When Family tells you that you’re going to Hell

It wasn’t the first time someone told me I was going to hell. But it was certainly the most thorough.

We were sitting around the kitchen table on the last morning of our visit. We had just finished breakfast and would soon be starting the long drive back to Chicago. “Aren’t you worried about what is going to happen to you when you die? And the things you are writing. What is God going to do to you for these things you are writing? You are leading people astray! And your children!” Exasperated grimace. Incredulous head shaking.

I guess if you believe I and my wife and children are going to hell it is commendable to warn me about it and pressure me to choose otherwise.

But I didn’t feel appreciative.

I was actually doing a lot of “on the spot” Spiritual Work. Separating myself from his opinion of me. Allowing him to have his view of reality and me to have my view of reality. Refusing to defend or explain myself because there was no indication of openness.

But I didn’t feel appreciative. And here’s why:

  1. You think I and my wife and my children are going to hell?

Do you really look at me and my wife and my children and think it is reasonable to state that God will sentence us to Eternal Conscious Torment? I am neither Ghandi nor Ted Bundy. I am in the middle of the pack of people trying to find the truth and trying to do some good and working with what I have to work with. I do not anticipate receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, but neither do I believe I am worthy of Eternal Conscious Torment.

And how about my loving wife and beautiful children? Do you really believe God’s default position toward them is that they are going to hell unless they embrace a specific religious dogma and have enough ‘faith’ in it? The God you believe in would toss my loved ones into an Eternal Lake of Fire? If your God would do that your God is a psychopath. If that is your God how can you claim to have certainty about your life after death? Just in case you need fuel for your neurosis, remember there are countless warnings in the Bible to people who think they are “saved” but they are really on their way to Hell. Do you really have enough ‘saving faith’? How much is enough?

2. Is this about my Eternal Destination or is this about your Fear of Death?

If you go to the typical Evangelical prayer meeting it is primarily about praying not to die.

Aunt Mary has cancer.

Bob is going in for surgery.

Sally is waiting for test results…

Entire Evangelical denominations are built on the idea that God will heal you every time.

Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton made millions off the fear of death.

I am afraid of death. I think most people are. And the older I get the more I think about it.

But repressing my fear of death is not the path to enlightenment. I believe that opening myself up to my fear of death and the reality of death I am also opening myself to the Path of Life.

3. I can’t make myself believe something I don’t believe.

I actually tried that for at least ten years and I was miserable. I didn’t have the benefits of truly believing and I didn’t have the freedom that comes from facing reality and acting accordingly. I don’t believe Joseph Smith was given Golden Plates and I don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead. I realize there are many sincere Mormons who believe Mormonism has been of great benefit to them. I realize there are many Evangelical Christians who believe Evangelicalism has been of great benefit to them. But just because they believe it doesn’t mean I am able to believe it. I am open to convincing evidence or a convincing experience, but until my beliefs are changed my beliefs will not change.

4. For you to be “In” I have to be “Out”

In order for religious organizations and religious people to have leverage and certainty they must reduce the world to black and white Binary Reductions. Our Religious Organization is “IN” and therefore all  other Religious Organizations are “OUT”.

It is Simple Logic:

Religions are MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE!!!!

Really?

Is it possible that most Spiritual Paths have much truth in them. Is it possible that we are all partially “IN” and all partially “OUT” of reality?” Is it possible that different people may benefit from different Spiritual Paths? It is possible that you may need to change Spiritual Paths as you grow and expand? Is it possible that God is reaching out to everyone and working with them in their imperfections and within the limitations of the particular Spiritual Path? Is it possible that Light enters through every crack and crevice?

5. Is death an Awards Assembly or is it a Graduation?

Maybe life after death isn’t an Awards Assembly where we receive our “Eternal Reward” of Heaven or Hell. Maybe death is accountability and opportunity. Maybe The Process Continues. Maybe death is an ending and a beginning.

A graduation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chris, Are you Gay?

“Are you struggling with same-sex attraction, Chris?”

On this night there were just three of us. A small group of men from my small Evangelical church who met at a dilapidated diner once a week. Increasingly I was beginning to question my conventional Evangelical beliefs. On this evening I had questioned the ‘homosexuality is a sin’ stance of my church. The two men had quickly turned to their favorite ‘Clobber Verse’ to address my resistance to this belief:

Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. Leviticus 18:22 (NIV)

Apparently Israel 5,000 years ago was one giant orgy. Compared to the sexual behavior addressed in Leviticus much of what is categorized as pornographic today would be wholesome, refreshing, old fashioned sex. Leviticus 18, primarily written to men, forbids sex with a close relative, sex with your mother, sex with your father’s wife, sex with your son’s daughter, sex with your aunts (on both sides!), sex with your daughter-in-law, sex with your brother’s wife, sex with your neighbor’s wife, and, for God’s sake, stop having sex with animals!

There is an apparently off topic prohibition on child sacrifice to the regional pagan god Molek. I do wonder why the author included it in this chapter. Pagan worship did sometimes involve sex. Having sex with your wife during her period was also an abomination for which God would vomit you out of the land. And then, of course, the condemnation of homosexuality.

For my Evangelical friends sitting with me in the shiny, upholstered plastic seats of a restaurant long past its prime, Leviticus 18:22 completely resolved the issue. When I read the book of Leviticus I see a culture emerging from their primitive pagan neighbors. I see a transcendent leap in consciousness. I see a culture where men are having sex with their mothers, their daughters, their son’s wives and their neighbors wives, their aunts, and, also, with animals, but now they are collectively realizing this is not behavior that is going to produce social stability. It is also not genetically wise. Putting what now seems like clear common sense restraints on sexual behavior was a transcendent leap in consciousness. But it was not a perfect one. Having sex with your wife during her period, while maybe off-putting to many, probably doesn’t belong in the same category as incest and bestiality. And homosexuality also does not belong in that category. All of the other sexual behaviors have clear elements of harm and coercion. Homosexuality between two consenting adults is neither harmful nor coercive.

My Evangelical friends might respond, “Well that is the Old Testament. What about 1 Corinthians 6:9-10? (If Donald Trump is reading this, Evangelicals always say “First Corinthians”, not “One Corinthians”. It is an Evangelical Shibboleth.)

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

This “Clobber Verse” introduces another problem with the Biblical presentation of homosexuality. The Biblical authors, trapped in the consciousness of their age, have no concept of U.S. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten Buttigieg. The idea of a same sex marriage between two responsible, consenting adults who are contributing to their communities simply doesn’t exist in the mind of these ancient authors. The perception of homosexuality was ‘male prostitutes and homosexual offenders’. Homosexuality in the Ancient Greek and Roman world was often between owners and slaves or older men and post-pubescent boys. (I found Matthew Vines insight on this helpful. See his book: “God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships”) The idea of a same sex marriage and heterosexual marriage being equally socially viable options seems to be a very new, emerging development in our collective consciousness.

Evangelicals may then pull out possibly the most powerful “Clobber Verse”, “What about Romans 1:26-28?
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.  Romans 1:26-28 (The Apostle Paul)
Here is where I begin to go in a new direction. As I was studying this and many others issues I increasingly began to see that the Apostle Paul was simply wrong. Why am I doing all of these intellectual and hermeneutical contortions trying to interpret these verses? The Apostle Paul was in error and guilty of promulgating other grievous beliefs. Here are a couple examples:
Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.
1 Corinthians 14:34-35 (The Apostle Paul)
If that is not a thoroughly misogynous statement I don’t know what is.
And then there is the Apostle Paul’s advice on how to be a “Good Slave” and a “Good Slave Owner” in Ephesians Chapter 6:5-9:

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free. And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.

As I pulled the thread of homosexuality teaching sparsely woven through the Bible the writers were exposed as very human. It became obvious to me that Paul was very much a human being limited by the consciousness of his time. Paul was not a walking, talking, preaching, and writing Oracle of God producing perfect, inerrant teaching that was as authoritative as if they came from the lips of God. The writings of the Apostle Paul are simply that: The Writings of the Apostle Paul. Not the Word of God.
Paul got it really wrong on Women. Paul got it wrong on Slavery. And Paul got it really wrong on Homosexuality.
I couldn’t help but smile and chuckle when my Earnest Evangelical Friends asked me if I was ‘struggling’ with same sex attraction. At the time I was single and an elementary school teacher. Maybe combining those data points contributed to that speculation. But it also revealed that they were so buried in their Evangelical Presuppositions that the most likely explanation to them was that I was changing my views on homosexuality so that I could come out of the closet and indulge my secret same sex desires.
Just for the record I am a heterosexual and I am now married and I have three children. I am still an elementary school teacher. The reason for my shift from an Evangelical view of homosexuality was initially an increasing compassion for those with a same sex orientation. The harm of teaching those with homosexual orientations they must be celibate or ‘convert’ to heterosexuality was obviously harmful. And all the good things in heterosexual marriage I also saw in same-sex marriage.  And then damn broke when I carefully examined the biblical texts on homosexuality. The biblical teaching on homosexuality was clearly logical and ethically flawed. And, increasingly, I saw the Bible as a very human book…not The Word of God.
More on that another time.

 

 

It Wasn’t Adam & Steve!

“It wasn’t Adam & Steve!”

“Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha! Ha!” the Southern Baptist congregation of my youth roared in laughter in response to the preacher’s joke even though they had heard it a million times. Even as a teenager I was turned off by this ignorant reduction of a complicated issue. But at the end of the day I agreed with him.

First of all look at the biology. Men have a penis and women have a vagina. Together they produced pregnancies essential to the continuation of the human species. Parents and children together created a family which was the building block of communities and culture. And there are no homosexual tigers or gorillas or parrots. There was no evidence in nature of natural homosexuality.

Second of all, if I thought about men having sex together I found it repulsive. It was inconceivable to me that any emotionally and physically healthy male would be sexually attracted to another male. It was self evident that traditional gender rolls should be cultivated and supported. While I believed effeminate men and masculine women should be treated with respect, I found the mockery they experienced understandable and joined in when they were not present. I can remember advising some women I was friends with that had some masculine characteristics that they would have difficulty attracting a boyfriend or a husband unless they were willing to cultivate their femininity. Especially in their appearance.

Third, the Bible had several ‘clobber’ verses addressing homosexuality.

Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion.  Romans 1:26-28

Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; that is detestable. Leviticus 18:22

“Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh?’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” Matthew 19:3-6

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10

I was an Evangelical. The Bible was the Literal Word of God. These sentences were crystal clear. Settled Truth.

But then I began to witness the consequences of this belief system for fellow sincere Evangelicals who had a same sex orientation. In my twenties I attended a Southern Baptist church and became friends with a young man who had been in ministry and married but was now divorced. He was a bright, kind, sincere Christian but had become involved in extra-marital homosexual activity and his wife divorced him. Public Scandal. He repented and tried to leave behind his homosexuality. He worked multiple jobs just to stay busy all the time. He went in and out of active homosexuality. He was racked with guilt and deeply conflicted. Tormented.

My view of homosexuality began to shift from repulsion and judgement to compassionate repulsion and judgement. I think this is where many of my Evangelical friends are today. Homosexual behavior and orientation were morally repugnant, but I thought there were factors out of their control that caused this orientation. It was like alcoholism or drug use or mental illness. With the right treatment, the right support, and with God’s help they could leave behind their sexual orientation and behavior. 

But then I got to know sincere, kind Christian men with homosexual orientations who were in demanding programs and therapy to change their same sex orientation and behavior and they were very active in their churches – and their same sex attraction was still an ongoing struggle. They fell in and out of same sex sexual activity. One friend declared that he heard God’s audible voice say, “I have something better for you” and he was then delivered from homosexuality. But then on Facebook I followed his pendulum swings. At one point he was in Exodus, a Christian group that claimed to deliver people from homosexuality. He would post the homosexuality ‘clobber verses’ on his Facebook timeline. A few months later his post would declare that he didn’t care what anyone thought, he was gay and he was enjoying living an open gay lifestyle. Then Back. And Forth. The guilt and the pain and the conflict were so difficult to watch. The Resolutions. The White Knuckles. The Self-Destructive Binge. The Self-Hatred.

I watched these good men and several others go through these agonizingly ineffective processes and saw the wreckage they left behind – broken engagements, divorces, and ministry scandals. I began to question: “Is Evangelical Christian teaching on homosexuality right? Is it good?”

And then the question that led me to reverse my position on homosexuality and began the Deconstruction of my Evangelical Christian faith:

“What is the HARM of same sex relationships?”

My eyes were opening to the carnage strewn across the Evangelical landscape by Conservative Christian dogma on homosexuality. Evangelicals demanded that those with same sex attraction reverse, or at least repress, their sexual orientation. Any discovery of same sex behavior would result in public condemnation, social isolation, excommunication, and put one’s Eternal Salvation in serious question. The horrific level of psychological and emotional trauma experienced by children and teenagers with same sex attraction who were raised in an Evangelical sub-culture should concern us all. We have generations of people with same sex attractions walking around with Evangelical PTSD.

In light of the of the horrific experiences of these good sincere people that I knew personally, I had to ask: “What is the harm of same sex relationships?” All I heard was crickets. What harm results from two men or two women falling in love with each other and deciding they want to spend their life together? None. And not only is there no harm there is tremendous good that results. Two people have the opportunity to grow together and learn to love each other and support each other. It is no different than the good that results from two heterosexuals marrying each other.

Love is Love.

Marriage is Marriage.

Family is Family.

Full Disclosure: I was one of those Evangelical Pastors teaching that people with same sex attraction deserved to be loved and treated with compassion. But they were sinning and they needed to find support and a relationship with God in order to change. It is so obviously wrong now. It is so morally repugnant. It is so bigoted. Why couldn’t I see it? I cannot excuse it. I can only say that I repent of those beliefs, attitudes, and actions. I  support and encourage those with same sex orientation and those in same sex relationships. I support their full access to all aspects of life and a full opportunity to pursue happiness.

And I hope I might reach some people who believe now as I once did.