AnnieKO'Connor


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40 Questions for Christians Upset with the SCOTUS Decision on Marriage

The Gospel Coalition posted earlier today 40 Questions for Christians Now Waving Rainbow Flags. The questions are pointed and worth thinking through; as a Christian who has been a staunch supported of marriage equality for at least four years (sounds like a long time…sounds like not long enough) they are the kinds of questions that I asked myself that led to the beliefs I now hold.

I’m not going to answer the questions here, partly because that would easily take tens of thousands of words, and partly because I don’t owe my answers to the Gospel Coalition or to anyone other than myself and God, who led me to my current beliefs through the leading of the Holy Spirit (via prayer and scripture reading.) YMMV. (Many of my answers can be found elsewhere on this blog, anyway.)

Instead I have 40 questions for Christians decrying the SCOTUS decision. It’s often that we get entrenched in traditions and don’t understand why we continue them, or we miss new information that contradicts the reasons we hold our traditions. These questions are intended to help shed light on the topic from a Christian perspective that explores the reasons behind the traditions we have held, and asks for a Christian response to the new information that we now have.

Since I’m assuming people upset with the SCOTUS decision believe homosexuality is always a sin, even in orientation only, and even when homosexual sex takes place inside a marriage, these questions likewise assume that stance; this is for the sake of the discussion and not a reflection of my own views.

1. What is your definition of homosexuality? Does it refer to sexual activity, or the orientation itself regardless of the person’s sexual activities?

2. If you separate orientation and behavior (the way that the secular and LGBT communities do), do you believe the orientation itself is a sin, or that it is only sin is when a person lusts or has sex outside of marriage?

3. Can you make a positive case from scripture that condemns orientation without reference to activity?

4. If orientation itself is a sin, what hope can you provide to LGBT Christians to repent from this sin when 99.99% of people who have sought conversion therapy have not had success in changing their orientation, even if they were able to change their behavior?

5. How would you make a case from scripture that remarriage when one of the initial spouses is still living is moral?

5. If you cannot, do you believe that remarriage in such cases should be illegal the way you believe same-sex marriage should be illegal? Or should this be dealt with on an individual level within the church?

6. If you believe that remarriage in such cases should be illegal, then do you spend as much time speaking out about its legality as you do speaking out about same-sex marriage?

7. If you do not think it should be illegal, even though you believe it is immoral, why do you believe differently regarding the legality of same-sex marriage? What about your belief that same-sex marriage is immoral makes it worthy of being outlawed, when remarriage does not need to be outlawed?

8. What do you say to churches that will perform marriage ceremonies for remarriages when a former spouse is still living, but who will not perform same-sex marriages? Do you support churches that perform remarriages? Do you attend or run a church that performs remarriages?

9. If you believe the sins listed in 1 Corinthians 6:9 and Revelation 21:8 indicate that such activities should be made illegal, do you think instances of adultery should also be illegal? Should lust be illegal? What about idolatry? Should cowardliness be illegal? Should lying, or faithlessness? What is your standard for determining which sins should be illegal, and which sins should not?

9. If you believe marriage must be male and female in order to reflect Christ’s relationship to the church, because the man and woman have specific roles, how is it possible for a man to be the bride of Christ and take on a female role in relationship to Christ? How does it not violate his gender role to become a bride?

10. As you think about the long history of the church and the near universal disapproval of same-sex sexual activity, do you hold to all their understandings of homosexuality? For instance, do you believe male-male sexual contact should be made illegal? Should it be punishable by a two year labor sentence that is likely to kill the individuals in question? Do you think LGBT people should be put to death? Do you think they should be subject to chemical castration?

11. If not, what do you understand about that Bible that the church did not understand before? What do you understand about the Bible that our own culture did not understand even within the last 100 years when some of these practices were taking place?

12. If you could travel back in time to when men were sentenced to death for same-sex sexual contact, what would you say to the Christians who made those laws to explain why those people should not be punished? And how does what you say apply to your own beliefs that same-sex marriage should be illegal today?

13. Such punishments (and harsher ones) are still practiced in many places, including Asia and Africa. Examples of these punishments include imprisonment ranging from two years up to life, 74 or 100 lashes of a whip, 17 years’ hard labor, torture, stoning and the death penalty. If you think those laws are inhumane, what arguments would use to explain to Christians in Africa and Asia that such penalties ought to be repealed the way they have been repealed in the Western world, and that your new understanding of these issues is not culturally conditioned?

14. If you fear what will happen in America now that same-sex marriage is legal, can you think of a better word to describe this fear than homophobia, since phobias are fears? Do you believe fear of a thing often leads to hatred?

15. Do you believe that children do better with a mother and a father versus two same-sex parents?

16. If so, what research would you point to in support of that conclusion?

17. If hypothetical systematic negative affects on children is grounds for outlawing certain parenting situations, are you as fervent in your quest to outlaw single parenting as you are to outlaw same-sex parenting?

18. If you support outlawing same-sex parenting or marriage on the grounds of possible detriment to children, how would you respond to empirical studies ranging over more than 30 years that indicate “children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes?”

19. If there can be found no empirical evidence to support the belief that children fare better with a male and a female parent, then does the state have any grounds on which to promote or privilege arrangements that put a child with a male and a female parent?

20. If there is no longer any male or female in Christ, how can gender be a factor in determining a spouse?

21. If marriage points to Christ’s relationship to the church, how can the lesser union of marriage be subject to stricter standards than the greater union with Christ, to which people may enter regardless of gender?

22. What text from the constitution would you use to support the idea that your religious doctrines are grounds for legislation?

23. If you are worried about infringements on your religious liberties, how do you intend to protect the religious liberties of buddhists who would like to enter a same-sex marriage according to their religious beliefs when there are no prohibitions against such marriages within their religion?

24. Should your LGBT siblings in Christ who disagree with your views on homosexuality based on their understanding of the Bible be able to exercise their beliefs without fear of punishment, retribution, coercion, bullying, rejection from the church, and verbal, physical and sexual assault (all of which they currently experience at the hand of those who believe they need to be ‘called out’ on their sin)?

25. If LGBT individuals should not be treated in such negative and harmful ways, what are you doing to stop such behavior?

26. Do you think that the church is a welcome and safe place for LGBT people? Do you think your personal church is such a place? In determining your answer to this question, do you place greater significance on what you personally have witnessed than on the testimonies of countless LGBT individuals who have suffered at the hands of the church and Christians?

27. If you yourself do not participate in such behavior, do you think you still have a responsibility to speak out publicly against bullying, ostracizing or marginalizing LGBT individuals? If so, when are you going to start?

28. If not, why do you feel called to speak out against homosexuality but not against these harmful behaviors?

29. How much time do you devote to speaking out about the one issue, versus speaking out about the other? If there is a discrepancy in how much time you devote to each, how do you explain or justify that discrepancy to yourself? What Bible verses can you point to that support your justification?

30. In the history of the US, LGBT individuals have faced “social ostracism and cultural marginalization” at far greater rates than the church has. If you are worried about these things happening to you due to your minority belief about homosexuality, why are you only willing to defend yourself against those things, but not willing to defend LGBT individuals against those things? Do you have a greater responsibility to prevent your own marginalization, or to speak up on behalf of those who already experience marginalization?

31. Do you think we as Christians are called to speak up on behalf of the oppressed? Or are we called to view their oppression complacently, especially if helping save them from oppression might make the institution of the church less politically powerful?

32. Do you think Jesus would have been OK with Christians ignoring the fact that LGBT people are bullied, assaulted, and killed at higher rates than their straight/cis counterparts, in order to speak out against their new equality before the law?

33. Do you believe the church has had, and continues to have, a negative impact on the lives of LGBT individuals?

34. If so, what are you doing inside the church to remedy this situation? How does your speaking out against the legalization of marriage contribute to this remedy?

35. If not, how do you respond to studies that indicate the church does negatively affect the lives of LGBT individuals? (e.g. “However, unexpectedly, we found that seeking counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor had a harmful impact—it was associated with higher odds of suicide attempt. Compared with individuals who did not seek help at all, those who sought help from a religious or spiritual advisor were more likely to later attempt suicide.”

36. What is your definition of love? Does it include complicity or idleness in response to the systematic ostracization, marginalization and dehumanization of an entire demographic of people?

37. Does your definition of love include actions, or is it limited only to eliminating any feelings of animus or disgust you may have toward others?

38. Do you believe it is possible to love someone and disagree with important decisions that they make, without shaming or bullying them?

39. If you believe Christians should love LGBT individuals, how much time have you spent serving and helping LGBT people? If your definition of love includes actions, what actions do you take in order to affect their lives and ensure they are no longer subject to ostracization or marginalization?

40. How would you make a positive case from scripture that the lifting of a restriction that has reinforced marginalization is something that should not be celebrated?


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A New Look at Sin

So often we talk about sin in light of our actions. Is doing such-and-such action a sin?

Limiting sin to actions, however, misses an important reality. Sin is not something that pops up whenever we make a bad choice; it is itself a presence in the universe that ought never to have been. Sin is the presence of evil in the world; sin is death and destruction, sin is injustice, sin is lack of mercy.

It may be easier (or better) to view sin as a thing in itself which becomes manifest within certain actions. We can participate in sin that already exists, but we cannot create new instances of sin. And part of that sin exists already within us; it influences our actions, it blinds our aspirations, it disparages our hope and faith and love.

To say all have sinned is to say all are subject to temptations, subject to limited views of ourselves, of others, and our capacities. We are all subject to this brokenness that influences toward hatred, toward cynicism, bitterness and despair.

When we view sin this way, Christ dying for our sin looks entirely new: His death was not only to pay for our actions, but to rid our lives of this force that breaks us down, batters us from the inside out, and causes desperation, injustice and destruction across the globe.


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Who gets to define marriage?

(In response to Preston Yancey’s post, here.) ETA: Preston Yancey edited his post to point out he did not intend to communicate a conflation between legal and religious marriage. 

For most religious people, marriage happens on three levels: legal, religious and metaphysical. Let’s take a look at these three and sort through the implications of the distinctions.

Legal

The simplest distinction here is the legal marriage. People of any religion or race can enter a legal marriage. It requires applying at a courthouse, and signing a contract. The contract of a legal marriage, and the laws surrounding it, establish ownership, next of kin, and tax filing status. These items are all the domain of the state, and thus the state provides this legal marriage contract.

Religious

Most people are familiar with religious marriage. In Christianity, marriage is viewed as sacred; it is an analogy for the relationship between the church and Christ, and for the relationships within the trinity. It is a covenant and, in some denominations, a sacrament. These items are all the domain of the church, and thus the church forms this covenant between two people.

Metaphysical

There is yet a third distinction, that is very much related to the religious marriage. It is however more basic, and more inexorable. Jesus points out the metaphysical relationship between a married couple in the Sermon on the Mount. He says:

“It was said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife must give her a legal document.’ But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

—Mt 5:31-32, ESV

The first part of this quote, Jesus is referencing the religious precedent as well as acknowledging the legal aspect of marriage. He indicates that the religious practice was to dissolve marriage through legal means. He then goes on to state that even if this divorce went through, the couple would still, in reality, be married. The permanency of marriage is inexorable no matter what the state or the religious institution have to say about it. Otherwise, how could marriage to a divorced person be adultery? It could not.

So what?

Preston Yancey states in his blog (and correctly so) that matters of the church are strictly not in the domain of the state. Therefore, he continues, the state should have no right to define marriage, much less redefine it.

The problem here is that legal and religious marriage have been conflated. The state cannot (and should never attempt) to define the sacred covenant of marriage. But ONLY the state can define the terms of the contract determining property rights, next of kin, and tax status. This is reciprocally outside the domain of the church.

And what about metaphysical marriage? There is nothing we can do to change it. Only God could alter the reality of marriage. If the state defines legal marriage to include two men or two women, not only does this not require the church to change its definition (whatever it may be for a given denomination) but it cannot even come close to having any effect on whether or not the legal marriage exists metaphysically.*

*Denominations disagree on the definition of marriage because they disagree about the metaphysics. Philosophically, it is possible that every single church has an incorrect understanding of the metaphysics, and yet the metaphysics are still unaffected. I strongly suspect this may well be the case.


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The Cross and The Crucifix

Protestant churches display the Cross. Unlike the Crucifix, Jesus is not on the cross, because he was removed, buried and risen. It is an image of our hope and our forgiveness.

But I wish we could spend more time pondering the Crucifix. The gospel is good news, but it is also dark and horrifying. It is gruesome. Like much of life.

When we mourn, often we are encouraged that there is some greater good to the event that caused our mourning. God has a purpose. A good purpose. Like the resurrection made Christ’s death good.

But to those who are mourning, and to the memory of Christ’s sacrifice, this seems a flimsy attempt to diminish the pain. We should not forget to mourn when we view the cross. When we think of Christ’s death. When we take communion. These things are dark.

Jesus on the cross yelling “My God, why have you forsaken me?” is not at all softened by his resurrection.

The gospel does not simply offer good news. It offers it after despair.

And like Christ’s resurrection to life from death, hope can arise from despair. It come like light from darkness and void, like God creating the world ex nihilo.

Let there be light.

Let there be life.

Let there be hope.

Not because it was there in darkness, death or despair all along, but because this is how God creates. Out of nothing.

But sometimes, too, let there be nothing.


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Finding my other half

This post is part of Mutuality Week 2012, hosted by Rachel Held Evans.

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When I was at university, I longed to find a husband. I wanted the Christian ideal: marry out of college, have children, submit to my husband and receive God’s blessings for my obedience. I believed men and women have different roles: I wanted to submit to a godly man and have him be my leader.

There were two problems with this plan: I am not social, and I’m extremely bookish. Even if I hadn’t been juggling a stuffed schedule of credit overloaded semesters to complete both degrees in four years while working to pay for it, I wouldn’t have dated much because I am introverted and awkward. I hoped God would wash someone up on the shore of my life. It seemed to happen that way for my friends, and maybe it did, but it didn’t happen that way for me.

Like a lot the women graduating from my Christian university, I got two bachelor’s out of college, but neither of mine were men. (I know, you guys, I know. I just couldn’t help myself.)

Somewhere in the post-graduation shuffle, my world was flipped inside out. My two closest friends got married and moved to California. I got a job in a different city in my own state. These are only the highlights: several other events occurred in my life around that time and I found myself living a life I had not intended.

I had to learn to care for myself, something I never expected to do alone.

In my household, I am the breadwinner. I work outside the home. I am my spiritual leader. I decide what church to attend and how often. I do all the praying, all the learning, all the Bible study, all the theology. I am the leader.

This life shattered my understanding of gender roles. Complementarianism only works when there is more than one person. It requires the other to complement. But in my life there is no other, so how can I partake in a complementary role?

What I learned, though, and continue to learn, is that I do not need someone to complement me, to fill a role, to lead me, to teach me. I can be fierce and vulnerable. I can be curious and compassionate and knowledgeable. I can teach my friends and peers and coheirs with Christ, and they can teach me so many more things.

I finally found my other half, deep in my soul where I had feared to look.

What I take from the Genesis account of Adam and Eve is not that God wants me to submit to a man, but that God wants us to have full and wonderful lives in a paradise where we are not alone. That kingdom is already here and is coming. And I am an image bearer of its King, a compassionate man who submitted to his father and conquered evil through silence and death.

The main problem with complementarianism is when we look at Christ, we see that submission and leadership are identical. If men are called by the example of Christ to lead, then they will lead by serving and submitting; if women are called to submit, they are called to be Christ to the world, to lead God’s children home.

I am not an egalitarian because complementarianism is wrong, but because the roles complementarianism claims are different are not different roles. They are identical. They are not only equal, as the complementarian points out, but they are the same.


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Good News: You’re Going to Hell

Belief is not a cognitive activity. Going back to the problem of the a priori we find the basis of belief: it is fundamentally a pre-cognitive process. All metaphysical beliefs that defy falsifiability or verifiability not only cannot be argued about for the very same reason, but they also create the premises on which the rest of discussion is based.

This is what Christian apologetics fails to acknowledge.

Christians find themselves evangelizing to people whose premises are fundamentally different and cannot be argued. When someone believes a priori that there is no hell, no God, no sin not only are they within the same cognitive territory and acting with the same intellectual responsibility as those who believe a priori that there is a hell, a God and sin, their a priori’s cannot be argued away with a system of logic based on wholly different premises.

The church has tended to respond by attempting to first change the premises of the non-believer through argument and through the Bible. In order to spread the good news, the church finds it must first spread the bad news: you ARE a sinner, hell DOES exists and God WILL send you there.

When the church attempts to present the gospel by presenting these premises to the nonbeliever, they have already failed in the task of evangelism: Evangelism is fundamentally being the messenger of good news.

Take for example:

If you called me up to tell me my sister is alive and well, I would say “Did something bad happen? What’s wrong? Is everything OK?” In essence, you have brought me bad news.

If, however, I knew my sister to be alive and well, and I had just spoken with her, and my experience confirmed my belief, your news would be met with a simple “OK…?” Presume you did not find my response satisfying, and thus you proceeded to inform me that my sister was terribly ill or had been in an accident. I would still know my sister to be well and find your insistence that she was not to be cruel and manipulative, even if you followed it by declaring the good news that she is alive and well.

If, instead, I knew my sister to have been in a car accident, and I hadn’t heard anything, your news would bring great rejoicing.

The same news has a very different effect on the hearer, and can be good or bad depending on what their previous knowledge is.

Much of evangelism falls in the second category, though some falls into the first. In both cases the attempt disqualifies itself as evangelism. When the church claims it is evangelizing, it is not.

Do you think evangelism is fundamentally a failure of the church? Or do you think the practice has merit?