Thursday, September 1, 2011

Who's right is it anyway?

There's a growing divide in our culture between left and right, Christian and secular.  As for me, I'm trying to find common ground ground where I can.  I really hope to avoid descending into good guy/bad guy talk.  If you find me talking like that feel free to let me know. We all need accountability, myself included. I would like to take a look at some of the most divisive issues and try to shed light where I can.  Not that I have all the answers by any means because I certainly don't.

One issue that has weighed on my heart a lot, and I do mean a lot, I cannot say that strongly enough, is the very public divide between homosexual rights advocates and traditional family advocates.  This is a very complex issue and where I get confused personally is how to sort all this out at a government services level, so I'll save that discussion for later.

Something I do wish to clarify however, is this popular assumption that to disagree with homosexuality as a lifestyle choice is no different than actively promoting hatred of homosexuals as people.  (Big sigh). I think the Bible is very clear. I also think church tradition (not to mention the design of nature) makes it very clear that homosexuality is not how God designed us to be in relationship.  Church teaching has always been, celibacy in singleness, fidelity in marriage between one man and one woman.  This has never changed, to my knowledge this has never been an issue in the church until recent times. I find it interesting that all major religions (correct me if I'm wrong) agree on this point. I'll let other faith groups speak for themselves, though
as a Christian I feel the need to say, there is a huge difference between disagreeing with a behavior and hating the individual that does that behavior.  Love the sinner, hate the sin, is the old adage.  You love the person because you recognize that everyone is a person created in the image of God, God's child that God loves and knows personally.  You recognize the intrinsic worth of the individual as a unique soul with a unique spirit.  You hate the sin, because you know that the sin (in all of us) is what separates us from God, is what harms the relationship.  Perhaps this is easier to understand in human terms. You love the person who commits adultery, you hate adultery because you know it is the vice that has done so much damage to the person's relationship with their spouse and possible children.  Does that make sense?  I do not hate shoplifters, people who commit adultery, people who lie (and we all have, so pretty soon I'd have to include myself here), so can you believe me when I say sincerely that I do not hate homosexuals?  It grieves me that people seem so readily to jump to this conclusion or to associate the average person of faith with someone who is capable of committing extreme violence, as in the case of Matthew Shepherd, often without even bothering to check that people who abuse homosexuals are even from a Christian or other religious background. I have to ask the person who disagrees with me on this point, do you hate everyone that you disagree with? Do you hate everyone who does something that you think is wrong?  As a Christian I can assure you that I am held to a higher standard than that. The words of Christ are etched in my mind," love your enemies, do good to those who persecute you."  So often I have reflected about how impossible that standard is.  How do you love the person that is about to make you lunch for a lion? How do you bless the person that is about to tie you to a stake, or worse, a wagon wheel or a cross?  Only through prayer and a relationship with a holy God, is my humble conclusion, because I can't do it. But for the record I have no trouble loving someone who struggles with same sex attraction, perhaps because I see many of my own struggles in this larger issue.  Many of us, including myself, know how it feels to feel marginalized, to feel excluded, to suffer through broken relationships, and so often I feel compassion for the gay community, in fact, I identify with them.

Having said that, I think I understand where the failure to understand each other is coming from. To the gay community, who see their sexual preferences as intrinsic to their identity, it must be very hard to separate the behavior from the person, or to understand that to a Christian, the behavior and the worth of the person are separate.  So when a Christian says that they disagree with homosexual behavior, the gay community hears that they cannot accept them as people.  It's a perceptual difference that needs to be clarified.  For the record, I have personally never heard anything said against homosexuals in a church service.  In fact, I've very rarely heard the issue addressed at all.

I know this issue is also an issue in the church at this time.  I know some people would say that they disagree with my interpretation.  (Sigh).  To them may I just say that I have stared this issue down (not once) in the middle of the night and I cannot go where you are going.  I am sorry.  I think it may be becoming obvious that there may be many church splits on this issue, and to that I say, let it be.  Some things you can't compromise on, namely the authority of the Bible and church tradition, because on this authority and this tradition, and the accuracy of such, rests our faith. If we pick and choose what we want to uphold, what's next, the divinity of Jesus, the physicality of the resurrection?  Am I correct in observing that it is the same denominations that I see questioning the church on this issue, that I also hear asking bigger questions, questioning foundations with far reaching implications for the future of the Christian faith, that Jesus and the early church died defending? But let me re-assert that the Christian message that is offered to everyone, is that God loves people so much that he gave his only son to die for our sins, knowing that we could not do it on our own.  This I'm sure all Christians can agree on. For some people it's same sex attraction that is a weakness, for some people it's alcohol, other addictions, and no I don't think that homosexuality is all that different from any other sin.  God offers redemption to everyone who would receive it, unconditionally. God replaces the rules with a relationship with himself and with others and commands us to love one another. None of us are there yet, we're all in process, but in no way does Christianity teach hatred.  In no way are people like Fred Phelps representative of the true Christian message to love your neighbor as yourself.     

So where am I going with this?  It's such a complex issue, but the point I am leading to, is that contained in this issue are two rights groups.  The rights of homosexuals as well as the rights of religious minorities.  Even when same-sex marriage became law in Canada, and with it the said protection of religious minorities within that change of definition, I have never (let me think, nope never) seen a unbiased treatment of this issue with respect to both groups in the secular or public media.  Any interview that I have heard, including with the CBC which is supposed to be representative of the interests of all Canadians has failed to fairly represent where conservative religious groups are coming from on this issue.  Misrepresentation, distortion, attacking questions seem to be the tone of any discussion I have heard.  Fred Phelps seems to find ample coverage, but I have never seen a minister given the opportunity to clearly express or discuss this issue, without the interviewer clearly showing bias against what they have to say.  I fear that this cultural bias could be leading to hatred and discrimination against religious minorities.

All I am asking is that people try to keep in mind that there are two rights groups here.  We need to be concerned about the rights of homosexuals as a society.  We also need to be concerned with the rights of religious minorities as a society.  Do vegetarians have the right to say that they think eating animals is wrong?  Do Jehovah's witnesses have a right to decline a blood transfusion? Do Quakers have the right to refuse to go to war? Do religious minorities have the right to say, even to think, that homosexual behavior is wrong?  Do they?  I'm not so sure they do anymore.  And I think what we fail to realize, is that what may be being lost in this culture, ironically in the name of "tolerance" is freedom of conscience, and that is a great loss indeed.

So where do we go from here?  Like I said at the beginning, I don't have all the answers.  I know in Canada where I'm from, this issue has largely been settled, at least from the perspective of the law and the charter of human rights.  I'm not a lawyer, and I don't pretend to understand the intricacies of the law and how it works, but I do see clashes of rights on this issue appearing in the courts.  How do we solve those clashes when you have a collision of rights groups?  That's again where I get confused, but something that I've learned in my own experience is that often what is deemed appropriate comes down to asking who's space is it?  The old saying, when in to the person who would demand from a Christian adoption agency that they adopt to gay couples or the Salvation Army that is forced to close because they cannot sign a form outlining a politically correct version of what "equality" means, may I ask, can I therefore go to a gay organization and demand to change their mission statement to comply with religious "equality?"  It's a fair question isn't it? Not that I would demand that, because I respect that that's their space.  But is it not fair for me to ask, when are gay rights organizations going to begin to respect the religious rights of religious organizations and their right to disagree? And to be fair, should we as Christians, where the battle for same sex marriage and benefits is still raging, let it go, in the name of loving our neighbor, so that they will know that we support their right to be seen as equal people before the law?  Now some people would say that I'm betraying my own principles in saying that, because I believe that the traditional family is a great need in society, but then I don't need anyone else to tell me that, including the state. My kingdom is not of this world. Thanks for listening.

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