Wednesday, May 9, 2012

God Hates the Gays: The church, homosexuality, and problems with the modern religion. (Part Two)

In the wake of both the UMC's upholding of homosexuality as 'inconsistent' with biblical teachings, and the passing of Amendment 1 in North Carolina today, I guess it's time to continue with this post. I've been putting it off, waiting until inspiration hit, but despite a lack of clarity on what this content should be, I know the time to write is now.

These historical decisions have certainly inspired the ire of a great number of individuals on either side. Even for someone like myself who tries to stay away from engaging in political/religious debate on the internet, it has been difficult not to correct false assumptions, or respond to what I judge as inaccuracies.

I stated in my last post that my struggle with this issue is the absence of love and acceptance. We say that God loves us, warts and all, yet we are unwilling to extend that devotion to those whose lifestyles we deem 'incompatible' with our beliefs.

But where do our beliefs come from? Most would cite a religious text (the Bible for Christiantiy, the Bhagavad Gita for Hinduism, Qu'ran for Islam). I would argue these writings are certainly the foundation for our doctrines, yet is man's interpretation of those words that builds a religious movement.

There was a time in our nation's history when religious men used the Bible to justify the enslavement of 'colored individuals'. There have been times when religious institutions used the Bible to justify the mass murders of other civilizations. Religious movements have used their texts to justify terrorism, genocides, the suppression of women and more. As culture changes, as history evolves, it is always important to study our various texts and understand them within the society for which they were originally intended.

Despite my frustration with the Methodist church, I must say that I do greatly admire our willingness to consider these controversial issues. To recognize that as the world changes, we must change with it to stay relevant. I may not always agree with the decisions, but meeting people where they are is the first step to spreading God's love in the world.

You'll notice I always refer to God and not Jesus.

Do not get me wrong, I am not refuting the divinity of Christ, or the validity of his sacrifice. For me, however, I have always responded better to the 'father' aspect of God. The creator, the overseer, the ethereal personage. I am going to simplify a thought that I promise is much more complex and contemplated then it will appear here: God sent Jesus in an attempt to show us how much he loved us. To allow us to get past our own guilt and self-deprecation and realize that in our extreme depravity, he still loves and CAN save us, redeeming us for eternal life with him. But, in the greater scheme of things, my God is big and powerful enough to reach his people in other ways as well. He was doing it thousands and thousands of years before Christ, and I believe he can continue to do it now. I follow Christianity because it was the culture in which I was raised; the method with which I was taught to commune with my creator, but I have always felt spiritually and intellectually stymied by the teaching that other religions have no validity.

If you have not read Rob Bell's book Love Wins I highly suggest you read it. Regardless if you are a conservative Christian who is content in your beliefs of heaven and hell, a skeptic, an atheist, a Muslim, or just an intrigued scholar, this highly controversial book will force you to examine your own convictions. It may not change your faith, in fact it may cement it one way or another, but I truly believe that a faith that is not consistently questioned, challenged and expanded is dead. If you are truly confident in your belief system, then re-examining those beliefs in light of new evidence should not be threatening. If your faith does not grow and mature with you, it is not serving you to its fullest.


I quote Rob Bell:
As Jesus says in John 10, "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen." This should not surprise us. The gospel, Paul writes in his letter to he Colossians, "has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven" (chap. 1). Every. Creature. Under. Heaven./ As wide as creation. Including everybody. The whole world. This is crucial for how we understand the current state of world religions, with its staggering number of religions themselves, let alone the multitudes of splinter groups and subgroups and denominations and factions and varied interpretations. Religions should not surprise us. We crave meaning and order and explanation. We're desperate for connection with something greater than ourselves. This is not new. This has not caught Jesus off guard. Jesus insisted in the midst of this massive array of belief and practice that God was doing something new in human history, something through him, something that involved everybody. John remembers Jesus saying "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me (chap 14)".... What he doesn't say is how, or when, or in what manner the mechanism functions that gets people to God through him. He doesn't even state that those coming to the Father through  him will even know that they are coming exclusively through him, He simply claims that whatever God is doing in the world to know and redeem and love and restore the world is happening through him."   (Rob Bell, Love Wins, pg 152-154).

The Writers of the scriptures consistently affirm that we're all part of the same family. What we have in common- regardless of our tribe, language, customs, beliefs, or religion- outweighs our differences. This is why God wants "all people to be saved". History is about the kind of love a parent has for a child, the kind of love that pursues, searches, creates, connects, and bonds. The kind of love that moves toward, embraces, and always works to be reconciled with, regardless of the cost. " (Love Wins, pg 99)

So where am I going with this? I think that we (all people, regardless of faith) get so wrapped up in dictating how what we believe impacts our lives (and the lives of others) that we stop focusing on what it is that we actually do believe.

Case in point, I don't often tell people my dad is a minister.

Not because I find it embarrassing. Not because I am ashamed. But because the reaction is always the same: "Oh wow, Im going to have to watch what I say around you!"

The automatic reaction is to assume that I will judge.

It's sad. Incredibly heartbreaking that as a whole Christianity is known for what it is against instead of what it is for.

Sad that the world first associates us with our hatred of sinners, gays, adulterers, and abortion, rather than the love of God.

Because isn't that what God is about? Paul states that the 'Gospel' has been meant for everyone. Gospel translates simply to 'good news'. And what is that good news? That God loves us. That he loves us so much he was willing to do whatever it took to demonstrate it. I'm going to tread on some toes here, but in my mind, Christ's death alone is NOT the good news. The best, most awesome, most inspiring news, is that God loves us. He desires us. He pursues us. Our lives are purposeful. We are not accidents. In a world of failures, disappointments, and seemingly meaningless happenings.... there is a plan. And it is orchestrated by a being that loves us within the depths of his (or her) core.

It doesn't get much better than that.

And yet we get sidetracked.

We are humans, beings that desire order and control. We are frightened of being overwhelmed, of being out of the loop. We do not function without a plan. And we do not cope well with the abstract. So we take God and we put in him into a box that we can fathom.

Im not disputing the need for this. Anyone who has had a "mountaintop" experience, as it is often referred to, can attest that to be fully in the presence of God and immersed in his full wonder is overwhelming and exhausting. In this human form we are not built to survive a continual relationship of this magnitude.

So we condense the wonder into smaller bite sized chunks for daily consumption.

The problem comes when we start believing that the watered down, abridged, Cliff notes version of God is as much as there is to our creator.

When we start limiting God.

I don't begin to suggest that I have it completely right. That I have some grand knowledge that overshadows any one else's truth. That's the great thing about truth, especially religious truth, it caters to each of our needs. God can be whatever, whoever, wherever, whenever we need.

But I do think it's time that we start letting go of the tight hold we have on God's leash and start letting him run the show again.

God is love. He loves all his children, even the ones who don't love him back. Maybe if we start sharing that news, demonstrating his love, living out the gospel, we can start reaching those we have alienated and hurt.

Maybe we can bring our world back into harmony. Maybe we can give people a reason why they need God.

Because I'm going to clue you in on a secret.

Telling people they are unworthy, sinners, and going to hell isn't going to convince them of anything.

Living a life of purpose and love that stands in direct contrast to the misery and pain of the world around us will.

Maybe we will stop passing homophobic amendments that limit and hurt the rights of heterosexuals just as much the LGBT community just because we are scared.

Maybe we will stop building walls between our churches/synagogues/mosques and the people who need the love the most.

Maybe we will start actively reaching out a hand to those around us, without first assessing the state of their personal lives.

Maybe we can make a difference.

Maybe, God can save the day.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

God Hates the Gays: The church, homosexuality, and problems with the modern religion. (Part One)

Disclaimer: I debated long and hard about writing this post. I tend to keep my mouth shut on many 'social' religious issues, because no matter what I say I'm going to make someone mad. Conservatives Christians: because I'm too liberal and don't give the Bible enough credit. Non religious folks : because I give the Bible ANY credit. English and Philosophy Majors: because my arguments always have holes (and grammatical errors) in them. But this post wouldn't leave me alone. I have to write it. I'm going to say up front: you don't have to agree with me. In fact, you are welcome to think I am wrong. HOWEVER, if you DO think I'm an idiot, please refrain from trying to convert or change my mind, from belittling me, and from judging my character based on a hurridly written blog post.


In case you are unaware, the 2012 United Methodist General Conference is meeting in Tampa Florida this week. For those of you who do not have an entire section of your brain burdened blessed with a complex knowledge of the innerworkings of the Methodist Church here is a brief breakdown:

The local church is overseen by an appointed pastor who is assigned to his charge one year at a time.  All of the churches (and ministries such as campus ministry) in a regional area are grouped together as a "district" and overseen by a district superintendent.  The districts of a larger area (typically as a whole state, or part of a state) are grouped into finite conferences. For instance, the majority of Florida serves as the "Florida Conference"; however some smaller states may be grouped together, while other states (such as North Carolina) are broken up into two conferences. Each conference is primarily sovereign and overseen by a "Bishop". These conferences each hold annual meetings to discuss pertinent issues, assign pastors to new charges, work on overseas ministries, etc. 

The Methodist church as a whole is encompassed in the greater United Methodist Church Every four years each conference elects delegates to attend the General Conference. The Methodist Church is governed by the Book of Discipline although each conference has it's own set of rules that coordinate with the BOD . Every four years at General Conference different conferences can petition for changes in the BOD. The attending delegates discuss, debate, and ultimately vote on how to address these changes. Sometimes they are dismissed, sometimes the BOD is actually rewritten. This is how the church adapts to meet the needs of its people in modern times.

Wow long winded.

Tomorrow marks the conference vote on the Methodist Church's stance on homosexuality. I won't get into all the details, but this has been a long debated topic in our church... in every church. (and yes despite my personal issues with organized religion, and my current affiliation with a presbyterian church, I apparently DO consider myself a Methodist). Essentially, several conferences are petitioning to remove condemnation in our book of discipline to reflect the conflicted nature of the church, and to readdress the current ban on ordination for non-celibate gay ministers (and ban on performing same-sex marriages). 

It's an interesting topic, and one I've avoided coming out (hah pun intended!) officially as either pro or con on.


I grew up in a Christian Community. A very open, loving, and welcoming community, but one with fairly conservative values. I was taught (by my family, my church, my teachers), that homosexuality itself is wrong, but that we should still love everyone. "Hate the sin, Love the sinner" mentality.

It's a great mentality to have, it truly is great. None of us are perfect; we all have flaws. If we are going to ostracize a group of individuals by one choice they make, to define them entirely by a single flaw, then we have to turn that thought process on ourselves. We all make mistakes. We all have behaviors we continue to engage in even though we may know they are wrong. My problem with this thought though is that more and more as I aged I began to question the designation of "sin".

Why is homosexuality such a problem? Why are we so quick to chastise people for these behaviors.

An individual posted this article on the conference webpage and I found it highly intriguing. If you haven't had a chance to read it, I hope you will. NOT because I am trying to change people's minds or force my agenda, but because I believe the only way we can truly know our mind on a topic is to study all sides of the discussion. If you read this article and find issues with the logic and thought process, ok. I just hope you will keep an open mind.

But back to my question. Why do we take the topic so personally?! How does the behaviors of an individual in the bedroom with another consenting adult affect us. Why do we get so defensive about promoting our own beliefs on the topic (either way)?

Another pastor's daughter... who kissed a girl and liked it? ;)

In my experience (25 years as the daughter of an ordained (and soon to be Ph.D) clergy member), people take their faith very seriously. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, the concept of religion provides a significant foundation for a person's identity. Even those who dismiss belief in God are defined by THAT fact; I've met many an atheist who has become very angry and defensive when someone talks to them about God.

God (or lack there of ) defines us. Perhaps my next blog topic will be a discussion on my personal theories regarding organized religion, and the need to apply concrete rules and thoughts to an abstract and intangible topic. But regardless, criticizing an individual's faith is to demean that person's entire being. Unfortunately, many of these social topics have become heavily influenced by religious (or secular) thought. When the beliefs that abortion is wrong, homosexuals are going to hell, and birth control is immoral become entwined in one's concept of God, suddenly the private life of another DOES become personal.

So where am I going with all of this?

People take their religious beliefs seriously. With the upcoming vote on the Methodist Church's stance I have seen the best and worst in my fellow Christians. My thought process keeps coming back to this one thought:

Why is our purpose so focused on telling people what they are doing wrong with their lives instead of sharing with them the love of Christ?!

We have become so intent on spelling out all of the reasons people won't go to heaven instead of telling them the reason that they can!! What is wrong with this picture? How can we possibly look at a person and condemn them to an eternity of misery and pain based off one lifestyle choice. I certainly hope God is not so blindsighted when he looks at me to focus in on my perchance for gossiping, or my temper, or my condescending attitude, and think "wow... this girl so does not deserve heaven."

Because I don't. And neither do you. None of us DESERVE anything. We are given it because God is love. It is about his love for us, THAT is the message of the gospel. In my opinion, this obsession with homosexuality, with abortion, with ANY social issue, is just masking our true purpose. God didn't come to condemn. He came to save. (John 3:17).


I am going to stop this post here, as my brain is slowly turning to mush after a very, very long day. Rest assured, there will be a part two, and maybe three; continuation of this thought as I hammer out my own personal beliefs. In my experience, God won't let me rest until I've given this topic its due focus. However, I'd like to end with an excerpt from an email (and fb posting) to a friend who had messaged me, quite concerned about my beliefs on homosexuality:

But in essence, I have to ask... why does it concern you what they desire? If their homosexual beliefs are distressing to them, something they wish to shed, then absolutely seek treatment! I would say the same to any heterosexual struggling with their sexuality and expressions there of. However, for someone in a committed, happy, monogomous relaitonship with a person of the same sex? Why does it matter to you? How does it have any impact on YOUR life? Because you don't think God can save them? We all sin. All of us. Every single day. I believe God doesn't care so much about the issues we make to be such a big deal as we do. In my experience, God wants us to be fulfilled, and content, in a life with relationship through him. Unfortunately modern organized religion, and our well-meaning, but often misguided, attempts to change people to make their lives more "moral" push people away. People equate God relationships with Chrisitanity and because they can't 'buy' into the doctrine that we pound into their heads, they assume that means there is no room for spirituality in their lives.

My point in posting was to present an interesting take on a very controversial issue, and to remind people that our two greatest commandments are to love God and to love each other. I personally think we spend too much time trying to understand the rules and regulations and teaching others how to behave (or how not to behave) and WAY too little time on sharing God's great love. THAT is the message of the gospel. That despite (all of) our sins and mistakes, God still cherishes us and was willing to do whatever it took to prove it. After we've got that part straight... THEN we can take the time to figure the rest of it out. You don't have to agree with it, but all I have to say is regardless of whether or not you believe homosexuality is wrong, God calls us to love ALL his children. Not just the ones we like; not just the ones who believe the same things we believe. None of us are perfect, and it's time the church (universally, across denominations) starts sharing that love instead of using it condemn and belittle each other. John 3:17.