1. Let’s Go There

    Preached today at Provo Community Church:

    Romans 1

    16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”

    18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21 for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23 and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.

    24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

    26 For this reason God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, 27 and in the same way also the men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another. Men committed shameless acts with men and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error.

    28 And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. 29 They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips,30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious toward parents, 31 foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them.

    Two apologies:

    1. I’m sick

    2. That scripture

     

    Woof.

    Let’s take a moment to recover from that before we go on.

     

    As open and affirming Christians, we tend to shy away from a passage like this.

    And when I say “shy away from,” I mean, “avoid like the plague.”

    Here I am preaching it on pride week!

    What’s wrong with me?

     

    We have good reason to avoid this passage:

    This passage is horrible!

    The writer, Paul, rants about how horrible some people are,

    and those some people turn out to be

    men who sleep with men and women who sleep with women.

    Then he goes on to associate gays and lesbians

    with every conceivable synonym for sin:

    • wickedness

    • evil

    • MURDER

    • craftiness? (good at scrapbooking?)

    • faithless, heartless, ruthless

     

    On paper, it’s bad enough.

    Add to that the history behind this passage and passages like it.

    They get called “clobber passages,” because that’s what they’re used for.

    For saying, You can’t be a Christian,

    you can’t be a good person,

    you can’t be human, because look at this!

    There are people in our congregation who, I’m sure,

    have been clobbered by this passage.

    How can we be welcoming to all sexualities when we have this in our bible?

     

    So we try to pretend it’s not there.

     

    Here’s the problem with that:

    It gives the clobberers the moral high ground.

    They are able to claim that they follow the bible, all of it,

    while we liberal/progressive/”affirming” Christians

    pick and choose which parts we like.

    The official biblical position gets to be “being gay is a sin.”

    And we can argue all we want about how

    same sex relationships don’t hurt anyone

    and how sexual orientation isn’t a choice,

    and about equal rights and justice…

    And the clobberers can just say, I’m just following the bible.

     

    When the truth is, it’s not  as simple as that.

    The bible is thousands of years old.

    It was written in three languages (none of them English).

    The people who wrote it lived on the other side of the globe,

    in dozens of cultures, all different than ours.

    There are a gazillion cultural differences that

    keep us from understanding the bible as easily as its intended audiences.

    If someone says, “The bible clearly says…”

    they’re about to tell you something the bible isn’t at all clear on.

     

    And this passage is no exception.

    Paul’s subject here is not sexual orientation,

    but criticism of certain religious practices of his time and place

    that included sex as part of their rites and rituals.

    In fact, the bible never comments about sexual orientation,

    because it was written in the ancient world.

    In the ancient world, they had no concept of “homosexuality.”

    Across the board, not just in the bible.

    Everyone was pretty much considered straight.

    Gay sex happened, but it was considered something that straight people did

    when straight sex wasn’t thrilling enough.

    At least, that was their understanding.

     

    Paul is writing as if he was writing only to straight people.

    So that kind of makes more sense.

    If the understanding is that straight women are having sex with women

    and straight men with men,

    then it does makes sense that something depraved is happening here.

    Paul uses the words natural and unnatural, and yes,

    a straight person having gay sex is going against their nature.

     

    Why are they doing this?

    It’s because of this religion they’re following.

    Paul objects to this religion because it worships idols he says are fakes,

    instead of the God that is real.

    Paul says there’s no excuse for this:

    20 Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things [God] has made.

    So he’s saying there’s a created world we live in that’s constantly saying,

    God is real!  God is real!

    so there’s no need to make up new gods to worship.

    Paul says by doing this, they’re making themselves willfully stupid,

    futile in their thinking, as he puts it.

    And eventually, that will lead to something worse,

    like the unnatural sex he talks about.

     

    And it was true!

    There were pagan cults that included sexual practices in their rites.

    One in particular, the cult of Cybele,

    had men have sex with eunuchs as an offering to Cybele.

    And this was a popular religion.

    Imagine being part of a religion that made you have sex with the priests,

    even if you weren’t attracted to them.

    Paul’s also saying that it doesn’t stop there.

    Remember the list of awful qualities.

    And you can imagine how this kind of sexual abuse could lead to

    other evils.

     

    So, put more briefly, Paul is saying this:

    Ignoring the obvious fact that God is control of nature will lead to

    stupidity, depravity, and all sorts of evil.

     

    That’s what this meant to the Roman audience reading this.

     

    So what does it mean to us?

     

    There has been a movement within Christianity

    (thankfully starting to go away)

    that claims a gay person can have their orientation changed

    through faith in God.

    Sometimes called “pray away the gay”

    but the practitioners of it are really serious about it.

    They claim that by going through their programs,

    a gay person can change their orientation,

    even get married to someone of the opposite sex.

    It’s been proven to be extremely harmful to the gay people exposed to it.

    That’s easy to understand.

    Imagine someone told you your blue eyes  were sinful,

    but with enough faith, you could change them to green.

     

    It strikes me that this is

    a religious culture urging its members to pursue sexual relationships

    that they are not naturally attracted to….

    just like the pagan cults that Paul condemned.

     

    And if you follow Paul’s argument through this section,

    every bit could be leveled at the “pray away the gay” crowd.

    Paul begins with observing nature.

    Nature shows us that 10-20% of the population is not straight,

    and are that way naturally.

    They cannot trust that God is in control of nature,

    making sons and daughters exactly as intended.

    God’s eternal power and divine nature is made clear

    through the gays and lesbian God has created,

    and saying they should be straight denies that power.

     

    Because they don’t accept this, they make themselves willfully stupid -

    futile in their thinking,

    Claiming to be wise, they became fools

     

    And like those ancient cults,

    their prescription of finding happiness in an opposite sex marriage

    ends up in all kinds of evil.

    Self doubt and self hatred

    shame

    broken families

    prejudice and hatred

    Because really, just like an idol worshipper,

    they’re worshipping something created by man:

    their own religious culture and interpretation of the bible.

    They’re not open to the God that’s really there,

    the one that changes hearts and renews minds.

    For them it is all about the culture that they’ve created.

    And so God’s given them over to degrading passions,

    and now they do evil deeds and  even applaud others who practice them.

     

    At this point in my sermon notes, I wrote, am i getting too rough?

    Jesus taught to love our enemies,

    and I don’t want this to be an us vs them sermon.

     

    But this sort of scripture abuse needs to be called out.

    God’s word should not be used for clobbering.

    How many of us have been hurt by this scripture?

    But Romans is widely considered Paul’s greatest work.

    And now this masterpiece is ruined a half a chapter in.

     

    But it doesn’t have to be.

    The Bible is an amazing library.

    Full of inspiration,

    imperfect characters,

    and impossible love.

    It is the story of God trying to reach us,

    all of us.

    Paul opens this section saying, 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith,

    And it is powerful.

    It still holds cultural cache.

    Think about this battle over gay rights.

    On our side:

    Compassion,

    Science,

    Justice,

    Common Sense,

    On the other side, what do they have?

    The bible.  And that’s it.

    What other weapon do they need?

     

    Well, let’s prove that they don’t even have that.

    Let’s give up this fear we have of a book that has continuously pushed history forward.

    Let’s read the bible for ourselves.

    Let’s study the world it was written in,

    so we’re not deceived by a problematic verse here and there.

    Let’s quote the bible in the myriad ways it says to love your neighbor,

    or care for the stranger,

    until it drowns out the 7 passages the other side quotes.

     

    That is literally all they have.

     

    But we have it too.

    As long as we use it.

    May we not be ashamed of the gospel

    It is God’s saving power for everyone

    Everyone.

    Amen.

     

     

  2. Last night, I was able to speak briefly at an interfaith gay pride service at Provo Community Church.  I was really pleased with the opportunity because it gave me a chance to process my own journey around my religion and LGBT issues.  Here’s what I had to say:

    Recently a comedian and comics writer I really admire tweeted this:

     

     

    I don’t agree with the sentiment, but I certainly understand where it comes from.

    It’s hard to see religion as a force for good anymore.

    Last week was the anniversary of 9/11,

    when men motivated by religion crashed planes into skyscrapers,

    killing thousands.

    Religion inspired the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition,

    justified slavery and oppression of women,

    And, most relevant to our purposes,

    RELIGION is the #1 reason

    people continue to be unaffirming of alternative sexualities.

    In the face of all that,

    it’s so easy to say the world would be better off without religion.

     

    And yet, here we are, in opposition of that.

    Here we are affirming our faith,

    AND affirming the the LGBT community.

    Does what we’re doing here make sense?

     

    I think so, and to explain why,

    I hope you’ll indulge me while I bear my testimony a little:

     

    Ten years ago I wouldn’t have even pictured myself at an interfaith gay pride service.

    If I had been invited, I would have to politely decline…

    Saying something like,

    “I am a Christian.  

    And, although the bible only mentions it 6-7 times,

    it’s very clear that gay sex is a sin.”

    And it’s true that those handful of references appear to be roundly negative.

     

    Ten years later, I have a new understanding thanks to 3 aspects of my religion:

    COMPASSION, DISCIPLESHIP and COMMUNITY.

     

    Compassion:

    For a big chunk of my development, I followed what I thought the bible said

    without really understanding why it would say that.

    As I came to have gay friends

    and saw that their attraction, their crushes, their relationships,

    came just as naturally to them  as mine came to me,

    I didn’t understand why theirs should be a sin, and mine should be ordained by God.

     

    Compassion for gay friends didn’t come in spite of my faith, but because of it.

    Love is at the center of Christianity,

    as it seems to be in every other faith tradition I’ve experienced.

    Jesus said that loving God is loving your neighbor as yourself.

    It was hard to reconcile that discrepancy between Jesus’ message of love,

    and those 6-7 anti-gay passages.

    But I knew that when push comes to shove, love wins.

     

    So I tried to love my gay friends without letting go of what I thought was biblical truth.

     

    Discipleship

    is continued growth and education within your faith.

    As i began to study the issue further,

    I found that the biblical case against homosexuality

    wasn’t as open and shut as I thought.

    I learned the passage in Leviticus is alongside another

    that also calls eating shrimp an abomination.

    I learned that in Romans,

    Paul was really more concerned with pagan sexual ceremonies that would be

    objectionable whether the sex was gay or straight.

    I learned that the word in 1 Corinthians that is often translated as “homosexuals”

    has only been translated that way since 1946,

    and that the meaning of it is so unclear it could literally mean anything.

    In fact, every one of those handful of passages has problems,

    and no where in the bible is homosexuality clearly condemned.

    So why look for condemnation in the bible when there’s no condemnation in Christ?

     

    Community

    Once I discovered I could biblically affirm my gay friends,

    I started attending churches that were also affirming.

    I encountered vibrant communities made up of all kinds of people:

    Gay deacons,

    lesbian lay readers,

    bisexual Sunday school teachers,

    transgender choir members…

    (Some straight people too.)

     

    I started seeing that non-affirming churches were REALLY missing out.

    These were dedicated, justice-seeking, creative, hard-working church members.

    Members that any church would feel blessed to have.

    I found myself feeling very thankful that I could be a part of the community too.

     

    So that is my story.

    From non-affirming to affirming because of my religion.

     

    And that is why everyone here makes me so glad.  

     

    Yes, religion can fuel hate,

    ignorance,

    and division.

    But it can also fuel love,

    education,

    and togetherness.

    Those who continue to fight the LGBT community

    generally ONLY have religion on their side.

    Let’s take that weapon away from them.

    Let’s show the world that religious people practice love, not hate,

    seek to learn, not reinforce what they already believe,

    and won’t put up with exclusion anymore.

     

    Thank you.





     

  3. What Mark Driscoll Really Meant

    Mark Driscoll, mega-pastor and regular embarrassment to Christianity, recently apologized for posting comments on his own church’s message boards under a false identity.  He was careful to identify what he was apologizing for - not the substance, but the style:

    “I was wrong to respond to people the way I did, using the language I used, and I am sorry for it and remain embarrassed by it.”

    Here is some of what he posted, for which is he only regretful and embarrassed by how it was said:

    We live in a completely pussified nation.

    We could get every man, real man as opposed to pussified James Dobson knock-off crying Promise Keeping homoerotic worship loving mama’s boy sensitive emasculated neutered exact male replica evangellyfish, and have a conference in a phone booth. It all began with Adam, the first of the pussified nation, who kept his mouth shut and watched everything fall headlong down the slippery slide of hell/feminism when he shut his mouth and listened to his wife who thought Satan was a good theologian when he should have lead [sic] her and exercised his delegated authority as king of the planet. As a result, he was cursed for listening to his wife and every man since has been his [sic] pussified sit quietly by and watch a nation of men be raised by bitter penis envying burned feministed single mothers who make sure that Johnny grows up to be a very nice woman who sits down to pee.

    It’s really unfortunate that Driscoll used such coarse language and the good news he presents here (that is, that femininity is bad, and that anything bad can be characterized as feminine) cannot be understood.  If only he could control his wild tongue and say the truth without it sounding so mean!

    Well, I feel for the guy and have decided to be his apologist.  Here is what Driscoll was trying to say, minus the offensive language:

    We live in a nation that is much too feminine, and therefore bad.

    Why I might wager - if I could be so bold - that the amount of men completely devoid of feminine/evil influence could easily number between one and five.  Adam, the first man, corrupted by the first women, began the whole sordid affair by trusting the judgment of his wife.  As a result, our whole nation has become more like women, and therefore worse.  In summation, women are bad, they make men bad, and nothing good can come from them.

    I imagine this ought to silence the critics.  Now we can see the truth and beauty behind Driscoll’s course discourse.  All he wants to do is spread the good news of God’s perfect love for all people (except women).

     

  4. thanks.sun

    1. I am thankful that my natural talents allow me to half ass school so that I can spend more time with my family and practice self care.
    2. I am thankful for the church I grew up in.
    3. I am thankful for interpretations of the bible that make so much sense and open up the text to be so much more fruitful.
    4. I am thankful that Alex’s imagination is so fertile and inventive that me might actually be TOO creative for role playing games.
    5. I am thankful that life has taught me how to survive unhealthy people.
     

  5. thanks.sat

    1. I am thankful for sex with my wife, which is always good sex.
    2. I am thankful for sleep.
    3. I am thankful for learning new things.
    4. I am thankful for good conversations.
    5. I am thankful for my baby’s laugh.  And his baby Letterman teeth.
     

  6. thanks.fri

    1. I am thankful for laughing so hard you cry.
    2. I am thankful for last minute schemes that get pulled off amazingly well.
    3. I am thankful for Halloween.
    4. I am thankful for our friends.
    5. I am thankful that one safety pin can turn “noooooooooooo” to “I AM NIGHTWING!!!”
     

  7. thanks.thurs

    1. I am thankful that baby Grayson has had his mom’s full attention for the past 14 months.
    2. And I am thankful that he is handling being away from the both of us pretty well.
    3. I am thankful for a wife who had a tough day today because of how much she loves her family.
    4. I am thankful that I’ve had painful experiences in my life that have helped me work through my inner darkness.
    5. I am thankful for stories.
     

  8. Thanks.Wed

    1. I am thankful for friends who know how to do things I can’t do.
    2. I am thankful for opportunities to teach Alex something.
    3. I am thankful for a wife who feels to me both like home and a place I’ve never been.
    4. I am thankful for the excitement I feel when I discover a new game.
    5. I am thankful for potty humor.
     

  9. Comedy Bang! Bang! Antics

    1. Scott: What is your alien name?
    2. Paul (as Garry Marshall): It is unpronounceable
    3. Scott: hmmm, is it the n-word?
    4. Paul: *breaks character laughing*
    5. Scott: yes, and...!
     
  10. earwolf:

    ICYMI: David Cross & Bob Odenkirk together again on Comedy Bang! Bang!