Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Sharing the gospel with Gays

June 19 marked the beginning of Toronto’s annual Pride Week. Now in its 28th year, this is a week-long celebration of diverse sexual and gender identities. Organizers describe it this way: “Pride Week celebrates our diverse sexual and gender identities, histories, cultures, creativities, families, friends and lives. It includes a three-day street festival with over eight stages of live entertainment, an extensive street fair (including community booths, vendors, food stalls), a special Family Pride program, a politically charged Dyke March and the infamous Pride Parade.”
Pastor John Bell of New City Baptist Church right in the heart of Toronto has an active evangelistic ministry within Toronto’s gay village. Reformed Christian blogger Tim Challies asked him if he would write an article reflecting on some of the joys and challenges in this unique ministry. Below is this well written article, one that shows in my opinion a biblical approach to this, something that we unfortunately don't see very often. Long but well worth the read:
It is Gay Pride week here in Toronto and Tim has asked me to write a guest post detailing my evangelistic efforts in Toronto’s LGBT-oriented community [LGBT stands for Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender).I would appreciate any helpful insights or criticisms the readers of this blog can offer me, as well as your prayers.
I began this ministry two years ago while working as an intern in a downtown Toronto church. I was told that part of my internship duties would involve three hours of evangelism every week in a coffee shop or pub. This was not happy news. To be honest, I find this kind of evangelism very intimidating. “Cold call” is not my style; I’m too polite! As the pastor explained what he expected of me, a likely scenario played itself out in my mind: I approach somebody at Starbucks who is reading a book and drinking a latte. I introduce myself and ask if I may sit with them and talk. Naturally, they want to know my business, so I straightaway introduce the topic of religion or Jesus, probably sounding like the Mormons who came to their door the previous week while they were eating dinner.
Personally (and God uses all types, so I’m not making an absolute statement) I find this kind of evangelistic tactic less than ideal. I don’t know anything about this person, yet I have just interrupted their morning coffee to talk about what I want to discuss. I wanted my evangelism to get off on a better foot, to be more natural; I wanted to initiate the discussion in a way that was neither “rude” nor by way of a specious pretext (conducting a poll on spirituality, etc). Moreover, if I asked to sit and speak with a woman, she might think I was hitting on her. Of course living where I do, a man might think the same thing. Better to take the bull by the horns, I thought. I had never been to a gay coffee shop before but I thought (correctly) that gay men would want a complete stranger to sit with them and chit-chat, so that’s what I decided to do.
Toronto’s gay village is just a ten minute walk from where I live. The first time I ventured out, I prayed to the Lord that he would show me where to go and what to do and what to say. I was very nervous. I had no plan. I was certain I was going to see all manner of disgusting things and that I was going to be thrown bodily out of the establishment for disseminating fundamentalist hate. But I had to tell my pastor that I had evangelized for three hours that week, so I was stuck.
The Lord went ahead of me. I stepped into the first coffee shop I saw, a Timothy’s at Church and Alexander. I found out later that this is the gay coffee shop in all of the Greater Toronto Area. (See the Wikipedia article Its clientele is mostly middle-aged men. I bought my coffee and looked around for a place to sit. The tables are very small and the seats are close together—perfect for evangelism, though I’m sure that was not the original intent!
The gay community in Toronto is very close-knit. Most of the men have known each other for years and everyone is on a first name basis. Many men are fixtures at this coffee shop. I have become friends with four of these fixtures: A—- , who has severe cerebral palsy that confines him to a wheel chair (that does not impede his sex life, however; he told me he’s had hundreds of partners); D—- , an HIV infected drag queen who was molested by a Catholic priest; J—- , a civil servant, recently relocated from Ottawa; and C—- , who works in the credit department of a national bank. These men have accepted me as their friend and have introduced me to other gay men, although they know I’m a straight, born again conservative Christian who does not condone their lifestyle.
I have talked to quite a number of gay men now—almost all of them white and middle aged. Many of them came out of the closet after having been married with kids. For whatever reason, 85% have come from Catholic backgrounds. That means that much of my evangelistic groundwork has already been covered. There is no need to explain that the bible has two testaments, or who Moses or Abraham were, or convince them of the historic factuality of the resurrection; for the most part, they believe it. I’m finding it’s the authority of scripture that I need to deal with the most.
When I first meet someone at the coffee shop and they ask me what I do (which is a natural “in” to introducing the gospel) they assume that I must be a liberal gay Baptist minister, because otherwise what would I be doing in their coffee shop? (The first man I talked to had only just broken up with his boyfriend, a Methodist pastor.) I begin by asking them questions. I get them to do all the talking for the next 45 minutes. I ask them about their job, their background, their family life, their personal life and what they believe and why so I can get a picture of their epistemology and worldview. Needless to say, I frame my questions in an inquisitive, slightly naive, polite fashion, not in an interrogative, formal way. Gay men love to talk (at least the ones in this coffee shop seem to) and people in general today enjoy discussing “spirituality”. Then, out of politeness, they will inevitably ask me what I believe. So I tell them the gospel, starting with Genesis 1, laying out for them the biblical storyline and worldview.
I have been able to share the gospel with many men over the past two years, even though I am saying things highly offensive to the gay lifestyle—which is actually their identity. I base everything I say on the authority of the word; that is, I make it clear to them that that is what I am doing, that I believe the bible is authoritative for all peoples in all cultures and times because it is God’s authoritative revelation to human beings. I stress this emphatically. And I tell them that the Bible condemns me, it condemns everyone. It condemns me as an idolater, someone who is selfish and sinful, who has de-godded God and installed himself in the position of “The Ruler of John’s Life.” I have done things in my life that I am ashamed of and oftentimes what I am ashamed of the bible calls my “sin” (I have found that gay men can relate very well to shame). I do not zero in on their homosexuality (which is what they expect me to do) but rather the fact that they are sinners. Now, more often than not, they will push me and ask if practicing homosexuality is a particular expression of their sinful disposition and I will not hesitate to tell them “yes.” When asked, I tell gay men that, personally, I have a “live and let live” approach to everyone’s sex life, but my personal opinion doesn’t count for anything if God, our creator, has declared otherwise. I tell them I know that I am sounding very intolerant and bigoted when I tell them that they are sinners and that their lifestyle is not pleasing to God. Who am I to tell another human being such a thing on my own authority? But then I explain that it is not on my own authority that I am saying these things. Rightly or wrongly, I am utterly convinced that the bible is the revelation of God. I am banking my eternal soul on it being so. It condemns me, but I have found salvation in Christ. It condemns you. I am here to tell you about the salvation that I have found in Jesus, that I believe you need, that the bible says he needs.
By presenting the gospel in this fashion (which is the same way I present it to heterosexuals) I have yet to have someone become outraged over my perceived intolerance—though I am sure that day is coming! In fact, being straight and conservative has worked in my favor because they see that I must really care about them to come into an environment where I’m a fish out of water to tell them a message that I know they will find offensive. And I do really care for them. Many of them come from backgrounds where they would have believed something similar to what I believe about the authority of God’s word, from a Catholic perspective, but have since “moved on.” Perhaps I am young and deluded in their opinion, but I’m a nice guy and they put up with it, because they can see that I love them, and often times they will say, “We will hear you again on this matter”. They like the fact that I am willing to be their friend, even if I don’t condone their beliefs. I think that shows an integrity and respect; they respond to it and are willing to reciprocate.
I do all this because I love the LGBT community. They are a community comprised of individual eternal souls. Sadly, they are culture that has almost no contact with biblical Christianity in any form. How many drag queens can count a born again Christian amongst their friends? Very few, to our shame.

I’m the pastor of a new church plant in downtown Toronto and it is my earnest prayer that God would use our people to impact this spiritually needy community. I pray for the day when transvestites can walk through our church doors and be greeted with genuinely warm smiles and Christian love. But before that day is likely to happen, they will need a Christian friend whom they have grown to trust; a person they know would never invite them to a place where they are going to be hurt or embarrassed publicly; a place where everyone is on level ground before the cross of Christ because all are sinners; a place where no one person’s sin is made out to be more repugnant than another’s; a place where all sinners can sit under the uncompromised preaching of holy Scripture and hear of the world’s only Savior and salvation in his name alone.
I pray that we would be more deliberate in this regard; that as God’s sovereign grace works through his faithful witness, the church, we would see more gay men and women come to Christ.

What an encouraging article and great testimony. I wish that he would have used some scripture to back up some of what he was saying, but I did get his point. My thing is that we are all sinners in need of the gospel to save us, and while I may never had struggled with Homosexuality, I most certainly have struggled with other sins, and still do. That's all the more reason why I'm so thankful for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who paid my debt on the cross at Calvary. The new creature in Christ I became when he saved me, now has me wanting to obey and rid the sins of my life. Although I'll never be perfect in this life, I can rest in His work on the cross on my behalf.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Misleading Greenwash

More than 98% of supposedly natural and environmentally friendly products on US supermarket shelves are making potentially false or misleading claims, Congress has been told. And 22% of products making green claims bear an environmental badge that has no inherent meaning, said Scot Case, of the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice.

The study of nearly 4,000 consumer products found "greenwashing" in nearly every product category – from a lack of verifiable information to outright lies.

Even the experts are confused. Case, whose firm runs its own Ecologo certification program, admitted he had bought a refrigerator only to find it failed to meet its claims of energy efficiency.

"My refrigerator used twice as much energy as advertised," he told members of the House of Representatives committee on commerce, trade and consumer protection. The hearing amounted to a crash course into the perils of the new green marketplace for the committee. Congress is looking at how to guide consumers through a thicket of competing claims on so-called greenness.

One problem is proliferation – both of products claiming to be green and of certification programmes purporting to back up those claims.

The interest in products that do not poison water or air, create unnecessary waste or unduly add to the effects of climate change has defied class divisions and the economic recession. In its company surveys, Wal-Mart, the chain of low-cost megastores, found that 57% of its customers professed to be concerned about the environment.

There is a constantly expanding pool of products to choose from. About 33% of all new food products launched in 2008 claimed to be "natural", Dara O'Rourke, a professor in environmental policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and founder of the GoodGuide, told the recent hearing. But with around 300 competing environmental certification programmes, shoppers are bombarded by irrelevant or deceptive labels touting the green, natural, eco-friendly, recyclable and non-toxic properties of goods.

It is virtually impossible to sort through the claims, said Urvashi Rangan, of the Consumers Union. "We've got to get rid of the green noise," she said. "Vague and misleading terms should not be allowed."

Labels do not generally say whether products contain recycled content, or how far they travelled from factory to shelf.

Rangan singled out "non-toxic", "natural", and "fragrance free" as misleading claims, because the federal government has never set a precise standard for manufacturers to meet. "Personal care products are the Wild West," she said.

Reading the fine print on labels will not necessarily help either. Companies are not required to disclose the use of some substances believed to be dangerous – such as phthalates, which can cause birth defects and hormone abnormalities and are widely used, from baby bottles to cleaners and cosmetics.

The makers of household cleaners are also not required by law to list every chemical in the bottle so long as it is below a certain level. "Almost none of these companies disclose the ingredients in these products," O'Rourke told Congress. "We don't know what is in them. We don't what the plastic is made of."And as Case eventually discovered, even the most seemingly reliable certifications cannot be trusted.

Case told the Congress hearing he bought his LG Electronics refrigerator in 2007, reassured by its Energy Star rating. The seal, from the department of energy, is supposed to be awarded to appliances that consume at least 20% less electricity than a standard appliance.

This spring, he got a letter saying that his fridge did not, after all, qualify for Energy Star status because LG, in its process of "self-certification", had strayed from the efficiency guidelines set by the department of energy.

The big push to "go Green" has certainly gotten dollar signs in many companies eyes getting bigger, hoping to capitalize on this. We all should do our homework in purchasing an item or even food, just because it states "green friendly" or environmentally sound with a higher price tag.

Many thanks to guardian online for the information in this post.

Monday, June 1, 2009

A tradedy in Wichita = A test for the Pro Life movement

Being a Christian and a believer in the Scriptures, I do stand against abortion. But what happened in Wichita yesterday with the murder of Dr. George Tiller was nothing but wrong, wrong, wrong. Violence in the name of protesting abortion is immoral, unjustified, and horribly harmful to the pro-life cause. Now, the premeditated murder of Dr. George Tiller in his church is the headline -- not the abortions he performed and the cause he represented.

For many years, Dr. George Tiller has represented the reality of the abortion industry in this nation. Well known to the pro-life movement in America, Tiller was known as "Tiller the Killer" because of his agreeing to perform late-term abortions almost no other doctor in the nation would perform. Because of this, Wichita became the destination of choice for women seeking abortions in the late third trimester. In 1993 Tiller was shot in both arms. His clinic was regularly protested and was once bombed. Tiller also had many brushes with the law, and just weeks ago he was acquitted of charges that he had with another physician conspired to illegally justify late-term abortions.

Unfortunately, violence in response to the horror of abortion is not new. But thankfully it is rare. According to some news reports, Dr. Tiller was the fifth physician to be murdered by abortion opponents. In other cases, abortion clinics have been bombed and workers have been hurt or killed. Abortion is nothing short of murder. It should be made clear that abortion is the taking of innocent human life and that what goes on in abortion clinics is the business of death. What goes on in those clinics is institutionalized homicide, often for financial profit. Abortion is a moral scandal and tragedy.

Having said that, We have NO RIGHT to take the law into our own hands in an act of violence. God has granted this power to governing authorities. The horror of abortion cannot be rightly confronted, much less corrected, by means of violence and acts outside the law. This is a vital test of the morality of the pro-life movement.

In the case of Dr. George Tiller, the governing authorities failed again and again to fulfill their responsibility to protect all citizens, including those yet unborn. While the law is dishonoring to God in its disrespect for human life, we are not to go ABOVE the law and take it into our on hands! The law failed to bring George Tiller to account for what should have been seen as crimes against humanity. But this failure does not authorize ANYONE to act in the place of the government, MUCH LESS the place of God. The government must now act to prosecute and punish the murderer of Dr. George Tiller. The man who murdered Dr. Tiller is no better and deserves to stand trial and face the punishment allocated to him by the government.

Those who are pro-life must not wage war against abortion by following this pathetic example. We must confront this evil of abortion from a higher plane, and know that the battle is ultimately in God's hands.

Murder is murder. The law rightly states that the killing of Dr. George Tiller is murder and I whole heartily agree. But I do not agree with the law that states what Dr. Tiller performed is alright. We should not rest until the law also recognizes the killing of the unborn as murder, just as it does the killing of Dr. Tiller. But the individual that murdered Dr. Tiller, makes that challenge all the more difficult.