(The video above is Part 1 of the Jennifer Knapp interview. Click here to watch the entire show.)
SKEPTIC: In what just might be one of the signs of the apocalypse, a prominent Christian singer, Jennifer Knapp, admitted that she is a lesbian. Not only did she admit it, but she didn't apologize for it and has no intention of repenting of her "sin." In fact, she doesn't even consider it to be a sin. She says she's still a "person of faith" and believes that there should be room for her in a church that preaches love as the ultimate value. So the question is being asked: Can someone truly be a Christian and an unrepentant gay person, or is "gay Christian" an oxymoron?
The Internet has been on fire with Christian angst over this fallen woman, with people condemning her and telling her that she's headed for the fiery furnace. Christian love on full display. A few days ago, she appeared on Larry King Live, alongside a conservative Christian preacher named Bob Botsford, who continually tried to insist that she must repent of her evil ways. She remained remarkably calm in the face of his less-than-loving onslaught.
Here's a typical reaction from the conservative Christian community. It was written by Mario Herrera at biblicalthought.com...
Jennifer, there is no escaping what the Scripture reveals. You laugh and smile about the sin you are in. In reality, you have faith, but not a faith that originates from the God of Scripture. Your leadership is deceived and if you and they do not repent, I will tell you what Bob Botsford did not tell you, you will suffer eternal perdition in Hell along with them. Your homosexuality is an outward manifestation of your unbelief. You do not believe the Bible to be the Word of God and because of this you have a God made in your own image; an idol. The Lord is a loving and gracious God, but He is also Holy and Just!
I don't know, it just seems to me that Christians (particularly of the conservative bent) are WAY too hung up on sex. You guys would do the world a giant favor if you would just stop trying to tell everyone else WHO to have sex with, WHEN to have sex, and even WHY to have sex. If Jennifer Knapp were smart (and she certainly appears to be), she would run as far away as possible from this howling pack of judgmental bigots that are attacking her. I know that's a loaded word, but many Christians fit the dictionary definition to a T: A bigot is “one who is strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.” Being intolerant of anyone who is not like you is bigotry, whether it’s in regard to race, class, or sexual identity. Christians, however, are so hung up on the idea that an ancient book is the final word on on every aspect of life that they can’t even recognize intolerance when they’re guilty of it. Imagine how much nicer the world would be if people lived their lives the way they see fit, and allowed others the liberty to do likewise (as long as they do no harm to others). But apparently it makes many Christians feel better to judge, berate, ridicule, and demean people who are gay. It’s a sad state of affairs.
PREACHER: Being a Christian doesn't stop you from doing wrong things, whether it be immoral sex or hating those who do immoral sex. Hating anyone, however they act, is wrong. We are supposed to love our enemies, even more so when it comes to those who may be confused or in denial about sexual morality. When Christians go after Jennifer Knapp, it has to do with them seeing how her lifestyle doesn't fit Biblical morality and commenting (sometimes with strong emotion) on it. Jennifer has twisted (not interpreted) Scripture in order to justify her lifestyle. She should be held accountable for that.
The bottom line is this: The Bible condemns homosexual acts, and no amount of reinterpreting it can change that. God loves all sinners, including those with same sex orientation. The problem comes when those who have developed a same sex attraction decide that they should embrace that and convince the rest of the world that it is good, even going so far as twisting the Bible's clear position to accomodate their lifestyle. They have a more serious problem than their sexual orientation. It is called lack of integrety. We may not agree on sexual morality, but I think we can agree on being honest, can't we?
SKEPTIC: Sure, I'm all for honesty. And so is Jennifer Knapp. It takes a lot of "integrity" to be open about who she is, knowing that she'd be creating this firestorm. I certainly admire her for that. But here's the problem - Christians always say they "love" gays, but then insist that they must repent and give up their whole identity, essentially, to get right with God. Unsurprisingly, that message doesn't usually feel like love - in fact, it usually feels like the opposite of love, and in fact, constitutes intolerance.
PREACHER:Why does sexual orientation have to define who someone is, anyway? Just because someone has a certain sexual orientation doesn't demand that they embrace it and act it out. We are more than our sexual orientation. It should and can be put in its place with all of our other appetites. Some people might find that more challenging than others. We Christians should be helping each other out rather than just judging those who have fallen into following their sexual orientation into immorality.
Suffice it to say that a Bible believing Christian is being inconsistant with his source of Truth when he calls same sex attraction good and normal. Now if you don't accept the Bible as your authority, then of course you can do whatever feels natural and label it "good" after the event.
SKEPTIC: So then why is it that many liberal Christian denominations have no problem accepting gays into their church - without the need for shame and repentance? In these churches, they are accepted for who they are - for how "God" made them. Are these churches not really Christian?
But I do agree with you when you say that "we are more than our sexual orientation." That's certainly true. Yet Christians often seem to have trouble seeing beyond that one aspect of a person.
PREACHER: I just recently read the doctrinal statement of a liberal Christian denomination. Although it says that they consider the Bible to be their authority, they also claim that it has error and out of date assumptions in it. How can something that is mistaken on major issues such as the origin of the universe and sexuality also be trusted as an authority? What they really do is pick and choose only the parts of the Bible that they feel good about and reject the rest. This is essentially what Jennifer has done. She likes the part that says Jesus has died for her sins and gives her eternal life. She doesn't like the part that says her lifestyle is sinful. It doesn't take too much wisdom to know what her real authority is. It is her opinion, isn't it?
SKEPTIC: Seriously? You're accusing them of picking and choosing from the Bible? Seems to me that that is clearly what you do when you assert your positions. But actually, I think the problem is that different people interpret the Bible in different ways. Sometimes much different. You'd think any God worth his salt would have come up with a way to communicate to the masses without causing so much confusion. So are you saying that liberal Christian denominations are not true Christians? Are they headed for hell?
PREACHER: There is a line between interpreting and twisting the Bible. When what you believe contradicts itself, that is you claim the Bible to be your authority when it really is not, you are no longer interpreting the Bible, you are making the opinions of men the final authority. God has communicated quite clearly, it is us sinful human beings who have difficulty sorting out what the Bible actually says from our opinions. I challenge you to point out how my insistence that the Bible teaches that homosexuality is wrong is a case of picking and choosing or my opinion. I don't hate gay people, but if they insist that the Bible says their lifestyle is OK, then I know that on that point at least they have put their opinion above what the Bible says. If they also say that they accept the Bible as their authority then they are being inconsistent, contradicting themselves.
I don't think you can make a very strong case from the Bible that gay or liberal Christians will go to hell. The epistles of the New Testament are full of warnings to Christians, those who are of the faith, about falling into sin and unbelief, and losing their reward (not losing their salvation). The gift of salvation (getting into heaven) is free to all who believe that Jesus died and rose again paying the penalty for their sins, but those who believed but didn't live a life that pleases God will certainly shrink back in shame in His presence when they realize that they have lived a lie.
SKEPTIC: So I guess that's good news for gay and liberal Christians. They still get to go to heaven, but they will experience some shrinkage.
PREACHER:That is shrinkage in the sense of wanting to find a hole in the ground to hide in out of embarressment when they realize how foolish they were.
SKEPTIC: Well, let's just hope there are enough holes to hide in once they get to heaven.As to your challenge, you pick and choose from the Bible every time you insist that the biblical injunction against homosexuals be followed, but show no concern for the myriad of other silly prohibitions - like those against wearing certain kinds of clothes or eating certain kinds of food.
PREACHER: You fail to see the distinction between the moral laws that are continued in the New Testament and apply to all of God's children versus those that only applied to the nation of Israel. For instance, I am not picking and choosing when I follow what the New Testament says that we no longer need to follow the Old Testament dietary laws, circumcision, etc.
SKEPTIC: So I DIDN'T have to get that circumcision?? Damn, I wish my parents had read that verse before I got the old "snip snip." That was not fun. Not fun at all.
I had to smile, though, when you said that "God has communicated quite clearly, it is us sinful human beings who have difficulty sorting out what the Bible says from our opinions." You can't really have it both ways. If God had communicated quite clearly, then no one should be having even a little difficulty understanding the meaning. But maybe God just enjoys watching all the confusion. It might just be a form of cheap entertainment for him.
PREACHER: May I suggest that before you call the Bible unclear and silly that you refresh your memory by reading it. It is mostly unclear to those who don't want to believe or obey it.
SKEPTIC: I dare say that I'm more familiar with The "Good" Book than many Christians. But may I be serious for a moment? Thank you.
Imagine that you're the Christian parent of a beautiful 22-year-old daughter. She's a fine Christian girl who is the apple of your eye. She has lots of fine Christian friends and nobody has anything bad to say about her. She is cherished by one and all.
One day she comes to you and tells you that dark secret that you had kind of suspected, but had never asked her about. She's in love with another woman. She's a lesbian. She explains to you that she's felt drawn to women for many years. Although she has some male friends, she has never had any romantic attraction to them.
You, as a Christian parent, now have 2 distinct options. Let's follow them to their logical conclusions...
Option A: You can talk to her about her feelings in a non-judgmental and caring way. You can perhaps assure her that God still loves her and watches over her. You can maybe even say that you love her just as much as before, and in fact, you're happy that she's found a wonderful partner to share her life and dreams with. The natural result of this option would be for her to feel much relief now that she has finally come out to you and to the world with her true self - and she would no doubt go on to live a happy and healthy life with a person she cared deeply about. Plus she would have a very healthy relationship with you, her father.
Option B: You sit down with your daughter and explain that the Bible says it's a sin to be a lesbian - and that she must break off her relationship at once. Furthermore, she must repent to God and ask his forgiveness. She must understand that it's unnatural for her to love a woman, and it means that Satan is attacking her. She must NEVER give in to those feelings for women. If she does, she risks the eternal wrath of God and may end up in hell. The natural result of this option would be for your daughter to feel immense guilt and shame. She'd probably try to change her feelings - maybe even go to some church-sponsored program that promises to make her straight. She reads her Bible and prays about it every day. But nothing works. She longs for the woman whom she cast out of her life. As she experiences more and more rejection from her family and friends, she falls into a deep depression, begins to look for solace in a bottle or with drugs, and one day a few years later, jumps from the 20th-floor window of a hotel room.
PREACHER: You have presented me with a false dichotomy. Either I need to accept her homosexuality as good, or at least OK, or I can reject it and risk having her feel rejected and maybe even committing suicide. Can't I choose a middle ground that affirms her as my beloved daughter, while still agreeing with the Bible that her lifestyle is immoral? I know of conservative Christians who have done just that, and their son or daughter are getting along fine with them, still caring for each other just the same. Christians have the assurance that Christ's grace covers everything about us, including a sexual orientation which we cannot seem to change.
I see that you dogmatically hold to your false assumption that sexual orientation is a "sealed in stone" fixed trait that can't be altered. And, if it is suppressed or controlled will lead to severe psychological damage. Therefore it is healthy to embrace and express it. However you allow that only for same-sex attraction. I guess pedophiles have no choice but to suppress their sexual orientation, commit an offence and be put on the sexual predator list, or go out and commit suicide.
So what exactly is "sexual orientation" anyway? There is no evidence of a "gay" gene. (That is why I call your assumption false.) It seems to me that the concept is very much a product of our present feel-good psycho culture.
Everyone is taught that they have a sexual orientation (gay or straight), and it is too wonderful to not express and embrace. Every relationship seems to be sexualized. If you say you love someone, it is almost assumed to be a sexual relationship. Is that really healthy? Is the sexual experience really that central and crucial for human happiness? Or, probably this present obsession with it is nothing more than a passing fad.
Skeptic: Firstly - YES, the sexual experience really is that central and crucial for human happiness. I think that's actually kind of obvious. And what happens with most people who feel pressured to change their sexual orientation is that they end up being celibate rather than embracing what they are being told is "unnatural" and "sinful." Do you think they are happy? I seriously doubt it.
Secondly - I don't know how a son or daughter can have a healthy relationship with their parents if accusations of "immorality" are constantly swirling about them.
But if you think changing your sexual orientation is so easy, imagine for a moment that you live in a different society where heterosexuality has been labeled "sinful." Their sacred book says that men loving women is an "abomination." How easy would it be for you to change your orientation to become gay? How would you go about that, exactly? A person is either attracted to men or attracted to women. You can't force someone to just flip a switch and change that. Of course, some people are apparently attracted to both - which just gives them a lot more options, I suppose.
SKEPTIC: I recently had a very strange email exchange with an old friend from my high school days - more than 40 years ago. Her name was Kathy, and she was part of the group I hung out with at church - back when I was a churchgoer. I remembered her as a really fun and vivacious girl, and so when I acquired her email address through a mutual friend, I was excited to get in touch again.
I sat down and penned a very long and friendly email, catching her up on what I've been up to for the last 40 years. Along the way, I briefly explained that my worldview vis a vis God and religion had changed quite considerably in the last four decades. I sent the email into cyberspace and waited for her reply.
Finally, after one full month had passed, I received a reply. A pretty weird reply, but a reply nonetheless. The whole email consisted of a series of Bible verses, flung at me like those little flying ninja stars. The verses were definitely not very friendly. They contained words like "godlessness," "wickedness," "unrighteousness," and "depraved." There was no message, no greeting, no signature. Just the Bible verses. Apparently she had decided that since her and I no longer shared the same belief system, I was not worthy of her attention, even after 40 years, and it was her solemn responsibility to put me in my place.
PREACHER: Well, it looks like she is definitely giving you the boot, at least for as long as you hold to your "enlightened" world view. It is typical of Christians to respond with Bible verses since we believe that the Word of God is the most powerful tool to convict sinners. It would have been nice of her to respond personally, but I suppose she didn't feel up to discussing the issues with you.
SKEPTIC: Well, I didn't even indicate that I wanted to discuss it. It was just part of my life story that I thought she might be interested in. I wouldn't even have minded a couple of Bible verses thrown in to illustrate a point she wanted to make - but to reply with nothing but very angry and accusatory verses was pretty strange, I thought. I was confused at first, then insulted, and then angry.
PREACHER: It is unfortunate that some Christians feel intimidated by non-believers. I think that is what happened with her, and so her response. A lot of Christians, particularly in the United States, rather than being a witness to their faith, react by trying to protect themselves from the "onslaught" of secularism and the influence of other religions. In this day they seem to be particularly afraid of Moslems (hence classes on how to befriend Moslems offered at some churches). Such reactions of fear speak of a weak faith and ignorance of basic Biblical truths.
That being said, wouldn't you admit that atheists have a lot to do to improve their public image? Still, for a lot of church-going folks the word "atheist" conjures up such names as Joseph Stalin or Adolph Hitler. I'm sure you would agree that getting insulted and angry doesn't do much for that image either. You might have made a better reconnect with her if you hadn't introduced your new found understanding to her quite so soon.
SKEPTIC: So Christians defame atheists by linking them to Stalin and Hitler, but it's atheists who need to improve their public image? Seems to me that the poor image of atheists was created by the religious community - and it's up to them to stop unfairly demonizing atheists. If atheists were to continually assert that Timothy McVeigh represented Christianity, you would be within your rights to demand that they stop making such an unfair linkage. And it certainly wouldn't be fair for atheists to insist that, because of McVeigh, Christians need to "improve their public image." And for the record, while there is conflicting evidence, it appears that Hitler was much more sympathetic to Christianity than to atheism.
Also, why do you say that "getting insulted and angry doesn't do much for that image, either?" If someone disrespects me, don't I have a right to have those feelings? It's human nature to react that way. It has nothing to do with atheism or religion. And as to your suggestion that I shouldn't have told her my deep dark secret so soon - well, perhaps I might not have if I had known that she wasn't mature enough to handle it - but it's a new day for atheists - we're coming out of the closet, we're speaking out, we're not hiding from the world. "We're here, don't fear, get used to it!" (Hey, that's kind of catchy!)
PREACHER: So, the religious community have made atheists their victims! How pathetic! I heartily encourage and applaud atheists for coming out of the closet and with their "greater enlightenment" getting over and beyond being unfairly demonized by the "unenlightened" religious community.
However, your worldview does present you with some challenges. If indeed we are nothing but the product of natural processes over the eons, how does that process of origin give us any rights or dignity in the first place? Since I believe that you are created in the image of God, I really do believe that entitles you to some kind of dignity and rights. But, as I understand, your worldview doesn't require me to give you any dignity and rights. Neither does it require you to give me dignity and rights. Joseph Stalin consistently lived out that worldview by putting to death millions of people whom he considered problematic. Wouldn't you agree that Timothy McVeigh and Adolph Hitler did not consistently live the Christian worldview?
I appreciate "good" atheists. But, I am quite sure that they are "good" because of the influence of Christian ethics and morality in the society that they grew up in, not their worldview. Is there a new day coming for atheism? Maybe temporarily. From the point of view of eternity, it could never be more than a temporary glitch in time.
SKEPTIC: So dignity and rights are only available or required if they come from God? That's a novel idea.
But you seem to have missed my point regarding the image of atheists. I wasn't claiming victimhood - I was merely pointing out that it's silly to tell atheists that they should "improve their image" when it's the religious community that has created that false image.
I love the way you always put quotes around words like "enlightened." You obviously consider your belief system the only one worthy of consideration. And I'm really happy that you appreciate "good" atheists, as if such a thing is some kind of bizarre anomaly. But then to claim that the only way atheists can achieve goodness is courtesy of Christianity is yet one more example of how Christians view themselves as better than "the others."
Which brings us full circle to my old friend, Kathy. Both her and you demonstrate such arrogance in your worldview. Christians have turned self-righteousness into an art form - to the point where anyone who doesn't agree with you is not just wrong, but headed for eternal damnation in the fiery pits of hell. It's not a very attractive quality, but I suspect that you can't do much about it, since it's kind of built into the theology.
In any event, I'm glad to see that you have apparently moved Hitler from the "atheist" column into the "Christian" column. (Watch the above video for an interesting discussion on Stalin and Hitler.)
PREACHER: As an atheist who considers himself truly superior, wouldn't you consider it your perogative to do all you can to correct that false image created by the religious community? That is what I really welcome, and some of you are trying to do that! Yes, that "superiority" you find in Christians is built into the theology. After all, Christ who is eternal has given us eternal life and significance. By your own admission your opinions, even your very existence, are only extremely temporary and therefore insignificant.
SKEPTIC: So my existence and my opinions only have value if they are eternal, but if they come with an expiration date, then they are completely insignificant. Have I got that part right? Do you know how many times I was taught in my church that this life on earth is "insignificant," and that it was merely a "dress rehearsal" for the afterlife? (Answer: a lot!) So then it would follow, would it not, that anyone who didn't believe in an afterlife would attach considerably more significance to this earthly life. So whose existence is more "significant?"
And, no, I don't consider myself to be superior, while you have just admitted that you, indeed, do. Thinking you have all the answers is what breeds arrogance. Someone once said that "Philosophy is questions that may never be answered, while religion is answers that can never be questioned." Atheists are asking questions, looking for answers, and willing to change their worldview if the evidence merits it. Christians, on the other hand, are given the answers and told not to ask questions. Just accept it. And if you come across contradictory evidence, just ignore it.
So, my old friend Kathy, thanks for the flying ninja stars. If you ever want to have an actual conversation, you've got my email address. I won't bite. Really.