Sunday, February 26, 2012

Can you be a Christian and a homosexual?

Of all the blog posts I've done, this one's the hardest. I'm writing about an issue that's both complicated and sensitive; one that has to do with one's very sense of identity, self-expression and need for love and acceptance. The topic of homosexuality can be so polarizing. On the one side you have the Westboro Baptist types who spew hatred towards gays & lesbians; on the other you have the United Church types who embrace homosexuality with no questions asked. Anyone who reads my stuff knows that I usually take a middle-ground stand on things, which means that sometimes no one is happy. I fear that this will be one of those times. Please bear in mind as you read on that I'm not out to impose my views on anyone, nor do I hate those who live differently than I do. I'm on a journey of revising my beliefs as I struggle with my faith, and these posts help me clarify my thoughts. You are free to agree or disagree, so long as you don't come and set fire to my home.

I've struggled to understand why the Bible prohibits homosexuality. It's lumped in with a lot of other commands regarding sex - no sex with your relatives, your livestock (ew), etc. Most of these offenses were punishable by death - which is pretty harsh. "It's Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve" or "God wants us to procreate" are reasons some give for why homosexuality isn't allowed. Others say it applies only in the Old Testament. After all, Jesus never once spoke about homosexuality. And yet while the New Testament tells us that Christ's sacrifice nullifies the penalties of the law, the practice of homosexuality is prohibited in the writings of Paul.

I guess I can see some pitfalls with the gay lifestyle. Promiscuity seems to be something associated with homosexuality, as many gay relationships are open relationships. This is definitely a high risk lifestyle, gay or straight, but is promiscuity inherent to homosexuality? If you're gay you're also at a higher risk of mental health problems, but is this a result of the lifestyle or society's response to it? And then there's the social hierarchy within the gay & lesbian community; years ago I worked with a gay man who called another co-worker (who was gay) a fag. I just find it ironic that there's a lack of acceptance both outside and inside the gay sub-culture.

Is homosexuality a choice? Some say it is, but I have my doubts here too. What about those who from a very young age felt they were different, and as they got older they had no interest in the opposite sex? Genes and hormones factor into a lot of human behavior, but then again that doesn't make it a healthy behavior. A dear friend of mine, who's a pastor, works with people coming out of the gay lifestyle. I asked him once if genetics had anything to do with homosexuality. His answer was no, at least for the people he worked with. Those he works with have dysfunctional relationships with their fathers; once the father issues were dealt with the same-sex attraction fades. So it seems that same-sex attraction can be reversed.

I know it's hard for people to wrap their brains around the idea that there are ex-gays, but they are out there. The NFB has an excellent documentary called Cure For Love, which chronicles the struggles of young Christians who try to leave they gay lifestyle. One ex-gay who married a woman (an ex-lesbian no less) confessed that he still struggles with attraction to men. You may say then that he's living a lie. But I love my wife and am attracted to other women, yet in 20 years of marriage I haven't been with anyone else. Am I living a lie, or choosing to live a life that pleases God and keeps me from hurting others?

While some in the film left the gay lifestyle others didn't, but they also didn't abandon their faith. Now here's the question: Can you be both a Christian and a homosexual? Here's where part where I'm going to ruffle some feathers; the answer, for me, is yes. Why wouldn't they be? If you substitute the word homosexual for, say, divorced, does that describe a Christian any less? They may be living outside of God's will, but who of us who follow Jesus haven't sinned sexually in some way? If grace is what saves then it applies to all believers, regardless of who you're attracted to. Here's some more food for thought. It's been said that there will be no homosexuals in heaven, but apparently the same will also apply to heterosexuals. The Bible teaches that God's goal for us is to make us like Jesus, and that process will be finished in heaven. And Jesus was single.

If someone asked me why God is against homosexuality I would honestly have trouble articulating the reasons. The best I can say is that if God, who is a loving father and has our best interest at heart, prohibits homosexuality then it must be for a good reason. I can say with certainty that God does not hate homosexuals, and neither should Christians. Fortunately I have yet to meet a fellow believer who hates homosexuals, but sadly they are out there. Jesus taught His followers in the parable of the good Samaritan that you must love those who live very differently from you. This includes gays & lesbians. Whatever side of the fence you're on I hope you're not offended, but I needed to be honest here. And if you're someone I know and love who wrestles with same-sex attraction, and is Christian, you need to know you're loved by God as much as anyone else is.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Six days or 4 billion years?

It's been a good week of reflection, discussion and feedback for me; I'm grateful to those of my friends who have responded to me with grace and their own sense of ambiguity towards the scriptures. I've been doing some digging lately into something I remembered back from my correspondence studies. There's a stream of theology I'm being drawn to called Neo-Orthodoxy, which was a reaction to the liberalism of 19th century European Christianity. The theologian Karl Barth and German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who was martyred by the Nazis, held neo-orthodox views. I like the idea that the Bible is a reflection or record of the Word of God, as opposed to the evangelical view of Bible being the Word itself. Jesus warned against making an idol of the scriptures, saying that the scriptures pointed to Him. You can't destroy the Word of God if you burn every single Bible; it's eternal, unfailing, intangible, subjective, powerful, alive and personified in Jesus Christ. This is what the Bible tells us about itself; it also says it's up to God to prove His Word is true and that we can know that the Word is real when we obey God's commands. So even though the history of the Bible may be questionable there are other ways to test its authenticity.

So, having said that I want to take one more stab at biblical history - or rather an interpretation of that history. If you really want to upset someone whose reading of the Bible is more concrete than abstract you tell them that God didn't create the world in six days. If you're someone who reads Genesis 1 literally I don't wish to offend, and I do apologize if you are offended. But there are problems with reading the opening chapter of biblical history in such a way. The Hebrew rendering of Genesis 1 is an ancient form of poetry, which is lost the translation to modern English. There's a pattern concerning the days, where in day 1 there's light but no stars, moon or Sun til day 4; on days 2&3 the sky, sea & land are formed but on days 4,5&6 are they filled with birds, fish, animals and, finally, people. So there's this literary relationship between the spaces created and what fills them. And then Genesis 2 gives a different account of creation, where the heavens & earth are made, then a single man, then plants, animals and then finally a woman (God obviously saved the best for last here!). So that, plus the science that points to an evolutionary development of life, tells me that God took His time in making the world what it is today.

Now there are what's called "Theistic Evolutionists" - people who believe that God created through natural selection. Timothy Keller is among them and wrote a paper on the subject. But some have problems reconciling science and the Bible here. The Bible depends both genealogically and theologically on a literal Adam & Eve. The Bible traces Jesus' ancestry back to Adam, and the Bible teaches that sin entered the world through one person - again, Adam. Theologian & professor of science Denis Lamoureux, who firmly believes in the literal life, death and resurrection of Christ, believes that there were many Adams & Eves, who all lost their way. The biblical account of creation, according to Lamoureux, is God's coming down to our level (or ancient man's at least) in telling us He made everything. This could become a slippery slope, again as the Bible depends on a literal Adam. I have no problem with evolution so long as there was a literal Adam somewhere in the process. But where to make the transition from (dare I say it) legend to history is tricky. Genesis 12, where the story of Abram starts, seems likely to me.

Questions swirl my limited mind, and I take comfort in knowing that while science, which is tentative, tells us how life developed, it can't explain how it all started. And even if it did, it can't tell us why. These questions are left in the realm of the divine. One thing is certain for me, and that is I can't accept a six day model of creation anymore. If being an evangelical means I have to believe in a literal interpretation of Genesis 1&2 then I guess I've flunked that litmus test too.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Can the Bible be trusted?

It's with some irony that I begin the first of what will be many blog posts journaling my "crisis of faith" at a time of day when I'm normally at church. It just so happens that Angel & I needed to talk some stuff out this morning, lost track of time and saw it was too late to catch the second service. Oh well, it was time well spent. It's never fun to go to church when you're mad at your spouse, so it all turned out for the best. Anyway, I had been thinking this week about which question to bring out of the closet first, and so I settled on the question of the Bible. For evangelical Christians the Bible is the final source of truth, authority and revelation. It is infallible, meaning there are no mistakes in it. Its revelation is progressive, meaning that God began showing Himself to humanity in a gradual procession. It climaxed with the revelation of Christ, the personification of God Himself; then after His ascension the church formed the cannon, or standard by which the various books & letters were picked to become what we now know as the Bible.

Here's where things get tricky. The Bible can't just be taken out of history; it was written by people. You are making a leap of faith that the authors got it right and that the church fathers picked the right books. There's also the issue of inspiration. Over the years I've moved towards a theory of scholarship where the theology is correct but the historical accuracy is questionable. While archeology can back up the existence of certain people & events others, like the Exodus, have no such proof. The first 11 books of Genesis read more like poetry, myth and legend than history.  Mark's gospel tells the story of Jesus healing a blind man while leaving Jericho; in Luke it says was on the way into Jericho. No wait, it says in Luke and Mathew that it wasn't one blind guy, but two! The gospels also have varying accounts of the resurrection - the number of angels, the eyewitnesses involved, etc. This is problematic, because the argument is that if you can't trust the Bible historically you can't trust its doctrine. If God is at work in human history, as it claims, then it should have an accurate account of that history. But we only have manuscripts of that history dating back just two centuries before Christ's birth. Again you're making a leap of faith when you say that the Bible records events all the way to the beginning of history.

But does this really discredit the Bible? Here's where I doubt my own doubts. History is our reconstruction of the past, and may not be an accurate picture of what really happened. Do we then just dismiss history outright? And if we have solid evidence that the recording of the Bible is accurate (which we do from ancient manuscripts and what we know of mnemonic systems) can we say then that the Bible is inerrant in transmission? As for the lack of evidence for the Exodus, ancient historical records were more about propaganda than dispassionate documentation. The Egyptians would not have recorded how their Hebrew slaves got free from their captivity, nor would the Israelites invent such a humiliating history of their failures. And if you doubt the historical accuracy of the resurrection then the burden of proof is on you to explain the church's origins. Would the early Christians really let themselves be martyred for a lie? Someone would have let the "secret" out as to what really happened to Jesus (and no, that someone wasn't Dan Brown). There's also a pragmatic argument for the Bible, that good things happen when it's applied to people's lives. The Bible may not be God's Word; but why then do I feel like I come alive when I read it?

As an evangelical Christian I am a complete phony, as far as the claims of inerrancy go. The discrepancies are there for all to see. Yet there's something compelling, powerful and life-changing about the Bible. I can't in good conscience turn a blind eye to both.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Questions

Yes, it's true. I'm back online. Did you miss me? I'm sure my countless readers are now rejoicing. Actually it's more likely the handful of relatives, friends & the odd stranger that have occasionally read my stuff finally have something new from me to read again. It's been 2 1/2 months since my last post, which expressed my confusion and uncertainty with life. I had intended to start blogging again once I had come to some sort of resolution. "So Hendrick, have you got things figured out now?" Well... no. But that's OK. Earlier this week the thought had come to me that I should start writing again. Blogging has been, in some ways, therapeutic for me. It's given me not only a way for me to look back on my life and see where I've been but it's also helped to crystallize my thoughts. I've gone through several journeys since I started blogging almost six years ago; selling the house we shared with Angel's mom and living on our own again, dealing with Clinical Depression, finishing my degree, leaving behind my dreams of vocational ministry and finally becoming a dad - which definitely was a dream come true. What I'm going through now is, I've realized, simply another journey.

This new journey is a crisis of faith. It's not the first one I've gone through though. In fact I've probably gone through dozens of small ones. But not since my early 20s, when I wrestled with the question of God's love being unconditional, have I had such a major shake-up in my Christian beliefs. It's hard for me to pin down, but I guess the closest thing I can come up in articulating this crisis is, "How does God fit into the real world?" I'm not sure if I'm asking the right question here, as you will come up with the wrong answer if you ask the wrong question. But questions I have nonetheless. So my posts are going to take a different tone from this point on, at least until I can come to some sort of resolution. I have no doubt that it's not going to come from finding all the right answers, but rather coming to a place where I can live with a certain level of certainty. That means, of course, making another leap of faith. And let's be honest here: whether you are a dogmatic Christian, atheist, agnostic, seeker, skeptic, or whatever it is you believe in, we all live with preconceived notions and assumptions. We all live by faith. Don't let anyone fool you about it, including yourself. So, as I start writing new posts and ask questions, maybe together we'll uncover those assumptions and see them for what they are.