Gay marriage. Gay clergy. Gay acceptance. Gay affirmation. Discussing these issues among a wide spectrum of people (or on social media) is like tossing a lit match into a keg of gun powder.
Yet here I am. Lit match in my hand. About to drop it into the barrel. Hoping a steady stream of Grace will prevent an explosion.
Back in February, the United Methodist Church voted to uphold what’s called the Traditional Plan at a special session of its General Conference. Even if you don’t attend a United Methodist church, you probably heard about this because it was all over the news – the New York Times, NBC News, CBS News, CNN, and about 478,000 other places on the InterWebs.
Upon the announcement of the United Methodist vote, traditionalists were thrilled that the long-held view of scripture and rule was upheld. Progressive believers and the LGBTQ community were devastated. One side claimed victory for God’s Word, which – as they see it – does not change with the winds of culture. The other side’s barely-scabbed wounds ripped open as they once again reeled from the pain of rejection and other-ness and marginalization.
People I love and care about stand on both sides of this chasm. And from my vantage point, I see that both sides are often misunderstood and mischaracterized.
So here I am. Risking anger from both sides. Hoping a steady stream of Grace will help us listen to each other and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
On the one hand, the LGBTQ community and its allies tend to characterize anyone who holds the traditionalist view as unloving and hateful, homophobic and exclusive. LGBTQ friends, I know it feels this way because this is so personal. But many of the conservative Christians I know don’t want to be hateful or mean-spirited; they just don’t know how else to interpret the Bible. This is the way they’ve always been taught; this is what they truly believe the Bible straightforwardly and plainly says. And they don’t know how else to see it. They have similar traditional or conservative views about many other issues, and they honestly don’t believe it honors God to change opinions and interpretations of the Bible just because culture has shifted. I know many conservative Christians who have wrestled with this because they truly love people, but they just can’t in good conscience relent on this. I believe with all my heart that most of the people who hold the traditionalist view don’t feel hatred in their hearts; they truly believe they can’t compromise on what they know the Bible says. That sort of commitment and unswerving moral conviction is worthy of respect.
Conservative Christians, I know it stinks to be characterized as hateful when that is the last thing you’re trying to be. You really just want to be steadfast in your beliefs and your understanding of the Bible. I get that. Really, I do. But please understand that most every gay person I know who was raised in the church has prayed diligently, begging God to take the gay away. So many gay people have felt rejection from most Christians their whole lives because they have been told over and over and over again that the way they are, the way they can’t seem to help being, is an abomination to the God they want to love. LGB youth, ages 10 – 24, are 5 times as likely to attempt suicide as their heterosexual peers. In the Bible we read that the tongue holds the power of life and death, and that really is the case here. The way we speak about this issue truly is a life or death matter.
Does this mean you cannot hold firm to your understanding of the Bible and speak what you believe to be true? I’m not saying that. I’m saying we have to find a way to discuss this the way we discuss other issues that are not essential to the faith. Christians all over the world disagree on whether women can wear pants or whether believers can drink alcohol. Christians disagree about whether women can teach men in church and about whether the Holy Spirit still gifts people with the ability to speak in tongues. Yet in all those debates, one side rarely calls the other an abomination or claims that those who disagree are absolutely bound for Hell. Why can’t we also chalk this up to a theological difference? A difference in interpretation? A difference in exegesis? Something that is important but is not a deal-maker or breaker in salvation? Why can’t we give some grace and speak with love? Dial back the bumper-sticker slogans and sound bites and the all-or-nothing rhetoric and speak in gracious, loving tones when we discuss this, realizing our words have power and actual lives are on the line.
Which brings me to the next point —
On the other hand, many conservative Christians hold fast that the LGBTQ community and progressive believers who affirm and accept homosexuals have just tossed out the Bible, caring nothing for God’s standards. How many times have I read the words “low view of scripture” when referencing Christians who are in favor of homosexual marriage or ordination? Let’s just say if I had a nickel for every time, I’d spend a long time standing at that coin-sorting machine in the local Food Lion. To be honest, I’m a little flabbergasted by this. Nearly every believer I know seems to grasp that there are people who truly know and love God yet who have some different interpretation of scripture. It’s why we have so many Christian denominations! Why is it that when a believer differs on this one belief, conservative Christians dismiss that person as not really believing the Bible or honoring God? Can you really not grasp that some Christians have studied this – at length and in depth – and have come to a different conclusion?
I know – for you, it’s black and white, open and shut. And you don’t understand why it isn’t that way for everyone. God said it; I believe it; that settles it. But the Bible also clearly says that rebellious teenagers should be stoned and that women have to be completely silent in church. It clearly says a woman’s glory is in her hair, so she shouldn’t cut it. And it seems to imply that owning slaves is OK and that rape isn’t all that bad as long as the man marries the woman and takes care of her. Of course, when we really study the issues within the context of the culture and within the context of the whole of scripture, we see that we don’t have to lift those verses out of the full context and understand them in the most literal sense. So it shouldn’t be impossible to understand that some people who love God with their whole hearts and who believe the Bible and deeply respect and honor it can study the Word and this issue and come to a different conclusion — just like with so many other issues that aren’t essential to faith.
Conservative Christian friends and family, I know your hearts – most of you aren’t filled with hate. You don’t want to hurt people. You don’t want gay teenagers to kill themselves. You just want to stand firm on what you believe the Bible says. You want to be faithful to your convictions and to the teachings of scripture.
Progressive Christian friends and family, I know your hearts – you love God and you love the Bible. Most of you don’t have a low view of scripture, and you aren’t trying to toss out God’s Word to be in style with current culture. You have wrestled with this, and you have come to a different interpretation or you have come to the conclusion that you don’t understand exactly how to interpret some Bible verses, but you do know you’re supposed to love people and treat them the way you want to be treated. Nevertheless, you aren’t flippant with the Bible or the teachings of God.
Gay friends and family — I want you to hear this most of all — you are not an abomination. You are not outside of God’s love and grace. God created you in God’s own image. You reflect God’s character and nature every bit as much as all your straight friends and family do. You are loved. You’re wildly loved by God with a relentless, pursuing love. And I love you too. Exactly as you are. And you have gifts and talents and ministries that are valuable to the Church. God has gifted you, and we can all benefit from those gifts. There is a place for you in the Body of Christ. Just as much as there is a place for this divorced, straight, single mom of six.
Can we give each other grace and the benefit of the doubt? Can we find a way to disagree that affirms value in each other’s lives? Can we trust that believers on both sides of this issue truly seek to honor God and follow God’s will, even though they come to different conclusions about what that looks like? And can we remember that this issue isn’t just about an abstract concept? We’re talking about real people with real emotions and, often, deep wounds (often inflicted by Christians). Can we have these discussions in a way that doesn’t devalue people or marginalize people, in a way that doesn’t make anyone feel any less of God’s image?