Every New Years, I am tempted to write some cliché type of post about looking back over the past year and thinking about the year to come. In the past, I have written these articles, and I definitely do see their value and place as I read the posts that others have created on this topic. It is inherently valuable for us to remember the blessings God has given us in the past and to think about how we can make a difference and serve the needs of others in the year to come. However, this year, I felt compelled to do something different. You see, over the years, same sex marriage, sexual orientation, and how the church can lovingly and faithfully commit to partnerships with these individuals has become of paramount importance.
I know what you’re thinking. Either I’m going to start lovingly embracing all homosexual activity and urging you to do the same, or else I’m going to start gay-bashing. Actually, my hope is to do neither one of these things. Oftentimes people ask me what my direct views on homosexuality are. For the most part, I am ashamed to say, I have tried to slough off this question. I grew up in an Evangelically conservative church for the formative years of my childhood until embracing Anabaptism as a young teenager. I’ve been quite content in the more progressive style of churches ever since. Perhaps it has been out of fear or out of embarrassment resulting from my own lack of knowledge and understanding on these issues that I have avoided them, but I have consciously made the decision not to unveil my direct views on this blog. The other factor, which is the main reason I have not discussed in detail what I think about the LGBTQ debate is because it is a topic that I am still learning about, still thinking through, and still trying to understand from all angles. Oftentimes, it is easy for individuals to see this as a cop-out. Sometimes peers will argue with me that they know it has been an interest of mine for years and they don’t buy the whole idea that I don’t know where I fit on the whole spectrum yet. And that’s fair. However, what I’d like to suggest to these individuals is that it is not as easy as that. This is a topic that requires grace, forgiveness, compassion, and mercy from all sides. It’s a topic that has split churches, has caused division and dissension, and has created many hurt feelings. Since I am not a practicing homosexual myself and since I don’t have close friends or family who associate with this lifestyle, it makes me want to be increasingly careful when I enter into the debate. I come at it with the understanding that I don’t know what it’s like to be shunned by family, friends, or the church, that I don’t know what it’s like to lose my chance at receiving a pastorate after years of study because I came out of the closet, or what it’s like to be the mother of a child who claims this lifestyle as their own. For all these reasons, it is important for me to try to stand back, to be objective (or as objective as is humanly possible), and to do intensive research both theoretically and more importantly through personal conversations with the LGBTQ community, before I write an in-depth blog post sharing my own thoughts on this topics.
Nevertheless, over the years I have seen that many churches and individuals simply do not “play fair” when it comes to the LGBTQ debate. This isn’t right either. As the body of Christ, I believe we are called to embrace and love all people, to show compassion and mercy, and to bring restoration, healing, and justice to all nations of the earth. As a church, we are called to rebuild and renew not to distress and dishearten. Of course, this doesn’t always mean that there will be no disagreements. Disagreements are a part of life and since the church is made up of imperfect humans, it makes sense that at times various viewpoints will be present. What I’m hoping for, though, is that the church will learn how to have loving dialogue even when they don’t necessarily agree rather than dissension.
If I were to choose one New Year’s resolution for 2015, it would be that I hope to create an inward attitude that welcomes and fosters dialogue and where people feel comfortable sharing with me the things that are deepest to their heart. This doesn’t mean that I can never be discerning, but it does mean that I must try to steer away as much as a possible from meaningless controversies and contentions. It doesn’t mean that I can’t maintain that certain things are biblically wrong or right, but it does mean that I should try to love rather than to judge. It means that I am called to compassion not to criticism. Called to acceptance rather than apathy.
With this viewpoint, I understand fully that I (as one person) will never be able to tackle the whole LGBTQ debate in one blog post with the time and attention it deserves. But even so, I hope that these five points will provide you with some insight so that when someone asks you for your opinion on this topic, you will know how to fully engage and how to agree and disagree in love. Thus, the Kingdom of God can be furthered rather than shut down just because of a theological quandary. Below I have highlighted my top 5 pet peeves when it comes to the unfair assumptions and prejudices individuals can show when they engage in the LGBTQ debate:
**Disclaimer: I’m not providing a blanket statement here that all LGBTQ practicers or all Evangelical Christians are the same. But I’m simply saying: we are all flawed, we all make mistakes, and we all must rely on God for wisdom and strength.**
#1: The Extreme Approach (Gay-Basher vs. Homosexual Lover): Back in October, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a discussion of the LGBTQ community at my alma mater, Tyndale University College and Seminary. I was inspired and deeply appreciative of Tyndale’s willingness to engage with this type of dialogue, the compassion and mercy they exerted, and the honesty and openness that several students exhibited as they shared personal stories of their own struggles. Although Tyndale is a more conservative school and as a result the inclusion of LGBTQ students will likely be a progression rather than all at once, I deeply respect their desire to understand where they are headed as an institution and to respond to the theological and emotional questions this may evoke in their present student body. While some students and faculty admittedly may have fear, suspicion, or dis-ease in addressing this topic, it was evident that even more students found this dialogue to be relevant and important for future church leaders and missionaries to be aware of.
Nevertheless, I must make one confession. During the open question and answer period, I decided to share my thoughts. First, I thanked the speaker for his honesty and affirmed him in his desire to have this type of timely discussion. I also acknowledged the hurt that the church has caused for many individuals in the LGBTQ community and the liberation that young adults can feel when they are invited to explore their sexuality rather than have it shut down. I definitely agree with the speaker that we are the only ones who can speak deeply and personally about our own orientation – no one else has a right to disagree or debate with us about whether we are gay, straight, or bi. Unfortunately, many churches have, and that is one reason several youth have turned away from the church.
HOWEVER time and time again I have heard well-meaning and sincere Christians give their own opinions about why homosexuality is a sin only to have certain (though by no means all) LGBTQ supporters counter back saying this is exactly why this distrust the church. Why can’t these people support them and why must they hate all homosexuals?
Now, let’s take a step back here. This is a personal pet peeve of mine because I believe in differing opinions. I post a lot of controversial stuff on this blog and I often gets criticisms and comments back. Sometimes these comments have no theological backing and are simply someone who believes in the death penalty rather than pacifism and wants to rant on about it. No matter what I say, they aren’t going to change their minds and they do it in the most disrespectful of ways. HOWEVER, 9 out of 10 times, this is not the case. For the most part, when people debate with me on my blog they do it lovingly and they counter my arguments with their own from Scripture, theological training, and life experience. So, when people who are educated and who know what they are saying disagree with me, I have no problem in engaging in a dialogue with them and in opening myself to the possibility they may be right.
Taking it one step further, I am a female and studying to be a pastor. In fact, I have even been employed before as a pastor. Some of my closest friends from Tyndale cannot support this. From their own study of the Word, church history, and their own denominational backgrounds they believe God only called men to be in the ministry. Does this stop them from being my friends? No. They respect what I do (even if they disagree with it) and I respect that they will never see eye-to-eye with me on this issue and we leave it at that.
The moral of the story is that I would really challenge individuals to not immediately go to one extreme or the other. Don’t immediately assume that just because someone thinks homosexuality is a sin that they hate all gays and don’t assume that just because someone is more liberal in their approach that they themselves must be gay. I don’t think that’s really fair to either party. Instead of jumping to conclusions, we need to enter into careful dialogue.
#2 and #3: The Out-Dated Scripture Approach AND the Fact that Canada Isn’t a “Christian” Country: Back in my pre-teen years when I was just starting to get old enough to understand politics, I remember there being a great commotion in Canada at that time over the legalization of all homosexual unions. Pastors, lay people, and the ordinary congregant bonded together to write letters to parliament telling the government this should not be the case. Although I may have been too young to really get involved with what was happening at this time, I already had my reservations then and they still have not changed. Here’s why: these individuals were using Scripture verses completely out of context and they were assuming that Canada is a Christian nation (which it is not. Not even close).
I’ll speak to the first issue first. I believe in the infallibility of Scripture and that all Scripture is inspired and God-breathed. (1). I also believe that we need to interpret all Scripture in community looking at the life of Christ Himself and trying to live our lives in such a way that it brings about justice and the Kingdom of God here on this earth. It is hard for me to say that I would rather choose one Scripture over another, although we are all guilty of this. I do know, from my own studies of Scripture, that there are several verses in the Bible which can be interpreted as speaking against homosexuality. Of course, not everyone believes this. Some would argue that these are all just poor translations, that the Scriptures were implying something else entirely, or even that it was written at a different time period and thus it doesn’t matter anymore. These individuals may argue that technically the Bible also says that women should be submissive to men and are not granted the ability to lead or to teach in a church, but that by looking at church history we can see that women have often made invaluable contributions to the life of the church and by studying Scripture we can see that Paul actually was implying something much different than what we read there. I won’t get too much into this debate now as it would take too much time, but I believe that these individuals raise a fair point.
Still, my issue is not with looking at verses which deem homosexuality as sinful, but it’s where those verses are coming from. When these individuals were writing these letters they were often quoting verses from Leviticus (you know, the clean book in your Bible). The two most common verses cited were:
Leviticus 18:22: You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.
And Leviticus 20:13: If a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall surely be put to death; their blood is upon them.
That’s fine, except for the fact that when was the last time you wore polyester, ate pork, or remembered to wear the tassels on your robe? Do you happen to have any tattoos on your body? Did you and your wife sleep in the same bed last week when she was on her period? Yep. That’s what I thought.
Now, I’ll address the second issue. Whether or not your church views homosexuality as a sin is up to them. I believe there are many reasons why a church would believe this based on the Scriptures, however, to tell the Canadian government not to marry gays is simply preposterous. Here’s why: we aren’t a Christian nation. Some older adults believe that we are. They remember the days when they were young and church was the highlight of their week and the Lord’s prayer was said in school, but we don’t live in that time period anymore. Canada prides itself on being completely multicultural and completely inter-religious. As Canadians we try to tolerate and respect all religious viewpoints and freedom of religious is one of our constitutional rites. If you can prove from something other than the Bible why homosexual marriage is wrong, then fine. If you can prove sociologically, anthropologically, or economically why it is a bad idea then I’d love to hear about it, but if all you can offer is a few verses from the Scripture, I’m sorry, that may cut it as far as theological doctrine goes, but it doesn’t cut it as far as political viewpoints should go. If someone started pulling out verses from the Qu’ran, The Tripitaka or the Bhagavad-Gita suggesting that because these books say this or that we should or shouldn’t do this or that as a nation, how many people do you think would follow through with it? I’m pretty sure that politician wouldn’t get any votes. As a Christian, I of course wish to some degree that we all respected and lived by biblical principles, but as an Anabaptist, I am also an advocate of the separation of church and state on all matters. Including homosexual unions.
#4: Using 1 Corinthians 6:9 or Revelation 22:15 Out Of Context: To be completely honest with you, I have heard these two verses quoted in opposition to gay marriage so many times that if I received a dime for each time it was mentioned I would be a rich lady by now. Now, before you get defensive, hear me out. Yes, these two verses are mentioned in the Bible. Yes, they seem to clearly indicate (although as aforementioned there is much debate about the exact translations of these verses) that homosexuality is wrong. But do you want to know something else? They also tell us that many other people are wrong. People who have sex before marriage, people who have affairs, people who practice magic (have you read your horoscope lately?), and people who lie. But that’s not all. Let’s take it a step further. Jesus also told us that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart (you know, looking at porn, going to adult entertainment, even becoming a little too friendly with your secretary) and that if we hate someone in our heart we may as well have murdered them (have you been so frosted at someone recently that you flippantly said you wouldn’t care whether they were dead or alive?) (2). The Bible clearly tells us that all of us fall short of God’s standards and that even the best we have to offer is not perfection (3). These verses may point to the fact that homosexuality is wrong, but homosexuality is by no means the most abominable sin. The truth is, that if this list includes all the people who are heading for the furnace, we’re all going to end up there. I believe the point Paul was trying to make does not allow us to become judgmental or “holier than thou”, but to remind us that no one is perfect so we must rely on Christ for full redemption and forgiveness.
Taking it a step further, I have met countless Christian young adults who are not virgins. Some of them have been living with their boyfriend or girlfriend for years, many of them have engaged in pre-marital sex on more than one occasion. Several of them have never repented of this or have said they knew it was wrong but couldn’t help themselves because their passion was too great. I don’t judge these people. I know how hard it is for a Christian to be pure in a sex-saturated world that gratifies the flesh, but when these individuals quote these verses in opposition to same sex marriage, it just seems…well.. hypocritical. How can you suggest that God won’t forgive a homosexual when in the preceding sentence he also condemned you for sleeping with your man or woman? So just don’t go there.
#5: The Whole “Love the Sinner But Hate the Sin” Debate: Friends, I know how easy it is to fall into this trap. In fact, it’s likely the ultimate Christian cliché. While I do agree with it in theory because as Christians we are called to love everyone, I find this is often used as ammo for why we should indeed hate the sinner and hate the sin. Here’s what I mean. Yes, we’re called to become open and embracing communities for all. I will never be able to accept the degradation of women or children, but I am called to pray for and offer support to men and women who find themselves in these forms of addiction. If a church is indeed able to do this and to do it well then I give that church all my respect and admiration. The problem is that too often churches who say things like this don’t actually live by what they are saying. Some churches have excommunicated gay members, have not allowed them into ministry or service positions because they are “living in sin” or have not properly mediated family conflicts when these individuals have come out of the closest. Doesn’t sound very loving to me.
I know of countless stories of individuals (some of whom were serving in ministry at the time) who have either lost their positions or have not been offered a position because they came out. These churches see homosexuality as a sin and thus see the person as a sinner. Surely a sinner can’t serve God, right? Wrong! What about Noah who got drunk and embarrassed himself in front of his kids? What about David who perpetrated royal rape after being hailed “a man after God’s own heart?” What about Peter who denied Christ three times and later was established as the founder of the early church? I have no problem with a church having high standards for their ministers. I believe that’s Biblical (4), but then we need to make the standards equal across the board. What about the pastor who neglects his own family’s needs because he is busy serving the church? Or what about the youth pastor who consistently gets drunk (yep, I’ve met several of those)? All I’m saying here is: don’t put different standards on a homosexual than you would put on a heterosexual.
I once had a young man at Tyndale, a very brilliant fellow who was deeply spiritual tell me: “My problem with homosexuals is that they don’t think there is a way to stop what they are doing. I’m a guy. I struggle with lust and I need to do something about it. Homosexuals say, ‘I’m a guy. I struggle with lust and I don’t need to do anything about it.”
I disagree with this viewpoint, because I don’t think it takes into consideration the very real struggle the gay community goes through. Essentially all human beings, whether they are male or female, gay or straight will at various times struggle with lust to some degree or another. We are all called to behave responsibly and act in fidelity towards one another, but we may not be able to avoid the inevitable temptations that face us. There are some Christian who believe that any and all forms of homosexuality are sins, but, I am not of this persuasion. I believe there is a difference between orientation and practice. I do believe homosexuals, just like heterosexuals, can choose to embrace or shun their love interests. I believe they can choose to live a celibate life. This may be denying them something and it may be prohibiting them from fully living into their sexuality but if they truly felt it was wrong to be married to another man or woman, they could choose other fulfilling ways of living in community as a single person. BUT I don’t believe that people have any control over their orientation. Orientation is something that we are born with, something that we can’t ignore and can’t shun. When churches embrace questioning and allow for dialogue, they are fostering community. When they block out orientation they are doing the opposite.
This blog post has highlighted a variety of themes. It has discussed the importance of being welcoming communities and embracing our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. This is a long and important discussion to have and this blog post only begins to scratch the surface of what has been years of pain and confusion due to the church’s response to the gay community. My prayer is that in 2015 we will begin to reach out more and continue to discuss these matters with each other. I hope that in so doing we will end in love and not in controversy.
**For more information: One of the best websites I have ever come across that deals with the LGBTQ debate from a Christian perspective is the Gay Christian Network: https://www.gaychristian.net/.