The Student’s Desk

That we may know Christ

Enough with the Rainbow-fart: A plea for compassion

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This image of a unicorn passing a rainbow-fart pretty much depicts  what I think of the quality of debate around same sex marriage (SSM) from both sides. I believe the biblical term is σκύβαλα (skybala). The word is found in Philippians 3:8, and its meaning is much stronger then the NIV’s translation of ‘rubbish’. It’s a debate that really hasn’t benefited anyone.

My summary of the debate thus far is to say peace-loving progressives are being militant, while the well-considered conservatives are just being stupid and insensitive.

From progressives we have seen reports of people being denied employment for opposing SSM, calls for other public figures to be denied employment, and opponents of SSM being verbally abused. Progressives and SSM proponents have been assuring the public that SSM will have no impact on freedom of speech, religion, and education, while the experience of nations that have passed SSM demonstrates these areas are impacted.

Meanwhile, conservatives are putting forward arguments which, in all honesty, can’t really be sustained. Lachlan McFarlane wrote a blog explaining that though he’s a conservative Christian, he intends to vote ‘yes’ to SSM (https://lachlanmcfarlane.wordpress.com/2017/09/04/im-a-christian-and-i-intend-to-vote-yes-to-same-sex-marriage/). While I disagree with his conclusion and find his view of marriage lacking, his criticisms of many of the arguments put forward by conservatives are worth considering. It’s concerning that some conservatives have also resorted to violence.

Then there’s the suggestion that LGTBI+ people are just confused. My view is that LGTBI+ people have already been through massive amounts of confusion, and have had to work through a lot of issues. To reduce their complex experience down to a one sentence explanation, or a platitude, or to say they’re just confused is insulting, and does them a disservice.

No matter what the outcome of the SSM survey on November 15, there will not be any winners. Only losers. Don’t think the announcement of the outcome will put an end to the matter either.

The question I want to raise here is, after all the damage has been done, who is going to pick up the pieces? Where are people on both sides of the debate going to find healing, now and many years into the future as the debate continues and the great rainbow-fart keeps being contributed to? As the debate continues well after November 15, more people will struggle as they come to terms with their own sexuality, and sexuality in general.

My concern is the church should be the place where people can find reconciliation and healing. However, for those people who struggle to conform to the biblical ideal for sexuality, the church can be a very difficult and threatening place. Phil Campbell explains in his article, Somewhere Over the Rainbow (https://australia.thegospelcoalition.org/article/somewhere-over-the-rainbow-1), that, “Most Christians have had a poor understanding of the LGBTIQA community.” I want to state that more strongly and suggest most Christians don’t have a clue about alternate forms of sexuality and sexual expression. Sexuality is rarely discussed in Christian forums or from the pulpit. Sadly, the rare thing that is said about sexuality fails to address the issues that some people are having to struggle with. It should scandalise us Christians when those with sexual struggles are finding solace in a pseudo-maxist postmodern philosophy rather then find healing in the gospel. That is, to find the final resolve to our struggles in the resurrection of Jesus – new life for eternity. Instead, the rejection of the gospel often provokes us Christians to be judgemental, which is all the more tragic.

It’s not only same sex attracted people who struggle with sexually. It’s also people who are single for one reason or another. Those who struggle with a “different” form of sexual expression. My concern is that anyone who’s sexuality does not conform to what is expected of sexual expression in the Christian culture, they are feeling the effects of the debate more than others. It also seems to me that the church needs to develop an understanding and an appreciation of the diversity of sexual expressions that exist with in the community.

It may be said that Christian’s shouldn’t struggle with sexuality. That somehow they are to embark on a Platonic ascent, rising above their carnal desires, and thereby resolving their sexual struggle. Such ascents are mere fantasy. If you are a Christian and you do not struggle with anything, I’m compelled to ask you, where have you compromised? If life isn’t difficult, what fantasy world have you constructed for yourself that affords you the luxury of pretending that you have your life together? Nowhere in the Bible does God command his people to embark on a Platonic ascent. Christians struggle, and fantasy worlds come crashing down. That’s life!! Christians struggle with relationships, finance, addiction, greed, materialism, disability, sickness, mental health issues, and so on. The area of sexuality is no different. Instead, Christians are called to persevere in their struggle. Christians are to persevere in furnishing their faith with virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection and love (2 Peter 1:5-7), and part of this is being reminded of the grace God has given us (vv3-4). Perhaps another part of this is having God’s grace spoken directly into the areas where people are struggling, and being grace to them.

The impact of having grace spoken directly into a persons struggles can be dramatic. I know of two different men who struggled with their alternate sexuality for many years. The first man never felt there was the opportunity for him to talk about his struggle. As a result, he never received the pastoral care he needed. He didn’t hear God’s grace applied to his circumstances, and stopped persevering as he had been, which also impacted negatively on those around him. The second man was able to find a listening ear. He did receive pastoral support, and has been able to explore how God’s grace applies to his circumstance. He has been able to persevere, grow in faith, and continues to serve the Christian community in many ways. He still struggles greatly, and the Christian culture can be very difficult for him at times. But he knows that he is supported. Taking a cue from Rachel Gilson, in discussing her struggle with lesbianism, she explains, “Heterosexuality is not the end goal; faithfulness to God, and the joy that comes from relationship with him, is what we run for.” (http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/october/i-never-became-straight-perhaps-that-was-never-gods-goal.html?share=44rkqx2CuX6frhIrpgLL8EM5B6hZ7KAm). While the struggle is different in all three cases, the point to be pursued is the same – faithfulness to God. The importance of pastoral support cannot be overstated for those who struggle with sexuality and alternate sexual expression.

So I want to make an impassioned plea for compassion – Christ’s compassion. I’m not asking people to endorse lifestyles and behaviours that don’t conform to the Bible. But I am asking Christians to stop contributing to the rainbow-fart. To start appreciating the fact that people are struggling. Seriously struggling! James Parker, a former gay activist, explains when he began to take an interest in Jesus and the Bible, no one confronted him about his homosexuality. No one told him, “You can’t be doing that.” Instead, they accepted James as he was, and focused on establishing a solid relationship with Jesus. As he grew in his faith, he began to realise what he was doing was inconsistent with the Bible, so he turned from his homosexual practice. Same-sex attraction is still an issue for him, but having come to understand what it means to be the man that God created him to be, and out of his love and faithfulness towards Jesus, he does not engage in those practices. Establishing people in a relationship with Jesus, and encouraging them in their Christian faith, and reminding them of God’s grace in relation to their sexuality needs to remain the focus.

It’s not just LGBTI+ people who struggle. It’s also straight people. It’s people with disabilities. It’s people who are divorced. It’s people who have buried their spouse. It’s people who may never marry. As this debate continues, more and more people are going to struggle. So we as Christians better figure out how to start loving them, and how to speak God’s grace into their lives.

I don’t know all the ins and outs of how to do that. But a constructive conversation must start with appreciating that people are struggling. That’s a conversation I’m keen to see started.

© The Student’s Desk

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October 27, 2017 Posted by | Bible, Religious | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dear Prime Minister, Jesus Christ is Lord: A response to Rudd’s comments on Q&A 2nd September, 2013.

In response to a Pastor insisting on a biblical view on marriage from Jesus’ words “ a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (quoting Genesis 2:24), the PM said,

 “Well, mate, if I was going to have that view, the Bible also says that slavery is a natural condition. Because St Paul said in the New Testament, “Slaves be obedient to your masters.” And, therefore, we should have all fought for the Confederacy in the US war.”

A number of Christian commentators have already made responses. I want to make two comments I haven’t seen made yet: A historical comment, and a redemptive comment.

The PM’s citation of the Bible comes from two places: Ephesians 6:5, and Colossians 3:22. Firstly, at a historical level, what was this ‘slavery’ that Paul was referring to? Are we really to imagine African chain gangs labouring away under a hot sun in the southern parts of the United States of America? 

Slavery in the Roman Empire was an integral part of life. And no doubt it could be brutal. Slaves from the north and west of the empire were often given the most difficult tasks, and worked in chain gangs. But this was not always the case. The preference was for slaves from the east, who would go on to be household servants, teachers, librarians, accountants, and estate managers. It’s estimated that 85-90% of the population of Rome and the Italian peninsula were slaves. These slaves were granted many rights. Slaves were able marry, and accumulate money to purchase their freedom and start their own business. Slaves also held other prominent positions in the community such as artisans, architects, physicians, administrators, philosophers, and grammarians. To equate Roman slavery with the American slave-trade is to be irresponsible with history.

Secondly, at a redemptive level, why does Paul even raise the issue of slavery. By these words, is Paul endorsing the ownership of human beings by other human beings? In 1 Corinthians 7:21, Paul seems to be encouraging slaves to gain there freedom. Presumably, this means to buy their freedom, as we also have Paul sending a slave back to his master with letters of commendation (Philemon 1:8-19). Paul can’t be endorsing slavery as we might imagine it. So what is Paul endorsing? Paul is endorsing a gospel-shaped life – a Jesus-centered life. Paul lists a number of positions in life including wives, husbands, children, and fathers that are to comply to such a life. The thing to take away from this passage is Jesus Christ is Lord no matter what your life situation is. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re a slave or a free capitalist. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re a part of a democracy or under a dictatorship. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re an employee or an employer. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re straight or gay. Jesus Christ is Lord whether you’re young, old, sick, healthy, disabled, able, educated, uneducated, married, single, whatever!! Even if you’re a historically irresponsible, Bible-twisting public servant, Jesus Christ is Lord.

There is one other position Paul mentions that I have deliberately left out until now. And how disappointing it is that those who wish to disparage the Bible can’t even be bothered reading a few more lines on to appreciate just how radically different the Jesus-centered life is. “And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.” (Ephesians 6:5). The Bible never accepts the brutality that comes with slavery, but seeks to transform it, as surely as it seeks to transform any life situation. This doesn’t mean the Bible endorses slavery, but it does seek to minimise it’s impact.

The concern here is, wherever we are in life, we are to respond to the grace God has lavished upon us. Firstly, as general providence as God gives us food to eat, clothes to wear, places to stay, and things to enjoy. Secondly, as a special providence in saving us by the forgiveness of our sins through the death and resurrection of His only son, and our Lord, Jesus Christ. 

THAT, Prime Minister, is the fundamental point of the Bible.

September 4, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment