Since the American Supreme Court declared gay marriage legal within the USA, there has been much heated discussion in my facebook feed. Many, many well-meaning Christian folks sharing articles with a ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ theme, many rainbow-ified facebook profile pictures, and a whole lot of emotion on every side.
Unlike many Christians who find themselves on the road of inquiry about the church’s teaching on homosexuality, I have never been bombarded with doubts about my own sexual identity as a straight person. This has put me in the position of being possibly capable of never pursuing this train of inquiry – a luxury that Christian members of the LGBTQIA community are not afforded.
I wish I could link you to the articles and essays and personal testimonies that first stirred my mind and challenged me, but I can’t. I read them out of a need for intellectual honesty in myself and also plain old curiosity, but I was not keen to be convinced. I clicked out of a lot of things out of an ideological repugnance for the arguments that contradicted those I had lent credence to all my life. For a while I stopped reading articles, too emotionally exhausted by the stream of testimonies that I had to reject out of hand. Eventually I was forced to examine my own heart and I found within myself pride – an unwillingness to admit to an unfounded belief; fear – that I would be convinced by what I read and be required to reject the unified teaching of the church I attend; and the doubt that is allowed to assail all Christians at any time – that perhaps I would pick too many holes in the teaching of the church and thereby undermine my entire belief system and my entire world. I had to soften my heart with a healthy dose of humility to counter the pride. I had to lean into the presence of the Holy Spirit and reaffirm my trust in a loving God to assuage my doubt and my fear. My faith has rarely been stronger.
Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.
I am not going to spend time discussing the specific theology, the testimonies, the emotional journey, and the logic that has led me to a place where I have changed my stance on the subject of Christians and the LGB community. It is not my story to tell. I am not a member of said community, I am not a theologian. Do not come to me to be won over – educate yourself, seek out the information – not just to seek to rebut it. Actually listen to the experiences and beliefs of gay Christians first hand, not filtered through the often patronising and flawed argument of rebuttal.
I may not be a member of the LGB community or a theologian: I am, however, a member of the church.
The church has fallen prey to, clung to, and eventually abandoned many wrongful teachings. Paul condemned the unnecessary and wrongful practice of circumcising Gentile converts, which Peter, the Rock on which Christ said He would build the church, participated in. The Catholic Church, which was the only church where many met God and formed lasting, earnest, life-changing faith for hundreds of years, was brought to task during the Reformation for clinging to misinterpretation and harmful teaching. Martin Luther, beloved Reformer, supported the oppressive regime of the German princes and did not speak against the persecution and massacre of the peasantry. As some love to remind us, Galileo was forced by a mistaken church leadership to recant his true, scientific statement that the Earth revolves around the sun. My own ancestors, church people, arrived on the shores of Australia, contributed to the oppression and extermination of the Aboriginal peoples, and served by the side of the notorious Samuel Marsden, ‘the whipping parson’. Racism and misogyny have been a part of the church for two thousand years; efforts are being made now in some quarters to acknowledge and repent of that, but these are still woven in our history and still often tragically a part of church culture around the world.
It is not only right and logical for us to examine the practices and ingrained traditions, teachings and beliefs of the church, but it is our responsibility. Many preachers leaned upon Paul’s teaching about the current social practice of slavery to justify an ingrained belief concerning the morality of a society built on the backs of slaves. The Bible can be used to justify many practices which we now would regard as abhorrent, bizarre or just plain unnecessary. For myself, when in doubt, I turn to Jesus’ words: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength and love your neighbour as you love yourself; this sums up the whole law and the prophets.” Do we lend credence to Paul’s statement that it is ‘unnatural’ for a man to have long hair or for a woman to cut her hair? That teaching may have been consistent with a policy of loving God/loving others in that specific first century church, but is it still necessarily so? If we go by the current behaviour of the people of most of the churches in the world, no, it is not necessarily consistent with this one, pure and clear rule, handed to us by Christ himself.
I am not saying that all followers of Christ will reconsider the church’s traditional teaching on homosexuality – I am not saying that all those that do will necessarily change their stance on the issue, at least not within this living generation. I do think, however, that we must consider our history and be ready with open hearts and open minds for change. In the past, it has been an accepted doctrine in many churches that the hearts of all women were corrupted and perverted, that all women, following a precedent of Eve, who first ate the fruit, were a destructive force and inferior beings. I am sure that the members of those churches were not all fools or all wicked – they just followed the teaching they were used to hearing, with Biblical passages pulled out of context to support it. I do not think that theology on the topic of homosexuality should be as divisive as it is. I do think that, as with other discussions, such as different opinions about the end of days, predestination, infant baptism and suchlike, it should be something that we are willing to consider a non-salvation issue. I am saying that those who feel the need to study this topic, as with any topic under the sun, must not limit themselves to texts written by people they already agree with, particularly if the other side is the side with living experience of the issue at hand. There are disagreements even amongst gay Christians, some believing that all of their number are necessarily called to a life of celibacy, some who do not believe that this is so. But disagreement is not the same as division.
Alarmist preachers cry that the church is dying, that the faith is being torn down. The church cannot die. The faith must stand. It has stood, even through human wickedness, human weakness, human ignorance and human folly. The body of Christ remains, even when her trappings are ugly and the words that fall from her lips prove false. Christ has loved his church through years of brutal, murderous crusades, Christ has loved her through centuries of misogyny, Christ has loved her through mistaken doctrine, Christ loves her yet and he does not desert her. He yearns after the church, to see her washed clean of error and wrongdoing.
My point is that whether homosexuality is condemned or permitted, the church will yet stand. The important thing is to remain full of love of God and love of one another. I hope no one can convict me of not loving those of the church who do not agree with me on this point, but the fact remains that the church stands guilty of preaching love to the LGBTQIA community without actually practicing this love. How often do you think a member of that community feels welcome and cared for when visiting church? How do you think a Christian gay person might feel when their perspectives and testimonies are not sought or even considered by almost every person who preaches about gay marriage? How do you think a gay Christian would feel to know that their church community is not only unwilling to prayerfully and carefully consider the theology surrounding an anti-gay viewpoint, but actively working to deny them legal and social rights?
Of course, after all this, you will not be surprised to hear me say that I firmly acknowledge that it is possible I am entirely 100% wrong in my understanding. I hope that I may remain humble about my own human limitations regarding the mysteries of the universe I live in. I do, however, believe in a loving God who holds us in his hands. I do believe that I have been redeemed by the blood of Christ. And I do believe that my gay Christian friends are equally redeemed, and that all humans who have ever lived and who ever will live on Earth are the beloved children of the Most High God, who yearns to hold them in his arms.