Posts Tagged Christianity
As homosexuality becomes more socially acceptable, the pressure to make it theologically acceptable will increase. Indeed, Christians have been at the forefront of the marriage inequality movement for a long time (see my post on the MCC) and a “Queer theology” has emerged which seeks to justify same-sex relations Biblically.
The campaign for marriage equality (against marriage inequality) has been likened to the movement against slavery. I think this a good analogy. Christians were at the forefront of this movement too and an important part, no doubt, of the success of the campaign was the denunciation of Biblical interpretations of the Bible that allowed the system of slavery to continue. The Bible didn’t change – it still contains references to slavery with no obvious disapproval (even some instances of approval). But we chose to see those passages differently.
It is a sad fact that homosexuals do not feel welcome in most churches. But it is encouraging to know that Christians have been at the forefront of the marriage inequality movement for a long time. The Metropolitan Community Church, for instance, was founded as early as 1968 and has been campaigning for marriage equality ever since. It has also no doubt contributed to the emerging “queer theology” that seeks to legitimise their stance. I attended a service of the Good Hope MCC in Cape Town last Sunday. It was Freedom Day, the birthday of SA’s democracy.
The Good Hope MCC meets in a historical Church building on Green Market Square in Cape Town and they hung a huge yellow banner declaring that all “queers” are welcome. The pastor was a slight woman who not only preached, but also sang while playing the guitar, straight from the pulpit. The toilets were designated unisex. I have the memory of there being rainbow decorations everywhere, but this may be more of an impression than actual fact. The message, in any case, was very clear: you are welcome.
But it was also very clear that this message was not directed toward me. I’m a heterosexual male, perfectly welcome in a traditional church. No, this message was directed to the LGBT community. Indeed, I felt like possibly only one of two heterosexuals there (the other being a friend I had brought along). This was also an impression, not an established fact. The MCC church is there for LGBT people. Every announcement and virtually every statement made was geared toward them.
And why should the MCC not focus on LGBT? In virtually every other church they are either not mentioned at all, or they are informed that they are living in sin. The plight of LGBT people in the new South Africa is still acute. There are, for instance, Lesbians being murdered or correctively raped in some communities. Would other churches take as active a stance to stop this?
The Good Hope MCC church is perhaps the only place that LGBT people in Cape Town can connect with a community of believers without judgement. And they do so alone. Shouldn’t heterosexuals and LGBT people be able to worship together? Is it not deplorable that in 20 years into South Africa’s democracy, the church is in a kind of apartheid, heterosexuals here, LGBT people there? Perhaps, in another twenty years, it will seem simply absurd.
I want to ignore those (often unintentionally) hateful Christians who cannot accept homosexuals for a little while. Let us talk about those Christians who
- Truly believe homosexuality is a sin, but
- Do everything in their power to love their homosexual neighbours.
There are not many such Christians, but they should not be judged along with the rest. They are sincere and honourable. But I am not convinced that their stance is not ultimately harmful.
I discovered recently that there are still rather powerful churches that believe women should not be pastors or leaders of churches. I was unknowingly attending one such church until recently and was quite shocked to find that even Tim Keller, a man whose writing on Christianity I have admired, takes this view. These churches call their position “complementarianism” and it is an insidious lie.
The idea is supposed to oppose the concept of “egalitarianism”, which would mean that men and women are equal and alike, able to take on any role in the church. Instead, complementarianism is supposed to convey that men and women are equal, but have different roles. This seems benign. But this is not really what is implemented.
The situation is not : women can do this, and men can do that. It is women can’t do this and men can do, well, everything. The system imposes neither equal (but different) restrictions nor provides equal (but different) freedoms for men and women. It merely restricts women. There is no equivalently important or powerful role reserved for women and women only.
Let us thus not fool ourselves. This system should not be called complementarianism. At best it is rebranded patriarchy or chauvinism, made to look benign, but with all the poison of male domination (i.e. sexism) lurking underneath. Men and women may be equal under God, but they certainly are not in these churches.
(Disclaimer: I certainly do not believe that (most of) these churches set out to dominate women or harm them. They are trying to interpret the scriptures in a meaningful way. As do all churches. I have respect for this and they certainly have the right to their interpretations. But as well-meaning as they may be, as much as they try to include the voices of their women in their church, the system itself will hamstring them, robbing women of representation and leadership opportunities.)
I recently read “Love Wins”, the hugely controversial book, which seems to claim that everybody goes to heaven. But it doesn’t, not really. The book is really just a huge maybe. And this is actually awesome. Allow me to explain.
Bell states quite clearly that he is not certain whether people go to heaven or hell or how this happens. But he states several views, and gives some compelling arguments why the traditional position could be challenged. The important point: Bell is uncertain. A pastor, a leader of thousands, a person influencing millions, is admitting that he does not know.
This almost never happens. Just as politicians must always know exactly what the right policy is, so pastors must know exactly the right answer to every theological question. And so they spend thousands of pages on theses and books and sermons convincing themselves there is only one inevitable conclusion. Because to do otherwise, would mean that you are unsure, that you are doubting, and is that not the opposite of faith? Doesn’t faith demand certainty?
The Bible is a pretty big book and it certainly contains a lot of answers – it makes some things very clear: there is one God who created heaven and earth. But the Bible also contains a lot of ambiguities. Resolving these ambiguities has been the task of theologians for two millennia. When two groups decide an ambiguity should be resolved one way and not the other (for instance the very silly issue of whether young children can be baptised), then churches split. Furthermore, the Bible is finite. By definition there must be questions for which it cannot give clear answers.
Not all ambiguities have to be resolved. Not all questions have to be answered. It is hard. It means you have to live with some uncertainty, which is uncomfortable, but to try to create certainty where there is none, is (borrowing from Voltaire), simply absurd. When you recognise the uncertainty, even if you have a preferred interpretation, you have little choice but to defer judgement. You cannot bash others with your particular version of the Bible and your dogmatic beliefs. It means you actually have to listen to other viewpoints.
Wouldn’t that make us better Christians?
As a general principle, even about things you are certain about (such as whether God exists), try putting yourself in the mental position of someone who has not reached your conclusion. Seriously consider the questions they ask, and how hard it is to answer them. Consider the experiences they may have had that led them to that conclusion. Here is a particular one: consider how an atheist may have come to reject God because of a horrible experience at Church? Now, how sure are you yours is not such a Church?
A gripe of many atheists is the strange ability of believers to affirm science in some areas (they believe in the principles that led to combustion engines) but to blindly deny it in others (notably: evolutionary theory). This has to stop. If Christians are ever to convince the thoughtful scientific atheists out there, they will need to start treating science with the respect it deserves. Two things have recently underscored this for me. Read the rest of this entry »