Thursday, November 29, 2007

Of Living Lions and Golden Compasses

Of Living Lions and Golden Compasses
Kevin Shrum

The cinematic release of Philip Pullman’s, The Golden Compass, is due in American theaters December 5th. I will see the movie. The movie is based upon Pullman’s first book in his trilogy known as His Dark Materials. It tells the story of a young girl’s (Lyra) heroic search for her lost friend, assisted by mysterious characters and powerful creatures. In the end, the ‘god-like’ figure of the story is killed.

Pullman’s story is similar to C.S. Lewis’ allegorical tale of Christianity, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, except from a differing perspective, exposing the dark and sinister nature of humanity and the corruption of authoritative systems. Pullman’s tale appears to be anti-structural, anti-authority and has been, by some, viewed to be anti-god.

William A. Donohue, President of the Catholic League, has called for a boycott of the movie arguing that it denigrates Christianity and promotes atheism for kids. Pullman has not helped his cause by making some statements that would tend to fortify the belief that he is anti-church at best and anti-god at worst.

What are we to make of the hullabaloo surrounding this movie? Is The Golden Compass simply a good fairy tale that should be placed in the same category as other classic tales of adventure? Or, is it a sinister attempt to undermine the idea of God?

Let’s bring some sobriety to the issue. It’s a movie. I understand that we live in a day when some have difficulty separating reality from fantasy, but let’s remember that it’s entertainment. Yes, entertainment with a message, but entertainment nonetheless.

As entertainment, a movie ought to rank low on our list of world-shaping, idea-forming influences. This may sound naïve in a culture that is entertainment driven. Entertainment is non-reality, it is meant to be a form of escapism at best. For roughly two hours the viewer suspends his disbelief and lives in another world, fantasy or otherwise. But the movie ends, the lights come up and we return to the real.

I enjoyed Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it’s not scripture. And I will probably enjoy Pullman’s The Golden Compass. And after having seen the movie the lights will come up, I’ll return to my car and drive back into reality. Why? Because it’s entertainment!

We Christians tend to get faddishly upset by the entertainment world. Remember the movie The Last Temptation of Christ? God survived it and the church is strong world-wide. Is the entertainment industry often crude and God-forsaken? Of course! But the greatest way to belittle the entertainment industry is to recognize it for what it is: monied promoters financing actors and actresses playing make-believe parts and reading lines in artificial settings with unrealistic expectations.

And that’s the reason I enjoy some movies. It’s a moment of artificiality and escape from what is real. But it soon ends and life goes on.

And what about the killing of God and the atheistic tendencies of the story and the movie? Well, that’s the real entertainment. People, governments, philosophers, artisans and even some theologians have been attempting to kill God and His church for centuries but to no avail. Why? Because after the viewer suspends her belief system for a moment of cinematic entertainment the lights come up and she must walk right back into the reality that God is not dead.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Homosexuality in Biblical Perspective

Homosexuality in Biblical Perspective
Kevin Shrum

In 1989 Marshall Kirk and Hunter Madsen published a book entitled, After the Ball: How America Will Conquer Its Fear and Hatred of Gays in the 90's. Kirk and Madsen laid out a framework for normalizing behavior that had previously been viewed as deviant. First, desensitize the citizen to deviancy by making deviancy appear positive. Second, make people feel guilty about their perceived bigotries, often equating homosexual and race bigotry. Third, through the media, display as normal that which had previously been viewed as abnormal.

Last week’s Tennessean article (11.18.07) entitled ‘Does the Bible always tell us so?’ presents an alternative view of human sexuality that is incongruent with a biblical worldview and with common sense. It’s a play right out of the Kirk/Madsen playbook. It was the Tennessean’s endorsement of a pro-homosexual agenda. The article suggests that Christians have not only misinterpreted numerous scripture passages concerning sexual behavior, but have used these passages as “clobber passages” against persons with lifestyles that are out of the norm.

Let’s begin with some humility. The author of the article partially quotes 1 Corinthians 6:9-10, failing to quote one of the most redemptive and loving passages in all of scripture, verse 11. After listing numerous sins the Apostle Paul writes, “And that is what some of you were.” In other words, the church of Corinth was not filled with ‘goody-two-shoes,’ but sinners who had been transformed by God’s grace.

While there may be a few idiots like Fred Phelps among us, most Christians oppose homosexuality with a degree of humility. The sins of others and their own sin grieves them to no end. Yet, just because a person is a sinner should not prohibit her from making a value judgment based upon her worldview.

We make value judgments every day. If we didn’t make decisions about right and wrong we would have total anarchy. Those with a pro-homosexual agenda have the right to express their worldview; just don’t be shocked when those who disagree do the same. So let’s dispel Myth #1 – that all Christians are arrogant, et al, Fred Phelps. Let’s address eight other myths used to bash Christians.

Myth #2 is that Jesus did not address the subject of homosexuality and therefore never condemned it. Are we sure? John 21:25 notes that we do not have all the words of Jesus recorded so He could have addressed this subject. Further, every time Jesus had the opportunity to address or redefine sexual orientation he failed to do so. When asked about marriage and divorce he went back to creation, affirming the maleness and femaleness of humanity (Gen. 1:27; Mt. 19:1-12).

When confronted with an adulteress in John 4 Jesus did not affirm her sexual sin, but changed her forever. Jesus did not confront sin with a ‘wink and a nod.’ Instead, he confronted sin and the sinner with truth and grace.

This leads to Myth #3 – the only prohibitions against homosexuality are in the Old Testament and therefore are not applicable. This is untrue. Leviticus 18:22 is rather plain – ‘Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman; this is detestable.’ This is not a difficult to understand. In fact, it is common sense.

The New Testament is filled with references to all kinds of sexual sins, i.e. Roman 1:18-32; Ephesians 4:17-19. Some do not equate the words of the non-gospel New Testament letters with the words of Jesus, ruling out of order the aforementioned passages. But this is out of the norm of historic Christianity that has largely viewed all of scripture as the Word of God. There is no misunderstanding – from beginning to end the scriptures condemn sexual sins of all kinds.

And what about Myth # 4 that science has proven people are born gay or at least have the tendency? Some cite Dr. Simon Levay’s ’91 study that argued for homosexuality as natural based upon variations in the hypothalamus. This study has been discredited. Others anticipated the discovery of a ‘gay gene’ based upon the mapping of the genetic/DNA code sponsored by the National Institutes of Health and the Human Genome Project. No ‘smoking sexual orientation gun’ was found. There is no gay gene. Even so, a tendency does not make an orientation.

Further, Myth #5 states that as much as 10% of the population is gay, citing the now discredited 1948 Kinsey report. More accurate numbers suggest that 1-3% of the population is homosexual in orientation. To normalize abnormal behavior for this small portion of the population is unnecessary.

And what about Myth #6 – homosexual orientation cannot be altered or redeemed? Though difficult and time-sensitive, persons of homosexual orientation are changing. Someone might say, ‘this is the way God made me’ and ‘I enjoy being this way,’ Two responses are in order: 1) we have no record in scripture where God made a person outside of the normal heterosexual orientation nor 2) does scripture deny that sin is pleasant for a season (Heb. 11:25). It does affirm that the pleasure will end in depression and destruction.

Myth # 7 and Myth #8 are companions – anti-homosexual speech is hate speech and for the Christian to say that God loves the sinner but hates the sin is hypocritical. I agree! Christian hatred is an oxymoron. But to disagree does not equal hate. Further, Christians can be hypocritical, but this does not eliminate the fact that God hates and judges sin. Save for the grace of God, none of us are safe from God’s judgment.

Finally, Myth #9 argues that God loves all people and has made them ‘the way they are,’ so who are we to disagree with the ‘way a person is?’ God does love us. It is not loving for God to allow us to remain in our sin. What is loving is for God to die for sinners so that he may forgive and renew them, giving them the power to overcome their sinful proclivities, be they homosexuality, alcoholism, divorce, gluttony, lying, etc. This is what God did for sinners in Christ.

Someone asked me one time, ‘Pastor, what would you do if you had a homosexual family member?’ My answer is that I do. And when I see her I hug her, love her, pray for her, talk to her, laugh with her, listen to her and long to see her ‘come out’ of a lifestyle that appears to be miserable, abnormal and destructive.