In light of World Visions reversal, all I can think to say is…..

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Well, that or explode in anger at the fact bully’s and bigots used sponsorship for children as ransom; and won. I think it’s both.

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Scared, tired, beaten, fed up….take your pick

I’ll be honest I am scared about going back to church. Late last year I stopped going to church to try and rebuild my relationship with Christ. It was going well but over the last few weeks, it seems I’m further away than ever before. I don’t pray that often, I prefer to spend time on the XBox than read the Bible; we all need breaks but perhaps that’s now run its course and its time to change or  re-balance.

Biggest problem though is I am just sick and tired of the way some Christians treat others, in particular the LGBT community. Most recent of which is the outcry that World Vision, a charity which helps sponsor children in need, will now hire married gay Christians, to which the response of some Christians was to announce that they will no longer support them. Add to that The Gospel Coalition, of “use your gag reflex when it comes to LGBT community”, weighed in a warp speed condemning World Vision and suggesting its World Visions fault the children will now suffer as true evangelicals have to withdraw their support. It’s all the gays fault apparently.

I must have not read the part where Jesus said we are to care for the orphans and widows, unless gay people are involved. This is what Christianity and the Gospel have now become; protection of doctrine above all else, even at the expense of helping those in need. So much for love your enemies then, so much for humanity mattering. It’s a mentality that permeates Christian forums. They promise fellowship but forget to mention you have to agree to their way of thinking in order for it to be extended. I’m tired, I’m bruised and I’m ashamed to be associated with Christianity today; and I’m being told I need to be a member of a church for support when it represents this? Not a chance!! I can see why many people feel the greatest enemies to the Gospel are Christians. If only Jesus had something to say about all this – oh wait; “Whatever you did for the least of these you did for me” (Matthew 25:40)

It’s easy to focus on the negative. I found out there was people stopping supporting World Vision, via those condemning such actions. Great blog posts by people such as Nish Weiseth, Amy Mitchell, Zach Hoag, Brandon Robertson, as well Rachel Held Evans, Micah Murray and Stephanie Drury calling them out on Twitter. All articulate what I’m feeling at the moment. All of it tinged with the knowledge that they, and me, don’t want to be having to write about this anymore. The focus should be on other issues like poverty, child prostitution, abuse; pick any issue that’s affecting this world, pick any issue that would make a difference if it was fought against with the same zeal that people fight against same sex marriage. The fact this is the focus of peoples rage just gets me going all over again. Talk about it we must though, because whilst America and other countries are beginning to accept LGBT as equals, those who don’t want that are moving their campaign elsewhere. It can’t be ignored.

Maybe I can do more than use this blog to rant about how it makes me feel, I’m fully aware that these issues aren’t really about me; but isn’t expressing anger a part of standing against something? There is also the issue of what message does this send about what Christ stands for. Jason Bradley on Twitter summed it up brilliantly – “Jesus, if I didn’t love you so much, I wouldn’t want to be in your club–most of these people are crazy.” That reminded me of this:

This is why I haven’t just walked away, I love God and I can only imagine what he’s thinking of all this.

This whole debacle has brought World Vision to the attention of many, and they are beginning contributing to them to help fund their work. That’s productive and something I can do and if you would like to do the same, please visit their website. For now, I’m beating a strategic retreat into the arms of Jesus. I am the parable of the lost son.

There is no victory in Phelps’ passing

Fred Phelps, founder of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, has died at the age of 84. Westboro Baptist Church are famous for their “God hates fags” signs and the picketing of soldiers funerals. His legacy is one of perpetuating hate, discrimination and pain.

I do not mourn his passing, but I don’t celebrate and revel in it either. I do not know what kind of upbringing he had, or what his life was like away from the cameras. He was clearly filled with bitterness and anger, but he was also someones father, a grand father, and  a husband. His family, for all the anger and hate they’ve inherited, will be grieving. I cannot find it in myself to celebrate his death and taunt his family.  I pray for them. Bereavement is hard enough, they may have to do it publicly and face those who Fred Phelps hurt. Neither do I believe he is beyond Gods grace. He was loved by God, as everyone is, and may now have the full knowledge of what his actions did to others. Again, he is not beyond grace.

There will be those who will find closure in his death, I fully respect that. I was not harmed by Phelps or his teachings, and though I bear a few scars from battles with those who believed what he did, they are nothing compared to the majority. There will be those who will want to picket his funeral and to celebrate. I understand their feelings behind it, but there seems to be an opportunity here to help break the cycle of hate that Westboro Baptist Church encourages. We don’t have to respond in the same way, we have the same choice they do, but by not acting as they would, maybe we can show them how wrong they are. It doesn’t matter if it makes a difference to them or not, responding tit for tat merely fuels the fire and shows that they are right in their approach. We can end that. To quote Martin Luther King Jr; “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Christian or not, we can all choose love. Westboro have been prime examples of why hate doesn’t work. As Chris Stedman writes:

“WBC and Phelps may have been good at getting attention, but they’ve largely failed to change hearts and minds in their direction. (If anything, they’ve made anti-LGBTQ views that much more unattractive.) May their utter failure to promote their vision of a divided world be a lesson to us all.”

Whilst it’s true that Phelps is not around to harm anymore people, Westboro Baptist Church still exists. It is still run by those who shared his views, so today does not mark a victory or an end of a battle in an ongoing war. Phelps was merely one spokesman for homophobia, there are many more still alive and still spreading hate and doing so almost un-noticed.  Those committed to fighting discrimination and homophobia still have fights on their hands, that doesn’t end with todays news. 

There is no victory here, just lessons to learn and the chance for grace to be extended.

Build the commonality, then discuss differences; picking my way through my recent Twitter conversation

It’s still amazing to me how one comment can cause a ripple in the force of the internet and before you know it, everyone’s jumping in the topic ends up on the other side of the planet. It does reveal a lot about people and how discussions are carried out though, as well as raising some very difficult questions.

On Twitter this week I read a post that read (and this is exactly how it was put):

Ive SEEN 100s HEALED of CANCER and OTHER PAIN and DISEASES JESUS HEALS EVERYDAY ASK PRAY BELIEVE

To which my response was:

and when he doesn’t heal you?

Why God does not heal people, or leaves it a long time before he does, has always been a difficult point. Some of the responses to my question involved Gods timing being perfect and that he has a plan. This suggests its part of Gods plan for people to suffer and wants them to. This is just grotesque on many levels, and is in no way related to what Jesus taught. Another response was about our sufferings now are nothing compared to the riches of heaven. Whilst I believe that God will renew and heal the world and rejoin it with heaven (both combined are Gods kingdom), we’re still left with the issue of suffering now. This is one of the main reasons cited by atheists as to why they don’t believe in God. I can fully understand why this is, and I think that some of the responses do nothing but treat peoples suffering with contempt and simply dismiss it. I get that we’re trying to understand it, but lets not make it less than what it is and/or trivialise it.

Things got interesting when atheists started weighing in on the conversation. Sadly though, the conversation very quickly degraded into an insult slinging match. The main comments were that all religious believers were delusional and stupid and suggesting professional help; one went as far as saying that the only way they could believe what Christians do is to have a labotomy or a tumour. What came to mind on this was the fact that despite some atheists believing that belief in God is some kind of mental illness, there is no effort or even talk about getting it classified as one. For all their bluster, they don’t seem to be taking much action against something they feel people can and should be cured of. One of the things they cite is the claim made by Christians that God speaks to them. This conjures up ideas of actual voices similarly with schizophrenia. This is where Christians don’t really help themselves or assume far too much. Christians do alot of talking about hearing God, God speaking to them, putting things on their heart etc, but what exactly does this mean? As a Christian, I absolutely believe that God guides and inspires people. I also believe that sometimes we attribute things to God that did not come from him. How do we tell the difference? Great question, I’ll come back you when I have an answer. Rachel Held Evans wrote a great piece on Chrisitanese and how it’s often used as a barrier, as well being concepts that some Christians don’t even understand. The point though is that with a few exceptions, no Christians claim to hear voices when they say God spoke to them and claim God told them to harm others; this could be one way to tell the difference, when did Jesus command people to harm others? Those who believe belief in God is a mental illness may point to a clinical definition of schizophrenia which includes;

Delusion – Unusual beliefs not based on reality which often contradict the evidence

They will claim it is not based on reality and contradicts evidence and therefore is a delusion.  Professor Andrew Sims, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Leeds and Past President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, wrote a book titled Is Faith Delusion in which he argues that faith is not, indeed cannot, be a delusion. He writes:

I started with the question, is faith delusion? I spent some time looking at precisely what delusion is in psychopathology and then measuring religious faith against it. I concluded that faith, of itself, is not  and cannot be delusion, although people frequently have delusions that include religious and spiritual content. I covered briefly various other abnormal phenomenological states and found that, although those with religious belief may well experience them, faith was not causative. I also looked at the nature of personality to assess whether faith could be construed as a product of abnormal personality. Although variations of personality affect the manifestation and self-experience of belief, religious faith exists independent of personality. Finally, I examined the phenomenon of faith, observing its cognitive, affective and volitional aspects. This process has been carried out from the perspective of descriptive psychopathology.

When it came to the tone of the conversation, some responses by Christians didn’t exactly help matters. Telling someone they’re demonic is not the greatest negotiation tactic. Some of the things they came out with also made me scratch my head. Things like:

“i know,but she doesnt have a heart at this moment for God.She will need to be humbled b4…she will want God. But if you want evidence…he provides that. It is a 2way relationship…not a myth”

There’s just seems to be so much arrogance to that statement. It is like calling yourself humble, if you have to call yourself it then you’re not. Michael Greens statement sums it up:

Some Christians really do give the impression that they have arrived and that all the rest of us are just struggling in the dark.

They give this impression when dealing with other Christians too. The response was spot on and really hits on something that has crept into Christianity:

the problem is, he assumes anyone who isn’t Christian doesn’t have a good heart.

Absolutely, this seems to be a massive assumption within Christian communities; that atheists can’t be good people. This is just utter utter nonsense. The statement about not having a heart for God was followed up about them being angry at God. Atheists not angry at God, you can’t be angry at something that you don’t believe exist, but many seem to be angry that there are people who believe God exists. This is just weird that people get visibily upset at the thought that someone believes something they don’t. I get being angry at the actions of people that they claim is in the name of religion, but insult those simply because they believe something different? Oh yes, very enlightened. Also, I didn’t have a heart for God when I became a Christian and every single person has the same choice I did; say yes to God or say no. Quoting scripture at an atheist to prove a point is just a waste of time in most circumstances. Not because they’re not willing to listen, but they don’t believe the Bible is the word of God. It’s like trying to prove a point by quoting the Koran to a Christian; same thing.

Inevitably the question of evidence came up and this didn’t go much better. Claims from Jesus is the evidence to Jesus didn’t exist were thrown about; and accusations that no evidence was provided even though links to what the evidence is were posted less than a minute earlier. It does seem sometimes that the ones who scream the loudest about evidence, are the ones least interested in it. There were 2 really interesting statements made on this. One I’ve heard expressed in various ways from both atheists and Christians, and that is if there was evidence you wouldn’t need belief. This is straight out the Richard Dawkins textbook, and completely misunderstands what belief and faith are. We believe things when we have reasons to, when we have had enough evidence to persuade us. As W.H Griffith Thomas wrote:

[Faith] affects the whole of man’s nature. It commences with the conviction of the mind based on adequate evidence; it continues in the confidence of the heart or emotions based on conviction, and it is crowned in the consent of the will, by means of which the conviction and confidence are expressed in conduct.

Even a glance at the dictionary shows that the concepts of belief, faith and evidence are linked. The Christian faith may be wrong, the evidence for it may not actually point to its truthfulness, but it simply is not the case that it can’t have evidence purely because it is a faith. I was given a slightly back-handed compliment when I was told not to give up my reason as I will eventually see religion for what it is. Whilst it was refreshing to hear an atheist acknowledge that a Christian can be reasonable and rational, they still seemed to struggle with the fact that reason and rationality are reasons people are not atheist. Atheism probably makes about as much sense to many Christians as Christianity does to many atheists.

Looking back through the conversations, I’ve realised that it went all rather predictably. Some atheists think Christians are mentally ill, some Christians think atheists are immoral, both seem to think faith and evidence are enemies and the internet really isn’t the place to hold discussions with people you don’t know; especially about such an emotive topic as religion seems to be. Something atheist philosopher Michael Ruse said I think is very true:

Unless you’ve got commonalities, you can’t really discuss things. If you’re just talking completely past each other, it gets kind of boring. It’s where you share an awful lot then things get really interesting

I have many atheist friends, and we discuss religion quite often; but we know each other, we share other interests. When you don’t know them, it’s easier to keep people at a distance and caricature and mock them than it is to make the effort to get to know them I guess. That just doesn’t make for a conversation that goes anywhere.

My big piece on where I am now

This is my first blog since moving house which is why it’s been a while since my last post. This move has had added significance as it marked the end of a pretty major chapter in my life. 6 years ago when I moved to Oxford, I didn’t know Christ and it wasn’t until about a year later that I started to seriously question my beliefs at the time and wound up being a Christian in the process (you can find more details here). I was confident, I went about getting answers and explanations. Now I’m not so much on the confident front as those same answers are not so comforting.

I feel like I’m waging many wars at the moment, not least between what I believe the Bible to be and what I know about it; and I can’t ignore what I know. It is inspired by God and the historical evidence Jesus’s life death and resurrection have helped me have some degree of confidence as to the truthfulness of my faith, but similar accounts of the flood in other ancient documents, ending of Mark being added to, differing resurrection accounts, 200,000 textual variants in the manuscripts, not having the original autographs, the use of other (now lost) sources; have all raised questions regarding what does all this mean for inerrancy of the Bible. Any half-decent apologist will be able to give an explanation for these and why the overall reliability isn’t affected, but it doesn’t change the above facts and doesn’t really address inerrancy.  All this is before we even get into science and evolution, and their relationship with Christianity and the Bible. On the one hand, evolution is a process and God is a designer; 2 different types of explanation that are not in conflict. On the other hand, why would a good loving God use a method that relies on death? I’ve been taking a course on human evolution run by John Hawks who is a paleoanthropologist from the University of Wisconsin to help better understand this process and the evidence. Regardless of whether you believe the evolution theory to be true or false, it helps to know a little bit about it.  Its not the first time science has thrown up facts about the universe that forced Christians to re-think the Bible. The idea that the earth moved signified a massive shift in how certain passages were interpreted.

What about Genesis though? John Walton, Peter Enns, N.T. Wright, Denis Lamoureux (among others) have all contributed to the understanding of the history and the culture of the time the Bible was written in, especially in light of the aforementioned similarities to other ancient stories. If the Bible is so much a part of the culture of the time, how can we talk about it being the word of God? I have some atheists saying we should discard the Bible on the one side and some Christians saying we should discard evolution on the other. As I’ve written, I think the integrity of both should be maintained which does put me in the middle of both, upsetting both. The question though  is how? How do I keep the integrity of both whilst addressing the challenges they raise?

One book that has had a massive impact on me has been Healing The Gospel by Derek Flood. It has completely changed the way I look at the cross. Whilst I didn’t have an official title for it, penal substitution (that Jesus took the punishment due to us) is very much what is taught. Again, apologists have an answer for why this had to happen. Derek though, has done an excellent job of showing not only why this isn’t what the Bible teaches, but why it’s actually grotesque for God to require such a sacrifice. What the cross is about is restoration, both of the earth itself and our relationship with God. It’s about healing. I’m still trying to work through it in more detail, but it gave a possible way of looking at the 2 issues above. Essentially, this is how God works. He comes down to our level, works at our level in the world, and is able to take the most barbaric form of capital punishment and use it for its opposite purpose. This doesn’t do the complexity of scripture any justice, or the magnitude of what Christ has done and certainly doesn’t answer all the questions, but it does give a possible framework within which to start tackling these sorts of questions and others that spring out of them.

Something else Derek has written about is how Paul treated the more violent parts of the Old Testament. Paul took passages the Old Testament and changed the context from one of violence to one of peace. Jesus seemed to do something similar with “You’ve heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say love your enemy”, and not ordering the stoning of the adulterous woman, even though that is what the law required. This obviously raises huge questions about how we are to, and can, handle scripture; through the lens of Jesus is a saying that’s used a lot, but it goes beyond this. I’m also very much influenced by John Walton’s book “Lost World Of Genesis One“, in particular the idea that Genesis 1 is a temple text. People built temples as spaces for Gods to occupy. If this is what Genesis is teaching, then the world is Gods temple, he built it for him to take up residence with the beings he created. He therefore, hasn’t abandoned it or is going to destroy it; but through Jesus showed it will be renewed/renovated. This is Gods kingdom, and heaven is therefore not some distant distinct place we go to when we die. God made the world to be with us, it’s about relationship not an abstract set of intellectual philosophies and rules; though rules are important.

Knowledge changes many things and it certainly has on this.

Having all this ground work with a vague way forward, the question becomes what do I do with it in terms of applying it to my life? Not just in terms of what I do but how I treat others. As I’ve written previously, attitudes towards the LGBT community have caused me to walk away from the church, and is the biggest reason I end up on collision courses with many Christians. I don’t see that changing anytime soon, and my approach  is very simple; they are loved children of God and deserve to be treated as such and that is what I will do. I know the discussions regarding what the Bible says and means can be complex and nuanced, it can cause tension as I work through it; but the aspect that over-rides all others is the treatment of human beings as equal. This is why I don’t support Christians being able to deny services to same-sex couples, this is why I fully support same-sex marriage, this is why I get abuse from some Christians for it. This is also why I fully support the ordination of women as bishops, pastors, leaders. We all have skills that we can bring to help others, I just don’t see God going “you’re a woman, you can’t do that”. For petes sake, Christianity started with the message that Christ had risen from the dead and the first person given that message and told to tell others was Mary Magdalene! Again, I know the discussions about what Bible says can be complex and nuanced (and introduce me to new words like “complementarian”), but I’m taking the approach of if the interpretation doesn’t extend grace and dignity, chances are it’s wrong.

This is just a very small sample of the questions that I’m currently wrestling with (I haven’t talked about hell yet), and I know I’m not alone in this. Since taking a break from going to church though, I’ve found the process to be less like juggling or spinning plates and more like them spread over a table; I can tackle them in my own time in my own way under no pressure other than what I put on myself. This doesn’t mean I have all the answers but that’s ok. As I’m learning, doubt is a big part of faith as is holding many viewpoints in tension. One of the biggest things I need to do is find a new church. The fact I want to find a new church is an improvement given the issues I’ve had, but this is not something I’ve ever had to do. Truth is, I’m very nervous at the prospect of it. If my experiences of many Christians on the internet is anything to go by, an LGBT affirming, inerrancy denying, constant questioner who believes women should be allowed to be bishops and doesn’t believe human nature is ultimately depraved; is not exactly going to be welcomed with open arms. There’s no shortage of people of queuing up to criticize you as the recent topics involving what is the church and whether we need to go to be a Christian is anything to go by. I’m told there are churches who will be welcoming, and I have found many Christians who are. It helps to know what you’re looking for though. The one thing I need is space to continue to wrestle with everything that’s going on in my head, freedom to voice these, to share with the church and to disagree with certain doctrines/theology of a particular church.

This is me, this is where I am now, roll on the next chapter.