Jesus Christ: Terrorist

A pastor friend of mine recently posted this status on Facebook: “‘Just follow my rules and behave, and nothing bad will happen to you,’ is the exact opposite of the message of Christ.”

It reminded me that the version of the Christian message I was given growing up as a child was even a bit more terrifying than that. I was told the “Good News” of Jesus could be summed up this way: “Do as I say, and nobody gets hurt.”

As a child, I didn’t question the message. I didn’t understand that the message was essentially the same that bank robbers, hostage takers and other terrorists use to keep their victims in line so they can get their way and control others.

As lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of faith, that threat is even more menacing, since we are told from the get-go that if we even think about pursuing our God-given sexual orientation or gender identity, or give in to that “twisted gay theology,” or dare to see our differences as a “blessing,” we will get hurt. Of course, the church makes good on its threat to hurt us when we embrace how God has created us. We get criticized, yelled at, abused and finally kicked out of the church because of our failure to do as they believe God commands.

But, what they ultimately mean by getting “hurt” when we can’t keep the terroristic command to conform to compulsive heterosexuality is that we will go to hell. By daring to live into our sexual orientation or gender identity with honesty and integrity, these terroristic Christians warn us we’ll receive the worst “hurt” of all — eternal damnation in the hottest sections of a fiery and never-ending hell.

Ah, Hell …

Ah, hell … that place we like to send the people we don’t like, or the people we disagree with or those who dare to question our beliefs. We love the idea of hell because it’s a place we can consign those who don’t live up to our idea of morality. It’s a place we can put all those people who leave children or dogs in hot cars on a summer day. It’s the place we can put all those people who behead innocent journalists in the name of their bloodthirsty god, not to mention a place for anyone who professes allegiance to such a god. It’s the place we can send our political and religious foes to and feel superior about our own sense of morality.

But, if we believe in the message that Jesus actually did proclaim during his time on earth — y’know, that message that says, “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you” — how can we justify sending anyone, even those real terrorists who use the threat of pain, economic destruction and death to get their way, to a place of eternal damnation?

For me, a belief in a literal hell where people burn and are separated from God for all eternity, flies in the face of Jesus’ real message of grace that is freely given to everyone whether they “deserve” it or not.

Recently, a couple of good articles about hell — and how many people are beginning to get the idea that it probably doesn’t really exist — have been posted on Facebook. I highly recommend reading both of them to better understand the concept of hell, how it developed, and why it’s not really found within the teachings of either the Hebrew or Christian scriptures.

In this post, author Ken Dahl, gives us a wide ranging history on hell — how the concept was created and why it’s not a biblical concept at all.

The false concept of hell violates the nature of God, which is unconditional Love. It violates the wisdom of God, the pleasure of God, the promises of God, the oath of God, the power of God. It negates the full power of the cross of Christ. It goes against the testimony of the prophets; it violates the testimony of Jesus Christ and his apostles. It violates the scriptures in their original languages. It violates the writings of the early church leaders who read the scriptures in the original languages. It goes against our conscience, and it goes against our hearts.

In this post, Benjamin Corey runs down the five reasons why the idea of hell is losing its cache with Christians who can’t bring themselves to believe that Jesus is a terrorist.

The Jesus we find in the New Testament is loving and just — but not dementedly cruel. In fact, in the New Testament we see a Jesus who notices suffering all around him and repeatedly states “I have compassion for them.” That compassion consistently moves Jesus to action, often breaking the taboos of his day to alleviate their suffering. The Jesus of scripture is hardly the type of person who’d enjoy torturing people.

What the Hell is the Point, Then?

Someone on Facebook, however, made the point that if everyone is saved, if there is no hell and grace is not a one-time-get-it-now-before-you-die kind of offer and God’s reconciling grace can even extend into eternity to save even someone like, y’know, Hitler, what’s the point of Christianity then? What’s the point of doing good, of being good, or evangelizing other people to accept your religion? Most importantly, if we all “get to heaven” when we die, what’s the entire point of salvation?

James Mulholland and Philip Gulley in the book, If Grace Is True: Why God Will Save Every Person, make a compelling argument for ditching the idea that Jesus died for our sins — that we must believe he died so that God would not hold our sins against us. In short, we’ve been taught that Jesus died to “atone” for our sins. That unless God took the life of his son as a “ransom” for our sins, God would have to hold each of us accountable for those sins. If that’s true, then Jesus had to die to protect us from God! What kind of God is that?

Instead, Mulholland and Gulley argue that the “forgiveness of sin didn’t require the death of Jesus. It only required God’s resolve to forgive. Grace isn’t about Jesus paying for our debts. It’s about God’s removing our transgressions, as far as the east is from the west.”

So, what got Jesus killed? Grace, according to these authors.

“The cross is simply one more sign of humanity’s consistent resistance to grace,” they write. “We silence any messenger who challenges our quest for a favored position.”

Moreover, we love to consign those kinds of messengers to hell, as well. But, once we understand the magnificent gift that grace really is, I think we can no longer believe in either a ransom theory of atonement or in a literal hell. This is no easy task, however, because we love to see those we hate burning in hell for all eternity because of how they treated us or those we love. A gift such as grace, that demands no repentance, no adherence to a particular religion’s set of doctrines and dogmas, and requires no confession of faith, seems deeply unfair to us. In our minds, we have to earn salvation. We have to be worthy of God’s grace.

This, Mulholland and Gulley argue, is exactly the sin we need to be saved from: our self-absorption, our belief that the world revolves around our judgments not just of ourselves, but of the world around us.

“Salvation,” Mulholland and Gulley write, “comes with believing God loves you unconditionally. It is abandoning the misconception that you are rejected because of your bad behavior or accepted because of your goodness.”

When Jesus gave us the greatest commandment, telling us to love God with all our soul, strength and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves, he was simply saying: “Don’t be self-absorbed.” Instead, we must step outside of ourselves and learn how to live into that unconditional love that God has for us, then extend it outward to everyone around us, friend and foe alike.

This kind of love is dangerous because it asks us to give up our ideas that our way of life, our way of belief, or our particular religion is the one, true and only way to reach God. Yes, this kind of view does make evangelism worthless if your goal in telling others about the God you serve is to “convert” them to your belief. If, however, your evangelism is about telling people about a God that offers unconditional love and grace, free of charge, abundantly and wastefully to anyone and everyone who will accept it regardless of human designations of race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation or whatever, then your evangelism becomes full of purpose — that ultimate Holy purpose to help others find salvation by repenting of their own self-absorption.

As LGBT people, we have been held hostage to the image of Jesus as a terrorist long enough. We have to stop believing in any God that says, “Do as I say and nobody gets hurt.” Instead, we must turn to the true God that says, “Do as I say — love yourself and everyone around you unconditionally — and everyone will be saved.”

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches.

We Still Don’t Know What Causes Heterosexuality

Heterosexuality seems to be a widespread human condition, and yet science hasn’t found its cause. Maybe that’s due to an absence of available funding for the research or just plain lack of interest.

There have been studies to determine the origins of homosexuality, usually in males, but they’ve all been small and, frankly, inconclusive. Nevertheless, we’re still in the dark about why there are people who are attracted romantically and sexually to a different gender than the one with which they identify as if they have problems loving the very gender they themselves embody.

Probably this lack of scientific curiosity has to do with the fact that the majority of people – mostly heterosexuals, but not always – consider unadulterated heterosexuality to be the norm with anything else a deviation. And much medical and psychological science studies abnormalities rather than what’s just assumed.

Consider the host of studies in the last two centuries of others considered deviations from norms – women, African Americans, Jews, left-handed people, etc. Freud, for example, talked about penis envy as if there were some inherent problem in humans born without one, and the measurements of brain sizes were geared to determine something about deviants from an often white and Protestant standard.

So, we’ve been left to social scientific observation, psychological analysis, and anecdotal evidence represented in the inability to answer the question: “When did you decide to be heterosexual?” What seems clear then, and therefore has been embraced for over half-a-century by the mainstream scientific community, is that heterosexuality is not a choice.

It’s apparently something that’s established very early in a human being’s lifecycle. It’s likely that it has to do with physical genetics, bodily chemistry, or prenatal factors.

Now, there still exist those right-wingers, including some deviants from the norms of professional scientific associations, who want to believe that it’s a choice. Or they at least want to blame heterosexuality on how children are parented and use a variety of debunked developmental theories to try to do that.

They like to picture heterosexuality as not just the norm for all human experience, but as actually inherently healthier than any other orientations. To do so, of course, they have to paint heterosexuality in rosier terms than, let’s say, bisexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, or even uncertain-sexuality.

And they do that by targeting whatever the orientation of the non-heterosexuals is for any psychological or social problems some individuals have. If a man molests boys, it’s blamed on homosexuality, but if he molests girls it just can’t, can’t have anything at all to do with sexual orientation.

That type of inconsistency represents heterosexual privilege, though I prefer to call it straight privilege because it has more to do with enforcing the straight role onto people than what one’s sexual orientation really is. And racism, sexism, able-bodiedism, and classism, have followed the same formula – the dominant group is never questioned, nor are dominant group identity or membership blamed.

And believing that heterosexuality is a choice makes security with ones sexual orientation precarious. Instead of settled contentment in being heterosexual, they feel as if they could be talked out of it, or seduced by the glamours of sexualities on the other side of the fence where the grass looks much greener.

That insecurity in someone’s own heterosexuality translates into varieties of psychological projection while they shake in their boots, fearing that something might turn them to non-heterosexuality. They can’t relax as if their own sexual orientation is settled, God-given, or comfortable.

And so they rant about LGBT people, talk about how LGBT people must actively recruit others, fear that LGBT people might come on to them, and hate any attempts to picture LGBT people as healthy, respectable, attractive, and in any way human. They can almost tolerate LGBT people, but don’t want them to show pride, success, committed relationships, or anything enviable in the straight world’s terms.

To argue with them about whether or not sexual orientation is a choice or not only focuses minds on questions that are actually irrelevant when it comes to human rights. That being a person of color isn’t a choice has not ended racism yet.

In the past some people have been won over to equality by the argument that LGBT people can’t help that they deviate from the norm. They’d be straight if they could be, poor things.

Moving beyond such argument to the point that it doesn’t matter whether sexual orientation is a choice or not, ends our own participation in the demeaning of LGBT people. It also questions the idea that being straight has any inherent health or value to it.

It allows lesbians and gay men the freedom to contemplate what is good about being gay. And it allows those who identify as bisexual the freedom to love whom they find companionable and attractive.

We don’t know what the percentage of people who are non-heterosexual are – 10% sounds like the best demographic estimate. But if sexual orientation falls on a bell curve like many human characteristics, that would put most people in an ambiguous middle zone.

The possibility that most fall in that middle might be too much for many to contemplate. It might require a whole redefinition of oneself in the midst of current prejudices and rampant homophobia.

But moving beyond the debate over cause goes further. It questions whether people really would choose to be heterosexual if they actually had a free choice in the matter.

Since they don’t in most cultures, even those where being LGBT is legally accepted, we have no idea what the choice would be if it could be made without any stigma. And that idea in itself is sure to make many uncomfortable.

Heterosexuality is going to have to come out of its closet, then. Right now it’s hidden behind being straight-acting, straight-thinking, straight-feeling, and straight privilege.

But it can’t define itself by what it is not. Being heterosexual is one human option. But being a healthy heterosexual person means living comfortably affirming all human options.

Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human: and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org

God and The Rainbow

Over the years I have heard a number of heteronormative Christians, some of them friends of mine, some of them complete strangers, complain about the LGBT appropriation of the rainbow as our symbol. “It was meant as a promise from God,” they complain, pointing to the story of Noah and the Flood in Genesis. And they’re right. That was the original symbolic meaning of the rainbow.

We are all familiar with the story of Noah’s ark, I trust, but let’s do a quick recap of it anyway. God sees how wicked His creatures have become apart from him and, despairing at the suffering and evil he sees in world, decides to destroy everything with a massive flood. But a certain man named Noah pleads with God to spare him and his family. After hearing the man’s case, God agrees and tells him to build a boat, collecting two of each animal. The flood comes, lasting 40 days and nights, and then the waters recede. When it’s all over, God puts a big rainbow in the sky as a promise that he would never destroy the world like that again.

So once again, our detractors are correct in saying that the rainbow was originally supposed to signify God’s promise to Noah. And even now that we know how rainbows are naturally formed, I still believe they hold that meaning. Yet our detractors are wrong to think the LGBT community’s use of the symbol is somehow a betrayal of that original meaning and therefore an affront to God.

In C.S. Lewis’s fantasy novel, The Silver Chair, there is a scene where a certain sequence of words the heroes see carved in giant letters are explained to have originally had a different meaning than has been understood by the children and Puddleglum. It is explained that they used to be part of a longer phrase that pointed to the greatness of the civilization that built the city, now in ruins, which stands over them. This is thought by the speaker to cancel out the meaning the children gleaned from the words they saw. But on the heels of this Puddleglum offers the counter explanation that “[Aslan] was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.” (Lewis, The Silver Chair)

Why am I quoting from a children’s fantasy novel? Because I think the point Puddleglum makes about the letters cut by the Giant King is just as applicable to God’s sending of the rainbow back in the days of Noah. If God is truly all-knowing then he would’ve already known in that day all the different meanings that would be attributed to this rainbow of His, perhaps even a few that have yet to turn up. I don’t know about you, but I would not worship a God I thought to possess only limited knowledge.

So He most certainly knew that gays, bisexuals, lesbians, and transgender folk would eventually come to call this symbol theirs. He knew that and He used it anyway. I submit that the rainbow was also intended as God’s promise for those of us who are not heteronormative. Our straight, cis-gender Christian brothers and sisters can’t claim any special place in God’s heart that is not already ours as well. Everyone is special, God loves all of us under that rainbow and He wants each and every one of us to come into His arms just as we are, He wants to admire the beauty he crafted in us. God does marvelous work, doesn’t he?

Christianity and Morality

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:102)

The above verses of Scripture show that we must strive to lay down our lives for God’s sake. It is in giving our bodies and minds over to Him that He can best use us; this entails sacrifice that must be considered our “reasonable service.” We are enjoined to struggle to increasingly lay our lives down so that God can use us; the more we give ourselves over to Him and His sovereign working in us, the more He can and will use us for His purposes.

Unfortunately, we often equate the manifestation of virtues deemed to be “moral” with Christianity itself. By equating the two we are in error and set ourselves up to be viewed as hypocrites. Many of God’s people sometimes behaved “immorally.”

For example, in our culture, incest is forbidden. Yet, Abraham, the father of the faith, the friend of god, married his half-sister. (Genesis 20:12) Lying is immoral. Yet, both Abraham and his wife, Sarah, lied to Abimelech (Genesis 20:5), as they had previously done with Pharaoh (Genesis 12:13) to ostensibly help save Abraham’s life. This role model of faith didn’t trust God enough to protect him, and was willing to let his wife be sexually used by others. Lot offered his daughters to be raped by the people of Sodom rather than let them homosexually rate the two angels sent by God. (Genesis 19:8) Rahab was a prostitute, yet considered by God to be a hero of faith. (Hebrews 11:31) David, a man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and arranged the murder of his lover’s husband.

How can we reconcile our obligation not to lie, commit incest, offer our daughters to be raped, commit adultery, or murder with the standing of those who belong to God as His anointed ones? It is because “morals” are not the major part of the Christian message; our transgression of them is seen by God from the very foundation of the world.

Clearly, God’s ways and his assessment of people are not our ways. Before we were born He knew what we would do. Before they were even born He said, “… Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” (Romans 8:13) Frankly, I much prefer Esau to the conniving Jacob who stole his brother’s birthright and conned his blind father into giving him Esau’s inheritance. Just one more example: before Ishmael was even born God said to Hagar, given to Abram by his wife Sarai to have sexual relations so as to beget a child, “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him …” (Genesis 16:12)

God’s people are all sinners and transgress morality. By equating morality with Christianity we do so at our peril. There are many atheists who are moral, decent people. What distinguishes the Christian from the atheist or anyone else is not only behavior that allows God’s light to shine through, but the faith we have in Him to keep His promises to us, to save and keep us, and to love and accept us, as He knew we would before we were even born. What defines a Christian is the knowledge that only God is our righteousness!

The Apostle Paul knew he was immoral. (Romans 7:15-25) Yet, he would say to the Sanhedrin, “…Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1) He could only make this remarkable statement because he knew that he was a sinner in the very core of his being. Although he sought to present his body a living sacrifice and be transformed by the renewing of his mind, these actions were processes, not accomplishments. He knew that his faith was not defined by conventional morality, although he made it clear that we were not to use our liberty in Christ as a license to sin, hinder the Gospel, or to cause a weaker brother or sister to stumble in the faith. He was able to have a clear conscience despite his sins and sin-nature because he trusted Christ to be his only righteousness and to deliver him to God as one whose sins were covered over by the shed Blood of Christ.

One of the most compelling reasons to take the Bible seriously is that it doesn’t sanitize the failings of God’s people. They commit incest, they murder, they are prostitutes, they are adulterers, and they are liars. Sometimes they don’t trust God. Even the father of faith, Abraham, after being called by God, Who appeared to him, and given the promises that He would “…make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great….” (Genesis 12:2,10) ran to Egypt because of a famine in the land that God promised him and his descendants.

What differentiates the Christian from all others lies not particularly in the area of morality, but lies in his or her tenaciously hanging onto God as his or her fortress, enabler, defender, and deliverer! And being LGBT isn’t immoral in the first place, so all of God’s children, chosen from the foundation of the world, have no reason to feel condemned by God!

Why Christians Should Embrace the LGBT Community

There are to be no second-class citizens in the United States! We established a long time ago that “separate is not equal,” and all American citizens are entitled to enjoy equality under the law. Any society that presumes to refer to itself as “decent” and “civilized” must not in any way discriminate against any group of people through its laws or their enforcement.

We should have learned this painful lesson during the struggle for African American civil rights, and we must now apply that lesson in this struggle for full and equal civil rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (hitherto referred to as LGBT) people. LGBT people are entitled to the same rights and privileges that accrue to all other citizens of the United States

Gay people are certainly entitled to full and equal civil rights, including the right to marry! The lies and other nonsense purveyed by many self-proclaimed arbiters of “morality,” often cloaked in the guise of religion, that same-sex marriage destroys “the sanctity of marriage” is ludicrous on its face!

I have been married to my wife for fifty two years, and I can’t see how same-sex marriage will in any way negatively impact my marriage or in any way destroy the sanctity of my marriage! No rational person can believe that same-sex marriage in any way compromises the institution of marriage, an institution that has taken many forms in our history.

As a Christian, I am profoundly embarrassed and outraged by those professing Christians who are in the vanguard of discrimination against LGBT people; who spew hateful rhetoric, borne out of their ignorance and/or their hatred and/or their avariciousness, that is diametrically opposed to anything Jesus said, lived, or taught to all who would claim to be His disciples! Indeed, Jesus saved His harshest words for those who claimed to be “godly” and yet sought to put yokes of bondage onto others!

Christians love other people, and the only Gospel to be found in Christianity is comprised of: grace (God’s unmerited favor to us), faith (trusting God over and above seen circumstances), love, peace, reconciliation, and inclusiveness. There is no other Gospel!

Jesus makes it abundantly clear that we are to love and not judge or condemn others! Any professing Christian who thinks that he/she is representing Jesus by doing the very opposite of what Jesus told us to do is not only seriously misled, but is woefully misleading the public, many of whom are gullible enough to take the purveyors of the false gospel of legalism and perfectionism seriously.

Moreover, we are under the Constitution of the United States and we are not a Theocracy! Since when are we to take a group of people’s understanding of the Bible, an “understanding” far more informed by their preconceived prejudices than it is by anything else, and enshrine those prejudices into our laws of the land; impose those prejudices onto a minority group that all too many professing Christians and others view as being relatively “safe” to persecute?

The discrimination against LGBT people in the names of “Christianity,” “morality,” “tradition,” “the well being of our children,” and any other specious reasons given for this oppression has many of us saying: “Enough is enough!” We’re not going to take it anymore!

For those of us who are Christians, we are sick and tired of having those who would hate and/or discriminate against others presume to speak for us! For those of us who are heterosexual, we are sick and tired of watching our LGBT sisters and brothers be oppressed! For those of us who are LGBT, we are sick and tired of being viewed and treated as second-class citizens, denied marital and other rights and benefits that heterosexual taxpaying citizens are given and take for granted.

In sum, LGBT rights activists demand full and equal civil rights that every other citizen of the United States possesses, and we won’t rest or stop until that goal is achieved!

The Big Whopper

“Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain. (Exodus 20:7)

“Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.” (Exodus 20:16)

When they stop talking about the Bible and actually read it, people are surprised to find that there is no Commandment, per se against lying. At least, not one that simply says, “Thou shalt not lie.” I keep hearing that anti-gay Christians are biblical literalists – great sticklers for following Holy Writ to the letter. This must be why so many of them lie.

I’ve been watching the social conservatives’ reaction to the Republican Party’s 2012 presidential election loss with interest. Will they finally get a clue about the need to make the GOP relevant in the Twenty-first Century? The experts on political strategy have strongly counseled them to adapt. Recent developments suggest that they are indeed adapting, though the way they’re doing it offers little reason to hope.

Instead of accepting the truth that gay people exist, that we are not gay by choice and that most of us merely wish to live whole human lives like everybody else, the anti-gay Right is choosing to retreat into a lie. It isn’t really a new one, since they’ve been telling it all along. But now they want to craft it into a grand meme – to be accepted by everybody. A frustrating number of people – even those who consider themselves our allies – are buying into it.

It is, moreover, precisely because it’s becoming so apparent that it is not true that the Religious Right has decided to push it. Like science and reality, truth itself is their enemy. By sheer persistence – and in the face of public ignorance or indifference – they hope to establish their lie as accepted truth.

The grand meme, the Big Whopper, is that all Christians must be anti-gay, and that all gays must be anti-Christian. Sure, we’ve heard it before. At one time, many of us actually believed it. But it’s never been pushed, before, with such dogged determination and vehemence. This is an all-out, full-throttle campaign.

I don’t like to write so blatantly about politics here. I know this is a magazine about religious faith. But those who oppose our total inclusion in the human race are so utterly determined to drag politics into religion, and religion into politics, that it’s impossible to keep the two spheres apart. We can respond to what’s happening neither as Christians nor as Americans unless we understand how for the sake of our status as either, both are being threatened.

If the Religious Right is permitted to get away with this lie, they will be able to use their “religious freedom” as a blank check to make war on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. And if they proceed with their whopper brazenly enough, they think they can bluff it through.

The recently-failed Arizona SB 1062 “religious freedom” bill is a case in point. It’s already perfectly legal to discriminate against LGBT people in my home state, so this bill was redundant. Most people dismissed it as political grandstanding, but it actually had darker implications. It was a test run of the Big Whopper.

My own religious and moral principles are deeply offended by the Religious Right. I believe it comes as close to being the Antichrist as any entity that has ever existed. As I don’t want one dime of my money going to support it, it’s fine and dandy by me if they don’t “have” to serve me. But anybody who takes seriously that SB 1062’s intention was to protect my religious freedom is several crab puffs shy of a pu-pu plate.

How many people could these hucksters get to believe the meme? Judging from the spectacular way that the Arizona bill went down in flames, your guess might be, “not many.” But the issue of LGBT equality under the law is still being debated as if the Big Whopper can be unquestioningly accepted as truth. And as long as that remains the case, our enemies’ assault against us will continue to have traction.

The bill was hugely unpopular, not only in Arizona but around the country, because it was so obviously mean-spirited and transparently aimed at LGBT people. But the lie undergirding it – that a clear battle line can be drawn between godless gays and Christians who disapprove of “homosexuality” – was never really challenged. Not, in any case, by anyone whose viewpoint the mainstream media bothered to cite. We certainly had defenders among Christians in our state – lay and clergy, gay and straight. But the shapers of public opinion almost totally ignored them.

Dishonest memes, of the sort the Religious Right is now trying to ram through, are never based on self-evident truth. If they were, their propagators wouldn’t need to craft them as memes and ram them through. Journalists who do not carry water for these people – those who consider themselves our allies, or at least cultivate a reputation for fairness – need to be taken to task for aiding and abetting the Big Whopper.

Now that many Christian scholars and clergy are challenging – very articulately and effectively – whether the Bible actually condemns same-sex love, insecurity is motivating anti-gay Christians to assert themselves. They are driven by fear, because when the other side is presented, their own argument is revealed as hollow. This is why they’re trying so aggressively to get their prejudices enshrined in law. Responsible journalists — those who genuinely care about the truth – will no longer be able to ignore this if we insist on holding them responsible.

The point, at this juncture, is not even which side is “right” and which is “wrong.” It is that there are two sides – neither of which comes from a worldview that is anti-Bible or hostile to Christianity. But those who would deny this truth are truly anti-Christ, because they wish to stifle not only public debate but the very movement of the Holy Spirit. They are entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.

It is an opinion that their interpretation of Scripture is the right one. It is a fact that it is not the only one. Those who hold to one opinion over the other are simply people with an opinion. Those who claim there’s only one opinion are liars and frauds.

My purpose, in this essay, is not to frighten, but to motivate – and to mobilize. To make readers aware of what is going on, and to issue a call to action. We can only fight the Big Whopper if we understand that it is being deliberately crafted, by those who know it is a lie, and that these knowing liars are promoting that lie with great determination.

They are taking God’s Name in vain, and they are bearing false witness against us. Each of those offenses violates one of the Ten Commandments. And they are misusing the Word of God in the service of their lies. Next time they wave the Bible in our faces, we should tell them to look up the Ten Commandments. For any honest student of Scripture, those would be pretty hard to miss.

We know they’re lying because they claim we don’t exist – when we know we do. We know they’re unscrupulous and utterly without principle because they’re willing to cynically hijack and degrade our faith in order to defeat us. We know that they’re dangerous, because those in Kansas – who crafted a similar Big Whopper bill – originally wanted to enable even police and fire departments to refuse to protect us, and because their cohorts in Uganda lobbied to have gay people killed. We must not underestimate how dangerous these people are, because it has become very clear that they will stop at nothing.

That is, unless we stop them. “You will know the truth,” Jesus told us, “and the truth will set you free.” Never has that been more true – and more urgent – than in the face of the latest Big Whopper.

Ditch Your Religion, But Keep Your Faith

Despite the massive leaps and bounds the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community has made as a whole on the civil rights front — as judges across the country strike down state marriage bans and the marriage equality case makes its steady march to the U.S. Supreme Court and polls show growing support for full acceptance of LGBT people both in society and in the church — the reality is, most people still grapple with deep religious fears when they begin to come out to themselves and others.

Most of the conversations I have with people grappling with reconciling their faith and spirituality centers on their family — how their family will react, whether or not they should come out to their family now or wait, or how to deal with their family when they go off on homophobic rants. I dare say, the hardest group of people to deal with as we embrace our God-given identities as LGBT people are those closest to us – our families who have raised us and loved us, and who we know may reject us or fight against us if they know the truth of our lives.

When I wrote Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, I focused mainly on how to deal with objections from strangers, friends or other people with whom we are not so emotionally invested as we are with our families. In fact, during workshops or book signing talks, most of the questions from audience members centered on how to respond to family members when coming out.

My own coming out experience with my family, relatively speaking, was easier than most. I was raised in a strict Southern Baptist family where homosexuality was hardly ever discussed, and when it was, it was with the strongest condemnation. I grew up knowing that God condemned homosexuality, but the very idea was a complete mystery to me, even as I became aware of my own strong attractions for other girls and no romantic or sexual feeling for boys.

Back in my day, we didn’t have out and proud celebrities or openly gay and lesbian pop singers. There were no positive portrayals of gay and lesbian people on television or in the movies. Homosexuals were mysterious people who lived in big cities, and even lived in the shadows there! There was no mention, whatsoever, of people who experienced gender identity issues. Transgender people were not even on the radar!

When I came out to my mother I was 16-years-old. I had been wrestling with my sexual orientation for years and finally had found a name for it — from a cover article in Rolling Stone magazine.

“Lesbian,” I said the word out loud for the first time while looking in the mirror.

“Lezzzzzz-beee-yunnn,” I rolled the word around on my tongue for a few minutes. “I am a lezzzzzz-beee-yunnn.”

I immediately hated the word. I still do. I prefer the politically incorrect word, “Dyke,” because it just sounds and feels stronger than “lesbian.”

But, I digress …

If my mother panicked when she heard that word come out of my mouth, she didn’t show it. She simply put her dishtowel down and said, “Well, it could be a phase. Don’t do anything about it right now and see how things go.”

I knew it wasn’t a phase, but let the matter drop.

At 18, I met my first girlfriend and told my mother, “It’s not a phase.”

Her exact words to me were, “I don’t agree with homosexuality. I think it’s wrong. But, you’re my daughter and I love you. You are always welcome in my house.”

My mother and I never had a deep conversation about homosexuality, but she was true to her word. I was always welcomed back home, as were all of my partners who accompanied me for Christmas and other visits.

My siblings, two brothers and two sisters who are all older than me, had their own various reactions, but every single one of them, whether they accepted my lesbianism (dykeism?) or not, have each remained welcoming and loving to me and my partner.

So, I got out easy when it came to coming out to my family. My first girlfriend was not so lucky. Her family disowned her, causing her much emotional pain and turmoil. I am happy to report that she and her family eventually made amends and are all happily co-existing now, but it takes time.

Perhaps it was my own relatively easy coming out that left me so unprepared to respond to those earnest readers who wanted to know how to deal with family members who want to argue the Bible or threaten to remove their love or financial support if they find out the truth. But, I think the true crux of the problem, especially for we LGBT people raised in Christian homes, is that our coming out challenges not only our parents or siblings image of us, but it challenges the religion both we, and our parents and siblings, have been raised to believe and follow.

Our families are often the source of many things for us including love, emotional and financial support and our sense of self and belonging. But, for those of us raised in Christian homes, our families were also the source of our knowledge about God and how God works in our lives and in the world.

From the cradle we are carted off to Sunday school, Sunday morning (and evening!) services, youth activities on Wednesday nights and church all week when the revival minister comes through town. Our lives center around the church – its activities, community and beliefs about God and the world.

What I discovered along my journey, though, is this: While our families may give us a religion, they most often fail to give us what we need the most – faith.

Losing Our Religion

There is a huge difference between religion and faith. I grew up knowing I was a Southern Baptist and was versed on all the beliefs being such a thing entailed. I was baptized when I was 6-years-old after accepting Jesus as my personal savior. I rededicated my life to Christ a million times during Vacation Bible School, Christian summer camps and every single night during revival weeks. I told everyone I knew about Jesus and how much he loved me and how much wanted them to believe in him and accept them as their personal savior and “be saved,” whatever that meant.

Actually, that was the problem. I didn’t know what any of that really meant. I knew all the words. I knew what to say to evangelize someone and how to pray the sinner’s prayer with them. I had a religion, alright, but I didn’t have a faith. Religion is a set of beliefs and principals that we follow … faith is knowing why you believe and follow those beliefs and principals.

It wasn’t until I left church that I discovered that religion and faith are two very different things. It wasn’t until I was forced by my admission as “an abomination before God” that I could even begin to fathom how to rid myself of religion in order to find my faith.

When I told my mom I was going to seminary, she looked up from her tomato plants long enough to say, “You’ll shipwreck your faith.” Because, in my Southern Baptist momma’s mind, asking questions – seeking faith with understanding instead of just assenting to a list of religious beliefs – will bring nothing but trouble.

She was right, sort of. I did shipwreck something in seminary, but it wasn’t my faith. I shipwrecked my religion, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Only when I was freed from the trappings and shackles of my inherited religion was I able to get down to the hard work of building a faith that could see me through all of the trials and troubles that would come in my life.

Along the way, I discovered that my images of God as a Southern Baptist youth — that image of God as the bearded man in the sky who “loves” you but will condemn you to an eternity in hell if you don’t toe the line and believe rightly — was a false god. I have struggled for many years over who God is and how God works in this world and the more questions I ask, the more questions I find.

This, friends, is the bedrock of faith — questions that beget more questions. Questions keep you from settling on one idea of God and concretizing that idea and making an idol out of it. That’s what religion wants us to do — pick and idea of God and stick with it, even if that idea doesn’t work anymore.

Some of the popular ideas of God floating around out there in religion include:

The Vending Machine God: Prayer goes in, stuff comes out. Until that day when it doesn’t and we find ourselves kicking God like that stuck vending machine, angrily demanding that God do what we have asked and being profoundly disappointed when God doesn’t.

The Superhero God: This is the god that swoops in and makes things right. We pray to this god in every situation whether it’s for the healing of a loved one, to find a job, sell a house or get a great parking space at the mall. This god is guaranteed to let us down when the loved one dies, the job falls through, the house never sells and we’re trudging to the store from the far reaches of the parking lot.

The Warrior God: This is the one who hates the same people you do, and from what I can tell, is the most popular form of religion out there right now.

There are many more iterations and images of God that we project onto the Holy in this world, and every single one of them is handed to us by religion – no assembly required. Here’s the truth, though: Every single one of those images of God will break down and disappoint us at some point.

The solution? Ditch religion and keep your faith.

Building a Mystery

God is not a god of religion, but of faith. To try to describe God, to capture an infinite force of love and mercy in mere limited human language, is a fool’s errand. Instead, the best way to talk about God is to simply say, “God is …” and refuse to end the sentence. Because when we end the sentence, even if we say, “God is love,” we set ourselves up for disappointment when we wonder why a loving God allows so much suffering in the world? (I imagine God would ask us the same question, why we allow so much suffering in the world?)

So, how do we get rid of religion and instead begin building a faith? We can start by learning the difference between the two.

  • Religion is concrete. Faith is mystery.
  • Religion is dogmatic. Faith is free to question.
  • Religion is certain. Faith has doubts.
  • Religion sees clearly. Faith sees dimly.
  • Religion has rules. Faith breaks them.
  • Religion is rigid. Faith is able to be awed.
  • Religion is the letter of the law. Faith is the spirit.
  • Religion loves with conditions. Faith loves unconditionally.
  • Religion says, “I know.” Faith is most comfortable when it’s say, “I don’t know.”
  • Religion’s power is in outside authority. Faith relies on our inner experience of God.
  • Religion says, “Be careful.” Faith says, “Step out, even if you can’t see the path.”

If you read over that list carefully with the ministry of Jesus in mind, you can see that what he sought to bring to us was not religion, but faith. Jesus was always pointing us to the mystery and beauty of life, to consider the lilies and the birds of the air. Jesus also spent most of his ministry breaking the rules of his day, talking with women in public, working on the Sabbath and “twisting” the Hebrew scriptures to encourage people to follow the spirit of the law instead of its rigid letter.

Jesus spent his short time on this earth trying to encourage us to stop following religion, represented in his time by the Pharisees, and instead grow our faith by looking within.

“The kingdom of God is within you,” Jesus tells us in Luke 17:21. This is where true faith can be found, not in the certain, rigid and unforgiving confines of religion.

What that means to us as LGBT Christians is this: We do not need to rely on the acceptance of the world, the church or even our families, because God has already fully accepted us as God’s beloved children.

Religion won’t tell you that, but faith will.

Ditching religion may not make it any easier to deal with rejection or arguments with family members, but I promise you, working to deepen your faith in God instead of cleaving to a useless religion, will help you get through the bad times — and teach you to love even those who hate or reject you.

That’s a faith worth building.

Candace Chellew-Hodge is a recovering Southern Baptist and founder/editor of Whosoever: An Online Magazine for GLBT Christians, and author of Bulletproof Faith: A Spiritual Survival Guide for Gay and Lesbian Christians, published by Jossey-Bass. She currently serves as the pastor of Jubilee! Circle, a progressive, inclusive community in Columbia, South Carolina. She is also a spiritual director and is currently taking on new directees. She blogs regularly at Religion Dispatches.

America’s Religiosity: A Gut Check of Its Christianities

It’s hardly news anymore that a growing number of Americans are checking the box “none” on surveys of religious belief. According to Pew Research Center polling, one-fifth of the public and a third of those under thirty are unaffiliated with any religious entity.

Among those left who still report being affiliated, the percentage of fundamentalists and other conservatives is increasing. It’s the pie that’s shrinking and leaving the right-wing to have a bigger share.

Relying on figures publicized by denominations is problematic. There are convenient ways for memberships to be counted.

But even the granddaddy of right-wingers, the Southern Baptist Convention, reported this year that it’s losing members and baptizing fewer people. Their response, of course, wasn’t to question their teachings but to assume they needed better marketing.

Those who are religiously addicted never question what they’re teaching. They’re so invested in it that to do so would be a real downer for their high of righteousness.

They always assume that it’s the packaging that needs up-dating. Hence the stagings of hipster churches, or prosperity mega-churches like Joel Osteen’s and Rick Warren’s that refuse not to smile.

These fundamentalist-with-a-positive-attitude approaches have become multi-million dollar empires. Many drawn into them cherish those positive feelings without commitment to their worn out hidden theologies.

They eschew the language and public demeanors of the Fred Phelpses or other regressive clergy who get national media attention for their otherwise insignificant congregations through outrageous anti-gay acts, burning Qurans, or rantings about divine punishment ready to rain down on the country for whatever cultural fears they can stoke in the gullible who feel they’re losing in the victories of American oligarchy.

It’s still this Christian movement that, like the addict in a family, gets most of the attention, steers the agenda, and keeps progressives in a defensive posture. There are a number of reasons for that.

First, and foremost, right-wingers are the religious category with the most money to spend on their causes. How many pastors would take a more progressive stand on numerous issues, believing that it’s what Jesus would do, if they weren’t afraid that key people would leave their churches, particularly the wealthiest givers, who’re usually conservative?

Conservative theology attracts many of the rich because it justifies the accumulation of wealth. It preaches that wealth is as a sign of divine blessing.

Look at the right-wing Green family that owns Hobby Lobby. Their recent Supreme Court victory seemed to have little to do with their faith because they profited from selling what was made in a country that mandated abortion and had previously funded the contraceptives they discovered to be against their beliefs only when a president they wanted to destroy backed them.

The conservatives’ choice of Biblical passages to take literally is never “It’s harder for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of god” or “Give all you have to the poor and follow me” or the numerous passages in the Hebrew scriptures about usury that say never loan money and ask for ANY interest. And the dominant religion in any culture is the one that supports the status quo and its powerful.

Second, progressive churches regularly fail at acting progressive. They have progressive theologies, but aren’t sure what to do with them, often out of nervousness about upsetting the very status quo that marginalizes Christian progressives.

This has left challenging regressive Christianities to atheist, agnostic and skeptic organizations along with non-Christian religious movements. The established baptist-inspired Americans for the Separation of Church and State has been joined by more anti-religious groups such as the Freedom from Religion Foundation. And to the original American Humanist Association a growing list of others have been added.

Progressive churches have instead taken up charity activities. In the light of strategic conservative attacks on the government safety net, compassion seems to demand it.

But two observations need to be made here. Right-wing defunding of government assistance programs is a deliberate strategy intended to move liberal money away from politics into making up the difference through funding charities. This gives mega-rich corporations and right-wingers even more of an advantage in buying the political arena while progressive funds are diverted into charities.

But conservative churches do charity as well, and with their major goal to convert recipients to their brand of sectarianism. So, doing charity work, as admirable as it is, doesn’t distinguish progressive churches from fundamentalist ones.

In the mind of younger generations from Generation X to the Millennials, then, there is little reason to come back to a progressive church. These generations are looking for actions that speak to a sense of justice, not what goes on Sunday mornings inside some pious-looking building.

For the progressive church to grow, it will have to move beyond charity to taking a public place in the front line of justice work. For the ten years I was president of the board of a campus ecumenical ministry, what attracted students was exactly that.

Only when convinced we practiced justice, did they ask what we believed and how it fit. Did we march to stand for LGBT rights? Did we support the dignity and power of working people? Did we fight for ecological justice and the future of the planet? Did we live as if all oppressions are offensive and intersecting?

So, when the United Church of Christ filed a lawsuit to protect it’s first amendment right to perform same-sex marriages in North Carolina, that was a belated example of progressive Christianity standing out from all the regressive sectarianism. Their progressive action even led a Baptist alliance to follow them.

And that contradicts the third reason why the religious addicts have dominated national attention. Progressive Christianity has been defensive, always having to respond to what it isn’t, rather than on the offense.

When any position leads, people take notice. Then they see it as a real option, one that real people really believe, walking their walk not just talking some talk.


Robert N. Minor, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Kansas, is author of When Religion Is an Addiction; Scared Straight: Why It’s So Hard to Accept Gay People and Why It’s So Hard to Be Human: and Gay & Healthy in a Sick Society. Contact him at www.FairnessProject.org