The Biblical case for Christians affirming same sex marriage, Part 1: The arguments against

Over the next few months, I will use this blog to outline the Biblical case for Christians to affirm our LGBT brothers and sisters, and to affirm same sex marriages that align to the Biblical standard of faithfulness, monogamy and covenant relationship. I have not always believed this, having grown up in the home of a conservative Baptist pastor. I have no personal reason to take this stand: I am not gay (I have been happily married for 24 years), none of my immediate family are LGBT (as far as I know and can ascertain), and all of my LGBT friends are perfectly capable of defending themselves (if they even feel they need to). If you want to know more about who I am, see the About tab on this blog.

I have spent over ten years studying this topic, and reading almost everything written about it from a Biblical and Christian perspective. I have done in depth Biblical studies, and Greek and Hebrew analysis, and have engaged in numerous discussions and forums to try and hone my thinking. My position has developed over that decade, and for much of it, I was very tentative about making a change to 2,000 years of church teachings on the topic (although I will show later that this is not quite as clear or unanimous as you might think). But now, in 2015, I am prepared to be clear and unequivocal: I believe that God has created human beings with a range of sexual expressions, and these are to be celebrated (not just “accepted” or “affirmed”). I believe that the Bible, as God’s Word, does not speak against LGBT people who are seeking monogamous, faithful, lifelong marriage with a same sex partner – in fact, it invites them to covenant to each other in the eyes of God and the community, and encourages them to enjoy all aspects of their married relationships including sexual activity.

I do believe we’ve been wrong on this issue. And I believe it’s time to change. Not because we’re acquiescing to a changing culture, or because we should ignore outdated Bible verses, but very specifically because we can see God’s blessing on LGBT people and their marriages as we do on “straight” people and their marriages. There is no distinction to be made. And we can say this while confidently claiming that God’s Word is as relevant today as it ever was.

Continue reading The Biblical case for Christians affirming same sex marriage, Part 1: The arguments against

For the sake of the gospel, drop the persecution complex

Around the world, conservative Christians love to think of themselves as being a persecuted minority. In some countries, of course, they are. But in so-called “Christian” countries, like the ones my family and extended family live in (America, Canada, United Kingdom and South Africa), conservative Christians love to feel persecuted, silenced and outcast. They’re not really – not in countries with freedom of speech and religion. Rachel Held Evans writes eloquently about this topic on her blog this week, specifically referencing recent issues in the USA. It’s a great read – on her blog, or an extract below.

For the sake of the gospel, drop the persecution complex

July 15, 2015 by Rachel Held Evans

Did you hear about the pastor who was arrested for not marrying a same-sex couple? What about the publisher that got sued for refusing to censor anti-gay verses from the Bible?

Both of these stories have been exposed as fakes of course, but that didn’t keep hundreds of thousands of conservative Christians from sharing them online this week. When I pointed out to a friend that the story he had just shared on social media wasn’t true, he replied, “well it might as well be. Christians in this country are under attack.” 

It has become a familiar refrain. We hear it every Christmas when an unsuspecting store clerk wishes the wrong Christian “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”  We hear it whenever a high school drops its traditional pre-football game prayer out of respect for those students who may be Jewish or Muslim or non-religious.  An entire industry of books and films has blossomed in the red soil of the American Christian persecution complex, with the first “Gods’ Not Dead” installment caricaturing and vilifying atheists and the second set to expose liberal efforts to “expel God from the classroom once and for all.”

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Best books to read on Christians, the Bible and homosexuality

For the past ten years, I have been reading, writing and researching on the issue of Christians, the Bible and homosexuality. I have become convinced that the traditional Christian approach to the topic of homosexuality and to same sex marriage is incorrect, and needs to be adjusted. This is not due to pressure from society or to recent legislation changes in some countries, but rather through an in-depth study of God’s Word.

I don’t believe that any twisting of God’s Word is required in order to see that we can accept homosexuality and approve same sex marriage, based on Scripture and what we understand of God. I don’t believe that we have to ignore certain parts of Scripture, writing them off as cultural or outdated in order to do this. I believe the Bible has been misread for two millennia on this issue. I realise that this can be a very difficult position for conservative Christians to accept and understand, but I believe that those who are truth seekers, and are open to seeing how God’s grace and love is extended to the LGBT community, will find an acceptance in God’s Word that will surprise them. I think we’ll discover that this issue is to our generation what previous generations of Christians have had to face when dealing with significant social change brought about by women’s suffrage, the end of segregation, the end of slavery, the changing of the system of divine rights of kings and of feudalism, mindsets around foreign missions, and many other similar shifts in both theology and society in our history.

There are some excellent books available to help you to investigate this issue for yourself, and familiarise yourself with new ways of looking at God’s Word. Here is a short list to help you get started. These are books that deal with affirming homosexuality and same sex marriage, or engage in looking at the topic through multiple lenses. I am not including books that are opposed to same sex marriage – I am sure a Google search will give you plenty of those if you want to read all sides of the debate.

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Don’t stop now: It’s not enough for churches to just “welcome” gay people

The last few weeks since the Supreme Court in America approved same sex marriage, and Ireland voted to do the same, there has been a lot of conversation (ok, mainly argument) on all forums and social media platforms. Rightly so. This is a massive shift in society.

Some people have asked me why I have made such a big deal of it, and why I am “pushing” the issue so hard. The reason is simple. I grew up in a very conservative part of the Christian tradition. I was taught that I was part of a chosen group who were going to live in Paradise, and everyone else was hated by God and would suffer for eternity. If you don’t think about it too much, there’s comfort in being part of the chosen. When you apply your mind to it, though, it’s a horrifying mindset. It actively creates “us vs them” divides at every level.

This is not what I see in the life and teachings of Jesus, who stands at the centre of my religion. I see someone who breaks down these “us verses them” divides at every opportunity. He does it across all sorts of lines: race, culture, economic status, politics, religion and sexuality.

So now that the church is confronted by such a radical shift in societal norms, we have an opportunity to re-form our churches too. It’s a key moment in history, and we must grasp it.

It is incredibly hard for someone who has grown up their whole life not just believing that homosexuality is a sin, but also that gay people are actually disgusting and despised by God to see what is now happening around the world. Acceptance of homosexuality as normal must be incredibly difficult – and for some, a sign of how badly messed up the world is.

It is wonderful to see some of these people beginning to confront their personal distaste of the “gay lifestyle” and argue for a church that should be accepting of homosexuals, and welcoming. That’s an important and necessary first step. But it’s not enough. Not nearly enough.

For those who believe that the Bible affirms same sex marriage, we cannot stop and applaud this half way step. It is going to bring more pain and suffering very soon. If you believe that “being gay” is a sin in itself, then you are only going to find pain in a church. And churches that welcome gays but still believe that “being gay” is sinful are going to cause deep and abiding harm to people. Homosexuals who attend those churches will be second class citizens, will be prohibited from leading, serving and exercising their spiritual gifts and calling. They will be broken down, not built up.

Continue reading Don’t stop now: It’s not enough for churches to just “welcome” gay people

One by one: Tony Campolo comes out for gay marriage

Tony Campolo, author, theologian and outspoken evangelical leader, has today announced that after much prayer and study, he has changed his position on gay marriage and now believes that the church should be in favour of it. One by one, evangelical thinkers and theologians are changing their positions. Tony is a significant figure, as he has long stood against affirming gay marriage (while being in favour of churches improving their affirmation of celibate gays). This is an important milestone in the church’s journey of change on this issue.

Tony made the announcement a few hours ago via his blog.

He says, in part:

… Furthermore, we should be doing all we can to reach, comfort and include all those precious children of God who have been wrongly led to believe that they are mistakes or just not good enough for God, simply because they are not straight.

As a social scientist, I have concluded that sexual orientation is almost never a choice and I have seen how damaging it can be to try to “cure” someone from being gay. As a Christian, my responsibility is not to condemn or reject gay people, but rather to love and embrace them, and to endeavor to draw them into the fellowship of the Church. When we sing the old invitation hymn, “Just As I Am”, I want us to mean it, and I want my gay and lesbian brothers and sisters to know it is true for them too.

Rest assured that I have already heard – and in some cases made – every kind of biblical argument against gay marriage, including those of Dr. Ronald Sider, my esteemed friend and colleague at Eastern University. Obviously, people of good will can and do read the scriptures very differently when it comes to controversial issues, and I am painfully aware that there are ways I could be wrong about this one.

However, I am old enough to remember when we in the Church made strong biblical cases for keeping women out of teaching roles in the Church, and when divorced and remarried people often were excluded from fellowship altogether on the basis of scripture. Not long before that, some Christians even made biblical cases supporting slavery. Many of those people were sincere believers, but most of us now agree that they were wrong. I am afraid we are making the same kind of mistake again, which is why I am speaking out.

One by one, until the ripple becomes a wave, and the wave becomes a flood. That is how it has always been, with any major shift in society.

Thank you, Tony, for having the courage to make this stand. May many more pastors and Christian leaders be encouraged now to follow your lead, and help us change this dreadful error in our interpretation of the Bible.

UPDATE ON 10 JUNE 2015: Brian D. McLaren, long time friend and collaborator with Tony (who also opposed him on the gay marriage issue for many years, while still remaining friends), has commented on Tony’s statement as well as the Christianity Today editorial. It’s well worth reading here.

Sermon: How to be a church entering a new land

I have not posted much on the blog recently due to work pressures. But a few weeks ago, I was able to preach at Heronbridge Christian Church, and the sermon was recorded.

I preached on the need for us to adopt the same mindset Moses and Joshua had to when they were leading the people of Israel into a new land. It requires a change in mindset and a future-focused attitude, not one that clings to the past or is frightened of change. I took the opportunity to overview an understanding of generational theory, and talk about some of the major disruptive forces shaping our world right now as well.

The sound file is available on their website here.

You can download my slides and follow along if you’d like to.

Let me know what you think.

5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

On his Formerly Fundie blog, Benjamin L. Corey, recently posted this blog entry. It’s a provocative read for some conservative American Christians, but it’s well worth it. Thought provoking and challenging. And, in my opinion, right.

Read it in full at his site, or an extract below.

5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

By Benjamin L. Corey

If you could meet one of the first Christians would you like them?

I’m convinced that many American Christians would not. In the course of 2000 years, Christianity- while maintaining the basic tenets, has morphed and shifted from the way it was originally designed and lived out. Since we tend to live in a culture that is rather self-centered, we have a tendency to assume we “have it right” while completely overlooking the fact that our version of Christianity might appear quite foreign– even hopelessly corrupted– if viewed through the eyes of one of the first Christians.

If those entrenched in American Christianity could transport back in time to experience Christianity as it originally was, they’d be uncomfortable at best, and at worst, would probably have declined the invitation to join Christianity at all.
Here’s 5 of the major reasons why I think many American Christians probably would not have liked the first ones:

1. The first Christians rejected personal ownership of property and engaged in a redistribution of wealth.

Americanized Christians often fight to make sure our taxes are lower, fight to repeal healthcare for poor people, and throw a fit over a small portion of our income going to provide foodstamps. While touting “voluntary” and “private” charity as the way to go, we give on average 2-3% of our income to the church or charities– not nearly enough to actually address the needy in any meaningful way. But what about the early Christians?

Well, the first Christians were quite different. In the book of Acts (the book that tells the story of original Christianity) tells us that “all the believers were together and held everything in common, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need” (Acts 2:44-45). We’re further told that there were no poor among them, because those who had land or property sold it so that this wealth could be “redistributed” to the needy (Acts 4:35). While on one hand communal property and redistribution of wealth was voluntary, scripture tells us that “all” of the believers in the church did this– meaning that it wasn’t exactly voluntary but a condition of being accepted into the group.
If Americanized Christians were to see how the first Christians lived, it would be denounced as some sort of communist cult being led by folks who distorted the Gospel.

Continue reading 5 Reasons Why Many American Christians Wouldn’t Like The First Ones

No-one is ever going to be “Left Behind”

Apparently Nicolas Cage’s latest movie, “Left Behind” is horrid (see movie website and trailer here). Critics are absolutely panning it, and from a few reviews I’ve read it sounds like another of Cage’s duds (I like him, and he has done some really great movies, but he’s done some stinkers too). But even if the movie itself was any good, the premise is bad. In fact, horrific.

It is based on the second best selling book series of all time (after Harry Potter) by Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins, “Left Behind”. This 12 book series tells a variety of stories about the rapture, and what happens in the aftermath of all the world’s Christian believers disappearing “in the blinking of an eye”. Especially in conservative Christianity, this 150 year belief (yes, it’s not something the historic church has believed) that comes straight of dispensationalism, has taken hold and is even an article of faith for many (by writing this blog, I am guaranteeing that I will be getting a long list of loving comments… watch my Facebook feed for evidence of the wrath of the faithful).

The problem is that this concept is entirely unbiblical. Not only does the word “rapture” never appear anywhere in the Bible, the two verses that the concept is based on have been badly misunderstood on the basis of a very simple misinterpretation of a single Greek word. I also think that the whole concept of a rapture goes directly against the central message of the Gospel itself, but I’ll get to that in a moment.

I am not a lone voice in this. Some very significant Biblical scholars have carefully debunked the concept.

Let’s start with that Greek word. The word for *meet* (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) in 1 Thess. 4:17 (see also 1 Cor. 15:51-54 and Phil. 3:20-21) was a technical term that described the custom of sending a delegation outside the city to receive a dignitary who was on the way to town. The delegation would go out to meet the guests and then immediately return to the city with them – basically just escorting them into the city. Luke uses this term in this way in Acts 28:14b-15: “And so we came to Rome. The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet (εἰς ἀπάντησιν) us.” Therefore, what Paul is suggesting in 1 Thess. 4:17 is that the dead in Christ will be raised, caught up with Jesus in the air, and then come straight back down to earth with Jesus. That is in fact where Jesus is heading: to earth. This fits pastorally with what Paul’s trying to say in the rest of 1 Thessalonians, as he encourages persecuted believers to understand that they will be vindicated when Jesus returns.

The whole Bible points to the fact that this earth will be renewed and restored to fit God’s original creation plan. It’s an incorrect view of the end times that sees Christians being “rescued” from a “dying” planet that is then destroyed. In fact, the Bible says the opposite: God comes down, establishes a new Jerusalem, restoring this earth. This may be figurative language, but it’s the best we’ve got, and at no stage do we see this earth being done away with, or being left to rot. God’s game-plan has always been to bring heaven to this earth. Not to take us away from earth into heaven.

Continue reading No-one is ever going to be “Left Behind”

Just for fun (but also serious): 10 Things That Drive Us Crazy at Church… That Probably Shouldn’t

I found this on the ChurchLeaders.com website. It’s really very good. Read the original here, with all the attached multimedia and clips that add to the humour.

10. Loud Music
9. People Using iPads Instead of “Real” Bibles
8. Coffee in the Sanctuary
7. Youth Group Attire
6. Long Sermons
5. Church Parking Lots
4. Pastors Asking for Money
3. Women in Leadership
2. Overly Happy Greeters
1. The Much-Feared Meet-n-Greet

Source: ChurchLeaders.com

What is the ‘Unforgivable Sin’?

My friend, Brian McLaren was asked this question recently, and I thought his reply was superb. Brian’s book, “Everything Must Change” (Thomas Nelson, 2007, buy on Kindle) helped to form my sense that our generation needs to face the reality of systemic problems, corporate sin and broken systems.

And we can do something about this now.

For the first time in human history, we now have access to cheap, fast and effective global communication tools and also the potential to co-ordinate our activities and efforts more than ever before. From vitally important things like eradicating polio (nearly done, just as smallpox has been already) to silly, but effective memes like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge doing the rounds right now, we’re proving to ourselves that we can deal with big, complex, systemic issues.

For many Christians, though, the starting point is accepting that we should put as much emphasis on corporate and societal sins as we do on individual sin and salvation. That’s why I think Brian’s answer to a question about the “unforgivable sin” against the Holy Spirit mentioned in Matthew and Mark is so important:

Continue reading What is the ‘Unforgivable Sin’?

Graeme Codrington's musings on a new kind of Christianity