Love Thy Neighbour

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With all of the opinions and scriptures, accusations and recriminations being fired back and forth between both sides of the Homosexuality debate, I have become heart-sick at the hurt and pain being caused by and felt by so many people in both camps.  It is such a controversial issue for many, and while both the US and Canadian governments have now ruled that gay marriage is legal, giving gays the same legal rights and recognition as any couple, many people are struggling with this decision on a personal and spiritual level.

I’ve been open about my own position on the matter in personal conversations with my friends and family, but have never published it here because I’ve been afraid of the backlash.  I feel like I have reached a point in my own journey where I can do that and handle whatever might be sent my way.  This is my blog, which you can choose to read or not.  However, my intention is not to offend or hurt anyone, simply to open up another potential perspective for people.

So, lets start with this: My background is Christian.  I was raised in a conservative Christian household, as a Missionary Kid (MK) in Botswana, Africa, and then later as a Pastor’s Kid (PK) in British Columbia, Canada.  I went to a Mennonite high school, complete with mandatory bible classes and lessons on abstinence instead of birth control.  I LOVED my school and am grateful for the 5 years I got to spend there.  But then my high school made my sister feel judged and unwelcome when as a teenager, she made some decisions that led to her becoming pregnant. That did not feel like Love to me.

As a young adult, I attended my local college, started dating my now husband, and was exposed to a larger world where opinions different from my conservative upbringing were suddenly available to me.  I stopped going to church for a while, partly because my Sweetie and I couldn’t handle the disconnect between the Love commanded in the Bible, and the Condemnation actually being practiced and preached in church. The homosexuality issue was a huge part of that. We have since come to terms with the fallibility of humankind, and the limitlessness of God, and have found a church where we feel loved and supported.

Part of the expansion of my world in college was getting to know my Sweetie’s brother and his partner.  They were the first openly gay people I had ever met.  Until then, I had been totally unexposed to the gay community, and had a vague notion that the Bible said homosexuality was wrong.  It wasn’t really a large issue in my life and I hadn’t spent much time thinking about it.  The concept of two men in a romantic relationship made me uncomfortable because of its newness, but I quickly learned that they were just two people in love who wanted to share their lives with each other.  Without aggressive teaching against homosexuality, it was relatively easy to accept their relationship as it was – full of love, respect, fun, and commitment.  I quickly grew to love them as my own brothers.  Perhaps my parents and teachers will feel like they failed in properly training me in the ways of the Bible, but really they should be proud that they instilled kindness and love as my primary values.

I haven’t always agreed with every decision my homosexual brothers have made, in the same way that I have not always agreed with every decision my own heterosexual sisters have made.  But their sexual orientation is a separate issue – I can’t make myself see that as a decision they have chosen for themselves.  Knowing them as well as I do, there is no arguing who they are at their core, and that includes their homosexuality.  I don’t believe they could choose to be (not just act) heterosexual any more than I could choose to be an elephant.

Now, here is where I expect to start getting some argument from my more conservative friends and family.  If the Bible says homosexuality is wrong, then it can’t possibly be core to their identities – they have chosen to live a life of sin.  Or they were damaged emotionally as children and can’t help the way they feel, but they are broken and need healing.  To anyone who makes those arguments, my question is this: Have you gotten to know someone who is gay well enough that you have had intimate conversations, gone vacationing together, and made them part of your family?  If you haven’t, how can you presume to have an opinion about whether their sexuality is innate or chosen?

If you do have close relationships with homosexual people and still believe their homosexuality is evil, have you looked into the history of the word “homosexual” in the Bible and considered the cultural context?  I’m guessing you have done so with other issues such as the acceptance of slavery, polygamy, racism and sexism in the Bible, all of which are rejected by most Christians these days.  If you haven’t considered these things, how can you be sure that committed, loving homosexual relationships are condemned by God when Christianity no longer condemns interracial marriage, no longer accepts slavery and polygamy, and for the most part no longer prevents women from holding leadership roles in churches.

There is plenty of brokenness in every person – it’s an unfortunate part of being human.  But what I’ve discovered after many discussions with my gay friends and family, is that the brokenness involved with their homosexuality has nothing to do with conflict over who they are.  They know who they are, and have found extreme relief in accepting their own homosexuality.  Any remaining conflict for the people with whom I have a relationship has everything to do with how they are treated or expect to be treated by others.  So here, finally, I come to the main point of my post.

In both Canada and the United States, we are free to follow whichever religion we choose. (Note how this is clearly a choice each person has a right to – whether you are born to a religion or not, you can choose to worship in whatever way you please.  This right is not unique to North America, but there are plenty of places where being a Christian is illegal.)  As such, if you choose to interpret the Bible to mean that homosexuality is a sin, that is your right, and no one can take that from you.  Chances are there is something that you feel is core to your being or core to your spirituality that another religion sees as a sin, and they have a right to believe that too.  We also enjoy Freedom of Speech, which means that you cannot be arrested for expressing your opinion.

My challenge to those who believe that homosexuality is a sin is two-fold:

  1. Consider how your words and actions might make others feel.  While it may not be your job as a Christian to approve of behaviour that your religion says is a sin, as a Christian it IS your job to spread the Love of Jesus.  Do you think telling people that they are an abomination makes them feel loved?  What is your true motivation for posting articles condemning homosexuality – do you think that will convince homosexuals that they should come to you for spiritual counselling?  Are you looking to have your beliefs confirmed by like-minded individuals?  Are you inviting debate and open conversation?  Being legally free to express your opinion does not necessarily mean that you are obligated to express that opinion in mixed company and without a sufficiently close relationship to soften the blow of your words.  Whether homosexuality is a sin or not, relationship is more important.  This is something my parents taught me – the value of relationship over rightness about theological argument.  Holding too close to the latter may create a rift in the relationship that is very difficult to repair.

     

    And please don’t tell me that you “love the sinner but hate the sin” (I have more to say on this phrase but that’s a whole post of its own).  Do you actively campaign against sin in your own communities and in your own intimate circles? Do you post articles on Facebook condemning divorce, laziness and pursuit of wealth in Christians – all biblical sins that have become accepted as a fact of life these days?  Or are you picking on homosexuality? Is there a chance that your own intolerance and judgement of people in the LGBT community is a sin that you are committing in the name of righteousness?

     

    I have considered that my words might make you feel uncomfortable, and I expect that you will react.  I hope that you will react by thinking and praying about the consequences of loudly and publicly objecting to homosexuality.  Are gay people hurting you by being gay?  How?  Are you hurting gay people by objecting strongly (a nice way of saying “condemning” but I don’t want to make assumptions about your motives) to something that they believe is innate to who they are?  Probably.

  2. Actively get to know someone in the homosexual community and have an open dialogue with them about their own experiences and feelings.  Choose to listen rather than try to change them, and learn about the struggles they are actually experiencing, not the struggles you imagine for them.  Meet them where they are and leave your own beliefs on the side for a while so you can truly get to know them.  You are not responsible for their salvation, Jesus is.  Your Love will prove your Christianity to them more completely and more honestly than your judgement or attacks with bible verses.

Now, I also have a message for those on the pro-homosexuality side of the equation.

I know that people in the LGBT community have felt condemned and pushed aside by the religious community for a long time.  I know there is a lot of hurt there.  It makes me so sad to see how The Church has failed to love and embrace this part of the population.  Granted, more liberal-leaning Christian denominations have begun the process of adjusting to this new world of inclusiveness for homosexuality.  But many Christians have spent their entire lives being taught that homosexuality is an abomination.  For right or wrong, modern translations of the Christian Bible have interpreted the ancient texts to be unequivocal about this.  When you are brought up from birth to believe that the Bible is the Word of God and is infallible, it can take a while to adjust to other ideas.

Many Christians are feeling like core parts of their belief system are being threatened right now.  It’s not that the idea of homosexuality-as-sin is a core part of Christianity, though with all the articles and opinions being bandied around on the Internet these days you’d think it was THE essential tenet of the religion.  The issue is that Christians in particular are being demonized by liberal media and pro-LGBT groups for their religion.  It feels like reverse discrimination and they are very humanly fighting back.  Some might think it’s only fair after all the hurt inflicted on the LGBT community by people claiming to do so in the name of God.  But most Christians are only humans trying to do their best and live their spirituality in the way they understand it.  The acceptance of homosexuality as normal and celebrated feels like a slap in the face of Christianity. Being condemned as homophobic or bigoted for their beliefs instills fear that their freedom of religion is threatened.

Not all Christians who believe homosexuality is wrong are bigots (bigot: a person who is intolerant to those holding different opinions) – regardless of what it feels like to you, they are not out to spread hatred.  (Side question: are YOU tolerant to those who hold a different opinion than you do about homosexuality?)  In fact, I’d argue that many Christians who are actively campaigning against homosexuality and gay marriage are doing so because they truly ache for the LGBT community and want salvation for them.  It breaks their hearts to think of a whole community of people being deceived into thinking that their sin is actually something to be celebrated, because then they will not go to heaven.  They aren’t being exclusive – they genuinely want to help save you from eternal pain and suffering in Hell.  This may not seem logical to you, but since when has human emotion, or even spirituality, been logical?

Others are caught up in the political debate and may have forgotten that their assignment as Christians is not to determine civil law, but to love their neighbour.  Please try to understand that they are human too, and we all get caught up in these things from time to time.  The first part of this blog post is for them.

I’m not saying that some groups aren’t actively being hateful and bigoted – hello Westboro “Baptist” Church.  I personally believe that Satan is campaigning with them and trying to disguise himself as Christianity to discredit those who are truly trying to do God’s work.  Most Christians don’t condone what Westboro is doing so please try not to judge them on the actions of that group and groups like them.

So, my challenge to the pro-LGBT community is as follows:

  1. Try to understand that generations of Christians are having their beliefs challenged in a way that they have never experienced before.  You know from experience that it’s a hard pill to swallow – to be judged for something that feels core to your being.  I see a movement spreading among Christians (especially the younger generations) that is beginning to accept the idea of loving not judging, with many even advocating for the rights of their gay friends and family and including LGBT people in their religious leadership. It will take time, please be patient.
  2. If a conservative-thinking person tries to get to know you and wants to listen to your story, be vulnerable and open.  It may be hard to do so when you are worried you’ll get judged, but try to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to expand their horizons and truly want to understand where you are coming from.  I believe that if enough people witness the reality of committed gay relationships, they will see the difference between what may be condemned in the bible and what is actually being celebrated in the LGBT community.

I have not delved into scripture in this post, largely because I am not a biblical scholar, but also because this post already feels like a short book rather than a blog post.  I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I have had to really struggle with this issue because, no matter on which side of the coin I choose to land, my position causes a disconnect between me and people I love.  However, I wanted to include links to some of the reading I have done lately that has helped to solidify my theology on this matter.

  • Are You Open to an LGBT-affirming Biblical Perspective? – Written by a married, heterosexual United Methodist pastor.  This article challenges traditional interpretations of the New Testament passages that Christians usually cite when arguing against homosexuality.
  • Are you In or Out? 1 Corinthians and 1 Timothy – Written by a heterosexual Christian speaker, author and educator who advocates for inclusion of the LGBT in the church.  This article focuses on these two passages, and goes into a deep analysis of the origins of the words that have modernly been translated as “homosexual” in the Bible.
  • The Bible and Homosexuality – This is an article and a video.  It features a young gay Christian man who has spent more than two years intensively studying what the Bible says about homosexuality.  He published a book, and also speaks on the topic.  I encourage you to read his short bio before watching the video.

There are many more articles, books, and recordings published on the Internet that will make these same arguments. The ones above are those I have read that I think are clearest and least fraught with leaps in logic that might not make sense. There are also many, many articles posted on the Internet that use the same Bible passages to condemn homosexuality.  I have read a lot of those, too.  But none of them have explained the original meaning of the words discussed in the links above to my satisfaction.

I have a lot more to say about this topic.  Now that I have broken the seal, I expect that I’ll post more articles.  In no way am I trying to drive a wedge between myself and my conservative friends and family.  I feel quite strongly about this topic, but not without a lot of study, prayer, and personal experience.  I believe that you can’t really claim to have formed an educated opinion on something until you’ve looked at both sides of the argument.  Having come from a conservative Christian background, and growing to a more liberal Christian adulthood, I can see both sides of the issue, and have still set down on the side of acceptance for homosexuality.  I don’t think I am going to change a lot of minds with what I’ve said here.  But what I hope will happen is that my words will encourage people on both sides to consider where the other side is coming from.  I believe that above all, kindness and love are my calling.  And that is what I am trying to spread to all within my sphere of influence.

I welcome civil, loving discussion about this topic. However, anything that smacks of judgement rather than legitimate attempts at understanding from either side will be deleted or will not be posted. Since it is my blog, I get to make the rules. 🙂  Consider yourselves warned.

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Oops, I’m Already Behind

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I just realized that I didn’t post anything yesterday. It could have to do with taking care of a sick husband on top of the sick child and my own sick self.  It could also have to do with the fact that I actually laid down on the couch and read my novel for an hour and a half.  That felt so good.  I used to read to the exclusion of most other forms of entertainment, but lately I’ve been turning to video games for fun.  I have to say, I still find reading so much more satisfying and relaxing.  And I still ADORE my Kindle.  So, this post is just about:

(courtesy of Wikipedia.com)

On the Kindle: Seductive Poison by Deborah Layton

We chose this book for book club, but unfortunately, I missed the discussion on Tuesday because the Bean and I were sick.  That said, I still haven’t finished reading the book because I’ve been too busy playing CastleVille and Words With Friends, so maybe it’s for the best.

Seductive Poison is the true autobiographical story of a woman who is sucked into the Peoples Temple cult as a teenager, and who becomes one of Jim Jones’ trusted members.  She was one of the few who managed to escape with their lives before the famed mass suicide that coined the term “to drink the koolaid”.

She tells of her troubled youth, her acceptance into the fold, and the good works she wanted to do as part of the People’s Temple.  As Debbie’s story unfolds, she reveals the secrets entrusted to her by Jim Jones, the true nature behind the organization, and the descent of Jim Jones from charismatic leader to depraved tyrant.  She details the various schemes hatched by Jones to gain financial and political power in California and the escape to Jonestown in Guyana when the political environment got too dangerous in the US.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the story so far (I’m about 2/3 of the way through), is her account of the conditions in Jonestown.  Jones methodically blackmailed, tortured, abused, and brainwashed his people into submission.  Even the small children were subjected to terror and pain in order to control them and punish their parents for even the most minor of slights.  After being duped into traveling deep into the jungle of Guyana, they had no means of escape even if they could work up the will to do it.

I’m very interested to read how Debbie manages to get out of the jungle.  If you’ve ever wondered how on earth people can get fooled into joining a cult like the People’s Temple, this is a great read and a very interesting story, made even more ominous by the fact that it’s all true…at least from Debbie’s perspective.

Happy Easter

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I have to admit it…I’ve been a little lukewarm about Easter this year.  We haven’t been to church in a long time and I’ve been feeling strange about celebrating Christian holidays without the traditional churchy stuff surrounding them.  It was the same at Christmas.  The Santa Claus hype and present shopping were so empty because I wasn’t focusing on the real meaning of Christmas.  At Christmas, I worked through it by deliberately choosing to focus on the birth of Christ and letting the rest of it be icing on my spiritual cake.  I read my Bible for the first time in a long time, did some praying, and really felt the message in the traditional Christmas carols.  It worked, and I celebrated the birth of Christ, not just a cultural holiday.  But the lesson seemed to fade into the background over the next few months, so when Easter started approaching, I was back to feeling that emptiness again. 

This morning, I woke up very early with the Bean so I had a lot of time to think about things.  While I was cuddling and playing with my daughter, my heart was calling out for some answers.  “Remind me why this day is important”, it cried.  “It used to be about more than chocolate.” 

Larry (left) and Bob from Veggie Tales

I decided that it was time to start teaching my daughter about, and reminding myself of, the reason why we keep Easter Sunday and Good Friday sacred.  So I searched Netflix for Easter programs, and, would you believe it, the only ones I could find were Veggie Tales episodes!  If you’re not familiar with Veggie Tales, let me explain.  It’s a cute and smart Christian cartoon featuring – you guessed it – talking vegetables.  Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber are the hosts of the show.  They use bible stories and modern parables to teach moral lessons to kids, and there is usually a joke or comical reference that only adults and older children will chuckle over, just to keep everyone engaged.  I love it! 

The lessons in the episodes we watched today were exactly what I needed.  The moral of the first story, “The Night Before Easter“, was that Easter is about loving and serving each other.   They quoted Mark 10:45 – “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  I took the verse as a reminder that, as a wife and mother, my job is to love and serve my husband and daughter (just as it is my husband’s job to love and serve me and my daughter.  Don’t want to get any feminists on my back – I’m an equal rights kinda girl).  So I continued with my plan to set up an Easter treat hunt, and I made breakfast a little more special.  And it paid off in spades.  The Bean had fun picking up the ducks and eggs I had scattered and putting them in her plush duck Easter basket – for a few minutes at least.  And my Sweetie enjoyed hunting for the hidden treats I’d bought for us to share.  Then we had breakfast together, and I got a huge hug and “Thank You” from my husband.  What a great way to start an Easter Sunday celebration! 

We’re not planning to go to church today, but that’s okay.  I feel like God has touched my heart right here at home.   Instead we’re going to enjoy the company of some wonderful friends and visit a farm in Petaluma.  I’m so grateful for all that God has given me: a loving family, good food to eat, great friends, a beautiful earth to enjoy, and the hope and salvation brought by the sacrifice and resurrection of His Son. 

I was tempted to end by saying “Amen”, but that seemed a little cheesy coming from someone who hasn’t been to church recently.  (wink)  So Happy Easter, and I hope the day brings you hope, peace, joy, and lots of candy!