7.  The evolving faith factor

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.

This recent Post by Randy Thomas. gives an understanding or what that evolution might look like.

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.