Mark Hangartner, chair of the Auckland Rainbow Church, reaches out to our Christian LGBT+ readers and gives us a message of hope and community. A shortened version of this message was published in our December 2016 issue.
At Christmas, we reflect on the life of a person who was born in a cattle-shed and quickly became a refugee, fleeing a child-killing tyrant. This image of Jesus going through some of the difficulties experienced by people today, gives hope for a struggling world.
2016 has been a tumultuous year. Whether it has been the election results, referenda, war-torn nations, or the recent earthquakes, many people are asking what’s happening in the world today. The lives of LGBT+ people get caught up in all this, particularly when religious leaders portray God as one who sends suffering as a punishment. Thankfully, this warped image of God as the causer of earthquakes is unfounded. Jesus admonished those with that same distorted view in John 9, when he was asked if the parents’ sin caused a man to be born blind. He answered that God did not cause the blindness, but instead that the curing of that blindness allows people to see the love of God in the world. In the same way, we saw some good things happen after the earthquake – whole communities of strangers quickly came together to feed, shelter and care for one other. We need to find hope and faith as we work together, so all may enjoy the wonders of this land for years to come.
Brian Tamaki’s recent comments about the Kaikoura earthquake has been roundly condemned. The strong reaction to Brian Tamaki’s earthquake comments shows the strength of New Zealanders’ belief in fairness and solidarity with the marginalised.
This is also a rejection of homophobia. Following on huge and overblown protests against civil unions in 2015 as an attack on “gay power”, a new low has been reached in 2016 with trying to blame us for the earthquakes. This is a rejection of a nasty but persistent theology which ascribes to an angry and vengeful God punishment by way of natural disasters.
The age-old question asks, “why do some people suffer especially in unexpected disasters?” For those who believe in God this becomes a bit more pointed: “why does God allow good people to suffer, and possibly bad people to prosper?” Is the idea that God wants or needs to punish some people fixed in our minds? The answer from Destiny Church, which links certain sins to certain natural disasters is no longer convincing, if ever it was. If there is any good to come out of this it is to see the unanimous reaction from politicians to church leaders.
If anyone thinks the Bible gives any support to this warped view of a punishing God they would be quite wrong. In the book of Job, this very question is addressed. The character Job protests he is has done nothing to deserve the suffering he endures. Three friends come to console him but their constant refrain of “God punishes wickedness” exasperates Job so that he calls on God to answer his accusation. Cut to the end of the story and Job’s fortunes are restored, his integrity is affirmed and God is angry at the friends for their words. Neither does the book of Leviticus support in any way Mr Tamaki’s views.
Over Labour Weekend, the Awaken Conference brought together a rich variety of LGBT+ Christians from across New Zealand. We heard from Justin Lee, who managed to see through religious homophobia where he was growing up in North Carolina, and started the Gay Christian Network. Over that weekend we were able to share many stories both of frustration with churches and encouragement for LGBT+ in those churches. People made new friends, shared their stories and encouraged one another. Out of this conference, the Diverse Church network will continue to support and connect LGBT+ Christians together, enabling them to create positive change in their faith communities.
There are indeed strong signs of hope in NZ but as this latest furore shows there is still work to be done. A clear and compassionate response in the face of natural disaster is the Christian response; finger pointing and biblical intolerance is not.
Christmas can be a difficult time for many. Feelings of isolation and loss can be most keenly felt when others are celebrating. Family expectations and frictions are also at their worst at this time. On Sunday 11 December, at 7.30pm, Auckland Rainbow Community Church welcomes everyone with a combined carol service at St Matthew-in-the-City. This is a good chance to celebrate together, but also to reflect on the deeper meaning of Christmas.
The St Matthew’s Christmas Eve service of carols starts at 10.30pm. All are also welcome to an informal service on Christmas Day at 5pm, with a small party directly afterwards.