Following The Leader

This was my final paper for English Comp 2. Any constructive criticism (or polite and respectful content criticism, even if you disagree) is welcome. Just be nice if you don't agree with me. I welcome ALL feedback!

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”

~Mahatma Gandhi

Activism by mainstream Christianity is on the rise. Sexuality, abortion, pornography and divorce are just a few of the issues that we Christians are most vocal about. But are we really doing God’s work? More importantly, are we leading by example? This paper will look briefly at these four major issues and examine the general Christian position on those issues while analyzing whether or not our community is “practicing what [we] preach”.

Mainstream Christianity tends to be conservative on issues of sexuality. While most agree, regardless of religious affiliation, that activities such as adultery, bestiality and incest are morally wrong, there are no hard and fast rules regarding subjects such as masturbation, pornography, and birth control. These grey areas are continuing sources of conflict within and outside the Christian community. Probably no other issue of sexuality causes emotions to boil over faster than that of homosexuality. Once a social taboo that was kept locked in the closet amongst other skeletons, homosexuality was removed as a mental illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973 (Pies, 2001).

At a church service several weeks ago, my pastor made a statement during his sermon in reference to the recent election of a “homosexual” governor in another state and commented about how more homosexuals were getting placed in positions of power. He proclaimed that Christians would begin to see an increased “chipping away” of their religious rights as more homosexuals were elevated in political authority. He denounced the state that allowed this person to become their leader.

His statements saddened me. My pastor is a man of great intelligence, both worldly and theological, and I have the utmost respect and admiration for him. But I question why the governor’s sexual orientation renders him incompetent to perform the duties of his position? Isn’t it logical that, despite his orientation, he could prove to be a great political leader for the state that elected him?

Many of our government and political leaders engage in immoral activities but the one that keeps getting brought up is the one that happens least, homosexuality. If sexual orientation is used as a disqualifier for a public position, shouldn’t other sins also disqualify someone from holding public office, such as divorce, adultery, or fornication? All sin is the same in God’s eyes, so why are we rating them on an invisible scale of severity that we—not God, created?

One obstacle that homosexuals face is the legalities of same-sex marriage. Advocates became vocal about the possibility of legalizing gay marriage when the Hawaii Supreme Court in 1993 ruled in Baehr vs. Lewin that the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage was gender discrimination. This is the first time a court ruled that same-sex couples might have the right to marry (Find Law, 2009).

Many opponents of gay marriage argue that legalizing same-sex unions or “marriage” is an attack on traditional families. They maintain that the sanctity of marriage must be protected by a federal amendment declaring marriage as an institution to occur only between a man and a woman. In 1996, congress adopted the federal Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as a union between a man and woman [1 U.S.C. § 7 (1997)] and allowed for the states to make their own decisions about marriage [28 U.S.C. § 1738C (1997)].

If marriage is an institution created by God (and in my opinion, as a Christian, it is) then how is it possible that legalizing same-sex marriage can threaten it? Is same-sex marriage more powerful than God? What does it matter what proponents of gay marriage call their civil unions? If it isn’t sanctioned by God, then by the Christian standard it isn’t a true marriage because God will not recognize a homosexual marriage as one of His. So why don’t we take comfort in that?

Christians define marriage as a divine institution with certain commitments, obligations and duties that symbolize the relationship between Jesus Christ and His church (Deffinbaugh, 2009). In order to understand marriage from a Christian perspective, it is important to understand that the origin of marriage, which is recorded in Genesis 1:27-28. It took place between Adam and Eve—the first recorded marriage in the history of Christianity. There wasn’t a big family gathering and Eve didn’t wear a white gown and toss her bouquet to her bridesmaids. This marriage was consummated with sexual intercourse—that is, the way Adam and Eve showed they were married was by having sex. Adam and Eve are the example of what God intended for marriage before sin entered man’s heart through disobedience. Sex within the confines of a heterosexual marriage is a sacred act that joins a man and woman together in “one flesh”. This is why so many Christians denounce homosexuality.

Mainstream Christianity is quick to condemn the homosexual orientation, but the heart of the matter is not orientation, it is fornication. One mistake Christians make is assuming that someone who is homosexual is also having sex. If someone were to introduce themselves to us as heterosexual, we wouldn’t assume they were having sex (though we might find it a rather odd statement to make.) Why do we make that assumption with someone who is homosexual when we don’t with people who are heterosexual?

Though rare, there are professing homosexuals who are virgins that are waiting for that right person to come along, just the same as heterosexual virgins which shows that it is possible to develop a gay identity separate from sex (Gross, 2003). One might ask how another knows for sure they are gay if they’ve never had sex. Well, how would a heterosexual virgin know they weren’t gay if they have never had sex? This illustrates the need to differentiate between the orientation and the sexual act.

Because God does not recognize homosexual marriage even if it is a legal institution, any homosexual relationship that includes sex is considered fornication—an act that goes against Christian values. It is important to point out that being homosexual is not a sin, engaging in homosexual sex is although it appears sometimes that some Christians confuse orientation with actual behavior.

Fornication is not just a homosexual issue. It has reached epidemic proportions especially with today’s youth which has birthed the promotion of abstinence-only education. Shockingly, today’s teens have developed a very casual attitude towards sex, especially oral sex, believing it safer than intercourse because there is no risk of pregnancy and less chance of contracting a STD. A study published in Pediatrics in April 2005 found that 55% of 15- to 19-year-old boys and 54% of girls the same age reported getting or giving oral sex, compared with 49% of boys and 53% of girls the same ages who reported having had intercourse (Jayson, 2005).

Studies show that, though funding for Abstinence Only education tripled between 2001 and 2008, the desired effect has not been achieved. Participants who took the “virginity pledge” were just as likely to engage in premarital sex as non-participants. Even more worrisome is that the Abstinence Only participants were found to be more likely to engage in unsafe sex (Hanson, 2009).

Teens and Homosexuals aren’t the only “fornicators”. Cohabitating has contributed to the rise of births outside wedlock and an increase in single parenting. Studies in the U.S. have shown that couples who live together before marriage have a very high probability of divorcing later, up to five times higher in one study. Cohabitation has led to fewer marriages, has a negative effect on child well-being, and yet is on the rise as an alternative to marriage (Popenoe, 2008). While mainstream Christianity advocates living separate until marriage, a majority of Christians believe it is acceptable, and in some cases, a good idea to cohabitate before marriage. But the pulpits are silent on this practice. Why?

This leads in to the issue of abortion. When does a fetus become a person? Pro-life advocates argue that life begins at conception and from the point of conception that baby is deserving of the same fundamental human rights including the right to live. Many Christian advocates reference Psalm 139:13-16 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”

Pro-choice advocates believe that a woman should have the right to choose whether or not to continue a pregnancy. “Most pro-choicers base their stance on the belief that human life becomes a human person at some time after conception -- perhaps when the embryo's heart starts beating, or when the fetus first looks human, or it becomes sentient, or it has half emerged from its mother's body, or is born, or is severed from its mother and is functioning independently. They feel that a woman should not be forced to go through a pregnancy and childbirth if she does not choose to do so. She should be allowed to have an abortion if it is done before her embryo or fetus attains personhood” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2010). Some argue that until it can survive on its own, outside the womb, that it isn’t a real person. Birth, however, doesn’t make it any less dependent on other’s for its survival. A baby is still completely dependent on someone outside itself for its basic survival. It can’t feed itself. It can’t bathe itself. It is entirely helpless and would die if not cared for. Why is it not a person until it can be helpless outside its mother’s womb?

Studies indicate that 78% of abortions are performed on unmarried women simply because the woman did not want to be pregnant. Interestingly, 37.4% of all abortions are performed on Protestant women and 18% on born-again Protestant women. Surprisingly, Roman Catholics have a significantly higher rate of abortion than Protestant women (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2004). Ironically, women with no religious affiliation account for only about 23% of abortions performed in the United States. Can this really be true? How is it that the main opponent of abortion accounts for over one-half of all abortions?

“We, who support pro-life, are not denying that a woman might have reasons to not want to go through a pregnancy, or that she has a right to bodily integrity. We do not refer to the life in the womb as a parasitic symbiosis. And we're not saying that a government should have the power to compel women to carry babies. But, we do oppose the mother forcing her will upon the child by killing it.”
–Matt Slick, Founder CARM

There is one likely advocate for abortion whom Christianity as a whole and even many who are not religious denounce. “There is an open sewer in our society today—an open sewer which is corrupting and polluting the hearts and minds of young and old alike—a sewer of pornography” (Kennedy, 2008). Jesus said in Matthew 5:27 “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery'; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." Powerful words that every Christian should live by…one would think.

Porn industry revenue in the United States surpasses $13 billion annually, fourth in line from China , South Korea and Japan, each grossing annual sales in excess of $27, $25, and $19 billion respectively. The United States ranks number one in video porn production with Los Angeles being the hub of adult production companies. In 2005, the U.S. released over 13,500 hard core porn titles compared to just 1,300 in 1988. The United States publishes more pornographic web pages than any other country in the world—in excess of 244 million pages! Germany lags at number two with just over 10 million web pages. Most users of porn in the United States earn over $50,000 annually and are in the 35-44 age bracket (TopTenREVIEWS, Inc., 2007).

1. Interestingly, China is one of the top 14 countries to ban pornography, yet they top the list as having the highest revenue produced from a banned industry! (TopTenREVIEWS, Inc., 2007).

The church is not immune to the lure of pornography. Nearly half of all Christians polled admit that
pornography is a problem in their household (Fireproof Ministries, 2010). A poll taken at a Promise Keepers rally revealed that 53% of men in attendance had accessed porn in the week prior (Fireproof Ministries, 2010). Alarmingly, 69% of pastors started looking at porn out of curiosity with 37% admitting it is a personal struggle (Fireproof Ministries, 2010). When it comes to sexual purity, it appears that the Christian community has a huge white elephant in the pews yet no one is talking about it.

When it comes to the issue of divorce, Christianity takes the position that God does not condone divorce except for under very specific circumstances, such as adultery although even that is open to debate depending on who is being asked. Most would reason that because Christians are dedicated to their beliefs, that divorce amongst Christians is low or nearly non-existent. In reality, the so called “Bible Belt” has the highest divorce rate in the country—nearly 50% above the national average! (NCPA, 1999). Sadly, the Bible Belt has also been found to have the highest rate of teen pregnancy (Texas has a 40% teen pregnancy rate compared to a 22% national average), highest homicide rate, poorest health and the highest rate of HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis (Stop the Religious Right, 2005).

George Barna of the Barna Research group conducted a study in December 1999 and found divorce rates amongst conservative Christians was significantly higher than other faith groups and much higher than atheists and agnostics (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2009). Donald Hughes, author of The Divorce Reality, said: "In the churches, people have a superstitious view that Christianity will keep them from divorce, but they are subject to the same problems as everyone else, and they include a lack of relationship skills. ...Just being born again is not a rabbit's foot” (Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 2009)

So what now? How can we as Christians expect non-believers to hear and consider anything we have to say about their lifestyle when our own lifestyles do not align with what we preach? Is it any wonder that non-believers feel religion itself is a joke? We are practicing the “do as I say, not as I do” philosophy and wondering why society is so resistant to the salvation message.
Margaret Talbot writes, “It was hard to find anyone at the recent anti-gay-marriage rally in Washington, D.C., who had a bad word to say about gays” (Talbot, 2004). One would find that rather surprising at a rally hosting speakers such as Dr. James Dobson, Chairman of Focus on the Family, and Alan Chambers, an “ex-gay” and President of Exodus International, a Christian outreach to homosexuals. Chambers had “urged the crowd to ‘repent of our hostility to homosexual people’”. It appears that, finally, the Christians are starting to get it right.

“I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.”
~Mahatma Gandhi

“I am grieved that we are not showing forth the heart of Christ. I am grieved that someone like Gandhi could like Christ but not see his likeness in those called by his name. I am grieved that when Jesus walked this earth, sinners flocked to him as a safe place, and while they still do so today, often the church is not that place at all. I am grieved that this quote from Gandhi too often reflects the true sentiments of multitudes of people today” (Mom, 2008).

What can we do to make this right? Matt Slick who is the founder of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) uses biblical references to support the opposition to homosexuality. Where Matt differs is his advice on how Christians should respond to the homosexual person. Many so-called “Christians” have responded to homosexuals with insults such as, “God hates Fags!” or “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve!”(Farley, 2009). Extremists all but demand media attention with anti-gay rhetoric and further destroy what few opportunities there are to witness to the homosexual population. One such extremist, Flip Benham prides himself as the “example” for Christians to follow because he has been repeatedly jailed “for the cause of Christ”. Benham proclaims “Instead of building bridges to homosexuality in order to appear reasonable and kind in the eyes of the media, we need to be storming the gates of hell. That's right! This lie, like that of child killing, is being used by Satan to rob, kill, and destroy. It is our duty and privilege as Christians to demolish this stronghold, and demolish every argument and pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God (2 Cor 10:3-6). We are not to build bridges to homosexuality; we are to totally destroy this lie by the blood of the lamb, the word of our testimony, not loving our own lives so much as to shrink from death. This is biblical love” (Benham, 2000).

Matt’s response mirrors that of Jesus, himself, who shared a meal with the tax collectors rather than chastising them. Matt calls believers to “ him (or her) or pray for him (her).” “As a Christian, you should pray for the salvation of the homosexual the same as you would for any other person in sin. The homosexual is still made in the image of God.” “Therefore, you should show him the same dignity as anyone else with whom you come in contact. However, this does not mean that you are to approve of their sin. Don't compromise your witness for a socially-acceptable opinion that is void of godliness.” (Slick, 2010)

“I know there are no perfect churches. My dad often jokes that if you find a perfect church, don’t let him join it because it won’t be perfect anymore! (I’m right there with you, dad.) So I’m not talking about trying harder to be and act and ‘just do’ what Jesus did.

But I am talking about humbling ourselves before him and asking him to search our hearts, and to show us ourselves and the real Jesus with spiritual eyes. I am also talking about asking him to make us attractive to ‘sinners’, for us to be people who ‘join the rest of the human race.’ To become one follower of Christ that gives someone somewhere a taste of the heart of God” (Mom, 2008).

Good advice. What will you do with it?

Works Cited
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Binstock, G., & Thornton, A. (2003). Separations, Reconciliations and Living Apart in Cohabitating and Marital Unions. Journal of Marriage and Family , pp. 432-443.

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