I told you all this was going to be seven whole parts long, but I already feel weary of the topic. So, we’ll just have to see where this all takes us! I’ll still hit on some of the biblical arguments, but this one will be a bit more personal.
I’ve heard it said many times this week that if you are gay, God will use your “gayness”, i.e. your brokenness (everyone is broken but in different ways, so gays are automatically broken in their sexuality even if that’s who they are at their core), to redeem you. That if you are truly living and walking with Jesus, EVENTUALLY He will convict you of your sexual sin and redeem you. This may look like being single, marrying opposite sex, or leaving your same-sex marriage. Which could be messy, but for the best, because if you decide that, you’re REALLY walking with God. I’ve heard over and over that it’s OK to identify as gay, but never, never act on it, even in a committed relationship, which is not a blessed union by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve felt proverbially beat over the head with the notion that while we need to get over that gay sin is WAY WORSE than regular sin, we all obviously believe it’s a sin, no debate about that.
Having spent so long, so many weeks, months, discussions with pastors, my wife, friends, parents, family, I feel like I’m at the point of going in circles. We can quote passages at each other all day long, point out what Jesus meant here, but not here, discuss the theological importance of the story of Genesis, have this person feel convicted but not this one, this person sure as the day is long that this is a sin, blah, blah, blah…and just never get to a conclusion. Which is why each person’s story is so important. While I will still touch on many of the biblical arguments I have against “Side B”, it all comes down to my personal story, as well as how I view the overarching message of the Gospel and what it speaks to me. While we can pick apart each little verse and what each word historically may or may not mean, I believe in the end we are all missing the point.
It is assumed that the cross to bear for ALL gay Christians who truly want to follow God–the only way to really do that–is to resign yourself to celibacy, or, hope God shines His grace on you and picks a straight person for you to marry. Which will be really difficult (giving the other person a cross to bear as well) but at least you get some kind of companion in this life, if your marriage can survive that.
My question is, who gets to decide that all gay Christians get the same cross to bear, and that it is forgoing any intimate relationship for their entire lives? Who gets to decide (and feel confident) that the only redemption for gay people is to be eventually convicted that they are living in sin, and through denying that part of themselves, is the only way to be redeemed?
What if, what if, God does indeed choose my “gayness” to redeem me but it’s not in the way the church is expecting? What if many feel (again, I am not going to speak for the group, because everyone has their own story, and that is what it is), that God would never ask that of them? That God never did ask them for that? What if God does not convict ME that I’m sinning by staying married to my wife? What if my redemption is, instead, a wild twist, and is THIS STORY that I’m typing out right now?
What if, what if, my cross to bear is standing in the fire? What if my cross to bear is standing with God and my wife on one side, and standing in the gap for the rest of the LGBT people? What if God created me for THIS EXACT PURPOSE? What if God gave me the cross of, “I chose YOU to represent? I picked YOU: Your background. Your faith. YOUR story. It’s unique. It’s different. It’s up to you.” What if my redemption is learning grace and patience and peace in the face of opposition? What if that’s what I needed to learn in my own life; to witness to those around me in times and in spite of turmoil? What if instead of conforming to the church, my cross to bear is that being a witness to all that my faith grows like a weed in the crossfires of Man’s Church vs God? What if God made me like a little lodgepole pine tree, only able to burst out fruitful seeds under the heat of a forest fire?
What if THAT’s the point? Instead of assuming my sexual relationship is a slam-dunk sin and is PREVENTING me from connecting with God and entering the kingdom of heaven, that my “gayness” is testing my faith and growing me into the person God is calling me to be? What if it’s not the thing I should be running from? What if this is the story that shows me what a real marriage actually looks like? The intensity, the pain, the beauty, the connection to one person on every possible level that I never had with a man? What if the only way I can experience a true marriage is to my soulmate, my wife? What if this is the relationship that I’ve learned selflessness, sacrifice, unconditional love, connection, hardship, commitment, vulnerability, safety?
What if I started listening to all the noise around me from the church and grabbed hold of the crazy, wild, beautiful gift God handed me and cursed it, turned my back, and fled, sure that it was poison. What if I smacked the gift out of His hand, and ran to the safety of the “good, Christian life?” What if I get to the end and proudly report, “I did it God! I lived the safe life, just like you wanted? I turned down my wife, I suffered for you, I died unto myself! I showed my wife, my children, what sacrifice looks like. I gave them crosses to bear as well. I sat quietly in church each week. I was obedient to the voices. I lived a life of solidarity. I turned my focus only to You.” What if God put his arms around me and sadly shook his head. “I love you, child. But I didn’t mean for you to have that safe life. I gifted you with something special and precious. I meant for you to live with reckless abandon. I meant for you to love like you had never been hurt. I meant for you to learn how to love wildly. I meant for you to love beyond anything you could have ever fathomed. I meant for you to live a life of love and strength and witness and power for you to model to your children. I meant for you to have a relationship that was the essence of my relationship with creation. I had made you unique so that you could grasp the unexpected. I meant for you to stand up for these LGBT people that are not broken and damaged and sinful but were made to feel that way. I meant for you to be the one to stand up and voice your thoughts and challenge the assumptions. I made you tough for that purpose. I meant for you to bear witness to my church that YOU DO walk with me. You were born judgy and impatient and grace-less. I wanted you to be humbled. To stretch yourself beyond your wildest imagination. I wanted you to grow into grace. I gave you the chance to show grace to my church. I wanted you to extend grace beyond what you could possibly fathom to this person. I gave you a second chance.”
As I write this a parable comes to mind that Jesus spoke of: The Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30, and I can boil it down to the last paragraph. A master gave his 3 servants coins before he left on vacation. The first 2 decided to invest the money and when the master returned they had made him money. The master praised both, “Well done, good and faithful servants!” Matthew 25: 24-25 picks up with, “He who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you would be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid and I hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.”
What if the Enemy is not using my “sexual sin” to prevent me from walking with God and hearing the Holy Spirit? What if the Enemy is using this discussion to make me to feel condemned and less-than? What if the Enemy is using the Church’s stance on same-sex relationships to drive me from God’s loving arms? What if God isn’t the one convicting me? The Enemy is SO clever, he can convince us that if you don’t feel convicted, you aren’t praying hard enough, believing hard enough, listening hard enough. He can convince us that if we don’t feel convicted to give up a good thing, we are actually sinning? If you don’t believe your actions are sinful, well, that’s just a good indication you aren’t walking with Him, clearly not filled with the Holy Spirit.
I think what strikes me the hardest is the church wants to split my world into two camps: The people trying to condemn me (the church in the past, and, in a gentler way, in the present) or, if anyone is affirming of who I am and my marriage with my beautiful wife, they are the sirens of the world, enticing me in the same way the serpent tempted Eve to take a bite of the forbidden fruit. When you present the argument as such, there is really no debate. The church shuts it down at the get-go. If the church can stand and say that if you are feeling affirmed, it’s clearly from Satan, then there can be no response. Any argument is further proof that you are just trying to justify your “feel-good” sinfulness. If you want something, and feel peaceful about it, means you are on the wrong track, and thus if something is super difficult and you feel like you are losing something big, it means you are on the right track. A new camp is now being offered: “You just are different but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to act on it. You should neither feel damned nor affirmed.” While the Bible talks about sacrifice in following Him, and carrying our crosses for Him, we cannot play God for each other and deem and assign crosses for each other to carry, as “obvious” it is to us in the stands, eating our popcorn.
OK, I promised a quick overview. I have heard this statement several times lately from my “Side A”, affirming acquaintances: I know the Bible says it’s wrong, but I just don’t care because it doesn’t make sense for me not to support two people in love. I know what the Bible says, I don’t know how to get around it. Dig for it! Question it! Study your Bible and pray.
I just want to touch on the historic Christian sexual ethic and the filters we have on it today.
What is the historic Christian sexual ethic? In short, it’s the “traditional” view on marriage and sex: Sex is reserved for marriage only, one man, one woman, one marriage unless your spouse dies, no divorce, no extramarital affairs, no premarital sex. But don’t go back TOO far to the traditional polygamy, King Solomon’s 1000 wives and concubines, etc. (Sorry! I couldn’t help it.) This is the ethic I grew up with and it’s largely a good guideline in which to follow. It stems from certain verses in the bible that discourage “sexual immorality”, “keeping the marriage bed undefiled”, and avoiding “fleshly desires.” Again, all good things. Homosexuality, the act of being with someone of the same sex, is also lumped in there in a few of the “clobber” passages. Its mention is typically assumed to cover anything to do with gay sex, no matter who it’s with or how it looks. Most churches claim to hold tight to this HCSE, and for some of it, they do. If they know a couple is living together without being married, they counsel them about marriage, or prohibit them from serving in the church or getting baptized. An obvious one would be if someone is cheating on their spouse, they would certainly be asked to step down from any serving roles.
When we look at it as a list of rules a good Christian should follow, it seems fairly cut and dried and morally upstanding. However, we, even as a Church, have slowly started to see the “gray” areas even in this HCSE. Divorce in the church is the most obvious one that comes to mind. Divorce, according to Jesus, is prohibited, and He claims you are a CONTINUOUS adulterer if you remarry after a divorce. In the past few decades, churches have clearly relaxed their “rules” on divorce and remarriage, slowly beginning to consecrate 2nd marriages, divorcees can now be leaders, pastors who are remarried can still be pastors. Jesus himself is very clear on his stance on divorce, though, right? The church leaders of his time ask him about divorce in order to trap him, and he comes back with something pretty restrictive. Not only shouldn’t you ever divorce (except if your spouse cheats on you), you will be an adulterer every day of your life with your new spouse. Pretty hard core right there. Yet, the church, because of culture, has begun to relax about that issue. When I was struggling with a failing hetero marriage, I secretly hoped he would just out and out cheat on me, and release me in the only Christian way I could divorce. The Bible seems clear that outside adultery, there is NO other reason. Historically this view has kept women in physically abusive relationships, mentally abusive relationships, and loveless marriages because the church has held such a strict HCSE. Now, it’s changing. WHY?
Clearly, the church doesn’t see divorce as a great thing. No one does. It’s still something we should avoid. But, it happens, statistically just as often in a church as is does in the secular world. This is one reason why the church has slowly come around on this issue. Maybe divorcee’s are people to be loved, instead of issues to be solved, right? We’ve begun to see those gray areas, we know that couple who’s miserable. We love these people and don’t want them to be stuck. We know our friend whose husband left her, not by cheating, and can’t imagine why she shouldn’t be allowed to remarry someday for true love. We know too many women who need to leave because of the abuse but this holds them back. We know men who were never respected in their first marriage. We see people make mistakes but can’t quite bring ourselves to ban them from a second chance.
So we dive back into the passages about divorce and start to see that while it may READ black and white, we begin to look more at the WHY it’s in there. Is it a rule to separate sinners and saints? Or is there a good REASON we should try to stay married? Is the point that Jesus is making about divorce to prevent people from entering heaven or church leadership or do we need to grasp the ESSENCE of what he’s saying? Divorce hurts people. It puts a hole in your heart and tears families apart. It’s something to take seriously. With great weight and great care.
The quick answer is that he was playing the Pharisee’s at their own game. While they were running around quick to judge everyone with their letters of the law, making laws upon laws upon laws to ensure they weren’t breaking the original laws, yet at the same time they were following the letter of the law to skirt the spirit. For instance, in the case of divorce, they were coming up with some pretty clever ways to get out of their marriage commitments for very petty reasons, leaving women homeless, family-less, and outcasts. Jesus, knowing they were trying to trap him with the Law, offered them an extreme. Not to create another hurdle and rule and law to abide by, but to point out hypocrisy of following the letter but not the spirit. Divorce is, as a general issue, is something to weigh with all our hearts and much soul searching. We need to see the consequences and act accordingly when we can. We need to look at the HUMANITY of the “law”. This is why we can as a church start to lean in to grace while still embracing the notion that divorce should be avoided as much as possible. The LGBT is asking for the church’s humanity and grace on the issue of their search for committed covenantal relationships as well. For the church to see the humanity, and understand the difference between law and spirit.
And then there’s the struggle with porn. A common struggle not only in the US but the church is not exempt. It’s not treated as a gateway to keep you out of salvation. It’s common. It’s “normal.” It’s sometimes dealt with and sometimes brushed aside. It’s a sin. But since so many deal with it, it becomes almost expected and “OK.”
So no, we don’t always adhere to the HCSE in the church. As far as premarital sex, living with someone before marriage, etc., it’s a simpler line to toe, because there’s a simple solution: A couple can CHOOSE marriage the next day, the next week, and suddenly be back in line with the HCSE. Again we can look at premarital sex as part of the “law” to follow, or the complexities behind the consequences OF premarital sex: Giving up a piece of your soul to someone who may not end up being your spouse. The risk of creating a baby with someone who is not your spouse and the complexity that adds. The pain of explaining to your future spouse your past experiences and living with that. These are reasons BEHIND the “law.” We need to start to see these for the humanity and reasons they are and not simply a checklist of “good and bad” and which is bad enough to have another person decide you aren’t a “true believer.”
While we still advocate for making babies within marriage, we’ve mellowed on “unwed mothers” and their children. We treat them with love and grace and humanity, celebrating life because all life is to be celebrated. We move away from the HCSE in these moments because God calls us to our humanity which is sometimes a beautiful, made in the image of God kind of thing.
I guess the point I’m trying to make, especially with divorce, is that the church and it’s members should move toward consistency but not backwards. We should not regress into our old views and become hardened on those who have survived divorce and have found happiness in a second chance. No. We are simply called to start applying the same GRACE and understanding around the LGBT committed relationships in the church. Maybe it becomes a more consistent understanding about humanity. Maybe instead of picking apart verses and passages and twisting them, we can view serious things within the overarching message of the Gospel: Do these people live their lives with the Fruits of the Spirit, seeking to walk with Christ, wanting to spread the Good News? Or are their lives in line with the Fleshly Desires?
I’m out of time and energy and emotion today to tackle the different interpretations on the “clobber passages” as well as the view of “the order of creation,” but I promise I will get to it soon! As I said in my last blog, affirming, while some people hold the above believe, doesn’t always mean “Grace without Truth.” Whose interpretation of the truth is a better question. Please don’t believe this issue is cut and dried and clear, as a supposition we all have as our foundation. The matter is far from settled. While we can categorize the different camps, it’s not a clear line. Important information and interpretations on cultural and historical filter are out there, and there are some great reads that shed light on them as well:
Torn by Justin Lee
A Time To Embrace by William Stacy Johnson
God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
I encourage those people who feel called to be affirming yet struggle with “what the Bible says,” to never stop digging. The Bible is made to question, to study, to interpret, to discuss. Never stop searching. Never stop learning. Don’t settle the war inside yourself with a false truce of grace and truth. Perhaps they will end up lining up once you do.