Inclusive Love is the Answer
My journey on the topic of homosexuality, gay marriage, and their place in the church started many years ago when I was in full-time church ministry. Back before this population was as “out of the closet” as they are today, I would have long discussions with people in the church about how to approach this issue and what I believed. Back then it was highly debated whether people were really “born” this way and most people characterized homosexuality as a choice to live outside of God’s original design, including myself. It seemed like a no-brainer to me that this behavioral choice was a sin and therefore should be avoided. I even prided myself with the fact that I had a clever analogy to explain my position. I would say that even if people claim they were born gay, I happen to be born a speeder because I had this innate compulsion to drive fast (stupid, I know :-). So just like I have to choose to drive the speed limit even though I was predisposed and born to speed, gay people need to choose to live a normal, heterosexual life even if they are predisposed or born gay, or at least if they didn’t want to “choose” to be heterosexual they needed to choose celibacy in order to be considered “driving the speed limit”. In the book we are reviewing this week, Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, Loader expresses something similar to this. He says the argument has been mounted that “It is okay for them to be gay and have homosexual feelings as long as they do not act on them. As we shall see, this softening of the biblical position does not do justice to the text, which sees the orientation itself as a symptom of sin…Thus some make the choice of lifelong celibacy, and there are many stories, some of them very moving, of people who have chosen this path and hold to it heroically, which some, however, might deem as tragic. For others, this is not a realistic or, at least, a healthy option. Choosing celibacy is one thing. Obliging it by implication on all who are gay, so that they must never give natural expression to their sexuality, is another.”
I am now somewhat embarrassed that I held this uneducated, rigid view of homosexuality and how to reconcile it with scripture and the church. I spent many years defending my position and thinking of myself as a champion for the authority of scripture. Then my amazing wife shared with me her perspective and introduced me to the book Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin, which described a pastor’s journey through this issue and how he came to join Jesus in a position of love for gay people instead of focusing on whether they are sinning or not. I have always said, Jesus was never in the business of sin management, he was in the business of loving people. This put me on a path to dream and speculate how Jesus might deal with this issue if he were here today. I definitely think He would be hanging out and having a meal with gay people. I also think He would be defending them from being discriminated against in the church. My transforming journey continued when I began to have a number of gay clients walk through my door who were desperate for answers on how to deal with this attraction to same-sex they could not deny. Many of them would tell me they would gladly have this homosexual desire taken from them so they could avoid the dark road this meant for them. This is when I began to expand my thinking and realized this may not be a simple choice like I thought it was. So I had to think what if, as Loader said, “there really are people who are homosexual? The wider community and governments in many of our countries have come to acknowledge that there are genuinely gay people, and many governments have therefore removed barriers to gay people marrying.” Defranza continues this argument when she says, “A simple reading of Genesis revealed only two kinds of human beings, which many have interpreted as representing an idealized male and an idealized female. But when I read Genesis in the context of the whole Bible, at the beginning of a story that later welcomed those who did not fit into either of these categories (such as eunuchs from birth), I began to see space opening up between these two, between male and female—space for others.” I began to be overwhelmed with compassion for these people who didn’t “choose” this, nor would they ever, but had to navigate a life of persecution, rejection and abuse because of this orientation. It was then that I realized Jesus would never stand for this and He would also make a way for them to have the same intimate relationship with Him as I did.
The other part of my journey was dramatically altered when I had the privilege of meeting an amazing lesbian married couple who came to our church. I’ll never forget the day they walked into the elementary school cafeteria where our little church plant was meeting. I happened to be greeting at the door that day when two African-American women walked in together, and I quickly extended a kind greeting and blurted out…“Oh are you gals sisters?”, and in unison they said, “No we’re married!” Boy was I not prepared for that, and I’m sure it was plastered all over my face. Somehow I recovered and began to have a surprisingly comfortable conversation about how they have been out of church for many years but saw that our church met at a school so they figured there would be less chance of being struck by lightning if they walked through the doors. I also inquired about their marriage and they freely shared how they were planning to have a little informal ceremony with some friends and family, but while they were planning WA state happened to pass legislation that legalized gay marriage, and so their little ceremony turned into an official legal marriage. We shared some laughs and seemed to become fast friends from that day forward. They are two beautiful people who love Jesus and wanted so desperately to be accepted into the body of Christ and serve alongside everyone else. Our church leadership was then faced with the decision of how to assimilate them into the church. It was one thing to welcome them with open arms as regular attenders, but then one of them asked to be baptized and they both wanted to get involved by volunteering in worship and tech roles. It was at that point that one of our pastors said, “If Philip can baptize the Ethiopian eunuch (ironic, based on my earlier paragraph) on the spot, who are we to judge whether she can be baptized.” So the pastor took her through some baptism classes and we scheduled a day to baptize her in another member’s pool. She was absolutely elated that day and they both have been some of the most faithful members and volunteers in our church. Jenn and I have been incredibly blessed by their friendship and enjoy going on double-dates with them (the stares we get are pretty entertaining :-). We often say how we can’t imagine our church without them and are so grateful we are involved with a church that welcomes them fully with open arms.
I could keep going on about the book, but I felt moved to chronical my journey to the place where I am today on this issue. I feel God has transformed my heart and allowed me to see those who are homosexual the way He does, and I have come to realize I have no place to judge their personal relationship with Him. Just like 30 years ago divorced people feared being rejected by the church, the church has managed to get over the “sin” of divorce and remarriage and include those individuals in the leadership of the church. I think 30 years from now we will potentially be looking at this divisive issue of homosexuality in much the same way. Christians who are decidedly not heterosexual need to have a place to worship and lead alongside every other Christian. I will close with the following quote that reiterates this…“Over the centuries a number of other issues have been contentious, like slavery, the role of women, the place of divorce. It is understandable that in each instance there were some who were concerned that biblical commands not be set aside and who therefore opposed change. There were also some who tried to explain away the force of the biblical commands. The better way forward was to acknowledge with respect the views of biblical writers and why they held them, and then acknowledge what were grounds for making changes, based both on new understandings and driven by the same focus on love that informed Jesus’ stance.”
 Preston Sprinkle, and Stanley H. Gundry, eds., Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology), Zondervan, Kindle Edition, 19.
15 responses to “Inclusive Love is the Answer”
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Thanks for sharing your journey with this topic, Jake. It’s similar to my own.
Thanks Jenn, I appreciated reading a little of your journey as well. This is a difficult topic for most Christians, but I am grateful for the experiences I have had and I am aware I am most likely exposed to more on this topic than most due to my profession. Enjoy your vacation 🙂
Hey Jake- It takes courage to cross the aisle as you did. One of the great challenges of being a follower of Jesus is that we are led on a wild journey by a wild Spirit who blows where it chooses, and we find ourselves in the most trouble when we resist that rush of fresh wind. It is a heart of love that has been formed in you over many years of following Jesus that has enabled you to see your experiences through the lens of Christ-formed love. You are following the Spirit for this age and you have not abandoned the text, it seems, in any way that I can tell. I know folks on both sides who have abandoned the text or manipulated it to support their view, and it’s pretty easy to tell. I applaud you brother.
Thanks Chris for your encouraging words. It has been quite a journey for me and I am grateful for the people and experiences God has placed in my life to help me along the way. I appreciated you affirming the fact that I am not about abandoning scripture but am embracing Christ’s love for those He created. I appreciated your heart brother. Ironically, one of my favorite Christian bands growing up was a small band that originated out of Portland called Rushing Wind, made me think of that when you talked about what happens when we “resist that rush of fresh wind”. Thanks again.
Thank you for your thoughtful writings and experiences.
To be honest, I am struggling with the term “inclusive”. In my circles, it is a loaded complex term. Just when I think I understand what it means in our modern context, I come across Scriptures that say, “be in the world but not of the world” or “neither do I condemn you, now go sin no more.” They sound inclusive for sure, but yet draw a line.
Not trying to argue with you or anyone else. Simply trying to journey together.
I appreciated your phrase, “…I have come to realize I have no place to judge their personal relationship with Him.” Well said! In Montana, I love to say, “I was called to be a fisher, not a cleaner of the fish”. That is God’s job, right?
Thanks Jay for your kind words. Curious if your church circles are inclusive of people who have been divorced and remarried even though they have committed adultery according to scripture. Somehow most churches have found a way around this and continue to include these Christians, even in leadership. I feel like if we get into the sin management business (or fish cleaning) there are many people we need to hold accountable. What if we instead let each person work out their salvation with fear and trembling before God personally so we can focus on loving them freely. Also, I struggle to know how to respond to someone who loves Jesus with all their heart but feels cursed with same-sex attraction. How do we assimilate them into the church?
Why are we the only ones talking so far? I have not seen any other responses or posts today…
Great questions from you! We are in fact inclusive of divorced people, and welcome with open arms. However, we only have one situation where we would affirm a divorced person as being a lead pastor, the so-called innocent party clause, and then only after quite a length of time.
Undeniably, we have ordained liars, gluttons, the angry, greedy and lustful. We are terribly inconsistent, as I am sure every denomination is…
Same sex attraction, now we are on to common ground! Not the same as same sex behavior, but either way we welcome with open arms, though not necessarily to leadership.
As we speak, I am actually working through a celibate same sex attracted children’s pastor seeking ordination. Not sure I will be allowed to survive, seeing as how I am trying to be focused on loving gracefully…
Glad to hear you are having discussions about gay people pursuing pastoral ministry. Wondering if it changes things if they are legally married when it comes to leadership in the church. Thanks for the good discussion.
I well remember the days when, like you, the issue of homosexuality in the church was simply a matter of applying scripture appropriately. I was living and working in SoCal at the time and had connection to a great many gay people but it was clear that they had no desire to be involved in a faith community that excluded them. I have moved a long way from those times and been on a journey motivated by people I genuinely love desiring both a faith connection and the opportunity to express human love. It is still not completely settled in my head but I firmly believe that Jesus would be knee deep in the LGBTQ community expressing God’s love for them regardless of the struggles they have, not unlike our own.
Thanks for your thoughts Dan, my fellow SoCal buddy. 🙂 It is hard for most people to keep a hard, judgemental line on this issue once they meet an on-fire for Christ gay person. I couldn’t agree more with your statement…”I firmly believe that Jesus would be knee deep in the LGBTQ community expressing God’s love for them regardless of the struggles they have, not unlike our own.” Well said my friend and so glad you are keeping an open mind on this difficult journey.
Thanks for sharing your story, Jake!
It’s been great to see everyone’s perspective and see everyone’s journey. Since I came during the second year, I couldn’t even guess who was affirming or non-affirming. This made this week’s assignment a step of faith and a leap in the dark. Many of us have changed our beliefs and perspectives due to our experiences.
It’s interesting that the two women felt more comfortable attending a church that met in a school. I recently spoke to a young adult’s pastor in the Bronx and she confessed that their ministry was looking for locations outside of the sanctuary so that more people could feel welcomed to seek Jesus. The saddest reality is that many people, including those in the LGBTQIA community, have been burnt by the church, but found hope amongst Christians. This shows the dichotomy of today’s reality. The steeple is viewed as an accusatory finger that blames culture, whilst the Christian outside the doors of the sanctuary is seen as an equal seeker – one who journeys alongside the skeptic. How has your church’s choice of location influenced the people that attend? What does the church need to physically look like for all people to feel welcomed?
Thanks Colleen for your thoughtful comments. It sounds like we have been on similar journies influenced by people in our lives who are a part of the gay community. I loved your statement…”The steeple is viewed as an accusatory finger that blames culture, whilst the Christian outside the doors of the sanctuary is seen as an equal seeker – one who journeys alongside the skeptic.” Well said, and relates to what I feel about the location of a church. Although the traditional church building may be a turn-off to many due to negative experiences, the most important thing is how this population is treated once they walk in the door, and if they will be blocked from fully participating in the body of Christ.
Jake, your blog is wonderful – I appreciate you writing about your own journey and recognizing the how/why you changed your perspective. Thank you for being an ally to all vulnerable and oppressed persons and for expressing yourself in such a relatable, loving way.
Thanks Jean, you are so kind. It is nice to know I am not alone on this journey of advocating for the marginalized around us. I can’t imagine not having these people in my life, I have truly been blessed and challenged by them. Blessings friend!
great post Jake. I really appreciated reading about your journey. Id be interested in picking up that love is an orientation book. It certainly is messy when we take theology and start acting it out. Its difficult to know where the line is though of how much involvement someone can have based on their level of discipleship.