Four years-ago I did one of the most challenging things I have done as a pastor. I sat with eight other pastors over the course of three days and dialogued for the first time on same-sex inclusivity and the church. We all came from a variety of tribes and traditions and represented the spectrum of Christian belief. To join the conversation each of us had to submit a paper on our theological and practical thoughts and questions on the issue. Then, once together, we each presented our papers to one another, some of us (myself included) with fear and anxiety. What I learned from the conversation has less to do with the Bible and theology and much more to do with my inner world and how I view and treat others.
In Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church, four scholars do a similar work, but at a much more rigorous and academic level. They give their best study to the biblical and theological positions of both affirming and traditional perspectives on same sex relationships. They respond to one another’s perspectives with agreement, disagreement and further questions. Framing their conversation is a fifth academic and practitioner, Preston Sprinkle, an author in his own right and the founder of The Center for Faith, Sexuality and Gender.
In reading the text, there were so many aspects that caught my attention that I considered writing two blogs this week. In particular, the treatment of women with regard to the Imago Dei and the conversation on consistency with regard to how the church handles divorce and monogamous same-sex unions are captivating to me and I hope to wrestle with them both in future writings. However, what I could not get away from was a question of how: How are we practicing a biblical theology that is consistent with the whole of the biblical narrative?
In preparing for my first out loud conversation with my peers, I wrote a paper addressing my convictions from two perspectives. First, that of my perspective on the truth of Scripture which aligned closely with my denomination, which holds that marriage is between one man and one woman in lifelong commitment. The second, was about love, specifically, how will we emulate Jesus in showing people the love of God who do not have our same belief or practice.
Today my theology has deepened, largely as the academic study of Scripture and my experience in further dialogue has become more informed. From the text at hand, the insight on biblical meaning and understanding help me consider the hermeneutics and nuances on engaging the Bible with regard to sexuality. In particular, Loader and Holmes were very informative. Loader as a leading biblical scholar on sexuality, asserts the Bible does not make accommodation for homosexual relationship in any form but does not extend the teaching of the Bible to modern day. How shocking! His perspective that the Bible does not have all of the modern knowledge of today is reasonable but still a point that is difficult to swallow. And for Holmes, who argues for a traditional marriage between genders, he invites the possibility for same sex couples to be welcomed into the church in good standing, just as has been done for those previously divorced.
Here is what seems to get in the way most of the time for most non-affirming Christians I know: otherness. When we have no friends or close relatives that are gay, whether in identity or in action, we see them as other and are more easily intolerant. The Bible tends to be our stamp of approval on our behavior rather than our guide to discovery. We lean into the prohibition texts before the first and second commands of God and treat people accordingly.
While in the conversation with my fellow ministers four years ago, one who believed probably the most extremely different from myself said something that was so convicting I remember it more than anything else in the gathering. He talked about spit as a metaphor. He said that when saliva is in our mouth it’s part of us and we don’t have an issue with it. However, as soon as it leaves our body it becomes other and we are disgusted with it. When part of the self becomes less than part of us, we cannot take it in. This is what happens when we view those who are not like us, they become less and we automatically feel disgust toward them.
Could disgust be a major underlying piece of a traditional perspective on sexuality? If so, it will come through in our posture, which is probably my biggest concern in the entire topic. This is why Sprinkle’s final thoughts on further dialogue cannot be underestimated. The conversation among my peers gave me the ability to think and explore my beliefs and grow as a person because of the reality that we engaged with convicted civility, were willing to think deeply and openly with one another, sought to understand what the Bible means and not just what it says. The one aspect that was not included (and was called out) in our conversation, and may need to be called out among this blogosphere, is that there are no gay Christians in the dialogue with us. Let me give an example from yesterday as to why this matters.
I waited to finish this blog because Sprinkle happened to be speaking close to my home and I wanted to see and hear from his perspective in person. After sitting in a conversation with at least two hundred practitioners I had heard what I needed and left. I could see that Sprinkle was appealing to a conservative Christian audience of mostly white straight pastors. He knows them, he is one of them, and he knows how to speak their language. The unfortunate part was that, while he lives in the conversation on sexual identity, he did not have one person present on the platform from the LGB-TQAI (and C) community throughout the seminar. Instead, he had two empty chairs up front that were used to symbolize two of his gay friends, while he told stories about them and how they would react to specific conversations, terms, and biblical perspectives. The reality is that they had no “skin in the game” and the opportunity for dishonor to an entire community of people, while not intended, could be felt at times. This undermines the conversation about how to really love people from the gay community well. For me, as a pastor who interfaces often with outsiders and has friends who are gay, lesbian, and queer, I could not laugh at some of the jokes or take the content lightly. As Sprinkle said at one point, both of his empty chair examples deal with suicidal ideation every day.
This topic is too serious, too important to treat lightly, to make jokes about, to question the letters of the acronym and their validity. Regardless of a stance, if we are going to follow Jesus we must love people no matter what we consider their sin to be, and, as Sprinkle did note, do so consistently.
The best thing about Two Views of Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church is that it engages the conversation in a civil way, all joking and judgment aside. It honestly and deeply explores questions. The scholars who engage the topics are doing their best to be faithful to the biblical and theological narrative while asking difficult questions of the text and one another. I only wish more of the church would have these conversations and hold tension with one another.
This is the exact type of dialogue I want to have with women, especially those who are different from one another, to help them engage one another’s stories and hold the tensions with one another so that we ay glorify God seeking the truth together in love.
 This is a phrase Sprinkle uses in both his introduction and conclusion about the gay theologian, Hill. Sprinkle, 224
 My apologies for this being extra-long. I shortened twice but wanted to include the conference from yesterday as well.