Saturday, 19 August 2017

Truth, Love, And The Australian Plebiscite

Dear Lyle,

As we Australians find ourselves living with the unhappy consequences of the push for a plebiscite, I couldn't help but notice your recent, impassioned plea to "let truth be spoken in love".

It's a really great sentiment, but as I read the letter you addressed to your "friends in the LGBTIQ community" it seemed to me that you might be having some trouble putting that into action.

I'm not sure that anyone has told you this, but creating a long list of the sins of your opponents, and then implying that you are better than they are because you don't act like them, is not really likely to make anyone feel loved.

You see, I know what it's like to have someone tell me about all the wrong, bad, nasty things they think I've done, and then tell me that they love me. It didn't actually make me feel loved. In fact, I didn't believe they loved me at all. (And even if they'd told me that they meant it with all their heart, their protestations of love would have remained meaningless words to me.)

So I thought I might offer you my valuable experience to help you convey your message of love. Please find attached my suggested alternative to your current offering.

Yours sincerely,
An Australian Christian.

To the LGBTIQ community, 
I know I have no right to call you friends, because you have made it clear my sincere attempts to be friendly have completely failed. I am sorry about that, and I want you to know I hope to do better in the future. Would you be willing to forgive me, and help me learn how to really be your friend? 
I know I can't compel you to comply with my way of thinking, but I'm hoping that taking the risk of sharing my heart, and showing my good will by owning my own failings, might help to repair the bridges between us that have been all but destroyed. 
So to begin, there's this ancient collection of books I read quite a lot, called the bible. (I suspect you've heard me mention it once or twice!) I know there's a bunch of other people who read this book too. Like them, I am on a journey of understanding it, but the way I currently understand what this text says is the only way I can at the moment. (Please bear with me, I'm a work in progress, just like you.) 
I know that none of us can claim to have the "correct" interpretation of what it says, but sometimes we forget that. Mostly we do try to hold on to our "truth" with humility and express it with love. (We often fail in that, but we do try.) 
Anyway, my current understanding of this religious text means I am unable to agree that SSM would be good for our society. I know you want me to, but I just can't do it. If I'm being honest, I'd really prefer you saw things the way I do, because I believe that God sees it that way too. But I guess that's not likely to happen, is it? 
So I can only suggest that we try to learn how to disagree without demonising each other. I know I've been guilty of that, but I really do want to change. To prove that to you, I'm going to stop telling everyone that you have a secret agenda to corrupt our children. (I must admit, it's only just occurred to me how much I'd hate it if you went around saying we had a "religious agenda", and acted like we were really trying to pervert your children. Wow! Sorry about that!) 
And I'm sorry that my words and actions have inadvertently sent you the message that you are somehow a lesser human being than me. The bible says that everyone is made in the image of God - so in future, I'll try to do better at seeing the image of my God in you. 
It also seems that I've been so busy talking about protecting children from you and your friends, that I've failed to see how hypocritical I must sound to you. When there is so much awful history in my religion of children suffering unspeakable abuse at the hands of its leaders, my apparent silence on that topic is indefensible. 
I've know I've complained a lot about the really disrespectful behaviour I've been subjected to by people from 'your side' - and implied that you are all the same - but I don't think I've ever acknowledged there has been some incredibly unloving behaviour from our 'side' too. That was wrong of me. I'm sorry. I don't like being judged by the horrible behaviour of some of my supporters, so I promise I'll stop doing that to you, too. 
I can't change what I sincerely believe, and I know you shouldn't have to either. So do you think we can learn how to do this better? I'd really like to try.
Hoping to show more love with my truth in future, Lyle. 

Monday, 7 August 2017

Sex, Sin, And The Bible

Today, a friend of mine (who happens to identify as christian and gay) posted a link on his page to an article entitled 5 Things You May Not Have Realized About Paul’s Anti-Homosexual Words. My friend asked that people read it with a willingness to understand, rather than a desire to prove the author wrong (or heretical, or whatever).

Since he 'came out' a few years back, this friend has been treated appallingly by certain christians. People who had known and loved him for years seemed to suddenly view him as a monster to be hounded from their midst, rather than a brother to be loved. I know firsthand how maliciously christians can act towards those who fail to comply with their 'truth', and I understand his desire to be loved and affirmed by those who have judged and rejected instead.

The Bible Clearly Says...
But I suspect that this attempt to reach out will fail. Not based on the merits, or otherwise, of the arguments put forth in the article, but because christians have always disagreed over what the bible really says about a great many topics.

From human issues like slavery, racial inferiority, and the equality of women, to theological ones such as the rapture, the pre/mid/post-tribulation timing of such, and the question of whether the earth was created in six literal days, christians have shown that there is only one thing we can be absolutely certain of: the bible will always be used to "prove" completely contradictory things.

So while my empathy for my friend is real, I would suggest to him that he's on a road to nowhere. Because people who are certain of what the bible "clearly says" will simply dismiss out-of-hand any argument contrary to their own. So where to from here?

Well... rather than trying to prove who's right and who's heretical, maybe we need to go back to the example Jesus set. After all, isn't he the one we are supposed to be following?

For starters, Jesus showed he was actually willing to set aside "what the bible clearly said" in order to love. On more than one occasion he was reprimanded by the religious leaders for breaking the law regarding the Sabbath. On each occasion he had "clearly" contravened the law, and yet what was his response? Did he repent because they showed him chapter and verse? No! He basically told them to take a hike, declaring that doing good (and loving others is very good) took precedence over such rules and regulations. In other words, the 'law of love' trumps other, lesser laws.

Likewise, it is important to learn from Jesus's response to the religious leaders when they tried use a woman - caught in the very act of sexual sin - to trap him. When confronted with the law regarding sexual conduct, he turned the focus back onto her accusers, masterfully pointing out to them that they were all declared guilty under "The Law". In doing so, he was not only highlighting their incredible hypocrisy, but was also telling them, in no uncertain terms, to concentrate on their own sin, not that of others.

And before anyone thinks they have an ironclad 'gotcha' by gleefully pointing out that Jesus told the woman to "go and sin no more" just think about this: if Jesus was the only one qualified (by being sinless) to cast the first stone, he was also the only one qualified to tell the woman to refrain from sinning! So next time we hear someone use Jesus's words to this woman as a justification to point out the sins of others, just remember that we are only as entitled to do that, as we are to cast the first stone.

As far as I am concerned, we can argue theology and biblical interpretation until we are blue in the face, but it will change nothing - least of all people's opinions about their own correct thinking. Yet if there is anything that is "clear", it's that Jesus told us love is to govern everything we say or do. Judging and rejecting someone because we believe they are sinning is not an act of love - no matter how we try to spin it.

So regardless of what we believe the bible says about homosexuality, our calling (and example) is to love. If we want to worry about sin, let's worry about our own. But I think we would do far better to let God "worry" about it, and simply concentrate on how we can treat others so that they actually feel loved. If we are being honest, I think we'll agree that that task alone is enough to keep us busy for a lifetime.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Is This Love?

I read a heart-breaking blog post today about a child who reached out for love and understanding from the church, and who was offered judgement and condemnation in their stead. As I was reading, the following words leaped out at me:
“If we want to understand what it means to love, we need to be looking to Christ, and taking notice of those he drew to himself and the way in which he drew them. The way in which we ourselves were drawn.”
Those words raised an important question in my mind: How many people in the church actually have been 'drawn to Jesus' because of his outrageous, totally unconditional love?
And how many have merely “made a decision for Christ” because they were told that unless they did, they would spend eternity being tortured in hell?

How many simply muttered "the sinner's prayer" like an incantation as insurance against being condemned to an unending punishment, having been assured that the “wrath of God” can be assuaged by nothing less?

And it occurred to me that maybe this is the heart of the problem. That we are unable to love like Jesus loved, because we have never actually received that love ourselves.

I know growing up in the church, this was my experience.

I was told that God loved me. But the proof I was offered was that he slaughtered his own son in order to "pay the debt" I owed him for being born such a miserable sinner. (Even though being born at all was his idea, not mine.)

I was told that Jesus loved me. They said he'd proved it by "taking my place" and getting tortured and killed instead of me. So I kind of owed him. And that meant I had to be on my best behaviour for the rest of my life (a life which he now owned by the way) to somehow make it up to him or something.

So I said a prayer which, I was told, guaranteed me my very own "get-out-of-hell-free" card.

The trouble is, in all of this I hadn't been drawn to Jesus because he loved me. I'd been compelled to say a prayer because I was so scared of what I was told would happen if I didn't.

So I spent years "being a christian" and "going to church", while the love I knew about in theory remained just that. Theoretical. And because of that - because what I'd received was shame and fear, not love - that was all I had to offer others.

All I had to share was the message of how bad I had been until Jesus "took my punishment", and how bad others were until they accepted the same offer and then lived up to the conditions written in small print in the contract. And those conditions seemed to consist mostly of avoiding the list of sins that the church had cherry-picked out of the bible as being really too bad to forgive without a lot of grovelling and recanting, and a little bit of self-flagellation thrown in for good measure.

(Although, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure some of those "sins" were just made up to make sure we didn't have any fun, and had nothing to do with the bible at all! However, I digress...)

The point is, it is a sad reality that far too many people in the church today would swear blind that they are motivated purely by the love of God, but are really only offering shame and fear and sin-management to those around them. What is even sadder, is that they seem to have genuinely mistaken this for love!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

When Church Leaders Act Like Abusive Husbands

In my last post, I mentioned that a board member of my ex-church once told me that I had a problem submitting to "godly" authority. I responded by telling him I didn't have a problem submitting to Godly authority. And he didn't like that. At all. I saw his anger. And I didn't care.

Because I knew I wasn't the problem.

My lack of submission wasn't the problem.

But it's only in the last few days, I've seen with clarity what the real problem was.

As I wrote in that last post, the issue of how the church has failed survivors of domestic abuse has hit the headlines here in Australia. And in following the conversations being held, the stories being told, and the responses and reactions of different people, I have seen more clearly into the realities of my own experience of abuse in the church.

And I've had a moment of revelation. An "aha!" moment.

The real problem in our church was not my failure to submit to "godly" authority. It was the failure of its leaders to serve as Jesus served.

In the stories of domestic abuse that I've been reading, the husbands all quoted scriptures to demand submission from their wives. The husbands claimed they had "godly" authority over their wives, and based on this supposed authority they thought it was entirely appropriate to demand that their wives submit to them, no matter how harshly or hurtfully they treated them.

Of course, what they failed to realise is that their use (or misuse) of scripture damns them, not their wives. Because the scriptural call on them as husbands is to love their wives sacrificially, not to sacrifice those they love on the altar of their own inflated egos.

In similar fashion, my fellow leaders appeared to believe they had the right - in the name of God - to enforce submission and to compel obedience from their brothers and sisters. They showed willing to inflict hurt on others in order to gain the desired outcome, and then berate them for being wounded. And in doing so, they displayed their own failure. Because the God from whom they claimed to derive their authority is the God who equates greatness with servanthood, not tyranny. In demanding servility from others, they failed to obey the one who said he came to serve, not to be served.

You see, the problem was not with my refusal to submit. I knew I had nothing to fear from submitting to Godly authority, because I knew that truly Godly authority would never act in a way that harmed me. The "problem" was that I wouldn't submit to abuse. People didn't like me naming it for what it was and, using the same tactics as those abusive husbands, they tried to blame me. Like an abused wife I struggled with that, and sometimes I even fought back, but that did not make me "the problem".

The problem was created by those who, in attempting to crown one man "king" in the church, failed to acknowledge the true King. It lay with those who, in seeking to "lord it over" others, failed to obey the words of the "Lord over all". It was caused by those who, in demanding submission from others, failed to submit to the teachings of Jesus who said, "Do you understand what I’ve done for you? You call me teacher and Lord, and you’re right because that’s what I am. So if I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you must wash each other’s feet. I’ve given you an example that you should follow."

That was the real problem in our midst. "Leaders" demanding submission instead of displaying servanthood. "Followers" who refused to follow.