A couple weeks ago I said I’d write more on the issue of homosexuality soon. Since then I keep telling myself that I don’t have the time to write as thoughtfully and carefully as I want to. And I still don’t have the time. But, I’m going to throw out some thoughts anyway.
1. I don’t think very many people choose to be gay. I never chose to be straight. I just was. It just happened. And it’s the same way with those who are attracted to people of the same sex. They didn’t come down to a big decision at, say, age 16. For most of them, it was confusing, upsetting, mysterious. Most tried to pretend they didn’t have that attraction. They tried faking it, ignoring it, hiding it. Some even gave it the best try they could, went to a Christian college, married a good Christian person, and . . . remained attracted to people of the opposite sex.
2. I am pretty skeptical about most big “conversion” stories. Some think that it’s just a matter of repentence or prayer or exorcism or miraculous healing. And certainly our God is a big God and can do anything he wants. But I just haven’t seen many. I’ve known a few with powerful stories of being released partially or even completely from the struggle. But most have prayed, repented, struggled, counseled, hated themselves, and prayed more. No change. Not because they didn’t love God enough, not because they’re hardened sinners, not because they’re part of some movement to undermine family values.
3. Speaking of family values, I don’t buy the rhetoric that homosexuality is primarily responsible for tearing apart American families. That would be divorce. The breaking of promises by men and women in marriages is ripping apart our families. (On rare occasions, these promises are broken because one partner is leaving for someone else of the same sex. But that’s the exception.) The church must take seriously the words of discipleship on covenant keeping in marriage (e.g., Matthew 5:31-32), while showing compassion to those whose lives have been broken.
4. And speaking of compassion, where is it? Where does all this angry, hateful speech come from? When the Soulforce group was on ACU campus, they were amazed — stunned — that they were shown basic Christian compassion. How did we get to a place where that is surprising? Even here, there were flashes of what their lives are like. One ACU grad student had a sticker on to identify himself as one of the hosts. But after he delivered some students to a Sunday evening service, on the way out some students passed him, and thinking the ID meant he was a part of Soulforce said in a threatening tone, “F—ing fag.” All right, then. Have a good church service. Praise your little hearts out before the one who became flesh and dwelt among us, hanging out with the “tax collectors and sinners.”
5. It would help a lot if we could quit treating this like some special sin that deserves our fullest repulsion and rebuke. Sin is sin. When I read Ephesians 4-5, e.g., the sin that I hear spotlighted again and again is “greed.” But we’ve pretty much come to terms with that. A person can build bigger and bigger barns, they can participate fully in good old American consumerism (regardless of the consequences to the world), and we smile and congratulate them, hoping they’ll tithe. It would be so much easier for brothers and sisters struggling with same-sex attraction to face their temptations if they knew they were safe to share their inner lives with others. For a couple years, I led a group of guys in a weekly meeting. I was the only one who doesn’t struggle with it. Some were single; some were married. All were wanting a safe place where they could seek purity. All said that there is no way they could share this struggle before their elders, among their friends, or in their Bible classes without being completely ostracized and cut off. They knew from experience. And yet these were some of the best men I’ve ever met. They didn’t ask to be gay, didn’t want to be gay, had tried everything possible to be released from the temptation. But they all said that the most powerful resource to them was the care and compassion of other men in a group like that. Being with other men in a safe environment, they told me, made them less tempted — not more.
6. But that isn’t to ignore homosexuality as sin. While I think there are some powerful things being written about the hermeneutics involved — challenging things that we must address — I still believe scripture makes it clear that God intends for sexual relationships to be enjoyed between a man and a woman in marriage. (For what seems to me to be a convincing case, see Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament; Stanley Grenz, Welcoming But Not Affirming, and William Webb, Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals.) It isn’t a sin to be a homosexual (in orientation — something we don’t choose); but homosexual behavior is wrong. As Hays writes, “The biblical witness against homosexual practices is univocal.” One’s stance against homosexual behavior doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with homophobic feelings.
7. The church should not endorse homosexual marriages, but should advocate (out of justice and compassion) for full civil rights for gay couples. Just because we may not endorse another person’s decisions doesn’t mean we don’t advocate for their protection and civil rights. Here people try to make comparisons with the endorsement of all lifestyles — as if our protection of civil rights for gays means that we need to protect the civil rights of pedophiliacs. Fortunately, most lawmakers see through that smoke.
8. Does this endorsement of heterosexual sex in marriage put a special, unfair burden on those who are gay in their orientation? This is from Hays: “Here a nuanced answer must be given. While Paul regarded celibacy as a charisma, he did not therefore suppose that those lacking the charisma were free to indulge their sexual desires outside marriage. Heterosexually oriented persons are also called to abstinence from sex unless they marry (1 Cor. 7:8-9). The only difference — admittedly a salient one — in the case of homosexually oriented persons is that they do not have the option of homosexual ‘marriage.’ So where does that leave them? It leaves them in precisely the same situation as the heterosexual who would like to marry but cannot find an appropriate partner (and there are many such): summoned to a difficult, costly obedience, while ‘groaning’ for the ‘redemption of our bodies’ (Rom. 8:23). Anyone who does not recognize this as a description of authentic Christian existence has never struggled seriously with the imperatives of the gospel, which challenge and frustrate our ‘natural’ impusles in countless ways. Much of the contemporary debate turns on this last point. Many of the advocates of unqualified acceptance of homosexuality seem to be operating with a simplistic anthropology that assumes whatever is must be good: they have a theology of creation but no theology of sin and redemption.”
9. Is there a place for gays and lesbians in church? Absolutely. While we continue to advocate the biblical view of sexuality (abstinence outside of marriage and faithfulness inside of marriage), we recognize that we are a gathering of stumbling, bumbling seekers of Christ.
From Hays: “Can homosexual persons be members of the Christian church? This is rather like asking, ‘Can envious persons be members of the church?’ (cf. Rom. 1:29) or ‘Can alcoholics be members of the church?’ De facto, of course, they are. Unless we think that the church is a community of sinless perfection, we must acknowledge that persons of homosexual orientation are welcome along with other sinners in the company of those who trust in the God who justifies the ungodly (Rom. 4:5). If they are not welcome, I will have to walk out the door along with them, leaving in the sanctuary only those entitled to cast the first stone.”
From Grenz: “Even if we find such liaisons questionable, we might nevertheless assert that the church ought to minister to, and even provide a spiritual home for, homosexual persons. Regardless of the moral status of homosexual behavior, lesbians and gays are people whom God values, for whom Jesus died, and to whom the gospel must come. Further, the church is composed of sinners — redeemed sinners to be sure — but sinners nonetheless. It consists of people who are seeking to do God’s will in the midst of the brokenness of life. The church can only assist people to overcome sin and live in obedience to God if they receive the ministry of, and perhaps even participate in, the believing community. This is as true for gays and lesbians as for anyone else. . . . The church, therefore, ought not only to minister to all but also to welcome all into membership on the same basis. And this basis consists of personal reception of salvation by faith through Jesus Christ together with personal commitment to discipleship. At the same time, participation in the faith community involves a give-and-take. Discipleship demands that each member understand that he or she is accountable to the community in all dimensions of life, including the sexual. As one homosexual believer wrote to Richard Hays, ‘Anyone who joins such a community should know that it is a place of transformation, of discipline, of learning, and not merely a place to be comforted or indulged.’ Because it is a community of discipleship, the church in turn has a responsibility both to nurture and also to admonish and discipline the wayward in its midst, including those who are not living in sexual chastity, whatever the exact nature of the unchaste behavior may be.”
10. To me this isn’t first and foremost an “issue.” I’m writing about people I know and love. I want them to be safe enough to share their inner struggles; I want their wisdom through years of suffering to be shared with the church. I hope their triumphs can be offered as a witness to the power of the Spirit and their failings to be offered as a reminder that there is a serious dimension of “not yet” that the church tends to ignore. I want to be able to have them hear the words “go and sin no more,” and I want to be able to receive from them the same admonition, for my life is so full of shortcomings.