Aren’t we a new creation? Part I

As someone who regularly engages with the online discussion regarding LGBT+ orientations and christianity, I sometimes wish I had a nickel for every time I hear a version of the following argument: “You cannot be a “gay christian”. If you are in Christ, you are a new creation and can’t identify with something sinful. After all, no one would identify as a christian murderer or a christian rapist either.” There are three comments I’d like to make about this statement:

  1. Comparing murder or rape or any other crime to homosexuality is a category error, since murder or rape by definition do not involve two consenting adults doing something that doesn’t affect anyone else. This isn’t a statement of belief, but simply intellectually sloppy.
  2. This “new creation” rhetoric is often used in a harmful manner, something that the second post on this issue will be about.
  3. Gay christians should be welcomed even more if you believe that same-sex relationships are sinful.

But firstly, I’d like to talk about the TV Series “American Dad” – be aware, this is full of stereotypes, which are meant to be understood in a satirical manner. In the episode “Lincoln Lover”, Stan, a conservative, all-american dad, who works at the CIA, is confronted with the existence of the Log Cabin Republicans, an LGBT group within the party. In the story line, Stan is at first oblivious regarding the true nature of his new friends, but loves their impeccable style and good old conservative values. He soon finds out that his new friends are what he hates the most – gay – and therefore quickly flip-flops and decides to choose to be gay in order to be able to speak for the Log Cabin Republicans at the Republican National Convention. He fails spectacularly at being gay, some funny stuff happens and then the episode ends with him giving an impromptu speech:

We’re wrong about gays. I was wrong… and I taught my boy wrong. It turns out that being gay is not a choice. It’s true. Believe me, I tried, and it didn’t work. The Log Cabin delegates trying to get in tonight didn’t choose to be gay, but they did choose to be Republicans. Even though, as Republicans, we used bashing them as the backbone of our last presidential election, they’re still sticking with us. By God, these people love America as much as they love brunch.

Isn’t this the true punchline?

My catchphrase on this blog is still the same: Fair enough if you believe that being in a same-sex relationship or even having an LGBT orientation is sinful, but are you completely unable to see how much you could learn from a gay sister or brother in Christ? A person who chose Christ not because it was easy, nor because everyone in their family did, but because they truly feel lost in this vast world that can still be so terribly hostile towards any minority?

Can’t you see anything admirable in someone choosing the religion that plays a big part in whatever the so-called “culture war” is, despite them being the very subject of said war?

Doesn’t it baffle you that someone can love Jesus so much, that they enter a house of worship that can come with so many negative and traumatic memories of growing up being ostracised and internalising a wagonload of homophobia?

Is it not amazing that someone can love their sisters and brothers in Christ so much that they are willing to share a pew and serve alongside people that openly campaign to keep it legal for them to lose their job on the basis of something that they did not choose and cannot change?

If some of the messiness that is a big part of this confusing world of ours finds its way into our churches, a true christian will never slam the door in its face.

Are you too blind to even see this?

We can have many discussions about if gay christians are a thing that should theoretically exists, but the truth of the matter is that there are gay people out there and where the rubber meets the road, the fact that so many of them WANT to be christians should fill you with joy, not with anger or denial, especially if you believe that all these people are terribly lost and need Jesus.

After you have managed to look beyond your anger, you might even be able to learn something if you share your house, your church and part of your life with a gay christian.

Better to be an alive atheist than a dead Christian (Joey’s story)

I don’t have the appropriate words to comment on this post, but I want you all to know that this is what it is about. The choice of very flawed alternatives many LGBT christians face is too often literally a matter of life and death.

Ben Irwin

Enlight1Today I’m featuring a guest post from my friend Jessy Briton Hamilton, about his friend Joey and his experience being shunned by the church for his sexual orientation. 

Shortly after reading Joey’s story, I saw Julie Rodgers’ post describing her experience of rejection. It astounds me that some traditionalists were not more supportive of Julie, if what they say about holding their convictions with love is really true. As a celibate gay Christian, she’s played by their rules. She’s done everything they ask. Yet her experience at the hands the church has forced her to ask some difficult questions:

The fire I’ve come under (publicly and privately) as I’ve sought to live into the traditional ethic causes me to question whether this is about genuinely held beliefs or straight up homophobia. I say this with nothing but sadness: the kind of discrimination my friends and I have experienced as celibate gays makes me lean toward the latter.

Neither Julie nor…

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The good gays and the bad gays

Julie Rodgers, a person whom I respect immensely and who has been an inspiration to me in her devotion to Christ has recently written a post titled “An Update on the Gay Debate“. I encourage everyone to read this and leave a nice comment.

Now, Julie is a part of what many people colloquially call “Side B”. These are LGBT+ Christians who believe that their orientation is innate, mostly unchanging, but also sinful at its core and therefore they feel called to commit to lifelong celibacy. No matter where one stands regarding the sinfulness of same-sex relationships, I think being able to faithfully hold such a position is something that should be respected and cherished – especially in our overly sexualised culture.

HOWEVER, many comments under the article made me very sad and are a reflection of a deeper, underlying problem:

Straight, non-affirming Christians often feel the need to divide “the gays” into neat and convenient groups. There are the good gays and the bad gays. The good gays live in celibacy, don’t talk about their gayness too openly, don’t speak up when people argue against gay marriage or bash gay people, and they use their vast amount of free time doing a lot of different jobs in church. Those gays are great. They are blessing in disguise since they don’t need to be disciplined (they already believe they should be completely celibate) and they have a strong need to fill their lives with meaningful things and interpersonal relationships; therefore they simply get so much done in church.

Then there are the bad gays. They are the outsiders, the others, the abominations, the ones that live “the lifestyle”.

Now, often people use this divide to bash the “bad gays”. “Good gays” are (against their will of course!) used as absolute arguments: “There are people that are happy choosing celibacy, so if you aren’t, there is something wrong with you!”

AND THIS IS WHERE THE PROBLEM COMES IN: 

Most Side B gays are exactly that. Side B. Gays. Meaning that they themselves are part of “the outsiders”. The same outsiders that the life stories of Side B gays are used as an argument against. Julie Rodgers openly talks about the fact that she has friends who are in same-sex relationships and that she doesn’t necessarily think that is wrong. On the contrary, she seems to believe that every person has their own journey in life and that for some people a same-sex relationship might be an answer. She doesn’t say it’s the answer for her, nor that it is the ultimate answer.

STILL, FOR MANY COMMENTERS, THAT IS TOO FAR.

“How can you agree with things that are clearly sinful?” is often thrown around. Completely independent of the fact that the usage of the term “agree” is very odd in this context, it appears obvious that the love that Side B gays get from traditional non-affirming Christians is very conditional. As long as you are on their side, basically completely deny your gayness and shun those that are in same sex relationships – people with whom you often have more in common than with the traditional straight Christians – you are acceptable. However, as soon as you argue for same-sex marriage, so that those of your friends that hold a different view on same-sex relationships than you can get married or as soon as you even acknowledge that there might be grey areas when it comes to interpreting what the Bible says about same-sex relationships, that love is revoked.

Love the sinner hate the sin doesn’t work. Even less so, if the “love” is a conditional, constructed, weird love along the lines of “I’m loving you by telling you, that you are an abomination”, something that is very far from what Jesus showed us as love.

THIS IS WHERE IT BECOMES SAD.

I have been on Side B before. That was until I realised that Side B doesn’t work for me. One of the reasons for that is that the love you cheat yourself into is not real love. It feels stolen, fickle and fragile, which makes church a cold place.

To quote Julie Rodgers:

It leaves folks feeling like love and acceptance are contingent upon them not-gay-marrying and not-falling-in-gay-love. When that’s the case (…) It’s hard to believe we’re actually wanted in our churches. It’s hard to believe the God who loves us actually likes us.

And that pretty much leaves her with only one conclusion:

The fire I’ve come under (publicly and privately) as I’ve sought to live into the traditional ethic causes me to question whether this is about genuinely held beliefs or straight up homophobia. I say this with nothing but sadness: the kind of discrimination my friends and I have experienced as celibate gays makes me lean toward the latter.

SEE THAT, FOLKS? Fair enough, if you have a problem with me, with a gay Christian, who thinks that it is not necessarily sinful or wrong to be in a same-sex relationship. But your disapproval of me often throws people like Julie over board right with me. And she doesn’t deserve that!

IT’S YOUR CALL! Either be loving, genuinely loving, accepting of grey areas, or not. Those are the two sides that are available to straight Christians. Love or not love. Love – by definition – accepts great areas.

I’m pretty sure which one of those is the Jesus-side, but I won’t solve that riddle for you (hint, it’s love).

I just need more of Jesus in this whole mess! “Side J” would be something we could all rally around!

A hell of a question

I have wrestled with the question of hell for quite some time and now it has gained new importance for me in two ways: Firstly, hell is odd. It came like a revelation to me when I first learned from John Shore that a conscious eternal hell is not unequivocally the position of the Bible. This blog post contains a list of of biblical references for three different views of hell: Eternal torment, annihilationism and universalism. I had always been taught that there definitely is an eternal, conscious hell and I have always wrestled terribly with the consequences of that. As a fraction of infinity, every finite number is zero, so how can one decision I make in a finite life have such consequences? What about people that are never reached by the gospel, what about babies that die? Hell is weird and all rationalisations of how God is so holy that compared to him nothing else matters, defy the concept of trying to live a life that’s pleasing to God in discipleship (hey, when it comes down to it, compared to God we’re all Hitler – why would anyone even try?).

I’m not sure how to refute you, but you’ll be punished!

However there is another dimension of hell that makes it weird and I have seen it a lot in the aftermath of recent instances of gay marriage being legalised in many different countries: Hell is often used as a last resort when our orthodox Christian beliefs start to fail us. When people start to realise that they lost the battle over marriage and flood the comment sections of Facebook or blogs, they often say things like “that’s fine, have your fun, but the fun will end”. This sentence has been said many times in many different forms and it always means the same thing: “You’re going to hell”.

Using this as an argument is malicious for two reasons:

1. It is the easy way out. Instead of confronting the fact that there are frictions between your beliefs and your experiences or emotions, you simply jump the gun and make the argument that in eternity, everything will work itself out and all the people you don’t like will burn terribly. This is the reason why the Bible – in the past – has been used to justify slavery. Anyone who falls into the category of “decent human being” should be able to work out that slavery is wrong in less than fifteen seconds. It’s one of the easiest moral and ethical arguments to make. However, if we believe that our emotional and rational judgements are worth nothing or – even worse – might be wrong, then abolishing slavery can take quite some time, because we’d rather consult the interpretation of the Bible we grew up with than use our brains. Throwing our personal sense of moral and ethical judgement over board because it might disagree with our old enshrined doctrines is a very bad move. After all, God gave us our personal sense for right and wrong as a gift. Those people that tell you that without God no one has a moral compass are trying to confuse you. Every single human being is made in the image of God and right and wrong are not just defined by how YOUR preacher in YOUR town in YOUR time tells you to read the Bible.

2. Using hell as our last resort doesn’t shine a very gracious light on Christianity! Especially if you’re a Christian, you should be very uncomfortable with hell. You cannot claim to follow the guy who said “love your enemies”, if you are able to feel pleasure or satisfaction at the thought of hell or anyone being in it. Fair enough if you subscribe to an interpretation of the bible that entails an eternal, conscious hell, but if you manage to feel any kind of positive feeling about that or the need to throw it into peoples’ faces to make yourself feel better about being just as much of a sinner as they are, you might be one of the worst. people. ever. Jesus didn’t judge much, but he had a fair share to say about pharisees, the self-righteous, über-religious people of his time.

Too much hell talk is bad PR

Maybe PR is the wrong word, but call it evangelism. The public image of Christianity might be permanently damaged if we come across as mean, evil, revengeful people, who can’t wait until their powerful, heavenly avenger eternally burns everyone who disagrees with us. As John Pavlovitz argues, Christianity did lose when it comes to marriage, but in a very different way than you might think. We lost the chance to be loving and the change to reflect Christ and by that we lost people. This is the real tragedy that arises when we give hell more power that it deserves. We lose people.

40 answers for Kevin DeYoung

I was thinking about doing this, but it has been done before – much better than I ever could!

Ben Irwin

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Dear Kevin,

I read your “40 questions for Christians now waving rainbow flags” with interest. I don’t have a rainbow-themed avatar, but I have a good deal in common with those you were addressing.

Besides, as you say, it’s always good to “slow down and think.”

You describe your questions as “sincere, if pointed.” I took this to mean they were designed to elicit a response. So respond I have. As much as possible, I’ve tried to follow your lead—offering what I hope are sincere, if occasionally pointed, replies.

A few of your questions seemed redundant (e.g. #2 and #3, #29 and #30). In such cases I did not bother to repeat my answers. For you, each question may have had its own nuance, but I felt the same answers applied, at least broadly speaking.

One last point before diving in… I think I speak for a lot of us when I say that what we’re cheering for is definitely not

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The ultimate and final “but I love gay people” checklist.

I think one of the most interesting results of the recent gay marriage ruling in the US is that non-affirming Christians are now divided right in the middle. A part of them went completely crazy, are awaiting an impending doomsday and seem genuinely out of touch with the world as a whole.

But interestingly – as soon as the dust had settled – a big fraction of Christians who believe that either having an LGBT+ orientation or acting on it (even though this is a weird distinction – more on that in another post) is wrong couldn’t wait even two days before declaring that this changes nothing. They claim to have always loved gay people and that they always will and that appears to settle it. However, often the word “love” gets abused quite badly. Like when parents “love” their Children by throwing them out of the house or by lovingly driving them into suicide. BUT FEAR NOT! In order to assess whether you are allowed to use the love argument, I have taken it upon myself to write a checklist you have to pass before you are allowed to claim that you love your LGBT+ brothers and sisters even though you “disagree” with their orientation. Ready? This is a long one:

You cannot offer cheap discounting of your disapproval and call it love.

You disapprove. That’s a lifestyle choice and you are going to have to live with it. If you can’t deal with that, don’t do it. However, if you have to do it, it is nothing short of ironic to follow it up with vacuous phrases like “everyone is tempted”. You don’t know my struggle and seeing a pretty woman and immediately lusting after sex with someone else than your wife is utterly incomparable to you wanting me to accept that an integral part of my being is completely wrong and that I am never allowed to be in a romantic relationship. Ever.

You cannot lobby against gay marriage or equal protection under the law and call it love.

True love will err on the side of love. That’s the point. I love my best friend and for him I will do things I normally wouldn’t do – simply because it’s him and because I can. That’s how love works. Are you against gay marriage? Well, follow my advice: Step one, don’t get married to someone of the same gender. Step two, that’s it. It’s that easy. If you truly love your LGBT+ brothers and sisters you will never argue against their equal protection under the law. Civil marriage is civil and has nothing to do with your religion. They’re not asking you to marry them or to marry in your church. They just want to be able to go to a courthouse and sign a document. Also, I think we can all agree that a world where no one’s religious beliefs can be forced upon someone else is better than a world where that is fair game, since from that point on, the main question becomes a question of who is strong enough to force their religion upon you. What a fun world that would be. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

You cannot use fallacies, misinformation or empty rhetoric and call it love.

Don’t use the word lifestyle. It’s not a lifestyle. I’m not calling you being straight a lifestyle. It’s not even me being angry at the connotations that come with the word, it’s simply you using a word in the wrong way. I hate people that do that. Literally and figuratively!

Also it’s not a choice. Ask any gay person. And now you might say that the science isn’t clear, but that would be intellectually dishonest. Yes, the science isn’t clear on WHEN or HOW exactly sexual orientation is determined. It is however pretty clear THAT it is determined at one point. All gay people I know where aware of the fact that they are different long before they were aware of their sexuality in general or their sexual orientation in particular.

You absolutely cannot talk about change and call it love.

Especially if the person you are talking to comes from a Christian background, chances are that they have cried themselves to sleep many times and have thought about suicide before. If you dig up those scars, you can’t call yourself loving. It is only about a year ago that I had plans to kill myself. One of the reasons for that is the old and convenient change-narrative: You are being told you can change, you pray, you don’t change and you blame yourself. Maybe you haven’t prayed hard enough or believed hard enough? This is a vicious cycle and it is extremely destructive. The first time in the last ten years that I was truly happy and at rest was when I accepted that I am as queer as a three-dollar bill and that probably won’t change. Also: The science is in and gay conversion therapy doesn’t work. Not even the providers themselves claim to make you straight any more. Hence, if you want to call what you are doing “love”, simply stay away from that topic. This is between me and God.

And here comes the big one!

You cannot be carelessly talking about hell and call it love.

Follow me on this little trip through logic-land: Imagine Paul. Paul is a Christian. He tries his best, he follows and loves Jesus and he has accepted him as his Lord and Saviour. Paul however has a habit of watching porn. All other things are fine. It’s just that. Does Paul go to hell? If he doesn’t, you can’t really claim that someone goes to hell for being in a same-sex relationship. What if Paul is a Christian, but has a habit of making out with his boyfriend? Those two things are equally sinful and either both of them get you a definite ride on the hell-train or none of them do. And if consciously sinning gets you to hell even though you are saved, what if someone just consciously gets a bit too angry with his co-workers sometimes? Hell? This whole hell narrative gets you down a very dangerous path – a path you might want to avoid.

The Bible says:

“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9

Linger on that one. You. Will. Be. Saved!

What happens to me, if I truly believe that God permits committed, long-term same-sex relationships and I turn out to be wrong? If I tried to follow God as faithfully as possible, but I was wrong about one thing. Does that get me to hell? If so, I think it massively cheapens the concept Martin Luther and so many others fought for – the concept of the free gift of salvation.

Well my friends, that was a very long post. I truly hope that you made it to the end and that you passed the checklist, since I love you and Jesus loves you!

Gay ≠ Lesser

Something I wanted to say for a long time. Something that many people need to understand.

Another Anomaly Among Many

I recently sat down with one of my friends to catch up on life, and the reflections that I had after that conversation are the basis of this post. Now, I generally try to refrain from writing angry/irritated posts just for the sake of it, but I’ve been realizing that if this blog is going to be about my experiences, it has to include everything, because other people have probably felt those things too. So I’ll try not to just go off on everything, but what I write here is going to encompass all the different things that I’ve felt and experienced.

What I’ve been thinking about since my friend and I had that conversation is this: why do people automatically view us as being somehow dirtier, more sinful, and less sincere about our faith just because we identify as LGBT? Why do our theology and our motivations get questioned…

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