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Very different responses to the gay issue: which is more like Jesus?

Very different responses to the gay issue: which is more like Jesus?

This past week has seen two sets of very different responses to the way in which people and companies deal with the “gay issue”. Many countries and states around the world have made it illegal to discriminate against people on the basis of sexuality. This has made it difficult for certain companies to continue their anti-gay staff policies, many of which have been based on religious beliefs.

So, last week, World Vision made an announcement that they would not discriminate against any staff members on the basis of sexuality. The conservative Christians went crazy, quickly mobilising to withdraw their support of this organisation. This meant directly impacting the lives of many extremely poor young people who are the recipients of the aid and support of World Vision. I wrote about this last week here. These Christians stated that they were no longer willing to fund food, water, clothing, and shelter to children and communities sponsored by World Vision, and that they would “weep for the children” who will suffer as a result of pulled sponsorships. They blamed gay and lesbian people (and divorcees and single parents) for their own actions.

This past week, a similar story unfolded in the same part of the world, but with different results. Brendan Eich was appointed as CEO of Mozilla earlier this month (this is the company that makes Firefox and other software). Brendan made a $1,000 donation to an organisation that supports Proposition 8 in California – this is a law that banned gay marriage in that State. When this was discovered, many employees, many users of the company’s software and many others complained. Brendan has been dismissed. You can read the story here.

The chairman of Mozilla stressed that Mozilla supports equality for all regardless of race, gender or sexual orientation, and apologised for delaying a response and causing more hurt to their community.

What a contrast.

Jesus made it very clear: the world will know who is a disciple of Jesus and who is not by their love. Not by your theology. Not by the version of the Bible you read from. Not be which church you attend. Not even by your thoughts or actions. By your love. (John 13:35; Matthew 7 is also worth reading in this context).

Paul was also clear that love is the pinnacle of spiritual expression. Without love, everything else you do and believe and say and think is worth nothing.

I’ll leave it to you to decide, but I know for sure which of the two responses above is more loving. I know which of the responses above is more Christ-like.

God have mercy on His church.

Rational responses to the Noah movie

Rational responses to the Noah movie

In recent weeks, conservative evangelical Christians have complained about the Disney movie, “Frozen” (proclaiming it’s theme tune to be supportive of gay rights), campaigned against World Vision withdrawing funding for third world children, and now are up in arms about the Hollywood movie, Noah. It can be embarrassing having to wear the label “Christian” alongside these whiners and moaners.

The movie, Noah, was recently released. It is a fictional tale based on the Biblical account. It includes some content from the book of 1 Enoch (it is stunning how many Christians show complete lack of knowledge about the books that nearly made it into the canon of Scripture, and have been accepted as extra-canonical but nevertheless Biblical by more than half of all the Christians who have ever lived). It also includes some references to other ancient flood myths, including the most powerful one, the Gilgamesh Epic, that actually predates the Biblical account (again, most conservative Christians show complete ignorance of these other accounts of creation, the flood and antiquity, even though an understanding of the version Moses wrote must take into account how it interacted with these more ancient myths).

The movie, Noah, is a fictional account of the Biblical story, taking some license with the very short version in the Old Testament. It contains typical amounts of extra material designed to build drama and excitement, and does a good job of incorporating a variety of source material. But it does contradict the Biblical account in a number of ways, and dramatically changes how Christians would prefer God to be portrayed. As such, should Christians still watch it?

I believe that we absolutely should. And we should take the opportunity to talk about it amongst ourselves and with our children. This really does come down to how we handle truth. Conservative Christians try to handle truth by not engaging with error in any way. Well, “the elders” of their churches should engage with error, effectively becoming guardians and censors, warning “the flock” of dangers and steering them away from error. I prefer the approach which teaches people how to spot error for themselves, and to raise their ability to handle truth wisely. This involves, amongst other things, teaching people how to have conversations about truth, how to investigate, how to think and analyse, and how to ask questions – all the time relying on the Holy Spirit to teach and guide.

For the most balanced and rational review of the movie, I’d suggest Greg Boyd’s which you can find here. You can also read Tony Jones’ take on the movie – a more theological reflection on the nature of the Bible and how we should interpret it.

Jesus was not a man’s man

April 2, 2014 Gender, General No Comments
Jesus was not a man’s man

Tim Krueger wrote an article on “Reframing Biblical Masculinity” a few days ago. I am not sure I buy into everything he says, but I did really like this key point:

Several hallmarks of “biblical manhood” look suspiciously like modern, Western, middle-to-upper class rites of passage: employment outside the home, financial independence, marriage, and fatherhood, for instance. Jesus, on the other hand, never married or had children. He abandoned his family business in favor of ministry, becoming financially dependent on others—even women. He could be tough, but he also wept in public. Day after day, he soiled his reputation as a man of God by hanging around the wrong people. In short, Jesus fails spectacularly to live up to the ideals of “biblical manhood.” This, to me, suggests that we might be off track.

… Let’s leave behind the “boys will be boys” mentality of patriarchy and the bullet lists of “biblical manhood.” Instead, let’s embrace an idea (or ideas) of masculinity patterned after Jesus, characterized by kingdom values, and deeply engaged with the real world. When we do, our families, churches, and world will better know and experience the fullness and glory of God.

Great points!

Video: The Gay Debate: The Bible and Homosexuality

Following my post yesterday about the madness of evangelical responses to World Vision’s stance on gay employees, I was sent a link to this video of a one hour workshop that looks at the Bible and homosexuality.

If this is an issue that concerns you, then this video by theology student Matthew Vines is well worth watching. It will challenge your traditional perceptions of what the Bible says on the topic, but you will see that those who want to remain Biblical, true to Christ’s teachings and holy, do not have to reject homosexuality. The ways in which the historical church interpreted Scripture is not necessarily correct.

But watch the video and make up your own mind:

Please don’t add comments here if you have not watched the whole video. Please add constructive comments only.

The madness of evangelical responses to homosexuality

The madness of evangelical responses to homosexuality

UPDATE on 29 March 2014: After just three days, and intense funding pressure, World Vision have decided to reverse their decision and will exclude openly gay people from their organisation. This is shocking and disgusting. Evangelicals will claim it as a victory. It is not.

Tony Jones has written about this, with both opinion and inside information – it’s worth a read!


I really do understand why some conservative Christians are so concerned about the debate around homosexuality and gay marriage. They see it as a key theological issue, threatening to unravel their approach to Biblical interpretation and a threat to a Christian morality they’ve often been able to impose on the societies in which they live. I don’t agree with them, but I do understand why the issue is so important. But I don’t understand some conservative Christians who seem to have gone beyond the far edge of “concern” and become completely obsessive.

It harkens back to what must have happened during the days of witch hunts. (And it brings to my mind a few Monty Python type sketches too: “she’s a witch, burn her!”, and the twisted logic often employed in those days).

An example of what I am talking about happened just this week.

World Vision announced that they were not going to make any comments or issue theological statements about the issue of gay marriage, but that they were not going to discriminate against gays in their hiring policies and would employ people in same-sex relationships. American evangelical church leaders went bananas.

Rachel Held Evans has (as she very often does) the best reflection on what happened and what it shows us about the state of the evangelical church. I agree with her assessment – and it greatly saddens me.

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What to do when your friends don’t like your changes in theology

March 20, 2014 General, Theology No Comments
What to do when your friends don’t like your changes in theology

Those of us who have been on a journey with our theology have often felt alone, put upon and even shunned – by those who were meant to love us, and those we called our friends. As part of his series on how to interpret the Bible, Rob Bell offers some advice for those who have felt – or feel – this way.

This is great solice and comfort for the journey. For there is a long journey ahead for many of us convinced that we’re living through a new reformation.

Read the original here, or an extended extract below.

What is the Bible? Part 53: A Shout Out To the Lonely

by Rob Bell

Talking about music is like
dancing about architecture.

-Thelonius Monk (Or was it Frank Zappa? Or Elvis Costello? Or someone else…?)

It happened again yesterday. It happens all the time. I meet someone who is on a journey, like we all are, and they’ve recently grown in their understanding of faith. Growing up they were handed an understanding from their parents, church, college, youth group, town, etc. and as they got older it simply didn’t work like it used to and they began to be less and less engaged.

And then something happened. They read a book, they had a conversation, they heard someone speak, and for the first time they had language for what they’d been experiencing. They realized there are others way to talk about and understand faith/Jesus/God/The Bible/growth

and they’re thrilled.

And then they share what they’re learning with the people around them and it doesn’t go so well. Their friends and family and roommates don’t get it, furrowing their brow and saying things like I’m concerned about your new theology and This new direction you’re taking is troubling and the clincher Where is Jesus in all this?
Is this you?

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God cannot be both good and predestine people to hell

March 19, 2014 Bible, General, Theology No Comments
God cannot be both good and predestine people to hell

Roger E. Olson wrote an excellent blog on the problem at the heart of (high) Calvinism: double predestination. If God has chosen people to go to hell, then God cannot be good.

It’s worth reading. I think he’s right. Here’s his conclusion:

My point is, of course, that there exists a contradiction between two Calvinist beliefs: 1) that the Bible is inherently and unconditionally trustworthy, and 2) that God, its author, is not good in any sense meaningful to us. Belief “1″ assumes that God is good in a sense meaningful to us—comparable with our highest and best intuitions of goodness. Belief “2″ (necessarily implied by double predestination) empties belief “1″ of foundation.
Therefore, any exegesis of the Bible that ends up portraying God as not good, which high Calvinism (belief in double predestination) inexorably does, cannot be believed because it self-referentially turns back against the very reason for believing the Bible. In order to be consistent one must choose between belief in the Bible as God’s Word and belief in double predestination.
This is why I say with John Wesley about the Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9 “Whatever it means it cannot mean that.”

So, how then should we interpret Romans 9? I think one of the best overviews of this comes from Greg Boyd at Re:Knew – it’s a long read, but well worth the effort.

Believing is not enough

March 11, 2014 General, Theology No Comments
Believing is not enough

Greg Boyd is a pastor, a blogger and a video commentator on all things theology. His thinking really stretches me, and I enjoy watching his regular videos in which he reflects on what it means to be a 21st century Christian.

In a blog entry today, he writes on something I really am becoming more and more convinced about: that our salvation is evidenced in how we engage with God’s Kingdom on earth; that we are as much saved FROM things are we are saved FOR things; and that our beliefs are almost entirely evidenced by our works.

Here’s how Greg put it on his blog:

One of the core elements of evangelical church life is the conversion experience. From old-time revivals, to seeker-sensitive church services, to post-modern outreach strategies, evangelicals have placed a very high emphasis on the point of conversion.

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Why I am – and am not – a universalist

Why I am – and am not – a universalist

The question of heaven and hell, and who goes where, is one that has exercised Christians (and many other religions) for centuries. It is one of the key issues facing the evangelical church today. The typical dividing line is between those who read passages of the Bible that clearly state that not everyone will be saved, and those who read passages of the Bible that clearly state that everyone will be saved. Both positions exist. Both cannot be right. But maybe neither are correct. Maybe we’ve created a problem for ourselves by creating an interpretative framework for ourselves that was never intended in the Bible.

One of my friends and leading thinkers and authors in evangelicalism today is Brian McLaren. He has literally written a book on this topic (“The Last Word and the Word After That”). But he has often been accused of “ducking the question” when asked about hell. In a recent blog post, he spelt out his position as clearly as I have ever seen it, and I agree.

Here’s an extract:

… if by Universalist, you mean, “One who believes God perfectly and fully loves the entire universe, and every creature in it,” or if you mean that God will do everything possible to give everyone possible the best possible eternal outcome of their temporal lives, or if you mean that God is not a capricious and vicious torturer who will punish eternally all those who are not “among the elect” or otherwise successful in selecting and following the correct religion … then, yes, of course, sign me up. I am happy (and unafraid) to be counted among your number.

Perhaps I should stop there.

But for those who are interested, here’s why I don’t normally choose that label [of Universalist]. When the conventional question – who goes to heaven and who goes to hell – frames reality, universalism and inclusivism are preferable answers to exclusivism. But when that conventional question frames reality, and when one chooses universalism, we face a temptation to say, “Whew. What a relief! Everything will be OK! There will be a happy ending!” And that relief can lead to a kind of passivity, namely, that if all will be well in the end, then all is well now. But that isn’t the case.

In other words, I don’t think that the heaven-hell question is the one that should frame reality. But I acknowledge that it does frame reality for many Christians (and Muslims), and many of them need a better answer within that frame than the exclusivist one they’ve been given. They simply aren’t ready or able to reframe reality with a different question.

When a different question frames reality – how can God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven – then we have to acknowledge that for billions of God’s creatures, God’s will is not being done on earth as in heaven. Universalism may be good news for them after they die, but right now, they need good news that God cares about the mess they’re in … the mess of injustice, oppression, ignorance, prejudice, hunger, thirst, sickness, loneliness, guilt, shame, addiction, fear, poverty, etc. And that good news can not be in word only. It must come in deed and in truth, as 1 John and James both say (echoing Jesus) … which makes our reply very costly.

I guess this is a case of needing pastoral sensitivity to discern which problem people are facing. For some, the urgent need is to be liberated from a vicious and cruel depiction of God as eternal cosmic torturer. For others, the urgent need is to be liberated from a sense that God may help them after they die, but until then, they’re stuck and sunk. Perhaps what we need is a kind of activist universalism – that affirms God’s saving love for all creation, but doesn’t stop there … but rather sends us into creation to bear and manifest that saving love universally – for friend, stranger, and enemy … for Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and everyone else … for humans and living creatures and all creation.

Read it in full here.

That is precisely why I am – and am not – a universalist.

The Bible was ‘clear’… (by Rachel Held Evans)

January 26, 2014 Bible, General No Comments
The Bible was ‘clear’… (by Rachel Held Evans)

Following on from my previous entry on Rob Bell’s overview of the Bible, and a bit of a Facebook storm that erupted around my recommendation, here is another blog from Rachel Held Evans that warns us to be careful of how we interpret and defend Scripture.

The Bible was ‘Clear’

In 1982: 

“The Bible clearly teaches, starting in the tenth chapter of Genesis and going all the way through, that God has put differences among people on the earth to keep the earth divided.” - Bob Jones III, defending Bob Jones University’s policy banning interracial dating/marriage. The policy was changed in 2000. 

In 1823: 

 ”The right of holding slaves is clearly established by the Holy Scriptures, both by precept and example.” - Rev. Richard Furman, first president of the South Carolina State Baptist Convention.

In the 16th Century: 

“People gave ear to an upstart astrologer who strove to show that the earth revolves, not the heavens or the firmament, the sun and the moon. This fool…wishes to reverse the entire science of astronomy; but sacred Scripture tells us that Joshua commanded the sun to stand still, and not the earth.” - Martin Luther in “Table Talk” on a heliocentric solar system.

In 1637:

“Sometimes the Scripture declareth women and children must perish with their parents…We have sufficient light from the Word of God for our proceedings.” - Captain John Underhill, defending the Puritan decimation of the Pequot tribe.

In 1846: 

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