Our amazing church is doing a full 4 week series on the LGBT/church struggle, called Grace and Truth. They are also doing a church-wide, 10 week small group study of the book Grace/Truth by Preston Sprinkle, a Side B (you can be gay but you just can’t act on it…celibacy or straight marriage are the gay Christian’s choices). Before I dive into my own opinion and thoughts, I do want to give a shout out to them, for being brave enough to start the conversation. Not many churches have taken that challenge yet, perhaps hoping it will all go away, convinced that the “gay issue” is a worldly problem that really need not be addressed inside the church walls. Our church was one of them three years ago when we walked into their doors. They really never had to deal with any gay church goers, as they either stayed “in the closet” at least during church, or left the moment the church told them they were not only non-affirming but non-accepting. You are welcome to come, BUT…After many conversations with the pastors, we decided to stay, and regardless of theological disagreements on the “issue,” have never felt anything but welcomed and loved there. With the people, anyway. Not so much with the “church” itself, however, but I’ll go into more detail on that later. So, I do applaud them for taking these steps. They are not where I want them to be, but I believe it does take time, and a step in the right direction needs to be applauded. Churches cannot get from Z-A in a single leap, as painful as it feels when you want them to “A” ASAP.
This blog series is my heartfelt response to the church series on Grace and Truth, and I want to use my blog platform to uncover some of the disagreements we have with the premise as well as to touch on more detail than the sermons can possibly allow given the time constraints. I realize that the “level” of which I address the church and LGBT Christians is much more in-depth than many can sense when this all seems like a new idea, and that’s simply because of the time, personal-ness and research I have done. Much of this may seem much more nuanced than a simple gloss-over, but the details are indeed quite important.
This topic is so important, actually, that souls are hanging in the balance. Those lost GAY souls? Not in the way the church has many times addressed gays. I contend that souls are in jeopardy not because gays need to repent of their sins, but the church is making a pretty big gamble, risking turning away gay people and blocking their path to God by acting ANYTHING but affirming. Period. We are moving away from casting out gays or even those who vocalize same sex attractions and that’s great. We are warming up to the idea that attraction doesn’t always equal action. Also great. BUT…
So much to say. So many books have been written on the topic it’s hard to cover in a sermon, a small group, or a blog. It’s a lot and it’s heady and I may lose someone in the dry theology, so let me add to this intro with something more personal. I don’t believe God calls us to love in order to guide someone to repentance. I don’t believe we should embrace the LGBT people in our church to get them in the doors so they can “learn the truth.” I don’t believe we should get to know LGBT people so that someday they will feel safe enough to hear our “truth.” I don’t believe that should ever be the goal. I don’t believe that’s what Christ wants from us. At the end of the day, we are NOT Christ. We do the best we can, and while there can be debate and encouragement and iron sharpening iron, we still have to be VERY careful not to play the gatekeeper to Christ.
The fact is, we really can’t compare being gay (whether or not you act on it) to anything else. There’s no good equal or analogy. To compare someone’s intrinsic wiring and what they do with it to being a tax collector, a pedophile, an alcoholic, a porn addict, or anything else is just not the same. Can gay people sin in their sexuality? Absolutely!! Can straight people sin in their sexuality? Absolutely! Those sexual sins can be compared side by side. They are both equally wrong. Gay porn is equally wrong to straight porn. Gay promiscuity is equally sinful as straight. They are sins because they damage someone else. They are sinful because they aren’t embracing God’s design for a covenantal relationship. But if we are saying we agree that gay people are born that way, you could arguably assume that God MADE them that way. I struggle to believe that my “action” to be in relationship with my wife is any more “fleshly desire” than any one that is straight who wants to be married and enjoy intimacy with that person. To reduce a person’s gayness (when they want to be in a relationship) to just plain lust if they crave that is unfair and untrue. How shameful would a straight person feel when they find someone they are attracted to and want to marry, be reduced to the accusation that they are giving in to their sinful, fleshly desires, with nothing but lust in their hearts?
LEAD THEM TO CHRIST AND LET HIM TAKE IT FROM THERE.
As Christians, this, at face value, is an AMEN worthy statement. Carrying it out, however, quickly causes even the average-level Christian to immediately stumble the moment a, “Ya, but,” pops into their heads. “Ya, but, what about this? What about the New Testament calling us to help each other not to sin? Ya, but, what about people doing something wrong and claiming to be Christian? Ya, but, what about someone living in sin? Ya, but, if you don’t repent of a sin you continuously do, you don’t really follow Christ.”
SIN SIN SIN SIN SIN.
As we’ve discussed, debated, and listened to this sermon series, we need to begin with the entire premise of the “debate” if you will. On one hand you have the, “Gay sin is worse than other sins” (Defined as Side X: even having the attraction is a sin, and you haven’t been praying hard enough or have enough faith) and the “A sin is a sin, they are just like the rest of us, we are all sinners. Maybe being gay and acting on it isn’t any worse than me eating an extra donut that I shouldn’t have. Maybe you WERE born gay, but if you choose to act on it, THEN it’s a sin.” (A few tenants of Side B) We’ve (my wife and I) let ourselves enter that debate on this level. Many people in the church seem to view it with these two choices, “It’s a sin BUT how big of a deal is it?” The problem is, that it’s hard to debate any topic when you don’t actually agree on the base statement. What if you don’t believe a same-sex monogamous committed relationship is a sin at all???
I’ve blogged about being a gay Christian in the past. I feel like I have a fairly unique position having been raised in the church, have a substantial “theological” education, and have the willingness to have the debate as objectively as possible. I don’t feel like it’s so offensive I can’t have that conversation or I’m too offended to hear a disagreeing viewpoint. I also understand that in order for the church to have the conversation we (The LGBT Christians) have to SHOW UP FOR IT! (Even if it’s terribly awkward and uncomfortable!)
But at some point, it DOES become personal. For three weeks now we’ve sat patiently in the pews, in small group, and scrolled past fellow church member’s Facebook posts about our “loving us despite our sins” as gracefully as we can muster. That we’re supposed to feel nothing but grateful that the church has come on board to welcome and love us, the sinners that we are. (Oh and trust me, I’m a sinner. Just not that part of me.) For the most part we’re not terribly offended. We sit patiently. But, truthfully, it stings. At the end of the day, it IS personal. Sitting there, feeling nakedly exposed as people discuss what sins we are committing, listening to why our marriage is, undeniably, a sin- whether big or small is up for debate- but a sin none-the-less. We see posts about our “sins of the flesh,” comparing our intimate marriage with “any other sexual sin” like porn, adultery, or pre-marital sexual sins. I get the objective. It’s to level the playing field. To challenge the notion, the assumption, that gay sin is REALLY bad. It’s still a slap in the face, that while the “step in the right direction” is knocking down the big bad gay sin to “regular, not that huge of a deal, we all struggle” sin, you are still being accused of a sin. The love, devotion, connection, commitment and covenant I’ve chosen with this ONE person is still being labeled a sin. But what if you don’t believe it is a sin at all?
So today I want to challenge this concept that there are only 2 choices here for Christians: Is it a really bad sin OR just a regular one? Enter the third option, SIDE A: Aside from body parts, entering into a covenantal committed relationship with another person, same sex or opposite sex, is the embodiment of God’s plan of creation restoration, and thus not a sin at all. Did God intend for same-sex relationships? Who knows. Maybe not, but, God also has a pretty rockin’ history of meeting people, culture, and biology right where it’s at. There are plenty of examples in the created, natural world where it’s not quite according to plan. I would argue that many gay Christians crave God’s natural design for relationship with another person just like straight people have. Because we have agreed that you are indeed, for whatever reason, BORN gay, God can still fulfill in a gay Christian the in-the-image-of-God covenantal relationship found only in seeking marriage and family. Side A is accused by Side B and X that while we are full of GRACE, which is a wonderful position in general, we lack ANY sort of Truth, as if we are choosing to turn a blind eye on God’s Truth, and focus only on grace. I take that personally, because I do believe I’m choosing BOTH Grace and Truth. The problem is, whose INTERPRETATION of truth are we going to abide by? Is the “truth” of what the Bible says up for debate and interpretation or assumed to be as clear as it had been carved out on my front lawn in plain English just last night? Are we talking about “different truths” (The idea that we all just need to find “our” truth…a nonsensical notion) or are we saying that like most things in scripture, beneath the surface, are indeed open to prayer, debate, discussion, and interpretation with the awareness of our own cultural and personal filters? What cultural and historical assumptions are we making about the scriptures that supposedly are clear cut on the sin of homosexuality? Is homosexuality the “last frontier” in church bias toward groups of people?
I want to cover the following points in my following series:
CREATION MANDATE vs RESTORATION OF CREATION: Does the story of Creation and Genesis mentioning “one man and one woman” indicate an absolute rule of marriage? Was it a blanket statement or an exclusionary mandate? Does the story of Creation and Christ describing the relationship of Christ being the groom of the church (bride) mean there’s no room for same-sex relationships or is the point of God restoring creation to enter into personal covenants as Christ has with the church? Is it the relationship or the body parts that God is talking about? Jesus mentions man and woman as well, but the following passage is often ignored when he mentions, “eunuchs, both born that way and made by man.” Eunuchs are actually brought up several times and there are some fascinating parallels to eunuchs of the Bible times and gays and trans people today.
THE PROBLEM BEHIND ADHERING TO HISTORIC CHRISTIAN SEXUAL ETHIC: While loosely based in parts of scripture, the church has long since made adjustments and exceptions to many parts of this “Historic Christian Sexual Ethic.” By not extending that to include committed same-sex couples, the church is cherry picking when to be traditional and when to ignore tradition to embrace the exceptions.
THE CLOBBER PASSAGES: Are there other interpretations or ways to read these? Why yes, yes there are. This is wherein lies the truth-debate that may never be laid to rest. And that’s OK. Because that’s theology. Churches split on more minor things than this. And that’s both the beauty of God’s mysterious “special revelation” and Satan preying on the Church. The problem arises when we start to decide which sins are worse than others and which ones will keep you from going to heaven. It’s a lot to hang your hat on, when souls are hanging in the balance. However, to gloss over these crucial passages and legitimate theological arguments for other interpretations keeps scripture from being a living, mysterious document and instead relegates it to a black and white, open and shut list of rules.
GRACE AND TRUTH (BUT WHOSE INTERPRETATION OF THAT TRUTH): Does Side A conveniently exclude God’s Truth? The messy middle is messier than you might think, but is it the only stance that actually includes both?
THE DEMAND FOR GAY CHRISTIAN CELIBACY: Is this indeed demanded of ALL gay Christians as a clear “cross to bear?” How has forced celibacy worked for the church in the past? Can it be right for some, but not for all gay Christians? Are all gays automatically given the gift of celibacy?
ACCEPTANCE VS AFFIRMATION: At the heart of this is PEOPLE. And I’m here to tell straight, Side B or X Christians, that while acceptance is a good stepping stone, until LGBT people feel the church is straight-up AFFRIMING of committed same-sex relationships, they will not feel fully welcomed and loved and valued as a Child of God. I know that there are many Side B Gay Christians who have chosen celibacy and I applaud their commitment to their values and as a Side B Christian feel loved and welcomed and valued. I also know there are pieces of a Side B Gay Christian’s heart that have more than a little trepidation that, “if I ever change my mind, or misstep, or fall in love, will I still be as accepted and loved?” As welcomed as Side B gays feel in a church that’s accepting but not affirming, would they still feel as accepted if they ever changed their views?
CAN YOU ACTUALLY BE A GAY CHRISTIAN? THE SPLIT IN SIDE B. Side B is indeed the messy middle as there are several viewpoints of this side. While many Side B people take the stance of “a sin is a sin, but it’s kinda up for debate, and nothing so terrible that will send you to hell, but while this is what I PERSONALLY believe or have decided God is saying, I can’t necessarily judge someone who is affirming,” there’s the other side of Side B which is caught in the eddy of the repentance argument, of which they cannot escape: “You’re sinning by choosing a same-sex relationship. You won’t even admit it’s a sin or stop doing it. Therefore, you refuse to repent of your sin. Therefore, you CANNOT be a true Christian because of your continuous disobedience to God and your refusal to stop sinning.”
I welcome comments, questions, or discussions, and am happy to recommend further reading on the “Side A” argument! There are some really amazing books out there. Stay tuned as we head in depth in the above arguments! Love to all.