Monday, February 27, 2006

More on My Gay Position

The original post below is getting a little long, so I will continue it here. Please read the original post below in order to get the main idea I've presented.

I am so excited by all the comments which allow me to continue refining and developing my understanding.

A fundamental concept of my approach is that change is needed. There are a lot of well meaning Christians that in their heart would love to see all humans know the love of Jesus, but are unfortunately ignorant of how deeply entrenched cultural norms have left certain people excluded.

If you are under, say, 50 years old, you can still have the interesting experience of hanging out with your older relatives, and hearing them say things that are so blatantly racist as to be almost humorous in how it points out the depth of their ignorance of how far we have come as a people called Americans. You still love them, but you don't accept their view of the world.

Think of your life as a devout Christian, and all the personal struggles you have to live out your faith, to avoid temptations to sin, and to find the time to pray and actually walk in faith alongside God. Now just imagine a hundred years ago, some Christian going through all those same struggles, similarly hoping to be faithful to Jesus who they know has saved them, and who they desire to serve with their whole heart as they read their bible and try to find the time to pray, etc. And that Christian one hundred years ago, happens to own amongst their possessions, some humans that were recently exported from Africa.

They had just as real a faith as you have. Yet they owned Colin Powell's great, great, great grandfather. They hoped that their children would be good and get good grades and that their community would be warm and peaceful, and yet they owned Miles Davis great, great grandmother. They owned humans. They inspected their teeth like cattle in order to be good stewards of the money God had given them so they could invest wisely in a healthy slave - as you spend hours making sure you're buying the best washing machine.

Rosa Parks was 42 when she refused to give up her seat, and the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement only just recently passed. I am only 42 years old myself, and I was born in 1963 before most of the big events of the Civil Rights movement happened. We are just now barely emerging from our institutionally racist past, and have a long way to go to be free from our still culturally racist present.

With all that in mind, knowing that fellow Christians we will be with in heaven one day only recently owned humans, it must force us to our knees to say, "Lord! What areas of our culture are we abominably ignorant of our own superiority??"

"Where do we fail to see that a fellow Christian has been treated as less than a fellow Christian?"

Or a fellow human as less than a fellow human.

It's amazing to me that the people who were treated as less than human by their Christian owners, themselves became Christian - and whose Christian faith has been one of the most remarkable cultural phenomenon's of our Country's history!!!!????!!!!

What if homosexual Christian's one day are the most vibrant and amazing Christian's in America, and you look back and remember when you thought they couldn't even be Christians??? (or at least your actions and words represented that, although you wouldn't say that).

We must be vigilant to see who we are. There were a bunch of vigilant slave owning Christians a hundred years ago, and they became the abolitionists that lead to change.

Here is a good observation of how we don't understand ourselves, and how our views really manifest themselves:

When Brian McLaren was on the Larry King show with a bunch of evangelical leaders because he like them had been named by Time Magazine as among the 25 most influential evangelicals in America, Larry asked them about their views on homosexuality. Some of the other evangelical leaders spouted the party line about their views, and a caller came on and reflected to them how they are viewed as very hateful people by the gay community - they all looked so wounded, and said things like, "We don't hate gay people!", "We love gay people, we want gay people to know that Jesus loves them and died for them!", and so on.

It was so informing to see how sincere they were - how deeply they believed that they truly were loving to gay people - and then how soberly the callers reflected back to them how deeply hated they in fact were, by a very large group of people who has no ability to see anything of Jesus in them because all they feel from them is hate.

Imagine being a gay person, trying to live your life, trying to pursue happiness as an American, and you observe society changing. You observe a lot of corners of the American landscape being open and accepting of you in a way they never were before. You see young Americans changing in their views and being very supportive of you and your community. You see various streams of progressiveness changing the very feeling of how you experience your day to day life.

You used to go out and about, and in the vast majority of daily contexts you would be mistreated and maligned for your gayness, and in most of those areas you found it wisest to just hide that part of yourself. You had to live daily with the dichotomy of having to hide a huge part of your very person in order to avoid being mistreated by people who were hateful towards homosexuals.

But now things have been changing, and you get to experience a greater freedom from that restrictive duality - you get to be yourself in many more daily contexts. Wow, what a real and significant change this has been in your life. You can really understand what it has meant to be a black person in America and experience a similar change.

Yet, of all the groups and contexts where you see change - it is from the Christians that you feel a huge resistance. And because the Christians hold a lot of political power, it is their excercise of that power against you that you feel the most institutional sting. In talking to Christian people you are confused when you hear them say that they love you and want you to know Jesus, because you feel more love from high school kids that lobbied to have their gay and lesbian club allowed on campus, than you do by the Christians who lobby against you every chance they get.

So, then you turn on Larry King and hear these idiotic sounding people proclaim how much they love you, when you know they are the cultural leaders of the one group in your daily landscape that continues to hold you back from total freedom and acceptance.

So, we must search our heart and see how we are in fact blocking gay people from finding Jesus.

If Jesus were here, and they surveyed their landscape - Jesus would be the one they felt the most loved and accepted by.

If they asked him, "Jesus, what do you think about my having sex with my gay partner?" I'm not sure what Jesus would answer, but importantly, I know that I do not know. And so my position, my plan, my strategy is that I need to do whatever I can do to make sure that gay people will let me open the door to the room that Jesus is in so they can ask him that question.

Right now, gay people will not allow us to open that door.

Jesus is in that room!!!!

Jesus is so wanting to talk to anyone who will go in that room and talk to him. But we are blocking gay people from going in that room.

I for one will block no more.




Okay, I can just hear those struggling with the issue that I also struggled with for some time - but what about same sex intercourse being an act, and the "gay community" just being a bunch of people that do that act, rather than with race where you are definitely born that race?

Once again, you have to listen to people.

If you spend any amount of time talking to gay people, or reading what they have written, you will very quickly have no more questions about the nature or nurture question. Gays will all tell you that at a very young age they just felt an attraction to the same sex, and that was it. They made no choice, they didn't even know what sex was, just like heterosexuals when they were young, and then one day, they started getting those feelings - surprise! Just like everyone else.

The only reason you would have to doubt this almost universally attested to story is if you had an agenda against the gay community. Hating gays is always a good reason for not believing them.

Aha! - but though they didn't have a choice of the feeling, they did have a choice to act on it!

Just like you had a choice to act on being an adulterer, or an internet porn user, or a lyer or whatever things you struggle with - and no one is hating you and blocking you from receiving certain benefits socially because you are a fornicator. The point is to not single out one group.

We all need Jesus in every area of our life.

Heterosexual sex that produces children needs spiritual guidance to be healthy. All human behavior needs spiritual input to be whole.

Whether same sex intercourse is a sin or is not a sin is not my question, but how can I get all people to go into the room with Jesus and let him love them?

Consider how Jesus treats you regarding your sin, as seen in your life and in stories of how he treated people in the bible.

When "outed" sinners like prostitutes and adulterers came to him, he didn't pounce on their sin, but showed them compassion and reached out to them to love them.

Who did he pounce on? The religionists that were judging everyone and condemning them.

How has he treated you in your life?

There have been areas of my life that it took years for me to understand were sinful or deeply unhelpful to my life and my place in community. But during all the years that I was blind to it, Jesus still loved me and allowed me to be his child. I wouldn't have been able to receive others input or rebuke about it because I didn't see it. I was spiritually fruitful at the same time I had those things in my life.

On the other hand, there were years that I thought certain things were wrong, that I later discovered were not wrong. I have also discovered how many areas of life that the context of the community and the individual mind and heart of the person and their background determine a lot about what is good and community building and what is bad and community destroying.

The slave owners did a very evil thing by literally stealing other humans rights to their own dignity and personhood - yet Jesus allowed them to be his children because he knew they just couldn't see that yet, and when they died he accepted them into heaven by the same way he will accept you and I - by his Son's great sacrifice for us.

The very core of the kind of ugliness that causes people to become religionists of the ilk that God the Father rebuked over and over in the Old Testament, and that Jesus rebuked over and over in the New Testament is this form of self-righteousness where you think that you have it figured out and you condemn others whose actions you judge to be sinful.

The fact is that we all survive by grace and mercy. We don't know how to live, and we have to ask God to give us strength to live, and if we are particularly spiritual, we will ask God to show us how to change areas of our lives that we don't even see.

My gay position is that because this is all true, and because we have been so willing to cut ourselves plenty of slack in many areas, but with the gay community we have only pounced on them and judged and rejected them, and done so many things that appear to them to be hateful - so that in their special case we have to go out of our way to not speak against them, to not act against them, and to do whatever we can to heal their woundedness, so that instead of viewing the church as a bunch of religionists always looking to reject them, they view the church as the place where Jesus lives, and the place they go to get the love and acceptance that Jesus gives.

Here's an inverse way of saying the golden rule, or the greatest commandment:

Cut others as least as much slack as you cut yourself.

How dare we receive all the love and acceptance Christ gives us, and not give it to others.


Monday, February 20, 2006

My Gay Position (with updates)

Recently a friend emailed me and asked me if I thought they should go see Brokeback Mountain, they wanted to but also had questions about if they should because it might be supporting something they don’t believe in.

As a new pastor in New York City, I have been thinking and praying for some time of how I will handle this incredibly important and controversial area of human community.

Here is what I have arrived at right now (and I look forward to developing it through your comments); that there has been so much hurt and pain perpetrated on the gay community by the church, that we should do whatever we can to limit that and then heal that, so we can make Jesus beautiful to humans he died for that happen to be homosexual or who don’t identify themselves as homosexual or a member of the gay community but, as they might say, struggle with homosexual feelings.

How that plays out is a long unwritten story that we will have to figure out as we go.

But my basic, I hope progressive, stance is that the church is guilty of hurting people and thereby blocking people from Jesus, and so we must make up for that special sin by going out of our way with special "policies" whenever issues come up that are connected to the particular groups we have hurt. So, that means doing whatever we can to change our language and approach and relation to the gay community, by putting healing as the top priority in that relation, with an emphasis on our wrongdoing, before even considering their doing.

For example, if someone asked me as a pastor, a public leader, what is my "position on homosexuality"? I would answer that question in a different way than if they asked me what my position on stealing was. Why? Because the church has not perpetrated hatred in particular on burglars.

Burglars pretty much feel open to go to church if they have questions about their lifestyle. When they come to my church, I can tell them, "Stealing is wrong because it hurts others, and estranges you from the God who loves the ones you hurt. Stealing someone’s things is by definition unloving towards them. Being loving towards others is God’s ultimate priority and providing a loving place for you to learn how to do that is one of the major purposes of the church".

But because the church has perpetrated hate in particular upon homosexuals, and I know as a result they are not open to go to church if they have questions about their lifestyle, I have to take special steps to make up for that. I have to heal the wounds that the church has inflicted before I can expect to have a voice with the wounded – because one of the major purposes of the church is to be a loving place that teaches us how to be loving.

So, here is my special step to make up for the hatred inflicted, to bring healing, and to mitigate my possibility of blocking a person from seeing Jesus:

Question: Pastor Jeff, what is your position on homosexuality?

Answer: I am far more concerned about the fifty people in my congregation who have a problem with internet porn, than I am about the five who may have questions about homosexuality.

Question: Yeah, great, but what about homosexuality, is it wrong?

Answer: Human sexuality is a huge area that we all deal with. I'm sure that when a married man sleeps with a married woman who is not his wife that those two families are going to be deeply affected by that wrong expression of human sexuality.

I am sure that the hours many men spend wasting their lives on internet porn are keeping them from developing their sexuality in a community building way, and that the industry they support which takes economically disadvantaged women and employs them by broadcasting their naked image worldwide is soul and community destroying.

As a pastor, it is my strong desire to bring personal spiritual vitality to people, and to mitigate community destroying actions. Human sexuality is at the heart of our communities, and the gospel of Jesus attempts to get all of us to love one another and build a healthy community where we are all cared for and loved. My role is to point people to Jesus, and when they learn how to pray and experience his presence in their lives, and to receive power from him to make loving others well their highest priority, I believe they will learn how to live with and live out their strong sexual desires in ways that build up their families and communities, and to exercise self control when needed.

If a person comes to me and asks me about their personal sexual desires, frustrations and struggles, my basic stance is to understand that the human heart is a deep mystery, and that I cannot possibly understand the fullness of who they are and what they've been through in a relatively short period of time during a pastoral counseling session, so I do my best to point them to Jesus who made them, loves them, redeemed them, and wants to spend the rest of their life teaching them how to live in this community of humans here on earth.

If I portray that I know what “acceptable behavior” is, and they simply follow what I say, I am sure that they will live a diminished life. But if I can get them to engage Jesus, I can be sure they will live an expanded life.

Things might be different in terms of me being more directly explicit about my own particular understanding of how God wants us to live out our human sexuality if they come and join in communion with me over a long period of time, where I will have an opportunity to communicate much about God to them not through intellectual concepts but through living alongside them in life, and by allowing them to see how I follow Jesus day to day. But that kind of communication only happens in real time over many years and cannot be reduced to words in an article on a particular topic.

Question: So pastor Jeff, it seems like you are trying to skirt the gay issue, you are avoiding the question.

Answer: The church has perpetrated a special focus on the issue of homosexuality in a way that it has not on other issues like…
or internet porn usage
or being consumed by the need to own products
or thriving on political rhetoric that helps you
but obscures you from seeing how it harms others,

…and so I am trying to bring healing to the humans that have been the victims of that particular form of branding and exclusion by asking why are we so focused on bashing gays, when we don't even care that all the adulterers in our midst are causing much more damage to our society?

When I see people carrying signs that say, “God hates faggots”, after I get over the emotional trauma of seeing such hate perpetrated in the name of God, my next question is, why don’t they ever bother carrying a sign that says…

“God hates countries that have 5% of the population, but consume 20% of its resources”
“God hates fathers that destroy their families by sleeping with other families mothers”
“God hates photographers that photograph poor naked women and sell those photos on the internet, and the people who buy them”
“God hates humans who make skin color a basis for hating other humans”
“God hates when rich comfortable people build political parties that protect their wealth and don’t care for the poor and then brand that party with the imprimatur of religion by making religious freedom one of its secondary focuses”
“God hates more than anything else when people use religion, when they use his name to treat people in a way that they would not want to be treated”

I’m ranging my focus towards multiple issues to make a point that when you allow the one group that is doing more damage to get off scot free, and instead you focus on the smaller less important group, it brings up a simple question - what is your agenda and why?

The answer, I think, is the simple human tendency to hate and exclude others who are different. Adulterers blend in well; homosexuals stand out more and make us uncomfortable just like Jews and Blacks have when they have been in the minority throughout history, and have been excluded.

That sin of hate by the people of God is far greater than any other sin in the world bar none, and the only way stop it in its tracks is for me to take special steps to speak out more on the big important sins, and to give a break to the formerly excluded group by not speaking out about them at all.

(theological note: the bible makes clear that hating someone is the same as murdering them, and so how different, from a biblical perspective, is hating an entire group like homosexuals, from genocide? The bible also makes clear that any sin perpetrated by religious leaders upon others is the kind of sin that makes God the most pissed off - actually pissed off is to light, it makes God angry at his core, when his agenda of loving others sacrificially is co-opted to exclude and hate. If you are a person that feels offended by the “Anger of God” in the bible, I can assure you that you haven’t read it well because in almost all cases that anger is directed at religious people for perpetrating sin or injustice in his name – and because of this undeniable truth religious people must always keep themselves under suspicion, and the non-religious should rejoice that they often actually "get it" better than the religious).

So, to begin the process of healing the wounds that were caused by the church exerting hate and exclusion upon the gay community, I choose to simply stop using all language, which in discussing the topic of human sexuality of same sex intercourse, could be interpreted as exclusionary by the just sensitivities of people that have felt excluded and hated.

It is similar to how we have learned to stop using the word, “Them”, when referring to people of other races because of how it makes a separation.

There are differences between white and black people, both culturally (food, music, humorous banter) and physically (skin color), and someday when racism is gone we will be able to talk more naturally about those neutral differences, just as we do now about regional differences – the differences between Minnesotans and Iowans don’t raise issues or feelings of hate and exclusion and so we are comfortable discussing and joking about them. But for now, we should avoid that kind of talk between races because the exclusion it causes still stings with reverberations of hatred.

Maybe in ten or twenty years, having enjoyed the release from the glaring focus of all the lights on them, people who have questions about how their sexual lifestyle affects them and the community they live in, will feel that the church is a good place to go for answers, because at the church they will expect to find Jesus.

[update: the first commenter brings up an embarassingly real problem with discussing this part of human community - that I compare homosexuals to burglars. I'm not sure how to get around that because I'm talking to a group of people that think far worse of homosexuals, and so if I just compared homosexuality to say, horticulture, then I could never make my point, because no one hates horticulturists, and neutral non-moral issues can't be used to compare with moral ones.

The one big assumption I make that some people will disagree with is that human sexuality is a moral thing because of how it's practice has huge implications on community. Bad horticulture doesn't destroy community, but when 10,000 teens in a city have sex, and a few hundred of them get pregnant, that deeply affects community. When the father of one family sleeps with the mother of another family, and it leads to divorce, that has tremendous ripples not only in the lives of those families but in their community. To imagine that same sex intercourse is free from moral implication is to believe that man is an island. No man is an island.

When a gay partner in a committed monogamous relationship sleeps with another person outside of that relationship, that has moral implications, and affects the community surrounding them.

Even though that is true, most single adults do not think that their choice to go out to a bar and find someone to have sex with has any affect on the community - but here is where I have no problem offending, by saying, that to believe that is foolish.

The important point to note about this, my newly published "Gay Position" (I hope you appreciate the playfulness of the title), is that I do not say that homosexuality is a sin, or is not a sin. That is why it is new and progressive and will be difficult for huge sections of the Christian church to accept. When they protest, and say, how can you say it is possible that it is not a sin???!!! My answer is to go back and read this post again, and let it explain to you why - because we must go out of our way with this group that we have particularly sinned against to bring healing.

And when pressed behind the scenes to actually say what I think of the act of same sex intercourse, I will say what I am saying in this blog - that I won't say for the above reasons, and if you really want to know what I secretly in my heart of hearts believe, you will have to walk beside me for many years and see how I follow Jesus, and how he teaches me to love others.

If you are gay and don't like being compared to a burglar, all I can say is that trying to get, for example, a bunch of white supremacists to consider that maybe black people aren't that bad, might require one to crawl in some of their muck.

And please do notice that I compare the religionists that have oppressed you to genocide-ists.

And let me also, in a spirit of humility, say that I have committed genocide in my heart on more than one occasion. And it is my great hope that Jesus save me from myself, just as I hope he does for all humans. I am always suspicious of how I wield my religious faith.]

[update #2] Go to new post above - More on My Gay Position.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

The Common Man's Commentary

I had a wonderful time up at Yale last week.

I had never been on the campus of an Ivy League University until I became emergent, and now I've been to Princeton and Yale (not bad for a fringe group).

One of the great things about going to hear a major Theologian is that it really encourages you about your place in the scheme of things.

I couldn't understand about 1/3 or maybe 1/2 of what he said. The other portion I loved and learned a lot from.

It shows me for sure I was never meant to be a formal scholarly theologian.

But I love the fact that there are many different types of Theologians.

When I was in college getting my BA in Christian Ministry at University of the Nations, the university started by the missionary organization, Youth With a Mission (YWAM), I did my biblical studies portion in their very unique and progressive style.

Myself and 24 other dear souls spent nine months together on a remote and beautiful portion of the Big Island of Hawaii, studying the bible 6-10 hours a day, using a method called inductive bible study. Using a set of tools that we had learned we read through each book five times, each time applying a different tool to the text - observing what was there, coming up with an outline of the entire book, asking what the text meant, why did the author say something, what did the original readers probably think he meant, etc., etc.

And so for nine of the most exhausting and amazing and spiritual months of my life, we trudged chapter by chapter, book by book through the entire bible - all 66 books. Besides studying all day every day, we had three class lecture/dialogs a week for three hours each. So we were able to be lead by others who had gone before and could help us in tough patches, along with be able to express and dialog and debate and get out of our heads and hearts all that was going in during the individual study.

Needless to say, we all bonded deeply as people who are enduring a difficult journey together do. And as time went on we could see the tendencies and gifting each brought to the text.

Towards the end of our time, one of my fellow classmates made me a little gift and made a comment about it to the class as he presented it to me - he had drawn a little book, and on the cover wrote, "The Common Man's Commentary by Jeff Kursonis"

What he had noticed and appreciated about me, was that no matter how abstract or intellectual or esoteric the dialog could become, I was always summarizing it or trying to guide it to a practical place that everyday Christians could use for their spiritual sustenance.

I eventually became an artist in NYC and spent years thinking about how artists could practically live out their spiritual lives and thrive artistically in this tough city.

So, I am a theologian. A practiotioner rather than scholar. Life, writers and theologians and prayer are my source materials as opposed to the original languages and other scholarly sources used by the professional scholars in the academy.

And I hope there are many other theologians out there in my church who through their sources think about God and his ways, and help me by practically applying what they have learned through the following communication formats: visiting someone in the group who is sick, buying me a sweet encouraging little present, cleaning up after the meeting, giving financially, starting a social justice ministry from our group, running an errand on my behalf, telling me they think I'm good looking, explaining the new covenant to me, and telling me why God does some things he does.

I still can't believe I survived that school back in 1987-88.

It's lovely just to remember it.

Check Out Millinerd's Robust Feminism

I havn't posted yet on the incredible time had at the Yale Theological Conversation with Miroslav Volf, but I will soon.

But here is a wonderfully thought out and written post on Feminism by one of my favorite blogger/scholars, Matt Milliner at Millinerd.

It really gets to the heart of some good thinking regarding women and their role in society and church.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Missiological Comment - Swearing

One big part of the emergent conversation is about missiology - the study of how to communicate the gospel cross-culturally. I actually have a degree in Christian Ministry which is half bible and half missiology. The idea is that the culture of the church we have now was designed for a culture that existed 30 or 40 years ago in the case of many evangelical churches (parents of baby boomers), and 15-20 years ago in the case of seeker sensitive churches (baby boomers).

But since then, over that last 20 years, an entirely new generation has grown up, and they have the distinction of coming of age at the same time we are quickly transitioning from modernity to post-modernity. So not only are they a new generation, but they "coincidentally" happen to reside on a line of cultural divide that is greater in significance than the mere generation gap experienced by previous generations. In other words, the generation gap between the "modern" parents of baby boomers, and their children, the "modern" baby boomers is far smaller than that between those "modern" baby boomers and their "post-modern" children.

If that is true, then the missiological task of understanding this new cultural context and how to communicate the simple gospel and set up churches within it, is a greater, larger, more significant task, than it was for the mere generation gap between recent generations.

So, for example, here is some raw field data to help with the missiological task: in my church gatherings, there is a lot of time where people are free to talk and share ideas in open dialog. I have been keeping track over the last 5-6 weeks since we have gotten a little larger, and so far every single week, at least one swear word has been spoken out loud in the group during dialog. I am talking the shit word, and the fuck word (in order to be technically accurate in my missiological observation).

In addition, as I tried to explain to my Mother and my very dear friends who I have known since I was 16 and who both cringe when I say even the crap word; almost all the Christians I know who are culturally engaged, creative, educated New York style Christians, including pastors and elders almost all swear on a regular basis within our own cultural group. We would refrain if we were around older people, certain mixed sex groups, or out of towners, but amongst ourselves, the occasional word that used to be a swear word, is now just a word that gives a special emphasis in certain situations that helps communicate a more heightened point, and is a totally accepted and normal part of our vocabulary.