to my fundamentalist-trained ears.

So it wasn't until after college that I allowed myself to appreciate their music - and their message.  Standing up for the oppressed can be a risky venture, as this song reminds us.