Why I (Sometimes) Post on Sexuality Issues
“Open your arms to change, but don't let go of your values.” — Dalai Lama.
I found the above quote on Twitter — a long time ago. I cannot verify it. But, valid or not, it accurately states the attitude Christians must learn to take on the divisive and bitter issues of sexuality and the Church.
I post on sexuality issues because they cannot be avoided. They are extremely hard to discuss in the church — at least, in an atmosphere where genuine disagreement exists. But, in no way can these issues be avoided.
I know it’s hard to talk about. I know people get upset. But, we need to talk. People who disagree need to talk.
I remember preaching on this issue from the pulpit in a small United Methodist Church years ago. I used Adam Hamilton's sermon in his Confronting the Controversies book — the old edition, not the new, revised one — as a model. I acknowledged the difference of opinion in the church, yet opted for a Side B view. The sermon went over quite well. There was no outrage or revolution over it.
Here's what I remember about that experience. As I prepared, and then delivered, that sermon I kept thinking how many lives and how many families in that little church — composed largely of conservative, retired folks — the way United Methodist Churches mostly are these days — were impacted by this issue. There was the family whose grown son was gay. There was the grandmother who no longer had regular contact with her grandchildren because her son had left his wife and family, and "come out" as gay — with a gay lover. I could go on. I had been there long enough to know this was not a theoretical issue for the people in that little church.
I think addressing the issue in a way that recognizes differing views, that focuses our attention on the love of God in Christ, can actually be a relief for people. It means folks can talk about this.
And, really, however hard it is — they need to.
So, that's why I post on these topics here. We have to talk with one another across the Side A / Side B divide — if we don't we just end up talking about each other rather than learning from each other.
I do not post as a person who has the answers. I am all too well aware that I do not.
All I can say, really, is that exploring these issues has led me to people I value, questions I would not have thought of otherwise asking, and insights I would not have otherwise found.
For me, the conversation started on the Usenet (anybody remember that?) and then the email groups. I began talking to people on the other side of the Side A / Side B divide — and my life has been enriched by the conversation and the friends that I have gained in the process.
I come to these issues as a Christian with conservative and evangelical instincts. If I belong any longer in that camp is for someone else to judge — I know that my Christian faith owes everything to the patient, loving and outspoken Holiness & Pentecostal Christians that introduced me to the life of faith in Christ — and supported me in the early stages of my journey. My faith owes nothing to the liberal Christians who never even let me know what the Gospel was or what it meant.
So, in that sense, I'm an unlikely guy to be writing about these issues.
My early exposure to (what we called) the Homosexual Issue in the church aroused my anger and outrage (as it does for many Christians). How could we even be discussing such a thing? When I encountered the arguments that were used in the Christian Side A camp, my anger was even further aroused. These arguments are not valid, I said to myself. Many of them, if accepted, would justify far more than same-gender sex. They would remove the traditional defining standards for Christian moral teaching on sexuality — altogether!
So, I came into the argument knowing I was right. But, for me it was a theoretical issue. It was a personal-morality issue. It became for me a boundary issue — people who did not feel same-gender sex was a sin (or, worse yet, said the Bible did not condemn it — an obvious and demonstrable fallacy) were simply not worth talking to. People (like Walter Wink) who said (essentially) ‘Yes, the Bible condemns it, but I don’t care’ were at least honest — they might be worth talking to.
So, why did I keep talking about it? Why did I keep defending my position? I’m not quite sure. Some gay Christians on the Internet engaged me in conversation and I found the conversation enriching. I heard a whole other side of the issue that I had not imagined. I found that I was quite wrong about who is worth talking to! In July of 2003 I joined the conversation at Bridges Across the Divide. The bridging conversation that was going on there seemed amazing to me — such respectful conversations in the midst of such sharp disagreements!
For me the issue was originally theoretical. It was: What the Bible says. I encountered very little in these conversations that caused me to change my mind about that. What I encountered were the personal dimensions of the issue.
I was not sexually attracted to people of my own sex. I didn’t know what that was like. I hadn’t gone through the deep inner conflict these people spoke about — the conflict between a drive they did not chose and could not change and their position as persons of worth in the Body of Christ. In some cases, they were very angry. And, it began to impress me that these people — in spite of their anger — were willing to speak to me. We became friends.
So, the conversation changed me. It created conflict within me. It helped me to see some of the deficiencies of my position. It helped me see how little I really know.
As I looked across the Divide, I saw brothers and sisters and friends on the other side whose presence and experiences became valuable to me.
And, I don’t know how you “Open your arms to change, without letting go of your values.” But, I’m trying to learn. I’m trying to let love stretch me. I’m not sure the Divide is ultimately bridge-able. Maybe not. But, I’m willing to try being stretched in the hopes of at least meeting at some halfway point.
There are wonderful people on the other side of the divide.
And, they are not who our culture warriors would have us believe they are. In one of his numerous statistical studies, Christian researcher George Barna says:
People who portray gay adults as godless, hedonistic, Christian bashers are not working with the facts. A substantial majority of gays cite their faith as a central facet of their life, consider themselves to be Christian, and claim to have some type of meaningful personal commitment to Jesus Christ active in their life today.
They are people. That’s all. They are people whose experiences and perspectives should be given a hearing, and whose rights should be defended.
So, stretch yourself. It’s called tolerance.
Dallas Willard writes this in his book, Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge:
Tolerance is not indifference, but a generous regard and even provision for those who differ from us on points we deeply care about. To support tolerance — which is not the same as lacking intolerance — more is required than just a lack of certainty concerning differences at issue. We must also care about people. Genuine tolerance itself must be based upon assured knowledge of what is real and what is right. And it always is. It is not a “leap of faith.” Tolerance is not the lack of something, but the expression of a positive vision of what is good and right, a vision taken to be solidly grounded in knowledge of how things really are. It has often been considered knowledge that all human beings are equally loved by God, and the call to tolerance was based on that knowledge. It was this type of vision, regarded as knowledge, that led to the abolition of slavery and legal segregation, for example. Such a vision, held as knowledge of how things really are, undergirds the possibility of a neighbor love that comes from the heart and reaches across all human differences.
Let the love of Christ stretch you: even if it means being stretched across (what appears to be) an unbridgeable gap.
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