marriage

the lie of nonexistent intimate friendships (part two)

This is the fifth entry in a series of posts on friendship. To find the others once they’ve been published, find the menu button in the upper right corner of the blog and see “Summer Friendship Series.”  

Something that I’ve noticed about American relational culture recently, and perhaps especially so with Christian American relational culture, is that we really like to have lines clearly drawn. I see this as the reason why we have phenomena in Christian colleges like DTRs (defining the relationship). There seems to be an increasing neediness to always know what the status of your relationship with another person, and it doesn’t necessarily come from within ourselves. More often than not, it comes as an external question, when we may or may not have been thinking about it.

 

I think most of us have probably found ourselves in a situation, or at least observed a situation in which two people have begun spending significant amounts of time with each other, prompting some or all of their friends to probe them on whether they’re “just friends” or something more than friends. This can be an incredibly awkward or frustrating experience for everyone involved, regardless of whether the two people actually might have feelings for each other and are trying to navigate that or whether they are close friends who enjoy spending a lot of time together.

 

Either way, I think this fascination with needing to define relationships has begun hurting our conceptions of friendship, because along with a desire to know exactly what status a relationship has, there also exists an assumption that the relationship will also fit neatly within the preconceived assumptions of what “just friends” or something more than friends might look like. (That being said, I’ve really grown to hate the term “just friends” as I’ve been learning more about friendship and working through this series, because I’ve come to realize it’s a rather derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.) If we really think about it, friendships already tend to exist in the middle ground of a Venn diagram, but our attitudes toward them skew towards trying to keep them cleanly isolated to only their safe extremes on a gradient spectrum and this severely limits our ability to understand and have healthy friendships in my opinion.

 

I've really grown to hate the term "just friends," because I've come to realize it's such a derogatory way to refer to a relationship as beautiful as friendship.

Anam Cara || Irish Gaelic

In conducting my linguistic research for this post as well as my last, this term for a relationship between friends impacted me the most. I had originally found it online while doing some cursory searches for terms for intimate friendship in other languages, but I wasn’t quite sure if I was understanding it correctly until I came across the word again while I was reading Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber, used in a eulogy by one half of an inseparable pair of friends in reference to the other after her untimely death. Though the Bible doesn’t go into detail about the specific circumstances, I like to think David’s mourning over Jonathan’s death in 2 Samuel was similar to the heart wrenching eulogy spanning several pages in Accidental Saints half of the pair of friends wrote for the other. It read similarly to how a lover might have mourned for a lost partner, and that’s when I was sure that I understood how this term was meant to be used.

 

According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs when the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said two spouses would become one flesh in Genesis.

 

A simple definition of ‘anam cara’ refers to it being the Celtic spiritual belief in the bonding of two souls in friendship. In Celtic spirituality, the soul is thought of as radiating out from the body in an aura that interacts with everything and everyone that you come into contact with. If a person formed a strong enough bond or connection with another person, through being fully open and fully trusting of each other, among other things, it was believed that their souls began to run and flow together as one and that they had found an ‘anam cara.’ Though that may sound romantic in nature and though this term is often translated as ‘soul mate,’ the literal translation is ‘soul friend,’ this translation being supported by the modern Irish notion that while your spouse may be an ‘anam cara,’ it’s still usually reserved for friends rather than lovers. In a way, this makes sense and causes this perception of an ‘anam cara’ to align more closely with the oft forgotten Christian idea of spiritual friendship as a result. According to tradition, spiritual friendship occurs in which the spirits of two people are knit together and become one in a manner parallel to how God said in Genesis that two spouses would become one flesh through their physical union, an idea taken from 1 Samuel 18 when David’s soul is described as being knit to Jonathan’s upon meeting him for the first time. Specifically, it says this:

As soon as he had finished talking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day and would not let him return to his father’s house. Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul. // 1 Samuel 18:1-3

 

This passage was something my mind was immediately drawn to upon reading about the concept of an ‘anam cara,’ and I think it fits the description well. Though the only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate at all anymore is the covenant relationship of marriage (which is a problem that needs to be remedied in American Christianity), multiple different kinds of covenant relationships existed in the Bible, including this covenant of friendship between David and Jonathan as well as the covenants that God Himself made with Israel and later with all believers. For this reason, I see it as impossible to deny the significance and weight friendship holds when certain types of friendships are bound together by the same kinds of covenants that seal relationships that we as Christians tend to idolize, such as the covenant of marriage. This is especially true when Jonathan risks his life and crosses his father, the king of Israel, for the sake of his friendship and covenant with David later in the story, all acts of love and sacrifice that we typically only see in portrayed within the confines of romantic love in many stories that we grow up with today, which does so much to destroy the beauty, depth, and intimacy of what true friendship is supposed to look like.

 

The only kind of covenant relationship that we recognize and celebrate anymore in American Christianity is the covenant of marriage, which is a problem that needs to be remedied.

 

If my friend, Sheridan, is my [nakama] from my last post, then my friend Joseph is my anam cara.

 

I first met Joseph under less than ideal circumstances and basically by accident a few years ago. I was at this weeklong, overnight leadership camp being held a Christian college, and I definitely wasn’t there voluntarily. Though not necessarily forced to go, I probably would’ve come up with any excuse to back out if my family and I hadn’t already paid for it, and I had been dreading it even more so when I realized that I likely wouldn’t know anybody else there upon arrival. And to top it all off, you weren’t allowed to bring your phone or any other type of electronic device in order to keep you present during the week. Great.

 

The camp consisted of three or four lecture-type sessions every day with teaching on various aspects of leadership and worldview with team activities (which you were sorted into randomly), meals, and free time in between. During the first session the first night, I had spotted a friend from church that I vaguely knew across the way and my awkward self made its way over in order to hide the fact that I was still feeling horribly uncomfortable. With him was Joseph, and if I’m being honest, at that moment, I felt something similar to what Jonathan felt when he met David. In that moment, I knew I wanted this person in my life, probably forever, but at the same time, I met him during our five minutes of stretching and mingling time in the middle of a session, so I wasn’t actually sure if I would see him again or actually become friends with him.

 

That quickly changed the next day. Our first block of free time in the afternoon had just rolled around, and I wasn’t really sure who I was going to be spending the next three hours with. Having been pretty exhausted the previous night from the dread of not even wanting to be at this camp, I went to bed early without really meeting anyone else, plagued by a runny nose and cough due to the mold that was lowkey growing in the dorms we were staying in. So like any awkward camper, I looked at the directory to see what room the church friend I hardly knew was staying in and thought I’d pop over there to see if I could not be alone for those three hours of free time. When I knocked on the door, Joseph answered, being roommates with this church friend and struck up a conversation with me after informing me that the guy I had actually been looking for was gone and he didn’t know where he was. And thus began an entire week of spending the majority of our time together, along with the small group of friends that we formed, ditching our assigned small groups to eat with each other, being essentially inseparable during sessions, and swapping numbers at the end of camp to ensure that we would remain in contact. We’ve been friends since then, our lives continuing to intersect almost accidentally, like when we both discovered about two weeks before Welcome Week that we’d both be going to Bethel in the fall of 2013.

 

"You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their 'relationship,' but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out." // Andrew Sullivan

 

He truly is one of my soul friends, and he’s one of the few people that I really do feel comfortable sharing my soul with. He’s a strong non-anxious presence, being one of the very few people I feel completely safe and unjudged with, and we’ve both made it clear that nothing is off limits between us. We can talk about anything and everything without feeling like we’re burdening or annoying each other with it, which goes for both the smallest of things and the biggest. Beyond that sense of just safety with him, he’s also so good for me, because he challenges me on why I think certain things and doesn’t just agree with me in order to avoid a potential disagreement in opinion. So, we’ll have excellent talks that weave in and out of serious and lighthearted topics, and he’s also incredible at just being, which is probably one of my favorite things about him. I’ve read several articles recently that talk about how millennials don’t know how to handle silence and just being, but Joseph is a pro at mindful silence and makes me want to be better at it too. All in all, I think a quote by Andrew Sullivan, who wrote extensively about this idea of ‘anam cara’ in his book Love Undetected, describes our relationship quite well. He writes, “You can tell how strong the friendship is by the silence that envelops it. Lovers and spouses may talk frequently about their “relationship,” but friends tend to let their regard for one another speak for itself or let others point it out.”

 

The very last words are particularly relevant. Even as of late, several people have asked me if we’re together, and some don’t even believe me when I tell them that we aren’t, which is just funny to me. I mean, I’m not shy about saying that I do genuinely love him, but even that seems to be such a polarizing thing to say in American relational culture. They always assume that something else must be going on between us because there’s just no precedent for that kind of friendship in American culture, and that raises a lot of good questions. Why can’t friends pay for each other when they go out to meals together? Why can’t friends hold hands or link arms walking down the street (this is actually quite common in many countries, especially non-Westernized countries, but also countries like Spain and Italy)? And why can’t friends say “I love you,” to each other?

 

Why have we created such a warped and distorted view of friendship in American culture that we've started to believe friendships can't be this deep or intimate without being a threat to marriage?

 

I think our perception of friendship has been so warped and distorted in American culture and American Christian culture that we’ve started to believe that friendships can’t be this deep or this intimate without being a threat to marriage or romantic relationships because the lines might be too blurry. While obviously those relationships are distinct, it’s worth keeping in mind that the Greeks and even C.S. Lewis counted friendship among the different forms of love, so why do we keep insisting on limiting love to the kind we see in romcoms and keeping it in a box when it’s so much broader and more beautiful than that? I think that perhaps if we reoriented and repaired our perceptions of friendship and other forms of love that aren’t romantic, sexual love, maybe those relationships in our lives would be improved and strengthened too, because we’d start to see love more holistically than the way it’s been fed to us over the last several decades.

 

Maybe the Greeks were onto something when they used different words for the different forms of love. Maybe they knew that having only one word to encompass so many different kinds of nuanced relationships would cause us to unhealthily emphasize one over all the others. Maybe that’s the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships.

 

All of that being said, start thinking about how you think about your significant others in your life, because they can be your friends, your family, and so many other people other than just someone you might be romantically involved with. Do you automatically prioritize a romantic relationship over others in your life? If so, why? And is it even Biblical to do that?

 

Maybe the source of our Christian idolization of marriage and romantic relationships stems from the fact that the words we have to talk about different kinds of relationships in American English are so limited and narrow, lacking the nuance that the Greeks had to talk about love.

 

After that, start thinking about how you can love your friends better. Tell your friends you love them. Show some physical affection maybe. I’m not necessarily saying we need to knock marriage down a few notches, but I am definitely saying that friendship is a beautiful and complex thing that hasn’t been getting enough of the credit it truly deserves.

 

(In writing this post, I referenced a couple articles and they can be found at these links below if you’re interested in reading more about this kind of friendship.)

 

https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/08/12/anam-cara-john-o-donohue-soul-friend/

https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/04/23/love-undetectable-andrew-sullivan-friendship/

 

Coming up in this series on friendship: covenant friendship and intimacy between friends, reviving friendship by untangling romanticism and sexuality, and some thoughts on a culture that tells us not to really love our friends, among other topics. Subscribe to the blog to get email notifications of new posts and like ‘Jonah Venegas’ on Facebook in order to get updates as posts come out, and let me know in the comments or on social media what you’re thinking about all of this stuff and please, please share my writing if you resonate with it!

 

when christian superstars come out

Perhaps you’ve heard and perhaps you haven’t yet, but Trey Pearson of Everyday Sunday just came out as gay about a day or two ago. This follows similar coming out stories by the likes of Vicky Beeching and Jennifer Knapp who have gone on to lose much of their music careers, with Beeching instead moving on to religious commentary and other projects in the UK, including a book that she’s currently working on. But at any rate, just like those other coming out stories, this one has already generated its own fair share of controversy and reactions from the general Christian populace, both positive and negative, as larger outlets such as Yahoo and Religion News Service have picked up the story. Unsurprisingly, there have been quite a few opinionated responses coming from a handful of Christians, with many lamenting the fact that he has chosen to come out after having married a woman and having children among other things, and this is specifically what I want to address in this post. With more and more people finally acknowledging the basic fact that being gay or lesbian or bisexual is not a choice any more than being straight is a choice, what I’ve seen is that many Christians have instead chosen to go the route of lambasting Pearson for his decision to come out now after having been married to his wife for over 7 years and having had children with her, and I think that perhaps I understand a little bit of where that’s coming from, as misdirected as it might be.

Here’s the thing: I agree that there’s no way for most people to even grasp what kind of difficulties he and his family must be going through right now, and that is something lamentable, just like the fact that his general situation tragically isn’t too uncommon in Christian circles, but I disagree that his decision was the wrong one. I’ve read quite a few stories similar to his over the years, of LGBTQ Christians who have married someone of the opposite gender because the church refused to accept them as they were and essentially gave them no other options if they wanted to be a part of the larger Christian community. The church told them to find a way to be straight, or at least pretend to be straight for a while, or face what basically amounts to excommunication. I even personally know of at least one friend who has experienced this series of events in their own family, whether it was in their immediate family or extended, and it seems to be just as messy as many people on the internet are assuming that it’s going to be for Pearson, because I think that’s true. Whenever this happens, it’s always quite the sticky situation to sort through, and the unfortunate thing is that these kinds of situations can always be prevented, though perhaps not necessarily in the way that you might think.

It’s true that he chose to marry a woman with hopes that perhaps he might actually be able to fulfill his fantasy of becoming straight and fitting into Christian church culture, but I would argue that it’s also true that the entire set of circumstances that led him to that decision were put in place by the church and that we can learn from that.

Think about this. The church is obsessed with marriage, particularly straight marriage. It seems to be one of the unwritten rules of being a good Christian that you will get married someday and that it will be a straight marriage. This is the subliminal message that gets preached in probably every single church in the United States, that if you aren’t married, or perhaps don’t want to be married, that there’s something wrong with you, that you haven’t pleased God enough, that God just hasn’t sent the right person to you yet, or some other kind of old Christian cliché like that. It’s an addiction and an idol, and it’s one that I think maybe the church isn’t aware of yet or doesn’t want to address because it would be too uncomfortable, since marriage is such a good thing, which is what they keep telling everyone.

But this is a problem. This obsession with marriage creates harmful and toxic dynamics and assumptions that blind us from being able to recognize any other kind of close relationships or even singleness for that matter, which I think is something that the church likes to say is good, but also something that the church hasn’t modeled for us. If you think about it, a good number of key Biblical figures were never married that we know of like Elijah, John the Baptist, Paul, and Jesus Himself. And that’s part of the reason why I’m still at a loss as to why the church doesn’t know how to talk about singleness or why the church has such an odd inclination toward marriage when it’s definitely not the most important or central thing that’s talked about in Bible, even though that’s what any outside observer of American Christianity might tell you.

All of that being said, while people keep decrying Pearson for his decision to come out because of the impact that it will have on his marriage, I have to say that while he definitely did make the decision to get married to a woman and to come out, I also strongly believe that perhaps the church environment that he grew up in and that many of us have grown up in has set us up for failure, especially, ESPECIALLY if you happen to identify as LGBTQ. Again, think about it. At the time what else was he supposed to do? It's circa 2007 or 2008 and everything he’s ever heard about being gay is negative, and maybe not even negative but downright toxic and poisonous to his spiritual life and spiritual health. You hear over and over that being gay is an abomination and that God hates you, especially during that time period, or really any of the last few decades and beyond. Reparative and conversion therapy are in vogue and you hear that you can become straight if you just pray enough, if you just believe hard enough, if you just repent hard enough. So, naturally, you think that maybe if you marry a woman that might just do the trick, that it might make you straight, and maybe you even believe it (again, this is just some speculation coming from my own experiences and experiences of others who have gone the same thing since his full story hasn’t been published yet), but after a few years you come to the crushing conclusion that it didn’t work, that you’re not straight. And so what are you supposed to do?

To all of the critics, does that sound like a real, free choice now? I don’t think so. I think it sounds like spiritual bullying and a demand for conformity dressed up with lots of spiritual fanfare.

Beyond that, it might seem that a lot of the same critics are truly concerned about his wife and his children and his marriage, but are they? I’m not sure. I’m not going to be the judge of others’ intentions, but I think that something they’re missing is that perhaps staying in that marriage wouldn’t really be fair to his wife either. If you think about it, she deserves someone who’s going to be able to love her the same way that she loves him, and with the most respect for Pearson possible, that’s not going to be him, because I think that it’s just a fact that his current marriage relationship with her is never going to be the same as a marriage relationship with a straight man who loves her. Now, I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak for the situation with the children, and I truly hope that all goes for the best – God’s grace to them – but I think that if they’re going to separate, I do think that’s the most fair thing not only for him, but also for his wife, because with all the grace that he has attributed to her throughout all of this, I think that without even knowing her, she deserves someone who can love her the same way that she’s going to love him, and I think that’s something that people are missing when they talk about him throwing away his marriage or tearing his family apart. It’s true that his family situation is going to be quite different moving forward from here, but for lack of a better word, it was broken to begin with in my opinion, again, with no ill intent towards him or his wife. I just don't think that mixed orientation marriages can realistically work, and perhaps I’m wrong, but that’s what I also see as being the case here.

In light of all of these reflections, I fully support Trey in his coming out and pray for peace and strength as he begins navigating this new journey, especially with regards to how his family dynamic will likely be changing. It’s not going to be easy or smooth; that’s almost a guarantee, but I do think that he’s demonstrating quite a bit of bravery in coming out now, especially considering all of the different factors at play in his specific coming out story. People might disagree with that, but what he’s done and what he’s doing takes an incredible amount of guts and courage to do, particularly in 2016 when it seems like LGBTQ people, but almost even more so LGBTQ Christians, are a favorite target of the mainstream evangelical church and Christian community, a large segment of people who might never experience the fear, anxiety, and mental stress that come with trying to live a lie and put up a façade day in and day out, all the while praying that you’re doing the right thing and perhaps constantly fearing God’s wrath or what will happen to you if you do accept your own identity, depending on what kind of church tradition you were brought up in.

Something that I’ve thankful for is that Pearson’s story didn’t end in suicide or some other darker alternative that is all too common for LGBTQ people in Christian circles, or perhaps was more common, since that appears to be changing at least a little bit as the years pass. And contrary to what many fundamentalists or critics might be saying, I think that the recent string of high profile Christians coming out is not a sign of moral decay or backsliding within Christianity, but rather, I think that it’s an indicator that God is not confined to the little boxes that we might put Him in or the stereotypes that we might draw around Him. I think that it’s a positive step towards a more inclusive church for both affirming Christians and also maybe for non-affirming Christians who still know how to show grace and respect the convictions of others, which I also believe is an incredibly crucial piece that the church will continue to struggle with in the coming weeks, months, and years.

So, congratulations to Trey Pearson on coming out and being able to accept who you are and perhaps feeling a little freer and maybe even a little closer to Jesus as a result. It’s a scary and nerve wracking thing to do, especially in the spotlight, but I think that this will just help make coming out even more normal, so that people don’t have to feel afraid of it. I hope that moving forward people will see the negative reactions and learn how to be more graceful and loving, and I also hope that people will see the positive responses and know that their faith and their identity are compatible, that they aren’t dirtier or more sinful just because of who they are, that they are still image bearers of the Father of Lights and that they are so incredibly loved.

Kim Davis, Smoking, and Spoiled Children

I’m a few days behind on the times, it seems, since I don’t read a lot of American news in Spain, but I did just finish reading up a little on the Kim Davis situation and just wanted to give my take really quickly, because I do plan on keeping up with this blog (both fun Spain things and things like this) while I’m gone. In case anyone reading isn’t super familiar with the situation, what’s happening is basically this: a county clerk (or something along the lines of that; she’s a government employee, which is the point) was taken into custody earlier this week for refusing to issue marriage licenses following the Supreme Court ruling earlier this summer. Her defense was that her religious convictions prevented her from participating in or facilitating sin, and she now faces greater charges and possibly prison time. Needless to say, people have gotten pretty riled up on both sides of this debate.

My take?

Well, actually, my initial reaction to this whole entire thing was sadness. I obviously don’t know Kim Davis, but I’m sure that she’s actually a really nice lady, even though she’s sort of refusing to do her job (which the government pays her for by the way) right now, which isn’t okay. But what occurred to me secondly was this: I think that a lot of Christians are still really confused about how they’re supposed to navigate situations like this, and I think that confusion and lack of understanding causes them to create situations in which there appears to be a great deal of animosity between Christians and LGBT people. And right now, my prayer is that we would learn quickly so that conflicts and situations like this stop happening.

Now, some people may argue back that Christians aren’t confused at all and that people like Kim Davis are doing absolutely the right thing for “standing up to legalized evil” or something of that sort. Well…I would disagree.

Here’s the thing (and something that I’ve probably said a lot of times on this blog): there’s a grand difference between actually having religious liberty and using religious liberty as an excuse to be the god of your microcosm.

The problem is this: Kim Davis isn’t losing any of her own religious liberty. She has the right to believe whatever she wants and no one can tell her otherwise. She can refuse to attend an LGBT wedding. She can refuse to be friends with LGBT people. She can basically do whatever she wants in that sense. However, she cannot use religious liberty as an excuse to discriminate against people by refusing to do her job, which happens to be that of a county clerk (or whatever the official title of that position is). That would actually fall under the category of imposing on their religious liberty by attempting to force her own religious beliefs on them. Just because she believes that same-sex couples shouldn’t get married doesn’t mean she’s allowed to use her government job to prevent them from doing so, and that’s why she’s currently facing prison time.

Regardless of whatever side you may take on this, (hopefully) I think everyone can agree that the situation is complicated. So let me say this: in my ideal world, Kim Davis wouldn’t go to prison for this, and I’m sorry if that angers any LGBT people. I just don’t. Rather, I think that this could be used as a learning experience for all Christians, and especially for those who still aren’t sure how they’re supposed to navigate these types of situations. My reasoning for this is that I’m sort of viewing ultra conservative Christians as children who don’t know any better in this sense, and I’m sorry if that angers any of those people.

Again, the problem here is that some Christians are acting a little like spoiled kids, and again I’m not hating on Christians, I promise. I am one, and I’m proud to be, but I think that the vast majority of conservative Christians aren’t quite used to not getting what they want in terms of laws and legal arrangements. Thus, like any child, they start to lash out, crying that the system isn’t fair and that they’re being persecuted, just because they haven’t yet learned how to live in a world where they don’t get everything that they want. I understand that my analogy might sound a little derogatory, and again, I’m sorry about that, but it does seem pretty apt for the situation, doesn’t it?

What people need to learn is this: you can disagree with people and stick to your own beliefs without creating a scene or throwing a fit (which refusing to do your job fits into in this analogy). The world is changing, and we need to learn how to adapt to it in order to keep up and stay relevant.

But let me be clear here: for those who aren’t going to be shaken in what they believe, that’s totally fine. You may continue to believe whatever you want. I’m not arguing for relativism. In this case, adapting means learning how to retain those beliefs while continuing to treat others with respect and dignity so that they don’t dismiss you as being some sort of backwards person who just believes in myths and stories instead of a real, powerful, loving God. That’s what I mean by adapting and staying relevant. It’s not at all a call to discard your beliefs just because the world doesn’t agree with you. It’s a call to behave and conduct yourself in such a way that people might not necessarily know that you disagree with them and in such a way that they might actually want to hear what you believe.

For example, some people choose to smoke even though it’s been scientifically proven that it’s bad for your body and leads to cancer in the long run. That’s just scientific fact. However, some people still choose to smoke. That doesn’t mean that those people are evil or bad; it just means that they’ve taken their American liberty and acted on it. Most people can continue to believe that smoking is bad for you and abstain from it without constantly reminding their friends, family, and acquaintances of that fact. Moreover, people can also work in stores and sell cigarettes to people even if they don’t smoke and continue to believe that it’s harmful to your body. Thus, their personal beliefs don’t affect the way they treat other people, and they can continue to treat those people with respect and dignity regardless of their decisions.

Though that comparison isn’t perfect, I think that it can be applicable to this situation as well. People can disagree and believe that same-sex marriage and same-sex relationships are wrong without discriminating against people and without compromising their own personal beliefs. Just like a non-smoking person selling cigarettes because it’s their job, people who don’t necessarily believe in same-sex marriage can still issue marriage licenses without having to feel like they personally endorse that union.

That kind of grace and tolerance/respect is my hope and prayer for the future, because we need to start learning how to adapt in these ways so that people will stop calling us bigoted and hateful and start seeing that we (hopefully) do love everyone unconditionally, regardless of our own personal beliefs, because again, that’s what we’re called to do, isn’t it? We’re not called to try and conform the world and the government to the Bible and its teachings, only ourselves. Our primary calling is to love.

So let me end with this.

I think that what Kim Davis did was wrong.

And I think that conservative Christians need to change some of their attitudes and actions in order to better serve and love people while we’re here on this earth.

But I also think that what she did doesn’t necessarily warrant jail time, at least in my own personal opinion.

And I also think that we’re (the church) in a transition period right now and that LGBT people and the rest of the world should have a little grace for us, just like we’re (LGBT people) asking for some grace from the church.

So that’s my take on this whole messy situation, and unfortunately, I don’t think that cases like this are going to stop popping up any time soon, at least in the near future. Like I’ve said a couple times in this post, we’re in a transition period right now, and times of change and transition are incredibly hard sometimes, let me tell you. But that doesn’t mean that you give up and stop. From what I’ve been learning this past year, I think that while these times might be some of the most uncomfortable and painful that we go through, in the end, they result in a lot of growth for all parties involved, growth that couldn’t have happened without going through all of those experiences.

So that’s what I’m hoping and praying for, that these times of trial and awkwardness for the church will lead to a time of renewal, revival, and nuance where we become relevant again and known for our love rather than for our political stances.

Calm Down; Religious Liberty is Intact & God Isn't Going to Judge America

Alright, alright. I need to get some things off my chest. As you may have gathered from the title of this post, I'm not very amused by the fact that conservatives everywhere are bellyaching about the fact that the church is being persecuted and that this is the beginning of the end for religious liberty in the United States of America. Honestly, there is absolutely no reason for all of those people to be getting thrown into a frenzy because of a new equality law. And no, this is not the beginning of a downward moral spiral for this nation. Sorry.As Cory notes in his piece on Bedlam, the main problem here is that the church just plain isn't used to not getting its way on things like this. I hesitate to use the word "lost" because it implies that there are sides, but frankly, the church "lost" a battle that it thought it needed to win. So now, there are all these people claiming that God is going to judge our country and judge us for allowing these terrible morals into the legal system.

The only thing is that guarding the legal system was never the job of Christians. Our job is not to keep the government in check, making sure that it only passes laws that we approve of. Our job is not to impose our own religious beliefs on the entire nation. That is what will cause the downfall of religious liberty.

Because do you know what that sounds like? I'm not saying anything bad about Muslims, because we are called to love them unconditionally as well, but that sounds like the situation in a lot of Middle Eastern countries that most Christians would not approve of. There, Muslim religious and moral laws are imposed on everyone, regardless of whether they follow Islam or not. Most people agree that isn't right, so why is it any different here? The answer is that it isn't.

Also, it is my personal belief that any Christian who says that God is going to judge our country for allowing this law to be passed should stop. Why? Because it's just not true. I wholeheartedly believe that.

The reason for that is twofold.

First of all, I just do not believe that God consciously judges individual countries or people groups in the present day. I believe that ended in the Old Testament. And the reason I believe that is because God has opened His arms to all nations of the world. He wants there to be Christians from every nation and every people group. Believers no longer come from one single nation, and sorry to break it to anyone, but the United States is not the epicenter of Christianity. It just isn't. God's plan doesn't revolve around the United States, so it just doesn't make any sense whatsoever for Him to judge this country just because we happened to pass a law that a lot of people happen to disagree with.

Second, I believe that the fact that this country exists presently is also a sign that God isn't going to judge us simply for passing a marriage equality law. In case you didn't know, the United States has a pretty messy history. We aren't the white saviors of the world like some people might like to believe.

To start off, this country basically exists because several different European countries systematically committed genocide of the countless Native American groups that occupied the Western Hemisphere for years before they arrived. Those people were made in the image of God.

Next, this country allowed people to be enslaved and treated as property all because of the color of their skin. They were persecuted and treated as less than human because of their outward appearance. Those people were made in the image of God.

Then, women weren't allowed to vote or participate in the governmental sphere because they were deemed to be less intelligent and inferior to men. People thought that they wouldn't be able to handle it. That was less than 100 years ago. Those people were made in the image of God.

Having said all of that, I think that if God has allowed our country to remain standing after genocides, enslavements, and treating other people as if they are less than human for one reason or another, I wholeheartedly believe that our country will be fine after simply passing a law that gives everyone equal legal rights as everyone else.

So today, another group of people is being treated as fully human, meanwhile, anyone is still perfectly free to disagree with us, so religious liberties are still intact. And this is great, because we are made in the image of God too.

That's my take on the status of America.

Good day.

when the church talks about celibacy

I'm going to be really honest. It's gotten increasingly difficult for me to listen to almost any pastor on the issue of homosexuality in regards to faith, which is just another reason that I'm so thankful for people like John Pavlovitz who are willing to go out on a limb on things like this and say things that are encouraging for people like us (see previous post). That's just my shameless plug for this post. But anyway, I say all of that, because I was at church just this past weekend and at the end of a sermon that seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality or gay issues at all (it was focused on the interaction between Paul and one of the churches he planted), the pastor decided to start talking about it.

Now, obviously everyone has the right to free speech, but I do think that people should refrain from speaking out about things that they aren't educated about. It always only results in people getting offended and upset. Granted, it's difficult for me to listen to a lot of pastors talk about this without getting a sour taste in my mouth, but that is also due to the fact that I have heard a lot of people say a lot of things about gay people, without realizing what they're saying and what they're implicating.

Basically, my pastor reiterated some things about that story that's been going around about a Navy chaplain who was dismissed from his unit because he was teaching the Biblical definitions of marriage and such (which I think is wrong). He went on to say how perverse the world has become in that it is more frowned upon to call out sexual immorality than it is to actually commit sexual immorality. The first thing that I want to say is that: I totally agree with that. Don't get me wrong. The thing that irks me is that, obviously, the first example he chose to whip out was that of gay people, and he even went on to talk about the issue of celibacy and how a handful of churches around the country have changed their stances on gay marriage, citing that they "finally caved" and that honestly made me very uncomfortable and a little upset for two main reasons.

The first reason is one of the main points that John Pavlovitz brought up in his great article on marriage and LGBT people in general, which I'll put right here, even though I also just reblogged it. Please read it. I couldn't have said a lot of those things better myself. But basically, he talks about how the issue of homosexuality is always the first thing that pastors jump to whenever they start talking about sexual immorality in a modern setting, always, even though divorce among Christians is a much bigger, more widespread problem. The stats he presents are that something like 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce, while gay people who solely want to get married only account for maybe 5-10% of the population. The reason that he gives for this is that pastors subconsciously (or consciously) know that talking about divorce and remarriage is going to be a lot more polarizing and alienating to a greater percentage of their congregations that talking about homosexuality and gay marriage.

For me, it's just so frustrating that the church has been so inconsistent with things like divorce and remarriage, which Jesus explicitly discussed, while they continue to condemn gay people for simply wanting to get married, because the Bible is so clear on its stance. If no sin is greater than another, then why aren't people getting more worked up about divorce, especially if it's a problem that affects so many more people in the grand scheme of things? Honestly, I just get so frustrated with the fact that this is how the church is handling things, because it's inconsistent with Scripture, it's an issue of pastors fearing backlash, and it seems to me to be an instance of picking and choosing which parts of the Bible to believe in (something that they claim that we do!).

Now hear me say this: I don't want the church to start cracking down on divorced people. That's not what I want at all. I just want people to be able to gain some perspective. That's all I'm desperately begging the church for. I just want them to see that the way that they're treating LGBT people isn't fair, and it's not loving. I also want them to see that it's not doing them any favors to avoid talking about divorce. That's also an important issue that the church needs to talk about, and it isn't doing it because people are afraid of what others will say. THIS is what I mean when I say I want equality. At the very, absolute least, I want LGBT people to not be considered less or below the rest of the church just because their struggle is different. I don't want to be looked down upon. I don't want to be thought of as needing to change. I want to be accepted for who I am, everything included.

The second reason that it made me upset was the repetition of the same general way that the church continues to talk about celibacy for gay Christians, a manner that just frustrates the living daylights out of me. Most churches would command gay Christians to live celibately for the rest of their lives as a way to reconcile their sexuality with what the Bible says and what God has commanded us in His word. Period.

Most churches command gay Christians to live celibately for the rest of their lives. Period.

That's it.

That is where that conversation stops about 97% of the time, leaving people with a pretty sad "sorry to break it to ya, but you're gonna be alone until you die." At least, that's what I hear when they talk about it like that, and I'm sure other gay people can attest to that as well. But anyway, for the other 2%, they might reiterate that you aren't supposed to have sex (well, duh, that's the definition of celibacy) or they might remind you to be careful of "acting on it," even if you're not sexually active (*shaking my head* that'll be a topic for another post...). Somewhere within that 2%, they'll probably also tell you that it's possible that God might change you so that you'd be able to get married to someone of the opposite sex (hmm...I don't know about you, but that honestly doesn't sound that appealing to me; I like the way that I am to be completely frank and I don't think I would change it if I could, but again, a topic for another post).

The last remaining 1% is something that I've read about, but never actually heard in a sermon. This 1% (or possibly less than 1%, let's be honest) talks about how to live celibately for the rest of your life. Where does your emotional support come from? How do you not feel lonely? Where does the church factor into that? What do you do when all of your friends get married and you're the last one left? All of those "what ifs" they leave unanswered.

That's my problem. The church tells you what to do in order to be a "good Christian," 'despite' your 'condition' of homosexuality (or at least that how it feels a lot of the time), but they don't tell you anything about how you're supposed to go about doing that. And most of the time there isn't a support system there either, save for "accountability groups" or what have you, which basically amount to groups of people who are supposed to call you out if they see you doing anything that might be morally questionable.

Church culture has placed such a high value on straight marriage that it has become an idol for many Christians.

And honestly, I think that this goes back to a problem with the structure of the church itself. The church claims that we have become so immersed in culture that it has begun to change the way that we think about things that the Bible is very clear on, but I want to argue that the same thing has happened to the church whether they want to admit it or not. Our sex-obsessed culture has gotten to the church too, in such a way that it's impossible for them to even consider the idea of a strong, loving, same-sex relationship without sex (a post on this coming later this week), because every relationship must involve sex. Church culture has also placed such a high value on straight marriage that, I daresay, it has become an idol for many Christians (post on this also coming). The church claims that being single is a gift, but it's practice doesn't match its preaching. In all practicality, the church is unable to see the value in singleness, and thus automatically marginalizes and devalues all LGBT people because of the fact that a Biblically based marriage isn't a possibility in their eyes. And that breaks my heart.

The church is unable to see the value in singleness.

If the church is going to be calling LGBT people to celibacy (still a very legitimate calling in my opinion, just one that isn't realistically feasible for a lot of people right now, given the current atmosphere of church/Christian culture), it also needs to provide real support systems for those people and it needs to start changing its attitudes on LGBT people and singleness. People are never going to thrive in celibacy unless Christians start seeing it as a gift again, rather than looking down on people for not having a spouse or significant other. Only once people stop feeling like they're missing something will they be able to fully embrace celibacy, if that's what they have been called to.

This is the great battle that the church has ahead of it, and, honestly, right now, I think that it's losing.

What about you guys? What are your thoughts on celibacy and the church's response?