Thursday, April 24, 2014
7 Points About Christian Love & Same-Sex Orientation
In recent weeks, I've had a few conversations with sincere Christians who disagree with me over issues of same-sex orientation (marriage, baptism, pastoral ordination, etc) within the church and larger society. These followers of Jesus are committed to "love the sinner, hate the sin" or (the latest) "welcoming but not affirming" positions. So many of these Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, Anabaptists, Reformed and Protestant Christians are visibly anguished over the fact that many people label them "intolerant" or "judgmental" or even "unloving" in regards to the "biblical stand" they are taking (a position many of their ilk proudly call "courageous").
And my heart goes out to leaders within denominations who are trying to facilitate these tough, often emotional conversations. Unfortunately, many of these congregations are clinging to "unity" above all else, which almost always means that LGBTQ folks continue to be forced into a position of coping with their second-class status. Again, this denominational adventure is really hard work and I'm glad I'm not a part of it.
Although I have great respect for their commitment to taking the Bible seriously and to holding unpopular political & theological convictions, I'm deeply concerned about any stance towards our gay brothers and lesbian sisters that falls short of anything that is fully inclusive. Here are seven key points that, I think, shouldn't be left out of any conversation about this topic:
First of all, the continued claim that "there is plenty of evidence that very few, if any, are simply born that way" has, in fact, very little evidence. There is now virtually a scientific consensus that boys with same-sex orientation no more choose to like boys than other boys choose to like girls. It is not the result of abuse or perversion. It's natural: just like opposite-sex orientation.
Second, shouldn't the primary scope of Christian marriage be about discipleship & evangelism rather than populating the earth with our own progeny, as many "traditional marriage" proponents claims? The New Testament focus was on adding converts through radical displays of justice & mercy, in word & deed. This is far more important, biblically, than conceiving, birthing & teaching our own children into the kingdom of God (which, by the way, is an ominously important calling for many couples). Furthermore, my own experience with same-sex couples within the church testifies that their sexual orientation in no way limits them from living out a Christian lifestyle of love, humility, service, joy & forgiveness just as well (if not better) than us heteros.
Third, when it comes to Scripture, there, of course, is not a single voice on issues of marriage and sexuality. After all, traditional, biblical marriage connoted a man "possessing" a wife, not much different than how he might own cattle or sheep. However, the New Testament proclaims the ideal: singleness (I Corinthians 7 + the celebate Christ of the Gospels). It's not Adam & Steve, nor is it Adam & Eve. It's Adam. Eve. And Steve. Again, this was urged because, Paul reasoned, it was a lot easier to do the Lord's work alone. It seems as though so many of us married folk have fallen short of this, "burning with passion" to the altar.
Fourth, too often, lustful thoughts, violence, unfaithfulness & adultery are equated with "homosexual behavior," by which they mean basically anything categorically sexual that gays and lesbians do, no matter how consensual or covenantal. However, "homosexuality" in the ancient world meant (A) sexual intercourse with prostitutes at the pagan temple or (B) wealthy men having young boys around the house as sex slaves (pederastry) or (C) the humiliating act of sodomizing an enemy combatant after a battle. There was no such thing as committed same-sex monogamous marriage covenants of love & service back in the day, so we ought to be both critical and careful about what these Greek words in the ancient text actually mean.
Fifth, far too many followers of Jesus who believe gay & lesbian relationships are a sin have turned homosexuality into a hyper-focused test case, a last stand in a culture of relativism. It has been framed as a lifestyle issue by well-meaning Evangelicals, Mennonites & conservative Catholics. Here's my question: are these churches applying the same rigid "biblical" criteria to heteros who have re-married, especially those who have ended previous unions with no-fault divorce? These folks would most certainly be obligated to return to their first marriages before "qualifying" for baptism or ordination. Right? And what about other "clearly unbiblical lifestyles" like wealth hoarding, hatred & violence towards enemies (both real & imagined) and the various anxiety-riddled addictions that 1st world Christians continue to "struggle" with? The hypocrisy is too much to stomach.
Sixth, the oxymoronic "love the sinner, hate the sin" or "welcoming but not affirming" positions fall far short of the biblical call towards hospitality and love of neighbor. It is impossible to "welcome" and, at the same time, not affirm when it comes to questions of gays and lesbians (who are living in same-sex covenantal relationships) being licensed or ordained as our pastors, let alone gays and lesbians (who are living in same-sex covenantal relationships) making the choice to follow Jesus and get baptized into our communities. A "no" answer to either of these very live possibilities would be most certainly unwelcome & unaffirming, overvaluing the sin & undervaluing the "sinner" (of which we all are). This stance falls short of the glory of God.
Lastly, those who just want this issue to "go away" are missing the point of Christian love by a wide margin. Love demands that we journey physically and emotionally with "the other." This is not just an issue. It's not just a trend. And it's not a slippery slope towards more sexual promiscuity (for this, check out your local college or university fraternity). The LGBTQ community has been demonized, marginalized, misunderstood, oppressed, scapegoated, discriminated against, killed & tortured for thousands of years. In the hangover of divine Love celebrated during Easter weekend, churches all over North America ought to crucify any hint of indifference and commit resources (energy, money, time, etc) towards getting to know actual gays & lesbians and to understand the complexity of sexual orientation and how these sexual minorities might not only participate, but lead the Body of Christ into a just & peaceful future.