Category: 2014

Something Risky and Hard. A Prayer.

Jesus,
I thank you for your weirdo, my brother, Todd White.
He says that “to believe” means “to be convinced completely.”
He wants his life to be so saturated with the Gospel
that even when he is squeezed by life, You come out.

He heals the sick with you, Jesus. You would know
better than I would!

He says, So much media is full of things that Jesus
paid a price for, to heal.
Yet we are willing to feed them into our minds,
to establish mindsets that control our thinking.

Why would I feed anything in, he asks,
that doesn’t feed my desire for the Kingdom of God?

***

I want to be an academic.
I want to be someone who can discern Your grace and favour
in the broken places, who can see
the Kingdom shoots of green and purple
amid the muck and steel and concrete that everyone
thinks stops growth and life and peace.

But there is something in my soul that responds to Todd’s question,
Jesus, and wonders if it is, as he says, a key and not a rule,
a narrow gate into your incredible spaciousness.

***

So, Lord, I pray this way, in public,
knowing that your people are watching, and even
some people who might consider themselves your enemy,
because I want you to show me how to only
feed my desire for Your Kingdom–the time and place
where your justice and peace kiss each other.

I wonder what only feeding the Kingdom mindset would mean in my life.
What would be the impact on my views (and viewing) of movies, of porn,
of news, of TV, of Facebook? Would I spend my money the same way? How
would my relationships shift? How would I inhabit time and space differently
than I do now? How would my writing (and what I write about) morph and unfold?

I can’t make you heal the sick with me, Jesus. But I want to, so bad!
I want to glow so bright and warm that diseases
of all kinds–body, soul, and spirit–have trouble
sticking around:
in me, or anyone else around me.
Renew in me an appreciation of your beauty,
a joy that’s not afraid to say, with a deep and flaming humour,
“I am in love with a Man!”

***

I fear that this will be much, much
harder, something much riskier, than I would like it to be.
And yet if Your will is findable, doable, and enjoyable,
Jesus, then: why so downcast, oh my soul? Why are your teeth
set on edge?

Make me willing, Lord, to give up everything,
even if I never heal the sick.
Wasting time with you–
inhabiting your spaciousness–
would be enough:
I just want to spend so much time
with you inside and wrapped around me
that I smell like You
everywhere I go.

I wouldn’t even have to say anything,
but people would just know:
He belongs to his Rabbi, the Lover.

***

Make me Your kind of weirdo, Jesus:
like my brother, Todd White.

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A Response to Michael Brown (Part 8)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the eighth post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long.

Part Eight

1) Are you 100% sure that your interpretation of Scripture regarding homosexuality is correct?

… before you enter into a sexual relationship with someone, you had better be 100% sure that the union is holy in his sight and that marriage is a real marriage.

Again I ask: Are you 100% sure that God blesses committed, monogamous same-sex relationships? If you say that you are, I can only pray for you. If you admit that you are not, then please, step back and reconsider.[1]

[1] I think it’s only fair to ask you the same question in reverse. Perhaps you understand why I am so frustrated by Christians who seem to “stack the deck” against LGBT folks by the way they frame their questions. The day your latest book was released, I read on Charisma News that you are 100 percent certain that God condemns queer sex and relationships. So, in your heart, is this conversation over? Where to from here?  Frankly, it doesn’t seem fair that you seem to need us to be as dogmatic as you (perhaps “certain” is kinder), since if that happens, you “can only pray” for us. Your rhetoric here undermines, for me and for a great many other Christians, the apparent honesty with which you ask your questions–which, let me be painfully clear, is not the same thing as saying you are being dishonest.

Please take a step back and reconsider. In particular, reconsider how “fear” and “faith” function in your hermeneutic. Consider again whether or not you are prepared to hear the testimony of those who are not supposed to have the Holy Spirit, but do nevertheless, as attested by other faithful witnesses (like the Gentiles in Acts 10-15).

Dear readers: are you all still with me?

A Response to Michael Brown (Part 7)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the seventh post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long. I apologize that some of these posts are running past 1500 words!

Part Seven

1) Are you 100% sure that your interpretation of Scripture regarding homosexuality is correct?

Of course, it’s good for us to be humble when approaching God and his Word, and none of us can claim to be right about every single doctrinal issue. But there are some hills that we must be sure enough to die on, and before you enter into a sexual relationship with someone, you had better be 100% sure that the union is holy in his sight and that marriage is a real marriage.

[1] Dr Brown, I feel like this paragraph right here might be the single most important of your entire letter. Again, I acknowledge that I might be misunderstanding you, but right now, all I can do is tell you what I hear you saying. I think you have a wrong view of faith. And I think that the context of Romans 14:26 works in exactly the opposite way than how you use it here.

My brother, I think you have been sabotaged by the Enlightenment. You seem to be taking “faith” as something like “absolute intellectual affirmation” or assensus. You claim that GLBT Christians need to be “100% sure” that our relationships are holy, and that they deserve to be called marriages. Telling us that “this is one mistake you can’t afford to make” really says more about how you interpret the Bible than anything that matches our own lives and convictions.

What about fiducia? What about the depth of knowing and trusting in Jesus? In this connection, I think of a pastor I heard on iTunes who was teaching on faith in the context of healing ministry. “What happened to those in the Gospels who had great faith? They got healed. What happened to those with only a little faith? They got healed. Why? Because of who they put their faith in, not the amount of their faith. This is why Jesus said we could move mountains with faith the size of a mustard seed.”

I don’t mean to discount assent as part of faith. But when we have wrestled with the Lord and done due diligence in our learning and our prayer lives, our best conviction that we live by is born out of trust. I hear Paul this way: “If I do not trust in Jesus’ faithfuness to me in the way I live, I sin.”

The context of Romans 14 does not support the idea of being absolutely certain. Paul, in teaching people to bear each other’s consciences regarding meat sacrificed to idols, admits that he’s liberal on the issue, because all foods are clean in his own conscience, but he’s also going to ask the ‘strong’ Christians to not cause the ‘weaker’ to stumble–to be tempted walk away from their faith! It seems to me that on many important issues–not issues that don’t matter, but on things that we really feel are important for our own integrity as Christians–what God considers sin in one life will not be sin in another. It may happen that the Holy Spirit will, this side of New Creation, bring us to consensus! In the meantime, I need to be prepared to have a high and loving trust in the persuasive power of the Spirit!

~

I continue to offer my testimony: I mentioned before that I was handfasted. Before my ex-husband became a follower of Jesus, I thought I heard Holy Spirit say, “You are going to marry this one.” When I met my ex-husband, on our second date (!) the Holy Spirit whispered to me, “Here is the one you are going to marry.” I thought it was my own carnal longing, especially because he wasn’t a Christian yet! Holy Spirit said, “Relax, I’ve got this one.” Though I witnessed to him diligently, he did not accept the Gospel, until one day he told me that an angel had shown up in the greenhouse where he worked and said, “Are you ready to hear?” He checked in with Holy Spirit (oddly, he knew and loved the presence of the Holy Spirit even though he didn’t name him that!) and He said, “I want to teach you to follow Jesus.” (Needless to say, I was flabbergasted and even a little envious–I mean, c’mon Lord, I’ve never talked to an angel!)

Our friends, co-workers, and pastors were all astonished at how much love was between us an how happy we were. I was fully prepared to be with him the rest of my life. The day of our handfasting was one of the loveliest and most holy of my life, even to this day. The presence of the Holy Spirit blessing our union (marriage) was palpable, and I noticed an immediate increase of something that I could only call authority–as though both God and our Christian community (an Anglican parish and other Christian friends) took us more seriously. The vows and prayers did not include any legal or sacramental confession of sin.

Unfortunately, several months before hand-fasting, I cheated on my fiance with a friend–it doesn’t matter that it wasn’t full-blown sex. Fearful, I lacked the courage to tell him about it, though I came close several times. I did tell him a few months into our marriage, because one day at Communion, Holy Spirit said to me, “You are not allowed to take Communion unless you confess to your husband today.” I thought He meant my on-again-off-again struggle with phone sex, and I said, “Yes, Lord.” I confessed the continuing problem with phone sex, and he took it really well, actually. But then he looked at me and asked, “Have you ever done anything physical with anyone?” And Holy Spirit said, “And now, Rob, I check your integrity.” I confessed the incident with my friend. It was a few hours later, but my husband took my hand and said, “I will not leave you. But we need to get counselling, immediately.” We did. The major moment of healing for me came when I got a serious inner healing related to hearing my mother’s voice in the back of my head: “Gay relationships always fail. Gay men cannot be faithful.” Dealing with that lie, and watching my husband deal with stuff from his own past, was a deeply moving experience. At the end of the counselling, he said: “I forgive you, and I will work on forgiving you.” I replied, “Let me know what I can do to help.”

It turned out, unfortunately, that (I believe) the Enemy destroyed my marriage. My ex-husband could not, in the end, forgive me–and left. He had lived with bipolar type one for most of his life; after he decided to leave the marriage (though we lived together non-sexually for several months after), he was formally diagnosed with DID (formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder). To this day, I suspect that one of the reasons he rejected my willingness to stay was because he wanted to spare me the difficulty of living with someone who was multiple. I haven’t spoken to him for more than three years by his choice, and since many of his alters are not Christian (including one who was directly involved in deciding the divorce) I consider that he is not likely to consider himself a believer any longer. (Simplistic Pentecostal/Charismatic accounts of DID is demonic in origin will have to be the subject of a different discussion.)

The late Stanley J. Grenz, among other Evangelical and Pentecostal theologians, disbelieved that same-sex unions can never be marriages because they can never evince one-fleshedness. I know deep in my bones that he was wrong, wrong, wrong. Whenever I hear a straight, married Christian try to describe one-fleshedness, the experience they describe feels and looks identical to what I had. I believe that the Enemy destroyed my marriage (my own stupidity didn’t help matters) but I also know that I am forgiven. Though it is complicated in my ex-husband’s case, since he appears to be an unbeliever, according to Paul I am free to remarry should it seem good to the Holy Spirit and to me. (It will need to be a long and careful discernment!)

I am theologically and personally convicted that I was “from faith” in finding and handfasting my husband. The Holy Spirit’s joy and provision of one-fleshedness was what convinced me it was a marriage–and my shattered-heartedness showed me it was a divorce, even if the marriage was never recognized legally, nor blessed formally by clergy. I do not require that any one else follow my understanding of relationships or marriage–that is up to the Holy Spirit to provide in each case.

~

I hope it is clear why I do not agree with you that “this is one mistake you can’t really afford to make.” I was married, and the Lord blessed it. I was divorced, and the Lord healed and forgave. I have cheated and been cheated on, and the Lord has brought good fruit in keeping with repentance.

All this is not a hill to die on, for me, but simply the conviction of my own heart about my life. Do I affirm that, in principle, God affirms faithful gay unions/marriages? You bet! But the hill I die on is the ministry and resurrection of Jesus. The old hymn says: “On Christ the solid Rock I stand; all other ground is sinking sand.” I trust in Jesus; therefore, I rest easy.

Dear readers: What think you of faith?

A Response to Michael Brown (Part 6)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the first post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long.

NB: Last night, I downloaded Dr Brown’s book A Queer Thing Happened to America. Though I think his rhetoric is uncomfortable, it is very clear from his first pages that he has been unfairly treated by many GLBTQ people, who cannot imagine that an unhateful conservative position is possible. I think this is unjust and deeply harmful to the witness that Queer Christians want to bring to the Church and society, and I would urge all of us to exercise graciousness, even with those we might consider our enemies. Someone can love me personally and still teach a systemically oppressive position, though, and therefore the conversation needs to continue.

I have responded to the bold sections of the text printed below.

Part Six

1) Are you 100% sure that your interpretation of Scripture regarding homosexuality is correct?

But are you 100% sure before God that your interpretation is correct? Are you willing to risk your soul in giving yourself to something that may truly be displeasing in his sight?[1]

I once heard a gay pastor give a talk about these issues at a local gay and lesbian center, and to my surprise, he was not dogmatic in his presentation, saying that he thought his interpretation was correct, but he was anything but sure and definite. I asked myself: Then how can he doing what he’s doing?

 A few years after that, I participated in a forum at a local college together with a lesbian pastor and some others, and again, to my surprise, the lesbian pastor was not dogmatic either, encouraging everyone there to seek the Lord and study the Word for themselves.[2]

[1] I suspect that this statement may be the beginning of the serious hermeneutical differences between us. I take “risking my soul” to mean not only damaging it in this life, but also “not inherit[ing] the Kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9), which, for many Evangelicals and most Pentecostals, means that I will suffer eternal conscious torment (ECT) in hell. I am confident (though again, not certain, intellectually) that I will not end up in hell for a serious error of judgment about a disputed text of Scripture! To be frank, I don’t want to have a debate about literal hell-fire and so on with you. John Stott, Greg Boyd, and other fine Evangelical theologians have already made strong arguments against ECT.

Besides, doesn’t inheriting the Kingdom begin now? If I have the Holy Spirit, isn’t he the pledge, even the guarantee, of my inheritance? I ask this with as much open-heartedness as I can muster; I guess I’m just wondering how you assess the reports of LGBT Christians about the activity of the Spirit in our lives, about the intimacy we experience with God (even or especially in our sexual lives), about the “good fruit” that faithful straight Christians see in us if they care to look? I am confident that I belong to Jesus, and that the Triune, living, and faithful God can and will bring me out of serious error in this life. But I am under the blood of Jesus, and he in goodness and mercy will “set me right/judge” me (Tom Wright again) when I stand before Him. If my Beloved is mine and I am his, what have I to fear, even if I find out, in my smallness and blindness, that I was in deep sin? I will be finally cleansed and set right on my (literal, not-lame-anymore) feet. (My inner Pentecostal wants to shout, “Hallelujah!”)

[2] You ask, after seeing the humility of the two pastors you mention, how could they be doing this?

I can’t answer for them, but I can sure answer for me: because God has broken the grip of demonic fear over my life. I offer a piece of my testimony.

From my earliest memory of him, I was afraid of my (now former) step-father, who was verbally, emotionally, and physically abusive. I was a terrified little boy with Cerebral Palsy (CP), who could barely get out of bed on days when step-dad was home because I never knew what the day would bring. But thanks be to God, he was the one who introduced me to Jesus when I was five years old. I prayed the sinner’s prayer and accepted that Jesus was my Lord, and suddenly there was this strong sense of Jesus wrapping his arms around me. I know that some people talk about the “weight of sin” lifting from their shoulders–for me, it was fear. To be sure, fear and I were/are very familiar with each other, but it was different after that, somehow less crippling.

I grew up in a home that was fundamentalist (ie, didn’t realise that Christians interpret the Bible). I would weep for “non-Christian family” when I was witnessing to them, because I was sore afraid that they were going to burn in hell because they didn’t know Jesus. (Years later, I realised that many of them did know Him, but simply were not fundamentalists–I’d misunderstood their faith!)

I was raised in the Alliance Church, which taught me that Jesus is Healer of the whole person. At 12 years old, I attended a meeting of the Pentecostal healing evangelist Billy Smith (a big guy from Texas!) in rural Alberta, Canada. During that amazing weekend, the Lord healed me of a heart-murmur and I was baptised in the Holy Spirit (but realised I’d probably been speaking with tongues since about seven or eight years old!). Pastor Smith prophesied to me, “You start layin’ your hands on people and prayin’ for them!” I have, ever since. God is still teaching me about healing ministry, especially because I still have cerebral palsy. And o, how I love the presence of the Holy Ghost!

At 12, before my Baptism in the Holy Spirit, I realised that I had attractions to guys, too. It was terrifying, because I felt I couldn’t talk to my family about it, it negatively affected several of my close relationships as a teen, and I lived in fear of my life (yes, I actually thought that if step-dad found out I was homosexual, I was not long for this earth).

I don’t know where I learned it from, but some Pentecostals believed that not only did I need inner healing (in a very weirdly Freudian way) but also deliverance from evil spirits. I love spiritual warfare and deliverance ministry, and I submitted gladly, because I did not want to be tempted to identify as gay. As I understood “gay” at the time, it meant that I’d allowed a demonic stronghold to form a central part of my identity. If I ever began to “practice” homosexual sex without the urge to repent, I was going to burn in hell. I have to say that the fear that homosexuality is a demon was the most difficult for Holy Spirit to deal with – not even changing my mind about what Scripture said felt quite so threatening. It doesn’t help at all, brother, when Christians (probably unintentionally) stoke that fear in order to make sure that we’re “on the safe side” vis-a-vis the Kingdom of God. Come on, now! The Gospel is not about safety, about putting fences around the laws so that they won’t be broken (like the Pharisees tended to do)!

I went to Bible College for just over a year, and loved it, but life exploded, in part because of moral failure on my part and in part because, as a prayer leader on campus, I had a very, very swelled head. I remember having a good cry with Holy Spirit five weeks or so after getting home. He said to me, “Bob,”–that was my moniker as a teen–“you are intellectually abusive. Repent.” There was such compassion and hope in that Voice that it sank right to my deepest heart, and my breath caught. After a few seconds, I said: “Yes, Lord; I repent.”

Almost immediately (within a month!), there was a palpable change in my own heart, but also in how I dealt with people. Though I’d been insufferably moralistic in high school, friends of mine noticed the difference. One atheist friend of mine even said, “What’s with Bob? He’s the only Christian I can stand to be around!” I don’t know how I was able to repent of pride and refusing God’s love, but slowly I began to learn the truth of Scripture: “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners–and I am the foremost.” Grace is greater than all my sin, even when I can’t see it.

Through diligent study and prayer (and, yes, a lot of fear), I came to the conclusion that God did not condemn all forms of same-sex activity and that he would bless same-sex relationships. But fear is very sneaky, because it simply shifted forms: fear of condemnation and not being part of the Kingdom became, “Be afraid of being wrong!”

I was hand-fasted (this is a Celtic wedding, but was not a legal ceremony) in the summer of 2005. A couple months before, I was in worship at World Conference of the Metropolitan Community Churches in Calgary, Canada. I was intellectually convinced, but still a weird fear ate at me. But I remember the words of a hymn we sang to the tune of “Ode to Joy”: God whose mercies know no boundaries/heard our cries for liberty/broke the chains of fear that bound us/lifted loved and set us free!” Suddenly in came the rush of the Spirit’s power upon me, and I didn’t know whether to shout or cry! I do know that I felt something flee, and only after the service did I realise what it was: I was no longer afraid to be wrong. Holy Spirit had delivered me again from fear.

2 Timothy 1:7 says: God did not give us a spirit of fear [which can be an actual demonic influence, in some cases!] but a Spirit of power, of love, and of sound discipline. 1 John 4 adds that the kind of fear I experienced has to do with being punished. I might be punished; indeed, I might be thoroughly wrong about most of what I believe. But I serve the risen Lord of the universe who does not break a bruised reed or quench a smoldering wick. Dr Brown, God’s love might be tough, but it is not cruel. And the fear I lived with before coming out, before giving up on people-pleasing in order to be a pastor, before daring to be really honest, that fear was not awesome and wise, it was cruel. Only the Devil is like that.

I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong, but God in his kindness will lead me to repentance. I affirm that God has delivered me out of bondage to the spirit of fear through my coming out process and since, and I will not go back to Egypt. I admit that from some perspectives, it may look like I’m in the wilderness, in a weird and scary in-between place that may not lead to the Promised Land. I am willing to hear (and to experience) a practical and life-giving conservative position in my own life. Even if the Holy Spirit were to tell me that I needed to be celibate through traditional Christians like yourself, I don’t think I could require the same thing of others. To my heart, homosexuality is an important, but not a salvific, matter.

A Response to Michael Brown (Part 4)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the first post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long.

Part Four

And while it’s easy for some people to throw around the “hate” word, you will not find a syllable of hate in these words, because there’s not an ounce of hate in my heart.[1]

[1] My brother: I believe you. But for myself, I try to be always a little cautious with absolute statements–even if they are meant as hyperbole–when they apply to me. After all, Paul believed, even in the middle of really important conversations, that though “my conscience is clear, I am not by that means acquitted.”

Hatred, or perhaps better, oppression, can have many subtle systemic and systematic forms, as well. I believe you when you say you do not hate me, and in fact you love me. But I would invite you to consider that the solution to which you want your questions to point (reorientation, it seems to me!) has caused genuine harm to GLBT people. Any theology which tends to deal death for most people who encounter it should make us wonder if we have missed the heart of Christ.

Though it is very difficult for Evangelical and Pentecostal (E/P) Christians to understand, as a people we E/P folks need to look very closely at all the fruit of the view you propose, and not just the fruit that comes from the success stories.

There are also GLBT Christians who feel, understandably I should think, that your questions have a patronizing, inappropriately parental tone. You are the expert, the one who even looks fatherly, and youruestions seem phrased as though you are talking to (rebellious-but-calm-for-the-moment) teenagers. When we actually grow up “in the Lord,” I hear you implying, we will agree with you.

I would like to step around that sense of paternalism to respond to you as a friend (someone who can be argued with, convinced, wrestled with, or–as a last resort–cheerfully ignored) and as a junior scholar who is coming to know the ins and outs of the emerging conversation quite well indeed. (My PhD studies are about assessing dialogue between Queer and Evangelical/Pentecostal theologians.)

What I am trying to say is this: As you have no doubt noticed in the activity surrounding these questions, LGBT believers have been considering them–and others like them–these questions for years. Many of us have moved far beyond apologetics, and are just simply singing what we hear of the song of the Lord in our lives. Though many of us, including me, would like your understanding, I’m not sure we are looking to justify ourselves to you. Personally, I do not expect to convince you that my answers are sound, but I do hope that people who may see our interchange will sense something that smells like Jesus in my approach, too.

And now, to your questions!

A Response to Michael Brown (Part 3)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the first post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long.

Part Three

Dr Brown writes:

You may take them [my questions] as adversarial, but in reality, I ask these questions in the love of God and the fear of God, being jealous for your well-being in the Lord.[1]

[1] In-text brackets are mine. It seems to me—and please take this as a joyful affirmation of you, Dr Brown!—that you speak as a teacher of the Faith, someone who is conscious of being “in the Lord, ”with all the forgiveness and glory that entails. But how does “in the Lord” function in this sentence? Are you saying, “Because of Jesus, I am jealous for your wellbeing” (which might imply that you do not consider me a Christian)? Are you saying, “I desire your wellbeing, and this is a conversation between Christians, those who are ‘in the Lord’?”

I hope you can appreciate why I ask this question as graciously as I can muster. If you mean the first, I suspect you are setting us up for an impossible exercise, because it would be an attempted justification of a position that you believe already excludes us from citizenship in the Kingdom of God. (Non-Christians are not truly capable of doing Christian theology in its deepest and most existential sense, so why should you listen?) It strikes me that you may be asking us in order to listen deeply, to understand, but also to counter and dismantle our viewpoints, presumably so that we are free(r) to believe the real Gospel.

Please don’t hear me as mocking you, here—I have realised in a new way, recently, that I am only in ‘listening mode’ on a crucial subject: the bodily resurrection of Jesus. You see, I hang out with a broad spectrum of the friends of Jesus—some of whom, in the language of the ancient post-apostolic Church, would be called “heretics.” (Where I think the ancient church made a mistake is by proclaiming, with what she thought was 100% percent certainty, that Jesus himself does not consider heretics his friends. I think this is a bad move. Surely the Ancient of Days is a big boy who can choose his own friends?)

Christians like you and me, brother, affirm without reservation the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and take Paul in 1 Cor 15 dead seriously–if the dead are not physically raised to life again, we are above all people most to be pitied. There is a second group of people who truly want to follow Jesus; they affirm that Jesus truly lives and reigns, but feel unable to wrap their heads around bodily resurrection from the dead. They are heretics in the technical sense, and I don’t think people who say “the bodily resurrection doesn’t matter” should ever be pastors in God’s Church, but I have no doubt that in God’s faithfulness and sense of humour, they can be (and in a great many cases, are saved, are citizens of the Kingdom of God. There is (to my shock!) a third group of people: they want to follow Jesus, but resurrection seems is merely (!) a metaphor. (CS Lewis says that ‘merely’ is a dangerous word!) There are two types that I can discern within this group: the first honestly believes this is the best application of the story, so that it affirms a truth like “death doesn’t win” or “love wins,” but admits that bodily resurrection is a long-standing interpretation. The second disbelieves the bodily resurrection, and will not entertain its possibility. I do not believe this last group of people are Christians in any historically meaningful sense of the term, and I believe it is profoundly dangerous to teach that the “metaphorical view” is a legitimate Christian way to believe. Still, I am not Jesus…their salvation is not mine to grant. Jesus chooses his own friends.

When I am in a room full of people who don’t affirm the bodily resurrection (it happens, sometimes), I will listen, but I am unwilling to change my mind. Why not?

  1. I think disbelief in the bodily resurrection flies in the face of the words of the New Testament and the best historical reconstructions of why the earliest Church lived and spoke the way it did (I find NT Wright on this score tremendously helpful).
  2. Disbelief in God’s Kingdom establishing deeds of power cuts the nerve of a great deal of contemporary Christian pastoral care. If we disbelieve the bodily resurrection, what do we say about the goodness of bodies? Do we pray for the sick, feed the poor, expel demons, or do we just make sure that God has “saved our souls”? Do we expect God to speak to us, to give gifts of tongues and interpretation, to do signs and wonders that point to the reality of Christ’s reign? I suspect that the kind of Christianity on offer if most of the answers were negative to these sorts of questions would feel quite anemic to Pentecostal boys like ourselves.
  3. Very personally, I need the resurrection of Jesus. You see, I live with Cerebral Palsy, a medically incurable neurological condition. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, my own physically glorified and healed body seems a negligible possibility. The afterlife might be absolutely wonderful, but quite frankly, if I’m never going to have a healed body, that is emotionally devastating. But I know by experience and good report that God heals the sick and raises the dead today, so I have every reason in my own life to pray for my own healing, to pray for the sick, and to preach the bodily resurrection at my grandfather’s funeral. “You are going to see Ernie again, in the flesh,” I said, “and he’ll be even better than before!” I am looking forward to my body straightening up and the curse of sin and CP fading out of existence as God fills all in all. Hallelujah!

I will not change my view about bodily resurrection, but I will listen to people in order to fully understand and answer their objections (in the hope of clearing away space for the Holy Spirit’s love and power to convict and persuade.

I hope fervently that you, in fact, choose something closer to the second option: this is a serious conversation, between acknowledged Christians, about how to most faithful live out our calling as Easter Gospel people. I hope that you do consider us Christians, and that good answers, back-and-forth, can help the whole body of Christ realise our maturity in Him. Are you willing to consider very strongly that many LGBT peoples’ testimonies of God’s goodness in our loves and lives are good and right and holy? Or, even if we never agree, do you have it within yourself to include us in your camp, as Spirit-filled followers of Jesus who disagree about something we feel is really important?

I’ve had experience of this freedom to disagree with other Christians because our centre is Jesus.

  1. I speak in tongues, but I cannot in good conscience insist that all Christians must do so in order to demonstrate the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. Why not? Because I think such a view is exegetically unwarranted, is destructive to the witness of the Gospel, and does not allow the Holy Spirit to mess with our doctrinal schemes–in other words, we ignore testimony in order to maintain our interpretive, religious tradition. Maybe you agree with me, maybe you don’t. But we both go to Communion together because Jesus is the one who teaches us, forgives us, transforms us. The ground at the Cross is flat.
  2. I also affirm physical non-violence as basic to the Gospel–taught by Mennonites, I am, I hope, a biblical pacifist. I do not think that Christians should serve the State in any job where ‘killing’ is part of the job description. I cannot conceive of a situation in which “Love your neighbour” is compatible with “shoot to kill.” Perhaps you disagree with me. Even if you do, can we come to Communion together, knowing that we rely on Jesus alone for forgiveness of sin?

I will explain below why I feel this sense of allowing difference of conviction even when I believe something is a sin is appropriate. I hope that you, too, can enter a dialogue that could transform all of us–and I’m sure from your perspective, make you more “liberal” about gay loves and lives and Christians. If you are not willing to have the second kind of dialogue, please at least be direct about that. If you want a heart-changing dialogue, if you want to listen, I am sure that many LGBT Christians would offer their stories as a sort of “evidence to the contrary” of your position. Please, Dr Brown: don’t just read about us–seek us out.

 

A Response to Michael Brown (Part 2)

Very recently, Pentecostal bible scholar Michael Brown published some “honest questions” for GLBT Christians in an article on Christian Post. His full remarks are here: Some Honest Questions for Professing ‘Gay Christians’. As most of my readers may be aware, my PhD work is in dialogue between Queer and Pentecostal theologians. This is the first post of a multi-part response to Dr Brown’s work. I will reproduce the online text in manageable chunks so that the posts are not too long.

Part Two

It is for those of you who identify as both gay and Christian that I’d like to ask some honest questions. You may take them as adversarial,[1] but in reality, I ask these questions in the love of God[2] and the fear of God,[3] being jealous for[4] your wellbeing[5] in the Lord.

In this post, I will comment on the bold text. “In the Lord” will be the next post, as it gave rise to the longest response yet.

[1] I fully endorse authorial intention when it comes to a living author, and I acknowledge that you intend to be open-hearted: thank you. I don’t think you can de-legitimate a sense of being attacked by both supportive straight people and LGBT Christians, though. The way you frame your arguments (for example, putting quotes around ‘gay Christians’ in your article title) makes it sound like you are only capable of recognizing the Christian testimonies of those who share virtually all of your underlying assumptions. I’ll explain what I mean throughout my responses.

[2] What does this mean in your heart, biblical interpretation, and living interactions with GLBT folks and Christians? How do we know you love us? Are you willing to let us tell you what we find loving and unloving?

[3] “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” I take fear in this verse to centre more on “awe, deep reverence, respect,” than on “being afraid of”—and this accent is crucial to how I answer your questions and look at my own life. I also take wisdom as something like, “Practical know-how that honours the heart of God and promotes shalom.” Several of my friends, perhaps unable to suspend the hermeneutic of suspicion, conclude that the net effect of your questions is to stir up fear—not the kind in Proverbs, but the kind in 1 John 4. And if this is the way you are received, despite your intentions it will be very difficult to convince them that you really believe and live: “Perfect love drives out fear…fear has to do with punishment.”

[4] I learned the distinction between “jealous of” and “jealous for” from Bible teacher Beth Moore, in her study A Heart Like His about David. I understand this phrase to mean that you believe you are asking these questions because God wants to gather in and make faithful the hearts of LGBT people. Do you risk, by your rhetoric, being the one who sets the parameters for what is faithful, in spite of your understandable affirmation that you teach the truth of what Scripture says, the correct interpretation?

[5] Thank you! Again, this connects with wisdom…I take this as your genuine affirmation that you hope for—and are working for—my shalom. Since you have said your questions are “honest,” I will be equally candid in return: are you expecting to be able to tell me what my wellbeing is, (especially connected to “in the Lord”), or are you prepared to let me/us witness to what shalom would look like for my people?

I am asking you to check your privilege here, and to realise that in order to have a dialogue that GLBT people can engage, the conversation will have to expand beyond British theologian Oliver O’Donovan’s phrase: “Sin does not have the dignity of a point of view.” Do you regard us (LGBT Christians in or open to same-sex relationships) as people who can bear something wonderful about God’s good news in Christ for you, a “straight” married man?

Again, dear readers: all respectful comments are welcome!