This post is part of my What If… series which is a series of questions meant to agitate the imagination about God, Church and Faith.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals…1 Corinthians 6:9
In the more than three decades that I have been a Christian, there are three things I have seen spark passionate debate : the doctrine of hell, the issue of women and leadership and the question over whether or not God creates gay men and women.
It is this third controversy that I want to tackle in this post, and though it will by no means be exhaustive, I want to agitate our imaginations about our gay brothers and sisters and their place within the body of Christ.
I was reading the latest issue of Christianity Today this morning when I came across a review for a new book called Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays vs. Christians Debate. Published by newcomer, Jericho Books, Torn is written by the founder of the Gay Christian Network, Justin Lee. I loved the headline of the CT review: The Love We Dare Not Ignore. The review was positive, even affirming, of the message of Justin’s book -
Many of us evangelicals may believe that LGBTQ folks are far removed from our churches and ministries. Surely gays and lesbians are out there, somewhere else, not here in our discipleship small groups or kneeling at the Communion rail beside us– are they? But if Lee, the God Boy of his high school who could quote John 3:16 in his sleep, is an example of what it means to be “gay,” then yes, they are. They’re here in our churches, and they’re here to stay, forcing us to reconsider what is might mean to love our own spiritual siblings. (emphasis by author)
Lee, like many gay Christians, has landed in a place where being gay is not a liability or disqualifier to being in a loving relationship. Lee champions for gay Christians to be who they are: attracted to same-sex partners and devoted to following Jesus.
But the reviewer, an admitted celibate gay Christian, has landed in the more “biblical” camp by being open about his sexuality yet committed to a life of celibacy. Who can’t respect that? I remember talking at length with a gay Christian who said to me, “I wish I could have a partner and be in a relationship, but I would be in sin. So I have to be alone to obey God.”
The reviewer concludes his article with this:
Conforming our lives to to Scripture’s difficult ethical teaching is precisely the way we demonstrate that we’ve made our home in Jesus’ love. And that’s a path that Lee’s book, for all its commendable honestly and salutary insights, chooses not to explore.
I should have seen that coming when in the opening paragraphs of the review the writer puts quotation marks around the words “gay’ and “gay Christian.” Not sure why he put quotation marks, but for me it brought up images of folks using “air quotes” when speaking and referring to something that they want to communicate as “questionable.”
addendum : Justin’s book was released today, Nov 13. For a great synchroblog celebrating the release of Torn, click HERE.
I don’t want to belabor reviewing a review. I brought it up since it serves as a great centerpiece to the What If question of this post:
What if being a gay Christian was not controversial?
Another way to ask this is what if gay women and men were unconditionally accepted in the body of Christ without regard to their sexual orientation much in the same people of all races are unconditionally accepted? What if faith communities did not cage their men and women in by their sexual identity? What if it was no big deal?
I heard theologian Phyllis Tickle preach a few years ago and she predicted, “The issue of gays in the church will be a non-issue within 25 years.”
The church has come a long way in the last 25 years from where we were in the last part of the 20th century. We are at least having the conversation. Gay Christians can, depending where they live, find resources of support and community, if not where they live than most definitely online, such as with Justin Lee’s Gay Christian Network. (which, btw, I’ve referred several gay people to GCN when they emailed me asking for help. I’m not a gay Christian resource, but because I’ve blogged on this topic I sometimes get emails from folks who are searching for answers. Like the time a young woman I knew from my charismatic years emailed me. She wrote, “I love my girlfriend, but I love Jesus, too. Is that ok?” )
I myself have come a long way in the last 25 years. I remember debating my liberal minded younger sister when we were in our twenties as she tried to defend “the gay lifestyle” and I solemnly condemned it as an abomination for “that’s what the Bible says.” Less than ten years ago, when the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was a blazing controversy fueled by the 2004 presidential election, I helped organize a prayer meeting to rally Christians together to protect the institution of marriage from becoming corrupted by legalizing same-sex unions.
So what if churches accepted gay people without dusting up controversy? I remember one church leader lamenting how she wanted to officiate a same-sex commitment ceremony for a young woman she cared deeply about, but she knew that it would spin her faith community into a tornado of divisiveness. She had to say no in order to prevent disunity from fracturing the flock.
Author and founder of The Marin Foundation, Andrew Marin, wrote a gem of a book a few years back, Love is an Orientation, that squarely confronts the fear and hesitation of faith communities to keep their distance from our gay brethren. Andrew, whom I met and spoke with when he was in Portland a couple years ago, is dedicated to bridging the gap between gay and Christian communities. In an effort to cultivate reconciliation, he won’t publicly declare whether or not he thinks the Bible can be interpreted condemning homosexuality or if homosexuality is something that the Bible can affirm. He does neither in his determination to avoid deepening the chasm between gays and Christians, but he does make clear that he is committed to being a champion for the love and acceptance of gay men and women everywhere, including in the church. ( My review of Andrew’s excellent book can be found HERE)
So back to my question : What if being a gay Christian was not controversial?
That is what is missing the most, our missing members who do not have freedom to be among us for we are too busy debating whether or not that being gay is moral, amoral or immoral.
For starters, books like Andrew’s and Justin’s would not be necessary. There would be no gaping hole of hurt and misunderstanding for writers to herald. It would be like someone trying to publish a book on why slaves ought to be allowed to be ordained.
If homosexuality was a non-controversial issue in the world of church, our gay brothers and sisters would be unhindered from contributing with their gifts and talents and Presence. That is what we ‘re missing the most, our missing members who do not have freedom to be among us for we are too busy debating whether or not that being gay is moral, amoral or immoral.
I hope Phyllis Tickle is right. I hope that within 25 years the church collective will look back with bewilderment and wonder, Why did we make such a fuss?
But that day is not today. Today gay men and women have to make difficult decisions of whether or not to come out to their families, biological as well as spiritual. Many will endure rejection to one degree or another. Many will experience some distancing of their church if not outright shunning. An acquaintance of mine, Timothy Kurek, became intrigued by this and conducted a year long experiment of pretending to be gay to see what that would be like in his community. The result is a new book that comes out later this month, and though I’m not sure what I think about deceiving the people around us for a social experiment, gay men and women are all too familiar with hiding who they really are just to stay in fellowship.
So what if being a gay Christian was not controversial?
The church would be all the more rich, in my opinion, just as it is when the question of women in leadership is not debated but is practiced. When the practice of accepting our gay brethren for who they are, created in the image of God as much as straight men and women are, is a wide reaching reality,then that day, I believe, will be the day the body of Christ will be less torn and closer to reflecting the whole Gospel of Jesus to our broken humanity.
I’ve written about homosexuality a lot in the past. Here’s some posts to consider:
- Same-sex Unions : Ought a Christian Support Them? (this post includes a short paper I wrote for a biblical ethics class that provides more agitation for the imagination concerning the church and homosexuals)
- The March for PRIDE and Redemption ( a post where I tell why I marched in a local Pride parade)
- Not On My Watch: How My Mind is Changing Towards Same-sex Unions
***I welcome your thoughts on this. Whether you agree with what I’ve written here, disagree, or are in that unsure place of sorting it out, let’s dialog about this. Especially if you are gay or love someone who is. I especially would like to know if you agree with Phyllis Tickle’s prediction. Do you think being gay will be a non-issue 25 years from now?