Hatred Wrapped as Love

Target Audience: Conservatives, Evangelical Christians, Fundamentalist Christians

God is Love (1John 4:8)

What happens when we blend the definition of love with our political ideologies? An ideology is a set of beliefs commonly held by people within a certain group. For example, conservatives have beliefs that are distinctive to them. The same is true for liberals and other political ideologies. Everyone has an ideology of some kind. All of us align ourselves with one community or another, often several different communities intersect our lives. So our worldview is often a blend of various different ideologies and systems of belief. 

Those of us who identify as followers of Jesus, though, have agreed to align our worldview with a much higher standard — the principles of the kingdom of God, which Jesus Himself ushered in when He was on earth. As such, we commit to a new way of seeing other people. 

Recently, I had a conversation with a young Christian. He told me that while he doesn’t offer much original content on his Facebook page, his friends have no doubt about where he stands on God and issues such as LGBTQ. When I dug a bit deeper I discovered that his idea of “standing for God” was to tell people within the LGBTQ community that they are living in sin and their lifestyle would ultimately destroy them. In his opinion, this was the best way to communicate and show them the love of God. He went on to tell me that he did not have “time for theological discussions”. Sadly, he is symbolic of many right-wing, conservative Christians who tend to highlight the wrath, the judgment, the anger of God as opposed to His love, forgiveness, and His mercy. I was not privy to his conversations with the LGBTQ people to which he referred, but I doubt any of them asked if they could go to church with him to hear more about his vengeful God. 

Like so many [conservative] Christians these days, he focused on a person’s issues — note I did not use the word sin — instead of doing what Jesus really asked us to do, point them to Himself that they may know His love. Sin robs all humanity of the moral high ground. None of us have the right to think of ourselves as better than anyone else or to sit in judgment of another person. That alone is Christ’s role. 

When we wrap prejudice, hatred, and bigotry up and call it love we betray God and the essence of the gospel by which we were saved. I have often felt that the people who feel they have the moral high ground and look down on others tend to feel that it didn’t take quite as much of Jesus’ blood to cleanse them as it does the real perverts, like people in the LGBTQ community. 

That brings me to The Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel. While I can agree on a few points in this document, most of the points, specifically referring to race, sexual orientation, and women are abhorrent to the essence of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This statement places men above women, and in fact subjugates women to men in a marriage relationship rather than making them equal partners with their husbands. A proscription found in the Pauline epistles prohibiting women from teaching in church or even speaking in church has been elevated to transcendent doctrine instead of being identified as a cultural practice. In Paul’s time men were usually educated and women were taught by men. Hence, women were not equipped to teach or speak in churches in that day. That doesn’t make them unequal with men. That is merely a cultural norm that does not need to be carried over into the 21st century. 

Women were not their only targets. People within the LGBTQ community also felt their hatred and scorn. Instead of welcoming people from that community into churches as full members of the body, worshipping alongside all others, The Statement declares them to be sinful merely because of their identity and their lifestyle. Far too many Christians have misread and misunderstood the New Testament with respect to homosexuality. Even worse, they have demonized homosexual men and women, making it a far greater issue than it ever was in the Bible. I have long believed this hatred and bigotry is borne of insecurity among heterosexual leaders in churches that they have successfully inculcated in their flocks over generations. It is now accepted as transcendent doctrine on the level of the deity of Christ, blood redemption, or the virgin birth, when in fact it is error that went to seed.

Jesus said: A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another. (John 13:34-35). The authors of the Statement got it wrong. It is the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin. In their smugness, highlighting the errors of other sinners for which Christ died, they inadvertently violated another instruction that Christ gave: take the plank out of your own eye before you worry about the speck in another person’s eye. The hatred and bigotry that shone through so brightly, not the love of God for all creation, is nothing more than a blight against evangelical Christianity. Instead of drawing people to Christ, many, I am sure, will flee as fast as possible. Who wants to be around a vengeful, hateful god like that?

A much more positive and progressive read is this one: Statement on God’s Justice

Depression and Apathy

Almost two months ago I slid into the worst period of depression I had experienced in years. I decided to blog about how I was feeling during this period in my life to perhaps help other Christians understand that mental illness can impact the lives of Jesus followers just like anyone one else in our society. I also hoped that people who were caregivers might read my posts and gain an understanding about what it is like to be depressed. Even though my blog is not widely read, I hoped that adding my voice to this issue might help demolish stigmas that some people still attach to mental illnesses such as depression. 

Perhaps there is nothing more frustrating about being depressed than the fog of apathy that seems to descend upon me. I liken it to a fog because nothing seems to be clear to me. Ordinary and simple decisions seem complicated and complex. It can be a time of heightened paranoia and fear, and God can seem very far away. 

In my case, this fog can last hours, days, or even weeks. Sadly, for me, there is no “happy pill” that I can take to make it all better. I have tried numerous antidepressants, but the side effects to them are worse than the disease. So, I am left with seeking support from friends, family, and health care professionals. My church, like so many these days, is not equipped to deal with people who are depressed. It is strange because there are so many people who battle depression in all age groups. I am thankful for the friends who have offered to connect with me during these times. These tend to be busy people, but they have been kind enough to reach out, usually by text or email, but sometimes in person as well. 

The fact that I am writing this message is an indication that the fog has begun to lift. I think this is the fourth or fifth attempt to write about the fog and every time I have started, only to put it off for another day, never to be finished. 

Depression and Community

Today the fog lifted a bit more. I am still not feeling well, but I am better than I was last Thursday, which was the worst day in this current episode of depression. I made it to church yesterday and enjoyed my time of solitude for the rest of the day. 

One of my concerns is that I still feel somewhat numb spiritually. I looked forward to the Sunday message, but felt nothing sitting in the seat. It hasn’t resonated with me yet and I want to feel the joy and the challenge that I had become accustomed to feeling at my church. I wanted that joyful uneasiness, that peace with discomfort that challenged me and motivated me to reach further, dig deeper, and explore old beliefs that may need to be changed.

Among the conversations I had yesterday was with a friend who emphasized the importance of community. This is something that has been lost on me when I have been in the darkest, deepest place in depression. As I have mentioned in previous posts, I tend to assume that everyone who might be helpful is too busy or unavailable to help me. That might be the case, of course, but I don’t reach out to anyone to find out if help is available. Part of my reticence is the belief that someone like me tends to bother people rather than contribute to their day. I know that I am high maintenance, at least that is the message that I have received from others in the past. Perhaps everyone is high maintenance at times. 

The truth is I do have a vibrant and concerned community of friends and Jesus followers who care about me, who have given me their contact information and encouraged me to use it. The challenge for me when I am in this pit of confusion, darkness and paranoia is to reach out when I do not feel like it.

Today, though, was a good day. I managed to get out of the apartment. I allowed myself to procrastinate about laundry until Wednesday when I have the whole day to complete the task. I am not feeling really happy at this moment and realize that I could easily slide back into the pit of depression if I am not careful and remain focused. One of the ministers at my church sent me a YouTube link this morning. It is the Christian song: I am no longer a slave to fear. I am a child of God

 

 

Shame

Target Audience: Evangelical Christians

Shame1The most destructive force that has ever visited my life is shame. Normally, I try to edit my posts to make sure they are somewhat grammatically correct and coherent. This post, though, I am writing with very little editing because it is an issue that is very personal and important to me.

In October last year I began a course at my church, The Meeting House in Oakville, Ontario, called Healing Care. I have been through a number of courses over the years in churches. Most of them have been forgotten long ago. Looking back, that is perhaps a good thing. I have been through 12 Step programs and self-help groups, one-on-one counselling for years for various issues. So, when a man from my church contacted me about this course, my first reaction was that I was too weird, too messed up, and I just didn’t think I would fit in. It actually began last summer when I was homeless for almost two months. I grew up in a middle class home and I never thought I would be homeless. So, when this man from my church contacted me about this Healing Care course, I was more than skeptical. In fact, I quit twice before the course even began, but he encouraged me not to quit, so I decided to go.

I entered the course with the expectation that if I ever shared my issues that the other people in the course would tell the leaders they weren’t comfortable with me and I would be asked to leave, so I decided that I would do everything I could to avoid sharing these issues. I won’t share them here, not because of shame, but because I have come to a place that I do not need to share everything about my life in order to be open and honest. Weeks passed and I successfully managed to avoid sharing what was going on in my life. Finally, I decided it was time to either go all in or leave, so I shared my story. Much to my amazement, the support in the group was overwhelming. In the final weeks in the course I learned that everyone else in that course also had the same sense of apprehension — and shame about the issues in their lives. The issues were different, but the shame and the guilt were common to us all.

I have been a Christian for over 40 years and for most of those years have lived in shame for one thing or another. The baggage that I carry is really not a lot different than the baggage anyone else carries. My sins were all forgiven by Jesus and He loves me just like He loves everyone else. The people who reinforced the shame in my life most consistently over the years wasn’t my family, or my friends, or the people with whom I went to school. The people who reinforced the shame were other evangelical Christians. It has been my experience that conservative evangelical Christians tend to be more judgmental. Each time I was judged I sunk deeper into shame. Like the graphic above, shame brought only darkness into my life. It drew me further away from God and created an image in my mind of a helpless individual looking up at a huge axe that was perilously held by a thread. I believed that God was a vengeful, angry being just waiting for me to commit one sin too many. At that moment, the axe of His judgment would come down and snuff out my life. Is it any wonder that I had difficulty seeing and experiencing the love of God. For more than 40 years the only thing that had resonated with me in conservative evangelical churches was the judgment of God. I lived in perpetual shame. Not only did this prevent any deep intimate relationship with God, I could not love others as Jesus loves me because I didn’t truly believe that God loved me. Oh, I believed it on an intellectual level, but there was this emptiness in my heart. I have told people over the years that I have long viewed myself as someone looking through a window at people sitting at a table. The people at the table were “normal” evangelical Christians participating in the life God wants for them. I am in the building, but I never felt like I had a seat at the table.

Through the gentle guidance of the leaders in Healing Care, and lots of Scripture, I began to redefine myself, not as an abominable sinner just waiting for God to judge me, but as someone God cherishes, loves, and adores. I began to identify the lies that I had been told about myself by others, again mostly by other evangelical Christians, and lies that I had told myself and believed about myself. Reinforced by Scripture and group interaction and support, I began my journey away from a shame-based relationship with God to one of accepting His forgiveness and seeking to live the life He has for me.

So what do I believe about shame now? It has no place in my life. It is a destructive force that separates me from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness. In so many ways I have come believe that shame is worse the the sin for which I feel shame. The Holy Spirit convicts me when I do something wrong. If I live in shame or allow shame to have a foothold in my life, I give an opening to Satan to separate me from experiencing the fullness of God’s love and forgiveness, which is given freely. 

The Healing Care course which I took was 16 weeks, but it was merely the start of a life-long journey away from shame, guilt, remorse, and judgment that separates me from experiencing God’s love. I can never be separated from His love, but I can be separated from experiencing His love. In my life, shame has been the thing that most often separated me from experiencing the life God wants for me.

Homosexuals in Church

slide1Target Audience: Christians, Conservatives, Baptists, Evangelicals

For those who are bracing themselves for a pro-gay blog post, you are about to be disappointed. For those who are bracing themselves for an anti-gay blog post, you too will be disappointed. The focus of this blog post is to advocate a third way of dealing with homosexual men and women in churches, along with every other lifestyle that might make us feel uncomfortable. It is not about affirming the gay lifestyle or condemning it. It is about accepting homosexual men and women as people created by God, in the image of God, loved by God, forgiven by God, and for those who follow Jesus as Savior, redeemed by God. This post is about the lifelong journey of learning to love others as Jesus loves us, without condemnation, judgment, hatred, or violence.

I came to know Christ as my Savior when I was 18 years old in a small Baptist church northwest of Toronto. For the most part, I have hung out in Baptist churches, or more conservative theological churches and have no intention of changing my core theology with respect to things that directly relate to the gospel itself. I am, though, and have been for quite some time, much more liberal or moderate when it comes to social issues, such as homosexuality. I depart from the feelings and attitudes of many of my brothers and sisters in the faith, particularly with respect to how homosexual men and women should be treated should they show up at a conservative evangelical church.

About a year ago, I experienced a defining moment in my Christian life. I attended two small group Bible studies connected with my former church. The first small group I facilitated. The second one I attended as a participant. The statement that triggered the controversy was: “Tolerance for all lifestyles is so highly valued that the only sin that is a sin is judging. Do you think this is true today and what, if anything, can Christians do about it?”

In both Bible studies the lifestyle that members of the group wanted to discuss was homosexuality. Now, I have been around churches long enough to know that in a Baptist church, at least most Baptist churches, homosexuality is never going to be welcomed or embraced, or most times, even tolerated.

The discussions that followed in both groups, though, left me shaken and disillusioned about the people with whom I had been worshipping. While homosexuality was the match that set the discussions aflame, it could have been how we should treat or view radical Islam or anyone who is radically different that make these people feel threatened.

The people took the aggressive approach. While conceding that it is the work of the Holy Spirit to bring about changes in people, they seemed to be in agreement about two things:
First, the way to deal with a mythical gay couple who should show up for a morning service was to aggressively condemn their lifestyle using Bible references to back up the beliefs of the heterosexual men and women doing the interrogating.
Second, they seemed to feel that aggressively condemning the homosexual lifestyle to a gay couple demonstrated the love of God to these people.

I am not naive. Obviously the Old Testament condemns the homosexual lifestyle, but I believe the New Testament is less clear about whether homosexuality is the abominable sin regarded by many evangelical Christians. The Apostle Paul also directed churches not to let women speak in church and offered advice to slave owners. The point is that while the Old Testament clearly speaks out against homosexuality, the condemnations of homosexuality were written in an age where women were considered to be property, not human beings. The Bible sometimes reflects the culture of the day, as it does with respect to homosexuality.

Beyond the theology of whether or not homosexuality is acceptable, there is the question about how we, as Christians, are to treat other human beings. It is not hard, in many churches, to find men and women who have little conscience about the outright murder or abuse of homosexual men and women. These are the same people who either condone or stand silent when abortion clinics are bombed and doctors who perform abortions are murdered.

Quite simply, I can respect a wide variety of beliefs and opinions. I can worship with people who believe that homosexuality is wrong. I can worship with people who believe that it is right. I can worship with people who choose to voice no opinion and take no action, positive or negative, toward homosexuality. I cannot, though, associate or worship with Christians who believe that hatred, bigotry, intentional discrimination, and condemnation is the best way to deal with sin or controversial issues. For me to continue to identify with the hatred, bigotry and open discrimination of other human beings would be to add my voice to their twisted concept of God and His mission for humanity.

When Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 NIV (2011), He did not mean just heterosexuals, or people with whom we feel comfortable. That command is as much a challenge to me as anyone else. Do I have people who I do not like, that I find difficult to be around? Of course I do. Everyone does, but then Christianity isn’t about adapting our culture to our faith. It is about replacing our culture with the principles of our faith.

At this point, anyone reading this blog post might wonder if there are any genuine Christians at this church or are they all haters. My former church has a lot of genuine Christians who have incredible compassion, generosity, love, and empathy for a wide range of people. In reality, their challenge isn’t defending their faith, although they seem to be ill-equipped to do so. Their challenge is learning how to love challenging people, which is a challenge to everyone. We need to drop our rocks of condemnation, judgment, hatred, fear, anger, and violence and embrace others with the love we experienced from Jesus. Anything less is in itself sin.

The challenge isn’t whether we affirm or condemn homosexuality. The challenge is accepting people who God has created, in His image, and loving them as Jesus loves us.