Thursday, December 06, 2012

On the Evangelical church and people who are LGBT

A pastor friend of mine had a lively discussion going recently on Facebook about the church's stance regarding people who are LGBTQ. Most of the commenters were conservative Evangelical Christians, and the consensus seemed to be that LGBTQ people ought to be welcomed in the church but also must be told that they need to repent. I wrote a lengthy comment in response, but when I went to post it I discovered that my friend had deleted the entire thread (apparently some of the comments had gotten quite harsh). So, hating to waste all that effort, I've decided to post a stand-alone response on Facebook and to re-post it here. I have a diverse group of Facebook friends, so please keep in mind that this is directed to a particular group of people and uses some terminology that is familiar to them but may not be preferred by the LGBTQ community. - DC

Having spent a few years carefully studying the Gospels and the Book of Acts (and indeed the rest of the Old and New Testaments) I've come to the conclusion that there is a "hidden message" which many of us have not had eyes to see (or have not been taught to see). This "hidden message" is that God, as revealed in Jesus Christ, is radically inclusive. Jesus reached out in love, and interacted on a relational level with the social pariahs and religious outcasts of his day, including lepers, "unclean" (for various reasons) women, Samaritans (even Samaritan women!) -- who were considered to be heretics and enemies of the Jews, Gentiles (even Gentile women!) -- who were considered to be unclean pagans, etc. The disciples of Jesus, as recorded in the book of Acts, continued and expanded that trend of inclusion (consider Simon the Tanner or Cornelius the Roman Centurion or the Ethiopian Eunich). The fascinating thing about the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 is that the Christians of the Pharisee party who were opposed to accepting Gentiles--unless they became observant of Torah stipulations, including circumcision and dietary regulations--were the faction who was "right." They had both scripture and tradition on their side. Yet the Spirit was saying something different.

The Gospel writers and Paul and the other inspired authors of New Testament texts were not attempting to write a new Torah. I think they all would be aghast that this is exactly what many later Christians turned their words into. Rather than implement another Law, we are called--as Paul wrote to the Galatians (and echoed in his other epistles)-- to "keep in step with the Spirit."

Only the most uninformed in our day and age would not be aware that people do not "choose" to be gay. Many, if not most, gay people have struggled greatly and in futility to not be gay. As I heard one young Christian man say recently, "I didn't want to be gay. My life would be a whole lot easier if I was not gay." Most of us did not "choose" to be heterosexual either, we just are. People do not "choose" their sexual orientation. To simply be what you are, whether that is straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, is not a sin. In fact, it could be argued that it would be a sin (and psychologically unhealthy) to live a lie about who you are.

Consider this: Would you feel welcomed at a church that told you that an unchosen and unchangeable aspect of your very being is a sin which you must repent of?  Not necessarily your actions, but your very being?  "But we love and welcome you, nonetheless!" they say.  Right.

And what is this "lifestyle" that keeps getting spoken of? Gay people don't "gay park" their car or "gay cook" their dinner or "gay ride" the bus to work or "gay get their children ready for school." Their "lifestyle" is pretty much just like heterosexual people, except when it comes to sex. And, let's be honest, gay sex is the real issue here.  So, is gay sex (rather than simply a gay sexual orientation) a sin?  Promiscuous or exploitative gay sex certainly is. Then again, so is promiscuous or exploitative hetero sex.  But is a monogamous lifelong romantic relationship between two persons of the same gender a sin? That is the real question. The rest is just noise and static and hyperbole.

What I've come to realize is that the Biblical writers knew nothing about sexual orientation. They looked at actions. To them, in their culture and given their knowledge of human sexuality, sex was meant to be between a male and a female. Homosexual sex acts were typically confined to the context of idolatrous temple prostitution or pederasty (older married men having sex with boys) or heterosexual men raping other heterosexual men in order to humiliate them (as goes on even today in prisons). The handful of texts in the Bible that speak of "homosexual" acts speak of it in those terms. It is quite eye-opening to look at the handful of scriptures which appear to pertain to homosexuality, but to do so with their historical and cultural context in mind (and looking at the actual Hebrew and Greek words used). Many devout and learned Christian theologians have discovered that, upon doing so, they find a whole lot more nuance to the issue than first meets the eye.

There was no such thing acknowledged in Jewish culture as monogamous, non-exploitative, lifelong homosexual relationships--it was completely off of their radar (as was the idea of a world without slavery). It is worth noting that the term "homosexual" did not exist until it was coined in the late 19th century by the German psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert. Ancient people (at least ancient heterosexual people) had no concept of sexual orientation, and frankly, in ancient cultures people tended to marry not for love but for survival of the tribe. Romance and sexual attraction were not high on the priority list; procreation was. And LGBTQ persons can participate in procreation and family-creation and child-rearing.  Their sexual orientation is not an impediment to that.

So then I ask you, my Evangelical Christian brothers and sisters:

Can you welcome and affirm into your church people who are homosexual (or bisexual or transgender), provided that they remain celebate?

If so, that is a big step forward.

But, there is another step that many Christians (myself included) have taken:

How do we reconcile the notion of requiring that gay people practice life-long celebacy, with God's statement in Genesis that "It is not good for man to be alone" (and, one would assume the same goes for woman)? Must LGBTQ people never know the intimacy and companionship that we straight people do?  Once we come to understand that the scriptural texts supposedly forbidding same-sex erotic acts were speaking about pagan idolatry and exploitation and violence and not about committed monogamous relationships between partners with same-sex-attracted orientations, it becomes apparent that to presume to impose celebacy upon gay people is tantamount to the Jewish Christians in Acts 15 wanting to impose circumcision and other Torah stipulations upon Gentiles.

I believe with every cell in my body that the Spirit is saying something different than our tradition and that if Jesus were here in the flesh today, he would reach out to love and appreciate and enfold people who are LGBTQ--without conditions.

Then again, Jesus is here in the flesh today--via the people who call themselves the Body of Christ.  Let us begin to act like it.

Regarding the radical inclusiveness of God:

For a closer look at the scriptures pertaining to homosexuality, I recommend David Westmoreland-White's excellent series of blog posts:


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