20 Nov 2009

Evangelicals slowly change perspective on homosexuality

About a week ago, the report of a Australian Pentecostal pastor giving a sermon asking for acceptance of LGBT people was a refreshing change from the usual hatred directed at us from a whole range of Christians from Catholics to Protestants.

In the US and Australia, those who condemn homosexuality are especially Evangelicals such as conservative Pentecostals who apply Bible teachings literally to many aspects of modern-day life and refuse to consolidate it with science or change of culture.

Pastor of Pentecostal Bayside Church in Melbourne, Rob Buckinham said in his Sunday sermon that in a survey, the most cited point of criticism from young Americans is that they view churches as being too judgemental, insensitive and hypocritical. He also brought up the following study:

“Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is "anti-homosexual." Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. (…) they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a "bigger sin" than anything else.” (from: The Barna Group)

As I wrote in my previous post, this of course alienates young people from the church. As our increasingly enlightened society changes, sexist, racist and homophobic views are fading. However, deep-rooted ignorance backed by stubborn Christian belief however seems like an unshakable bastion that keeps society from progressing, when e.g. same-sex marriage laws get rejected.

Christians coming out

In Australia, Pentecostals are numbered at around 200.000 with many attendants in urban areas (see “Mega churches”). However, there a more and more gay Pentecostals coming out, such as 21-year old blogger Ben Gresham from the Hillsong Church in Sydney (I often go to their sister church in London), and even support groups are established such as Freedom 2 B[e] (freedom2b.org) for Pentecostal gays and lesbians striving to hold on to their faith despite rejection.

Now, even church leaders begin to open their eyes and challenge believes.

The Sin of Sodom

Pastor Buckingham took upon often cited bible verses that supposedly condemn homosexuality.

The story of Sodom & Gomorrah in Genesis 19 is one of them. God does not condemn Sodom for being a city full of homosexuals (that’d be a phenomenon even unseen till today). In fact, Lot, responding to the man outside his house, offered his two daughters to be gang-raped instead. If these men were all homosexuals, what use would it have to offer one’s daughters? Buckingham goes on to read Ezekiel 16:49 where the sin of Sodom is explained: Greediness. Or unwillingness to help the poor despite being loaded with riches. He rightfully drew a comparison to the modern Western world. Look at us, we know about starving in Africa. Looks like most of us are the real “sodomites”.

Christians and GLBTs

He went on to say Jesus also died for GLBT people and actually had most compassion for people from the edges of society. He specifically asked followers to invite their gay colleagues and friends to church, where they’d be welcome. He said “homosexuals are not the enemy of the church” and blamed Christian homophobia and derogatory remarks for keeping gays from church or even driving them into suicide during teen years.

Buckingham warned: ”Our job is to love and accept people, not judge or try to change them” (John 16:08).

At several points, he gave hope. As soon as people get to know gays, lesbians or transgender, compassion will fill your heart and you will learn to accept them.

The full sermon entitled “Real Christianity is accepting” is available as podcast here.

“Lord God I pray, forgive us and forgive the Christian church for giving this world the notion that You are anti-homosexual”.

Reading on:

4 Nov 2009

American churches heat up civil rights war

Yesterday, voters in the US state of Maine were asked at the ballot whether they want to accept a gay marriage law enacted by legislation earlier this year. 53% percent of voters decided to reject it.

This is the second time that an already passed law to open marriage for gays and lesbians has been brought to a public vote: Exactly one year ago, Californians struck down gay marriage with the successful referendum called Proposition 8.

Majority vs. Minority

In Maine and California, campaigns were heavy on both sides of the issue, trying to win over voters (see my post about Prop 8 last year). However, gay marriage supporters only seem to question the legitimacy of a public vote on minority rights after the loss at the ballot. Why is the majority allowed to vote on a minority right in the first place? Today, I saw the same outcry on Twitter that I saw last year in November:if you put it up to a vote of the people, we'd have slavery again".

So, is the pure egoism of humans that hinders equality? Do people only think about their own right and reject political measures that help strangers? I reckon a big part is being lead there…

Churches playing politics

Where did we see this last time? Ah yes, the medieval ages in Europe and forced conversions to Christianity under death threat are one example of an organised majority oppressing a minority. Or in South Africa were the Dutch Reformed Church declared their members “the chosen” race. All those are examples of a group of people organising themselves to oppress others, backed by pseudo-religious reasons. The same thing is happening in America today, where churches claim to have a monopoly over marriage and its definition.

Among others, the Mormon church was a heavy campaigner against gay marriage, although Mormons just make up 2% of the Californian population they were successful. In Maine, Catholic churches (especially Portland’s diocese) manipulate people into thinking that it’s OK to take away rights from same-sex couples (with campaigns that draw their money from the offertory)

American Christians have got to understand that forcing your own beliefs on others will only damage them. I myself am an active Christian, but I am ashamed of what so-called Christians are doing onto others. They take away basic rights, topple gay families even with children, they forget their every ethic and compassion out of pure egoism and ignorance.

Dividing society

Gay rights activist Cleve Jones rightly pointed out that this is a struggle for equality under the law for gay people. Blaming churches for forgetting how important equality is, Jones said:

This is a pluralistic society. We have one constitution, one Bill of Rights, and we have only one class of citizenship.

Churches fighting against this are juggling with the harmony of a diverse society. They are attacking other segments of society and draw anger at them. These churches are hurting the reputation of religion:
Various studies show that more and more young people turn their back to religion because of the churches’ hard-line politics (see Putnam/Campbell’s “American Grace”)