Monday, October 10, 2016

By your measure it will be measured to you

The relationship between the evangelical church and the LGBT community has changed dramatically over the last two decades. The church used to be far more public in their condemnations of gay and lesbian people, failing to distinguish between biblical teaching and false and ignorant claims. For instance evangelical leaders used to say that people chose to be gay, that gay people were capable of becoming straight, that gays were child molesters, that they recruited children into homosexuality, and on and on.

Nowadays, you don't hear such talk dominating the airwaves, partly because many straight Christians have caught up on the learning curve. Christian kids started coming out to their parents, forcing parents to rethink everything they've been taught from the pulpit. Gay parents even started coming out to their kids, and friends came out to their Christian friends. It used to be too costly to risk these relationships by coming out, but once it started happening, people became emboldened by the examples of those who went before them. And once pastors became aware that they were accountable for what they said about gay people who were sitting right there in their pews (along with their family members), they started toning it down.

Society has also put the squeeze on. The more progress LGBT rights have made, the more politically incorrect it has become to fall back on the rhetoric of 1995. And now with social media passing on information so quickly, no one can be certain that what they say publicly will only be contained to a sympathetic audience. Maybe your congregation will be on board with a traditional interpretation of Romans 1, but you risk catching heat from outsiders if your sermon ends up getting passed along on YouTube or Facebook.

What that leaves is a certain population of the conservative Christian community who are holed up in trenches, who still buy into the old-school view of homosexuality but have been forced into a defensive posture. What some call compassion, they call cowardice. What some hail as enlightenment, they condemn as compromising the truth. Not long ago they were a dominant force in shaping the values of society, yet now they are suddenly ignored, ridiculed and shouted down. And pretty soon, they predict, they will be persecuted.

You do not have to be very old to remember a day when the tables were turned the other way; when it was the other odd-ball, strong-willed minority group in society that was ignored, ridiculed, shouted down, and very much persecuted. I have always thought it strange that the LGBT community and the evangelical community seem to have so much in common. And now that the tables are turned, and the one-time persecutors now fear that they will become the persecuted, I find myself having mixed feelings that often leave me staring at a blank screen when I think about what to say on this blog.

The Bible is full of verses that say, essentially, what goes around comes around. The merciful will be shown mercy, but for those who fail to show mercy . . . alas, that bad boomerang is guaranteed to circle back eventually. It's going to hit all of us, myself included, because I continue to be a part of the conservative church that is historically guilty of lacking mercy and compassion.

The scary thing is that even though more Christians than ever come up to me lamenting bitterly about how "you can't have a biblical view of homosexuality anymore without risking persecution," they seem to think that those of us who have been trying to love the LGBT community have caused the problem. Sort of implying that if only we had persecuted the gay community more we wouldn't be in this mess of letting them get the upper hand.

I never have the heart to suggest to these Christians that, actually, we may very well be reaping what we have sown. That maybe God has heard the cries of LGBT people of faith (I know that many, many prayers have been lifted up over the years), and he is finally giving them relief. If indeed it is God that we have to contend with, the question is whether we are spiritually sensitive enough to 1) recognize what is happening, and 2) respond in a way that spares us the full measure of his indignation.

It begins with having the humility to recognize that we have done wrong in the first place, and sadly I don't see that we're even close to taking that first step. But if we do get there by some miracle, I would suggest that we humbly ask God for forgiveness for our past sins in persecuting the LGBT community, and for grace to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. We need to ask for the kind of mercy for our sins that we should have given to them for theirs, and to be spared the kind of suffering that we caused them as we hardened our hearts to their needs and turned a deaf ear to their voices.

We do not want to find ourselves in a situation where God hardens his heart to us and turns a deaf ear to our prayers, but it is exactly what we ought to expect if we do not take a long look at ourselves in the mirror of his Word. Soon.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Welcome new followers

It's been awhile since I've done this, my apologies. Here are the newest followers, though some of you have been hanging around for awhile:

Fokke Pathuis
David
frank Fisher
Garrett Biehle
Harold Oberheide
Jill Hurley
turtlejeeps
Julia Smith
Reloaded
pj clutterbuck
Lauryn Farris

Thanks for coming aboard!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Narcissism in the church

"I may not have handled it perfectly, but this is really all your fault."

"I'm sorry if I hurt you, but you should have known I'd react that way."

"It's true I may have some faults, but your sin is really the problem here."

Jesus called it "look[ing] at the speck in your brother's eye, but [failing to] consider the log in your own eye." We sometimes refer to it as "Pharisaism." The secular psychologist more accurately calls it "narcissism."

You see it in the church, just as Jesus saw it prevalent in the synagogues of his day. The "Christian" narcissist is a spiritually bankrupt person who covers up for his or her false spirituality by presenting him- or herself as morally superior to everyone else. These people flock like vultures to the spiritually vulnerable, anyone who is susceptible to being condemned by public opinion or even their own sensitive conscience. They might even build up a righteous reputation for themselves at the expense of the people they've broken and condemned, and launch themselves into positions of church leadership so that they have power to do even further damage.

You know them. You've met them. You wonder why they rise higher and higher while you struggle to wake up every morning and face a new day in this crazy, broken world.

Amazingly there is a blog--an entire blog--dedicated to investigating what the Bible has to say about narcissism. The author chooses to remain anonymous, but you can tell from their reflections and interactions with the Scriptures that this person is a very mature Christian.

The blog is called Biblical Perspectives On Narcissism--Recognizing and Dealing with the Evil of Insolent Pride. Read carefully, ponder soberly and enjoy.

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Quote for the day


"I did not learn my theology all at once, but I had to search deeper for it, where my temptations took me . . . Not understanding, reading, or speculation, but living--nay, dying and being damned--make a theologian."

--Martin Luther

Monday, June 13, 2016

Unsafety zone

In the summer of 2000 I made my first trip to West Hollywood to go to a LGBT bookstore called A Different Light. Those were the days before Amazon.com, when we had to drive to bookstores to browse for available publications. I was just starting to read coming-out stories and wanted to follow up on certain gay authors whom I found to be accessible. Barnes & Noble bookstore had a dismal gay and lesbian selection so, like a good cross-cultural missionary, I decided I would go out of my comfort zone to gain access to points of view different from what I was used to. I just wanted to understand.

A Different Light bookstore was located on a busy main street that ran through the heart of West Hollywood. I found plenty of interesting volumes to browse: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, history. As I was flipping through a theology book, three young men entered the store. They walked in together, laughing and talking loudly, and it was clear they had come in to harass the customers, not buy books. Tension filled the entire store as the cashier ordered them out. I was standing about twenty feet from the entrance and watched them walk almost past me before they turned around and exited.

It was my first time at a LGBT bookstore and that happened. It never occurred to me that by being there I'd have to worry about my safety. Those three guys didn't care who I was, a straight pastor's wife doing a bit of cross-cultural research. If they had brought guns I would have been one among many casualties of another hate crime in West Hollywood. That's when it dawned on me: LGBT people have to worry about their safety all the time. The incident gave me the barest glimpse into that reality.

That didn't stop me from making return visits to the bookstore or, later on, attending LGBT conferences and events. But I'm aware now that safety is something I can take for granted in a way that my LGBT friends cannot. And what happened in Orlando yesterday morning has done untold damage to what little sense of safety and security they have fought so hard to achieve. Until you've been on the receiving end of anti-gay hostility, it's hard to explain how frightening it is.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

My 2016 GCN keynote transcript now available in Spanish

Muchas gracias, Jacob Pintle, for translating my 2016 GCN keynote speech into Spanish! You can find the link to it on Jacob's blog here.

Friday, April 08, 2016

To my fellow Christians,

It's hard to know what to say anymore.

It's hard to know what to say when many of you who profess to be Christians still need to be told that gay and lesbian people are human beings, made in the image of God. That you shouldn't hate people that God made. That when you hate someone you are crushing their soul. That God does not call us to crush people's souls.

Is this a revelation?

Getting chewed out by your boss can ruin your day. Getting criticized by your spouse can make you resentful and depressed. You start doubting yourself. You feel deflated. You might even feel like crying. It's awful, but you know it will pass. There are things you can do to rectify the situation. There are things you can do to distract yourself from negative feelings until better days arrive.

Few of us know what it's like to be hated. Not hated because someone is jealous of you, or because you rub someone the wrong way. That's more like resentment. Hatred is when someone despises your very existence. Their hatred does not center on what you say or do, but who you are. You see how their eyes change when they look at you. They are not looking at a fellow human being with casual acknowledgement and acceptance. Rather their human soul seems suddenly to have vacated the premises and now you have no connection with their person. No compassion or understanding or common humanity to depend on. You know that anything you do or say will only confirm in their mind that you don't deserve to exist on the same planet.

It is the emotional aftermath of a bad day at work or a fight with your spouse intensified a hundred times. This is not about being deflated or discouraged. Hatred is a soul-withering assault on someone's deepest sense of self. And when you experience it enough times with enough people, you really begin to believe that you don't deserve to exist at all.

Imagine what it would be like to receive such vibes from people who profess the name of Jesus Christ. Who pray and sing and worship and give out big hugs and smiles. You are drawn to these loving, joyful people. You think you even see Jesus in them when they speak glowingly of their love for God. Maybe they will love you. Maybe there is hope for you. Yet they are the ones who turn to you and say, "Gays are going to hell." "God has given you over to your depravity." "You'd be better off dead than gay."

Do you see the problem? Do you see how not-like-Christ it is when Christians thrust daggers into people's souls?

There are many things that Jesus said to sinners. None of them were hope-crushing, soul-wounding words of hatred. Maybe it will help to give some examples:

"Your sins are forgiven." (Matthew 9:2)

"What would you like me to do for you?" (Matthew 20:32)

"Don't be afraid, just believe." (Mark 5:36)

"All things are possible to the one who believes." (Mark 9:23)

"You are not far from the kingdom of God." (Mark 12:34)

"Truly I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43)

"What do you seek?" (John 1:38)

"Give me a drink." (John 4:7)

"Do you wish to get well?" (John 5:6)

"Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" (John 8:10)

"Whom do you seek?" (John 18:4)

"Why are you crying?" (John 20:15)

Friday, February 19, 2016

Repost from 6/24/09: What does it cost to bridge the gap?

At the most recent GCN Conference, someone asked me to define what it means to be a "straight ally." I answered that it's mainly about being willing to pay the price for supporting LGBT people, and there usually is a price to be paid.

While the cost of dealing with persecution and social pressures may immediately come to mind, there is also the cost of dealing with your own heart issues. I talk more about that in this post from 2009:

 ====

How can we as straight conservative Christians "bridge the gap" in our conversations and relationships with gay friends, family members and acquaintances on the topic of homosexuality? Most evangelicals are easily able to summarize what the Bible teaches about how to relate to our neighbors: Christians should be loving and kind, patient when wronged, respectful in the face of hostility, forgiving, humble, compassionate and truthful.

So the question isn't knowing how we ought conduct ourselves as Christians. What needs to be explored is why we so often fail to relate to gay people in the loving and winsome way that the Bible so clearly outlines.

I believe the answer is that straight Christians cannot bring down the walls between ourselves and the gay community until we have confronted the walls that exist in our own hearts--fear, pride, insecurity about our own faith. The biggest challenges are not "out there," rather they lie within. I remember the three biggest challenges I faced when, as a conservative Christian, I first began the process of building bridges with people in the gay community.

When I first became interested in trying to understand where gay and lesbian people were coming from, I had already been taught by many highly respected church leaders that "homosexuals" were particularly depraved individuals who had strayed so far from the will of God they actually chose to pervert themselves by living the gay lifestyle. A good Christian girl like me would have absolutely nothing in common with these sordid types, so I initially thought my big challenge would be knowing how to talk to them at all. Yet what I encountered in real life was completely different from what I had been told to expect. I met ordinary people, many of whom were professing Christians, who never wanted to be gay in the first place. Some had contemplated suicide in their teens, others had spent their young adult years in therapy trying to change. Many finally came to terms with their situation only later on in life and at last found the courage to make the best of it. I felt it would have been wrong to despise these people, and I even found myself relating on so many levels to the heart-breaking stories I heard.

I had been told to hate the sin of homosexuality. What I encountered were people who had fought a battle with self-hatred for so long, the last thing I wanted to do was dogpile on their pain. I had been told to enlighten these people with the gospel. What I encountered was only my own tremendous ignorance, my own need to be enlightened about what it was like to be in their shoes.

And so the first challenge I faced was whether to follow the righteous exhortations of godly Christian leaders I admired and trusted, or go with my own instincts in an entirely different direction, based on my own conclusions about gay people that--apparently--no other Christian in the world had ever come to except me. (Or so it seemed.)

Any serious Christian would much rather submit to the majority consensus of the church than run the risk of being wise in one's own eyes. I wasn't any different. What ultimately made me press forward was that I saw clear opportunities before me to love people instead of despise them, to understand instead of judge, to listen instead of command--and that path just seemed more in line with what the Bible taught. It was as simple as that. And yet even though I knew I had good reason to follow that path, I was sick with fear. Fear of being a maverick, fear of being unsubmissive, fear that I might appear rebellious, fear that my reputation in the church might be damaged. All that fear was a barrier that needed to be crossed.

This soon led to the second major challenge I had to confront, which was the difficulty of having to face people at church every Sunday, knowing that I was going against the standard wisdom that most of them embraced about gay people. The church had always been like family to me, from the time I first came to Christ as a teenager. My fellow Christians were people who worshipped with me, invited me over for dinner, prayed for me when I was in need, brought meals to my house when I was laid up, loaded boxes into my U-Haul when I had to move--and I did the same for them in return. To go against what these good people, my dearest friends, believed about homosexuality, and to side instead with what everyone called "the homosexual agenda," felt like the worst kind of betrayal. Like some bout with insanity that I just needed to snap out of.

The only way I could to deal with the nearly unbearable tension was to remember that as much as my church family meant to me, my first responsibility was to follow Jesus Christ. And I simply found it difficult to believe that Jesus would reach out to harlots, tax collectors, demoniacs, lepers and heretics but would disapprove of me reaching out to gays and lesbians, because it might upset some of my Christian friends. So in my heart I had to let go of my need for my friends' good opinion. Later on, when some of them found out my views and let go of me for good, I remembered Jesus once again, that by the time he'd made it to the cross at the end of his life he was alone. It meant that however painful loneliness might be, I could at least take comfort that there was no shame in it.

The third major challenge was probably the most serious. As I got deeper into the issue--talking with gay and lesbian people, reading books, having email exchanges--I began to realize that the conclusions I was coming to about the nature of homosexuality were presenting a challenge to my own Bible-believing faith. Because if people weren't choosing to be gay, why would God allow this to happen to them? Why would he allow something to befall them that would so alienate them from their families, their communities, their churches? Why would he allow their chance of enjoying a love that could be both personally fulfilling and socially acceptable to be permanently sabotaged? Is God cruel? Is the Bible mistaken?

Over time my faith survived these challenges, and has even grown stronger as a result. But I can also appreciate how much easier it is for us to burrow deep down into our churches and cling to simple, cut-and-dried explanations about homosexuality rather than expose the vulnerabilities of our faith to something much more complex. And yet if we are willing to admit this much, we should at least try to be honest with ourselves when it comes to befriending gay and lesbian people. How much of our inability to love them is rooted in our personal insecurity about our Christian faith? When we argue with them, aren't we sometimes just trying to protect our own beliefs? When we insist that they are unrighteous, might that be just another way of asserting our own righteousness, so that we can temporarily silence the doubts we have about ourselves as Christians?

I have been on this journey for nearly ten years, and although it may appear to others, and even to myself at times, that this has been about trying to break down walls and build bridges between myself and gay and lesbian people, I know that for me it is really about something far greater. Like many of the challenges that Jesus Christ calls me to, I realize that his ultimate purpose for me has not been the challenge itself, but to teach me more about himself, so that I might understand more deeply his life, his heart and his word. Simply put, I have had to trust him. For that reason, I could never regret any of it, whatever the journey has cost me along the way. I have become richer in Christ, and that has fully compensated me for whatever else I may have lost.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Welcome, listeners of The Ken Fong Podcast

If you found this blog because of my interview on "Asian America: The Ken Fong Podcast," I'm glad you found your way here!

To make it easier to find out more about what Ken and I discussed during the interview, I've compiled the following links:

====

Here is the video of my keynote speech at the 2016 GCN (Gay Christian Network) Conference this past January. The video does skip some, so here is the full written transcript to that keynote.

"A Conservative Christian Case for Civil Same-Sex Marriage" -- the controversial article I wrote in 2000.

This is a YouTube video of my keynote back at the 2012 GCN Conference in which I explain about the controversy my husband and I had with our old denomination, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. (Unfortunately, this video does not cover the complete talk; it is just a homemade video one of the conference attendees recorded of the last two-thirds of my talk.)

"Musings on Christianity, Homosexuality and the Bible," the original website I created back in 2000 to reach out to gays and lesbians.

Chronology of events and trial documents relating to the OPC controversy my husband and I were involved in.

Toward the end of the interview Ken asked me if there was anything in my background that shaped me into the type of person that would speak out in the church for the gay and lesbian community. Upon reflection I'm not sure how I managed to overlook one very important factor: being "Japanese American."

====

So you're a straight Christian who wants to understand better how to relate to someone who is gay? Here are some blog posts to help get you started:

  • "How gays and straights talk past each other": Part 1Part 2 and Part 3 -- This short series is a primer to help foster communication across the gay-straight divide.
  • "On having gay friends": Part 1 and Part 2 -- Some tips and reflections compiled from what I've learned over the years.
  • "Side B, with qualifications" -- Ken and I talked about the Side A/Side B debate among gay Christians. In this post I explain why, as a straight ally, I don't take a hard-line Side B approach in the debate.
  • "Surviving ex-gay ministries" -- In 2007 I attended an Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and learned first-hand about the trauma ex-gay ministries have caused people. In this post I attempt to put myself in the shoes of an ex-gay survivor and tell their story.

My interview on "Asian America: the Ken Fong Podcast"

Last Friday I was interviewed on Asian America: The Ken Fong Podcast. Heads up: the interview is eighty minutes long, but I think we were able to keep the conversation flowing and interesting. If you have a long commute to work, listening to this would be perfect to help you pass the time.

Ken Fong is the long-time pastor of a well-known Asian American church in Los Angeles called Evergreen Baptist Church. He also serves as Executive Director of the Asian American Initiative at Fuller Theological Seminary. We recorded this podcast in his Fuller Seminary office.

I know Ken as a fellow sojourner who is seeking to bring about love, respect and understanding between the LGBT community and the conservative church. Because we are both Asian American, conservative evangelical, and have taken an interest in the LGBT community, Ken and I have crossed paths before. I suppose we fit a unique demographic, and I'm grateful to him for the opportunity to be a guest on his show.