Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Beliefs matter

This excellent and thought-provoking commentary is by Bill R. in regards to a discussion we are having at the "GetReligion Coffeehouse" googlegroup. The subject is "Dialogue between BGLT community and conservative Christians". It's long but an excellent read and he makes some very valid points. Enjoy.

"Beliefs are absolutely indispensible. Social peace and fairness are important, but it is the beliefs of a community that inevitably determine what "social peace" and "fairness" actually look like in the community. For instance, if there exists a communal belief that slavery is perfectly acceptable, then it is possible, by that community's definition, to have abundant social peace and fairness even when certain people remain the property of others. So long as no slave revolts take place, the community will think itself "peaceful", and so long as masters refrain from cruelty, the community will think itself "fair". In the end, real peace and fairness stand no chance if society settles on the wrong set of beliefs or can't agree on any at all.

By the way, I can't understand why beliefs have such a bad reputation these days. We are so accustomed to our culture telling us that believing something strongly causes division and discrimination, but most of the great reformers who fought for justice -- like William Wilberforce, the successful British abolitionist and devout Christian-- were motivated by strong, deeply-held beliefs. In fact, I think all of us on this forum share the common belief that gay people should not be discriminated against when seeking goods, services, or jobs, that attacks on gay and transgender individuals should be zealously prevented and punished, and that gay couples (or any two people who love each other) should be able to make decisions about each other’s medical care. We should acknowledge the value of these beliefs and use them to pursue justice together in these areas, even as we come to understand each other’s divergent beliefs on sexuality and the meaning of the word “marriage”.

I find that belief is also extremely important in interpersonal relationships. If you follow the Unitarian maxim "Deeds not Creeds", what do you do when confronted with an alcoholic who believes it's perfectly ok to get drunk every night? Do you respect his beliefs and say "I have no right to impose my creed on him by telling him he has a problem", even though he is hurting himself and possibly others? In this case, lack of firm belief leads to indifference, not kindness. Love without truth is too weak to be worthy of the name.

Jesus knew this principle well. He met lots of people who thought they were righteous and didn't need saving, yet he refused to agree to disagree, instead confronting them repeatedly (often with insults and offensive language) and ultimately choosing to die for them because of his belief -- his certainty -- that they needed his sacrifice. Iwould argue that if you are convinced that someone is doing something that hurts him/herself and others, the kind and loving action is to intervene, even if that person believes he/she is ok. But here's where it gets hard. You have to constantly check your motives and your methods: it's easy to have loving concern be your primary motive in the beginning, only to gradually replace it with self-righteous arrogance as you repeatedly encounter resistance. You have to constantly ask yourself: am I doing this for other people's best interests or for my own pride? Are my methods appropriate and necessary? Showing the kind of confrontational yet self-sacrificial love of Jesus is much more difficult than either downplaying beliefs or wielding them as a club, but the best way is often the hardest.

With respect to the current issue, I would say this discussion is relevant on two levels: a personal level and a social level. I've mentioned before that one of my best friends at my university is gay. A few years ago, when we first became good friends, we used to talk alot about homosexuality in relation to finding happiness. He was convinced that the key to his happiness lay in forging a committed relationship with another man. But he wanted more than just a friendship, so he was also convinced that, in order to be the type of relationship that would truly make him happy, it had to involve sex. Committed relationships and sex are certainly very good things, but I believe (the key word), based on my relationship with God, my knowledge of his word, and the experience of myself and others, that neither sex nor a committed relationship can make anyone truly, permanently happy. With respect to sex, I further believe, based again on the authority of the God who created it, that if someone uses sex in a way that God did not intend for it to be used (i.e. outside of a marital covenant), they hurt themselves and their partner.

So there I was faced with essentially the same choice as above: do I let my friend go his own way, hurting himself and possibly others, because I don't want to impose my beliefs on him? Or do I intervene? I could not call him my friend today if I hadn't done what I did, which was to gently and sympathetically tell why he would never find happiness through human relationships and/or sex, but through a relationship with the dynamic, living God of love. I absolutely did not call him a sinner or say he was going to hell or anything like that (how would such things have helped point him to God?), but I didn't withhold what I knew of the truth, either. Without those conversations, our friendship would have been shallow, and we probably wouldn't be such good friends today. Since then, he has chosen to seek a relationship with God through Jesus, though he would still call himself gay and say that he is looking for a homosexual relationship. I embrace him as a brother in Christ and one of my best friends, and even though I don't bring up the issue of homosexuality anymore, I still hope that God will spare him the pain of using his sexuality in a self-damaging way (a subject of which I am not ignorant). My point is that even though my beliefs differ from my friend's on this issue, those beliefs played a vital role in the cementing of our friendship, as my love for my friend demanded that I act on my beliefs.

I'll just say briefly that beliefs are important in society and law, too. If the law is supposed to protect people and promote a harmonious society, then it must articulate and uphold ideals for some, but not all, human behaviors. Consequently, you cannot approach law without some belief about those behaviors and which of them fall under the authority of the state. Nor is their any rational justification for supposing that a purely secular belief system is superior to a faith-based or religiously-derived belief system for this purpose. The pre-logical assumptions of a secular worldview are as non-rational as those of a religious worldview. The key is not to avoid imposing your worldview on someone else – such a stance demands that you either give up your worldview or refrain from interacting with anyone whose worldview differs from yours – but to continually question and refine your worldview and then use it to determine how to act in the best interests of other individuals and society.

Thus, if your worldview says that marriage is a private affair which the law has no business defining, either through support or penalty, vote accordingly for freedom. If your worldview says that marriage is a loving, committed relationship between two adults that the law ought to recognize and support, vote accordingly for equality. Finally, if your worldview says that marriage is, among other things, a partnership between a man and a woman to create the best possible household for raising children and that the law ought to do its best to ensure that children have mothers and fathers, vote accordingly for social harmony. But don’t pretend that beliefs don’t matter; test them, own them, spread them, and act on them for the good of every one around you."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Our Own Black Shining Prince!

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz: 19 May 1925 - 21 February 1965

Although I missed the anniversary of the death of Malcom X, I still feel obliged to pay him homage. Next to Jesus Christ and Rev. Martin Luther King, he influenced me in becoming the man I am today. I think I have read "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" by Alex Haley at least 3 times. His whole life is an example and an inspiration for always standing up for what you believe in, as well as charting a new course when you come to a deeper level of understanding.

"I always had a deep affection for Malcolm and felt that he had a great ability to put his finger on the existence and the root of the problem. He was an eloquent spokesman for his point of view and no one can honestly doubt that Malcolm had a great concern for the problems we face as a race." Rev. Martin Luther King.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Gettysburg Address by Abraham Lincoln

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
November 19th, 1863

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Bob Marley: A Musical Prophet

Yesterday as Baby Asa and I were travelling to a play center, a local radio station which features a weekly 3 hour reggae segment, started playing a set of Bob Marley music in honour of his birthday, February 6th 1945. I was watching my little man boppin' to the vibes and I started singing along. There we were, me and mini-me driving down the road, shaking our heads to the rythmns and enjoying the musical prophet of our heritage. It was special moment. I have this dvd on the life and music of Bob Marley, so when we returned home, the Queen, the prince and I watched it. It was inspiring to say the least.

There was a time in my life when I listened to Bob every day. Even today, whenever I get bottled up with the rage caused by the bullshit of day to day living, I will go to the gym and workout listening only to Bob. As I burn off the negative physical energy, the music and lyrics brings perspective to my mind, as well as heals my soul.

I remember when I visited West Africa in 1997, I took all my Bob Marley cassettes with me. It was the same thing in all three countries: Senegal, Gambia and Ghana. My drivers, guides and I would be singing the lyrics as we travelled along to our destinations. Although we spoke different languages and came from various cultures, they knew all the words to all the songs... although they would occasionally ask me what some of the phrases meant. It was so sweet that the music of Bob Marley, a Jamaican... gave us: a Jamaican-Canadian, Senegalese, Ghambians and Ghanaians... an instant connection.

My favourite Bob Marley song:

Rest In Peace! Jah Rastafari!

Friday, January 23, 2009

How Barack Obama Will Make Christ a Minister of Condemnation

Here is an interesting viewpoint by Rev. John Piper on the issue of President Obama, homosexuality and the church:

At Barack Obama’s request, tomorrow in the Lincoln Memorial, Gene Robinson, the first openly non-celibate homosexual bishop in the Episcopal Church, will deliver the invocation for the inauguration kick-off.

This is tragic not mainly because Obama is willing to hold up the legitimacy of homosexual intercourse, but because he is willing to get behind the church endorsement of sexual intercourse between men.

It is one thing to say: Two men may legally have sex. It is another to say: The Christian church acted acceptably in blessing Robinson’s sex with men.

The implications of this are serious.

It means that Barack Obama is willing, not just to tolerate, but to feature a person and a viewpoint that makes the church a minister of damnation. Again, the tragedy here is not that many people in public life hold views (like atheism) that lead to damnation, but that Obama is making the church the minister of damnation.

The apostle Paul says,

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves , nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

What is Paul saying about things like adultery, greed, stealing, and homosexual practice? As J. I. Packer puts it, “They are ways of sin that, if not repented of and forsaken, will keep people out of God’s kingdom of salvation.” (Christianity Today, January 2003, p. 48).

In other words, to bless people in these sins, instead of offering them forgiveness and deliverance from them, is to minister damnation to them, not salvation.

The gospel, with its forgiveness and deliverance from homosexual practice, offers salvation. Gene Robinson, with his blessing and approval of homosexual practice, offers damnation. And he does it in the name of Christ.

It is as though Obama sought out a church which blessed stealing and adultery, and then chose its most well-known thief and adulterer, and asked him to pray.

One more time: The issue here is not that presidents may need to tolerate things they don’t approve of. The issue is this: In linking the Christian ministry to the approval of homosexual activity, Christ is made a minister of condemnation.

Here is a link to Bishop Robinson's opening inaugural prayer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Rev. Lowery's inauguration benediction

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou, who has brought us thus far along the way, thou, who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path we pray, lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met thee, lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget thee. Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand true to thee, oh God, and true to our native land. We truly give thanks for the glorious experience we've shared this day.

We pray now, oh Lord, for your blessing upon thy servant Barack Obama, the 44th president of these United States, his family and his administration. He has come to this high office at a low moment in the national, and indeed the global, fiscal climate. But because we know you got the whole world in your hands, we pray for not only our nation, but for the community of nations.

Our faith does not shrink though pressed by the flood of mortal ills. For we know that, Lord, you are able and you're willing to work through faithful leadership to restore stability, mend our brokenness, heal our wounds, and deliver us from the exploitation of the poor, of the least of these, and from favoritism toward the rich, the elite of these.

We thank you for the empowering of thy servant, our 44th president, to inspire our nation to believe that yes we can work together to achieve a more perfect union. And while we have sown the seeds of greed — the wind of greed and corruption, and even as we reap the whirlwind of social and economic disruption, we seek forgiveness and we come in a spirit of unity and solidarity to commit our support to our president by our willingness to make sacrifices, to respect your creation, to turn to each other and not on each other.

And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance. And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family. Let us take that power back to our homes, our workplaces, our churches, our temples, our mosques, or wherever we seek your will.

Bless President Barack, First Lady Michelle. Look over our little angelic Sasha and Malia.

We go now to walk together as children, pledging that we won't get weary in the difficult days ahead. We know you will not leave us alone. With your hands of power and your heart of love, help us then, now, Lord, to work for that day when nations shall not lift up sword against nation, when tanks will be beaten into tractors, when every man and every woman shall sit under his or her own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid, when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.

Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say "Amen!"

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Rev. Rick Warren's Inaugural Prayer

Almighty God, our Father, everything we see and everything we can’t see exists because of you alone. It all comes from you, it all belongs to you. It all exists for your glory. History is your story. The Scripture tells us “Hear, oh Israel, the Lord is our god; the Lord is one.” And you are the compassionate and merciful one. And you are loving to everyone you have made.

Now today, we rejoice not only in America’s peaceful transfer of power for the 44th time. We celebrate a hinge-point of history with the inauguration of our first African-American president of the United States.We are so grateful to live in this land, a land of unequaled possibility, where the son of an African immigrant can rise to the highest level of our leadership. And we know today that Dr. King and a great cloud of witnesses are shouting in Heaven.

Give to our new president Barack Obama the wisdom to lead us with humility, the courage to lead us with integrity, the compassion to lead us with generosity. Bless and protect him, his family, Vice President Biden, the Cabinet, and every one of our freely elected leaders.

Help us, oh God, to remember that we are Americans, united not by race or religion or blood, but to our commitment to freedom and justice for all.When we focus on ourselves, when we fight each other, when we forget you, forgive us. When we presume that our greatness and our prosperity is ours alone, forgive us. When we fail to treat our fellow human beings and all the Earth with the respect that they deserve, forgive us.

And as we face these difficult days ahead, may we have a new birth of clarity in our aims, responsibility in our actions, humility in our approaches, and civility in our attitudes, even when we differ. Help us to share, to serve and to seek the common good of all. May all people of good will today join together to work for a more just, a more healthy and a more prosperous nation and a peaceful planet. And may we never forget that one day all nations and all people will stand accountable before you.

We now commit our new president and his wife, Michelle and his daughters, Malia and Sasha, into your loving care.

I humbly ask this in the name of the one who changed my life: Yeshua, Essa (ph), Jesus, Jesus, who taught us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.”