Sunday, September 29, 2013

God Questions

These are my core questions about God and Christianity:

  1. Is God an actual person like you and me? Or is God more like a force? OR, is God more like a collection of all of us, perhaps of all existence?

  2. The Jesus who lived on earth over 2,000 years ago: is this same Jesus actually alive today?

  3. Is the Holy Spirit a person? Should it be toward the Holy Spirit that I concentrate my thoughts, energy, and devotion?

  4. To whom or what (or what member of the Trinity) am I praying when I pray to God?

  5. What's the deal with the Bible? How much can we rely on it to be holy and authoritative?

  6. Is Hell, a place of unending conscious torment, a real place?

  7. Will we have individual consciousness after death? That is, will I be conscious as "Kevin"?

How do you answer these questions? I'd love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to share in the comments or send me an email!

Saturday, September 21, 2013

NALT, Activism, and Bridge-Building

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the tension between LGBTQ/intersectional activism and bridge-building.

Well, not really thinking about the tension. More like deeply feeling the tension.

Ever since I wrote the post about this tension, I’ve experienced more and more anger toward those who I consider activists. My anger comes from three specific frustrations:
  1. Not understanding the benefit to activists’ critiques of the NALT (Not All Like That) Movement
  2. Feeling unheard by these activists
  3. Feeling like these activists are speaking for me and others

The first frustration is something I have to accept. Deep down, I know there are different roles within the body of Christ. I’ve seen the benefit time and time again, both short-term and long-term, of uncompromising activism. Being someone who is conflict-averse, someone who values kindness and patience and bridge-building, I don’t usually like many activists' methods of engagement. I get angry and frustrated and sometimes I act that out. And that’s OK. It’s just a part of being in community with people. They don’t need my approval in order for the Holy Spirit to do good work through them.

This post is an attempt to address frustrations number 2 and 3. My hope is that these activists will understand my views on the issues of alliance and advocacy; that they will understand that bridge-building work is also something that the Holy Spirit uses to do good work; and that others who are doing bridge building work understand that the critiques of activists—while painful—can be extremely useful. At the same time, I want them to know that there are others within the LGBTQ community who know that so many are benefiting from your work. (These phenomena can exist simultaneously, in tension.)


In order to get my own thoughts clear, I created the chart below.

The Welcoming Line divides the sections. The groups to the right of the line welcome the LGBTQ community unconditionally and are moving in the right direction regarding full LGBTQ affirmation and equality. The groups to the left of the line show an increasing level of hostility toward the LGBTQ community, and individuals are not welcome unless there is at least some admission of brokenness or sin. These groups are moving in the wrong direction regarding full LGBTQ affirmation and equality.

Additionally, there is a box below each group that describes (generally) the level of affirmation offered to LGBTQ folks. “Utopia” is where all power structures have been obliterated, and there is no need for one group in power to welcome/affirm another group. All are equally regarded as members in the Kingdom of God.

Now, from this chart, one can see that activists can have valid critiques of each other group, both to the left AND to the right of the Welcoming Line. However, is there another way to view each group?


The image below shows a number of different “audiences” toward which the welcoming groups direct their message and actions.

Each group could speak to each audience in a different way. Realizing the difference in audience, focus, and purpose is where I believe activists could benefit from a bridge-builders perspective.

I realized a while ago that the Marin Foundation is not for me. I don’t actively support or give money to them, because I feel they should be more fully affirming. But in this case, it's not about me: I'm not their primary audience. Their purpose is to build bridges with potential allies, and to show those on the left of the Welcoming Line how their stances and policies hurt individuals and families. They have a different focus than the activist. Most importantly, they can reach and persuade people that the activist cannot.

The same is true of the new NALT movement. NALT goes further than the Marin Foundation in that they are fully affirming of LGBTQ individuals and their relationships. Dan Savage of the It Gets Better movement has used his huge platform to partner with affirming Christians in order to reach LGBTQ youth and other individuals struggling with their faith and with hostility from other people of faith.

I’ve seen much criticism of NALT from activists. Much, perhaps even most, of the criticism is valid. The emphasis is probably too much on making Christians feel better about themselves. There is a lack of diversity in the outreach and leadership. This is a lack of queer influence and leadership. It makes sense, and I hope and pray that those within the movement have thick skin and open hearts. I also hope that activists will become involved in more than just critiquing the movement, but also creating something themselves: whether it be a video, an offer to educate further, or a similar movement. At the same time, try to understand what an amazing step this is and how far we’ve come. My frustration (and my fear) is that so many critiques will demoralize those who are truly allies, and chase away those who are potential allies.

Having said all this, I know that activists do good, important, necessary work. I just wish they understood that others do, too. In the meantime, I hope all of us can find a way to live in this tension of loving each other well despite our differences. I feel like Paul: of sinners (those who do not love well in the tension), I am chief. If you feel my finger pointed at you, remember I am pointing four fingers back at myself.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Fundamentalism Mad Libs

Using this pre-argument template, you’ll be able to label all potential criticism as invalid!

Probably the most controversial and rejected position we have at {organization/institution/website/etc.} is {belief/opinion/manifesto/etc.} It is even more vehemently opposed than {another belief/opinion/manifesto/etc.} Both of these positions we have are a threat to the trophies of the name of the {opposition/competition/etc. used as adjective} agenda, so the rejection we receive is always emotionally charged and ends up insulting, since once explained logically, the opposition runs out of substance and is only left to hurl insults and presume and misconstrue this practical wisdom into some {ironically-used adjective/quotes optional} evil.

*Template taken from the good folks at Fix the Family.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Decision to Forgive is Personal

Forgiveness is a tricky concept. Similar to coming out of the closet, forgiveness is an extremely personal process. Just as no one can tell you when to come out, no one can tell you when it’s “time” to forgive.

I’m beginning to suspect that one of the next steps for my own healing and wholeness from years of closet-living is to forgive those who inadvertently kept me there—perhaps even forgive those who still wish I was inside that closet.

Again, I can’t help coming back to the notion that forgiveness is extremely personal, and therefore takes on multiple meanings for different individuals in different situations.

Forgiveness is a word that is vaguely defined and haphazardly applied. What does it really mean to forgive? What is the scope of forgiveness? Does it include reconciliation? How does forgiveness look, practically speaking? It seems kind of empty to merely say the words “I forgive you.” There needs to be something transformative about it for the person forgiving. Ideally, it should also be transformative for the person being forgiven.

Unfortunately, those who have suffered physical, sexual, emotional, or spiritual abuse—even as a child—are often told that in order to heal, they need to forgive their abuser. One might as well say to a person with a compound fracture in the leg: “Don’t just sit there crying! Reset your broken bone, grab some needle and thread, sew up your wound, and put a plaster cast on your leg.” These may be the steps needed to heal the injury, but it is completely impractical and non-empathetic advice, not to mention absurd for the person to try to follow these steps on their own.

This metaphor, while helpful, doesn’t capture the complexity of the healing process for those who have been abused. A physical injury like a compound fracture can be treated in a straightforward manner by a doctor, and the injury will heal. The healing process for an abuse victim is much more complex.

Various authors of the Bible talk of healing for those who are oppressed and downtrodden. Jesus and others reference taking care of “the widow and the orphan.” Jesus teaches about the Good Samaritan who helped a robbery victim. The prophets in the Old Testament rage against the injustice toward the oppressed in Israel. In all these situations, the directive is toward helping and healing those who are abused, oppressed, and victims of injustice. The directive is NOT toward the widow and the orphan, NOT toward the oppressed, NOT to those who are ill-treated! We need to stop demanding forgiveness from victims of abuse, and tend to their needs instead. Forgiveness toward their oppressors and abusers, if and when it comes, will be personal and will occur as a part of their own healing process.

NOTE: See David Hayward's post about The Anger Clock for more on this strange emphasis on the abused "getting over" their anger.

At this point you may be saying: oh, but Shoop. Didn’t Jesus say to love our enemies? Didn’t he say to forgive those who trespass against us? Didn’t he say to forgive, time and time again, those who do wrong against us (i.e., 70 x 7 times)? Yes, but in all these instances, Jesus is describing life in the Kingdom of God. I believe one has to balance the Bible’s teaching about the oppressed with these Kingdom of God directives.

Being a white, cisgender male living in the United States, I have a lot of privilege. Luke 12:48 records Jesus himself saying: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required.” Understanding the thematic context of justice and healing for the oppressed throughout the Bible and Jesus’ teachings, isn’t it absurd to spend so much time telling the abused to forgive their abusers? Much more is asked from those of us who have so many cultural and situational advantages.

Where does that leave those of us who are privileged and haven’t suffered abuse? Jesus is looking at us, straight in the eyes, and telling us to forgive and to model forgiveness. To have thick skins and open hearts. The good news is that Jesus tells us to do this because we ourselves are already forgiven. As I grow older, I realize more and more that my “sin” rarely has to do with the things I do. It’s more often the things that I don’t do. I don’t do a hell of a lot to feed the hungry, help the oppressed, comfort the emotionally distraught, befriend the friendless, or advocate for justice.

These convictions move me to act in three ways: They bring me back to God in order to ask for help and guidance. They move me to find ways to do the things I’ve neglected to do as a Kingdom chaser. And finally, they encourage me to forgive those who have wronged me by their acts of omission.

To be completely open with you, readers, I have held much anger and bitterness toward members of my own family who haven’t pursued reconciliation and relationship with me after I came out to them (about 4 years ago). One of the primary reasons I came out was to have a more honest relationship with them; happily, this has occurred with many family members, including my parents. Still, many familial relationships remain strained.

I’m at a point in my life where I want to forgive those who haven’t accepted and affirmed my relationship with my partner. However, as I mentioned earlier, this decision to forgive is extremely personal. I could never and would never encourage anyone to “stop being angry and just forgive.” I am still figuring out what forgiveness actually looks like for me. I don’t want to force it. But I am curious to see how it works and how transformative it could be.