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When 10 of those asked me to do an evangelistic video for Halloween, I knew the dangers. Here are a couple of interviews I've done on the subject:

As I set about making the video I predicted a range of reactions reflecting the range of views on the subject.

When John Piper was asked about Halloween he summarized these varying approaches...

How to write something that satisfied all such groups?

Well, you can't. So I decided to write something for the friends of Christians - friends who would have little understanding of Halloween's origins or the gospel. That's the target audience. Therefore I'm not trying to convert Christians to 'trick or treating'. I am trying to engage trick-or-treaters (and their Facebooking parents) with the gospel.

Originally the video was going to be an animation with silhouetted figures playing the part of trick-or-treaters. We ran out of time for that and so decided to film it. On the day, I told the parents to bring children in whatever costumes they were comfortable with - a pirate or a spiderman would be perfect. I also brought some spare pumpkin costumes just in case. As it happened, the parents did a wonderful job on wardrobe and make-up as you can see.  And my videographer and soundtrack artist were incredibly good at evoking the mock-horror.

What we ended up with was a really quite scary first minute of film that went beyond what I'd imagined with words and a basic animation. But I'm glad for how the film has turned out. I think that initial impact grabs folks and hopefully pulls them into the gospel material. Remember - this is for non-Christians. Non-Christians.

So I want to make clear, my intention is not to open the doors for Christians to go trick-or-treating. I want to open the doors for trick-or-treaters to come to Christ!

Interestingly I've had complaints in the other direction too. One person so far has thought I'm too hard on paganism. I think they made some good points. They asked Why do we "mock" these spiritual beliefs (witches, paganism, etc)? Is it really Christian to mock? Would we similarly 'mock' Muslims or Hindus?  That complaint led to a really fruitful conversation. But I mention it just to say that the video is not at all trying to compromise with spiritual darkness but to unmask it.

Here's the bottom line for me: if you're not sold on the whole "mocking the darkness" angle (which I think is the true meaning of Halloween... see links below) then please don't get involved in Halloween just because we made a pretty video. I'm persuaded that Halloween can be engaged with positively, but if you're not persuaded then don't practice.

Romans 14:14 is the verse here:

I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.

Just cos I made it rhyme, doesn't mean I'm right. If you're a Christian wondering what your approach to Halloween will be this year, our video hasn't solved anything for you. You can't short-cut the reading, thinking and praying part.

If you want some pointers in the direction of Christian engagement with Halloween, James Jordan is my top tip on a starting place. Peter Dray has also written a great paper (delivered first as an evangelistic talk). The Oxford Concise Dictionary of the Christian Church has good entries on "All Saints Eve" and "All Saints Day" (which deny that ancient Christians simply adopted pagan practices). CS Lewis's introduction to the Screwtape Letters gives sound advice on neither thinking too highly nor too little of evil powers and gives a great defence of holy mockery. He quotes Luther:

“The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him, for he cannot bear scorn.” (Martin Luther)

Alan Rudnick writes from an American perspective and Steve Utley from a British one. Michael Spencer and Anderson Rearick might be a step too far for some, but they're fascinating for showing how attitudes have changed on this issue.

If you're after a video for how Christians should engage Halloween, then check out Ed Drew's video. Our video is designed to reach non-Christians. And to that end I ask that you get busy sharing it this week. If we really want to oppose Satan then, as Luther says "Christians should face the devil with the Word of God."

 

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Emma Watson and #HeForShe are still trending strongly after her speech at the UN

TRANSCRIPT OF SPEECH

The essence of #HeForShe seems entirely praiseworthy. Gender equality is everyone's issue. It has to be.

I subscribe to @EverydaySexism on Twitter and am constantly shocked by the abuse that women are routinely forced to endure at the hands of men. It disgusts me and it makes me triply resolved to teach men what real manhood is - not degrading or objectifying women, but honouring them. It seems obvious to me that a woman's greatest hope of liberation and flourishing is for the men in her life to learn self-control - especially sexual self-control - and for those men to empower and bless the women in their lives. In other words it seems obvious to me that the cause of gender equality is advanced precisely where men are taught to be what men are supposed to be - sacrificial, Christ-like servants who will die for their women. Call me naive but I think a return to the Bible is a woman's best hope for equality.

For this reason I take #HeForShe to be a well-intentioned move in the right direction. Of course it's easy to be cynical about the zeitgeistiness of it all - a young, 20-something celebrity calling us to click on the latest website - but we can forgive it that. I think the goal is noble.

But then those goals become completely undermined by a couple of other commitments evident in the speech. At one point she says: "“It is time that we all see gender as a spectrum instead of two sets of opposing ideals." Hang on a minute. I'm all for opposing gender stereotypes - which Watson does well in the speech - but let's not oppose the distinctness of gender itself.

Emma WatsonThe irony is that undercutting "he"-ness and "she"-ness with a single spectrum will not turn out well for the cause of women's liberation. If I am positioned on a spectrum according to my personality type, my preferences and my actions, then who will protect "an end of the spectrum" and on what basis? Spectrums get dominated - they always do - and they get dominated by the strong over the weak. Do women really want to abandon the particular protection of a given identity - one which they can proudly claim as "born that way" - and adopt a spot on a sliding scale?

As an example - you could make an argument for abolishing a men's and women's draw at Wimbledon. Why have these 'opposing ideals' - it's a spectrum after all? You could spin this as an argument for equality, couldn't you? "Let every tennis player identify simply as a tennis player and let their tennis speak for itself?" What would happen at Wimbledon? Men would win and women would be utterly squeezed out. The spectrum does not favour those who are weaker physically nor those who have historically been oppressed. The spectrum will only exacerbate inequalities and force the weak to fight a losing battle to be honoured.

The greatest example of this in the speech came at 4:52

I think it is right that I should be able to make decisions about my own body

It prompted the first and loudest bout of applause. It was chilling to me to see a talk on equality garnering such enthusiastic support for the oppression of the weak. What a travesty for women to applaud the 'rights' of the strong to eliminate all those little girls, simply because the strong can. 

I hope though that we can see how this pro-choice slogan fits perfectly with a 'spectrum' mentality. Richard Dawkins identified the chief problem with the pro-life position as 'The Tyranny of the Discontinuous Mind'. Dawkins insists that we not think in binary catergories - life or non-life - it's all on a spectrum. The status of the child in the womb is not on an on-off switch but on a dimmer. We must be pragmatic about when we accord the child the right to protection.

In other words, it's a spectrum. With this spectrum it's very obvious that there is a strong end and a weak end but, crucially, it's down to those at the weak end to prove themselves worthy of honour and protection. This is where it heads when we don't have God-given categories like 'life', like 'man', like 'woman.' Without these givens (and hear the word grace in the word 'given') we must earn and prove everything.

"He For She" is a great idea. But it's completely undercut if you make "He" abandon his "He"-ness and "She" abandon her "She"-ness. These have been given to us, not as 'opposing ideals' but as a complementary pairing. We are called, in all our distinctives, to a one-ness of love and mutual respect. #HeForShe works. #SHEEEHEEEESH does not. The spectrum is a spectre - it's the tyranny of the continuous mind.

Better_Together_logoHere's a little 5 minute topical talk I gave this lunchtime. To be honest it basically "on the hoof" but perhaps the way in to the gospel through the referendum might be useful to you in conversations / talks. If you like the idea of it, steal it. If you hate it, say why in comments so I can get better...

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I began with the Scottish independence referendum. My way into the gospel was simply to say that it's a mature democracy which allows its members to go their own way - to hand them over to the independence they want. In the Bible, God also hands us over to independence but then hands over Christ. When Christ brings us home, then we're truly free. Sorta thing.

Not that the "Yes" campaign is sinful or that union with Westminster is anything like union with Christ! But if you talk about the referendum people will listen...

tep-podcastcover-1024x1024On this episode we talk about opportunities related to the WW1 centenary.

Recently David Bourne and Andy Johnston put on a wonderful event in Hailsham to mark the centenary of the First World War (see here). It was held at the Parish Church and it seemed like the whole town came out.

First Andy spoke of the causes of the war. Then David spoke of the course of the war. After a refreshments break and act of remembrance, I spoke about Jesus, the Prince of Peace. It was a very successful event generating wonderful gospel conversations afterwards.

Could you put on something similar where you are?

Here Andy Brinkley and I talk about the opportunities of this year and then listen to my 20 minute talk...

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For other resources concerning the WW1 celebrations:

https://www.10ofthose.com/products/12856/Remembrance-Day-Tract/

http://greaterlove.org.uk/

http://www.hopetogether.org.uk/greaterlove

Download My Talk by itself

 

 

punEvery now and then I have a go at #1PUN on Twitter. It was started by Juan Pun as a daily joke competition held at 1pm GMT. There were judges, a points system, spreadsheets and everything.

Recently, without warning or explanation, Juan Pun stopped overseeing 1PUN. Now no-one tweets out the reminders, no-one is judging our efforts and there are no official winners. But 1PUN continues. It seems like it's as popular as ever. And, in a way, the scoring does happen, but in the way it's always happened on Twitter: via favourites and retweets. It's the People's Republic of #1PUN and it's working.

Let's think about religion and morality. Could it be that the People's Republic of #1PUN gives us a model for how morality works after the death of God? Perhaps God is like a heavenly Juan Pun - a made-up figure who has now retreated from the scene. To begin with, his absence was disconcerting, but after a bit, we've just gotten on with it. Now people act pretty much the same way they ever did except that, under the new regime, they don't receive authoritarian pronouncements from on high, they are simply judged by their equals. Approval and disapproval has been democratized and we've all just gotten on with life without any noticeable outbreaks of apocalyptic evil.

What do we think? Is it the same thing?

Well here's one response you could make:

"Yeah but... Watch out for the democratization of values. A nasty pocket of racist tweeters could get hold of the hashtag and flood it with bigoted "humour". In just that way, whole people groups could decide on a new direction for a culture's morality and there'd be nothing to say they were wrong."

 You could make that kind of argument. And there'd be truth to it. But I think we need to go deeper.

You see the analogy just doesn't hold. At all really. The triune God is not a heavenly Juan Pun trying to manage a little system within a much larger paradigm. The Father hasn't looked around at all the morality that's been going on and dreamt up a scoring system to administrate it. He is the Author of goodness, the Son is the Expression of goodness, the Spirit is the Perfecter of goodness. God is good - goodness itself.

The triune God does not relate to the world as Juan Pun to word-play but like Oscar Wilde to Algernon. In The Importance of Being Earnest, Algernon may be extremely funny while denying all knowledge of any authorship over his life. But on the deepest level, he cannot declare his independence from Wilde. He's only funny because of him.

We can deny God all we like. We can call him an out-dated construct but actually we are the constructs. And every concept we use - whether of goodness, truth, beauty, justice, even humour - is either borrowed capital or ultimately bankrupt. The people's republic of earth does not threaten the kingdom of heaven - actually it presupposes it. All the while there's a Father beckoning the world to something greater than abstract values like "goodness" - He's inviting us to Himself.

 

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1991, THE ADDAMS FAMILYRecently I stirred the hornets nest with "I choose not to be straight". I then followed it with "Why go after straight Christians.". Here's my last sexuality post for a while. I think.

This morning I was visiting a church (not in Eastbourne). The man leading the prayers said "Lord, we thank you that you love us all here this morning, whether we are young people, parents or grandparents, your love is for everybody." I looked along my row. There was a woman in her 30s with Downs Syndrome. She's out. What about her carer? I might be wrong but I don't think she fit the bill. And there's me. I'm out of the club too. Pretty much the whole front row was disenfranchised by that categorisation of "everybody."

And so let me bang this drum one more time... In the current clashes between church and culture over sexuality, it's the church that really needs to repent. This is not just an application of 1 Corinthians 5:12 - although that text should be tattood on the inside of our eyelids. Neither is it the call to refocus attention from gay marriage  onto 'our own heterosexual marriages.' Actually there's every danger that focusing on 'heterosexual marriage' is itself part of an unbiblical vision of sex and sexuality.

Travel back in time to the first century - you are now surrounded by many competing visions of sex, marriage and the family. In lots of ways you could characterise the Empire's vision as more conservative than the Christians'. The message of Jesus and the Apostles crashed down into that world like an asteroid. But it didn't merely confront the sexually liberal, it also led to liberalisation of the marriage laws from Constantine onwards.

Biblical ethics were not seen by the Greco-Roman world as particularly pro-family. Actually the high honours given to singles by the bachelors Jesus and Paul (Matthew 19; 1 Cor 7) were massively threatening to the contemporary culture. It was unheard of in the ancient world to say: "You don't have to get married, in fact it's better if you don't." That was almost seditious. The culture was all about family. Matrimony is about finding a mater - a mother - for your heirs. If there had been a pagan pressure group advocating for the sexual ethics of good citizens they'd probably call themselves something like "Focus on the Family." The Christians seemed to be doing something different.

You see biblical sexual ethics confront the licentious and the conservatives. The bible offers the world something radical - a way of life that is not about experiences and romantic love but neither is it about securing progeny. Here are a people who see a future for the world that is not tied to their offspring - it's tied to Christ. And so Jesus says:

‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others – and there are those who choose to live like eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’ (Matthew 19:11-12)

Can we accept this? Can we accept this ordering of things with a clear privilege for those who embrace singleness? Or will we simply be known as those who privilege the family and hetero-normativity? Are we going to sit with this unbiblical categorisation of the world (Straight / Gay / Bi / etc) and insist on converting people to our end of the spectrum? Or are we seeking to convert the spectrum itself?

This was brought home to me when Paul Blackham wrote his wonderful article for this blog: "Legal recognition of marriage and the Way of Jesus." It's a fantastic piece about participating in the revolution of Jesus (including his revolution of sexual ethics). This revolution will occur not by lobbying parliament but by living out the way of Jesus in local churches. It was received very well except for two sentences:

Jesus’ preference is, of course, that we don’t marry at all and are able to say ‘no’ to all our sexual desires and give all our passion and desire to the life and work of the Kingdom of God.  Yet, if any of us cannot do that, there is this one possibility of a totally exclusive, lifelong, sacrificial marriage between a man and a woman.

Nothing else in the article caused as many questions as that statement. Some thought it was an unfortunate blunder that prevented the post being shared more widely. But I wonder whether our resistance to that paragraph (which seems a pretty decent summary of Matt. 19 and 1 Cor. 7) reveals our blind spots. We think of the bible as challenging pomo-sexuality, we don't think of it as challenging the unrivalled pre-eminence of "the family." But it's both. And those who use the Bible to challenge the former while capitulating to an idolatry of "the family" are open to the charge of hypocrisy.

More than this, they're closed to the riches of a truly biblical view. I really appreciate spiritualfriendship.org as a place that explores what is neglected when "the family" is idolized. Ron Belgau describes the purpose of the site like this:

Growing up as a gay teenager, the only messages I heard from the church were negative. Most in our culture—including many Christians—uphold romantic and sexual love as the most important form of love. But God forbade the sexual and romantic love I desired. Was I just to be left out in the cold?

[I've been helped] to see that obedience to Christ offered more to me than just the denial of sex and romance. Christ-centered chaste friendships offered a positive and fulfilling—albeit at times challenging—path to holiness.

Through groups like this, gay Christians are proving a tremendous gift to the church. We should all have been exploring the meaning of true friendship but some of us were too busy romanticising romance. These guys have been forced to wrestle with something every Christian should treasure: spiritual friendships beyond questions of sex and marriage. But if the whole church does not recover these categories then we'll all be the poorer for it.

It seems to me that these guys - even those who identify as "gay Christians" - are not capitulating to the world's view of sexuality (side B Gay Christians aren't anyway). Surely it's "Straight Christians" who are in greatest danger of adopting the world's categories - for they have never come to question their own default prejudices.

In my view, the best of all worlds involves abandoning entirely the "Gay/Straight" labels but perhaps such revolutions lie down the track. In the meantime it's folks like those at Spiritual Friendship who are most likely to recover what Jesus (and Paul and David and Jonathan) have been offering to the world - deeply connected discipleship that is beyond the erotic. It's true that we may have missed the glory of this through distractions about sexuality (and the sexualisation of all things). But another distraction might well have been an overblown focus on the family.

I'm not saying family is not vital. I am saying that Scripture upholds another calling - celibacy - even higher. And if we aren't tuned into that I suggest it's because our sex ethic is not as Christian as we might imagine.

Christians who take a conservative view of Scripture (and I'm one of them) must do more than proclaim the biblical sex ethic. And we must also do something else than simply "upholding Christian marriage" in the face of redefinition. We must let the Bible confront both sexual liberalism and cultural conservatism. We must see both as errors to be repented of. If we don't, we will lose our gay brothers and sisters, we'll isolate our singles even further and we'll be blind to the riches of true discipleship that transcends these culture wars.

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tep-podcastcover-1024x1024

We begin a new series thinking about hot topics in evangelism.

In this episode we think about sexuality. It's not the first (or the fifteenth!) topic that we want to raise with non-Christians. Nonetheless it's one of the first that will be put to us. So what do we say?

Andy and I talk about the vital importance of being a sexual sinner and of not being straight.

During our conversation we mention the excellent LivingOut.org website, my earler blog-post on not being straight and I also refer to  this fascinating photo history of male affection.

Enjoy - and do get in touch in comments. We'd love to hear what you think.

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When I wrote "I choose not to be straight" I finished with a flourish:

For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, gay nor straight.

This has led some to wonder whether I am abandoning all other identities other than Christian. If so, then my post proves too much. We shouldn't identify according to modern categorizations of sexuality but neither should we identify as anything. We're simply in Christ. In every other sense we're a blank sheet.

But I'm not saying that. Firstly, Paul is happy to speak to people about their particular identities and responsibilities as Jews/Greeks, as slaves/free and as male/female. What he's saying is that all are on an equal footing and have full access to God in Christ. That's the Galatians-3-sense in which there is no "gay or straight" - these labels mean nothing in terms of our ability to come to God in Christ.

But of course there are a thousand ways in which our nationality, our gender, our calling and, yes, even our sexuality shape us. Those identities are not eliminated by being "in Christ"  but they must all be re-thought, re-ordered and re-established as sub-identities by grace and through faith.

As we do that - as we re-think sexuality - we come up against something we don't find with, for instance, gender. From Genesis 1 onwards, gender is a given fact of our humanity. Only in the last hundred years or so have westerners thought of sexuality the way we have. Therefore, when the re-think comes, gender has infinitely more hold on us than these modern categories.

One Facebook commenter took me as abandoning all sub-identities, gender included. Not at all. And one of my biggest beefs with PoMo-Sexuality is its side-lining of gender in favour of a rather Gnostic love of 'desires.' One of the great problems with our modern view of sexuality is its disregard for the given-ness of our physical lives. I am male, I am in a one-flesh union - FACT. Who I am determines what I do with my sexual desires, my sexual desires don't determine who I am.

So gender has a hugely more massive purchase on my identity than "sexuality." But in my opinion, the way to challenge our modern categories of "sexuality" is to begin with "heterosexual". Before we say "You mustn't be a Gay Christian" I'd rather we said "You mustn't be a Straight Christian." There are many reasons for this.

Firstly, leading with repentance is a gospel move.  Secondly, if we're going to subvert a whole system of thought we need to say disruptive and shocking things. But thirdly - and mainly - I think a side-B "Gay Christian"  can end up being far more subversive of our false perspectives on sexuality than an unthinking "Straight Christian." The side-B "Gay Christian" has done a lot more work on these identity issues and on the meaning of Scripture than your average, unthinking "Straight Christian." The "Straight Christian" probably doesn't even know they are capitulating to unbiblical categories. The side-B "Gay Christian" is at least offering a measure of resistance to them. Therefore celibate "Gay Christians" are worthy of far more respect than those who, by default, buy into an unbiblical framework but simply happen to be on the more acceptable end of the spectrum!

This came home to me when I posted an article called "Is God homophobic?" I upheld the biblical teaching of sex belonging solely within the marriage of a man and a woman. This, however, was not enough to satisfy a commenter called "Independent Voter." He wrote...

Despite your watering down and deflecting, God’s word on this remains the same as it ever was: That homosexuality is an abomination, that God gave them up to their vile passions to receive in them the results of their chosen lifestyle. yell and scream all you want and call me whatever you want to call me. You nor I can change a word of The Bible. (emphasis mine)

Notice the irony? He doesn't want to change a word of the Bible - so instead he's changed several. Where the Bible is interested in behaviour, he's interested in "homosexuality" and in "lifestyle" - terms from Freudian and Adlerian psychology. He has no idea that he has capitulated to an atheistic world-view. He's just being "biblical." That's why we need to go after the "Straights"!

So... Yes to sub-identities. Yes to the importance of gender. Yes to sex belonging in marriage between a man and a woman. But, please No to an unthinking "Straight" Christianity.

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This has had 4 million plus views on YouTube but grandpa here has only just seen it. In these vox pops they ask folks whether you're born gay or choose it. Then they follow up with the question: "When did you choose to be straight?"...

Here's my answer: Who said I was "straight"? I'm not "straight". My desires are twisted in a thousand ways, like everyone's. Those desires have incredibly complex causes from genetics to environment to experiences and, yes, choices along the way. But I'm a Christian so I don't really foreground choices anyway. I believe in the bondage of the will for goodness sakes. I don't really view people as rational, decision-making machines and I reckon the best social science research confirms that. We are all the results of a complex mixture of forces and our individual choices make up just a piece of that pie.

But back to my original point, I am not "straight." I hate the term "straight". Lusting after the opposite sex en masse is not a virtue and it should never be held up as an ideal against which to judge others as crooked. So allow me to use the limited power of my choices in this regard: I choose not to be "straight". I repent of any identity marker called "straight." Lord forgive me if  I ever take refuge in the label "straight."

Let me go further. I choose not to be "heterosexual". The very idea of classifying me according to a "sexual orientation" is anti-gospel. I am a Christian - that's my identity. Can you seriously imagine Jesus turning to His disciples during the sermon on the mount and saying "Let your sexual desires be unto the multitude of women"? Course not. Jesus is anti-heterosexual and so am I.

Incidentally, I happen to lust after all kinds of sentient beings - males and females alike. Asked to name a top ten of good looking Hollywood actors I may well name a majority of men. What does this say? Not a lot, except that perhaps our modern, western taxonomy of sexuality is off-target. I don't find the categorisations of hetero-sexual / lesbian / gay / transgender / intersex / questioning /queer / asexual etc, to fit even our small slice of the global population, let alone the rest of the world, let alone the rest of human history. Most of world history would look in complete bafflement at our sexuality descriptors, therefore I choose not to buy into that categorization. And I choose not to read the bible through those extremely novel lenses - a temptation to which Christians and non-Christians fall in equal measure.

I'll admit happily, there are very few things I can do to change what or who I desire. But what I do choose is not to define myself by those desires. I choose to let my desires be desires and to let my identity be in Christ. I choose to say No to desires that would harm me or my loved ones (Titus 2:12). When I fail at saying No, I choose not to wallow in self-condemnation. If my "sexuality" doesn't define me, then neither do my sins. I choose to go to Christ with it all and find infinite forgiveness and love.

At the same time I choose never to condemn others who wear a different label. I choose never to feel superior to another human being simply because my distorted desires are more socially acceptable than theirs. I choose never to treat someone as inferior for their desires or their behaviour. I choose to love people no matter the spectrum they choose or the place they sit on it. And I choose to invite the world - whatever their label - to renounce that identity and find the liberating joy of adoption in the family of God. For in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, gay nor straight.

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FOLLOW UP POSTS:

Why we should go after "straight Christians"

Podcast: Why we must be sexual sinners and shouldn't be straight

The idolatries lurking within some conservative Christian world-views

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