2 Corinthians 13:5 “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you–unless, of course, you fail the test?” (NIV)
About nine years ago I was beginning an intense process of self-examination and reevaluation of much of what I had come to believe over the previous decade. After a merciful miracle involving our third child and second daughter, Anna, I became more aware of the need for reevaluation and self-examination (read about that here). In 1995, not long after I had declared a psychology major at East Carolina, I joined an anti-Trinitarian group called “The Way International” (TWI). In addition to a Unitarian and quite rancorous anti-Trinitarian theology, I had also been steeped in several other doctrines that included soul sleep (the doctrine that there is no conscious existence after death until Christ returns), what TWI called “the law of believing” (similar to the New Age/Wiccan concept of “the law of attraction”), and what theologians call a hyper-dispensational view, which was premillennial/pre-tribulational, for those who might be familiar with those terms. In the TWI, for the most part, there was also a rather loose sexual ethic for opposite sexes that was eventually tightened up after the TWI President, Craig Martindale, got caught up in some lawsuits regarding sexual affairs and possible abuse at TWI headquarters. With regards to same sex relationships, however, TWI was adamantly and absolutely opposed.
A few months after Anna’s birth, I decided to take a step away from TWI and to reevaluate and test much of what I had come to believe regarding God and the Bible. This also coincided with recurring nightmares that I kept having wherein I would go to take a final exam only to realize that I had been going to all the wrong classes, which was odd considering I had already successfully completed a B.A. and an M.A years before. Nevertheless, in addition to a lot of prayer and continued Bible reading and study, a major, and not so easy, step in this process was to begin to read criticism of TWI doctrine and arguments for the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance. It wasn’t easy quite frankly because of the fear of opposing views that was instilled into us as we were indoctrinated into TWI’s theology. We were inoculated with warnings against opposing views, if not banned from reading certain material, especially material from TWI specific critics and defectors, who were effectively and quite literally demonized and dismissively labeled as “cop-outs”. As odd as it might sound to some, an unhealthy dose of the fear of demon possession was drilled into us; and it was really all about information control, which is really all about mind control. In spite of the depth to which I was indoctrinated and in spite of the fear that had been effectively instilled in me, I dared to question what I had been taught to think, and what I had come to believe; I dared to question myself. So I began to prayerfully read anything and everything that I could find, as I also tried to read the Bible without TWI colored glasses.
It’s really a long, winding, and detailed story, but the short of it is this: After week after week after week of praying, reading, and studying, one day, while sitting on the couch in my living room reading through Philippians 2, in the spirit of that very passage, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit, I humbled myself and accepted Jesus as my Savior and as my Lord and my God (see also John 20:28). Through that process I was delivered from pride in my own reason and experience that I had elevated about the revelation of God’s word. I was also delivered from the fear of opposing views and questioning myself. I realized the value and importance of considering as many views as possible on their own terms, and to be a lover of truth more than my own views and ideas. I also realized that one can never know enough not to have some sort of faith when it comes to the major questions of life. Logic is only as good as the validity of the premises on which it is based. An argument can be made for just about anything, and at some point everyone is going to have to take a leap of faith, whether it is in the Triune God of orthodox Christianity or the atheism of someone like Richard Dawkins.
So after my conversion I knew that I needed to get back in the mainstream church. I felt led to go back to the United Methodist church of my childhood and youth. It wasn’t long before I was a lay speaker and not long after that a candidate for pastoral ministry. It also wasn’t long before I figured out that I was going to have to begin reevaluating and reconsidering what I had come to believe regarding sex. It was obvious that the debate regarding homosexuality was still very much simmering in the United Methodist Church, as well as the rest of the “Mainline” church, not to mention the culture at large. Pretty soon it would be boiling over into a big mess that has divided many denominations and churches, including my own (although not officially divided we are very much so practically speaking as “progressive” Bishops, pastors, and entire conferences defy the official UMC position with impunity) . In the culture it also has boiled over into a battle not only over the definition of marriage, but also over the definition of the First Amendment.
So early on I listened to different views with newly fine-tuned attentive ears; and I began to pray, study, and read as many views as I could find – before, during, and after four years of seminary. Most importantly, I made it a habit to try to read through the entire Bible from cover to cover every year. Through this I came to be convinced of the truth and beauty of the traditional Christian teaching that sex was intended for marriage and marriage was only designed by God to be a life-long covenant between one man and one woman. In an upcoming post(s) (maybe more than one) I will endeavor to sum up some of what I have seen and heard, and what I have come to believe as a result, regarding this incredibly contentious and divisive issue in which I believe there is a great deal at stake – much more than simply a college exam.