“It Gets Better”

This post has nothing at all to do with the Beatles song by similar lyrics. But it has everything to do with what I’m convinced is the civil rights issue of our age: homosexuality.

First, watch the recent video from Fort Worth (TX) councilman Joel Burns:

Special thanks to my friends, Pastor Doc Newcomb and Pastor Joshua Manning for making me aware of this video today by posting it to Facebook.

As human beings, we are generally born with an orientation towards the “Golden Rule,” and especially as Christians, we are taught to love [New Testament Greek = αγάπη, written in English “agape,” pronounced a-gah-pay, an inclusive and outwardly-focused love] our neighbor. This isn’t a selective exercise, however; we are also taught to αγάπη our enemies. The takeaway is that as sons and daughters of God, we are to αγάπη everyone. Make no exceptions to your αγάπη, as Jesus makes no exceptions.

Now, certainly, in the life of Jesus, we find instructions on how to react toward the rejection of our αγάπη and our message: shake the dust off your feet and move along, because your αγάπη can be best utilized elsewhere. What Jesus is saying here is that there are no prerequisites for your αγάπη and your care, but people are free to respond to your message of inclusion however they like, after which you are entrusted to make a responsible decision about where and how to spend your time and share your αγάπη.

As a Christian disciple and heterosexually married man, I declare today that bullying toward “the others,” in this case, homosexuals or assumed homosexuals, needs to end. In Christ, no one is assumed as being “the other,” and bullying is never an act of αγάπη. Our children need to be responsibly taught these things, especially that hate gets you nowhere. Whatever your personal preconceptions about homosexuality may be (hey, I’ve got mine, too) and whatever Scriptural basis you may have for oppression, hate is not allowed in Christ.

Everyone deserves the same rights. Our ancestors had no right to forcibly remove Native Americans from their land. Just a generation or two ago, there was no justification for African-Americans to be forced to use different facilities than whites. While Christian marriage is defined as involving a man and a woman, today there is no reason why homosexual couples in our society cannot have every same legally binding right, perhaps defined as a civil union, as heterosexual couples. Biblical characters got these things involving rights dead wrong, too, and if you don’t believe me, read the book of Judges from beginning to end and tell me how holy ancient Israel was.

We can be the first society to get universal rights, and αγάπη, right. Something tells me that as a whole, we won’t, but for those of us called toward reconciliatory action, it’s time to come out of the woodwork and speak up.

EDIT: Apparently my comments are heretical and caused a minor firestorm on Facebook! Someone who I know from the church I grew up in challenged my ideas, and without naming names, I want to post our back-and-forth over the topic, particularly because I think my responses are an important part of the discussion that we need to be having. In some cases, I have simplified or rephrased our comments without altering the integrity of the content.
i couldn’t disagree more.homosexuality is a perversion and a sin. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27; 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; 1 Timothy 1:9-10. Bullying IS wrong- but endorsing sinful behavior is also wrong. Where is the line to be drawn? wherever public opinion deems it to be drawn? and now people are being fired/legally fined for speaking the truth of God’s word?
Peace and love, [redacted]. But, if we’re going to turn to Leviticus, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy, and Romans for a constitutional read on what is definitively right and what is definitively wrong (speaking for God), then allow me that same power for a minute. 

Leviticus 19:19 identifies wearing clothing made of two kinds of material a sin. Leviticus 20:9 says that anyone who curses his mother or father must be put to death. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 11:5 that “every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head.” In 1 Timothy 2:11-12, someone claiming to be Paul continues the misogyny, saying women should learn only in “quietness and full submission” and that women should never have an authority role, including teaching. Verse 15 claims that women will be “saved through childbearing.” In another of his letters, Paul writes that slaves should accept their lot in life, and obey their masters as they would obey Christ (Ephesians 6:5). I, for one, do not wish that “public opinion” hadn’t “drawn the line” against these laws, practices and beliefs.

Let’s go on. In Romans 3:10-18, Paul quotes psalms of David, affirming that that no one is righteous, no one seeks God, and all have together become worthless. Paul then says in his own words, in verse 23, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory, then in verse 24 we find that the same collective “all” from verse 23 are “justified freely by his grace.” What do you do with these verses as someone who is claiming perfect authoritative interpretation of the Bible? Is homosexuality too grievous a “perversion and a sin” to receive the grace of God through Christ?

I am also convinced that you read words, phrases, claims, etc. into my blog post that aren’t there. I said nothing of sin associated with the homosexual act; yes, a constitutional read of the Bible does come down pretty firm that the homosexual act is a sin. It may be so… again, I am refusing the power to speak for God in this instance. I realize that the texts of the Bible were written in a time where people had no concept of sexual orientation, that a given person may in fact be predisposed somehow to homosexuality. I didn’t always take this view; to me, homosexuality seemed and still does seem unnatural. Why, I ask, would God create people who desire homosexual activity over heterosexual activity? It’s not good for reproduction, or it doesn’t make sense, I would have said. But using this same logic, why would God create people with Down’s Syndrome, cerebral palsy, Tay-Sachs, cystic fibrosis, as eunuchs, or even with a predisposition to cancer (from an arbitrary thing like past family history)? Present day me says that these “don’t make sense,” and subsequently that a homosexual orientation – just like a congenital disease – does not constitute sin.

In the gospels, Jesus is silent on the issue of homosexuality, unless you read into his quote of Genesis 2 an implied curse against homosexuality (which is a major stretch). We do, however, have the entire body of Jesus’ actions on which to make a better assumption, one that is less of a stretch than that one. Jesus is a friend of sinners, one who will associate with everyone, including the biggest ostracized group of rejects of the day. Lepers did nothing to contract their disease, and Jesus still stood by them. Please, find an instance in the life of Jesus where he shows a prerequisite for his love and grace, or rather, where he refuses to be associated with someone based on some factor that he finds too repulsive, too “perverse.” Jesus is inclusive of everyone, especially the lowest in society, every time he gets the opportunity. And as Christians, we are called first to emulate Christ, and second to uphold the law and commands of the apostles (which apparently includes giving women an exceptionally low social status, owning slaves, killing our sons and daughters who curse their parents, and wearing only clothing made of the same fiber). We also have some quotes of Jesus that lead us in a better direction. Consider, Luke 6:32-42. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged.”

I know I am fighting a losing battle. Constitutional readers of the Bible are always going to have these verses to point to, to hold up as their ideal while ignoring others that are no less Scripture than the ones they prefer. I guess that’s what I’m accused of doing as well. However, I’m not afraid to claim it; I read the Bible as more of an anthology, a library, than a constitution.

As Christians we need to befriend homosexuals, to αγάπη love them and know their struggles, to understand their humanity and the oppression they have faced, well before we can say the first word about their sin. We need to stop speaking for God without having lived for God.

are you just as comfortable substituting “pedophile” for “homosexual” in all you’ve said? All the same arguments that can be used for granting civil rights to same-sex couples can be used to grant civil rights to any number of perversions….
I agree 100 % with agape love; I strive to practice it always. Building relationships with ANYONE living openly in ANY sin should be a pre-requisite, but the goal should always be to lead them to a realization of that sin, and therefore to the cross, and not to give it a stamp of approval by granting civil rights status. We are already seeing the repercussions of such a movement. Witness the college teacher, teaching a class of Roman Catholic beliefs, fired for doing just that.
Or the Pastor who was fined $7000 and ORDERED to “stop expressing his biblical perspective of homosexuality” for sending in his opinion to the editior of a newspaper.
There’s many more stories like this out there. When “civil rights” are given to a group of ANY kind living in open sin, then Christians LOSE the civil right to say what the Bible says concerning that sin.
[Redacted], moving from homosexuality to pedophilia is a fantastic, possibly homophobic leap. People of any orientation – toward the opposite sex, same sex, both sexes, giraffes, etc. – can be pedophiles, and they deserve the full extent of the law’s repercussions for the act of pedophilia, NOT their sexual orientation. 

But, what you just did in your response to me was 1) skirt the questions I asked you, and 2) tell me what my logic means to me. I can’t handle #1 myself – that is something you must do. But I can address #2, since you made another leap for me, one that I’d like to use my own logic on. You said:

“All the same arguments that can be used for granting civil rights to same-sex couples can be used to grant civil rights to any number of perversions.” 

Sure, they can, but those arguments used for other “perversions” are taken out of context, irresponsible, and not made by me. Since I mentioned giraffes above, I’ll take Leviticus 18:23 and 20:15-16. I agree about this; sex or even the desire for sex with animals is detestable, and a true perversion. Let me firmly say that a man and an animal do not deserve civil rights. But does it demand death of the person, as the latter passages say? I wouldn’t say so. Neither do relatives who wish to marry deserve civil rights, even cousins as is permissible in many states after reaching a certain age (Leviticus 18:6). 

Just to be clear, the civil rights I am talking about for homosexual couples include tax breaks, the ability to be present with one another at a hospital bed, and the like. These do not include forcing Christian pastors to marry homosexual couples, or even for you to approve of their being together (that is your choice). More to the point of my original blog post, as members of society often bound by the hand they are dealt, they deserve to live life, not to be bullied for their orientation.

Like you, I am extremely cautious and worried about celebrating flagrantly homosexual culture as if it is a great and wonderful thing. Doing this through the media, TV shows and whatnot goes beyond αγάπη love to rubber-stamping the culture, which is not something that I (as one who refuses to speak for God on this issue) am not able to do. But limiting the impact of this celebration of culture (don’t buy those TV channels, teach αγάπη love rather than oppression), rather than refusing civil rights to homosexual couples, is the better way to go about this.

As to the cases you cite, I am unfamiliar with them other than reading over the (biased) links that you provided. There are two sides to every story, and pardon me if I refuse to believe everything I hear from Focus on the Family. But I’ll take the cases one-by-one anyway.

First, you have to know that adjunct professors are adjunct professors for a reason. In Dr. Howell’s case, it seems that he splits (or used to split) his time between U of I and the St. John Institute of Catholic Thought, where he is the institute’s director. This alone isn’t terrible or contestable; you expect a Christian professor to be involved in other ministry activities beyond the classroom. But when the language of ministry is used IN the classroom to influence the beliefs of students, especially at a public university, you’re going to have problems. I agree wholeheartedly with the student (who claims to have been raised Catholic, by the way) who sent the email, which said:

“Teaching a student about the tenets of a religion is one thing. Declaring that homosexual acts violate the natural laws of man is another. The courses at this institution should be geared to contribute to the public discourse and promote independent thought; not limit one’s worldview and ostracize people of a certain sexual orientation.” 

Universities, even seminaries, are to be about free thought and allowing students to reach their own conclusions within an educational framework. That is why I’m going to the School of Theology at Anderson University, where I am not pressured to believe everything professors say (I don’t), but challenged to digest their thoughts in light of everything else I see in the world around me, including the Bible. In fact, most times the professors reserve their personal opinions about issues, instead allowing us to make our own judgments without those biases mixed in. It’s a beautiful thing. 

A lot of seminaries do fit you into a certain theological box. That’s fine and dandy, as long as students go there knowing what they’ve signed up for. It’s not okay in an undergraduate setting at a public university, where apparently Dr. Howell was saying “things that were inflammatory and downright insensitive to those who were not of the Catholic faith.” To teach natural moral law in the classroom as a belief held by Catholics as a whole is one thing; to preach natural moral law there as God’s absolute truth is quite another.

The second case is more difficult. I read other (less biased) articles about it, and it appears to me to be a free speech issue. With limited digging into the subject, I believe the University of Calgary professor is in the wrong, and the Reverend shouldn’t be fined for his (seemingly homophobic) letter to the editor. Particularly telling to me is the fact that “one national gay rights group has said that it won’t support Lund in order to respect Boissoin’s freedom of speech.” But, it’s important to view this as a case unto itself, and one in Canada no less, rather than a universal point of view to be imposed on me or you for expressing our own ideas.

Your last sentence is concerned with denying civil rights to groups living in “open sin.” As far as I know, Jesus makes no distinction between open sinners and closed sinners… all are sinners. In fact, Jesus is chastised many times by the Pharisees for associating with “open” sinners.

And finally, in many cases, Christians don’t have the absolute right to say what the Bible says concerning sin. You can say one thing or another from your own point of view, but in speaking for the Bible you are ignoring centuries of human intervention, revisions, copying errors, scribal additions, and the like, to say nothing of the translations from Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. This is not a right we have lost, it is one we never should’ve had in the first place.

Ultimately, [redacted], this is a conversation that Christians need to have, need not be afraid of. But we also need to approach it with an open mind. Since I have first read your links, if you are willing, there are a couple of chapters from books I have that I’d like you to read, and then hear your perspective on. If you agree, I’d be happy to photocopy the pages and send them to you. If not, I understand, but I hope you’ll consider it.

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