Friday, October 02, 2009

Whosoever, My Transforming Faith, and This Very Long Blog Post

I was raised in a politically conservative but spiritually charismatic church. Three times a week, my family and I attended an Assembly of God church that dealt harshly with sin, encouraged everyone to pass out tracts to everyone they saw so we could hopefully lead them to Christ through the artistry and imagery of the ubiquitous Chick Tract. The youth of the church participated in events that allowed us to pass out tracts to hundreds of people throughout the day, and attempt to mask our dismay when we found those same tracts in the gutters or in the garbage bins hours later. Our church had a mime team, as every good church did at the time. Our church rallied against the "gay agenda", showing videos of gay pride parades that featured the most lascivious acts displayed in the parade, claiming these things were an example of what every gay person in America wanted the right to do at any place, any time, with anyone--gay or not--and we had to put a stop to it before they corrupted our children, and possibly ourselves.

Our church rallied against abortion, referring to it as murder, calling the women and doctors who did it "murderers" and "killers". Our church passed out little plastic babies that represented an 8 week old unborn baby, along with a fact sheet about the development of that baby. For the record, I am pro-life, but I do not think protesting outside of abortion clinics is the way to give women in difficult situations hope that they have viable options available to them that do not include abortion.

Anyway, my point is that I grew up in a very conservative church, and grew up believing that the only political party that could do anything right was the Republican party, and the only people who knew what was right for the world were Christians, and it was our job to persuade everyone around us to be like us so we could make the world a holier place.

As I grew up, certain parts of my belief system didn't fit well anymore, but I still carried them around with me like they were old clothes I didn't like and never wore anymore, but couldn't get rid of, just in case I wanted to wear them again someday.

Over the last couple of years, my faith has gone through a transformation. Many events in my life lead to this, including cancer, addiction, a horrible marriage, a seperation from my abusive husband. Consequently, I had to go through my pregnancy alone and rather terrified that he would surface in my life when I gave birth to the child he threatened to take from me. I divorced my husband, and he never contested it or my request for sole custody of my son. Our divorce was finalized in March of this year. Now, I am a single mother, learning all the ups and downs of raising a child alone. I have not seen my husband in a year and a half, and he's never met my son.

In all of this, I have had to evaluate the faith I grew up with, and the God I thought I knew. I grew up believing that God really didn't like me all that much, and if I didn't do exactly as He said, when He said it, then I was toast. When I was first diagnosed with cancer, I thought of all the things I had done that more than likely upset God, and this was His way of letting me know. I was further convinced of this when my illness left me unable to work, thus unable to afford my apartment, therefore requiring me to move in with my family. Again.

As bad became worse, I was ever more convinced that there must have been something horrible in my heart that God needed to change, and the only way He could do that was to put me through this bit of hell on earth. I even told people that I believed He had to tear me down so He could rebuild me as He needed me to be. Sadly, people were inspired by this. I'm not sure what they were inspired to do, but they told me they were inspired.

At any rate, during all of this, I began to explore other ideas on faith through writers who were definitely not going to be on the Assembly of God's "required reading" list, but who were decidedly Christian. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller was the first book I read, after which I thought, "Hmm. So, I am not the only one wondering how faith is relevant and where it fits in this world. Cool."

After that came Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. After I read this book, I thought that it was a pretty novel idea to tell people that maybe, up to this point, their image of God was all wrong, and God wasn't angry and hateful toward us...He actually loved us. Not the obligatory love that He has to have because He's God and He made us, so He has to love us. No, the kind of love you have for your friends. Your best friends. Your closest, most intimate friends. He loves you like that. And, He likes you, too.

Wow. This was new information.

Somewhere along the line, I started reading Anne Lamott's books. I adored her honesty about her insecurities about herself, her faith, her relationships...I felt as though I was reading my own journals. She had a sense of humor that was, at times, irreverant but still very much on point. She possesses a healthy mix of cynicism and wonder at the world God has given us.

My friend, Craig, often told me that she reminded him of me. It was a sort of foreshadowing, I think. Like Anne, I would give birth to a son, without the benefit of having a partner to raise that son with. She was 35, I believe, when Sam was born. I was 33 when Jaden was born. One of the first books recommended to me after he was born was Anne's book Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son's First Year. As I read the book, I once again identified with the sentiments, experiences, feelings, and realities of being a single mom experiencing the amazing joy of my son's first year of life. I laughed and cried, and, for the first time in my life, felt the twin fears of something happening to my son that would leave me alone in the world, or something happening to me that could possibly leave him in his father's custody. Nothing in this world terrifies me more than those two things, particularly the idea of my sweet son being subjected to his father's abuse if I were not here to protect him.

But, I digress.

The common thread among all of these authors is that these people have an undoubtedly strong relationship with Christ, but are not confined to the list of rules, fears, and self-loathing-driven kind of faith I had grown up with. These people had tapped into something that I think had been missing in my faith. They had tapped into one thing that I had never been told as I grew up: Love wins.

Surprisingly, this is an idea that people in the mainstream Christian church seem to fear. There aren't enough rules. There aren't enough threats. It is too permissive and liberal to say that the key ingredient in our relationship with God, and in our relationship with the world around us, is love. Not judgment. Not the arrogant belief that we were right and had to make everyone else believe as we do, and if they didn't agree with us it is because they hate us and want to control us with their own evil agenda. Not rules. Not signs protesting gay marriage, abortion, the use of "happy holidays" instead of "merry Christmas", etc.


Now, among all of the authors mentioned, their interpretation of it looks a bit different, and their beliefs certainly do not meet at certain points. Still, the one common theme I found in all of their books was that God loves us unconditionally, and we need to love others the same way. No matter what race, creed, religion, gender, or sexual orientation, we needed to show love.

Why is this part of the Bible so easily forgotten, in favor of the more regimental teachings of Paul?

As my faith has morphed, so have my politial beliefs. I have been reading a lot more of what "the elite liberal media" has to say about things, and I have to tell you...the way Christians have chosen to relate to the world is not making a good impression. Now, Christians will say that this is because we talk about Jesus, and for those who do not know Jesus and are rebelling against Him, our message seems foolish and it is going to ruffle feathers.

No. I'm sorry, but no. The truth is that the way Christians have chosen to relate to the world has been very condescending, at times hateful, not very loving, rather judgmental, and, far too often, just stupid looking.

That is why we look like fools in the media. It's not a liberal conspiracy.

Anyway, tonight, I was clicking around through political stories, and I saw something that intrigued me. I don't remember the headline, but it referred to an online community for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered Christians. Always interested in reading different points of view, I visited the site.

It's a beautiful site called Whosoever. The theme throughout the site was that, despite the hate and marginalization these people received, they must always respond with the love that Christ demonstrated to those who persecuted them. No matter what opposition they were met with as they lived their lives, as Christians, they must always respond with love.

I was intrigued, and wanted to read their thoughts on what the Bible says about homosexuality. For a long time, I have had a difficult time reconciling the unconditional love of God with the alleged hate He has reserved for homosexual behavior, so disgusted by it that He would turn them over to a depraved mind and physical destruction through disease. That never made sense to me. I never understood why God would condemn someone for living out a life that they believe they were born into. With as much as homosexuals suffer within our society, I always thought it was silly to say someone "chooses" to be gay. Why would someone choose to be part of the most marginalized, hated, violently opposed, mocked segment of our society? WHO WOULD CHOOSE THAT???

So, I was especially interested in reading some of the letters from readers, particularly one that asked for an explanation of the passages in Leviticus that seemed to condemn homosexuality. The letter was answered by a reverend who had extensive knowledge of Biblical history, context, language, etc. Here is the letter, and the response.

Rev. Turner:

I do not by any means claim to be a scholar when it comes to the Bible. I fell upon this Web site while I was trying to learn more about the Bible.

I come to you to pose a question, not to arouse an argument. I was very curious to understand your point of view on the law of sexual morality that states, "A man should not lie with a man as he lies with a woman. It is an abomination." Leviticus 18:22.

Now, again, I do not claim to understand the true meaning of this, but it sounds pretty clearly to be in regard to homosexuality. This is in the same passage that states man should not sleep with animals or their daughters, not that I am comparing homosexuality to pedophiles, but I am really wondering if I should. The language in the Bible does not become bold or harsh when discussing children or animals, and it does not become meek when discussing homosexuality.

I would really love to have a response back from you. I would really like to have a complete understanding of the Bible and as a pastor, you certainly do have much more knowledge on the subject. Please respond. Again, this email is not to insult, just to understand.

Thanks for your time,


Dear Brandy,

I do not take your questions as an insult, as it seems to me you are trying very hard to understand the issues. My dear child of God, let me give you a several of answers from writings, notes, teachings and my own thoughts over the years of ministry.

In Leviticus 18:22 it is written: "Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable." (NIV) That in face does seem very clear. But look at the surrounding context, and something else comes to light in this verse. Leviticus 18:6-18 deals with having sexual relations with relatives. Verse 19 says a man shall not have sexual relations with a woman during the "uncleanness of her monthly period." (How many of today's Christians actually obey this?) Verse 20 condemns having sexual relations with another man's wife.

Then, verse 21 changes directions and begins a sermon-like discourse on sexual relations that are associated with the worship of Molech. Molech, like many false gods of the day, had temple prostitutes, and Molech's followers believed that having sex of any kind in the temple would please Molech and increase the fertility of themselves, their spouses, their livestock, and their fields. Verse 21 mentions the sacrifice of children to Molech. Verse 22 should more accurately read "Do not have sex with the male temple prostitutes," which would continue the admonition in idolatry. In fact, the entire Chapter is about idolatry. Consider Chapters 17 and 19, which both speak of idolatry. Why would a writing about sex be inserted here out of the blue in between two chapters on idolatry unless it also is meant to address idolatry? If we look at Chapter 18 as a whole, and verse 22 in context to the whole chapter, then this verse must speak of idolatry and false worship in some manner. Therefore, it is not a blanket condemnation of homosexuality, but rather a condemnation of the sexual promiscuity of the many idol-worshipping sects in the land the Israelites were coming into.

If you hold Leviticus' statements as being a blanket condemnation of homosexuality, do you also obey the rest of the old law? It is written: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it [all of the law]" (James 2:10). So a person who adheres to the law must adhere to the whole law, which is contained in the whole of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. Those three books contain the core of God's laws.

So let's look at some of those laws:

If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married. (Deut. 24:5)

Does anyone keep this law? Could you manage a whole year without a paycheck?

The war effort in Iraq might have a problem when a soldier comes up to his commander and says, "Sorry, sir, but my wife is pregnant and the book of Deuteronomy demands that I go home for a whole year now." Any man whose wife becomes pregnant is here told that he must stay home for a year without working or else he is guilty of breaking the law!

Do not hate your brother in your heart. (Lev. 19:17)

Don't hate your siblings, even while growing up, or else you have broken the entirety of the law.

Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard. (Lev 19:27)

Don't shave! Ever!

Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly and revere your God. I am the LORD. (Lev 19:32)

If you do not stand in the presence of your elders, or get rude or disrespectful with someone older than you, you have broken the law.

No one born of a forbidden marriage nor any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the LORD, even down to the tenth generation. (Deut. 23:2)

So no one who has been born out of wedlock or born from a marriage that was not approved of may enter a church, nor may any of his or her descendants for ten whole generations after. Who checks this? Who would know? How could this one ever be kept?

This is where it becomes more interesting:

If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death. He has cursed his father or mother, and his blood will be on his own head. If a man commits adultery with another man's wife -- with the wife of his neighbor -- both the adulterer and the adulteress must be put to death. (Lev. 20:9-10)

Anyone who talks back to their parents must be killed for it according to the law!

Anyone caught in adultery must be put to death also! It is in the law!

Yet it seems Jesus attempted to change the understanding of the law as he practiced his ministry on earth. In John 8:3-11 we see Jesus show what law we are truly under:

"The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, 'Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?' They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.

But Jesus bent over and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, 'If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.' Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, 'Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?'

'No one, sir,' she said.

'Then neither do I condemn you,' (my italics to point out she was in fact guilty but...) Jesus declared. 'Go now and leave your life of sin.'"

In this Jesus shows us that the law saves no one; all are guilty of breaking the law of Moses. The fact of the matter is simple: nowhere does Christ Himself say anything against homosexuality. He speaks of the Ten Commandments, lifting the Sabbath commandment, as it had become a yoke upon the people. Consider Matthew 22:36-40:

"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied, "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."

So while the verse you mention and ask about appears to be devastating to gay folks, it really has nothing to do with gay people as we know them today. Further, to take this one verse or law and ignore all the rest seems just a bit hypocritical don't you think?

Finally I would refer you to this page of the Whosoever website that deal with homosexuality and the Bible.You'll find an abundance of information and links to help you in your further studies and understanding of this issue.

God Bless,

Pastor Paul

I found this a very intelligent and informative response. If we are to condemn people for not following one portion of the Law, must we not also condemn people...ourselves included...for not following all of it? We don't do that, and the reason we don't is because we took it in context and realized it wasn't relevant to our modern life. For whatever reason, the only portion of the Leviticus text that mainstream Christian churches seem to think still applies is the part about the condemnation of homosexuality.


Makes me wonder what else is a little out of whack regarding what I've been taught over the years...

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