faith, personal

Against the Nashville Statement

CBMW, A Coalition for Biblical Sexuality, released their Nashville Statement today, and it is exactly as anti-LGBTQ+ as you might expect.  I’m not sure why they felt the need to articulate in a formal statement what they have been saying for years: that LGBTQ+ people are outside the fold, so to speak.  According to Article 7 anyone who adopts a “homosexual or trangender self-conception is [in]consistent with God’s holy purposes in creation and redemption.”  All of the signers have put it on record now if they hadn’t before.

But I was surprised (though maybe I shouldn’t be) by Article 10:

WE AFFIRM that it is sinful to approve of homosexual immorality or transgenderism and that such approval constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.

WE DENY that the approval of homosexual immorality or transgenderism is a matter of moral indifference about which otherwise faithful Christians should agree to disagree.

Apparently I am also outside of the fold for affirming LGBTQ+ relationships.  I haven’t identified as an evangelical for more than a decade, but I considered myself as still part of the Christian faith.  I’ve found a home in the Episcopal church, a much different tradition than I was taught.  But the signers say that we can’t merely agree to disagree on this issue.  In fact, my approval of LGBTQ+ individuals “constitutes an essential departure from Christian faithfulness and witness.”  To them, I am out.

The list of signers consists of many familiar names.  These are the leaders I have been told to follow, and read, and listen to for years from my evangelical friends and family.  They include John Piper, D.A. Carson, Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, Russell Moore, R. Albert Mohler Jr., Francis Chan, R.C. Sproul, J.I. Packer, James Dobson, Alistair Begg, Randy Alcorn, Karen Swallow Prior, and many other big names in the evangelical world.  It makes me wonder if my friends and family agree with the signers of this statement and think I have departed Christian faithfulness.  It makes me sad to think so.

It already makes me sad that many evangelicals consider Julie Rodgers or Matthew Vines or my friend David and countless others as outside the fold.  Now I realize that they may see me that way, too.

The more I think about it, though, and I can see that it isn’t about me.  It’s a re-affirmation of the same anti-LGBTQ+ stance they have consistently held, and those are the individuals hurt by this statement.  And even Article 10 isn’t really about me.  It’s an attempt to keep the evangelical flock in line.

According to Pew Research, white evangelical Protestant support for same sex marriage is growing, from 27% in 2016 to 35% this year.  And the younger generation is much more likely to support same sex marriage than older generations, though support is growing in every age cohort.

This doubling down on a culture war issue is likely to backfire.  The CBMW met last Friday, the same day President Trump was pardoning a racist sheriff in Arizona who tortured prisoners and a hurricane was starting to flood the 4th largest city in America.  This focus on who is in and who is out of the Christian community instead of living the good news to the sick, downtrodden, hungry and thirsty, and those in prison has led many to leave the church for good.

 

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faith, links, medicine, music, personal

Links for July 16, 2017

Here are some links to stories and blog posts that I’ve read recently that I think are worthwhile to pass along.

First up, my friend David Baldwin wrote an eloquent and moving meditation on love and his journey of figuring out his sexuality in an evangelical environment.  It’s beautiful.  Thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts on love, David.

The loving God that I believe in made me just the way I am. He filled me with desires for love and connection, some of which can come from friendship, and some of which can come only from a romantic relationship with a person to whom I’m wildly attracted, and who wants to be with me the way I want to be with him. If I believe that God is truly loving, I have to believe that he did make me exactly as I am, and I need to continue pursuing patience, kindness, humility, and the many other virtues of love in the way that best leads me towards these things. That way is love. So I will pursue love until I no longer can.

Two years ago I wrote about how I changed my mind about same sex relationships, and it was thinking about my friend David that began the change in my heart.  In that post I wrote that I would be following it up with some posts about the Bible passages that are usually used to condemn homosexuality.  I finally have one of those posts nearly finished so that should be up in the near future.  But before I get into abstract theological debates, I wanted to highlight the very real human element.

Next is a piece about a Christian alternative rock band named The Violet Burning.  Michial Farmer, a fellow alum from the same Bible college I attended (though we didn’t actually overlap), has been writing a series of primers on bands and artists in the 90s Christian alternative rock scene.  I was in high school and college during the 90s and these were some of the bands that meant the most to me in those years.  Farmer has been doing a meticulous job in listing, ranking, and commenting on the important albums from these bands; all of the entries are well worth a read if you know these bands or if by some chance would like to know them now.

I want to highlight this entry on The Violet Burning because their music intersects with some of my personal history with how I met my wife.  I met her on an online message board that discussed Christian alternative music, and my very first post on that message board involved TVB’s song “Ilaria.”  Farmer says about the song that “Despite the hermeneutic gymnastics of some of Pritzl’s more pious fans, it’s hard to hear “Ilaria” as about anything other than sex,” and sure enough, that’s what my first post on the message board argued as well: “I myself have had Plastic and Elastic since it came out in late 98 and, to be honest, I’ve always thought the song was about sex.”  She noticed my post.

We got married a little over three years after that initial post, and we ended up including one of The Violet Burning’s more worship-y songs in our wedding ceremony.  My wife’s older brothers played and sang a deeply meaningful version of “I Remember” during communion.  (While I’m mentioning our wedding music, I would be remiss not to share David’s version of The Magnetic Fields’s “It’s Only Time”—it’s so beautiful.)

At some point I’m going to write more about my relationship with Christian alternative music, and with Christian music more generally.  I touched on it in the piece I wrote last year for Rock & Sling about Michael W. Smith and the first cassette I purchased at a Christian bookstore, but there’s so much more to be said about how music, and Christian music especially, has been tied up in my identity over the years.

The last piece I want to share is about home health care workers by Sarah Jaffe.  I’ve written a number of short snapshots I’ve called “Hospital Stories” about the year I worked taking care of difficult patients in a hospital as a constant observer.  This particular piece of journalism follows the career of June Barrett who has worked in Florida as a home care worker since 2003, not long after she immigrated to the United States from Jamaica.  It’s a hard, demanding job, but it doesn’t pay very well.  I remember well that I didn’t make a whole lot more than minimum wage for my hospital job either.  It’s especially relevant now with the current health care bills in Congress and the potential for Medicaid cuts.  As the article points out, under the Affordable Care Act,

The expansion of Medicaid, which took effect in 2014, meant more funding for home care and more jobs for care workers. The bill also expanded healthcare for the workers themselves – Barrett had never had chicken pox as a child, and when she contracted it as an adult from a client with shingles, it aggravated her asthma.

The whole piece is worth reading to think about the value we put on the hard and sometimes menial work of taking care of sick people in their homes.

I might try this link format again if there is remotely any interest in it.

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book reviews, comics, faith, history, nature, parenting, politics, science

Selected Book Reviews, October – December 2016

This batch of book reviews round out last year’s reading.  I got behind in writing them for reasons that I can’t even recall, but it nagged at me that I hadn’t finished them.  These will probably be the last set of book reviews I do in this format.  In the future, I may do a deep dive into a particularly insightful or powerful book.  Or I may do a roundup of a few books on one topic.  I’m not entirely sure yet. But I’m not planning on doing monthly reviews anymore.  However, I think I’ll still make a list of the best books I read in a given year to recommend.  Speaking of which, I’ll put up a year in review of the best books I read in 2016 shortly.

  • Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics by Jonathan Dudley is a careful critique of evangelicalism by someone who grew up in that world.  It reads as a succinct summary of some of my own changes in thinking on these topics.  Dudley’s book can be summarized well with two quotes.  First, his thesis: “Evangelicalism has defined itself by weakly supported boundary markers, which are justified by a flawed understanding of biblical interpretation and maintained by suppressing those who disagree” (24).  The four boundary markers dealt with in the book are abortion, homosexuality, environmentalism, and evolution.  Basically the hot button topics in the culture wars.  If one takes the wrong view on any of these issues, one cannot be in the evangelical club anymore.  The second quote concerns the justification from the Bible part of the thesis: “Biases and prior beliefs are not something that get in the way of interpretation, something that must be brushed aside; rather, biases and prior beliefs are behind every interpretation” (108-9).  Everyone approaches the Bible with prior beliefs and biases.  Even the straightforward plain interpretation that we think is objective is certainly a matter of the lens we use when we read.  An easy example from the book is that Christians were not all that concerned when Darwin first published his theory of evolution in 1859.  It wasn’t until decades later that fundamentalists and evangelicals felt that they had to reject evolution and believe in a young earth.  Christians approached the same text with different prior beliefs at different points in time and came to vastly different conclusions.  Besides this major point about interpretation, Dudley also wants to make a point about the Christian use of science.  He notes how Christian pro-lifers claim that science shows that a fetus is a person from the moment of conception (an argument Dudley doesn’t accept).  But when it comes to other matters of science, such as the widespread scientific evidence for evolution or global warming, evangelical Christians often find themselves dismissing science.  Evangelicals only like science when it seemingly agrees with their political beliefs.  Dudley grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, home to several evangelical colleges and publishing houses.  He attended Calvin College, then studied religion at seminary, and then began medical school, while finishing this book.  I don’t have the same educational path, but I can relate to his intellectual and faith journey and some of his conclusions.  I would definitely recommend this book.

squirrel-girl

  • The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Vol. 1: Squirrel Power by Ryan North and Erica Henderson is an incredibly fun comic book.  It’s light-hearted and funny.  I find it hard to decide which I like more, the writing or the artwork.  North has fun with Doreen Green and her supporting cast of friends and squirrels, as well as the villains, but he gives them all a lot of heart and personality.  Henderson does a great job balancing cartoony action and characters, but never exploits or sexualizes the characters, a problem all too rampant in comics.  Doreen looks like the college student she is, not an unrealistic supermodel in a swimsuit trying to fight crime.  She’s someone I’d want to be friends with if I had a friend who could talk to squirrels.  She eats nuts and kicks butts.  Even if you think you don’t like superhero comics, you might like this one.  I’m really looking forward to reading more of this series.
  • The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson is an essential work of history.  Wilkerson tells the story of the internal migration of millions of black Americans from the rural South to the urban North and West during the 20th century.  Actually, she focuses her attention on three individuals as representatives of those millions.  Through the story of Ida Mae we learn how tenuous was the position of sharecroppers in Mississippi, how hard the work was picking cotton and how little they got paid, if at all.  So much depended on the whims of the white landowners.  After Ida Mae’s husband’s cousin Joe Lee, who lived a few shacks down from them, was falsely accused of stealing turkeys and subsequently half beaten to death, Ida Mae and her family packed up and left for Milwaukee, ending up on the South Side of Chicago before long.  There they face housing discrimination; all the black families moving in are forced into strict geographical boundaries, and any time they try to move into a new neighborhood, the white neighbors first try to fight their arrival, and if that failed then they all moved out.  If you want to know why cities are like they are, this book is illuminating.  Even the world famous gospel singer Mahalia Jackson faced housing discrimination when she bought a house in a nice neighborhood.  She received death threats in the middle of the night before she moved in, and after she did, bullets shattered some of her windows.  Police had to keep guard around her house for nearly a year to prevent violence.  No one was immune from discrimination.  Despite the hardships in the North, Ida Mae experienced some measure of true freedom.  She was able to vote for the first time.  The family was eventually able to buy a house, but soon after they did, the whites in the neighborhood took flight.  The two other individuals the book focuses on, Dr. Robert Foster and George Starling, provide more glimpses into life in the Jim Crow South and how they tried to make a better life in L.A. and New York, respectively.  Dr. Foster left a life in rural Louisiana where the highest he could have risen was to a country doctor making house calls to black families with no admitting privileges at the local hospital.  He wanted fame and fortune and a good life.  George Starling picked fruit in the groves of Florida, chafing at the unfair labor practices, before he headed North.  He worked for the railroad on a line that traveled up and down the east coast, so he got to see the changes from North to South for decades.  Throughout these three stories, Wilkerson weaves in all the appropriate context so that we as readers can see the big picture, too.  It’s really a marvelous narrative history that illuminates so much of the 20th century and today.  I can hardly say enough good about it.  Everyone should read it.
  • Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change by Elizabeth Kolbert is a short and excellent primer on climate change (I read it in a day).  The book is based on a series of articles Kolbert wrote for The New Yorker magazine, where she is a staff writer, in order “to convey, as vividly as possible, the reality of global warming” (2).  By traveling to locations across the globe, Kolbert tells how things are changing: glaciers are shrinking, permafrost is melting, oceans are warming and becoming more acidic, animal migrations are shifting towards the warming poles, and plants are earlier than usual.  A small island community in Alaska has to move because of the rising ocean level.  While telling the stories of various changes worldwide, Kolbert also explains the science to a lay audience without getting too technical.  The only downside to this well written little book is that it is already a bit out of date.  It was published in 2006, but since then we have had still warmer years, and the trend continues upward.  Despite that one drawback, I would highly recommend it. [Note: there is a newer revised and expanded edition, so forget what I said.  Read that one instead.]
  • The Everyday Parenting Toolkit by Alan E. Kazdin with Carlo Rotella is a very helpful book for parents.  Kazdin draws on the available social science on children’s behavior and his experience working at the Yale Parenting Center to give useful guidelines for how to change problematic behavior in kids.  The key is the focus on behavior.  Parents, me included, want our kids to be kind and generous, resilient and motivated, and not selfish jerks.  But how do these qualities get cultivated?  It starts with behavior.  Kazdin explains his ABC method, which is backed up by research and with examples of how it works.  He describes his techniques as tools in the toolbox.  They are adaptable depending on the situation; some will be used more than others.  The first thing to think about when considering children’s behavior is the Antecedent of the behavior.  How can parents set up the situation for the behavior they wish to see?  The goal is to make the choice for the child as likely as possible.  Asking in a calm voice one time helps.  Giving a choice also helps.  Children like to have at least a small measure of autonomy.  The next consideration is the Behavior itself.  Sometimes this is clear like when I want my kids to clear their places by putting their dishes into the sink after a meal or brush their teeth before bed.  But often I want them to stop an irritating or dangerous behavior.  It’s not very effective to merely say don’t do that.  What kids need is positive reinforcement for the behavior I do want to see.  In order to make that happen, I have to think of the positive opposite of undesirable behavior.  This isn’t always easy to do, but it’s crucial.  So for example, my 3 year old throws screaming tantrums sometimes.  I can’t change the fact that he gets upset by things, but I do want him to deal with his upset feelings with a different strategy than by screaming.  So I will praise him for any approximation that gets us closer to the desired behavior.  This is called shaping the behavior.  If he never has done the desired behavior, then we can practice a simulation so he can try to do it when he does actually get upset.  The third part is the area of Consequences, which is where a lot of people want to start.  For Kazdin, consequences are positive reinforcement for the desired behavior.  Mostly this means praise from parents that is immediate, effusive, and specific, with some sort of affection added.  Sometimes other methods can help, too, like a point chart, but praise from parents is the best reinforcer.  Kazdin has a lot more to explain and tons of examples (as well as another book for the tough cases of especially defiant children), but this is the outline.  Some of it is definitely counter-intuitive.  But I can see that barking at my children to stop doing something rarely works and it often escalates.  When I’ve been able to implement the Kazdin ABCs I’ve had much more success in changing unwanted behavior.  I’d really recommend this to any and all parents.
  • My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor is a revealing and instructive memoir from one of our Supreme Court Justices.  She details her life with precision and insight up until her appointment as a District Court judge in 1992; the rest of her life and career will presumably have to wait until her retirement.  I was especially interested in finding out more about her life because my kids attend a Spanish immersion elementary school named after her.  There are many interesting details to her early life growing up poor in a housing project in the Bronx.  Her alcoholic father died when she was young, so she and her brother had to assume a lot of responsibility in their household with only their mother to raise them.  Especially humanizing is her diagnosis of type 1 diabetes at age seven that she has had to manage for the rest of her life.  That diagnosis led her to give up dreams of growing up and becoming a detective and instead focus on training to be a lawyer.  She knew from an early age what she wanted to do in life.  One of the overriding themes of her memoir is that of empathy.  In a pivotal passage, Sotomayor explains how she understood the importance of empathy through two events and by reading Lord of the Flies.  In the classic book, a group of boys have to fend for themselves on an island by themselves.  Their survival is precarious, and they must work together in order to make it through.  Sotomayor notices the same precariousness in her own life.  She notices a police officer extorting a street fruit vendor for two bags of fruit.  She also witnesses her own aunt making prank calls to random women, pretending that she was having affairs with their husbands.  Putting it all together, she declares, “I was fifteen years old when I understood how it is that things break down: people can’t imagine someone else’s point of view” (123).  Her story continues as she details how hard she worked to make it through Princeton and Yale Law School, despite “limits of class and cultural background” (171).  It’s an inspiring book, and she doesn’t refrain from talking about mistakes she has made such as her brief marriage to her high school sweetheart.  This is a memoir I’d recommend reading.
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faith, personal

A Change of Heart and Mind

After the recent Supreme Court decision to allow same sex marriages in all 50 states, the internet has been full of celebrations, cautions, laments, explanations, accusations, and recriminations.  I’m here to add one more essay to the pile, but it’s a little different.  I’d like to explain how I changed my mind on the issue of same sex marriage.  I’m an example of how a change in thinking can take a long time.  For me it took seeing how the issue affected a close friend personally to catalyze reconsidering my beliefs.  Then I searched for a new perspective to make sense of the direction my heart was leading me.

First, the background.  Growing up in the evangelical Christian culture, believing that homosexuality was a sin was merely a given.  I don’t remember ever questioning the belief that homosexuals chose their lifestyle and that they were actively living in sin.  It was a self evident belief that everyone in the cultural community shared as far as I knew.  It said so in the Bible, and I believed it.

At our Christian school, seniors were required to complete a service project during the spring before graduation.  Most of my classmates opted to volunteer at a food bank or a home for people with disabilities.  At the suggestion and prodding of my sister, I decided to try volunteering somewhere different, a place called David’s House, a group home for people with AIDS.  I didn’t want to do it alone, so I asked my friend Andy to join me (this is the same friend I’ve written about here and here).  In order to volunteer at David’s House, we first needed to receive training from the Red Cross about AIDS.  They also wanted us to volunteer for more than the day or two that would fulfill our school requirement.  Normally they required a year’s commitment, but they agreed to let us volunteer for only the summer until we left for college.

The AIDS training at the Red Cross was eye-opening for me because I had never had any comprehensive sex-ed at my Christian school.  I recall having some type of abstinence presentation, where they undoubtedly talked about condom failure rates, but nothing about how to put one on.  So when Andy and I were given cards that had the steps of putting on a condom properly and were told to put them in order, we had to make our best guess.  I felt rather embarrassed, both because of my shyness about sex, but also because I was so obviously ignorant.  My embarrassment increased later when a guy from David’s House who was there at the training pressured me to take a few condoms “just in case.”  I had no intention of using them because I was going to wait to have sex until marriage, but he wouldn’t let me say no.  I sheepishly put two in my pocket so he would stop joking with me, wink wink nudge nudge.  He probably thought I was an alien from another planet.

My actual time at David’s House involved mundane things like watching Cops with the residents or mowing the lawn or cleaning out a room after a resident left unexpectedly or sitting and talking with one guy in particular.  I wanted to witness to him, share the love of Christ with him, change him somehow.  I could imagine how it was going to be an amazing conversion story of a man with AIDS coming to the Lord.  But I never gave him any of the scripted Gospel spiels that I knew.  Mostly I listened to his stories.  The closest I ever got to being Christ-like was when I helped him with a bath one evening.  He was so weak and frail that he couldn’t get out of the tub safely without assistance.  These experiences didn’t have any effect on my belief that his homosexuality was his own sinful choice. Though I had a lot of sympathy for his pain and suffering, I still saw him more as a witnessing opportunity than a person.

During college several of my friends were in the closet about their sexuality, but I didn’t find out until after graduation.  I’m not surprised that they stayed in the closet since they would have been kicked out of our small evangelical college in the south if they revealed they were gay.  I’m also not surprised that they didn’t confide in me their struggles.  It’s not that I wasn’t sympathetic when I found out (because I truly was), but that I still held onto my beliefs that they were living in sin.  I don’t think I ever said anything about loving the sinner, while hating the sin, but it’s essentially the approach I took.  When I talked to one of the guys on the phone (we had both moved back to our respective home towns), I told him that it didn’t affect our friendship.  But in my mind, I still felt like he was lost and adrift.  I wanted to help him, and I didn’t know how.  But it wasn’t my struggle.

In the first composition course I taught while a grad student, one of my students wrote a personal essay about being gay and part of the essay was how his sexual orientation intersected with his Christian beliefs.  I didn’t know what to do with it.  I disagreed with the premise that he could be a practicing homosexual and a Christian in good standing, but I also didn’t want to grade him down because I disagreed with him.  I knew that I was likely to disagree with lots of things that students wrote about, so I would have to judge their papers on how they wrote, not the specific topics and whether I agreed with them or not.  But that attempt at objectivity bothered me in this instance because I wanted to help someone who was claiming to be a Christian.  I wanted to help him see his error.

I decided not to write anything directly telling him what I thought, but I figured I could help guide him to see for himself that he was deluding himself that he could integrate his faith with his sin.  I went to the library and skimmed sources that addressed the issue from multiple angles.  I figured it was okay, and more objective, if I presented him with sources that both affirmed and disconfirmed what he believed.  I thought the truth would win out as long as I presented it as one of the options.  I suggested that he read more on the issue.  It was all rather presumptuous of me that he hadn’t thought it all out for himself.  It was his life after all.  I was the one thinking about the issue for the first time.  He had been living it.  I can hardly blame him for not responding to my comments.

Later, when one of my fellow grad students asked me to sign a petition calling for the university to extend benefits to domestic partners, I declined.  She was surprised, probably figuring everyone in the office could be counted on.  I don’t remember how I explained myself.  I knew that I wanted to be a good witness for my beliefs, but I didn’t know how to explain my position without sounding like a jerk.  The truth is that I didn’t really even know what my position was when I was put on the spot, so I asked for time to think it over.  While the idea of domestic partner benefits sounded benign, I knew it was a cover for condoning and encouraging homosexual couples.  I couldn’t support that in good conscience.  She didn’t press me on my reasoning, thankfully, because it would have been embarrassing for her and me.  I had stood up for my beliefs in a small way, but I didn’t feel all that good about it.  Now, looking back, I feel rather ashamed of my lack of sympathy.  But again, it wasn’t my struggle, so I didn’t see how heartless I was.

The pivotal moment for me in all of this personal history is when David came out to me. He was a close friend I grew up with.  He told me later that first year of grad school, a time when I was figuring out who I was in a lot of ways.  It was after we had seen each other at a mutual friend’s wedding.  He wrote it in an email, and I was dumbfounded.  We had grown up in the same church and the same Christian private school.  We had had Bible studies together, gone on missions trips together, played soccer together, sang together, attended youth group together.  We had been on student council together.  We had gone on a double date (with girls!) to the Jr/Sr banquet our school held in lieu of a prom (no dancing allowed!).  After high school we had gone off to different Christian colleges, but would get together at Christmas or during the summer, if our schedules allowed.  I realized with sadness that I didn’t know my friend as well as I had thought and the struggles he had lived through.

I wrote him back what I consider now an embarrassing reply.  Instead of merely telling him that I loved him and that we were still friends and that I would be there for him, I felt the need to let him know that I thought homosexual acts were a sin.  Then I went on about how sin is sin, no matter what it is, and that I didn’t think homosexuality was worse than any other sin in God’s eyes.  I thought I was being magnanimous and compassionate.   Everyone struggles with temptations, I said.  I lamely offered my own struggles with (heterosexual) lust as an example.  What I couldn’t see at the time was that he had probably heard similar judgments from many other well-meaning friends.  Instead of love and acceptance, he heard condemnation as a first reaction.  It’s a testament to his graciousness that we have remained friends to this day.

I asked myself a lot of questions after his revelation, and I didn’t have any answers.  My understanding at the time was that there might be some biological component to homosexuality, but that there were environmental factors as well, and that there must be some large element of choice (how else could it be a sin?).  But the more I thought about it, it didn’t seem possible that David would have ever chosen to be gay.  He had practically the same background as me, with the same teachings on sin and homosexuality.  But if he had been born gay, then that made me very uncomfortable about a God who would create someone with attractions and urges that he could never act on without damning himself.  Everyone wants love and companionship and affection, but he was essentially denied the chance.  It made me doubt the goodness of God.  I asked God how he could be so cruel to David.  I didn’t understand.

I remember talking to a friend about my dilemma.  I knew enough not to out David, so I talked about an anonymous friend.  Somehow the implications of my beliefs about homosexuality and the goodness of God didn’t hit me until I thought about David’s struggle.  I didn’t stop and reflect on my understandings before when I learned about friends from college.  I think the difference is I could see myself in David.  It was easier to put myself in his shoes and see how devastating and impossible it was to reconcile what we were taught with how he felt.

It still took me a long time to change my mind on the questions of homosexuality as sin and same sex marriage, though.  I couldn’t figure out any other way of understanding the biblical passages that mention homosexuality, and I wasn’t ready to throw out my faith.  So I lived with the cognitive dissonance for a few years.  Though I fumbled my initial reply to David, I was determined to be a good friend to him.  I visited him and kept in contact because I wanted to keep him in my life.

I finally fully came around on the issue after reading some books.  As this blog is a testament, books are vital to me.  The first was Andrew Sullivan’s Virtually Normal: An Argument About Homosexuality.  I was familiar with Sullivan from his days at Time magazine, which I started reading regularly when I went to grad school.  I knew he was gay and that he was a Catholic.  I was fascinated that he somehow reconciled those two aspects of his life.  I didn’t see how it could be done.  His book was published in 1996, and it was an early argument for same sex marriage, arguing that opening up the institution to LGBT individuals was both a conservative and liberal move.  His argument was well reasoned, but it was mostly philosophical and political, not biblical, so some of my biggest doubts remained.

Later I read What God Has Joined Together: The Christian Case for Gay Marriage by David G. Myers and Letha Dawson Scanzoni.  The book provided the additional reasons I needed to complete my change of mind.  I think I was looking for those reasons.  Myers is a well-respected psychologist, author of popular textbooks in the field, and a Christian.  He and Scanzoni grounded their arguments in social science and biblical interpretation.  They pointed out all the benefits of marriage for individuals and for society.  They examined the nature of sexual orientation and how difficult it is to go against one’s orientation.  And lastly, while acknowledging that they are not theologians, they showed that many scholars dispute the interpretations of the passages usually used to prove homosexuality is a sin and abomination.  I felt like I could finally let go of my old beliefs.

So that’s how I ended up changing my mind.  It took a long time, years really.  It took seeing how this issue affected a close friend for me to examine what my beliefs really meant.  My heart slowly changed, but I still needed the justifications and reasons to feel okay about my change of heart.  So reading books with answers I found compelling sealed the change in me. I most recently finished Matthew Vines’s God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships which goes into much more detail than What God Has Joined Together did on the interpretation of relevant biblical passages. It’s been a long process of change.

For the longest time I couldn’t see how my beliefs and interpretations of the Bible kept me from truly seeing others and their full humanity.  I thought I was sympathetic to others, but over and over again I wasn’t, not really.  Without intending to, I  had been arrogant and dismissive and uncharitable to students, colleagues, and friends.  I hadn’t lived up to that most difficult of all rules: to love others as I love myself.  But love wins.

I hope to write some follow-up posts that dive deeper into some of the issues that I have merely touched upon in my all-too-brief summaries of the books I’ve mentioned.  Look for those in the near future.

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