Those of you who follow my blog frequently will know that I have not posted anything for over a month. I apologize for this, but with full time work and full time ministry, it has been difficult for me to share my thoughts on a more regular basis. However, I currently have a break from work and school and so would like to share some thoughts that I started formulating right after the news from the Mennonite Church USA conference came out.
I personally was not at the MCUSA conference, but after scrolling through hundreds of Facebook posts, reading other Mennonite blogs, and talking to people who were in attendance, I think I have a fairly good grasp of what happened. I also have enjoyed reading some other blogs on the topic of LGBTQ rights (primarily: 40 Questions to Ask Christians Now Waving the Rainbow Flag by Kevin De Young: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2015/07/40-questions-for-christians-now-waving-rainbow-flags/ and the subsequent responses shown here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/johnshore/2015/07/40-questions-for-kevin-deyoung-now-stomping-the-rainbow-flag/ and http://knittingsoul.com/2015/07/03/1-question-for-people-who-wont-wave-the-rainbow-flag/).
While these articles have been thoughtful and intriguing with a hint of witty sarcasm, I believe they only relay half of the message that the Evangelical (and the Liberal) church needs to hear when it comes to LGBTQ rights. I realize that what I’m about to say next is going to put me in a spot of being disliked by both groups, but Jesus Himself warned us that if we follow Him we aren’t exactly going to be popular…so here goes: I’d like to suggest that while both groups have their reasons for holding to the ideas they currently possess, both groups are almost completely wrong in their approach towards each other. I’d like to suggest that the apology does not necessarily belong only to Evangelicals or only to Liberals. Instead, I’d like to make the case that we have both hurt each other, we have both not always acted like the Body of Christ, and ultimately, we have gotten too tied up in one issue while failing to see the other person’s point of view.
I’ve been a student of theology for the past seven years. During this time I have slowly moved away from being a Fundamental Christian (who believed the Bible was black and white and tried as much as possible to be a literalist) to someone who is more progressive in my approach. Even so, because of my years of training, I can still easily spot a proof-text or a faulty argument when it comes to Christians using the Bible to make a case about or against homosexuality. While reading through the articles I linked above, I was immediately caught up in the arguments citing Biblical examples that had absolutely nothing to do with the topic at hand. This is true of both cases. Firstly, the Bible does not explicitly say much on the topic of homosexuality because the word itself was not coined until much later. Despite the fact that the Bible does mention it being an abomination for a man to sleep with another man (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Leviticus+20%3A13&version=NASB) and even that lust for the same gender is abnormal (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+1%3A26-27&version=NASB) and while we have examples of men who would rather violate other men than women (such as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Genesis+19&version=NASB) we all must agree that Jesus Himself never uttered a single word on the topic. Along with Paul apparently suggesting that homosexuality is a sin (or so some conservative Christians think), he also said that women must be quiet in church, that a wife must submit to her husband, and that it is an abomination for a man to have long hair. After much research, I can readily make the case that oftentimes these letters referred to a very specific time in Christian history in which such issues were predominantly a problem and can also suggest that in many cases these laws can be interpreted in other ways today.
As an Evangelical Christian, I would take this a step further by admitting to the fact that we have often mistreated our gay brothers and sisters. By shaming those who identify on the LGBTQ spectrum, suggesting that by prayer and counseling they can change, or denying them access to their intrinsic human rights I deeply believe we are failing to accurately represent the Body of Christ. I grieve alongside my brothers and sisters who have been denied a church wedding (despite the fact that in Canada we have legalized gay marriage for years), have been denied ordination or church leadership positions because of something the church believes is your choice, and have been marginalized or oppressed. I fully recognize that those who identify as straight have it much easier when it comes to serving in vocational ministry and that oftentimes we have created a social structure that promotes ourselves at the cost of those who are different from us. Due to this reality, I think it is necessary that all straight Christians pause and consider the hardships our LGBTQ brothers and sisters face, offer them our apologies, and make a conscious effort to create welcoming and inclusive spaces for all.
Nevertheless, even if we did all of these things like we should, I believe it will only take care of half the problem. The other half of the responsibility comes from those within the LGBTQ community. You see, I think that those who are marginalized often have a persecution complex. Sometimes this complex is almost justifiable because of the violence and oppression those outside of the group have created for its members. Sometimes this complex can spur us into action as we consider how we can better engage with the needs of the marginalized. Almost always this complex makes complete sense when we take time to look at the history and tract record our church has with the gay community.
Even so, to stay within this persecution complex rarely does any good and oftentimes continues to add fuel to the proverbial fire. You see, when it comes to the LGBTQ debate, neither party is completely at fault and neither party is completely innocent. While, I agree that in general the conservatives may be more at fault than the gays, I still hold fast to what my roomate’s father once told me: “even if you think the other person is 90% wrong, you are still 10% wrong, and you are 100% responsible for your 10%.”
As I read through the various heated arguments over De Young’s work, I couldn’t help but notice a hint of arrogance and a faulty (and dare I say it, immature) belief that if someone doesn’t agree the way you do, they must be some bigoted and patriarchal individual. While that is definitely true in many cases, I’d like to argue that to make a blanket statement that it is always the case is a huge disservice.
Here’s why: * I know many committed Evangelical Christians who believe homosexuality is a sin, but still are incredibly loving and gracious towards the gay community. I don’t think it is right to lump them with the staunch conservatives who have been less gracious and more judgmental.
* While you are busy judging people who “proof-text” and take Biblical verses out of context or twisting what you believe to be Jesus’s Gospel message of peace and acceptance, take a reality check. You likely are doing the same thing. Taking random verses of Jesus offering forgiveness or extending His hand to the marginalized, does not always equal Jesus’s views on gay rights in general. Remember, Jesus never told us what He actually thought about the issue (one way or the other), any suggestions on our part saying He would or wouldn’t accept certain things if He were on this earth today is simply putting words in His mouth and if taken to the extreme can be dangerous and get out of hand.
* While you are busy telling Conservative Christians to be more Christ-like and to stop bashing you, also try to model gracious and loving attitudes on your part. There’s no reason to gyrate in the streets during a gay pride parade, to start arguments with someone who believes differently than you and likely will never change their mind, or to sue a bakery for not making you a cake instead of just going to the competitor. I know you are trying to make a point and have often been silenced, but really think about how you want that point to be made.
* Let’s not label every Christian who is convinced based on careful research and Biblical study who disagrees with homosexuality as being “homophobic.” Let’s remember that just like you want us to accept you and to not judge your Christianity, the others also want you to respect them. In Canada, we have freedom of religion. That doesn’t mean that people can use their religious and moral viewpoints to harm or belittle another person, but it does mean that everyone gets to decide for themselves what the Bible means to them.
Here’s what I suggest: * Let’s talk to each other. Let’s allow positive and inclusive spaces where gays and straights can sit down and openly discuss their fears and ideas. Let’s create gay-straight alliances, let’s hire pastors who are sympathetic towards homosexuality (even if they aren’t gay themselves) so that when gay Christians attend our church they have someone to counsel and encourage them without necessarily trying to change them.
* Let’s be approachable with each other. Let’s remember that we are all on a learning journey together and we may fall and slip up at times, but we are still trying to mend relationships all the same.
* Let’s remember that at the core of our belief is the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s not get into arguments, but simply try to love and embrace each other. Let’s make space for questions without shutting someone down as not truly being the Beloved of God or conversely writing them off as a homophobic. Let’s make sure that when we do question we do it in ways that are loving and gracious and that we are choosing the appropriate means and mediums to do so.
Well, those are just my thoughts. I recognize that both parties are going to disagree with what I just said on this topic, but that’s fine with me. Feel free to push-back or send me a personal email at: firstname.lastname@example.org so we can discuss further. I look forward to hearing from you!