19 May 2006

"It Ain't Necessarily So"

Since I've begun to share my opinions on Christianity beyond this website, I've begun to be accused of "picking and choosing" portions of the Bible to support my particular beliefs. It's absolutely true! Fundamentalist Christian "ministers" do this all the time. They just do it in the wrong way.

Everybody should pick and choose which portions of the Bible they take to heart. Not everything you read in the Bible is good. Not everything you read in the Bible is literal. Not everything you read in the Bible is Christian! The Bible has prejudice in it, particularly against women and Gay people. It has contradictions(for instance, there are two distinctly different versions of the way Judas Iscariot died in the New Testament). It has a lot of symbolism. It's an historical document, but keep in mind that historical accounts can vary depending on who tells them.

The Bible quotes from the law of men, and it quotes from the law of God. Jesus Christ told us that it's important not to confuse the two. Let me state once more how to avoid confusion, because I can't say it enough: Ask yourself what Jesus Christ would say! Ask yourself what He would do. Study the life of Christ and consider His example. Whatever contradicts His example is man's law. You can count on it! Fortunately, we have four (and if you consider the Gnostic Gospels, more) different accounts of Christ's life to study and compare. For this reason alone, the Gospels are more credible than the other books of the Bible.

In 1935, George Gerswin wrote a song for his musical Porgy and Bess called "It Ain't Necessarily So." The first lines of the song go like this: The things that you're liable/To read in the Bible/It ain't necessarily so. Now, this is a comic number that wasn't meant to be taken seriously, but that one lyric couldn't be more true! The things that humans say, the things that humans write, no matter what the context . . . it ain't necessarily so!

Humans lie. Humans distort. Humans misinterpret. Humans misspeak, sometimes by accident and sometimes deliberately. Prophets and ministers of faith are human. None of them are infallible, not even highly respected ones like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King. No, not even the apostles in the Bible! You read repeatedly in the New Testament how they fell short of the Lord's expectations of them. You can't always trust their judgment. You can't always trust your own judgment. You can't always trust my judgement, either! But you don't have to, when you have Christ's example to guide you.

Some people panic at the very thought of not believing everything they read in the Bible. There's no need for panic! Calm down, sugar! If all copies of the Bible disappeared off the face of the Earth one day, God would still be here. Trust in God. Ask Him to direct you when you have questions about how to proceed in life.

After all, isn't Christianity supposed to be a faith? Where does faith enter the picture if you can run to the pages of a book for all your answers?

18 May 2006

My Conversion

This message may or may not appear later on Jasmyne Cannick's blogsite, but it's a very personal story, so I want it to appear here as well.

I'd like to offer some personal testimony. God gifted me with a strong sense of my own identity from an early age. While I was in denial about being Gay for a number of years, I never suffered the kind of pain and confusion about who and what I am that many other Gay people suffer. I never believed that I "chose" my sexuality. I never believed that my sexuality was a mental disorder. I never believed that I was "possessed" by a demon. I was never "recruited" into a homosexual "lifestyle." I knew that I wasn't depraved, and I knew that my sexuality was just one aspect of me. I was not "a homosexual."

I came to know early on how pervasive ignorance about homosexuality was; with anger, I can still recall being beaten up and called a "fag" as a child, long before I understood what the term meant. It was only after I "came out" to myself that I took full stock of the huge pack of lies that circulates about Gay people. I was horrified to learn about the executions, the tortures, the incarcerations and the wholesale vilification of Lesbians and Gay men all over the world. This persecution goes back centuries, and more often than not it has been carried out in the name of God.

At the age of eighteen, I left the Baptist church when my minister started including derogatory statements about Gay people in his sermons. I revered that Revered Williams, but I knew immediately when he was lying! Unlike other preachers I'd later learn about, he wasn't any good at camouflaging his homophobia, at least not in my judgment.  He did a good enough job poisoning my faith, though!  While I managed to salvage my belief in God, my bond with the Christian Church was severed forever.

Eventually, I came to believe that the Bible was the cause of everything bad that had ever happened to people like me. With its scriptural support for bigotry, it had to be an evil book. Finally, I decided to rid my home of it. I flung the Bible into a dumpster with such force, some of the pages separated from the binding. With that act, I symbolically freed myself from religious oppression. I began to openly deny being a Christian. Yet, it turned out that God had different plans for me.

One day while I was cleaning out my bookcase, I found a battered copy of the New Testament that I had long ago forgotten about. My first impulse was to rip it apart and toss it into the trash! I tried, but God did not allow me to do what I wanted to do. Instead, He directed me to re-read the four Gospels. I did so over a period of weeks, and for the first time, I began to learn. Instead of letting a minister tell me what the Bible said, I found out for myself.

I learned that Jesus Christ did not say one word of condemnation about my sexuality, contrary to what fundamentalist Christians claim. I learned that Jesus Christ did speak on the subject of homosexuality, contrary to what Gay theologians claim. Then I learned about Jesus Christ's own sexuality, particularly from the Gospel of John, and what I learned astounded me. I found evidence that the Saviour Himself may have been homosexual in His human form. So how could homosexuality be "an abomination" when the son of God did not say it was . . . when, in all likelihood, he shared my sexual orientation? The answers to these questions revived my lapsed Christian faith.

God revealed the true nature of the Bible to me. It is neither the absolute Word of God that fundamentalists say it is, nor is it the Satanic book I thought it was. It is neither inherently good nor evil, but it can be used for good or evil purposes. The Bible documents the time of the early Jews and Christians. It contains historical narrative, mythology, poetry and prognostication. It is unquestionably an essential text for Christians. It's our best written guide to living a Christian life. However, God showed me that the Bible can guide us just so far. He Himself must guide us the rest of the way!

Thousands of years ago, men began compiling the books that make up the Bible from texts that circulated among the early Christians. They declared many of those texts heretical and suppressed them. Some are lost forever, and we'll never know their contents. The Bible as we know it reflects the prejudices and political agendas of the men who created it. That in itself may not be such a bad thing, but what Christian leaders did after the Bible was compiled was definitely bad! They declared it a Divine Book and claimed that it had been dictated by God. Then they used its most draconian passages to oppress entire groups of people, especially Jews, heterosexual women, and homosexual women and men. Such has been the case from then until now.

Despite these dark manipulations, the purity of Jesus Christ's message survives in the four books chosen to be the Christian Gospels. God showed me that the Gospels are the "meat" of the Bible, the standard against which all the other books must be measured. If a scripture does not conform to Jesus Christ's teachings, then it is not truly Christian. It seems so obvious, but this logic has escaped a very large number of people for a very long time.

False prophets have made a mockery of Christ's teachings! They have ignored the meaning of His supreme sacrifice and portrayed God's love and salvation as conditional. They've nearly succeeded at draining all that is uplifting about Christianity and making it oppressive. Worst of all, they've made Christianity a "by the book" religion. They've declared the Bible to be the equivalent of God, and they've encouraged . . . no, demanded . . . that we worship it! Most of those who call themselves Christians today are actually Bible worshippers. This is wrong!

Christians everywhere need to be constantly comparing their ministers' teachings to those of Jesus Christ as documented in the Gospels. Christ did not direct us to worship the Bible(which did not even exist during His time on Earth). He directed us to worship God. No one and no thing can come between us and God! We must relate to Him directly.

We must perceive God with our intellect and our spirits, and the intellectual aspect is no less important than the spiritual one. God does not want or need his followers to be ignorant! We must open our minds and hearts so that when God reveals His will to us, we know that it is His will. Often, God's will contradicts what is written in the Bible, in the same way that Jesus Christ's teachings often contradicted the religious laws of ancient Israel. God's will is mysterious and vast. It cannot be limited to or contained within any book! And it cannot always be understood.

There are true emissaries of Christ who can guide us on our individual Christian journeys, but we must all be wary of people who go around calling themselves Christian ministers. False prophets have been plying their evil trade for thousands of years, and there seem to be more of them now than ever before. Pat Robertson, TD Jakes, Alfred Owens, Jr, Jerry Johnston, the late Jerry Falwell . . . there are far too many to list. Fortunately, false prophets are pretty easy to recognize. If ever we hear a preacher denigrate Jews, women or Gay people under the cover of scripture, it's a sure sign that we are sitting in the presence of Satan. We should get up and leave immediately! We mustn't give the Devil even half a chance to corrupt our souls.

We must remember that Jesus Christ forgave the Jewish leaders and everyone else who wronged him. We must remember that Jesus Christ bypassed his male disciples and chose women to spread the news of His resurrection. We must remember that Jesus Christ chose a man as his most Beloved. We are Christ's children. We belong! We are as God made us. Lesbians and Gay men can rest assured that, however many times they told otherwise, they are not abominations to God. They are revelations from God.

16 May 2006

The First Tortured Homosexual Christian

ROMANS 1:23-27
Instead of worshipping the immortal God, (men) worship images made to look like mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles. Because men are such fools, God has given them over to do the filthy things their hearts desire, and they do shameful things with each other . . . God has given them over to shameful passions. Even the women pervert the natural use of their sex by unnatural acts! In the same way the men give up natural sexual relations with women and burn with passion for each other. Men do shameful things with each other, and as a result they themselves are punished as they deserve for their wrongdoing.

This is one of the handful of texts in the Bible which have been used to justify persecution of Lesbians and Gay men over the centuries. It is part of a letter to early Roman Christians that was written by the Apostle Paul. He was the "fire and brimstone" apostle, the first fundamentalist Christian. He was absolutely preoccupied with sin and the perception of sin.

In First Corinthians 7:35, he feels the need to say "I am not trying to put restrictions on you," but his letters fairly brim over with restrictions and warnings. He is restrictive about sex roles, about marriage, about church hierarchy, and especially about giving in to one's sinful "human nature." The Conservative men who compiled the Bible obviously approved of his stern brand of Christianity, because they chose more of Paul's letters to include in the New Testament than any written by the other apostles(and keep in mind that Paul was not one of the original twelve).

He was originally an enforcer of the Jewish Council, a bully and a fierce persecutor of Christians. We are told that God Himself transformed Paul into a minister of the Christian Gospel. However, God did not make him perfect; Paul could perform miracles in the name of the Divine One, but he himself was not Divine.

The Apostle Paul's letters reveal him to be painfully human. He was prideful and judgmental, despite his own warnings against being either of those things. He spoke at length about what privileges he felt entitled to as an apostle of Jesus Christ. His teachings about not associating with "immoral" people contradicted the actions of his Savior, Jesus Christ, who actively sought out the company of outcasts.

Also unlike the Christ, he seemed obsessed with sexual practices. How strange that he describes homosexual activity as something God imposes upon sinners, rather than speaking of it as just another sin. Three times Paul refers to sex between men as "shameful," almost as if he personally felt the shame. He certainly seems to know an awful lot about it! Consider these passages he wrote later in the same letter:

ROMANS 7:14-25
. . . I am mortal man, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do, for I don't do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate . . . I am not really the one who does this thing, rather it is the sin that lives in me. I know that good does not live in me, that is, in my human nature . . . my inner being delights in the law of God. But I see a different law at work in my body, a law that fights against the law that my mind approves of. It makes me a prisoner to the law of sin which is at work in my body. What an unhappy man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is taking me to death? . . . this, then, is my condition: By myself, I can serve God's law only with my mind, while my human nature serves the law of sin.

Then, check out this passage from his second letter to the Corinthian churches:

. . . to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times, I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but He said to me: "My Grace is sufficient for you, for power is made Perfect in weakness."

Is it possible for any Gay man or Lesbian who has ever fought against their true nature to miss what Paul is talking about? Can there be any doubt that he was a tortured homosexual man? I am convinced of it! The first fundamentalist Christian was Gay . . . and there would be many more Gay fundamentalist Christians in his wake, stretching over centuries.

I suspect that many of them have been guilty of distorting the teachings of Jesus Christ, just like the Apostle Paul did. However, as I have said before, it's possible to avoid distorted Christian teachings. It's easy to do. Simply read the words that the Christ Himself is quoted as having said, and ponder His deeds. Della Reese said it best on an unforgettable episode of the TV show "Touched By An Angel" . . . "God is not the source of confusion." So true! Whatever would we do if He were?

As he grew in his knowledge of Divine salvation, I wonder if Paul came to regret writing some of the things he'd written earlier? Let's hope so. In any case, we must not resent the Apostle Paul or his writings, despite the misery they have caused. God had compassion and bestowed great gifts upon him despite his human flaws. We must likewise feel compassion for him, especially knowing that he was, in all likelihood, one of us!

I encourage you to re-read the letters of the Apostle Paul with a new understanding. Understand that being a Christian or even a Christian minister does not render a person incapable of making mistakes . . . and understand that God forgives our mistakes, no matter how profound they are.