Wednesday, December 9, 2009

All This I Did For Thee

This small effort from the Fellowship Tract League would be utterly forgettable if it weren't for that cover. I mean, look at it, for God's sake. It's a guy (presumably Jesus) who's had the snot kicked out of him. Even his head is bleeding! This is one of the most horrible images I've ever seen on a tract, and I've seen a lot of these things. Now I don't need to rent Mel Gibson's movie, The Passion Of The Christ. I just need to look at this thing. Yuck!

The rest of the tract, like I said, is utterly forgettable. It's a simple quote tract, using the usual bits of scripture to tell the reader they need to get Saved. The last page offers readers a choice between accepting and rejecting Jesus, complete with tick boxes. What's with the tick box trend, honestly? This is at least the second if not the third time I've seen this gimmick. Are the authors of these things really expecting readers to tick a box and send it in? This one is, apparently - they ask readers to do so, and provide space for them to fill in their names, addresses and ages.

But enough about that boring stuff. Let's get back to that cover!
What a marvelous use of black and white and only one colour - red! I also like the way Jesus' face is hidden in shadow. Wow, that guy really went through a lot to Save you. At least, that's what the authors and/or artist wants you to think.

Points for attention-grabbing, League. If only the tract inside could live up to the promise of that cover. I'm sure Bloody Jesus wouldn't be too happy knowing that these few verses were the best the author could come up with to use with his beaten image.

Please, League! Try to do better. Half-assed tracts make Bloody Jesus cry.

Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 7
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Hour Is Coming: Heaven Or Hell? Time Is Running Out

As Bible verse-quoting tracts go, this one from Evangelical Tract Distributors is one of the laziest. At least, like the subjects of my last two reviews, it wastes very little of the reader's time.

The middle two pages are Bible verses, lacking even the title/translations that made First The Bad News... so entertaining. I guess they are all in support of the time-running-out theme, but that is left to readers to decide.

The cover contains the overlong title and a picture of a yellow clock, the hour hand pointing to 11. I guess it's representative of time running out, with midnight (or lunchtime) only one hour away. The cover also has some random sentences at the bottom, instructing readers to "flee from the wrath to come" and informing them that "today is the Day of Salvation."

The last page foregoes the usual prayer for Salvation in favour of some really bad poetry. In fact, poetry is too good a word for what this tract's author came up with. "Almost is but to fail, Almost cannot avail, Doom comes at last." WTF does that mean? If you're trying to Save people's souls, don't waste time confusing them with crap.

This tract appears to have been thrown together without a whole lot of thought. It's as if the people at Evangelical Tract Distributors had to come up with one at the last minute to fill their quota, and didn't really care how it came out. "Ooh, ooh, I've got some clip art of a clock," an ETD person might have said. "Quick, somebody grab me some verses about End Times stuff and I'll write some poetry real quick."

The Hour may be coming, and it may take less than a minute to read, but no one should have to give even a second to this pathetic drivel.

Likely to Convert - 0
Artwork - 0
Ability to Hold Interest - 0
Unintentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Paid In Full

This one, from the Fellowship Tract League, uses more or less the same format and formula as First The Bad News.... It's a bunch of Bible quotes and/or passages that fit the theme of our sin debt having been paid.

Each group of quotes begins with a bold, all-caps title question, like: DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOUR SIN DEBT WILL COST YOU FOR ALL ETERNITY?

It occurs to me that if it's a sin debt, then we need to come up with a lot of sins to pay it off. But why quibble about the choice of words when the format of the tract gets the reader to the end just as fast as First The Bad News...?

Paid In Full ends with two choices, and two tick-boxes for readers to indicate their choice. You can "trust Jesus Christ and his finished payment" or "reject the payment of Jesus Christ." Considering the theme, why use tick boxes? A bill format with payment options would have been more appropriate, and visually more appealing.

As with so many tracts, Paid In Full offers nothing new. Its format and brevity make it a quick read, with minimal time wasted. Not much of a compliment, I know. But then, Paid In Full isn't much of a tract.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 3
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 0
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

First The Bad News...

Lately I've been enjoying tracts that either aren't repetitive (not many) or are at least short. This new offering from Evangelical Tract Distributors fits the latter bill.

First The Bad News... is a collection of quotes compiled by Mrs. Don Brill, each with a rating of either Bad News or Good News. Each quote also has an all-caps title that serves to translate the lines of scripture from Biblical into English. For example - BAD NEWS: WE DESERVE ETERNAL PUNISHMENT. "And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire." Revelation 20:15.

Some of the all-caps title-translations are redundant, like this one - GOOD NEWS: CHRIST CAME TO SAVE SINNERS. "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners."

The last page provides the standard Salvation prayer, cementing my impression that this tract offers nothing new. Like I said, however, it is a short tract, and doesn't bore the reader with some contrived story. I like brevity in tracts - it wastes so much less of a reader's time.

Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 1
Ability to Hold Interest - 1
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

The Christian's Manner of Dress

Here's a rare one that isn't trying to convert readers. It isn't even targeted at non-believers. This tract, credited to the Rev. Ejj and published by Gospel Tract and Bible Society, is aimed squarely at Christians.

And I do mean square. This tract aims to convince the Christian reader that "there is a discreet way of dress that befits the Christian and his high calling." After all, a person's dress sense "is like a window providing a look into his heart," and "the true disciples of Christ have always been known for their humble dress."

Naturally, Satan won't have any of this, and so he "uses various methods to undermine God's standard of modest dress." What are those 'various methods'? The tract doesn't say. It talks about clothing "worn mainly as an ornament or display" and "suggestive attire" that "draws attention to the human form and promotes lustful thoughts and desires," but it doesn't directly tie these fashion choices back to Satan. I guess it's meant to be implied.

Another no-no? "Clothing that is tightly fitted" because it arouses "the passions of the opposite sex," which leads "to immorality.

Rev. Ejj draws mainly from the writings of Paul for these clothing directives, and makes clear Paul's statement in Corinthians 6:19-20 that a Christian "is to glorify God in his body and in his spirit."

In 1 Timothy 2:8-10, he goes after women, telling them to "adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety." Paul is far from the only sexist bastard in the Bible; Peter also has a few things to say. In 1 Peter 3:3-4 he says "that women should shun 'that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing gold,'" etc.

And guess what? Cross-dressing is right out. "All that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God."

Seems pretty strict, but then "even a proud look is an abomination to God." Fashion appeals "to man's vain pride," and when a person's fashion desires "are gratified, man becomes a slave of fashion rather than a servant of God."

So what are the words that best describe what a Christian's clothing should be? Modesty, simplicity, comely, humble. Someone should tell the Pope. And the cardinals, bishops and priests. And not a few televangelists.

This tract appears dull and lifeless to the eye, being simple text upon green paper. If one invests the time to read it, however, it does prove entertaining (and offensive to both women and transgendered people). Since there is no mention of Hell or Salvation or even Jesus himself, it has the distinction of being somewhat unique among tracts. If it had been done in cartoon form, it could have been brilliant. Something to think about, Rev. Ejj.

Then again, maybe the lack of "outward adorning" and "costly array" is the author's way of driving his point home. Subtle, Ejj, but one can take that too far. Christians get bored like everybody else, you know.

"God's will is that the human form should be covered, not displayed," and "a holy beauty will radiate from those who are surrendered to God's will." Such a lovely use of words, considering his message is that fashion is bad, but human skin is badder. I wish Rev. Ejj all the success in the world in converting his fellow Christians to the true path of uninteresting clothes. After all, we all know the Devil wears Prada.

Likely to Convert - N/A
Likely to Change Christian Fashion - 2
Artwork - 0
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 6
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 4

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Are You 100% Sure?

Half the size of regular tracts, this offering from Faithway Baptist Church offers the soul absolute certainty of its afterlife destination with only half the paper. Like 7 Things That Will Not Get You Into Heaven, it gets points for producing less waste while having nothing new to say.

"All men, including you," are sinners who must "be born again through Jesus Christ" in order to avoid "an eternal Hell." If you do, "you can be 100% sure that you are going to Heaven." Seems that "nothing else will do... not church membership, not baptism, not confirmation, not communion." That last bit is a lot like 7 Things, except there's only four of them. And two of those items don't appear in 7 Things's list. Which means it could have been 9 Things.

Whatever. They both use less paper, and in the end that's what really counts.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 2
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

7 Things That Will Not Get You Into Heaven

This tract is nothing special, but it is short. Published by Grace & Truth, it is only two pages, back-to-back. The title alone takes up a quarter of the allotted space.

The second quarter is devoted to those titular seven things: going to church, being baptized, keeping the commandments, performing religious duties, doing good works, going to confession and having good morals. The rest of the tract tells us the usual Jesus-is-the-only-way message.

While boring and trite, this tract saves on paper while simultaneously saving readers precious time. We have nothing new to say, the tract tells us, but at least we say it quickly. And less paper means it is better for the environment, too. I only have to crumple up half as much before tossing it in a blue bin.

Likely to Convert - 1
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 3
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Why Run The Risk?

I've been out of the biz for a few months now because the pickings have been, well... predictable. Heh, most tracts are predictable to some extent, but some are worse than others.

This offering, however, takes it over the top via a trip down looney lane to paranoid park. "Did you ever stop to think that you are running a risk every time you get into a car and go shopping?" Not lately, I haven't. This tract, written by C. Darling and published by Grace & Truth, seeks to scare readers by suggesting that death is everywhere, and anything and everything can kill you. "People have met early deaths by riding bicycles, crossing busy streets, eating the wrong kinds of foods, receiving bee stings, using harmful chemicals, etc."

Scared yet? How about this previously unknown fact: "The death toll from all causes remains at 100%." Yikes! Do you know what this means? It means "there is no escaping death."

So what's the point of scaring the pants off us with all this death talk? Easy. C. Darling wants us to "turn to Christ to be truly and totally saved." Like we didn't know that was coming. You could die from a bee sting while riding your bike through busy streets into harmful chemicals while eating the wrong kinds of food, so you'd better get Saved now while you are still alive.

"Why risk spending eternity in that place reserved for the devil and his angels, when you can spend eternity with God in the joys of heaven?" Maybe because I'm laughing too hard to take you seriously, C. Darling.

Likely to Convert - 3
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 8
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 0

Saturday, April 25, 2009

How To Get To Heaven: For Black Readers

A trend that pops up here and there in the tract world is the re-publishing of certain tracts for black readers. I've seen a number of Chick Tracts 'remade' this way (ie - Somebody Goofed re-published as Oops), but a few others have followed his lead.

Remember my review of How To Get To Heaven, from the Fellowship Tract League? Here's the same tract, with five panels re-done with dark-skinned characters replacing the original's yellow-haired white kids.

Two things come to mind when I look at these remakes. 1. Do the tract writers really think black people won't get the message otherwise? And 2, doesn't it say something that there are so few black people in the original tracts that the writers felt a black version was necessary?

And if the League was going to go to the trouble of making an updated version, couldn't they at least have fixed the original's flaws? Nope, Hell is still "a terrible place where fire is." The black kids do look slightly more pained at the idea of burning "in hell FOREVER" than their white counterparts, but not by much. I guess that's a sign of equality - the League will give black readers exactly the same crap that white readers have been getting.

Still, it's good to know that tract makers are willing to be inclusive, and don't think of Heaven as a whites-only club. Otherwise, this tract is just as lame as its predecessor.

Likely to Convert - 2
Artwork - 4
Ability to Hold Interest - 4
Unintentional Hilarity - 5
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 1

Friday, March 27, 2009

Marriage And Homosexuality: A Christian Response Part 4


This section has one or two good points to make. "The church must repent of its pharisaic attitude toward confession of sins" and "of hostility toward homosexual people." Of course, those points would sound better if the first paragraph didn't contain this gem: "Strong marriages would go a long way to preventing more children being exposed to the confusion and dangerous health risks involved in homosexuality."

Still, they are trying. The writers want Christians "to show compassion to the homosexual community" so that gay people might eventually be "won into the Kingdom of God." To do this, Christians "should be aware of three different groups within the homosexual community: the militants, the moderates, and the repentant." They give descriptions and advice on how to approach each group, and to their credit they advocate love in each case. They even take a stab at humour when describing 'militant' gays, who have "rigid viewpoints" and are "intolerant toward opposing viewpoints" - "sounds like a description a homosexual might give of a Christian!" Ha, ha. Nicely placed joke, in that it distracts readers from the authors' own rigid and intolerant viewpoints, such as stating repeatedly that their view is 'the truth'.

"Repentant homosexuals need a tremendous amount of support and encouragement" when leaving their 'sinful' lifestyle, because they may be "frightened, vulnerable and lonely" when they leave their "network of support and identity." The authors urge readers to "encourage, love and support" repenting gays, and "not allow our distaste for an unnatural behaviour to get in the way." Gee, thanks.

"Moderate" gays "share the same dreams and worries as everyone else." Wow, it's like they're human beings or something! "We need to approach them just as we would anyone else: offering Jesus' saving grace." After all, "unless the Holy Spirit is at the centre of a person's life, change in sexual orientation is irrelevant."


This section encourages readers to write to the government, to newspapers and other media outlets to express "your views on marriage" and "promote culture-saving values in society." Included are several (now outdated) MP addresses and emails, and advice on how to write and prepare letters (such as removing "unnecessarily aggressive words and phrases"). Readers are also asked to "reach out to homosexuals," and the authors provide names and websites for "ministries that are equipped to help homosexuals change their orientation."

Other suggestions range from making presentations at churches and supporting changes in government policies. Also, readers should try and strengthen their marriages and encourage young people who are considering marriage. Wouldn't want any gayness to sneak in, would we?


These last few sections end the book, for which I (and, I imagine, you) am profoundly grateful. This has been a long , grueling review, and I'm glad to be almost done.

The Resources section advertises books and booklets on related subject-matter. Titles include "Bringing Up Boys," "Someone I Love Is Gay," "A Strong Delusion: Confronting the 'Gay Christian' Movement," and "A Parents' Guide To Preventing Homosexuality." I had no idea such books existed, but I can't say I'm surprised. All books are available from Focus On The Family (again, no surprise).

Following the book advertisement, the book provides a list of Recommended Links, contact information for Focus On The Family, and a bibliography with end-notes. The lack of surprise again comes to the fore, as three of their listed references are books advertised in the preceding section. Interestingly, "A Parent's Guide To Preventing Homosexuality" was published by InterVarsity, the same guys who published "Homosexual Struggle", the last booklet I reviewed.


The booklet doesn't actually have a concluding section, but it doesn't really need one. It presents itself as a helpful guide for Christians who are concerned about the definition of marriage, and it advocates love and compassion while condemning bigotry and hatred. No doubt the authors feel they are on the side of good. After all, they do have THE TRUTH, don't they?

Well, no, they don't. They have their truth, and the arrogance to insist it applies to everybody. The conclusion I draw from this book is that change is happening, and many Christians (the authors among them) feel scared and threatened. This book wasn't published to protect families, but to protect an old and outdated way of seeing the world that is under bombardment from present-day reality. Plus, the sneaky playing around with terminology (like Basic Human Rights) and raising of irrelevant subject-matter (the freedom of speech issue) add to this book an air of desperation that is just pitiful. I can't quite call this hate literature, but it comes awfully close.

The booklet opens with this question: "How are we as Christians to respond?" My answer: leave gay people alone. Please. We've all had enough of this. Just leave them alone.

Likely to Convert - N/A
Likely to Convert Gays - N/A
Artwork - 2
Ability to Hold Interest - 6
Unintentional Hilarity - 3
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 9

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Marriage And Homosexuality: A Christian Response Part 3

Parts 1 & 2 dealt with the uncredited authors' discussion about marriage (Chapter 1) and homosexuality (Chapter 2), along with their dubious attempts at 'facts' and 'truth'. One of their tactics involved something I call linguistic gymnastics, whereby they attack a word (like homophobia) and tell readers the definition of that word isn't quite what they think it is. This has the effect of distracting the reader from the actual topic at hand. The linguistic gymnastics continue here, and the true purpose of this book (in my view) is revealed.


First, there is this statement: "Canadians who speak out against redefining marriage to include same-sex couples are not denying anyone their basic human rights." The authors devote half a page to 'proving' this statement, and they start by pointing out that the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights "makes no mention whatsoever of any rights based on sexual orientation," even though "Article 16 clearly establishes that men and women of full age have a right to marriage." Oh, so... gay people have a right to marry, just not to each other? I don't get it.

For me, it comes down to an issue of semantics. Can straight people get married? Yes. If marriage hadn't been redefined in Canada, would gay people be able to get married? No. It may not be a 'basic human right', but it is something one group of people can do that another group should also be able to do. Saying they aren't being denied something when they are, because the word chosen to define that denied thing isn't necessarily the right one, is slippery, sneaky and underhanded.

Since "there is no proof (gays) have been denied their basic human rights," the writers ponder, what is the real reason they want the definition of marriage changed? "It seems what gay activists are looking for is acceptance and affirmation of their behaviour." Why is that a problem? "Changing the definition of marriage will further erode the freedom of people who view homosexual behaviour as morally wrong to express their views and act on those views in everyday life."

In other words, if gay people gain more acceptance, it will be a lot harder for bigots to express their bigotry. "It's already happening now," the authors warn, citing seven examples in which Canadian religious freedoms were done harm over the gay issue (including a situation from 1999 when "Focus on the Family experienced a similar form of discrimination").

The seven examples are thought-provoking, and raise intriguing issues. Have Christians, in fact, been discriminated against? Is their freedom of speech threatened? After all, if I have the right to write this blog, don't they have the right to produce the material I critique? All very interesting, and fodder for another Focus on the Family book. However, when it comes to this book, all seven examples are irrelevant. This book is about marriage and homosexuality, not freedom of speech. I suspect this section was put into this book simply to score points with devout readers.

The same can also be said for the next couple of pages, where the authors examine a few social experiments (such as the no-fault divorce laws of 1968) that played around with the definition of marriage. In the author's opinion, the experiments were failures. Therefore, they seem to be saying, society will crumble if further changes are made (or kept in place) regarding marriage's definition. "If the opposite-sex definition of marriage is eliminated, what assurances are there that the monogamous definition of marriage will not be next?" Oh, PLEASE!

And "what about the children?" Yep, they have two pages blasting gay people's ability to parent. Luckily, their efforts lead to the best unintended laugh. They quote MP Svend Robinson telling a 2003 House of Commons Justice Committee that you don't need a man to create a family because "a turkey baster will do just fine." The authors actually respond with: "The obvious reality is that in the life of a child, a turkey baster cannot replace a father." I don't know Svend personally, nor was I present when he made the 'turkey baster' remark. However, I feel confident that he was not suggesting a turkey baster could teach kids to ride a bike, help them with their homework, go to PTA meetings, or walk a daughter down the aisle on her wedding day.

For me, the entire discussion on whether a man and a woman are the best possible parents is kind of moot. There are plenty of husband and wife teams that suck, where one or both are alcoholics or abusive, or they just plain get it wrong. Okay, I have no studies or statistics to back this up, but I have many friends who've told me of the abuses and neglect they've suffered under the so-called perfect system of one man and one woman. There are no perfect parents out there, but there are plenty of them who do the best they possibly can.

That's it for Part 3. In Part 4 I'll look at 'The Christian Response'.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Marriage And Homosexuality: A Christian Response Part 2

In Part 1 I introduced this book, and looked at the section dealing with Marriage. Chapter 2 deals with the author's ideas about gay people, and it is here they start to get nasty.


"Homosexuality is in violation of God's plan for humanity," the authors tell us, offering four verses that confirm this view (without actually providing the text for those verses, nor the context that goes with them). Then they proceed to give us "the facts about homosexuality." It's the usual Christian stuff: nobody is born gay, gay people can be 'cured', "homosexual male relationships are rarely monogamous," the gay lifestyle is "intrinsically more risky than heterosexual practices," etc...

The writers cite studies and books that agree with them, naturally. A few of those studies and books were even published recently. Nine of them, however, were published over fifteen years ago, and one source goes all the way back to 1972. Call me crazy, but I'd be a lot more convinced if all their sources were published within five years of this book's publication date (which isn't given, but I suspect it came out in 2004 or 2005). Also, given the obvious bias of this book, I'm extremely wary to take the authors' word on what those studies say.

What's worse are the things the authors say without any kind of supporting material, like this statement: "Homosexuality is intrinsically misguided and sinful, independent of anyone's response to it." The authors' attitude seems to be that anything a gay person tells you is wrong, but we don't need to prove we're right because you probably already agree with us.

The writers also demonstrate a knack for something I'll call linguistic gymnastics. When addressing the issue of homophobia, the authors say "the word 'homophobia' confuses the issue," because it implies "that all opposition to homosexuality stems from bigotry and irrational hatred." No, they tell us, "the vast majority of people" oppose same-sex relationships because of their "deeply held religious, moral or philosophical beliefs." Oh, that's so much better.

Similar wordplay is used to say that their condemnation of the gay lifestyle does not incite hate crimes. "Simply arguing against certain behaviour does not incite violence," they say, adding that "no one kills liars, even though most preachers argue against it." Yeah, but no one tries to deny marriage to liars, or drum them out of the military. And while it's true that "bigots need no sermons to motivate them to hatred," anti-gay sermons and scriptures certainly do not help matters. "Most Christians never commit or condone violence against gays," the writers say, and one hopes that this statement is true. However, the authors do not back that statement up with any study or fact.

I remain thoroughly unconvinced by the flawed methodology used to describe what a 'homosexual' is, and I hope most thinking people will be, too. Chapter 2 seems slapped together, relying on highly questionable data (or nothing at all) to provide "a Biblically based understanding of homosexuality." I suspect this chapter was intended to make non-thinking readers feel they've been informed about things they already believe, so they'll be more willing to accept what comes next. In Part 3 I'll look at Chapter 3: The Challenge To Marriage.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Marriage And Homosexuality: A Christian Response Part 1

This is going to be a long one. So long, in fact, that I've decided to split it into four parts. The book itself, published by, an initiative of Focus On The Family Canada, contains eight sections, two of which I'll deal with in each post. Part 1 will focus on the Introduction and Chapter 1.

Marriage And Homosexuality was written to help Christians "counter the carefully crafted arguments of same-sex marriage advocates" so they can "confidently respond in a Christ-like manner." The Introduction talks of "having to defend marriage," an institution that "has changed little over the centuries." In fact, "Christians are rightfully alarmed" now that same-sex couples are can marry in Canada. Scary stuff, huh? But "what is so important about marriage that it is worth protecting?"


The writers of this book (who aren't credited) let the reader know early on that they believe the Bible is the literal Word of God. They call marriage "the foundation for every civilized society" since "time immemorial", and state that "marriage is God's creation." They say the Bible "describes various harmonious relationships within nature - night and day, land and sea, male and female," as if the issue at hand were really that simple.

When Adam and Eve got the boot from Eden over the whole tree of knowledge thing, "evil entered the world" and "marriage moved away from its ideal". God had to give humankind "specific laws to provide parameters for appropriate expressions of sexuality and marriage." The no-nos? "Adultery, incest, homosexual intercourse and intercourse with animals." Nice company for gay people to be in, huh? These condemned acts "provide a definition of the form of marriage that cannot be put aside." This kind of reasoning only holds up if readers believe the Bible really is The Truth, and the authors assume they do.

After all, if you believe as they do, the authors can get away with all kinds of sweeping generalizations and statements of supposed 'truth' without having to back them up with anything resembling hard evidence. Marriage, they say, "is essentially a part of natural law" and that "marriage has changed very little over the years." Which years are they talking about? And which culture? I don't remember getting a dowry when I married my wife, nor did I solidify any business dealings or gain vast tracts of land. Arranged marriages still take place in some countries, but if anything that shows the diversity still present in the institution.

The authors aren't above using a 12-year-old's words to further their agenda, either. "I want a mom and a dad," an orphaned child named Shelby told reporters at the public launch of a website designed to help children like him find adoptive parents. The authors claim that the kid's words point out how universal a male-and-female marriage is. After all, Shelby said "what every child instinctively longs for." Was that really what the kid was saying, or is that merely the authors' conclusion?

The book goes on to point out the benefits of marriage, and makes more sweeping statements. They also talk about marriage in history, and seem to say that since marriage "has changed very little" there's no reason to change it now. It's not as if anything else has changed on this flat world of ours.

That's it for Part 1. Join me next time for Chapter 2, where the authors display their 'knowledge' about homosexuality.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Homosexual Struggle

Homosexual Struggle, published by InterVarsity Press and credited to an author named Nancy (no last name), is one of the saddest and most heart-wrenching pieces of religious writing I've yet read. It's written from Nancy's point of view, and chronicles her struggle to deny who she is.

Sorry, that's harsh. It is Nancy's choice, after all, to fight against her sexual orientation. It is a choice that has caused her a great deal of pain and suffering, however, and I can't help but feel she's made the wrong one.

Why? Because she sounds so unhappy throughout the booklet's 27 pages. She uses words like frustrated, hurting and lonely to describe her battle with the will of her deity.

The story starts in Nancy's high-school years, when she describes herself as having been "pretty 'straight'". She dated guys, but never had sex with them. "Somehow my parents' religious morality had rubbed off on me." It did more than that; she gave her life to Christ in her junior year, and now had "a more compelling reason to say no to guys."

Then, during her senior year, she met a Christian girl named Sue, and before long "we became sexually involved." Interesting that her parents' morality, followed by Christ's "compelling reasons", kept her away from boys, but when the opportunity for a lesbian relationship came along all that reasonable morality went out the window!

But not for long. They were both Christians, after all, and they both agreed that the Bible forbade their love. Nancy "made the very difficult choice of following Jesus rather than my feelings," but Sue "chose to continue to pursue a gay life."

In college, Nancy tried to convince herself that her relationship with Sue was just a one-time thing. She could not, however, and her "first couple of years in college were incredibly frustrating and lonely." She "felt like a freak", afraid of the judgments of the Christians she hung out with. At last she was able to open up to a "casual acquaintance named Kathy," then to her friend and Bible study co-leader Steve, who had been having "similar struggles with homosexuality." That gave Nancy some comfort - "For the first time I didn't feel quite as alone in my agonies." - but she was still caught in a desperate struggle for self. Sure, she was able to talk about her "agonies", but they were still agonies.

For example, Nancy describes her inner struggled as a "civil war" between the will of God, as she understood Him, and what her gay friends told her was her "'true' sexual identity and personhood." In the end, she decided "only in a relation ship of submission to (God) will I be truly satisfied." Did it help? Not much, it would seem. While she was "much more willing to obey" God, she "found that the problems didn't get easier to handle." Nancy felt "very uncomfortable around guys" and was "afraid of getting too close (emotionally) with girls", and it all "added up to one incredibly lonely person." This led her to "live with my loneliness and not pursue the 'comfort' of physical intimacy." After all, did not John White say in his book Eros Defiled: The Christian And Sexual Sin, "Would you despise intimacy with the Almighty in insisting on more of human intimacy?" Yes, apparently he did. And interestingly, Eros Defiled was also published by InterVarsity Press.

"Then there were problems of lust and sexual fantasies," Nancy goes on, proving (to me, anyway) that "intimacy with the Almighty" isn't enough for a flesh-and-blood human being. "I struggled with lust toward nearly anybody, male or female," and "the Bible didn't seem to offer me much hope or encouragement in my dilemma."

Nancy eventually came to the conclusion that "the real root problem" was her own sinful nature. "I had to deal with the fact that I was a sinner - the primary source of my gay inclinations." Yes, you read that right. Nancy speaks of receiving help from "a Christian counselor" as well. God help her.

And apparently He did, because "today I am in a paid position of Christian ministry" and she has "not had sexual contact with another woman for several years." Well, good for you, Nancy. You traded your soul for a Bible. Still, who am I to judge? Nancy says "I have become content with being single and celibate," and now she is "really enjoying life." I hope that's true.

I'm sure the intention of this booklet is to help people, but it is no less dangerous than the last booklet I reviewed. I'm sure Nancy hopes her words will encourage those with similar struggles, and help them to see they are not alone. However, I'm just as sure her words will hurt a fair number of people, who will read about her suffering and be terrified they will have to endure the same in order to be good Christians. Plus, as is almost always the case with these things, Nancy cites only the Bible, her interpretation of it, and other Christian authors (like that John White guy) to back up her claims. She does not use any source that does not already back up her opinion. If she'd listed sources that opposed her point of view, then presented her rationale for rejecting them, this would be a more impressive work. Instead, it reads like the story of a prisoner being brainwashed, who grows to love and encourage further brainwashing in others.

"People who struggle with their sexuality," Nancy writes, "desperately need to know God's holy love." Perhaps, Nancy, but what I think they really need is for writers of booklets like these to leave them the hell alone.

Likely to Convert - N/A
Likely to Convert Gays - 2
Artwork - N/A
Ability to Hold Interest - 5
Unintentional Hilarity - 1
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 6

Friday, January 30, 2009

Searching Issues: What is the Christian Attitude Towards Homosexuality?

In my last review, I pointed out the difference between tracts that sow hatred and fear towards others, and those that are just trying to 'help'. Jack Chick's The Birds And The Bees instructs children to fear gay people, so I call it a work of hate. This Searching Issues booklet, written by Nicky Gumbel and published by Alpha North America, falls into the 'help' category, fortunately. It's still a load of crap, but Nicky's heart, while not in the right place, is at least in the right place's general vicinity.

It starts well, I have to say. Rather than condemning or judging, Nicky Gumbel advocates understanding and compassion "toward those for whom their homosexual orientation is a daily struggle." I doubt many in the gay community would consider their orientation to be any more of a struggle than their straight counterparts, but I'll let it go. After all, he acknowledges that "the church's attitude to (gay) people has often been one of prejudice, ignorance and oppression."

However, he goes on to say that "love does not involve condoning sin." Does Nicky consider being gay a sin? Not exactly. He points out the difference "between homosexual orientation and homosexual behavior", and makes clear that only the behaviour is sinful. In other words, if you are gay, you'll be fine as long as you pretend not to be. "The biblical writers clearly disapprove of same-sex sexual practices," Nicky tells us, adding that the few scriptural references to such practices "are brief but uncompromisingly negative."

So, as with most tracts, we are caught between the rock and the hard place of supposed biblical inerrancy; if the Bible says so, then it is so. Not a surprising view, especially since this booklet seems to have been written for Christians and not secular readers. There is no cause to question the Bible's 'truth' for such readers; Nicky only seeks to remind them of their devotion, then tell them what those 'uncompromisingly negative' biblical passages mean.

Where Nicky really gets into hot water with me is when he discusses the causes of sexual orientation, and whether said orientation can be changed. "Some people believe that homosexual orientation is innate or inborn," Nicky says, then he tells us "there is no conclusive scientific evidence" to support that claim. But, "it is possible that homosexual orientation is something that may be acquired or learned." Nicky tries to seem as if he is giving both sides of the argument equal weight, but it soon becomes clear where he truly stands. First he compares homosexuality to congenital disease, arguing that "even if there is a scientific basis," it's still not necessarily good. Then he cites a survey by the British Medical Association in which 14 gay people "were totally released after Christian conversion." I checked the end notes to see when that study was done... 1955. Not exactly recent data, Nick.

Perhaps Nicky realized that a study from the fifties might not be enough, so he tells a story of some gay men he converted, one of whom "had an extraordinary vision of Jesus" in his bedroom before giving his life to Christ. He broke up with his boyfriend, who went on to have his own "amazing vision of Jesus." Nicky doesn't give us their names (or, for that matter, any "conclusive scientific evidence"), so we have to take his story on faith.

This booklet ends with a plea to Christians "to love people and welcome them with open arms into the church." That would be great, if Nicky didn't also advocate speaking out "against the practice of homosexuality." After all, according to him, "it is wrong to promote a homosexual lifestyle in schools," and "it is wrong to ordain unrepentant, practicing homosexuals into Christian leadership." Those last two statements seem to have come from nowhere, and I wonder if he squeezed them in at the last minute.

"Love is the key from first to last," Nicky writes, and I believe him. Which is to say, I believe that he believes it. As such, I don't consider this to be a work of hate. I do, however, believe it is dangerous. In spite of the many appeals to love the gay and hate the gayness, this booklet seeks to convince with flimsy logic and data that his intended readers are unlikely to question. It is also clearly biased, despite its attempts or desires to be otherwise. At least it doesn't contain the hatred on display in so many other works of this nature. It's a step forward, but too small a step in an age when we really should be running.

Likely to Convert - N/A
Likely to Convert Gays - 1
Artwork - 3
Ability to Hold Interest - 7
Unintentional Hilarity - 2
Level of Disturbing or Offensive Content - 7