Saturday, 21 August 2010

Registrars: Religious Martyrs or Bigoted Hypocrites?

This week's headline from the The Christian Institute "Two registrars subject to investigation over their beliefs" was particularly misleading. Nowhere in their article did I find evidence that they were being investigated for their beliefs. Rather, it seemed clear to me, these registrars were being investigated for their behaviour (or for manifesting their beliefs). Surprisingly the CI's own handbook, "Religious Liberty In The Workplace" states:
whilst the right to hold the belief is absolute, the right to manifest it is qualified, that is it can be constrained by matters such as the rights of others. It is a “balancing act”. page 7 
What I have never understood with registrars not being willing to perform civil partnerships as it is against there beliefs, is why they are willing to perform other services that are also against their beliefs.  As the CI also states in their "Religious Liberty In the Workplace" handbook:
... be aware that the more you acquiesce in requests contrary to your conscience, the more difficult it may be to convince anyone of the strength of your religious convictions. page 20
So how strong are these registrars' religious convictions? From the CI's article it appears these registrars only switched shifts to avoid civil partnerships. Yet, if they held consistently to their beliefs they should have also switched shifts to avoid:

  1. Performing a civil marriage where one person is a divorcee and has an ex-spouse who is still alive: But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery (Matthew 19:9)
  2. Performing a civil marriage where the parties are of different faiths: Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 2 Cor 6:14
  3. Performing a civil marriage where the wife-to-be is obviously pregnant: But if ... evidences of virginity are not found for the young woman, then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father's house, and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones... Deuteronomy 22:20-21
  4. Refuse to recognise a divorce that is not a result of marital unfaithfulness: “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel. Malachi 2:16 and the verses from Matthew in 1 above.
  5. Registering the birth of a child born out of wedlock, e.g, there is no father on the birth certificate or the parents have difference surnames on the birth certificate: One of illegitimate birth shall not enter the congregation of the Lord. Deuteronomy 23:3

I would be more sympathetic to the fact that these registrars are being persecuted for their beliefs, if these registrars also did switch their shifts for the above. However they did not and therefore I have to conclude that these registrars are not acting on their beliefs; they are simply acting in a discriminatory manner that has no place in a secular and just society, let a lone in their roles as civil registrars. To single out just gay and lesbian couples is homophobic.

No empathetic tears should be shed for these registrars. In my opinion they are behaving as nothing more than bigoted hypocrites.

Quite rightly their employers should investigate their behaviour. When it comes to performing their roles as civil registrars, their employers have to ensure they follow the law and cannot make exceptions for personal belief.  If a registrar believes that mixed race marriage is against God's law (as I was taught in Apartheid South Africa), the registrar could also be exempted from registering these relationships. What other prejudices would then have to be tolerated under a thin defence of religious liberty or, personal or political belief?

As far as I know the CI has never dealt with the question as to why they champion these registrars as religious martyrs while at the same time their martyrs do no consistently act on their beliefs.  If they have, please let me know.

What We Say Behind People's Backs

The Christian Institute published an article, ‘Social anxiety’ skews same-sex marriage polls. In this they attempt to make out that society in general is against same-sex marriage and "political correctness" forces people into agreeing with it. I have another way of viewing the same set of data: when our responses are non-attributable or we can ignore someone else's common humanity,  it is easier for us to be prejudicial and discriminate; what we are prepared to say behind people's backs is less considerate of our true moral conscience.

I sincerely hope that people will experience 'social anxiety' when they are contemplating discriminatory thoughts or actions. This is not a bad thing as the CI wishes to make out.  After all, Christ did say :
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31
The discussion at the end of the article on the use of the word "homosexuality" vs. "gay and lesbian couples" was particularly poignant.  All to often people become fixated on the letters "sex" when the read or say the word "homosexual". The focus then is on a behaviour. Considering people as couples, brings one back to our common humanity and the shared emotions, rights and responsibilities of relationships, irrespective if they are 'mo or 'ro.
It is unfortunate that the CI chose to use the word "skews" in their headline. The word "influences" would show more journalistic neutrality.
Unfortunately these comments made on the CI's Facebook page got me banned.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

God's Blessing Same-Sex Relationships

"God does not bless same-sex relationships"?

The traditional view is that the Bible consistently condemns homosexuality; it regards homosexual lust as a sin; no where in the Bible is there a positive reference to same-sex relationships; this has always been the case and will be for ever more. Most Christians who hold these views state that they will never be persuaded otherwise.

I have previous blogged on why I do not believe this to be the case: Does the Bible really clearly state that homosexuality (a sexual orientation) is a sin?

Indeed God does regard lust (heterosexual or homosexual) as a sin.  However, it is disingenuous to suggest that all same-sex attraction is lust. Why do conservative Christians feel that only heterosexuals are capable of truly loving each other?

At the risk of making some Christian readers jump up and down, I would like to suggest that God does bless some same-sex attraction: for example, 2 Samuel 1:26
I grieve for you, Jonathan my brother;
you were very dear to me.
Your love for me was wonderful,
more wonderful than that of women.
OK, I admit that this does not in and of itself state that Jonathan and David had sex ... but if I used this language with another guy, he would wonder what my intentions were!  I wish to emphasise that I do not want to imply that they did have sex. My point is that that not all same-sex attraction is wrong. In the Bible, there are many words for the English word "love". We are commanded to love our neighbour, of both genders. Where the divide on same-sex attraction is on "koitis" - sexual intercourse.

Protecting Long-Term Relationships

Many Christians reject gay rights because they feel that it is all about sex and this opposes the orthodox view that marriage is between one man and one women for the procreation of children; that sex can only happen in marriage.

There is a pre-occupation in Christian circles about what gay people do in their beds. I can happy confirm that they sleep in their beds.

For many gay people I know who are in long-term partnerships, the legal protection that civil partnerships afford their relationships is extremely important in a just and non-discriminatory society.  Their relationships are not about sex: most seem to experience the same loss of sexual intimacy over time that heterosexuals do.

As a young adult I was once told that when you are in the first year of a relationship, you should put a bean in a jar every time you have sex. At the end of the first year, you must then starting taking out a bean every time you have sex. The narrator then bemused, “You may very well find that the jar is never empty!”

Indeed, homosexuals need legal protection: not because of who they want to have sex with, but because their relationships also move from the care-free “in love” phase, to the responsibilities of the “loving each other” phase. It is about the every day things: keeping a job; knowing that you have a roof over your head; that when you ask for a public health service, you will get the help you need; that you are safe from being attacked. The trials and tribulations of their long term relationships are so akin to heterosexual relationships, that they deserve the same legal respect and protection

Aside: This is not dissimilar to opposite-sex long-term celibate relationships, e.g., someone who cares for their disabled friend their entire life. Therefore, I believe it is important to extend civil partnerships to opposite-sex relationships.

Adam and Eve; Adam and Steve

For many conservative Christians, the story of Adam & Eve is the archetype relationship and therefore God could never bless same sex relationships. In a recent blog, the Pink Paster makes the point that Genesis :
... does however teach us profound truths about the human condition, but speaks in the language of theology, not history. Pink Pastor 
For me one of these profound truths about the human condition is that we are designed to be in relationship, with God, with each other and in particular there is the human need for life long partnerships: that significant other who we can grow old with.

Had Adam been gay, God would have given him Steve. However, since Adam was straight, God gave him Eve as his life long partner.

The Gift of Celibacy

Some argue that it is OK for a person to be homosexual but they must never practise it; they must remain celibate. God will only bless them if they remain celibate.  This ignores the fact that we are created to be in long term relationships. Even the apostle Paul argues that celibacy is a gift from God:
I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 1 Corinthians 7: 7-8
Celibacy is not something to be forced on anyone. It causes many problems as one just needs to look at the Catholic Church to witness.  Nor should one be forced into a heterosexual relationship:
It’s not uncommon for men who have suppressed, denied and hated their same sex orientation to develop a sexual addiction or obsession. ... What many of us have found out, finally leaving the heterosexual marriage to live as openly gay men and lesbians, that being true to yourself, instead of moving us into a life of promiscuity and sexual abandonment, actually releases us from the addictions and obsessions and new sense of morality and control emergesAnthony Venn-Brown
The Blessed Roman Centurion And His "Pias"

Let us not forget the Roman centurion that I've mentioned in one of my previous blogs.  Both Matthew and Luke (Matthew 8:5-13 & Luke 7:1-10) don't hesitate to use the word "pias" to refer to the Roman centurion's servant. The safer & neutral Greek word would have been "doulos" as "pias" had a colloquial meaning of the younger person in a gay relationship. Given both writers also refer to the deep affection of the centurion for his servant, it is very likely the word was meant to imply a same-sex relationship.

The importance here is that their relationship did not stop Christ from commenting on the centurions faith!

Christ Blesses The Homosexual

If you are reading this as a non-Christian who is gay, take heart that you (and your partner) are not excluded  from the love of God. Your sexuality does not preclude you from having Christ's richest blessings in your lives if only you would come to Him.

If you are a Christian who feels that God has withdrawn His blessing because you are in a relationship, remember that He created you to be in a long term relationship. God meant you to have that someone to grow old with; that someone to love and nurture; to share the troubles and tribulations of this life until you both meet again in the next.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Reforming Orthodoxy - Am I Losing My Saltiness?

Two weeks ago the House of Lords in the UK discussed the Equality Bill and an amendment to the current Civil Partnership Act was tabled.  Both were associated with secular interference of religious organisations.

A little background:
  • The Equality Bill
The Equality Bill sort to consolidate several different bits of existing legislation regarding UK discrimination and employment law. Conservative religious groups including the Christian right opposed a clause that limited religious organisations' ability to discriminate who they employed to only those roles that related to doctrinal teaching. Therefore, while they could appoint only males to the role of a preacher, they could not appoint only males to a position of a receptionist.
The House of Lords removed this clause. This has profound impact on the gay community as it allows religious organisations to fire anyone who is gay and reject any homosexual applicants.
  • The Civil Partnerships Amendment
The amendment to the Civil Partnerships Act will allow religious organisation to perform civil partnerships.  Currently, any religious organisation is banned from performing these.  The conservative religious organisations oppose this amendment.  The request for the amendment came from more liberal religious organisation who said exactly what the religious right said about the Equality Bill: the current situation banning civil partnerships in churches who wish to perform these services amounts to interference; secularists have no right to say what should happen in their churches or organisations.
As a person who agrees with tolerance, those churches who do not wish to perform these services on justifiable doctrinal grounds should not be forced to perform them; churches who feel that blessing a gay relationship does not contradict their doctrine, should not be forced not to perform them either!
In the various related discussions I was struck by the common theme that the orthodox understanding of homosexuality and marriage must take precedence over equality & discrimination, i.e., religious organisation must be allowed to discriminate when they feel something is immoral.

Myself and others who questioned the validity of traditional interpretations and orthodoxy were accused of dummying down God's moral requirements; that we appear to be loosing our saltiness by accepting a reformed view, rather than a traditional view, on sexuality.  I have been accused of having a gay theology.

Religious Freedom To All

In as much as the House of Lords defeated the clause in the Equality Bill on grounds that it interfered with religious bodies, so to does the current status of the civil partnerships act interfere with those religious bodies who do not have doctrinal issues with the civil partnerships.

I did hear an argument that these other organisations where not "Christian", apostate and full of heresies.

I do not believe that there should be a measure of how "Christian" a religious body is before it is considered religious. While I do not agree with all the doctrines of these religious organisations, they are religious organisations irrespective of my beliefs.

I wish my fellow siblings in Christ would stop spiritually bullying me & others, and making assumptions about what motivates me or is in my heart just because we disagree with them.

Christian vs. Christian

How is it that when two Christians sincerely read the Bible, refer to the same original texts and have the same hermeneutic methods, yet come to different conclusions. To the independent observer or sceptic, they would argue that the Bible can be used to justify just anything. I disagree that the Bible can be used to justify just anything. When interpretations disagree, the only possibilities are:
  • we are both entirely wrong,
  • we are both partially right, or
  • only one of us is entirely right.
Our views are well considered and we both have the right to express them or criticise each other's hermeneutics.

We can be sincere, but also sincerely wrong.

There are consequences to our respective positions if either is incorrect ... as well as the way we express our views. In many ways I'm very concerned that the way others Christians prescribe heterosexuality results in homophobic attacks on gay people ... even if they did not intend so.

I personally do not hold the view that other conservative Christians are necessarily bigots. I to said many of the things they say. I held passionately to my interpretation believing it to be the correct interpretation and was greatly concerned for the way I believed others were misusing scripture and insulting the Christ I love. I still love Christ, but over time have come to accept that my final authority is the Bible, not any doctrine, presupposition, orthodox view, interpretation or social agenda.

Understanding this has allowed the Church to acknowledge its past orthodox errors and move on.

Past Orthodox Errors

1 ) The Earth Is Flat

One of the areas that the Church has done this in the past is shape of the Earth and the order of the solar system.

Beyon & Sachs in their book "Dig Deeper" in the section "The Bible is True and does not make mistakes", highlight the church's persecution of Galileo for stating the Earth revolved around the Sun, against the orthodox understanding at the time based on Ecclesiastes 1:5. The Ecclesiastes reference does imply that the Sun revolves around the Earth.
'Ha!' says the sceptic. 'How hopelessly naive of the pre-scientific Bible writers, who knew nothing of cosmology! The Bible must be riddled with mistakes like that.' But of course we still speak of 'sunrise' in our own day. That's what it looks like from the standpoint of someone on earth.  It's not saying anything about cosmology. It's not a mistake.
Beyon & Sachs (2005) "Dig Deeper", IVP
Therefore, it is quite possible for someone holding to the inerrancy of scripture and, with a clear conscience, accept what modern science is telling us.

2) The Reformation

The Reformation is another case in point: Reformation theologians rediscovered what was in the original scriptures; although they were accused of introducing something new. They did not; they simply re-interpreted the scriptures.

3) Racism

Growing up in South Africa I was taught that mixed marriage was a sin; that like the Jewish theocracy was meant to be separate from other nations/races - so to were we supposed to keep the races separate; ... and a whole lot of other things too horrid to repeat even as examples ... all on the pretext (with Biblical justification) that the Bible never changes; God never changes; what is sin never changes.

Indeed the list goes on: slavery, women's rights & six day creationism to name a few.  The orthodox views of the Church have been rightly challenged as our knowledge of how God created this world grows.

Why I Changed

It is because of all of the above, that some of us have shift our theology after much prayerful consideration.  We have examined what modern science has discovered about sexuality and revisited the scriptures. We do not believe we are adding to or taking away from the scriptures.

If we did, conservative Christians could justifiably call us apostate or heretics.

Much of the condemnation of homosexuals is based on assumptions orthodoxy makes of heterosexuality. While the Bible has a lot to say about heterosexual relationships, it is relatively silent on homosexuality. Myself and others believe that Biblical assumptions add to the scripture that which is not there, and therefore can be challenged and re-understood with a clear conscience.

In fact, I would go so far as to say these assumptions have even erroneously influencing our Bible translations: e.g., the word Greek "pias" in Matthew 8:5-13 & Luke 7:1-10 is translated as "servant" when to the reader at the time would have understood the word "pias" to mean the younger partner in a same sex relationship.  The Roman centurion was almost certainly gay.

As someone else put it:
Did Christ get in his face and tell him, "You're going to roast in hell like a marshmallow if you don't stop being gay"?
Did Christ tell him, "Sure I'll heal your partner if both of you promise to join Exodus International and become Ex-Gay"?
No, Christ simply healed the beloved partner of the gay Centurion and affirmed his remarkable faith in God!
Unlike other miracles, Christ did not say, "Go and sin no more."

For further consider of these translations and references to same-sex relationships I recommend "Would Jesus Discriminate". It gives a less heterosexist interpretation of the Bible. Although you are welcome to disagree, I trust you can understand why some of us believe the Bible is not that clear in its condemnation of homosexuality.

Never Say Never

Myself and others also hold to our position with firm conviction, but we never can say, "never will we be persuaded otherwise."

In relation to sexuality, modern science is telling us that one's sexuality is not a simple choice. While what determines our sexual identity is not know (nature, nurture or both) it is clear from modern science that it is not a choice. Granted some behaviours and life style aspects are a choice.  What is also very clear from scientific studies is the damage that "correction therapies" cause; that they do not work. Not to mention the associated spiritual damage that comes from inadvertent spiritual bulling.

Therefore, some of us have reconsidered our position on the orthodox view of Biblical sexuality.

This is not to say we regard modern science as more authoritative than the Bible.  As with the Galileo example above, we can accept what science is telling us but adjust our understanding of the Scriptures.

For those of us who have done this, it has not been a decision we have taken lightly.  We to want to be found to be good and faithful servants. As the apostle Paul wrote to 2 Tim 2:15 we want to be found as correct handlers of the truth.  Like the Bereans we examine everything we are told against the scriptures. We believe that when we read the Bible, this is God speaking even though the human authors' own style, education & circumstances influenced the words and grammar.

The Narrow Gate

On this bases, I believe that I'm not widening the gate. I believe that I'm removing a man made obstacle in front of the narrow gate that is causing homophobic attacks on gay people and causing them to unnecessarily reject the Gospel.

I am not a polytheist - in this regard I'm a "Christ-ist" - that the only way to God is through Christ. If there was another way to be reconciled to God, then why the cross? My narrow gate is therefore the same as other conservative Christians.

When I present the gospel to gay people, I do not let them believe that they will not have to change their lives.  I believe the Genesis 1 & 2 teach us that we are designed to be in life long monogamous relationships.  As with heterosexuals, homosexual promiscuity leads to all manner of problems. As with some heterosexuals, this is difficult for some homosexuals to accept.

What would Jesus do?

Given Christ's response to the Roman centurion in Matthew and Luke, I think he would have wept at what is supposedly done in His name.

Christians who use pejorative, unsubstantiated & generalised statements to condemn & deny equal rights to gay people show unnecessary anger, arrogance, hatred, prejudice & little attempt to understand what gay people endure. It shows very little of the love Christians claim to have for gay people.
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant 1Cor 13:4
Many Christians feel that they are being persecuted for their heterosexist views. Alas, looking at some of their statements, it is little wonder us Christians are being persecuted. Sometimes I think we do bring some of it on ourselves.
Hatred stirs up strife, But love covers all transgressions. Prov 10:12.
As a fellow Christian ministering to the gay community, trying to bring them the inclusive gospel of Christ, many well meaning Christians do us a huge disservice. Not only do their statements feed other people's homophobic attitudes that materialise in attacks, rapes and murders of gay people, their statements also cause gay people to dismiss the gospel out right:
God's name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you. Romans 2:24
As in Romans 2, they focus on the law: how many times is Leviticus and Sodom & Gomorrah quoted … and not grace? I am gaining more and more sympathy for the apostle Paul when he was debating the early Jewish converts to Christianity.

To the Christian reader, I beg of you, heed Christ's warning in Revelations 2:2-7:
... I know that you cannot tolerate evildoers*; ...But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then from what you have fallen.

*Assuming, as some do, that being gay is a sin.

In my own conversion from heterosexism, the words “Remember from what you have fallen” really hit home: “But by the grace of God go I.” To my siblings in Christ: remember grace; it is by grace we are saved through faith; not by works so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

I therefore feel the label of a "gay theologian" unfair. Using it this way is to say that I'm also a "liberation theologian" for turning my back on the Biblical justification of Apartheid that I was brought up to believe.

In as much as I'm accused of a gay theology, I feel that others could be accused of a heterosexist theology.  My final authority is the Bible, not a presupposition, orthodox interpretation, particular doctrine or some social agenda.

I have to agree with the LGCM that those Christians who support discrimination of homosexuals ...
... have failed to engage with the experiences of the people which the equality Bill seeks to protect and which a rigid unyielding interpretation of Scripture and tradition continues to do violence to.
LGCM web site (7/2/2010 08:20) LGCM rejects Pope’s condemnation of the UK Equality Bill

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Hypocritical Christian Registrars

The Christian Institute is objecting to the fact that the Irish Civil Partnership bill does not allow for a conscience opt out clause for registrars.

The problem is where do you draw the line? Can a registrar refuse to register a baby born of unwed parents; can they refuse to register the marriage of a couple where at least one of the couple is a divorcee; can they refuse to register the marriage of a mixed race or religion couple?

In the end one could almost get out of doing the job entirely ... and be paid for it. Nice job if you can get it!!!

A registrar is a civil role and it is their job to register that which the law allows. Otherwise, one needs to get another job.

To refuse to perform a civil partnership but willing to register the other heterosexual "sins" is hypocritical.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Haiti - A Modern Sodom and Gomorrah?

A personal note:

It has taken me a while to blog on the Haiti situation, not because I did not think it important. It is just that the last week has really pushed the boundaries of my faith as I reflected on the destruction and human suffering. I have also not edited out some of the humour. It is not meant to be disrespectful of the suffering nor I hope will it detract from the overall sincerity and sadness that is pervasive in my thoughts. The satire and parody still make some points: "many a true word said in jest." Yesterday, the BBC ran an article that reflects some of the conflict that has been in my mind: Why does God allow natural disasters?

A week ago as the destruction of the Earthquake in Haiti became apparent on the Internet and on news channels. It has filled the front page newspaper columns for days. I found myself wondering if we could all pause, put our differences aside and respond to our common humanity.

Not so! Within hours I hear that the Rev. Pat Robinson was highlighting God's judgement on the people of Haiti for a pact they made with the devil to over throw their French slave masters. It was as if he was saying the earthquake was some form of a modern Sodom and Gomorrah for something that happened 200 years ago.

Silly me; this is a much more reasonable explanation than plate tectonics could ever be!

The Internet came alive with people cursing Christians and their God.

Blaspheming the Name Of God

One atheist commentator wrote that God must have been aiming for the gays in New Orleans but missed. I appreciate that to many Christians, this is blasphemy. However, the Bible does warn in Romans 2:24 that if believers keep quoting the Law at others, they will blaspheme the name of God.

I recently read this in an on line debate:
Some time back, a pastor friend shared how someone from Rainbow Coalition had contacted his church for funding for AIDS awareness. His response can be found in Romans 1:24-32.
I know, it took my breath away when I read that to!

It’s a pity this person's "pastor" did not continue reading Romans into chapter 2. He may have found something to consider himself: Romans 2:3-4 and verse 24 above. Yes, statements such as Pat Robinson and this person's pastor quite rightly provoke the response non-Christians have towards the Gospel and Christians these days. I'm afraid us Christians sometimes bring it on ourselves!
Aside: As for HIV, I really wish some Christians would stop trying to shock people with scaremongering and creating moral panic. HIV is quite an equitable virus. It does not mind if you are straight or gay. Interesting, the HIV infection rate in Lesbians is one of the lowest in the world. HIV is God's judgement on homosexuals? I think not!
Thank God For Science

I also have to admire Pastor Pat's grasp of modern macroeconomics:
  • Haiti - sinners therefore poor
  • Dominican Republic (next door) - righteous therefore rich
There I spent years in boring macroeconomics lectures studying Keynes, when all I need to do was open my Bible.

Fortunately we live in a time when science has been able to explain plate tectonics and economics. There is little need to triviliase life this way.  I thank God for the scientists & others who have been able to answer many questions and explain more each day of how nature works and society functions.

These discoveries have been an immense blessing to humanity, especially in the form of modern medicines, forms of media that make us aware of crisis situations, and the ability to fly aid there so fast.

However, science has not answered all the questions yet. We still do not know how to predict these occurances.

God's Blessings On The Righteous Only?

If this was a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, what then of Christian workers who lost their lives? Why did God not arrange for a Lot type exit from Haiti on Aerof-lot? If anyone did turned back to look at the destruction ... well you would have more salt for those awful peanuts they server just after take off.

Indeed in as much as the rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous, so to do natural disasters affect us all.

Without plate tectonics we would not have land to live on, minerals would not come up from under the earth to fertilise our crops and feed use, and we would not have magnificent mountains and scenery to appreciate.

What Was God Thinking?

However, I do not know why God uses the potentially destructive plate tectonics to grant us these benefits. Why would God allow this planet to evolve this way? Surely God could have arranged for the same benefits in a less risky way?

We need to be honest: we do not know. The Bible reminds us that God is sovereign and in control. God does not miss. God is ordering all things to the good of those who love God and are called according to God's purpose.

Timing Is Everything

Yes, the Christian understanding is that creation is fallen and broken. Most suffering is because we have rebelled against God and in the process hurt each other.

These doctrines may help explain the macroeconomics situation. However, they do not easily explain natural disasters.

Maybe natural disasters are a sign of God's judgement; maybe they are a reminder of the new heaven and the new Earth that is yet to come? The Bible has this consistent dichotomy between a holy and just God on the one hand who holds us accountable for the freewill we have been given; and a loving and merciful God on the other who forgives us for misusing our freewill. I have always maintained that we can never fully appreciate God's mercy and love without first understanding God's holiness and justice.

However to highlight these doctrines by using the suffering in another country is to deny our common humanity; our common ability to do the things we aught not to do, and not do the things we aught to do.

To highlight these doctrines in light of a particular social agenda at this time lacks sensitivity. Pat Robinson and others have been doing it with their conservative - almost capitalist - agenda.  The gay rights lobby could also do this: Haiti is dominantly a Catholic country that has denied gay people legal recognition of their long term relationships. Would it be appropriate for gay rights lobby therefore to say this was God's judgement on them for their intolerance? Most certainly not!

In the end - to the independent observer - it would appear that God is indecisive or confused in cause. We should not try and tell people what we think is going on in God's mind.

To highlight these doctrines at such a time is like a sermon on hell at a funeral and a discussion of divorce in the best man's speech.

Where is God?

We are left asking, why does God not do anything about it? The answer is that God has - in Christ's atonement on the cross.

For some they may feel this is not enough. They want more direct action.  However as pointed out in the BBC article at the beginning, if God did, it would take away our own responsibility and free-will.

The story goes of a man who is told by a passer-by to leave his house as flood waters are coming. He says to the person that God will help him; there is no need to worry.
The flood waters do come and the man has to climb onto the roof of his house. Someone comes by in a boat and offers to rescue the man. The man responds again, that he has faith in God and there is nothing to worry about. He turns down the offer.
The flood waters rise and become torrential. No boat can save him now. Fortunately, a helicopter flys by and offers to rescue him. Again he shouts back, that he believes in God and that there is nothing to worry about. He pushes the hoist away.
The flood waters rise even more, covering the house and the man is swept away to his death.
When he gets to heaven, he is angry with God. "I was faithful! Why did you not save me?" he remonstrates. God says, "I sent you a person to warn you. I then sent you a boat; followed by a helicopter. What more did you want?"
God is working His will through us and everyday things. We sometimes cannot see it or understand it. The Bible teaches us that God is just and fair. Even when we cannot understand, we continue to work with what God has given us to answer the questions we have.

In concluding this blog I realise that I'm still left with more questions than I have answers. While I desire a rational explanation, I need to be humble and leave room in my mind for God to be God. This is not a blind faith. I'm not called to be obsequious in my following of Christ. My faith is based on knowledge of a sovereign, just, merciful and loving God; a faith that waits patiently for all things to be revealed.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

"Homosexuality Can Be Cured"?!?

A video has been doing the rounds among conservative Christians affirming that the American Psychological Association (APA) maintain that homosexuality can be cured; that "change is possible".

This is very misleading and contains a lot of dis-information.

It would be more accurate to described the video clip as, "Two psychologists find homosexuals can adopt heterosexual behaviour and only in some cases," as mentioned in the video. I still find nothing in this video that suggests they successfully altered people's sexual identity; they only were able to achieve a change in some of their behaviour. This is an important distinction.

The video is particularly misleading in that there is no mention of another more exhaustive study that was presented at the same conference.  This study was very critical of the claims that "change is possible".  I think it only fair to any reader here that they balance the video against this other study.  A CNN summary of the other larger study can be found here and the detail here.

This study noted the following:
  • Prior ex-gays studies did not indicate for whom change was possible, how long it lasted, and its long-term mental health effects.
  • change in behaviour was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex.
  • Efforts to switch a person's sexual orientation through aversive treatments might cause harm, including loss of sexual feeling, suicidality, depression and anxiety.
  • Many who tried to change and failed "described their experiences as a significant cause of emotional and spiritual distress and negative self-image"
The video also fails to mention the following important statement:
"[The] Council of Representatives passed a resolution Wednesday urging mental health professionals not to recommend to their clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or any other methods."
The Jones Yarhouse paper presented at the APA conference in 2009 relates to the findings of their 2007 study.

Therefore, the larger APA study ("Therapeutic Response") includes the Jones Yarhouse 2007 study in its critique ... extensively.  I must admit, I do wonder why the APA allowed Dr. Jones to present the paper the Sunday after the Wednesday when the APA's own extensive study was presented. Maybe it was an olive branch? I do agree with Dr. Jones that the APA should not exclude research that is associated with religion. One's religion (system of belief) does inform much of one's behaviour and should be allowed in psychiatric research.

Here is more on their 2007 study, although I do admit that while these links are not reputable psychological responses, they do reference them:
What is interesting in the "Freedom To Be" link is that it appears that Yarhouse has changed his view slightly:
'At a Sept. 25 symposium at Regent, Yarhouse said — according to The Virginian-Pilot — that while same-sex attraction may be changeable in some individuals, not everyone can change.
'“For me, in my own practice, I would not focus on change of orientation,” said Yarhouse, a psychologist and counsellor who teaches at Regent, an evangelical Christian school. …
'Yarhouse’s study focused on those who said their same-sex attractions collided with their religious beliefs. He said his research found that there was “modest” movement away from homosexuality among some Exodus participants, but categorical conversions to heterosexuality were rare.
'Yarhouse recommended that counsellors avoid uniformly steering struggling gays toward heterosexuality and focus instead on the best outcome for the individual.
'That could include celibacy or exploring different faith groups with various attitudes toward gays and lesbians, he said.'
Indeed Dr. Yarhouse, change is possible; change of opinion is possible and I sincerely hope this change does filter through to other conservative Evangelical Christians!