It’s a hot topic in Christian circles… and it’s about time I address it in a meaningful way here on my blog, where -- as long-time readers will surely have noticed by now -- things have changed considerably over the past three years.
At my children’s request, I went to my “old” church on Sunday morning with them and their dad. A number of people came up to me and shook my hand or hugged me, telling me how good it was to see me “out” (no pun intended, I don’t think, hehe), and how nice it was that I was there to celebrate Easter with them.
It was as though many of my former fellow congregants had processed whatever “news” about me they had heard through the grapevine, and had come up with the supposition that I was no longer a Christian, that I had clearly decided to stop attending church, and that they therefore needed to really encourage me on my first foray back into the fold after nearly 9 months of not attending the little blue collar church where I was baptised about two decades ago when I first publicly acknowledged Jesus as my Lord and Saviour.
Little did they know that I have done more reading of the Bible in the past 9 months than I probably had in the preceding 39 years!!! Or that I have been attending and worshiping at another church in our fine city most Sunday mornings when I am in town.
When will more conservative/traditional Christians stop assuming that those of us who identify as LGBTQ must have “fallen away” and are in need of “re-saving”? When will they finally respect those of us who are comfortable with our sexual orientation, even when this comfort stems from an understanding of Scripture which may differ from their own?
I think that as Christians, we sometimes forget that it’s okay to use our minds. Further, we get so busy loving God that we forget the second part of this section of the Gospel. Loving our neighbour is more challenging in some cases than others; I know I have an easier time, for example, loving people who think like I do, or at least, whose ideas and actions are not in direct conflict with my own.
But the Bible doesn’t say
“love your like-minded neighbours as yourself”!
I know that I want to be understood. So, if we are going to love our neighbours as ourselves, then ought we not try with all our heart, soul and mind to understand our neighbour before we condemn him/her?
Let me first of all say thank you, if you are a “traditional” Christian, and are still reading this blog post. I know how hard it can be to set aside strongly-held suppositions, and open oneself to considering new perspectives. It is true, I am very emotionally invested in the changes I have made in my personal life over the past two and a half years. But they are changes that were not made lightly, or without significant prayer, struggle, consideration. And although we most certainly WON’T agree on everything I write in this blog post, the one thing I think we WILL agree on is the importance of seeking out one another in the church, and sharing ideas, questions, interpretations of Scripture in a respectful manner, so as to grow as Christians.
(As an aside, it’s a bit like the conversations about racism and cultural proficiency we have in education – it sometimes seems as though everyone is so concerned about being politically correct, that no one actually says what they REALLY mean, and so few authentic thoughts and ideas are shared, and little progress is ever truly made! But when we can engage in a conversation where all parties presume positive intentions, then we can share more honestly, and perhaps move forward in our thinking and our understanding of such “big” issues.)
On then, towards such growth…
Let’s address an excerpt from an comment I recently read online, written by a fellow believer: “ It is certainly true that homosexuality is not the worst sin out there ..”
Are you the type of Christian who
"loves the sinner, and hates the sin”?
I remember feeling like I was so advanced a Christian, because I “wasn’t homophobic”, because I was happy to engage with people who were “born gay”, so long as they didn’t “act” on their gayness.
I remember being so outraged at Gay Pride parades, for example, thinking “we straight people don’t need a parade, why do THEY?”!!!
In my suppression of my own true self, I was so desperate to appear strong and in control that I refused to even educate myself about LGBTQ terminology, historical issues, Biblical interpretations…
In thinking I was following the first half of Romans 12:2, I had forgotten the second half, “be transformed by the renewing of your mind”.
I rarely read or thought deeply about Scripture passages, rarely sought out conflicting interpretations over time as people wrestled with apparently contradictory passages and diverse applications of said passages… I was not continuously transformed in my Christian journey as I should have been, because I rarely if ever bothered with renewing my mind!!!
But once it became clear to me that continuing to live as straight woman was more detrimental to my spiritual health, my capacity to mother my children well, my ability to be a good life partner or friend to my husband than exploring the possibility of who I really was in God’s image would be, this second part of Paul’s passage became critical.
I read voraciously, researched online and in person, found opinions and information wherever I could, from exploratory conversations with people at my home church, to services at other churches, to heated discussions with deeply faithful colleagues -- I was fortunately working at a Christian University when my own coming out story really blew up finally for once and for all, so I had easy access to intelligent Christians. (I say “ finally”, because there had certainly been inklings already decades prior; but that’s fodder for another blog post!)
Suddenly, I learned about things like “mixed orientation marriages”. I read both scholarly articles and layperson interpretations of Scripture passages that I had previously known only to be used to illustrate that homosexuality was a sin, but which now exposed politically-linked emphases that shift over time-- all time, not just the present day when it may seem as though things like marriage equality are simply buzz words of the year.
And as I renewed my mind in the word of God, I discovered a lot about myself, my Maker and my faith community that I had never taken the time to consider before.
Knowing what my predecessors believed and struggled with challenged me to think about things in new ways.
Just one example is this: I used to be a big fan of Martin Luther’s, not only because he shook his fist at a church that he felt took too much control from the people, but also because he translated the New Testament into the language of his people, so that all could “access” the Word. Yet now, I’m not so sure anymore. Yes, I believe access in general is a good thing. But I also see more clearly now than I once did, that few if any “pure” translations exist; *all* are interpretations on some level (just compare 5 or 6 versions of your favourite Scripture passage on Bible Gateway as an illustration!), and those interpretations are steeped in the political history of the time in which they were written. In fact, the very books of the Bible were chosen in time by certain members of society, whereas other books (and there are many, as you know -- yes, some of them clearly not divinely inspired, granted! ) are NOT included in the official Scriptures as currently accepted in most main-stream churches.
If I am to pursue God relentlessly, seeking Him out wherever I go, then who are some guys in the past who felt that such and such a book would meet their political agendas while other books would encourage too much personal interpretation and internal communion directly with God, to tell ME, God’s child, which path I should take to His house with many rooms?! And why should I believe the interpretation of some translator, deeply steeped in the political, economic and historical schema of his own time?! No, Church Friend, if I were really a GOOD Christian, would I not learn Greek, Aramaic or Roman, and read God’s word first hand for myself?
Of course, this is an unrealistic approach for most laypeople. And so translations are the best we’ve got. Nevertheless, my point is that as life-long seekers, I think we owe it to ourselves and to God to seek His truth through a variety of sources, and not blindly buy everything the first salesman tries to sell us. :-)
Ironically, my girlfriend, who is perhaps the darkest and staunchest atheist I have ever met, pushes me deeper into my faith than any fellow believer I’ve met, as she constantly challenges me to consider the minutest aspects of my faith, and chastises me when I appear to be weak in my assurance. Truly, I have not met such a faith-builder in any church I’ve attended in my nearly two decades as a formal believer!!!
With regards to homosexuality and Christianity, I’ve been reading the blog of a woman by the name of Wendy Gritter these days…
As Christians, we tend to pick and choose passages of Scripture that appeal to us, and focus on those, and interpret them in ways that work for us, while conveniently forgetting to deal with those passages that may “call us out”, so to speak. (Certainly I know *I* can be guilty of this, and that tendency long pre-dates my desire to find support for my gay-ness in the Word of God!!!)
I like what Gritter writes here:
But alongside those of us who pick and choose and selectively follow the texts that don't shake up our world too much, there are those who are honestly trying to wrestle with God, to glimpse more of his character through the story of Scripture, to discern the way forward to both follow him and experience his best for their lives. If we fail to listen to these stories, if we fail to see their pilgrim spirit, if we simply presume a selfish agenda, I fear we fail to honour the Biblical legacy of people of faith wrestling with God.”
I wrestled with how a righteous, loving God could create me in such a way that seemed – according to the limited Christian commentary I had hither-to heard -- so contrary to His perfect will.
And then, once I prayerfully acknowledged that while many aspects of my nature (short-temperedness, for example, or gluttony -- especially when it comes to chocolate, or home-baked goodies, or gummie bears!!! -- or sometimes envy) are areas God has given me for “professional development”, my gender and sexual identity do NOT fall into that category, I further wrestled with passages of Scripture that comment on adultery, and divorce. (Both of these are far more clearly addressed in Scripture, I would argue, than homosexuality, btw!)
Oh yes, God and I have had some good wrestling matches over the past three and a half years!!!
Gritter points out,
This back and forth journey is not because the issues are trivial to them - rather precisely because of the depth of commitment to be faithful to Christ many continue to wrestle. Many live with a deep sense of uncertainty.”
“Oh yes”, Pi replies emphatically, “on every floor!”
And despite the doubt, the uncertainty, the disagreement with fellow Christians, we continue to believe.
A church friend recently commented on the Gritter’s blog post, which I had shared with her. She wrote, “the quote she uses from Matthew 19:21 is a case of Jesus speaking specifically to one man because He knew that this young man's wealth was a stumbling block to him. It is not a general statement to all Christians."
It’s interesting to me that my sister wrote this… Aren’t ALL specific, individual stories from the Bible meant to be open to our self-application as readers of the Word?
So many of the verses in Scripture which are used to proclaim universal anti-homosexuality were also written about or to specific people in a specific historical-political context. Why, then, do so many Christians feel comfortable generalising those?!
My friend went on to note that although God allows us to struggle with him, He always wins. For example, she points out, Abraham asks God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, but in the end these cities are still destroyed, just as God said they would be.
True enough. But are they destroyed because of homosexuality, ultimately?
As Nathan Meckly points out in his 1994 article on this passage,
The prophet Ezekiel, in an equally inspired book of the Bible, tells that God was displeased with Sodom for very different reasons: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed, and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty, and did detestable things before me (literally, ‘committed idolatry’). Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. (Ezekiel 16:49-50, New International version.)”
Okay, so let’s deal with these two: adultery and homosexuality.
In order to have effective dialogue about the former, one must define the latter in terms of whether or not it is a biblical sin, for my own journey with the former lives deep within the context of the latter.
I’ve reread the Corinthians passage numerous times, several translations, and looked up the original Greek words used where one might see “homosexuality”. Paul uses “malakos” and “arsenokoitai”, neither of which were used to mean “homosexual” in the Greek of Paul’s day, from what I understand (granted, I am not a Greek scholar, but after a fairly in-depth search, I cannot find evidence to support a simple translation of “gay” for either of these words!!) A l literal translation of the former, malakos, yields ”soft”. And the word arsenokoitai translates to “male-bed.”
Just sayin’. :-)
Another passage often quoted to denounce homosexuality is Romans 1:18-32. As my church friend enquired of me in a recent email, “Is there any way to interpret this other than what it clearly says: that God has revealed himself in His creation and that people instinctively know there is a God, and yet their thinking became futile and their hearts darkened... they exchanged the glory of God for idols. And the very next verse says, 'Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.'"
I agreed with my church friend, actually, there is no other way to interpret this passage than what it clearly says: PEOPLE SHOULD NOT EXCHANGE THEIR NATURAL RELATIONS FOR UNNATURAL ONES!!!
Romans 1:26-27 is perhaps my greatest light,
for it clarifies what was so wrong for me for so many
years: I HAD BEEN LIVING UNNATURALLY!!!
Sorry, I know that must be difficult for some to read. I hope you can shed your shell of homophobia for just one moment, and imagine what it must be like for the millions of men and women out there whose natural constitution is same-sex, who God made to be with others like them, and who are forced into UNnatural relationships in which they suffer for often decades or sometimes their whole lives.
The Romans passage screams “FINALLY! FREEDOM!” to me.
It is clouded only by the fact that I did not discover it sooner, and now have adultery and divorce to contend with.
Had someone only told me when I was 21 that it was OKAY TO BE GAY, that God doesn’t make junk, that indeed the very scriptures light the way for my marital future… oh, how much grief and heartache I, and the two men I married over the next two decades, might have been spared.
(As an aside, God also doesn’t let ignorance or missed opportunities ruin His perfect plan: I can’t imagine my life without my children in it – Alex and Simon are truly two great gifts that remind me of God’s holy grace!)
So, there is my “proof”, my Biblical commentary on sexual identity.
Now on to the sin of adultery.
Adultery, I concur, is clearly frowned upon. In fact, throughout my marriage to my current husband, I have often considered this, since I was married to a man already once before (albeit briefly), prior to becoming a Christian.
Although my opinions on marriage have certainly become more open (and I mean this here not so much in a “same-sex marriage” sense as I do in a “married for life” sense), I personally still cling to the Biblical notion of a single marriage partner, from whom one is separated only by death. I do this despite the fact that there is a mountain of evidence that suggests that a Biblical view of life-long monogamy is at least as economically and politically inspired by the historical time period in which it was developed, as it is by the Scriptures from which support therefore is traditionally drawn. Nevertheless, there is something eternal, hopeful, large in a “God-sense” that appeals to me about the idea of a single marriage partner.
How, then, have I justified my own “adultery” in this case?
Well, I have a few comments about that…
First of all, I want to clarify that there was no sneaking around behind my husband’s back as I worked at uncovering my sexual identity. “Undoing” a 10-year marriage is no small venture. Despite our clear disparity, we were/are nevertheless committed to one another through a mutual covenant that we both did/do our best to honour, even in difficult situations. So, as I was becoming more honest with myself about the nature of my sexual identity, I shared my questions and struggles with my husband in as open a manner as possible under such circumstances.
Without baring too many personal details of our unique relationship, I will tell you that my husband encouraged me to seek out who I truly was. Despite our many differences, I do respect his courage in so doing, and I understand his motivation: I, too, would rather know what I am living with than reside with carefully concealed deceit.
As it became clear that I was/am gay, we spoke very openly about how best to proceed. It was challenging to do so without any guidance from our church family; until we had figured it out “on our own” (with considerable prayer and supplication), we didn’t dare approach anyone at my old church -- both my husband and I remember all too clearly the blatant homophobia of a particular incident not that long ago in our church, and we cringed to think how many might respond if we were to call on them in our time of need. (Not that our church hadn’t been supportive of us in the past when we bought a new house, or when our children were born… but the truth is that stripping wallpaper, cooking dinners, and holding new-born twins are much easier than stripping oneself of the bonds of prejudice, cooking up creative solutions to spiritually difficult problems and holding the hand of someone who is telling you something you don’t want to hear.)
In any case, it was apparent that continuing to cohabit as a straight, married couple was unfeasible for both of us. Had we not had children together, a “clean break” might have been easier (though I did and still do consider my husband “family”). But since The Children were in the picture, there were additional considerations.
It was clear that my girlfriend and the boys had a very strong and positive relationship (she and I became platonic friends before I was ready to name the true nature of the relationship, and she and the boys quickly developed a unique bond unlike one I have ever seen before). Ripping that apart would have put further strain on an already complicated situation for them. Additionally, if my husband and I decided to share with them that a) Mommy is gay, and b) there is nothing wrong with being gay, then how would we explain to them why it wasn’t okay to pursue the friendship with Girlfriend, with whom they and even their father got along so well? (I know, I know, you might argue that we could have considered that *adultery* is still wrong, and since Mommy and Daddy were already married, I should not have had a new partner, male or female -- hang on, the adultery explanation is coming later….)
Eventually, it was decided by all three adults that it would be best for all five human members of the family that my girlfriend and I would move into our own apartment, in the same building, and that the boys would divide their nights between the two homes. We continued (and continue) to do many things together as a family, “family” being defined as sometimes the five of us, and often, just Trevor, the boys and I, as per our recent trip to Germany.
Needless to say, it has been a complicated, emotionally trying journey for everyone, with many “tangents” each of us has had to explore.
In my mind, situations like the one outlined above would not need to even exist if society in general and the Christian family in particular were more supportive of a variety of committed love relationships.
I shudder to think how many people suffer silently in hopeless marriages, afraid to address the true nature of the marital problems they experience. (I was shocked to discover how NOT unusual our situation was! The Internet is full of stories of straight people married to LGBTQ folks!)
Imagine the pain that could have been spared to BOTH partners, had the gay partner been allowed to be honest about his/her sexual orientation from the start! My goodness, the world is full of unsuccessful marriages, but here are thousands upon thousands that could be avoided if the mainstream church would just finally get over its homophobia already!!! Imagine the Kingdom work that could be done if at least some of the currently unhappily closeted gay people stuck in mixed orientation marriages were partnered with same sex spouses who made their hearts sing! And what about all the straight partners, who could be married to other straight partners instead, and enjoy rich, fulfilling sex lives (which we know is part of a healthy Christian marriage)… think of the possibilities!!!
I know this is messy. And, many readers will invariably disagree with some or most of my interpretations and presentations. But I hope it serves to illustrate that I don't think adultery doesn’t matter, or that God doesn’t care about it. I KNOW it matters, and that He does care deeply about it. That’s why the fight for marriage equality is particularly important in the church.
If you are still with me at the end of this, thank you. I know it’s been a long, LONG blog post (and I should confess here that most of it was taken from a 15-page response I recently wrote to a member of my former church who emailed me.)
I invite you to comment on this blog post, because I think the topic is an important one. You don’t need to agree with me, and questions are most welcome. I would just ask that you keep your comments respectful, since this is not intended as a forum for ranting.
Wendy Gritter Bridging the Gap blog