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Soapbox Philosophy: Follow church’s ‘rules,’ or go somewhere else
by Gregory R. Norfleet · Op-Ed · August 01, 2007


Of the dozens of movies coming to the Landlocked Film Festival, the one that caught my attention was “Not That Kind of Christian!”
Let me preface this column by saying that I have not seen the 1 hour, 20-minute documentary interviewing gays in the Episcopal Church, but it did not take long for me to find out some things about it.

One of the key interviewees is Bishop V. Gene Robinson, whose headline-grabbing struggle for promotion in the church brings some weight to the film.

Here’s an excerpt written about the film from when it ran in the Breckenridge Festival of Film in June:

“This documentary explores queer Christians’ struggle for acceptance in the Episcopal Church, the schism their activism threatens to bring to worldwide Anglicanism, and the ways in which activists such as these shape our personal liberties at the highest institutional levels. While the film celebrates the achievements made by queer Anglicans as they transform an oppressive Christian tradition into a modern force of liberation, it doesn’t excuse the prejudices and abuses of organized religion. On the contrary, the film’s atheist director offers a skeptical critique of religion, particularly in an era when the word faith is often code for nationalism, homophobia, and sundry other forms of oppression.”

As for the first part of this excerpt, I have to say ... What?

The filmmakers seem to have confused religious acceptance with some sort of right.

For the moment, let’s forget the higher standard of faith and love and simply talk logic here: Becoming part of a particular religion is a choice. If you don’t like the rules, go somewhere else. It’s not oppression if you voluntarily subject yourself to rules you do not like.

Now let’s get into the next part, which is why religion is such a fascinating subject. For a religion to be worth anything at all, it has to declare that it is the “right” one -- that it is the only “true” religion, following the only (or most powerful) God. If not, then it’s nothing more than a code of conduct.

That said, the burden then falls to us as individuals. Religion is — in fact, must be — bigger than any one person. So once we determine that we’ve found the one-and-only true religion, then we must, as intelligent individuals, accept all of it as true. We can’t pick and choose which parts apply to us, because then we are, in effect, saying we’re smarter than God because he got it wrong. (And where’s the humility or self-sacrifice in that?) Or we’re simply creating a new religion and using some other religion’s name. Either way doesn’t work.

Getting back to the specific issue of homosexuality, if a gay man or lesbian woman chooses to join a religion based on the Christian faith, then they will have to accept that the Bible calls homosexuality a sin. That’s one of the rules and, like it or not, no one has been able to change the Christian God’s mind on that.

And it’s not for lack of trying.

So now let’s bring in love and faith.

Should homosexuals be allowed to join a Christian church? Sure. Should church members treat them any differently than other members? Of course not. So what’s wrong with Gene Robinson’s promotion in the Episcopal Church? One word: Shame.

Despite the rules, Robinson admits he’s breaking them and has no intention of trying to stop that behavior. Should this person be telling others how to follow God’s rules? If he was embarrassed by this behavior, if he was seeking to change himself and follow the “rules” laid out by the Bible, then that’s something else.

Now, about the second part of the above exerpt about “Not That Kind of Christian!” What about those outside the Christian church?

There are plenty of examples of Christian leaders using their position to oppress non-Christians. One of the more stark examples is the Ku Klux Klan. But let’s not forget Constantine, the first Roman emperor to become a Christian, who had more than 3,000 Christians executed because they disagreed with his interpretation of the Bible. And how about the Church of Ireland’s two centuries of rule, which resulted in a rebellion?

Then there are more subtle examples of homosexuals, blacks, women, etc. who have been denied church membership, been left out of church activities, been kept from involvement in various church committees, etc.

I agree that the Christian church has plenty of examples of prejudice and abuses to be ashamed of itself. But it’s not the religion, it’s not the God, and it’s not the Bible. It’s the people carrying out misguided interpretations who are to blame. They should be removed from leadership themselves for “breaking the rules.”

The Christian faith has it’s rules, but it also calls on followers to practice “unconditional love” and “tough love.”

In the case of unabashed homosexuals in the church, Christians should invite them to dinner, but not to leadership. Christians are supposed to lovingly confront others who claim to share their faith when they break the rules.

The Bible even has a step-by-step guide on how to do that.

But the Bible also lays out guidelines for those who wish to be in leadership. And people who flagrantly disregard the rules — or, in Biblical jargon, don’t repent and turn away from their sin — don’t make the cut.

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