Jesus is like Superman, so what? No, seriously, so what?

In my discussions about the painting of Jesus break dancing [1], much has been paid of making Jesus in our own image and that he would never participate in the ways of this world. Similar discussions have taken place regarding the comparisons between Jesus and Superman in light of new movie Man of Steel [2]. Many distance Jesus from such things, citing that Jesus was not of this world and he was separate from the ways of it, focusing on the differences.

He may have been separate but he didn’t simply direct traffic lofting up on this throne out of reach. Jesus came down to us and got his hands dirty, something the Pharisees would never stoop to doing so. He had dinner with tax collectors and spent time with lepers and outcasts. He wept with Mary at Lazarus’s grave. He experienced what we do and that’s the whole point. Maybe he wouldn’t be break dancing or enjoying a glass of wine, but if you think he would then so what? The relationship has always been what has mattered to God. If seeing Jesus like Superman helps, then it helps. It may not be 100% theologically accurate but as I’ve said before, if it gets you over a hurdle between you and God, do you think he’s bothered? When the heavens are renewed, will Jesus be on the sidelines whilst the party happens? Or will he come and join in and raise a glass to his father? When it comes to artistic expression, there aren’t really any set ways.

In my life I know what he has done. He reached down into the darkness that was my life and grabbed me. I don’t always feel like I’ve been totally pulled up, but when I look up I see him. He’s not holding onto a rope, he’s holding onto me. In the torrent of doubt I hold onto him, doubts about whether I’m doing what he wants, doubts over whether I’m supporting those who he needs me to, doubts over whether I’m saved because I’m still struggling with past issues. I make mistakes, I face battles, I struggle along in this life; but Jesus helps me over the hurdles and embraces me as a son no matter the result. People will say I’m not holding onto him I’m holding onto an image of him, I can say the same about them it doesn’t determine who is correct. Perhaps I do take it too far sometimes, make Jesus to be too much like us and downplay how he was not of this world, but a Jesus who is totally separate from the world is unreachable. If he is unreachable, how I can grab him? How can he change my life?

Jesus can be Superman, Batman, a break dancer, a raver; he can be all those things. Most of all, he’s a father and a saviour.

References

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-bristol-22858325

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-sandlin/superman-vs-jesus_b_3444361.html

First published 17th June 2013

Method, attitude and expertise

Since focusing more of my time onto the website as opposed to other internet forums, I have learned so much. None more so than about myself, how I handle certain pressures and react to situations. I’ve probably made just about every mistake in the blogging 101 book from merely glancing through pieces to jumping on bandwagons, from not thinking things through and checking references to just being stubborn even though whoever I’m responding to is right.

The most recent of these mistakes has concerned the furor surround Raza Aslans book “Zealot; the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth” Once I heard the general conclusion of the book, I knew it was not a book I was going to agree with. After his interview with Fox News and his proclamation of being an expert, I jumped on the train of questioning his credentials. It wasn’t totally unjustified in my defense; when your bio lists you as associate professor of creative writing and you’re doing a book essentially about scholarship and history, alarm bells start ringing. It has echos of Richard Dawkins citing a professor of German language as his example of Jesus’s existence being in scholarly dispute. When Aslan’s credentials came up in discussion last night, I too quickly and too forcefully jumped on it pointing out the above. Yes, he has a PhD in sociology of religion, but it isn’t his main discipline and he’s going into a well researched field. I was convinced he would have nothing to really offer. The fact he was a Muslim didn’t bother me, his credentials did.

But I was already looking to dismantle his arguments before I’d even read them. Learning from one mistake led me to making another. I was getting angry at a book I hadn’t read purely because of the conclusion of it, and decided Aslan wasn’t suitable to write such a book. Not exactly the open minded tolerant approach I’ve always tried to encourage. I may have researched the historicity of Jesus but I’m not a scholar, I’m not trained in that discipline (computers and digital forensics are more my areas) I didn’t need to get as dismissive and almost angry about it as I did. Zealot would probably have been an appropriate word for me.

Reviews of the book have been coming in from the professionals though, I’ve read 2 in particular; one from Antony Le Donne [1] and the other from Greg Cary [2]. Both biblical scholars, both are not interested in Aslan’s credentials or indeed his religion. They take it purely from what he has said in the book and the criticisms are aimed at that and that alone. They are in a position to critique Aslan’s work.

All this does raise the issue of how much can the layman question? I was absolutely wrong in my approach and attitude but was I wrong in questioning period? I mean, it’s good to check the credentials of someone, you need to know they know what they’re talking about. But who is in a position to question whether those credentials are valid for the topic? Should I just accept what I’m being told and just drift with the currents of the majority view? History has shown that a majority view does not automatically equate to a true one. Not everyone can study and get a Ph.D in a subject, but we need the experts.

The discussions over Raza Aslans book are going to continue. It will generate discussion within religious groups, I’m just going to learn the art of quiet contemplation. Think my record is 7 and half minutes.

 

References:

[1] http://historicaljesusresearch.blogspot.co.il/2013/07/a-usually-happy-fellow-reviews-aslans.html

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/greg-carey/reza-aslan-on-jesus_b_3679466.html

 

First published 1st August 2013

Violence, atheism and yes, religion is a problem

I posted an article from TheGayChristian.com which was titled To the militant atheist from a religious progressive [1]. The general gist was that the aggressive nature of militant atheists being aimed at all Christians in light of the religious right wing is simply unjustified. The article argues that the opposition to the religious right is shared. An atheist responded to this on my Twitter and it’s their comments I’d like to address since its hard to fully in the 140 characters Twitter allows you. They said;

“”1) You won’t ever be taken seriously using the term ‘militant atheist'” – Do they self-detonate or use any violence”

“”2) “Why the aggressive attitude towards me” – B/c your backing of the Christian faith gives the Religious Right their power”

As far as I can tell, they see all religions as dangerous and identifying as a Christian is the same as supporting the religious right which they see as a particular problem. They also see atheists as being peaceful and non-violent. These are serious claims being made about Christianity and atheism so lets start here.

Christianity has a blood soaked history with the Crusades between the 11th and 13th centuries, Salem witch trials and the like. These events are deplorable and roundly condemned by everyone including Christians. There’s no point denying they happened or had nothing to do with Christianity. But simply saying something was done in the name of something doesn’t mean that it is. Jesus’ stance on violence being used in his name is pretty clear. When one of his disciples took a sword and chopped off a centurions ear during Jesus’s arrest, Jesus rebuked them saying ““Put your sword back in its place,” “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52) . Luke goes on to say Jesus healed the ear (Luke 22:51). One of his famous teachings is turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39) Many of the justifications used today to carry out violence is taken from the Old Testament, which ironically is quoted more than anything by atheists in their critique of Christianity. That’s not to say the New Testament doesn’t contain anything about using violence. Luke 22:36-38 has Jesus advising the disciples to take swords with them. Some commentaries have it as Jesus referring to the sword in a spiritual sense, others see it as Jesus advocating self defense in the face of mortal danger. Debates over passages have raged for centuries and it’s not always easy. Lets not mask the fact though, that many atrocities have been committed in Jesus’s name and I very ashamed of that fact.

September 11th 2001 is an event that is very often cited by people during discussions about religious violence. Richard Dawkins cites it as the event that radicalized him and compelled him to write The God Delusion. He couldn’t see how an atheist would ever bulldoze Mecca, Chatres, York Minister or Notre Dame [2] . Many Christians, and indeed atheists, have pulled him up on this, citing the reigns of Stalin and Pol Pot. Stalins target was the Orthodox Church of the day [3]. He saw them as a threat that needed to be neutralized; not too different to the views of some atheists today. Some say “but it wasn’t his atheism, it was his communism that led him to do this” First off his communism espoused atheism and second, you’re still left with an atheist wiping out his enemies like the Christians did; something Richard Dawkins couldn’t see happening . Incidentally Stalin and Pol Pot were listed first and second in a recent article about atheists who have given atheism a bad name [4]. Moral philosopher Peter Singer and evolutionary biologist Marc Hauser have realized that atheists are far from innocent;

Lest we be charged with a blinkered view of the world, atheists have also committed their fair share of henious crimes, including Stalins slaughter of millions of people in the USSR, and Pol Pot’s creation of the “killing fields” in which more than a million Cambodians were murdered. Putting these threads together, the conclusion is clear; neither religion nor atheism has a monopoly on the use of criminal violence [5]

I must state as with the Crusades, just because someone says they do something in the name of something doesn’t mean that they are. Atheism does not inevitably lead to violence or is inherently violent. This brings me onto the notion that all religions are violent. It is a common tactic to lump all religions together, compare them to the most extreme sides of it then proceed to dismantle religion on that basis; a perfect example of a straw man [6]. Over the last few years, this type of approach has largely been abandoned with author Sam Harris presenting the obvious problem to this line of thought in an essay;

While I have no doubt that the Amish are mistreating their children, by not educating them adequately, they are not likely to hijack aircraft and fly them into buildings. [7]

Indeed not and Richard Dawkins, albeit a bit late, has conceded just as much;

There are no Christians, as far as I know, blowing up buildings. I am not aware of any Christian suicide bombers. I am not aware of any major Christian denomination that believes the penalty for apostasy is death. I have mixed feelings about the decline of Christianity, in so far as Christianity might be a bulwark against something worse [8]

It needs to be said that there are many Muslims who are appalled by the acts of violence carried out in the name of Islam; but what about the charge that by being a Christian, I am supporting the religious right. You may not be familiar with the term religious right but I suspect everyone knows about Westboro Bapstist Church. This is the church led by Fred Phelps which blames natural disasters on acceptance of LGBT people and pickets funerals of soldiers. This is probably the face of religion that many regard as the norm and may be the only face they see. Indeed, during the writing of this, the commenter who inspired this responded back explaining how he sees the religious right causing damage within politics and the decisions they want to make which excludes everyone except white males and those they agree with and do so purely because they think they have the truth. As he put it to me; being religious zealots, they inherently believe they’re God’s chosen people. That’s all they need. It makes a lot of sense; see one group claiming to be chosen people of God doing damage, you’re not likely to trust another group claiming the same no matter what else they say.  Tim Keller, author and Christian apologist, admitted that religion is part of the problem with the world, or more accurately exclusive truth claims cause problems. He outlined the way religion causes division and conflict:

1) Gives you a sense of superiority as you have the truth and see others as not having it

2) Separation, you don’t spend time with others of different beliefs as a result

3) Because you don’t know them, so you caricature them which leads to

4) Passive oppression and then

5) Active oppression [9]

This is very indicative of the Pharisees and right wing Christians (indeed many Christians regardless of being right wing or not) are doing something similar today; but to say that because I also identify as being a Christian therefore I’m giving these people power is absurd logic. I’m sure many atheists would be offended (and rightly so) if I suggested that because they are atheists, they support what Stalin did. They would distance themselves and say “we’re not like that” Exactly, and I would totally agree, so why would you then think that I am like the right wing you so actively oppose purely because I’m a Christian? Some atheists are upset at being compared to Richard Dawkins never mind Stalin. It’s lazy and ignorant thinking to suggest to associate with a worldview means supporting the views of everyone who claims to hold that worldview. Within any religion or movement, you will have people who take an extreme view which does not reflect the majority; or indeed the reflect what that movement stands for. Humans seem to find ways of killing each other, no matter the worldview involved. If someone wants to criticize a view by showing its darker side, they probably won’t have to dig too far.

Interfaith is a word I think we are going to hear more of as people look to engage with people of different faiths, to find a less combative way forward. I’m not sure whether helps or harms that cause. I wanted to address the points made to me, but it’s come across as rather negative. If you’re reading this then I’ve obviously decided to post it anyway. But I see acknowledging that both sides have made mistakes can help us move forward; burying the past means we can’t learn from it. It’s time look forwards and ask “how can we work together?”

This is my challenge to me.

 

References

[1] http://thegaychristian.com/?p=1203

[2] Lennox, John C. (2011) Gunning For God; Why the new atheists are missing the target. Lion Hudson Plc, Oxford, England (page 90)

[3] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Stalin#Religion

[4] http://listverse.com/2010/06/05/10-people-who-give-atheism-a-bad-name/

[5] Lennox, John C. (2011) Gunning For God; Why the new atheists are missing the target. Lion Hudson Plc, Oxford, England (page 91)

[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Straw_man

[7] http://www.samharris.org/site/full_text/the-problem-with-atheism

[8] Lennox, John C. (2011) Gunning For God; Why the new atheists are missing the target. Lion Hudson Plc, Oxford, England (page 91)

[9] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9fmKSwuoDE#at=565

 

First published 30th July 2013

God and punishment – do these things go together?

People like justice when they feel they are entitled to it, but when those who have wronged them are not punished appropriately, they feel wronged themselves.  Viewpoints on judgement, justice and mercy seem to change a lot when we are the ones who are guilty. We suddenly like the idea of mercy, but are averted by the ideas of justice and punishment. When we talk about God, according to the Christian faith, God will punish the guilty.  Most people do not have a problem with that when it is aimed at other people. We seem to get very angry though, at the thought that God might judge us and find us guilty. Some Christians react this way. As Adam Barr put it; “A God who disciplines does not accord with many people’s theology. We would prefer God cajole us or, better yet, ignore our sin[1].

Being a child growing up I used to do many things wrong and being grounded by my parents and having to do extra chores used to be the penalty for that; not being allowed out to play just sucks! If God does still punish us, what does his equivalent of being grounded and getting extra chores look like? Or is something else going on with the way God operates?

There are some that take the view that God does not punish us at all, that it was all taken care of on the cross. Does this mean that God now overlooks all the evil committed and we are all saved when the new heaven and earth are put in place? By no means, and Jesus was quite clear when he spoke to his disciples;

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

Jesus is very clear that unless we repent to God, we will perish, but he does not say exactly when that will be. Jesus is talking about those who do not repent, so if we do repent, does that mean we are free to do whatever we want?

Freedom is a very odd thing because real freedom is not what many think it is. Real freedom is not being able to do whatever you want, whenever you want and (in some cases) whoever you want. That is not freedom, that is anarchy and when anarchy breaks out, you actually have a loss of freedom. We, as Christians, are not suddenly given carte blanche to do what we want, we have been given 2 very specific commandments; Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22:36-39) Now some very atrocious acts have been carried out under the disguise of love and they are rightly shown for what they are; abuse. Rachel Held Evans is doing a fantastic series on this which I highly recommend reading [2].

Coming back to the view that God does not and wil not punish us at all,  another problem arises; God cannot ignore our sin and be a God of justice. Mercy always comes at the expense of justice – a punishment is due but mercy is extended instead. The cross is seen as God’s way of extending his mercy through justice by taking the punishment for us [3]. There is a story that’s often told to help illustrate this;

2 men were friends were friends since childhood but ended up in very different circumstances; 1 becomes a judge, the other ends up as a criminal. Years later, the friend who became a criminal is in court facing charges and the judge is his childhood friend. The judge wants to let his friend off but he must enforce the law. The punishment for the crime is a fine. The judge fines the man then takes off his robes and attire, steps down to his friend and pays the fine for him.

The whole concept of justice is here; an act has been committed that has broken the law, and someone has to be punished for that act in order for there to be justice. Derek Flood has written a book called ‘Healing the Gospel[4] which challenges this view about what happened on the cross, but I will come back to this later.

Some have cited events like the tsunami in Japan and the earthquake in Haitai as examples of God’s punishment on a sinful world. They take the stance that God will punish us for our wrong doings here and now whilst we are still on this earth. The Old Testament is filled with examples of God sending “natural disasters” to punish various groups of people, and so from this perspective, this makes sense and has Biblical precedent. They did wrong and God sent punishment down on them. It makes sense, but there are 2 stories in the Old Testament that call this approach into question.

In Genesis 18, God wants to see if the reports of Sodom are accurate but Abraham starts asking if some righteous people are in Sodom, will God spare the city. Abraham starts at 50 and works his way down to 10, and each time God says he will spare Sodom. To say the natural disasters are Gods punishment is effectively saying everyone in the affected area were sinners beyond saving and Jesus in Luke 13 is quite clear that no sin is worse than others.  The other story from the Old Testament that deals with God sending punishments is the Book of Job. Job experiences huge tragedy in his life, but this was not punishment for things that he had done. Things that happen to us are not necessarily as a result of anything we have committed. The whole book is essentially Job debating with his friends whether what’s happening is a result of Job doing something wrong and God punishing him. Job’s friends were keen to try and convince him that these incidences were indeed punishments for a sinful life, but Job was having none of it. In the end God steps in and is not pleased with Job’s friends. God is unhappy that Job’s friends were telling lies about him, about Job being punished for something he had done.

Citing biblical precedence is not always the move. The disciples once asked if they should call down fire from heaven because Elijah did and Jesus rebuked them for it (Luke 9:52-56)  Coming back to Luke 13, Jesus is quite clear that without repentance, everyone will perish, but Jesus does not say when. If God loves the world so much that He gave his Son, why would He deliberately inflict pain on it? I just do not see how we can talk about God comforting those affected if He was the one that deliberately sent the disaster. This applies to many issues where people suffer, not just natural disasters. So if God does not punish us whilst on this earth but does not simply let things go un-noticed, what does that leave us? For that, we need to take a look at the cross.

In the course of writing this, I was listening to Derek Flood about his book Healing the Gospel. In the interview [5] , he talked about penal substitution and atonement. Shortly after, I found an article by Jeremy Myers looking at a similar subject. In it he wrote;

God is not an angry, wrathful, bloodthirsty being who wants to torture and kill people when they disobey Him, but Jesus came along and convinced God to pour out this wrath on Himself instead of upon us.

Was there a substitution that took place? Absolutely. But it was not us for Jesus; it was rather our sin for His righteousness. He took our sin, and in His own body, on the cross, condemned sin, destroyed death, and rose victoriously from the grave, because of His—and God’s—great love for us. [6]

The cross is not the end, it was a huge step forwards to bringing in the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21:1-3) and there is a wider discussion about what happens when we die. If sin is the root of the problem, then it makes sense that Jesus took our sin and destroyed it, but what is sin? Many see sin as an act and that means punishment and discipline, punishment that Jesus took for us. But we are still left with a God who needs to punish someone. So what if sin is a disease? Most of Jesus’ ministry was about healing the sick. He gave new commandments, but it is not a case of “if you do not follow these, I will punish you”. Derek Flood gave a brilliant analogy:

For years a doctor tells one of his patients to quit smoking. Every time he sees him he is still smoking. One day the doctor has to tell the patient that he has lung cancer. The doctor does not criticize the patient but sets to work helping the man to either cure him or comfort him

God wants to restore us, He does not want anyone to perish, as 2 Peter 3:9 says. There is still much pain in the world though. Has God stopped working in our lives since the cross? I would like to say that He has not. Many Christians have testimonies about God restoring and healing them using their own experiences as evidence. C.S Lewis once said;

“Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.” [7]

Some people have to learn very harsh lessons from the choices they make and the choices made by others, but if Jesus taught us anything, it is that we are not to focus on ourselves, but on others. Life itself is hard enough and God does not want to add to it. Essentially, life has become God’s method of discipline, but I need to be clear by what I mean; I am not saying God allows things to happen to teach us a lesson – parents don’t always stop their children from doing anything remotely dangerous, they understand they have to learn for themselves, but they do not deliberately put their child in harms way to force them to learn. God does not send hurt on us to force us to learn, life is going to send its share of hurt, but God allows it because He designed us to learn and adapt. As we adapt, we become more disciplined so God is not disciplining, but installing discipline through how life is. When we are going through pain, God is there to comfort and support us.

I realize that I have not gone into what Hell is; is it a real place of fire or just somewhere where God is not? Do we go straight there (if we’re bound for there) or do we wait in a “lay-by” until the final resurrection? [8] Whatever happens after this life, how we view the cross and punishment directly influences how we view God. This and the subjects touched on above are so vast and complex that they can not be done justice in one blog, and certainly not by me, a lot of the concepts that are raised go over my head. As a Christian though, I still have to face these questions and God guides us at the level we can handle, and learning about God is always fun and rewarding.

References:

[1] Taken from RZIM Canada (https://twitter.com/rzimcanada)

[2] http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/abuse-mary-demuth

[3] Michael Ramsden, God of Love God of Judgement, [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IYUCvHoXuH4] (last viewed 8th April 2013)

[4] Flood, Derek (2012) Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice, and the Cross, Cascade Books

[5] http://www.beyondtheboxpodcast.com/2012/10/healing-the-gospel-with-derek-flood/

[6] http://www.tillhecomes.org/substitutionary-atonement/

[7] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/cslewis103466.html

[8] N.T. Wright, Rethinking life after death [Available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZC6tbgpsl4] (last viewed 12th April 2013)

 

Originally posted 13th April 2013

God working in the House of Commons

With the release of the Pilling report yesterday (a subject that I will comment on briefly later) I felt compelled to re-release this piece I wrote when same-sex marriage was being debated in the House of Commons.

 

7:20pm, Tuesday 5th February 2013; the results of the House of Commons debate on the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill came in; 400 for, 175 against, a majority of 225. [1] In political terms this was nothing short of a landslide.

As I was waiting for the results I realized I was actually nervous. I’ve not been interested in politics for a long time but this had my attention, I thought it would be close and when the results came in I actually cheered!! I put a quote from a conservative MP on my Facebook on how this issue was irrelevant and there were more important things to worry about. Sentiments that were echoed by Sky News political correspondent Glen Oglaza. [2] Whilst there are other important issues to tackle, my reactions made me realize that this wasn’t an irrelevant topic. This was an issue that struck at the heart of discrimination and all the work that’s been done over the last 200 years or so to banish it from our society. The results of this vote sent a very clear message – discrimination should not be tolerated on any level.

The battle at times has been pitched as religion versus homosexuality. Images used by the media [3] have done nothing to stem that view. But it’s just not as simple as that. There are many Christians who have opposed this bill, that’s an inescapable fact. But there are many Christians who have supported this bill. I regularly posted pictures and articles in support of the bill; I emailed my MP imploring them to vote yes. When the government released its consultation, I voiced my support for it providing churches had the right and legal backing if they wish to not conduct such a ceremony. In the bill, the government have put what they call a “quadruple lock” which consists of the following:

1. No religious organization or individual minister is compelled to marry same-sex couples or to permit this to happen on their premises.

2. It is unlawful for religious organizations or their ministers to marry same-sex couples unless their organization’s governing body has expressly opted in to provisions for doing so.

3. Amendment the 2010 Equality Act to ensure no discrimination claim can be brought against religious organizations or individual ministers for refusing to marry a same-sex couple.

4. The legislation explicitly states that it will be illegal for the Church of England and the Church in Wales to marry same-sex couples [4]

I am happy that these measures satisfy my concerns. Probably won’t stop someone challenging them in the European Court of Human Rights but the government can’t stop that*. Outside of Christianity, there were some gays who didn’t want this bill to go through or are simply not bothered though I concede they were very few in number. Some rejected the bill on the stance of tradition, politics and the fact gay couples had access to civil partnerships. Some see same-sex marriages as a step to devaluing and destroying the institute of marriage (though on a personal note, heterosexuals seem to be doing that on their own) Lets be open though, there are some Christians who don’t like gays, there are some gays who don’t like Christians. Some like Labour MP Jim Dobbin, feels this whole debate has simply widened the gap between the 2 groups [5] but I will come onto that more later.

The role of religion in western society inevitably comes up in this discussion and Professor Richard Dawkins is set to discuss this subject with Rowan Williams, former archbishop of Canterbury. [6] There was a time when state laws were based on religious views and seemed to change depending on the denomination of whoever was on the throne. In the Middle East, their laws are still directly based on or influenced by religious views (sex before marriage is illegal in Morocco) But the UK is neither in the Middle East or the middle ages. Whilst you cannot expect people to put their religious views to one side when discussing topics (faith simply doesn’t work like that) a government of a multicultural country cannot pander to the demands of one section alone. In a multicultural country, you will never please everyone and that’s why I didn’t’ envy the task faced by the members of the House of Commons yesterday. Inevitably some will see the results of yesterday’s vote as a pandering to the gay community and the trampling on of religious expression. With the government consultation, everyone got to have their say, the majority of respondents were in favor (though the margin seems to vary depending on which article you read) and the government have taken into account religious views with the quadruple lock. Frankly, I don’t see what more they could have done.

The political fallout of this result is still to come. The bill still has to get through the House of Lords and whilst the Prime Minister David Cameron, who pushed the yes vote hard, got his wish, it papers over some scary reading for him. Out of the 175 who voted against the bill, 136 came from his own party, 35 didn’t vote and a further 5 voted for both yes and no, essentially abstaining. Only 127 members of the Conservative Party voted in favor of the bill [7], meaning he needed his coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, and the opposition party, Labour, to get the bill through. This is a point Ed Milliband, leader of the opposition, will not be slow in bringing up. Also, those who essentially lost the vote will very quickly go from licking their wounds to sharpening their knives. This is far from over.

As for the religious fall out, the ongoing theological discussion is complicated as most theological discussions are. Do the passages in the Old Testament still apply? Was Paul referring to all homosexual behavior? Would God bless a monogamous same-sex relationship? I’ve been involved in these discussions for some time (and I’ve blogged previously on them [8]) and it can become a mess very quickly. But Justin Lee, director of the Gay Christian Network has produced some great work in not only trying to help make sense of the issues, but to bridge the gap between the Christian and gay communities; a gap I alluded to earlier. He’s recently released a book “Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate” (or “Unconditional: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate” as it is here in the UK [9]) dedicated to doing just that. He’s also contributed to a debate on GayChristians.net on same-sex marriage and homosexuality. The link to the debate can be found in the other articles section of Evidence2Hope. American blogger Rachel Held Evans has started a series on sexuality to attempt to bring some clarity and understanding to the issue of sexuality and the churches approach to it. [10] More discussion and dialogue is needed as the traditional go-to answer of “homosexuality is a sin” is too basic and does nothing to help the situation and the work of the above mentioned people, along with many others, cannot be underestimated and should be applauded.

I have no doubt that where will be cries of “this vote is indicative of a society who’s abandoned God” and “any Christian who voted for this is denying Christ” Well Jesus once said that one of the greatest commandments was to “love your neighbour as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) He also went on to explain that our enemies are among those neighbours in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35) Jesus ended that parable very interestingly:

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36-37)

I see the result of the bill vote as a practical application of those 2 commandments. Gays are our neighbors, they deserve the love and respect that we would expect to be treated with ourselves. People may have issues with homosexuality from a theological standpoint but how is restricting their rights, or trying to give them something different (in this case civil partnerships that simply say “you’re not good enough for marriage, here have this instead”) showing love? The short answer for me is that it doesn’t and it seems that atheists/secularist seem to get that more than some Christians do.  Not sure why homosexuals get singled out, Jesus seemed fairly explicit on the subject:

Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?  I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” (Luke 13:1-5)

I don’t see any campaigns to make sex before marriage illegal.

Just to end wrap this all up, people talk about God working in society, I think this is one such example. It’s just reminded me of a quote from Futurama;

“When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all” [11]

 

References:

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21347719 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[2] http://news.sky.com/story/1046625/gay-marriage-not-the-biggest-issue-for-voters (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[3] http://media.skynews.com/media/images/generated/2013/2/5/219649/default/v2/no-campaigners-1-252×337.jpg (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18407568 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21343387 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[6] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-cambridgeshire-21220007 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21346694 (last viewed 06/02/2013)

[8] http://evidence2hope.webs.com/apps/blog/show/14372765-no-matter-what

[9] http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1444745417/ref=s9_newr_gw_d70_g14_ir04?pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=center-2&pf_rd_r=1RSXTT6WJ6VN9T19VV1C&pf_rd_t=101&pf_rd_p=358549767&pf_rd_i=468294

[10] http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/sexuality-church-opening-remarks

[11] Futurama; Godfellas.  Episode 18, Season 3. Originally aired March 17, 2002

 

First published 6th February 2013

*Since publishing this piece, a legal challenge on the block is being mounted (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10219802/First-couple-consider-legal-challenge-to-Churchs-gay-marriage-opt-out.html)

Rattled cages

With everything that kicked off on Twitter involving Calvin and Rachel Held Evans recently, this seems like a good time to re-post a little piece I did back in June.

 

There are many blogs and articles on the internet, putting forward arguments for why God does not disapprove of loving same sex relationships and why he does not have a problem with women pastors/vicars/bishops. Hearing these messages come from the pulpit of a church however, seems to make you sit up and take notice. That is what happened this Sunday at church.

A woman, who is going on to be ordained at the end of the month, explained that during her studies she had come to realize that context was vital. In that contextual study, she did not see anything that suggests God has a problem with loving monogamous same sex relationships; or anything to suggest that he has a problem with women teachers. She went to tell the story of a woman who had been through a lot of pain but was clearly filled with love for God and his spirit, studying the scriptures to be ordained…..but she will not be for 1 reason; she is gay. She described it as a tragedy, I describe it as a disgrace.

It was quite simply the best sermon I have heard; not because I agreed with every word of it but because it was a sermon that said things that actually need saying. The vicar was obviously displeased when he said “thank you for the challenge, I don’t completely agree with everything but thank you for the challenge” I was not bothered by this point, I was pretty much on my feet in applause. During the peace where we greet each other, I went over to her and thanked her for what she said. She had rattled some cages and knew she had upset people. Having been embroiled in both these discussions for sometime, I knew what she could expect. No one though, said standing up for what you believe in would be easy.

To say that a woman or someone who is gay cannot serve God, is to say they are not good enough to. This is the message being given out by the church and this was the point of the sermon; we need to look beyond these things and the church needs to as well. It needs to stop putting people down and stop getting in the way of God. This is the message that needs to come from the pulpit.

 

First published 2nd June 2013

Dive in….be adventurous

God often gives me ideas in very unusual and random ways. For instance, I was working on a blog about grace and fighting for redemption, but it simply wasn’t coming together. After getting annoyed and finishing a glass of baileys, He reminded me why I set this website up in the first place; to try and provide answers to questions people have about the Christian faith. Next morning on the way to work I was watching a video from Achievement Hunter where they were playing Minecraft. One of their exchanges went as below;

Ray: Here’s the thing; I want to explore but I don’t, like, I’m really scared

Jack: I’m in the same sort of boat right now, I’m like “OK I know I need to find lava,  that’s a giant pit, I don’t want to go down there”

Ray: It’s dark

Michael: Dude, dive into dark holes head first, find some lava, be adventurous [1]

When applying this to different areas in life, this is a piece of advice I need to follow myself and it suddenly got me thinking; why are so many Christians are afraid to ask questions? I had many questions before I came to faith and I seem to have even more since committing to Christ. I’ve come to realize that my questions are not so much born out of the issues in of themselves, but out of some of the explanations that are on offer. If it doesn’t make sense, I want to query it and try to understand it but I frequently come up against attitudes which give off the impression of “it only doesn’t make sense because we are fallen and don’t understand God. Just accept it for what it is” I tried for so long to take that stance and accept that I didn’t understand, but I felt my faith collapsing from underneath me.

One of the most inspiring books I’ve read recently has been Wild at Heart by John Eldredge [2] (thank you to Sarah for buying it me). This book has helped me come to terms with the fact that I want to go digging deeper, to use different resources. I want to ask questions about following Christ and to figure out the importance of everything; this book has helped me to understand some of those things. I am reborn, I am in Christ. His spirit is in me and it wants to know him better. Once I had grasped that, I felt release. I felt I was now truly on a journey with Christ and meeting (well, finding on the internet in most cases) so many great people who have really challenged and encouraged me. I felt like I was being me again and I feel my faith is so much stronger for it.

Looking back at the exchange, if you replace lava with answers I think you have the current situation for many Christians. They have many questions and there are many viewpoints out there that they are scared to start exploring. This fear is understandable, I’ve been down some very wrong roads and have had to backtrack, but now I know what’s wrong and know not to venture there again (at least not until I’ve got more information) I’m still going down wrong roads but that’s part of learning and growing, part of growing a relationship with Christ. I think part of the problem is the attitude I alluded to earlier – trying to delve deeper has caused me trouble and pain. I think (well, I know) it’s been the same for many. It makes asking legitimate questions very difficult if you’re constantly being shouted down. But there is a wider issue coming out of this; If we can’t stand up and ask questions within a Christian environment, if we don’t have the confidence to do that, will we ever have the confidence to do it in the secular world? What chance do we stand?

So I encourage you to dive into the seemingly black holes, because despite your fears, they won’t be as dark as you think….remember, Christ will be there. One of the things I’ve learned and am continuing to learn is that he doesn’t forsake or leave anyone. Seek and you shall find; isn’t that what Christ said? I’m not talking about being reckless but just explore some different views, attach yourself to Christ and dive in.

 

References:

[1]  Achievement Hunter : Let’s Play Minecraft Part 7 – Enter the Nether Part 2 (available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nuj7D5CC_u4)  last viewed 05/03/2013

[2]  Wild at Heart; Eldredge, John (2001 – reprinted 2011) Published by Thomas Nelson

First published 5th March 2013