Part 2 of Paige Sears’ Thoughts on Religion: My Evolving Belief System

This is Part 2 of a 2 part series regarding my views on religion.  The first part was really biographical. This part focuses more on my current belief system and how those views have changed throughout my journey. Just keep my personal story in mind, as we cover my belief system and ponder certain theologies.  In a nutshell, I grew up in a super religious environment at school, home and church. I hid my gay desires until my mid-twenties, then I went to a gay to straight therapy group.  Then I came out as a gay man in 2008 and then began my transition to a woman in August of 2017.

Picture with the words “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us? – Joan Osborne

Picture with the words “What if God was one of us, just a slob like one of us?” by Joan Osborne. Picture Description: The backdrop of the picture is a beach and waves.

THE IRRATIONAL RATIONALE OF CHRISTIAN LEGALISM

I love irreverent comedy.  Especially comedy that exposes the hypocrisy of the Church and how warped their thinking has become.  It is not that I hate Christians or do not consider myself a Christian.  Honestly, in my way of thinking it is just the opposite.  When people make fun of Christianity, Christians should not be offended by it. Instead they should make an effort to really listen to the overall message and honestly with a clear conscience seek to change the negative perception by their lifestyle.   So with that said.  I want to tell you that one of my favorite songs ever is “The Loophole” by Garfunkel and Oates.  Basically, it is the story of  teenage girls  that have been brainwashed with purity culture. And after the brainwashing is complete, they weirdly rationalize their “purity”.

Picture of the dynamic comedy team Garfunkel and Oates
Picture of the dynamic comedy team Garfunkel and Oates
A K A: Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome

So here it is the link to Garfunkel and Oates: The Loophole

PLEASE NOTE: THIS VIDEO IS NOT SUITABLE FOR THE WORKPLACE and NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN  The Loophole by Garfunkel and Oates.

Some of you reading this might think that the scenarios of these teenagers in this video are not realistic. “Christians” would never rationalize their virginity by having anal sex instead of vaginal sex.  Not true.  This was the very essence of my upbringing and pervasive legalistic thinking in my Baptist School, Church and home.  Everything was rationalized and measured.  For example, I honestly thought I was a virgin when I first had sex with a woman when I was 22 years old and before that I would tell people I was a virgin because in my way of thinking I rationalized that gay sex does not count regarding virginity.

Everything in legalistic focused churches is that way.  The focus is on is it ok to watch this TV show, this movie.

  • Is it ok to listen to this music?
  • Is it ok to read this book?
  • Is dancing ok?
  • Can you be a Christian and be Catholic?
  • Will you go to heaven if you commit suicide?

To me this type of legalism is exactly what Jesus preached against when he pointed out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  The focus in legalism is on actions, things and rules.  Pastors become the golden calves of worship instead of the focus on helping others.

So my deconstruction in large part has been one where I blew up this world of legalistic thinking and replaced it with compassion, love and kindness and acceptance for all. When I did, something happened that surprised me. I actually became a better person.  My periods of depression, anger and sadness occurred less often and less pronounced.  I became comfortable in my skin and proud of who and what I am.  Much of the guilt and shame that I took on before is now starting to fade away and diminish.  It is still there and probably will always be there, but letting go legalistic and rigid ideas has brought me nothing but happiness and acceptance of myself and others

The Most Dangerous Philosophy of Modern Evangelicals: Patriarchy

A drawing of the woman-power symbol
A drawing of the female symbol, a circle with a cross attached to the bottom, which has a raised fist in the center. This picture represents feminism and “Woman-Power”.  The words “Smash The” are above the drawing and “Patriarchy” is below.  Caption Description by Nina Haltheusen and Paige Sears

In my opinion, the most dangerous religious philosophy that has almost single-handedly rendered the validity of the Christian faith useless, is how powerful religious leaders propagate and cling onto the outdated patriarchy hierarchy.

In evangelical churches, women are vastly undervalued.  They are not treated as equals and are treated as objects to be manipulated for the pleasure of men.  There is a reason that in most modern evangelical churches you see very few pastoral staff that are women.  To me this is nothing more than the attempt of men to hold onto their power.  Simply put, it is and always has been a power grab and way to keep women in check.

The power does seem to be shifting a bit though which is good news.  In a 2015 article by Christianity Today a survey indicated that 1 in 5 students who attend seminary are women.  1 in 10 churches have a woman in senior or sole leadership.  The study also goes on to state that women make on average $25,000 less than men in salary.  (Source 1)

Why is treating men as superior to women so damaging?  Well, the best answer to that question is simply by looking at how poorly churches responded to the #churchtoo movement which was a subset of the #metoo movement. The #churchtoo movement started to report and out the sexual abuse of male pastors across the nation.  In my mind if women had equal representation in churches you would not see sexual misconduct cases treated so lightly like it did for years in the case of Bill Hybels (Source 2) and Andy Savage (Source 3).

In a recent Washington Post article, it dictates how prevalent sexual abuse is in the evangelical community.  The important thing to realize is that in the male dominant evangelical culture misogyny reigns.  Personally, I come from a home where my father was a pastor, and he beat my Mom.  I have no doubt in my mind that he justified this with his religious beliefs that he was the head of the household and he was just literally trying to “beat her” into submission.

And my personal story is just the tip of the iceberg around this problem.  ABC.NET.AU – Australia posted an article in 2017 that linked domestic violence to the Biblical mandate of wives submit to your husbands.

This type of authority is also used often to justify child abuse especially in Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches like the one I grew up in.  Below is a link to a web opinion blog by Bruce Gerencser who was a former evangelical pastor for 25 years.  His blog page does a good job explaining exactly what an IFB (Independent Fundamental Baptist) church is and what they believe and how they promote child abuse.

Does the Independent Fundamental Baptist Church Promote Ritual Child Abuse?

In my opinion, the most dangerous religious philosophy that has almost single-handedly rendered the validity of the Christian faith useless, is how powerful religious leaders propagate and cling onto the outdated patriarchy hierarchy.

YES, YOU CAN BE GAY OR TRANSGENDER AND BE A CHRISTIAN

Book Cover
The book cover of “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines

For most of my life I bought the lie that complementarianism was Scriptural and that anything outside of the traditional mindset where one man marries one woman is just not Biblical.  Usually the sermon would go something like this.  God made, “Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve”. This line seems very catchy and in some ways logical because according to the Biblical account God did make Adam (a man) and Eve (a woman).  But let’s examine Biblical marriage.  Abraham had a wife and several maid servants.  King David and King Solomon had many, many wives and concubines.  And guess what the Bible never makes an example out of this and says this was/is wrong.  So, I guess the ideal marriage is not a monogamous man and woman relationship or a same sex relationship, but it is fine for a man to be polygamous! Oh ok!  See when you read the Bible as a whole one starts to realize that the concept of complementarianism (the idea that God made both male and female unique with a given set of strengths and weaknesses that only can be fully realized in a monogamous relationship) is just a man-made construct.

Often Christian evangelicals will hatefully use the “Clobber Verses” to prove that being gay is evil and sinful. Source 6 and 7

Here are the Clobber verses

  • Genesis 1:27
  • Genesis 19 (Genesis 18:20)
  • Leviticus 18:22
  • Deuteronomy 23:17 and 18
  • Romans 1: 26 and 27
  • First Corinthians 6:9
  • First Timothy 1:10

The best defense and argument against the traditional anti-gay Christian viewpoint which supposedly is supported by these “clobber verses”, that I have found comes from a book by Matthew Vines called God and the Gay Christian.

In a nutshell, Vines refutes the accounts of Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed due to homosexuality. Vines contends that Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed due to rape.  And he questions the translation of the word homosexuality in the New Testament passages.  And in his book, Vines questions the translation of the Greek word “aresenokoitai” into what we define today as “homosexuality”. Source 8 and 9

Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism

A drawing of a man and a woman. 
Drawing of a Man and Woman  Banner reads: Complementarianism vs. Egalitarianism
 Are men and women equal in their God given roles ?

Often I get tired of theological debates such as the one regarding whether homosexuality is a sin or not because in many ways the arguments are pointless each side is going to point to their particular verses and their interpretation of them and rarely does anyone’s opinion change.

So instead of an endless and most likely fruitless theological debate, I want to pose a moral argument. I will start this process by asking a basic question. “Is it morally right to segregate the LGBT community, from the Church?” In my opinion the answer is a resounding “NO!”   And make no mistake when the church is so vocal about gay marriage and other LGBT issues the result is segregation!

It is my belief that the same type of hate and vitriol that is present in today’s church pews towards the LGBT community is the same type of hate and segregation that was prevalent in churches across America in the 1950s through the 1980s towards the black community. (One could argue that the black community is even still segregated by the Evangelical community.)  It is not righteousness that segregates evangelical churches from the LGBT community; it is prejudice, hatred and ignorance. And if you are reading this as an evangelical Christian and are thinking, “Well that does not apply to my church, in our church we have a statement of beliefs that says that we are an accepting LGBT church.”  That may actually be true, but ask yourself these questions:

  • Would your church be comfortable with a gay couple holding hands at your services?
  • Would your church be comfortable with a transwoman attending your church services in a flowing effeminate dress?
  • Would your church allow someone in the LGBT community to be in pastoral staff or serve as a deacon or deaconess?

And an even more important question to ask is:

  • Would the LGBT community feel comfortable enough to be their true selves at your church?” If the answer is “No”, in my opinion your church has some work to do.

From my perspective, I think a loving God would not limit who and who cannot come to a house of worship based upon their sexuality.  I honestly think that such an idea is preposterous.  If one believes this notion that God limits who can come to a house of worship, one must assume that God presently is not active in churches that are gay-affirming and to this I call “B S”.  Many gay-affirming churches are doing wonderful things in the name of God. You would also have to believe that God is not or has not help any of the LGBT community in the 12 Step Community.  If one is rational, it does not take a genius to see that Church Culture has put limits on the LGBT community that just is not fair or reasonable.

As a transgender woman, how a church treats and accept the trans-community is very important to me.  Many churches believe that being trans is immoral and wrong.  I really do not find this to belief to have any Biblical basis.  In fact, it is pretty clear that Jesus recognizes all types of trans-individuals in the Matthew 18 passage.  From intersex to those who choose to transition, Jesus accepted them all as individuals who could be Christians.  Source 11 and 12.

Some other questions that I have had to ponder lately

Is the entire Bible the inspired Word of God?

Picture banner says “Bible: Inspired Word of God?”

Picture banner says “Bible: Inspired Word of God?” In the background is a Bible

My basic problem with the Bible being the inspired Word of God and not written by men is that I definitely feel that many of the authors basically contradict each other such as Paul and James in regards to faith and works.  And to be brutally honest I just can’t stand much of the misogynistic view point of the Bible.  It is my opinion that the men who wrote the Bible were doing their best to keep a patriarchal – male dominated culture in power.  I also just can’t wrap my head around how much the Bible was translated.

Basically, it comes down to this fact if you truly believe that the Bible is truly the inspired Word of God you also have to believe that every time the Bible was translated that it was also translated divinely every time. That to me is too hard of a pill to swallow.

But even if you do believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God.  The problem is who owns rights to the correct interpretation of that Scripture.  What I always found amusing was how in my Dad’s church which was basically a store-front church in the black community.  The church was Baptist and my Dad was Baptist but many of the congregants of the church used the Bible to support their political or Democratic viewpoints. And on the flipside my Dad would use the Bible to support his right-wing beliefs. After years of being around the Church Community I just have come to accept that fact that many Christians use the Bible to justify even the most despicable beliefs or acts.  The Bible is now used more as a tool to prop up one’s own political beliefs than it is to commune with God.

Is there more than one way to God?

In my opinion I believe there is more than one way to God or enlightenment here on earth.  This is how I look at it I base it off the Matthew and Galatians Fruit of the Spirit passages.

 YOU WILL KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS – MATTHEW 7:15 to 20 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION)

 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”

THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT – GALATIANS 5:22 and 23 (NEW KING JAMES VERSION)  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

So this is my simple philosophy to test whether a belief system is good or not.  Do your religious beliefs and convictions help you to bear the Fruit of the Spirit?  To me it does not matter whether you are Buddhist, Muslim, Christian, Jew or Atheist.  What matters to me is what does your life look like?  I want to follow someone who shows and demonstrates in action the following fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If you, your church and religion do not demonstrate these fruit, more than you bear the opposite of these fruit, I want to avoid you and your religion at all costs!!

If your life is abundant with the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Then in my opinion you are on the right path. And it really does not matter how you got to that point in your life as long as you are striving to get there and on that path,

Banner reads: Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness,Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control Galatians 5:22 to 23
Banner reads: Fruit of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness,Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control Galatians 5:22 to 23

 

SUMMARY OF MY OVERALL BELIEFS

So where am I currently at in my Spirituality?  I would describe my present phase of Spirituality as one in which I am demolishing many of my long held beliefs and remolding my faith into something that is more accepting and more inclusive of all people.

Presently my ideology lies closest to the philosophy of the 12 Steps programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous.  In 12 Step programs, one is given the latitude to define God as you know and understand Her/Him.  As discussed earlier, in my experience the evangelical community interprets the Bible to justify their own prejudices and/or political viewpoints.  So with the 12 Step philosophy in mind, I have no qualms in doing what the Evangelical community has done for years and that is to shape Her/Him into something that will work for me.  My higher power as I understand Her/Him is someone that will accept me, root for me unconditionally no matter what my sex, or sexual preference is and will sustain in me in my personal battles whatever they may be.

MY IDEAL CHURCH WOULD BE:

  • ONE THAT IS NOT FULL OF RULES AND REGULATIONS

Surprisingly to me, that when I left the church and all of its regulations, I believe I became more moral.  That might seem weird to many but I think if you look at how the legalistic mind works it makes sense.  In a legalistic, evangelical environment one is always looking for ways to please God and make Him/Her happy and it always seems to be futile.  However when I walked away from the church, my focus was not on what God or the church thought was right or best for me, but my focus became what is best for me.   The burden of guilt and shame were removed and I was free to fail and not beat myself up.  This resulted in me not having as deep and painful of lows that I experienced in the past

  • ONE THAT ACCEPTS WOMEN AS EQUALS

In my opinion how the church holds onto Patriarchal Power and Misogyny are the most damaging things the church has done in modern American Christianity.  The church really needs more woman leaders and more input from women.

  • ONE THAT ACCEPTS ALL PEOPLE REGARDLESS OF SEXUAL PREFERENCE, GENDER IDENTITY, RACE AND RELIGIOUS FAITH AS EQUALS.

Inclusiveness is a top priority in the church that I am looking for.

SOURCES

  1. The State of Female Pastors
  2. The Bill Hybels Sex Scandal
  3. The Andy Savage Sex Scandal
  4. Sexual Abuse Epidemic in the Evangelical Church
  5. Submit to your Husbands Article by ABC.NET of Australia linking physical abuse to Christian Evangelical beliefs
  6. The Clobber Verses
  7. Religious Tolerance
  8. God and the Gay Christian
  9. The Best Case for the Bible not condemning Homosexuality
  10. Complimentarianism versus Egalitarianism
  11. Dismantling the Falsity that Complementarianism is clearly Biblical.

I encourage your feedback on both of these articles focusing on religion. Paige A. Sears

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