People in evangelical/Pentecostal circles have a strongly biblically based faith. This type of theology has been at the core of the ex-gay movement and you’ll often find it clearly stated on ex-gay websites.
An Evangelical/Pentecostal faith is all very neat and tidy. It’s black and white. There are no arguments. No wiggle room. Doubts and questions are not encouraged. I remember well the slogan, “God said it. I believe it. That settles it”.
The problem with this kind of theology/faith is it doesn’t take into account interpretation of what God “said”. Not only has Christianity been smashed into 1,000’s of denominational pieces because of interpretation, it happens within denominations as well. Do you know how many breeds of Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, and Pentecostals there are in each of those groups? Each one believing they are right, which of course makes the other wrong, in error or apostasy because they have strayed from “the truth”.
When a person from this background begins to question or have doubts then they, and others, might say they are losing their faith. Actually, what is often happening is that is their faith is evolving but because the system is so tight, they can’t see the reality of what is happening. To go with the process is scary. A loss of faith means disbelief and disbelief leads to a loss of salvation. Paul said in Ephesians 2:8 “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”
Those who move through the stages of faith come out the other end with an evolved faith. Their God is no longer neatly fitting in a box of answers it is a God of mystery of unanswered questions and ambiguities. Far from their faith being destroyed, it is now broader, larger, and richer. They know that they don’t have all the answers and it is arrogant when people say they do. They are less judgemental, live more in grace and love instead of the law (the Bible says). This doesn’t mean they have rejected the sacred texts but recognise the source of all life is bigger than a book and certainly man’s limited attempts at interpretations.
This piece by a Pentecostal pastor friend of my mine demonstrates what this evolved faith might look like.
The way we were –
When I look back over my life I realise how much I have changed in thought and theology. The journey of life is certainly never boring! And the journey in and of itself, is probably one of the main things God uses to reveal himself to us.
There was a time when I actually thought God was in sensationalism – in the goose bumps, and the atmosphere of certain songs – nowadays I see him far more clearly in the slums and the ordinary.
There was a time when I thought that the mountaintop is the right and nirvana of every Christian – nowadays I see His footprints in the muddy paths of very dark valleys.
There was a time when I thought that I had clearly mastered and understood most major doctrinal truths – nowadays I walk with a lot more contradiction as I face the fact of how little I really know.
There was a time when my god could comfortably fit into a safe box, or on a flannel board, and he would make everyone smile – nowadays I am content to simply recognise that what I worshipped was a god the way I wanted him, not the God who said his ways and thoughts are beyond mine.
There was a time when I thought triumphant victory was the reward of the strong and courageous – nowadays I feel more at home with failure, and a recognition that God is not freaked out by it either (the freaked out god belonged on my flannel board).
There was a time when I thought that suffering was a strange phenomena, now I stand at the foot of a bloody cross and wonder “what the hell was I thinking?”
There was a time when I thought God depended on my prayers, nowadays I continually pray in the face of my own helplessness.
There was a time when I looked for miracles in the supernatural and gobstopping, nowadays I realise every breath of life is a miracle and gobstopping.
There was a time when I thought that friends should be found in the community of the triumphant and all-together ones, nowadays I feel very at home with sinners, mainly because my own sinfulness stares me in the face.
There was a time when I though God had cursed the lepers in our community – nowadays I realise He is the leper that our Christian communities often curse.
Change is painful. Pain causes us to wake up to the matrix, once woken we really don’t want to go back…
Within those words above is the essence of the journey of faith. It oozes with humility. I think it reflects the core of the Christian message and the life of Christ himself.
To not evolve (grow up) in faith leaves one with simple Sunday School faith which conveniently denies other evidence like science. Much like the Catholic Church did when Galileo suggested the world revolved around the sun. This immediately put him in opposition to the “authority” of the scriptures (the interpretation of the time) and the church. He spent the rest of his life imprisoned as a heretic. It took the Catholic Church another three centuries to acknowledge they were the ones in error and apologise for that.
Worse than the Sunday School type of faith is the Pharisaical faith of laws, rules and regulations. The Pharisees were the Jewish religious leaders of his day. Pharisaical faith is harsh and judgmental (totally Bible based of course). LGBT people are very familiar with this type of Christianity. I still chuckle when I get an email from someone trying to “set me straight” (pardon the pun) and quote Sodom and Gomorrah, Leviticus the first chapter of the book of Romans and I Corinthians 1:9 as if I was completely oblivious that these verses existed let alone knew what they meant. You only need to read the gospels to see how cruel and illogical the Pharisees were. Jesus life and teachings are the antithesis to Phariseeism. Well explained by my friend Rowland Croucher in his article Pharisees Ancient and Modern.
Pharisees in Jesus time were the ones who told people how they should live, who they should be, where they could and couldn’t go and who they could or couldn’t mix with. Sound familiar? Jesus got really pissed off with the Pharisees regularly and said all that stuff was a load of crap. Ignore them he said repeatedly to the crowds who followed Him. “It’s simple,” he said. “Love God and love your neighbour as yourself”. Right wing conservative evangelicals are like the Pharisees is many ways. I call them Pharagelicals. I can’t recall a time when they treated LGBT people or the community as they would like to be treated themselves. Their rhetoric is full of judgement, distain and disrespect.
For those of us who have some understanding of these things it wasn’t hard to see that Alan and others at Exodus were shifting theologically and faith wise to a more loving and gracious expression of Christianity. Far from abandoning the scriptures, they have sort to be more like Jesus than a Pharisee. This of course has put them at odds with the Pharagelicals like Robert Gagnon and Peter Le Barbara. Alan’s faith shift is expressed in the way he writes and also his interactions.
You know… I have been thinking tonight, again, of how wonderful it is to not be bound by religious legalism any longer. I look at some former friends (who have set themselves up to be enemies) without condescension, pity, or anger. I see them with the humility of shared experience, respect for who they are, and understanding that I am a peer … nothing more or less.
For a very long time, I lived what they are saying freedom should look like. Yet, I didn’t realize that those ministries/books/programs/models/approaches were only more performance based systems rooted in self-righteousness, works based “enlightenment”, and not based in the finished work of Christ. I do long for these old friends to be truly free from the underlying shame/oppression built into cultural religious legalism.
I love Jesus, no doubt. Jesus loves me, no doubt. If He said “it is finished” … it is. His love empowers His Life through us. He didn’t rise from the dead for us to grovel at the foot of an empty cross. He didn’t declare us Children of The Most High so that we had to suffer under the withering haughtiness of clever retorts and legalistic demands. He sent the Wonderful Counselor (Holy Spirit) to comfort and counsel us in the ways of Life, not for us to become the experts (the high priests) in niche sin management systems.
Yes, it’s great to be free from legalism. But, I miss my former friends who are still promoting their version of “freedom” while not realizing they are just polishing the shackles they feel most comfortable in.
Read the 8 Factors that Created the Tipping Point separately. No.1 The Society Shift Factor No.2 The Gulf Factor No.3 The Internet Factor No.4 The Honesty Factor No.5 The Bridge Building Factor No.6 The Listening Factor No.7 The Evolving Faith Factor No.8 The Midlife Factor
Copyright © Anthony Venn-Brown is the co-founder and former leader of Freedom2b, Australia’s largest network of LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) people from Christian backgrounds. He is also an educator and consultant on LGBT/faith issues and leader in deconstructing the ‘ex-gay’ myth. Anthony’s autobiography ‘A Life of Unlearning’, details his journey from married, high profile preacher in Australia’s mega-churches to living as an openly gay man. Anthony has been twice voted ‘One of the 25 Most Influential Gay and Lesbian Australians’ (2007 & 2009) and was one of four finalists for the 2011 ACON Community Hero Award. He is also the founder and CEO of Ambassadors & Bridge Builders International.