Where does a progressive charismatic go?

Adversaries 1So many of you know, in fact for many of you it may be the primary reason we are connected, that I am, for want of a better word, religious. I have never fitted well into any box. Most other people use the word ‘Christian’ when they talk about me but I don’t and never really have as I feel it doesn’t represent me accurately, especially when so much of my work over the past 20 years has been in a public setting and that public setting has already decided what the word ‘Christian’ means, and their definition is not what I am.

One of the reasons I have never felt comfortable with the term “Christian” is that I look at the community that identifies with that word and I don’t see people like me, who think like me, who act like me, or who represent their faith in the way I represent my faith. So if I’m nothing like them, then I’m not one of them…right?

As someone who hopes to constantly grow in his beliefs, opinions and perspectives on “life, the universe and everything“, I have come to the conclusion in recent times that it doesn’t seem that I fit…because I don’t fit. Simple really.

As with the word “Christianity” I really hate labels as I find them too encompassing, but for the sake of conversation I will try to expand on where I see myself fit in the church.

My personal beliefs, theology and faith fit more comfortably with what many would describe as Progressive Christianity…but my natural style of worship (read ‘style of church’ for you non-religious) is much more like what many would see as Charismatic Christianity. Let me state this for the record to make it very, very clear before the Christian trolls decide to have a crack. I am neither Progressive nor am I Charismatic, but they are areas within the faith that I gravitate towards for aspects of my personal journey and therein lies the problem.

In New Zealand, progressive churches (which support the LGBTI community and treat women as equals) are typically very traditional (think hymns, organs, choirs and a liturgical, repeated service each week) and seem to be to have less of an interest in what the bible describes as “Gifts of the Holy Spirit.” On the other hand, a charismatic church will have more life, more youth and have more my preference in style of music. However a charismatic church is much more likely to be very conservative in its beliefs (think anti-same sex marriage, limits on women’s participation in the church) and there is often an implicit message that input from outside the bible is something to be avoided, and everything in the bible is ‘literal’. I realise I am being unfair to pigeon hole all charismatic churches like this, but if you lined up a hundred of each, these trends would be very obvious to see.

So for someone who wants the style of a charismatic church, but the intellect and theology of a progressive church what do they do? What do I do?

In an ideal world I would be finding a church that has progressive leanings and a charismatic style but it would seem that in Dunedin that kind of church doesn’t exist. When we first arrived in Dunedin I tried to attend a church that has progressive leanings knowing that the style wasn’t me, and I hoped that I could make a space for myself and others who wanted more of what I was looking for. Offers were made and accepted, but those doors were quickly closed so here I sit on Sunday morning at my desk with no church affiliation…but still feeling like I want one.

I decided this morning that I actually want to find a church here in Dunedin. In my investigative efforts so far I have failed to find what I am looking for and what I’ve decided to do is start by finding out where churches sit theologically. Obviously I can find out about their style of worship is by visiting. I have three questions to ask the leadership in the churches I am going to approach.

  1. If one of my children was to come out as gay at 15 how would they be received in this churches congregation?
  2. If my child, then as an 18 year old, wanted to be the leader of the youth group, how would the leadership approach that?
  3. If my child, at 22, then wanted to be married to their same-sex partner in this church, by the Pastor, how would that be received by the leadership?

Whilst many know that my connection with and defense of the LGBTI community is a very important part of my faith, it’s not the be-all and end-all. However I find that asking questions around this issue is very enlightening – it gives me a pretty good indication of where the church sits on other issues important to my faith.

Let’s see how I go.

 

 

If you are interested in interacting with me about this post you can comment below, follow me on twitter or facebook or email me directly.

What would Pope Francis do?

shc-office-sign

I am a product of the Catholic schooling system although have not been a part of the Catholic Church since I was 16 and have not considered myself a Catholic since then. I am proud of my association with my old schools (St Peters College Years 7 to 9 and Sacred Heart College, Years 9 – 13) and have nothing but good memories from them especially whilst boarding at SHC.

I have never wanted to associate myself with the Catholic Church once leaving school, not for any particular reason other than I found it boring,  not very relevant to my life and lacking in inspiration. However recently I have found myself drawn to the new Pope and am excited about the direction he seems to be taking the Catholic Church in and whilst I am not fully ‘on board’ with everything he says, it’s obvious to me that the direction he intends to take the Church in is less regressive than previous Popes.

One of my greatest joys in recent times was hearing Pope Francis talk about the dangers of capitalism, the need for the wealthy to look after the poor and the concern for what he calls the “idolatry of money.”

It is with the knowledge that the Pope has significant and public concern about how the poor are treated, and the obvious links he is making to money and how it should be distributed, that I was extremely disappointed at receiving an email from SHC this week asking, among other things, for donations towards a $70,000 Grand Piano for their new music department.piano

Now looking around $70,000 might be a very good price for a top end Grand Piano, I spoke to someone today who sold them as was told that they can range between $150,000 and $350,000 so I am not saying this is not a “good deal” I am challenging SHC on whether it is important at all.

I found a Grand Piano online for under $12,000 and I am sure the best upright piano, that many music departments would drool over would be far less than $70,000. What would Pope Francis do?

I don’t want this to turn into a ‘smash the Catholic Church’ conversation, it’s not my intention to give them a black eye, but as someone with 17 years ‘behind the pew’ I think I can gently tap you on the shoulder and say, “have you really thought this one through?”

SHC is in the suburb of Glen Innes which is one of the poorer suburbs in Auckland. If you look at the make up of the community you will see that the only demographic it is ahead in compared to the Auckland and National averages is “people earning under $20,000” and that nearly 60% of the homes there are not owned by those dwelling in them. This is a struggling suburb.

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On top of all that with there being a lot in the news at the moment about people sleeping in cars I have to wonder how a school, who claims as a part of their Special Character that their culture “is centred on the person of Jesus Christ” can bring themselves to be comfortable with spending $70,000 on a single musical instrument.

Many will also ask about the wealth that the school is literally sitting on. SHC is situation at 250 West Tamaki Road, Glen Innes. The records show that this property has a Ratings Valuation of $65,500,000 of which the land alone is worth over $40,000,000. Again I understand the idea of being ‘asset rich’, but your property is likely worth over $100,000,000 on an open market. At what point do you stop and at the very least ask a question about liquidizing some of your assets to better your amenities?

I also do not want to suggest that being charitable, and giving to whatever cause you deem important, is not a good thing and I understand how much not-for-profit groups, schools, charities etc…rely on donations. All I am asking is that if Pope Francis had that $70,000…what would he do?

Here is an idea SHC, and I’m not being a curmudgeon here and saying “Don’t do it” to your Grand Piano. How about you raise the $70,000, purchase the one I found for $12,000 and then cure over 130 people from leprosy?

At the moment you can donate $432 to the Leprosy Mission which cures one person from leprosy. The cure includes locating them, caring for them, curing them and then supporting them into positions where they can support themselves. What would Pope Francis do?

If you don’t like the Leprosy Mission, how about World Vision, what about Rainbow Youth, do you like Tearfund? There are a myriad of opportunities out there that, in my opinion, would be grateful for the help to help others, all whilst the students of SHC can still sit at a $12,000 piano that 99% of New Zealanders would never be able to afford and 99.99% of New Zealanders wouldn’t hear a difference between.

And if the question “What would Pope Francis do?” is a bit existential, then what about “What would Jesus do?” maybe that’s a little easier to figure out.

It’s been confirmed, the lunatics are running the asylum

Gender_Neutral_AP_c0-66-700-474_s885x516I’ve had many people I’m connected with ask me if I am going to make any comment on laws like HB2 in North Carolina that, among other discriminatory actions, bans transgender individuals from using the bathroom they identify with.

When I was working as a talkback host, one of the most important questions I would ask my callers who had strong opinions was “then what?” The classic example I remember is about a house in Porirua that was frequented by gang members, that was occupied by a solo mum and several kids. There were calls a plenty to get them out of the state house etc…so I would ask “ok, then what?” Often people would be a bit stumped by that question so I would go on, “let’s say we get that solo mum, her kids and other associates out of that house…then what? Then where does the solo mum and her kids go now that they are on the street, or are they in another state house that might be next to you, or are they in a caravan that gets parked at the end of your driveway…then what?”

What the question did was cut through all the bullshit and rhetoric and make people look at the issue from a real world perspective. As you will probably understand some talkback callers didn’t like to be challenged to go a but deeper in their overly-simplistic ideologies.

So as soon as I saw the goings on in America, under the guise of ‘religious freedom’ laws like North Carolina’s HB2, my first reaction is “okay, then what?” What happens if a transgender woman, who was born male, uses bathroom facilities that now by law they are not allowed to use, then what? Is someone going to be standing at the door looking for evidence? Are the police going to be called if someone needs to wee? If the police are called and it’s confirmed that this woman was born male and she is sitting in the cubicle next to my wife peeing..then what?

Well one of the ‘then whats’ is that people start calling the police when they think a transgender woman is in their bathroom, the police turn up and remove that person from the bathroom even though they are female and were born female as shown in the video below.

 

She is a lesbian and dresses in what could be described as a ‘butch’ way, but she is legally entitled to be in that bathroom but as someone didn’t think she looked ‘female enough’ she was kicked out of the bathroom by the police. Madness! As an aside if she was born male the “show me some ID” cop needs to learn that you can re-apply for your driver’s license and even birth certificate and change you name and gender marker from ‘m’ to ‘f’ (as revealed in a recent ‘I am Cait’ episode) so it wouldn’t have been evidence one way or the other anyway.

A lot of this xenophobia is coming from the religious right who are using phrases like “Men should not be using the bathroom with little girls” as a way to increase the level of fear among the ignorant which then leads to situations like the video above, when a woman doesn’t look ‘womanly’ enough to someone, gets accused of being a man at birth. So it appears the law is to protect women from having to use the bathroom with men…or even people who are suspected of once being men…ok, so then what?

What about when this guy walks into the women’s bathroom

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Surely if the woman in the video above cause so much panic that the police turned up, what happens when he uses the women’s bathroom?

Well this is Michael Hughes and he is transgender, yes that means he was born a she and now laws like HB2 are forcing Michael to use women’s bathrooms…because that’s what religious freedom is all about, kicking our lesbians from the bathroom they have to use, and forcing men like Michael to use one they obviously should never be in.

Madness!

 

In a similar vein let me introduce you to Ella Giselle, she is 19 and was born male, she now, by law use the mens’ bathroom. I think that if one side of this conversation is allowed to use the “men with little girls’ scare tactic then I think it’s perfectly valid for me to ask “why you are forcing young, vulnerable women to use that bathroom with dirty, redneck truckers…are we not concerned for their safety?”

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The other more sinister side to this conversation is that what laws like HB2 allow is for a vulnerable sector of society, a sector of society that research shows over 40% attempt suicide compared to under 5% from society as a whole, to be put in a situation where they could be at their most vulnerable.

When using public restrooms the transgender individual is statistically the only one at risk of being attacked as research shows zero…that’s zero…reports of cis-gender people being harassed by transgender people using bathrooms for which they identify and, on top of that, “roughly 70% of trans people have reported being denied entrance, assaulted or harassed while trying to use a restroom,” according to a 2013 Williams Institute report.

So who is at risk with these so called bathroom laws? It’s not the ‘little girls’…it’s the transgender community.

I have a lot more to say about those who would like to bring in what I call “Yahria Law” (Christian Sharia Law) to the West, as you can imagine, when they look for ways to discriminate against minority groups within their society, but for today I wanted to highlight for you the ridiculous nature of laws like HB2 and how, to me at least, it’s now evidence that the lunatics are now running the asylum.

Family First Distorts Facts Surrounding Venue Allowing Same-Sex Marriages

I read with interest an article on stuff.co.nz last week about Living Springs, a Christian venue in Christchurch, that has changed its position on allowing LGBTI couples to get married there. From the tenor of the article it seemed that the venue had come to this policy change in a sensible, rationale and logical way. The director, Denis Aldridge, was quoted saying, “we’ve been on a journey with this one, and we’ve got there… It took a while.”

Part of the journey involves a recent Human Rights Commission complaint against Living Springs after a lesbian couple were refused their request to hire the venue for their wedding. According to the article, Living Springs did not feel coerced by the Human Rights Commission to change their policy. In fact Elizabeth Wiltshire, one half of the couple who made the Human Rights Commission complaint, rang to speak to Aldridge after the change in policy. Wiltshire indicated that Aldridge seemed to be perfectly happy with the outcome.

“It was good, actually. I felt it was genuine. It wasn’t ‘Oh, we’ve had this unlawful policy and now you’re making us change it,’ [he was] very thankful,” she said, “It gave them a mandate to push for change.”

Fast forward one week and lobby group Family First distributes a press release headed “Function Centre Pressured to Allow Same-Sex Weddings.” The Press Release uses Living Springs as a reason to push the narrative that “Faith-based function centres” are being held hostage and forced into holding LGBTI marriages when they don’t feel they should have to. Family First also continues to make allegations that some in government said this would never happen which is factually incorrect as the opposite was clearly signalled at the time.

“If a church currently hires out their hall for money, they can’t discriminate against any group who chooses to hire out that hall.” Louisa Wall, Q&A.March 2013

I saw Family First’s Press Release on Facebook and it didn’t ring accurate to me after having read the stuff article. The change in Living Springs’ policy seemed more pragmatic than pressured. The conversation on the Facebook post ebbed and flowed between Living Springs and general negative comments about marriage equality. However anytime a contributor suggested the headline of the Press Release may be incorrect Family First director Bob McCoskrie pushed back with the idea that Living Springs “were certainly placed under pressure.”

This really didn’t add up to me, so I phoned Living Springs Director Denis Aldridge myself and requested a formal interview to use for elephantTV. It turns out Aldridge’s story is fascinating.

As a Pastor he was at the forefront of protests in Balclutha in 1986 opposing the Homosexual Law Reform Act. Since then he has been on what he describes as a “journey of thirty years”, where various people came into his life at different stages and challenged his perspective on what it means to be gay. Today Aldridge is an supporter for marriage equality. To have shifted from being someone who led the march against homosexual law reform to someone who is now ‘pro’ marriage equality is simply remarkable.

I wanted to clear up the most important claim by Family First that Living Springs was ‘pressured’ into changing their policy. Aldridge’s response was simple.

“It’s totally wrong and that didn’t come from us, that was the narrative that the guy that rung me wanted and I refuted it” he said. “The reality was [Living Springs] didn’t feel strongly that way, we’d actually come as an organisation [to the place where] we were seeing it, we believe, on a higher level and the higher level was ‘what would Jesus do?’”

Aldridge also made it clear that if they were to take what many Christians believe to be a “biblical interpretation” on marriage and reject marriage equality, then “we have to take a biblical line on re-marriage and divorced people” as well, given that the bible specifically denounces those forms of marriage.

Family First contacted Aldridge looking for comment on their change in policy prior to writing the press release and Aldridge wanted to make clear that he told Bob McCoskrie that they did not “feel coerced [into making the decision to change policy].”

“It’s actually that we have decided it’s the right thing to do” Aldridge said.

Aldridge feels as if Family First has purposely ignored their position.

”They obviously have an agenda, there’s a certain narrative that they wanted to hear and they’ve printed that narrative,” he stated.

Aldridge said they “weren’t pressured into [holding Same Sex marriages]” and they “don’t see it as capitulation.” The issue of Same Sex couples using the venue was already being spoken about at Living Springs, “we’d already had this conversation and that was the words I felt Bob [McCoskrie] was trying to put into my mouth that we were bullied into it, we answered that [we were not] but he’s gone ahead with that story anyways.”

Aldridge finished the interview with a challenge to us all, “I felt really proud of [Living Springs] in the end that we had, I suppose, the humility to say ‘well we haven’t always been right in this thing.’”

To clear up one issue with this whole thing. The law is clear, and it hasn’t changed since Same-Sex marriages were legalised. There is no ambiguity. If you hire a venue to the general public then you must abide by the Human Rights Act of 1993. This doesn’t allow discrimination in twelve main areas, one of which is ‘sexual orientation’. If you hire your venue to the general public for marriages, now that LGBTI couples can marry, then you cannot withhold the venue from them because of their sexual orientation. Prior to marriage equality, if your venue made itself available to the general public and that same LGBTI couple wanted to use it for a birthday party, or a baby dedication, or any kind of celebration that you’d hire it to any heterosexual person for, you also couldn’t refuse them because of their sexual orientation. There is no difference in the law.

I gave Family First the opportunity to retract or correct their statement about Living Springs informing them of the interview I had conducted and the information that came from that interview. They have refused to do so. It is now unequivocally clear that Living Springs were not ‘pressured’ or ‘bullied’ or ‘forced’ into making this policy change. They chose to, and were happy to change.

The full unedited interview with Denis Aldridge is below.

 

Update: 15/04/2016, 3.30pm

I’ve just been contacted by one of the people who I asked to speak to Bob McCoskrie from Family First claiming there is an inaccuracy in the post which I obviously want to correct. Bob maintains that the phrase “he declined to meet with them.” is inaccurate. Bob’s supposition is that the emails between them may be seen as a meeting and, as it was obvious that my representatives were going to support my position of challenging Family First, he felt there was no need to speak about the issue any further.

So, just to be perfectly clear, Bob did exchange emails with the people I asked to meet with him, in which he defended his position and said that there was no reason to meet.

There was no challenge to the accuracy of any of the other information I have provided in the post by either Bob McCoskrie or Family First.

Yahria Law. The only way forward according to Kim Davis and Mike Huckabee

Yahria Law becoming more common

What is Yahria Law you might ask, well just think of Sharia Law for Christians. ‘Yahweh’ plus ‘Sharia Law’ equals Yahria Law and it becoming more and more common.

For clarity, Sharia Law is the body of Islamic law. The term means “way” or “path”; it is the legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on Islam. Many in the West see Sharia Law as a great concern as who would want a religion, ignoring the laws of the land, and forcing citizens to adhere to a code or belief system that they didn’t buy into.

Welcome to the world of Yahria Law a ” legal framework within which the public and some private aspects of life are regulated for those living in a legal system based on [a particular form of] Christianity”

We are seeing it more and more, Western societies are warning of the ‘dangers’ of Islam, especially amongst the Conservative Christian section of that society, but are happy to support Christian views being forced on their own society when it flows against the tide of public opinion or even at times when contravenes the law.

If you do not support Sharia Law coming into your society, then you cannot support Yahria Law as it’s exactly the same thing…only you agree with it and that’s the problem.

If you don’t support a law/ordinance/by-law/society norm where someone uses the words “because I’m a Qur’an believing Muslim” as a reason to ignore it, then really you can’t support the tagline “because I’m a bible believing Christian”. The other option is to support both. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.

You either let anybody use the tagline “it’s my religious freedom” or you let nobody use it.

If you support religious freedom, especially when it contravenes a law, you will, for example, have to support the Rastafarian society using marijuana as part of their religious ceremonies. You will have to support some Mormons having multiple wives. You’ll have to support Muslims praying five times a day…and the list goes on. If you wouldn’t want to support the above examples…and millions of others from people with religious beliefs…then you can’t say “I won’t supply marriage certificates to Gay couples under God’s authority” when your highest court has made it legal for LGBTI couples to marry in your country.  If you are not happy with a business person, a civil servant, an elected official citing Mohammed, or Buddha, or Ganesha as their reason for refusing your business, or your civil rights, then you cannot cite God as to why you do it. Period.

We have seen Yahria Law in all it’s terrible splendour in America since SCOUTUS legalised Same-Sex Marriage with bakers breaking the law, venue owners discriminating illegally and even publicly elected officials refusing to carry out their legal duties by denying gay couples marriage certificates. It’s disgusting and I want to state publicly that I support the fines and penalties put upon those people breaking the law by denying people their civil rights.

There’s a super easy test to see if you are on the right side of the law (let alone history), if you offer that good or service to the general public, and you wouldn’t/couldn’t refuse it to a, let’s say, interracial heterosexual couple, you cannot deny it to an LGBTI couple. If you are a private club, or organisation and don’t offer those goods or services to the general public then you can do what you like (pretty much).

So here’s the solution for those of you, like Mike Huckabee for example, who appear to want to have a society made up with Yahria Law. Form a private group, a sect if you will, a closed society, remove yourself from the outside world and do it. Make the society with large walls so no one from the ‘outside world’ can get in, and live your life…but if you want to be in society, especially as someone who provides a good or a service to the general public, then you need to abide by that society’s laws.

The more I see individuals trying to perpetrate Yahria Law the more I am reminded of the words of Thomas Jefferson when he wrote to the Danbury Baptists saying “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” No law is to be made using religion as its source and, as I said earlier, you can only interpret the above statement giving you religious freedom above and beyond anything else…if you grant it to every other religion.

This post is the Genesis of the phrase #YahriaLaw, as of this post the phrase does not exist anywhere else on the internet. Use it well.

Yahria Law

UPDATE 12.30 10th September (NZST)

I’m wondering where the rally and support is from the likes of Mike Huckabee for this US citizen who has just been released from her job for not wanting to serve alcohol as it contravenes her religious beliefs…oh, she’s Muslim so her religious freedoms can be ignored #caseinpoint #YahriaLaw

I’m on the bridge – Support for Same-Sex Marriage from within the Church

Turnaround Tuesday as portrayed in the movie Selma
“Turnaround Tuesday” as portrayed in the movie Selma

The post I wrote last week about marriage equality was partly brought about by the movie Selma.  The movie documents the three marches (or part marches) from Montgomery to Selma in 1965. It’s an incredible movie to watch – it brings the civil rights movement to life – and it also impacted me as an example of how intense and dangerous the fight for any civil right can be. As I covered in my previous post, one of the key leaders of the Selma march, John Lewis, has publicly stated that he thinks the resistance to marriage equality for the gay community comes from the same “fear, hatred and intolerance” he himself witnessed in “racism and bigotry” during the civil rights battle in the sixties.

The movie depicts the first march, often referred to as “Bloody Sunday“, which had 525 black protesters who began the 80 kilometre march without Dr. King at the helm. At the outskirts of Selma, on the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were stopped by Alabama State Troopers who were ordered there by Governor George Wallace. The Troopers turned back the protesters with brutal violence – you can read about it here from a reporter on the scene – it makes for horrific reading.

In complete contrast, the third march was safe and legal with a federal Judge ruling in favour of the protesters saying it was a Constitutional right for them to march and that right could not be quashed by the State of Alabama.  On the third march there were no police roadblocks, no legislative restrictions, no legal way for the march to be stopped. 25,000 people marched to Selma. It was an incredible moment.

But it is the second march, known as “Turnaround Tuesday”, that I think is the pertinent march for the church at this time.

After Bloody Sunday Martin Luther King decided immediately that they would go back to that bridge and finish what they started. He made a public call to Americans to get involved in the fight, “I am appealing to men and women of God and good will everywhere, white, black and otherwise,” he said, “If you believe all are created equal, come to Selma and join us, join our march against injustice and inhumanity. We need you.” This appeal caused thousands of people from all over the country, many white and many ministers, to travel to Montgomery for the second march.

On Turnaround Tuesday again the marchers got to the Pettus Bridge and this time the number of marchers was 2,500 individuals. They made it half way across the bridge and stopped. Dr. King prayed briefly, then turned the marchers around and walked them back to Montgomery. That night three white preachers were attacked by members of the KKK for supporting civil rights. The injuries sustained by Rev. James Reeb led to his death two days later.

The first march was dangerous, but the danger was unknown. The marchers didn’t realise what was going to happen to them on the Pettus Bridge. They were acting in good faith, having no idea what lay ahead. The second march was dangerous, but this time the danger was known. The 2,000 new marchers knew that they may face the tear gas and night sticks again, but they went anyway to support the cause. The second march gave clear evidence of the widespread growing support for black rights amongst white people. And amongst those people, ministers were a significant number.

It’s apparent, as evidenced in the weekend’s US Supreme Court decision, that the world outside the Church is well on its way to the third march. It is now ‘safe’, in most Western nations, to support Marriage Equality. However there is no denying that LGBTI issues and causes within the church are still on the second march. Turnaround Tuesday is not a safe place to be and there may be consequences ahead for the LGBTI community and their allies within the church. But if history teaches us anything it’s that now is the moment to get on the bridge and show our support for the LGBTI community. It’s not completely safe yet, but it is the right thing to do and I believe the Christ-like thing to do.

My willingness to stand on the bridge stems from these firm beliefs:

  • That marriage is a government institution
  • That marriage provides many legal and social benefits, and that it is discriminatory to withhold those benefits from same-sex couples
  • That recent scientific and psychological developments, as well as the personal experience of thousands of gay Christians, show that gay people don’t “choose” to be gay, and that efforts by the church to “cure” gay Christians have failed (see the closure of Exodus International)
  • That as a Christian, Jesus’ call for us to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-40) carries more weight than the passages that have been traditionally viewed as anti-homosexuality in the bible (and there are alternative readings for those passages of which Gushee’s Changing our Mind, and Vines’ God and the Gay Christian are two of many)
  • That the LGBTI community are a minority that are often discriminated against, and in many places persecuted, and that to stand with them in support rather than protest, imitates Christ
  • That Christians should support the LBGTI community even if they believe that gay Christians should be celibate (see Marin’s Love is an Orientation, and the explanation of the “side A and side B” debate on the gay christian network)

If you choose to publicly state you are on the bridge, what you are doing is standing side by side with the LGBTI community and saying ‘Yes’ to Marriage Equality and the full inclusion, as Tony Campolo recently stated, and “full acceptance of Christian gay couples into the Church.” You are positioning yourself as an ally and as a friend to those who have been denied full welcome in the church, who have been rejected and who have borne the brunt of the church’s spite and violence. It’s time for that to change.

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I’m on the bridge and my prayer for you today is to join me on that bridge. Stand with me on that bridge, as an ally, side by side with the LGBTI community.

I echo the words of David Gushee who recently wrote in the Washington Post

“I am pro-LGBT in just the same way I hope I would have been pro-Jew in 1943 and pro-African American in 1963. I stand in solidarity with those treated with contempt and discrimination. And I do so because I promised in 1978 to follow Jesus wherever he leads. Even here.”

If you are already on the bridge, or you want to use this as a chance to join us, then please use the hashtag #imonthebridge to let people know where you stand and spread the word.

It’s Time

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona – a cathedral under construction for more than 130 years

A guest post by Idoya Munn

Change. The church has been doing it since she was born. We are a responsive creature. We move, adjust, transition, re-configure, re-imagine, re-group, adapt, alter, and transform. It’s a sign of life.

Here’s a potted history:  Pentecost, Constantine, Polycarp, Clement, Iraneaus, the Council of Nicaea, Arianism, the Council of Ephesus, The Nestorian Schism, the Iconclasts, monastic reform, the Inquisition, the East-West Schism, the Crusades, John Wycliffe, the Protestant Reformation. Each name or event a marker for a moment of tumult.

Some versions of church history will have you believe that it was all plain sailing after the Reformation. But let’s not forget the Catholic Reformation, the conflicts between Lutherans and Calvinists, the Council of Trent, the Puritans of the New World, Wesley, the Great Awakening, Pentecostalism, Mormanism, William Wilberforce, the Missionary movement, Vatican II, and the development of Ecumenism. All moments or inceptions of change.

Now cast your minds back over the vast range of issues that have caused the church to divide and re-make itself in the last two centuries alone; slavery, segregation, mixed-race marriage, the sexual revolution and changing attitudes towards divorce and re-marriage, the role of women, the division (or not) of church and state, the growth of Pentecostalism and the mega-church, the young people leaving the church in droves, and now what seems to be the greatest controversy of all; the emergence of a brand new sexual ethic. That is, we have come to the conclusion that there is a thing, and this thing is called sexual orientation.

Let us not underestimate how new this thing is. We didn’t have the concept sexual orientation until very recently.  Moses didn’t have it when he wrote Leviticus, the Romans didn’t have it while their military leaders enjoyed their male concubines. Paul didn’t have it when he wrote Romans. Even when the word homosexuality came into common useage in the English language in the early 1900’s, we barely had this thing. The words sexual orientation had not even been formed. The Greek poet Sappho, the tragic Oscar Wilde, Alan Turing – the subject of the film The Imitation Game, and even the vociferous Gertrude Stein, all lived before the concept of sexual orientation as we understand it now was put into words.

So how do we read theology then, in the light of this? How do we read the Bible? How do we make up our minds about LGBTI Christians? How do we decide what we think about same-sex marriage? How do churches and denominations make the daunting decisions that face them about the inclusion of gay couples in parish life, and about the legal changes that are transforming society’s understanding and practice of marriage? And most importantly, how will the church respond to the growing appetite from within its ranks for a new understanding of sexuality? One that is inclusive rather than divisive; one that loves rather than judges; one that sees similarities before it sees differences.

When we talk about same-sex marriage and the brand new civil right of marriage equality, a right so brand new that we are not all convinced it is a civil right, we are not speaking in a vacuum. This issue is not a neat and tidy package that can be responded to with simple logic, or brushed under the carpet with a heavily-wielded stack of bible verses.  This is new territory. We haven’t been here before. History and tradition inform us, but they cannot guide us where they have not been. We bring them with us, tucked into our conversations, allowing them to ground us and challenge us and warn us of the dire consequences of getting this wrong. Let’s be clear: there are lives at stake.  And not lives that would be measured by how well they affirm some universally agreed upon definition of what it means to be a Christian, but individual, uniquely created people. People who get up in the morning and go to bed at night, people who laugh and cry and breathe, who have children, jobs, homes, dreams, passions and loves. People who love.

In Africa, in this century, thirty six nations prescribe jail sentences for homosexuality. In three of those sodomy is punishable by death. Other nations convict with flogging, hard labour, or life-time jail sentences. Even in the few African nations where being gay is not illegal, homophobia and transphobia and related hate violence are rife.  In Russia, despite the fact that homosexuality was decriminalised in 1993, Putin’s powerful anti-LGBTI propaganda bill means that anyone convicted of LGBTI “propaganda” to minors can be fined or imprisoned. Activists have been detained for acts as simple as carrying “Gay is Normal” banners. And even in seemingly open and tolerant countries such as New Zealand, suicide rates for LGBTI youth are tragically high.

This is not a theological problem, although theology is a vital part of the conversation. This is not an entirely political problem, although politics are changing and clearly need to change. This is not about the denigration of society, or the destruction of the family, or the manipulation of society’s mores by some vast lobby group with a “gay agenda.” This is a human problem. It is about people. And specifically, as it is becoming more and more apparent, it is about people within our churches, people we sit next to in pews and bake cakes for and pray for. People who from the outside may not look any different. Except for one small difference. We understand that difference better now than we did before. It’s those words; sexual orientation.  It’s time to smarten up and allow those words to inform our conversation about sexuality and marriage. And it’s time to listen to the people to whom the conversation matters most.

Christian voices from within the LGBTI community:

 Justin Lee

Vicky Beeching

Jeff Chu

Matthew Vines

Jennifer Knapp

Christian leaders, authors and academics who have come out in support of marriage equality and LGBTI rights… a few names out of many:

David P Gushee

Rachel Held Evans

Tony Campolo

Steve Chalke

Rob Bell

Brian D McLaren

Organisations committed to the conversation:

A Different Conversation

The Reformation Project

Accepting Evangelicals

The Gay Christian Network

The Marin Foundation

Canyonwalker Connections

Marriage Equality is the New Civil Rights Movement

It’s probably been fairly obvious for a while that I am a supporter of marriage equality.  I have always viewed same-sex marriage as a cut and dry case of civil rights. I believe that marriage is a governmental institution, not one that belongs to the church. Marriage, in its many forms, pre-dates the church. And as discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in New Zealand, it is obvious to me that to deny same-sex couples the right to marry is discriminatory.

I myself got married fourteen years ago, on a bright winter’s day in June. I hardly thought about marriage as a right back then. All I knew was that I was in love with a beautiful girl and wanted to spend the rest of my life with her. It was a case of opposites attract, and we had no idea how much work our love was going to take, but here we are all those years later, and the cliché is true. We are more in love than ever before.

For us, marriage was a right of passage, the beginning of a journey that forced us to grow up like nothing else could. Statistically speaking, marriage improves every success marker for the couple and the children that may come from that marriage. Marriage done well makes everything better – and I can vouch for this. Marriage is also the ultimate gift. There is no other commitment quite like it. Marriage is the fullest demonstration of love that can be given from one person to another. It’s an amazing, life-giving transaction and it can only build stronger families and therefore stronger communities. Why would we want to withhold this incredible gift from anyone?

After watching Selma recently I finally came to the conclusion that the current battle for marriage equality is akin to the fight for Civil Rights in the 1960’s. Marriage equality is a civil rights issue. It has similarities with the world-changing battle that Dr. Martin Luther King, John Lewis and many others fought (and sometimes died) for. Marriage, for the spiritual, emotional, physical and legal benefits it offers, is a civil right.

In New Zealand we have been fortunate enough to have had both civil union and same-sex marriage legalised. But until same-sex marriage was legalised couples who were joined by civil union could not avail themselves of the Matrimonial Property Act, or adopt children. In other countries where same-sex marriage has not been legalised, gay couples are significantly disadvantaged. They are withheld rights to hospital visitations, medical decision making, adoption, parenting rights and automatic inheritance, among other rights.

John Lewia on Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965
John Lewis on Pettus Bridge in 1965

You may not recognise the name John Lewis, but he was with Martin Luther King on the bridge at Selma, and is considered one of the ‘Big Six’ civil rights leaders. He is the only member now still alive. He is a Christian and has been an American Congressman for more than 25 years. If there is anyone who has the right to compare the fight for marriage equality with the civil rights movement it is him. He was there in the thick of it then, and judging by his political and religious positions he is still in the thick of it today. There is literally no one else on the face of the planet who can look at these two issues, compare them, and speak to them with as much authority as John Lewis.

As a response to President Obama’s public support of Same-Sex Marriage Congressman John Lewis said:

Once people begin to see the similarities between themselves and others, instead of focusing on differences, they come to recognize that equality is essentially a matter of human rights and human dignity.

Even as early as nine years prior to President Obama’s public statement, John Lewis was beating the drum for marriage equality. In 2003, the man who was at the front of the march with Martin Luther King wrote an article for the Boston Globe that stated:

“I’ve heard the reasons for opposing civil marriage for same-sex couples. Cut through the distractions and they stink of the same fear, hatred and intolerance I have known in racism and in bigotry.”

Sometimes it takes courts to remind us of these basic principles. In 1948, when I was 8 years old, 30 states had bans on interracial marriage, courts had upheld the bans many times, and 90 percent of the public disapproved of those marriages, saying they were against the definition of marriage, against God’s law. But that year, the California Supreme Court became the first court in America to strike down such a ban. Thank goodness some court finally had the courage to say that equal means equal, and others rightly followed, including the US Supreme Court 19 years later.

Some say they are uncomfortable with the thought of gays and lesbians marrying. But our rights as [human beings] do not depend on the approval of others. Our rights depend on us being [human beings].

John Lewis today
John Lewis today

He couldn’t be clearer; the fear and intolerance that leads people to seek to withhold the right for same-sex couples to marry is the same as the “fear, hatred and intolerance” that Lewis and the civil rights movement faced in the 1960’s.

As a follower of Jesus I want to be in the camp that stands up and speaks out for the disenfranchised. I want to speak up for those whose voice is not always welcome, not always heard. You can throw all the bible verses you like at me, and I’ll say simply that Jesus’ commandment to love one another trumps them all.

Some people may be unaware that the work I do for elephantTV is done jointly with my wife Idoya Munn. Although I am the presenter of the episodes, behind the scenes the project is carried 50/50 between us. This is the first post in a series, and we’ve written the next one together.

As I said in my earlier post, genuine comments and healthy, constructive conversation are welcome.

Next week we’ll talk about Same-Sex Marriage

I began writing a post in March on Same-Sex Marriage and it’s relation to the civil rights movement of the 1960s. I have come back to the post on several occasions only to still be here two months later. I was inspired to write it after watching the movie Selma and I think there are many parallels to be drawn between the two fights for equality. What I have decided to do is break the piece into three posts that will be uploaded next week:

  1. Marriage Equality is the new civil rights campaign
  2. It’s time to get on the bridge
  3. Don’t be a George Wallace

I intend on challenging you to get involved in advocating for the LBGTI community, a much discriminated group. Even in places like New Zealand where Same-Sex Marriage is legal, there is still a battle to be won, especially in the church. We need to make a stand for what is right.

From next Monday I’ll begin posting and aim to have all three up by the end of the week.

As an aside, I realise that some won’t like these posts, but I am actively choosing not to engage in pointless debates or arguments around my thoughts. If you disagree that’s fine, however I’m too old and tired to try to convince anyone who is ardently fixed in their position. If you do want to genuinely and openly converse about anything I have written about I welcome it, but if you want to troll me or my thoughts then I’ll leave you to do that on your own blogs and social media.

As someone who has held these beliefs for a long time I have suffered discrimination (in a very minor way) and exclusion from some Christian groups. To be honest I think I have been somewhat cowardly in not speaking up more publicly until now. I guess there has been a fear that my opinions may effect an income stream or opportunity for me somewhere in the future amongst the Christian community.

However I have decided that I am not going to worry about that any more. I am going to be myself and speak my mind as I see it. If it means I lose people or opportunities then so be it.

I look forward to engaging with you next week.

Attention Christians. Charlotte Dawson’s death is not your cue to speak out against abortion

CharlotteI read an article yesterday deriding an Australian Christian politician who had put on his Facebook page a connection to Charlotte Dawson’s suicide, her depression and an abortion she had in 1999.

This is what the post said

Many I am sure are now aware of the tragic ending to Charlotte Dawson. It highlights how depression and self-harm can affect anyone.

Left unmentioned in many obituaries, is the poignant story faced by Charlotte in 1999. Charlotte Dawson revealed in her autobiography how she aborted her child with swimmer Scott Miller because he didn’t want any distractions in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics.

“Everything Scott had done was leading up to this moment and nothing could stand in his way, so it was decided that we would terminate the child and try again later. Who needed a developing foetus when a gold medal was on offer, eh?”

On the day of the termination, Charlotte says she was in “total turmoil”. Her husband accompanied her to the clinic, but “couldn’t cope with the atmosphere” so left her alone. After the procedure, Charlotte went home and tried to behave as though nothing had happened, but says something had changed forever.

“I felt a shift,” she says. “Maybe it was hormonal, but I felt the early tinges of what I can now identify as my first experience with depression.”

Her husband, did not make the Olympic swim team, and the marriage ended shortly after.

Rest in peace.

Since that I have seen more ‘Christians’ putting up similar comments around the worlds biggest social media site. Christian’s from family lobby groups, from abortion counselling groups, from individuals with passions for the abortion issue and more.

Stop it! Stop it now!

You who are linking Charlotte Dawson’s depression and death to her abortion are wolves in sheep’s clothing. You are using the story of this turmoiled woman and a moment in her life that she obviously regretted to further your own ends.

You are taking Charlotte Dawson’s name in vain…literally.

There are connections between abortion and depression, yes, there is every chance that amongst other tragic and sad parts of Charlotte’s life, her abortion was a contributing factor to her state of mind over the following 15 years, but you bunch of ungracious, sharks, who have seen blood in the water around Charlotte’s death that you are now circling and using her death for what you are selling as the greater good and the ‘true’ untold story. How arrogant you are. If you cannot help yourselves with this information, then please at least consider leaving it for a few weeks…or months…or could I suggest years?

And if you think ‘I’ve missed the point‘ and ‘we didn’t mean it that way‘ then just think of the Wonderful Merciful Saviour you supposedly follow. If he was standing in a room and had just heard of the horrific news, or this tormented soul taking her own life in tragic moment of self loathing, what would he have said? Would it have been “Aw well, but the real story is she had an abortion in 1999“?

I think not.