Evangelical becomes gay for a year…

Amazing story in the Guardian today about an American ultra conservative evangelical Christian who found himself questioning his Church teachings on homosexuality, and decided to walk in the shoes of a gay man for a year.

In order to do this, he had to tell his family, his Church, his friends that he was gay, take on a pretend ‘boyfriend’ and live and work in gay bars.

It seems that not only his own theological understanding of homosexuality radically changed, but so was that of his mother.

Finally Kurek’s journey ended when he revealed his secret life and “came out” again, but this time as a straight Christian. However, he says that one of the most surprising elements of his journey was that it renewed his religious faith rather than undermined it. “Being gay for a year saved my faith,” he said.

Kurek also said that he felt his experience not only should show conservative Christians that gay people need equal rights and can be devout too, but that it can also reveal another side of evangelicals to the gay community.

“The vast majority of conservative Christians are not hateful bigots at all. It is just a vocal minority that gets noticed and attracts all the attention,” he said.

Fast food, religion and politics- a marriage made in America?

I do not mean to be in any way rude to American readers, but there are lots of things that happen over on your side of the Atlantic that often seem to make little sense over here. I think this is partly because in many ways the Conservative, Christian, largely Republican middle America is so very different from the UK- even if this is just one part of your vast and wonderfully diverse country.

However, the influence that American Christian media has on certain strands of religion over here is significant- music, satellite TV, funding for ‘mission’, Evangelists, books- these are overwhelming dominated by US products.

Then I read this story in the guardian.

Here is Fox New’s take on it;

It goes something like this- CEO of fast food company (who donate millions of dollars to charities who try to ‘cure’ homosexuality) openly states his opposition to gay marriage. This causes a backlash, including from the Mayor of Chicago, and- Kermit the Frog;

However, step forward the right wing ‘Shock Jock’ Mike Huckerbee;

 …former Republican presidential candidate and current Fox News host, Mike Huckabee stepped in to defend Chick-fil-A. In order to bolster support for the company, he encouraged people to visit their local franchise on Wednesday. It was dubbedChick-fil-A Appreciation Day.

As Huckabee put it, it had the “simple” goal of affirming “a business that operates on Christian principles, and whose executives are willing to take a stand for the Godly values we espouse”.

Too often, he said, “those on the left make corporate statements to show support for same-sex marriage, abortion, or profanity, but if Christians affirm traditional values, we’re considered homophobic, fundamentalists, hate-mongers, and intolerant”.

There is so much I could say about this story. I think we have to start with an understanding of how easy it is to be influenced and controlled by our culture. Culture in this case that is mixed with religion and becomes so rigidly conservative and controlled by assumptions and normative values that make anything outside seem threatening and requiring a defensive (or even an aggressive) response.

There is also the fact that for much of Middle America, President Obama (the physical embodiment of this threat) and  is ahead in the polls, leading to great uncertainty. Mitch Romney’s blunder-ridden jaunt around Europe might make him a comedic figure this side of the Atlantic, but to many he is the hope for salvation.

Then there is that word ‘fundamentalism’- which in this context involves a literal interpretation of the Bible- even if thinking Evangelicals would admit that there are still nuances to this when we try to adopt words into our culture. I have been around this way of thinking for much of my life, and though I currently find myself at considerable divergence, it is clear to me that many people who hold to these beliefs are actually trying desperately to live a good life, according to the light of God revealed through the words of the Bible.

On this issue however, I find myself with more in common with Kermit than with Huckabee.

Partly this is because my theology sits quite comfortably with same-sex unions- I am quite happy to celebrate love and life long commitment wherever we might find it. Far from this being a threat to any kind of family values I hold dear, my hope would be for new families to thrive and grow as mine has done.

I also do not think that Christians need to engage in any kind campaign to protect their ‘rights’ to proselytise or to condemn others for what we would see as immorality. Let us raise our voices against injustice, corporate greed, globalisation, leave the rest to God, and resist the throwing of the first stone.

Cardinal O’Brian compares Gay Marriage to the laws on Slavery?

Did anyone hear this discussion on the radio this morning? Cardinal O’Brian, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland was being interviewed about same sex marriage and made some rather startling statements.

I found it really hard to follow some of his logic, even as someone who has been in and around churches all my life.This is what he was saying;

If we allowed gay marriage, it would amount to ‘shaming’ the country.

We would be taking standards that are ‘human rights’, from the UN declaration of human rights and turning them on their head.

We would be redefining marriage to something it is not, as marriage could only happen between a man and a woman.

He then compared gay marriage to what might happen if the government suddenly decided to legalise slavery. Thought this a ‘very very good example of what might happen in this country’.

Then he started to describe the ‘thin edge of the wedge’, referencing the Abortion Act in the 60’s.

I could start to tell you my position on this issue, along with whole pages full of justifications. I could get into the relationships between scripture and culture, and the authority of certain OT texts.

I could also discuss the position of love as opposed to legalism, and the fact that sexual ‘sin’ has taken far to central a part in our understanding as opposed to (for example) gluttony or usury.

I could also tell you how bored I am with the way church is ripping itself to pieces with this issue. How hard hearted and foolish we look from the outside. How different camps use this issue as a ‘totem’ of acceptability.

I could wonder aloud why we could not just agree to disagree and focus on finding a path of grace to walk on for our own lives.

And I could describe the feeling I have that this issue will look and sound very different in 30 years time, in the same way that remarriage after divorce and (dare I say it) slavery are viewed as theologically different now than how they have been previously.

I could also talk about how church leaders who seek to ‘defend’ the church, or take us back to some mythical state before ‘progress’ damaged and destroyed our Christian way of life are often talking utter nonsense. As if God is not big enough to stand up for himself.

But rather than all of this, I will just say that the Cardinal made an ass of himself.

Father Ray comes out…

I have been thinking a little about this issue again recently- partly because of the film above, but also because sexuality is a subject that always seems to get people in the church steamed up.

The other day, my nephew Josh posted a link on FB to this organisation in America- Truth Ministry- Healing From Homosexuality Through Jesus Christ.  Josh was not particularly complementary- and I have posted about my feelings in relation to these ‘ministries’ before- here and here for example.

The root of all this has nothing to do with therapy- and little to do with ministry- rather it is all to do with how we understand scripture.

Father Ray seems a decent bloke- although the film above (despite his stated wish to avoid controversy and upset) was clearly made as a political statement by a man who is not averse to risk taking. It does humanise the debate again though- which is something I am a lot more comfortable with than trying to make rigid theological arguments.

I wonder when this will all be behind us? I think it will be one of those things that we (the Church) will look back on and wonder how we got so steamed up about it all.

Faith and homosexuality collide again…

A couple of news stories this week brought this issue out into the open again-

Firstly, there was the story about the gay couple who won a court case against a Christian hotel for discriminating against them by refusing to offer them a bed.

Then in another story reported on the news today Lesley Pilkington, a psychotherapist for 20 years, faces being stripped of her accreditation to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) after treating a patient who had told her he wanted to be “cured” of his homosexuality.

You can listen to the short news item with associated interviews here-

\’Gay cure\’ row- from \’Today\’, radio 4

Full story in the telegraph, here.  It describes how a gay journalist struck up a conversation with her at a conference run by the US organisation called the ‘National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’ or NARTH (see here for an earlier discussion about NARTH on this blog.) She then offered the man therepeutic help for his homosexuality.

She is quoted (here) as saying this- “When a therapist believes in good faith that a person can change his or her lifestyle she should be free to offer her expertise without the fear of the loss of her job or professional credentials.  The equalities and anti-discrimination agendas are undermining the freedom of individuals to choose to change their lifestyles. These laws are leading to the elimination of a fundamental human right.”

I found myself feeling very sorry for this woman- she is facing a media witch hunt, as well as a threat to her livelihood. But I also find myself wondering at her naivety, and also worrying about her approach to therapy.

She is not without her supporters- see here and here. Some would see this as another attack on Christian values, undermining the Biblical basis for our society. I am afraid I do not concur.

Most therapeutic approaches (eg Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, Person Centred Counselling, Rational Emotive Therapy etc) start from a set of core beliefs about the nature of our psyche, and offer more or less evidence based therapeutic tools to provide opportunities for meaningful change.

But the kind of help being offered by some Christian Counsellors, such as Mrs Pilkington, starts often with a different kind of fixed position- one based on a view of sin, and in particular, the nature of sexuality-

“We don’t use the word ‘cure’ because it makes it [homosexuality] sound like a disease. We are helping people move out of that lifestyle because they are depressed and unhappy.

“We say everybody is heterosexual but some people have a homosexual problem. Nobody is born gay. It is environmental; it is in the upbringing.”

It seems (rather startlingly) that Mrs Pilkington has a son who is gay-

“He [my son] is heterosexual. He just has a homosexual problem,”

“[My son] is still gay … we are developing a relationship that was quite difficult for many years but is now coming back in a very nice way. I am confident he will come through this and he will resolve his issues and that he will change.”

I am a Christian, who has worked as a mental health specialist for 20 years, including a number of years as a therapist/counsellor, using CBT and Person Centred therapies. But I beleive that when ‘therapy’ is allied to narrow views, even narrow Christian views, it becomes very dangerous. It becomes very easy to lose sight of the individual, and focus instead on ideology.

You could argue that Mrs Pilkington gave fair warning to the journalist, and he carefully manipulated her and set her up. It is also quite possible that the full story has not come out in all the news articles that are out there.

But this kind of intervention has no place when practiced by someone working in a position of trust accredited by the BACP.

Christians are still getting into such strange waters over the issue of homosexuality. I find it so frustrating. Even if you accept the reading of the three Bible references that are unequivocally condemnatory of homosexuality as being directly translatable into our context- and there is a real theological debate about this- then you are forced to acknowledge that there are far more references in the Bible (and particularly the words of Jesus) against other things- Greed, avarice, jealousy, misuse of power over the weak and poor, religious bigotry etc etc.

Some of you may think that this is just because I have been sliding like a liberal for too long and if the Bible says it, then it is true. And you are entitled to your opinion. And to my continued friendship.

But please- do not take up therapy.

There was this gay man and a fundamentalist Christian on a plane…

I had a lovely time on recently with a couple of friends. We were meeting up to have ‘that church conversation.’ You know the one- about how we are hungry to live a life that has passion and integrity- in the Jesus kind of way- but at the same time Church is ripping us apart.

There are all sorts of reasons for this- many of my friends have gone through it. It is about relationship, theology, styles of worship, boredom, leadership issues. And sometimes just a longing for more. For a better way of living out faith.

My heart goes out to these friends, as it is a painful time.

Don’t get me wrong- I am not advocating leaving church, neither do I think that the hurt and pain we go through in this process is good, like a partially healed wound that we pick at. But the transition to new things often means a process of separation from the old- even if later we are able to find ways to reconnect with the rich traditions that are part of our DNA.

Both of my friends described their own struggles and hurts. Many of them were familiar to me. One of them was not however- because one of these good people was gay.

And as a gay person, their connection to church was always going to be filtered through a different set of experiences. I hope that this person gets the opportunity to tell their own story in full- I have no right to do this on their behalf.

It set me thinking again about how we hurt one another in the name of ‘truth’. And of Joseph Nicolosi and his quasi scientific religious exploitation.

Then this evening, by chance I came across this. A story told rich in grace and humility. From outside the Church.  A voice from the margins that we need to hear.

4 thought TV…

Just discovered 4thought.tv “A series of highly personal short films, broadcast 365 days a year, reflecting on a broad range of religious and ethical issues, and aspects of our spiritual lives. These 90 second films challenge some traditional views, providing a platform for both scepticism and devout religious beliefs.”

Somehow passed me by, but there is some wonderful stuff-

Here is a little Foy Vance

Then there is the polar opposites of the homosexuality debate-

And lots more besides!

I think I might be visiting from time to time…