Sexuality and condemnation

If tomorrow, I were to come out in some public fanfare of a way saying I affirmed same-sex relationships, a few things would probably happen:

  1. People would assume I’ve forsaken the Bible and God and given authority to my emotions.

2. I possibly would lose my job.

3. I would be barred from working in many religious institutions.

4. People would cease to trust me. (If they haven’t already)

5. I would lose friends and family.

I’ve openly had discussions about inerrancy, about the authority of the scriptures, about Hell, about even my issues with substitutionary atonement, but still I know THIS is the litmus test for the church. This is that road that shant be crossed. And even I, as bold as I often try to be, am afraid of being open about my views.

But this isn’t a post about where I stand on the issue in some definitive way. It’s a post about how we continue to make it so absurdly black and white that to even ask the questions about sexuality is to be met with fear and caution. Are we so set that we no longer even fear the possibility that we could be hindering millions of people from the beauty and fullness of the gospel? Do we ever worry about the possibility that we’ve taught people to hate themselves and their sexuality? That we condemn people to lives of celibacy and loneliness? That we push people to be rejected by community and family? That we teach a view that leads to an untold number of suicides? Because I do. I worry about it all the time.

If I’m just being frank, as Christians, especially with the issue of same-sex relationships, we spend far more time studying ways to continue to be against it than we ever have studying ways to be for it. If you defend the view that the Bible is against it you are championed in your communities. But if you share the research that suggests this issue is actually far from black and white you are met with: Are you sure? Are you positive that we should affirm this? Have you REALLY thought about it? What if you’re wrong?”

Our questions to keep us as a people against seem to far outweigh our questions that would make a people for.

And if we are truly a loving group of people, we should make EVERY effort to make sure we’ve got things right before putting something as heavy as eternal damnation on another person. Have we studied these six passages? Have we dug into the Greek and the Hebrew? Are we possibly bringing in modern understandings of sexuality to ancient pages? Or did we just read the English word “homosexual” (Which didn’t appear in English bibles until the 1940’s) and assume “Op! That settles it. Done deal.” Because if I’m really being honest, that’s what I think most of you have done. Because no person who’s truly dug into this issue. It’s origins and the ancient ideas on the topic can say with complete confidence that the Bible is so incredibly clear on this issue that we can spend all our days condemning homosexuals and LGBT peoples.

Weigh that with a quote like this from Desmond Tutu: “I can’t for the life of me imagine that God would say, ‘I will punish you because you are black; you should have been white. I will punish you because you are a woman; you should have been a man. I punish you because you are homosexual; you ought to have been heterosexual. I can’t, I can’t for the life of me believe that that is how God sees things.”

 

And I have to admit I’m challenged to dig deeper.

 

When I wrote my article on Homosexuality in 2012, I hadn’t actually dug in. I simply saw the passages (something that in my experience most non-affirming people can’t even cite) and made my own conclusions. There was nothing academic about it. Merely logic based conclusions that were built upon decades of pastors informing me on the topic. (I was an Episcopalian when the church split and my family left because we didn’t agree with the ordination of a gay bishop.) And people shared my article like wild-fire. To this day I still think it was one of my more shared articles because “Hey! Look someone being nice about it for a change!”

I am incapable of writing that same article today because I think I was incredibly off-base. There was nothing academic about my views. Just: there’s the Bible verses and here’s what I think they mean. You can read the comments and see a man trying to actually show me the academics. But I wrote him off because he was gay. I didn’t even care what he was teaching me because all I saw was an agenda to try and make it work out. No humanity. Pure and desperate agenda. But the more time you spend in scholar land and in textual criticism land, you actually find so much information that makes this topic less secure.

You know what one of the most asked questions I think I’m asked as a person in Youth Ministry is?

What would I do if a kid came out to me?

I swear it comes up ALL THE TIME.

Or Devon you seem to research a lot of things, how do you talk about homosexuality with people?

I had a friend in Austin pull me aside for breakfast and ask me if she should go to the gay wedding she was invited to. (My impulse was HELL YEAH! That sounds so fun!) But I simply did what I believe any responsible person would do.

“Well what do you think about this issue? What do you think you know and what are you unsure of?”

(Which…we all are a bit unsure aren’t we? That just lurks around the heart if we’re being really honest. Who can confidently say they have a perfect understanding of human sexuality?)

She expressed her views and asked for mine and I’ll tell you what I told her.

“I don’t know. I’m not convinced the authors of Scripture had any sort of grasp on sexual orientation. I don’t think gay and straight were categories for someone like Paul. I think often we do something very biblically illiterate and we read in our understandings of sexuality into the ancient scriptures without understanding that this discussion has evolved throughout history. That if we understand this issue in its context I think it’s much more gray than some people want it to be. The authors of scripture are likely talking about the men who would be intimate with younger boys and then go home with their wives (Pederasty). Or possibly they were discussing that men should not take on the passive gender role of women. (It was a cultural belief that women were so inferior and weak that to be the receiver in intimacy was to liken yourself equal to a woman and this was viewed as an abomination. In fact some scholars argue that Romans 1 doesn’t condemn female same sex relationships but rather condemns women taking on the active role in sexual intercourse and making the men behave effeminately.) ” But I said “not everyone views the scriptures these ways. Some think that Romans one is as specific as anyone needs. I said I disagreed personally, but that very smart people have wrestled with both and come to different views. But also we have to think about creation, are we designed certain ways that affirm only one kind of sexual relationship? Sure it may be easy to make the biblical case grayer than most believe it is, but just because I have doubt about a biblical stand against our modern conceptions of sexual orientation, that doesn’t mean I can necessarily give you a biblical reason to affirm it. And I think we all just have to pray and wrestle with that ourselves. I’m not likely to convince you one way or another. But I think all of it is welcome at the table. Don’t wrestle with it alone. Wrestle with the community of the church. Ask your pastor questions. Ask your bible study questions. Share the things you’re learning or doubting or experiencing. Put it on the table and eat the meal of doubt with other believers.”

I did my best to explain to her the two approaches to the topic and invited her to pray it over, listen to the Spirit, and make a decision that brings the most peace between her and God.

Gone are the days where I teach people things I don’t believe. If I’m uncertain one way or another, I will always explain why I am uncertain or what is holding me back. (Because liars go to hell amiright?) Often Christians assume that if I just read the Bible more, pray more, or study more, then the answers will be clearer. But this has almost LITERALLY never been the case. The more I study any topic, the more clouded it always becomes. You think the cross has only been understood one way? You think baptism and the eucharist are cut and dry? You think everyone agrees on what and how salvation works? You are profoundly misinformed if you think so. Why is it like this? Because God is a mystery and our understanding of truth is profoundly limited. The only common thing that happens in these journeys is that I often move further from what I origianlly thought and have even more questions. (You think those millions of denominations come simply from a different taste in worship music?) Maybe all we need is more teachers to be honest about this? Even if it doesn’t build the biggest churches at least there would be less reason for division. Because we all knew things were grayer than we hoped. But we found the truth in the tension and the wrestle.

So I just want to end by saying this: You ask what if I’m wrong. Which is a great question. But of course the personal version is what if you are wrong. As Christians we often put people through hell to keep them from hell. But what if your condemnation of sin or people groups actually isn’t supported by the scriptures (when you get down and wrestle with it)? What if your view is leading people towards depression, broken families, loneliness, and in many cases suicide? Jesus said his followers would be known by their fruit. Hasn’t the common teaching by the church created an abundance of bad fruit? Shouldn’t that invite some important questions?

If most of your questions are about how you can continue to condemn this sin but you haven’t also spent ample time researching how affirming groups have come to their decisions, then I have to just say, there’s something evil about that. It says so much about our heart if we are more inclined to condemn than understand. But it really speaks to the conceptions of God we’ve been given.

We try and spare people from the wrath of God by warning them of what may be their sin. But I can’t be the only one who is actually far more concerned with God’s wrath towards the church if we have been turning away an entire group of people that He was passionately and lovingly inviting to the table.

Now Jesus never mentions homosexuality. But He says an awful lot about this.

My point here is not to affirm or deny same-sex relationships.

At least not yet.

I have my personal views and I continue to weigh them in conversations with others. In studying the scriptures. And talking and reading from those who actually deal with it. My simple hope is that we all would understand the gravity of what it would mean to be wrong about this and to study accordingly. Many have died because of the culture we have created around this topic. And if you think that’s some casual cost for eternity, I think you should really check your heart.

 

 

Here are some resources if you would like to wrestle with this topic:

God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

Bible, Gender, Sexuality by James V. Brownson

Unfair, by John Shore

Does Jesus Really Love Me? by Jeff Chu

And a non-affirming book I continue to see churches recommend is “Is God Anti-Gay?” by Sam Allberry

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