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On Not Living in a Bubble

Well, I guess I am feeling well enough to post today. People ask me how I’m feeling, and I can honestly say, “I am getting better” — but that doesn’t mean I don’t have weeks where I am really bad. My attacks of vertigo are less frequent and tend to be far less severe. But, they still happen. Just a couple of weeks ago I had an attack while driving the car. So, I am still having to be careful — and staring at the computer screen can be an issue.

But, I thought I would take note of a few articles that have appeared on the Internet: particularly some that have addressed gay and lesbian issues.

Let me begin by taking note of a post by Gregg Webb over at the Spiritual Friendships web site:
Beauty in the Midst of Tension. Gregg writes as a gay Christian man who is committed to what he calls “the steadfast teachings of the Church on homosexual behavior” (which I tend to call: Side B). He writes about living in the tension of having friendships with gay Christians on the opposite side of the issue:

I spend much of my time living in the tension of disagreement. Most often this tension comes from either my Eastern Orthodox theology or my traditional views on gay relationships. I am proud to have quite a number of friends who are not only Protestants but who also embrace a theology that affirms gay marriage. These friends continue to shape and bless my life in numerous ways and I have often seen Christ reflected in their lives and even in their relationships.This can, and does, however present a challenge when I hold convictions that lead to disagreement. I’m not a fan of disagreement and I often go out of my way to emphasize commonality and downplay differences. But, at the end of the day, disagreement does exist and I can’t gloss over that fact. This is where relationships can get interesting.Living in this tension is a beautiful challenge. It can also be exhausting. It’s easier to have disagreement over politics, random points of theology, art, etc… than to have disagreement over the very way in which we live our lives as Christians with gay desires. I believe that the steadfast teachings of the Church on homosexual behavior are fixed and not up for reinterpretation. This leads me to pursue a life of celibacy where I seek deep friendships and faithful community for support and intimacy.I have close friends who are also Christian but believe that God blesses same-sex romantic relationships, and believe that marriage is open to all loving and committed couples. In some cases they have found other like-minded Christians and developed Christ-centered gay relationships. I’ve gotten to know some of these couples quite closely and to be quite honest, many of my straight friends could learn a thing or two about communication and spiritual support from them. They reach out and include their friends in their lives, rather than fostering an exclusive, self-enclosed relationship.The very ways in which we live our lives differ based on our views and this is bound to lead to conflict and be a challenge. In my life I’ve seen two options with these kinds of relationships, I can either choose to circle the wagons and avoid friendship with affirming gay Christians or I can continue to pursue friendship knowing that at times it will be a difficult to live in the tension of our disagreement.

Earlier on in the same post (which you should read in its entirety) Gregg writes about the tendency people have of surrounding themselves with other like-minded people. He says: “It is easy to exist within a bubble where our ideas and world-views are only confirmed and never challenged.”

Thus, Christians surround themselves with other (like-minded) Christians, conservatives surround themselves with other conservatives, liberals with liberals, etc. — add whatever labels you wish. And, it is often comforting — at least for a while — to live in such a bubble. Within the bubble, we feel we have found our people, our tribe. We belong and we are accepted — conditioned upon our similarity to the others in the tribe. We laugh and joke about the people who are not in our tribe — and we comment upon them as if we really knew what they thought and felt. As long as we keep ourselves in the bubble we are think we are safe — protected from the others outside — from the people who see things differently.

I understand the need for us to have groups in which we can experience a degree of acceptance and belonging. We need this — like the peer groups in a High School. We experience acceptance. We model our behaviors after the group.

But, we cannot stay in the bubble. The security it affords us is temporary at best. Some time we have to find the courage to emerge from the bubble and engage those whose views and life experiences differ from out own.

Of course, for some, College was such an experience — being forced out of the bubble both in class and in the dorm. But, it is still far too easy to find another bubble and just stay there.

Particularly, on the matter of gay and lesbian issues, Christians of all points of view can no longer afford to remain in their bubbles. We have to learn to approach one another with respect and openness to differing experiences of life.

I think this is a particular problem within mainline churches, where there is a legacy of division along liberal vs. conservative lines. These sides often determine friendships, and often determine who can be trusted. Denominations like the United Methodist Church, which have been defined by this struggle, are deeply divided bodies — in which people do not trust each other.

And, for a long time a person’s stand on gay and lesbian issues was the litmus test of whether they belonged in the “liberal” or “conservative” camp — that is to say, the litmus test of who could be trusted.

So, it’s always disconcerting when someone everyone thought was on the conservative side: someone like Adam Hamilton or Mike Slaughter (to use United Methodist examples) seems to be caving in on the gay issue — they are written off as no longer being evangelicals, or some such thing.

And, to my mind, a similar thing happened when blogger and United Methodist pastor Morgan Guyton posted a long article defending a Side A position on this topic — but from a point of view that desired to be both faithful to the Bible and to the historic Christian faith: What is the burden of proof in the #Methodist #homosexuality debate? He can now be identified with the “liberals” and written off. We can now trot out our tried-and-true rhetoric against the acceptance of same-sex relationships and use it against this article — whether we have actually read it or not. But, I think this is the appearance of something new. Like the arguments of Justin Lee in his book Torn — it is an argument for Side A that begins from a perspective that seeks to honor the Bible for its formative place in the Christian faith.

hearing this argument requires emerging from the bubble.

And, Morgan tells us the experience which was the impetus for his re-examination of this issue:

Usually when Christians change their mind about homosexuality, it’s after spending time with gay Christians who are so obviously holy and spiritually mature that it becomes hard to maintain the belief that a chaste homosexual relationship has corrupted them, which all sin is supposed to do to people. I have shared the disorienting experience I had in 2002 when I worshiped in a LGBT Methodist church with people who, other than being gay, behaved exactly like conservative evangelical Christians in terms of their lifestyle, their zeal for holiness, and their love of the Bible.

I have played around in my mind with replying at length to Morgan’s post — I still don’t know whether I will or not. My experience with gay Christians — many of whom I have met on the Internet — has often mirrored Morgan’s experience. And, I am only interested in replying to his arguments if the resulting discussion increases understanding and mutual support. I appreciate the time and effort and original thought Morgan has put into this and I do not want anything I do to be taken as being in any way dismissive.

Stepping outside the bubble means not routinely dismissing contrary opinions. It means hearing them for what they are.

And, for those of us who find ourselves in the Side B camp, ministry to and with gay and lesbian people requires us to step out our bubble — out of our echo chamber — into the place where people are in painful disagreement — for personal and deeply-felt reasons.

Let me round out this post with a mention of another article and author. Sally Gary has written a book entitled Loves God, Likes Girls, which describes her attempt to come to terms with her own same-sex desires while holding fast to her traditional protestant (Church of Christ) Christian faith. It was quite interesting to me that the conservative Christian Post interviewed her in July of this year: 'Loves God, Likes Girls' Author Talks Myths Christians Believe About Same-Sex Attraction. I think this is very much a sign of the times — now people in the conservative church (some of them, anyway) are willing to hear the testimony of a same-sex attracted Christian woman — and willing to hear her correction of some of the misconceptions that the church has fostered.

Sally says:

I think a lot of Christians believe that if someone experiences same-sex attraction that person has just completely walked off the deep end, that they've walked away from God, that they couldn't possibly have a relationship with God or any feeling for what God wants in their lives. That's just not true. That is a myth that the enemy has perpetuated, that has separated and alienated us from the folks who are right in our midst. There's never been a time in my life that I've walked away from God. There's never been a time I didn't want God in my life. I talked to many, many people who've experienced same-sex attraction and most of us have grown up in church, have a deep desire for God, and come from strong, sweet Christian families. There is much confusion in how you reconcile all of that. So if Christians' only response is 'well, you obviously can't be right with God.' Or the idea that we somehow don't want God is just not true and it's extremely hurtful. It has the effect of making a lot of people eventually walk away from God, eventually walk away from church …

I find it amazing that those remarks appeared in a conservative Christian web site.

But, as I say, it’s a sign of the times. It is time to re-examine some of our assumptions. But, it is also time to open our hearts to people whose life and experiences are very different from out own.

Sally goes on to say:

I think one of the most important things that we as Christians can do is follow the model of Jesus in the way that he related to people in the gospels. … I think that's so important for us to remember as we encounter people who may be very different from us, (and) maybe have very different beliefs. Who knows what a person has been exposed to in terms of Christianity. So it's important for us to convey an accurate picture of Christ, that's willing to listen, that's willing to sit down. What would it be like if, instead of the first thing that we think of is to tell people where we stand on homosexuality, the first thing we did was to listen and say, 'Tell me what it's been like for you, and what it's been like for you and your family. How has your family responded? Tell me what it's been like for you in church' if the person has grown up in church. 'Tell me about some of those hard experiences and what it's like for you now.'

But, again, that requires us to emerge from our bubble and listen and respect people whose views and experiences are different from our own. Yes, that can be painful — and we need to know that somewhere there are people who love and accept us — but it is where Christ is calling us to go.

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