Acceptance of same sex marriage is trending in the United States. “There’s nothing wrong with it.” I hear this over and over, in conversation, on the radio, on the twitter feed. Of course, people only say “there’s nothing wrong with it” because so many others are shouting that there is a lot wrong with it. Many of those condemning homosexuality and doing so with vigor and vitriol are Christian pastors. Their damning messages come in the form of sermons. As the drumbeat of acceptance and normalizing of homosexuality gets louder, the sermons from the conservative quarter are more forceful, clear-cut, and accusatory.
Thus a situation exists. Either you are for same-sex marriages and you celebrate that this form of human sexuality is becoming accepted in society; or, you condemn homosexuality as an abomination, the worst of sins, and a harbinger of the end times. Either you’re for same-sex marriages all the way or you hate them and everyone associated with them. These, it seems, are the only options.
Recently I was talking with a close friend of mine. He and I are pastors. We discovered we have the same problem. We do not align ourselves with the angry, red-faced pastors who seem to be more intent on condemning homosexuality than proclaiming the love of Christ. My friend and I, we do not use words like ‘abomination’ when we think about gay and lesbian people. We’re more inclined to describe our gay friends the same way we describe ourselves. They are humans, people made in the image of God, loved by God. However, my friend and I have reached the same hermeneutic conclusion (‘hermeneutics’ is the practice of interpreting the meaning of a text).
We have both searched the scriptures. We have found that heterosexuality is affirmed when intercourse happens in marriage. There is no scripture that sanctions any form of homosexuality. There are passages that are eternal, applicable today, not bound by 1st century social customs, and these passages do identify homosexuality as sinful behavior. This is where our careful reading of scripture has led us.
So, we sat together bemoaning our frustration that we don’t fit in the conversation anywhere. Those condemning all things gay would accuse us of being “too soft sin.” Those celebrating gay marriage would call us intolerant homophobes. We sat there together being frustrated, but today, I felt moved in my spirit to take a different stance.
I do not mean my theology has changed. I would not officiate as the pastor in a same-sex wedding because I don’t think God wants me to do that. I believe in my heart I would be going against what God asks of me if I did that. However, I don’t think it is necessary for me to trumpet this bit of my theology in every conversation on this topic. And this is where I am feeling myself moved. I don’t need to shout my position. I don’t need to whisper it. I don’t need to talk at all. I need to take up the posture of a compassionate listener.
I have had friends come out of the closet. I have had people share the pain and distress of trying to follow what they had been taught in church and at the same time feeling same-sex attractions. I have read books, sat in phone conversations that went for hours, and had in-person meetings. I hope I have been a sympathetic listener. But even if I succeeded, in the back of my mind I was disinterested. I did not hate gays. But I was not full of love – the compassionate love of Christ. He calls me to love my neighbor and neighbor love as he defines is inconvenient and uncomfortable (Luke 10:25-37). I was patient and kind, but I failed to show the neighbor love Jesus demands of his followers.
What began to shift my thinking was a conversation a few years ago. A friend listened to one my sermons on our church website. The next time he was in our state and nearby, we met as we would anyway, but this time, he had something to share. He came out of the closet. And I genuinely felt his pain and it hurt me. Then and there, I decided, if he ever got married and I was invited, I would go. I couldn’t be the pastor to officiate, but as his friend, I could attend out of love for him.
That started moving my needle on how to communicate my own views in conversations related to homosexuality. Then today, I watched a video of Vicky Beeching addressing a large crowd of LGBT Christ followers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rd4jUQxe3Cs). Yes, I believe one can be gay and can follow Christ. My theology is not perfect nor is any Christian’s. I think people who hold to reformed theology are not correct, but I don’t doubt their salvation. Why would I reject the faith of a gay Christian just because we disagree on this issue?
I first became aware of Vicky Beeching a while ago when the lead singer of Jars of Clay proposed that gay marriage is not necessarily wrong. His entire thought process and the reaction to it happened on twitter. At that time, I was just beginning to use twitter. Following Dan Haseltine’s saga was one of the first twitter threads I read. In the process, I came across Vicky Beeching’s feed. I really did not know who she was and I did not know her music. But I paid enough attention to her work to be interested in hearing more from her. Then my interest in her as a writer and public Christian personality faded as other issues crept into my brain.
I do not know what made her pop into my brain today. But, I decided to check out her twitter feed and saw that she is a musician. I went to YouTube to hear her music and ended up on the video of her telling her own story. And I was deeply moved. She is someone who wants to follow Jesus and is following Jesus with her talents, her personality, and her time. She is a disciple. If someone wants to accuse her of being a flawed disciple, well, I am too. I think, say, and do things my Master does not condone. He chides and forgives me and loves me. Jesus did not say I was acceptable after I conquered temptation. Jesus loves me when I am at my worst.
And I understand that Vickie Beeching or my gay friends would insist that their same-sex attractions and in some cases gay partnerships are not sins Jesus has to put up with. These Christians do not believe homosexuality is a sin at all. But even if we disagree, we can agree that no one is a perfect Christ follower. I, with my views on this topic, must approach someone else who has different views with my arms open offering an embrace, and my mouth shut, keeping my views to myself.
Why? Listen to Ms. Beeching’s story. Living under condemnation was so torturous for her; she filled her time including holidays with work so she wouldn’t have to face the tension. If she stayed busy enough, she did not have to deal with being lesbian and loving Jesus. The ache in her last from age 12 into adult and was so intense it led to serious physical sickness. Her story reflects the stories of thousands of believers who want to love Jesus and at the same time feel sexually attracted to people of their own gender.
Part of the reason this is such a painful thing is the way Christians have picked out this particular topic and pounded it into the ground. Does anyone ever say gluttony is an abomination, the embodiment of evil, and a sign that Satan has come? Gluttony is clearly considered a sin in the New Testament worldview (Matthew 11:19) and is the opposite of what the Spirit produces, self-control (Galatians 5:23). Why is gluttony no condemned? It is a much more prominent in the United States, a nation of obese, out-of-shape people. Gluttony is epidemic, but we have fat preachers condemning homosexuality.
Again, I recognize that there is a movement that denies that homosexuality should be mentioned here at all because this movement believes homosexuality is not a sin. I appreciate that view even if I don’t hold it. All I am getting at is that we preachers get choosy. We pick one category (often one we do not struggle with). Then we stay mum on another category (one of which we are guilty).
Listening to Ms. Beeching, my heart broke for her and for friends I have known. I thought back to my conversation with my close friend, the pastor who thinks like me. It is OK if we aren’t heard right now. Our gay friends have been hammered so many times by pastors; it is OK if they don’t want to hear us tell them we love them even though we think homosexuality is not quite right. It is OK for us to just be quiet. And I am completely aware that by writing this blog about being quiet, I am not being quiet. But how else do you let everyone know you’re being quiet? The irony abounds.
The passage I referenced, Galatians 5:23 is the famous “fruit of the Spirit” passage. One of the things produced, the fruit, by the Holy Spirit is self-control. Another is gentleness. And another is kindness. Listening to Vicky Beeching and recalling as friends have poured their hearts out, I am struck that I need to be intentional about working on kindness and gentleness. This is true in all human encounters, and the conversation on homosexuality is a good place to start. One way to practice kindness and gentleness is compassionate, empathetic listening. I think I’ll add that to the spiritual disciplines I practice.
I am grateful I don’t have to preach this week and that break has afforded me time to heart a great Christian orator, Vicky Beeching, and recall conversations with Christians trying to follow Jesus. As you have read my thoughts, I pray God has been at work in you. In my honest talk with God, I believe God is telling me listen and love the one who is generous enough to invite you into her story. I think that is what I am hearing from God so that is what I am going to try to do.