Dear Lord, let’s just ban marriage

Hi God, it’s me, Phil.

And I’m sorry but I have to tell You, I’m a little over the marriage equality ‘debate’ that’s raging in Sydney right now. My itchy BC (before Christ) skin, as You well know from my previous wranglings with same sex attraction and Christianity, is rolling her eyes. We have social orphans committing suicide in Russia, poverty in Africa, child-sex trafficking, forced prostitution, Aborginal health, detention centres, women being murdered by their partners or husbands….need I go on? I feel we’ve got our perspective and priorities seriously skewed._gay marriage cartoon

There’s money being spent on adverts that don’t get aired, media events that people don’t turn up to, and metres of vertical trolls on social media.

Screw marriage rights, God, screw ’em. Tell you what, why don’t we do a Brangalina type announcement and say that no-one gets married until we sort out poverty, illiteracy, access to education, domestic violence, world peace etc. etc.

That’s right: no-one. Then we’ll see just how committed everyone REALLY is to marriage equality. What do you reckon?

I know, I know, it’ll upset the unwed Christians because they won’t be getting any, if they are honouring You, due to Your no sex without marriage request (well, maybe a little stronger than a request, but I’m in PR). Anyway. Think of the focus it would achieve. Nothing like enforced celibacy to gird one’s loins for mission and change.

But I really think it’s the best way to sort it out. Kind of like toddlers arguing over a toy car in the sandpit. Take it away. End of argument.

The irony here is the greatest gift You blessed me with: the ability to see both sides. So You set Yourself up royally for my wrestling. I don’t want to be a bad and unfaithful servant, honest, but I’m still figuring out how to be truth-filled and grace-filled and hold the space for Jesus to walk into it on this one.

I admit, I want You to make it easy for me. I want it so marriage equality doesn’t keep making Christians appear like a bunch of intolerant bigots.

Christians, for the most part, are trying to stick to Your word. Which is pretty damn unpopular in 2015. Fastest way to lose friends is wear a cross around your neck these days and point to the Bible as truth. And that breaks my heart because some of the most caring, compassionate people I know are Christians getting a bad rap for sticking to their belief in Your word.

So, Lord, I want to pray for those scripture-focused Christians who say, “I’d rather get to heaven and have God ask me, “Why couldn’t you just keep up with the times on same sex marriage?” instead of, “Well, could you not read My word?””

They are putting God above self and aren’t winning any popularity contests. But to say they are hating bigots is not only wrong and unfair, it’s a dangerous slippery slope regarding freedom of belief.

I also want to pray for the less scripturally-focused Christians (the popularist pastors). And anyone they’ve sent off-piste. That’d be a real kick in the proverbials come the pearly gates. My challenge, personally, is wanting those popularist pastors to be right. For me, they are weepingly, painfully seductive. I want their biblical gymnastics to make sense. I want this to be easy.

But (much like Bogart and Bacall) of all the churches in all of Sydney I could have called that day, You delivered a scriptural pastor at the end of the phone. You could have delivered a hall pass. (Sigh).

A dear SSA friend asked me about the scriptural take the other day.  After I cautiously explained it with as much care and respect as possible, he thanked me. “I have never had the opportunity to explore both sides before,” he said. “I’m not Christian, so I’d never ask to take part in a Christian marriage ceremony. But at least I understand it better now.”

Because both sides deserve a fair hearing. Which isn’t happening in Australia, as Paul Barrie from MediaWatch recently demonstrated.  What happened? Why is holding a different viewpoint now taken as an excuse to vilify? Some of the most dangerous atrocities in the world have stemmed from intolerance and vilification of different viewpoints. So I pray that stops. Soon.

So God, I’ll keep wrestling. Sorry. But I’ll also try my damnedest to hold the space for Jesus’ grace and Your love to walk though.

Amen.

Dear God, I think Jesus would bake two wedding cakes, don’t you?

Quite often I tell myself I was remiss in conducting due diligence on this whole Christian business. G&J snuck into my heart whilst my head was playing catch-up, kind of like some divine Navy SEAL team rappelling through my soul, dragging me out the bunker, ripping off a blindfold and shoving me into the light before I’d even had a chance to catch a breath. And once they’re in your heart? It’s incredible difficult to evict them. Holy squatters rights. No matter how often my head wants to explode.

Who knew cake could be so divisive? Marie-Antoinette started it all, and now we’ve got The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights in on the act. In the American state of Oregon, a case is underway after a bakery declined to provide a cake for a lesbian wedding. mr-mr-wedding-cake-topper-same-sex-wedding-lgbt-wedding-gay-cake-topper-groom-and-groom

On the one hand, homosexual people are entitled to be free from discrimination. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides that all people, including people who identify as homosexual, are entitled to non-discrimination and equality before the law.

On the other hand, Christians and other religious people are entitled to the free exercise of their religion. The International Convention on Civil and Political Rights provides that: Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

For many people, religious beliefs are part of their everyday life. This includes operating a business and providing commercial services to others. Which is how ‘Cakegate’ has occurred. Based on their religious beliefs, a bakery-owning, Christian-couple declined to bake a cake for a lesbian couple’s wedding. They were sued, ended up closing their retail store due to public backlash, and face damages up to $120k.

Now, given that Jesus flouted the religious law of the time and hung out with lepers, tax-collectors, and adulterous women, I have to ponder how little ‘Cakegate’ has to do with Jesus, and rather too much to do with religion and legalism? I recently read an excellent ‘Cakegate’ article over on the blog Ten Thousand Places referencing Jesus’ sermon on the mount and his response to the (unpopular) Roman law of the time:

One of the Roman laws stated that any man could be required to drop what he was doing and carry a Roman soldier’s equipment for him for up to a mile. In the sermon on the mount, with his followers gathered around him, Jesus referenced that law and told his followers what they should do in that case: “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” ~Matthew 5:41

Applying this in the present day, under the law of  non-discrimination and equality, perhaps those Christian bakers should have baked not only one cake, but two?

These bakers were standing by their personal Christian belief that marriage is a God-sanctified union between man and woman. But Jesus walked around breaking the scriptural laws of the time in the name of God’s love. Like when he healed on the Sabbath and the Pharisees confronted him.

“What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep!” Matthew 12:11

Jesus is holding up his love, God’s love, against the limiting scriptural laws of the day. And as Christians, blessed with the Holy Spirit, that sort of love needs to be acted out over and over and over. No matter how hard.

In Australia, Christian Youth Camps refused to take a booking from a group wanting to run a suicide-prevention camp for same-sex-attracted young people. The case ended when Christian Youth Camps lost their appeal against a finding that they had breached equal opportunity laws.

Surely in a group feeling so marginalised it leads to suicide is the EXACT PLACE a Christian should be. In the mess and the mire. No matter how it rubs up awkwardly against any scriptural passages. Showing love and compassion. Loving your neighbour as yourself. 

Jesus was the antithesis of everything everyone expected at the time. Instead of being a victorious leader overthrowing Roman rule, he hung out with the weak, the marginalised and the oppressed.

On days when I read about ‘Cakegate’ and try to stop my head exploding, I often wonder what Jesus would be like if he popped in to check up on us today. Probably what we least expect, designed exactly to hold a mirror up to our beliefs, just as he did before. So a same-sex attracted, celibate, person of colour, wedding cake baker, perhaps?

Love The Lord With All My…..No, That’s Just Not Convenient.

Washed and Waiting, By Wesley Hill.

I’m currently reading Wesley Hill’s book Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and HomosexualityHill is a celibate, homosexual Christian. Given I often try to squeeze around the elephant in the room, I am interested in his perspective. The book wrestles with three main areas of struggle that many same-sex attracted (SSA) Christians face:

  1. What is God’s will for sexuality?
  2. If the historic Christian tradition is right and same-sex sex is ruled out, how should SSA Christians deal with any resulting loneliness?
  3. How can SSA Christians come to an experience of grace that rescues them from feelings of shame and guilt?

Hill does not advocate that it is possible for every SSA Christian to become straight, nor is he saying that God affirms SSA. Instead, Hill comes alongside SSA Christians and says, “You are not alone. Here is my experience; it’s like yours. And God is with us. We can share in God’s grace.”

While some authors profess a deep faith in Christ and claim a powerful experience of the Holy Spirit precisely in and through their homosexual practice, Hill’s own story, by contrast, is a story of feeling spiritually hindered, rather than helped, by his homosexuality.

Hill writes: Homosexuality was not God’s original creative intention for humanity— it is, on the contrary, a tragic sign of human nature and relationships being fractured by sin—and therefore homosexual practice goes against God’s express will for all human beings, especially those who trust in Christ. 

Hill is writing that it’s ok to be a SSA Christian. But it’s not ok, if you are a SSA Christian, to act on those desires and urges. If you’re not a Christian, have no faith or belief in Christ, then you can do whatever with whomever you like.

The SAP’s (smart alec pastor) angle is that it’s nothing to do with sexuality, nothing to do with doing whatever we like, and everything to do with needing to get to know Jesus better. But that’s why he’s paid to be a SAP (well, he’s paid to be a P, let’s be frank. The SA bit is a fringe benefit I’m sure some Archbishops get starchy about).

Anyway, every bit of my itchy before Christ (BC) skin sat upon me uncomfortably when I read the paragraph by Hill. Yet, given Hill is a homosexual celibate Christian, he has far more insight and knowledge into it, so who am I to get offended on his behalf?

That’s the problem. I feel offended because I feel I ought to. I’ve had a far greater secular life than a Christian one. The society I inhabit is all about ‘self’, and worships the popular belief that we as individuals know what is right, best and true for ourselves. My secular ‘BC’ self gets offended on Hill’s behalf because why shouldn’t he have sex with a gorgeous guy, thrive in a relationship, get married, have kids etc? Why, as his book outlines, is he walking the narrow path of celibacy?

What Hill is gently teaching me – and it brings tears to my eyes as I type – is that his faith in Christ is bigger than this world. He is choosing, radically, to put God and His word ahead of himself. His faith in Jesus commits him to a demanding, costly obedience of choosing not to nurture his SSA desires. Doing so, Hill encourages and challenges Christians with SSA desires to live faithful to God’s plan for human sexuality.

Not helped by different churches sending different messages. One pastor will encourage SSA Christians to live and love in Christ, have sex, be in relationship and come to his church (I’ll call him a populist pastor). Another will encourage SSA Christians to live and love in Christ, come to his church, but, like Hill, encourage them to remain celibate (I’ll call him a scriptural pastor).

The latter will walk with their same-sex attracted Christian friends, loving them well, picking them up, and making sure they are there for them in the same way they would for anyone else.

The former will tell their same-sex attracted friends that all is OK. That other Christians are wrong in interpreting the scripture. That God was mistaken and the Bible is incorrect. That Jesus is all about love.

The latter will worry about the souls being taught by the former, because, as Hill comes back to again and again in his book, it’s not homosexuality but homosexual acts that the Bible lists as a no-no. So the scriptural pastor is counselling based on the Bible while the populist pastor is counselling based on popular, modern-day cultural expectations that ‘we know best’ – revolving around the importance of ‘staying true to self’. I have desires and I can act on them.

The scriptural pastor will be in anguish because he believes the populist pastor is leading SSA Christians further away from Christ. And wouldn’t that just piss you off come his return?

I use the word ‘anguish’ on purpose. The scriptural pastors I meet aren’t narrow-minded, bigoted homophobes. They are desperately saddened and anguished because they believe, with all their loving hearts, that to ignore the Bible (not just on this subject, but on anything) is to lose the way back to God.

For them, there’s a lot of really serious stuff at stake. As Jesus explains in the Parable of the Weeds: this separation from God – Hell – is like ‘a blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ (Matt 13:40-43) and again a moment later in the parable of the fish in the net, (Matt 13:49-50). A Christian does not wish that upon any soul alive. Which is why they share the message of Jesus. Not to judge or accuse. Rather so as many as possible can come to know and trust in Jesus, and be kept safely away from the weeping and gnashing.

Trouble is, it all goes pear-shaped because humans are involved. We are flawed. No Christian is perfect and in trying to explain all this it often gets narrowly interpreted or blown out of proportion. This is an incredibly emotive and difficult topic to write about. It’s easy to be misrepresented and misunderstood. I’ve skittered around it for months.

If I had the answers, then my name would be Mosette and I’d be standing on top of a mountain taking dictation. I can only offer the following observations from my meditating on this for over a year:

1) Some Christians unhelpfully muddy the waters around sin. I have heard UHT Christians (those who have been at Christianity a long, longer life than I) use terms of condemnation around the Mardi Gras march. But where’s Jesus in that? The same Christians rarely talk pillars of salt when faced with an unmarried heterosexual couple having sex. So why make a ‘bigger sin’ out of SSA and mardi-gras? An unmarried heterosexual couple, having children and living together are just as sinful to God. Yet how often are they called out as an example?

2) The Bible isn’t comfortable reading. But there are two really important lines. As a new Christian I battle my way through the scriptural stuff on the topic. The Bible isn’t a flat set of rules I can read objectively and apply unilaterally. It tells me of God’s complex interaction with humanity. It’s a complicated, and at times troubling, holy text. It has more than one voice. It contains letters and laws. Poetry and proverbs. Prophecy and philosophy. Often, probably like many others, I find myself more called by what I want the Bible to say than what it actually says.

Personally I rest on this: Jesus said all the scriptures can be rendered into two commands: To love the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love my neighbour as myself. Jesus is about love, but he was incredibly specific when teaching how to direct that love. To love the Lord first.

3) What does loving the Lord really mean?  Wesley Hill has chosen to love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength in a way that my secular, selfish, self-led perspective would never have understood prior to my Christian journey. Now, though? I am awed and humbled by his decision. To give of yourself; more, give over yourself so totally? To love and honour God’s call above all earth-bound needs and desires? It’s a huge commitment that demonstrates Hill’s immense trust in God.

4) Biblical truth is rarely popular or palatable. God’s word can be uncomfortable and inconvenient in a society that puts self first. Which is why you have such a striking difference between what populist and scriptural pastors teach. As a Christian, I need to look closely at my own heart and discover if I am motivated by what I want the Bible to say than what it actually says. Because if I only take what I want it to say, massaging it so I find it more popular and palatable, then I am putting myself first. I become God in our relationship. And that never works out too well.

5) Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. After all, Jesus persevered for us no matter what. He was faithful no matter what. Hill is trusting, hoping, persevering. He is sticking to what God asks of him because, even though it is not popular or palatable, it is what God asked – commanded – of him. Loving obedience is the crux of our relationship with God and trust in Christ.

That love line is pesky isn’t it? In our self-directed, secular world, we are told ‘all we need is love’, that ‘love is enough’. Yet love without protection, trust, hope, perseverance, truth and grace? It becomes hollow. A sound-byte. A hall pass.

6) God’s truth can’t be convenient only when I need it to be. God packed the Bible full of inconvenient truths. But performing bible-reading gymnastics, to make those truths more palatable, can have an awful impact. Like headship. Some Christian men have perpetrated domestic violence by reading ‘submit to your husbands’ as some awful permission to abuse. Playing God in their relationship, they ignored the instruction ‘love your wife as Christ loved the church’. Yet, for their wives, and the clergy who help them, the ability to turn to that final, ultimate scriptural truth is, for many, a literal lifeline. Imagine if it could be ignored. So I love how the Bible, and Jesus, gives a clear directive on this one.

Ah, right. So I sometimes only like the truth when it suits me and my beliefs, my desires. Which then makes it all about me, not about Jesus and God.

But this, ALL of this, from Bibles falling off shelves, to being pursued by an impatient Hound of Heaven, to getting the courage to be Lipton’d in the river, to hold up all my secular beliefs to scrutiny and be challenged – it’s never been about me. It’s always been about G & J. It’s had to be. Otherwise I’d have stopped a long while back.

So in my relationship with them, I just pray that I may bring but a small measure of the courage, faith, commitment  and strength shown by Wesley Hill. That God will save me from convenience, from reading only what I want to read. And that I may always love with protection, trust, hope, perseverance, truth and grace.

Amen.