Last week I had a coffee appointment with a man named Dave. I had totally forgotten who he was and why we were to meet. He reminded me that he sent me a book to read. I remember receiving it but had not been able to read it yet. This was awkward. I forgot who this man was and did not read his book. He went on to explain that he had written this book about engaging in conversation with gay people. I remarked that this is coincidental in that my Dmin readings were on sex, gender and the Christian faith. We had a great open dialogue for about 20 minutes. Then I asked him why he had written the book. He replied, “Well, I am gay”. David’s book presents the case for gay partnership to exist in Christian community.
I am reading two books this week. God, Sex and Gender: An Introduction by Adrian Thatcher and Love is an Orientation by Andrew Marin. Both books call for a reexamining of Christian opinions and responses to gender issues. Thatcher attempts to walk through male/female roles in church and gay issues in general. I find many of his arguments convincing and thoughtfully presented. He does well to examine our thinking based on the bible, tradition, reason and experience. One strength of his book is the examining of exploitive relationships in marriage and women in church involvement. The unexamined assumptions of how male and female relationships exists are often shown to be “power-over” relationships. They can be controlling, exploitive and very unloving.
Thatcher’s focus is on sexual relationships. He very touchingly portrays the Christian ideal of love in sexual relationships when he states, “The abandonment of the self in the giving over of oneself to another, one of the many rich possibilities of love-making, is exceeded only by God’s self-abandonment on a cross, the complete giving over of Godself in self-surrender.” This is one of many statements many Christians can find agreement. He also elevates the importance of the marriage covenant. It is to be as permanent relationship based on mutual love. He continually builds his argument asking for agreement along the way. But many of us conservatives (theologically) would struggle with his applications. What Thatcher does do is question our assumptions about sex and gender that go beyond mere polemics. I did find many statements blunt especially about sexual activity. The arguments are well researched and tightly construed. Some of the conclusions seemed more shaped by culture than Christian reasoning. For instance he states that there is an “intermediate state of life between singleness and marriage. In this state of life straight people on their way to marriage may be free to have contracepted sex.” This is based on the fact that marriage is postponed. He does speak of a period of waiting, but this does not mean marriage but the betrothal time when commitment is made.
Martin’s book, I found more engaging because it was more personal and less academic. The story of his involvement in the GLBT community is a demonstration of his growing love for gay people. His admonishing to know and love people as people is well taken. Whereas Thatcher conclusions seemed to have well reasoned arguments the conclusions were not always convincing. For me, Martin’s journey is more endearing. Both he and Thatcher’s Biblical unpacking of homosexual references were similar though. They both framed the references in a larger context. For instance, one example is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. This story is about sexual deviances for sure, but more importantly it was about violating hospitality laws, gang rape and exploitation. Also Romans chapter one speaks of ‘inordinate acts between same sexes”. The larger picture, though, is mankind’s rebellion against God. This can show how the larger sin can be overlooked.
David is gay and conservative. His reasoning is very different from the books I have read. He does believe that God’s original design was for sex between only men and women in marriage. But, now we must navigate in this fallen world as it is. He is committed to a life long loving relationship that would put many heterosexual relationships to shame. He stated that we are all broken. We agreed that sin has affected every part of humanity’s relational connections. He is initiating respectful conversations with pastors in our denomination. He is finding that many privately do not have that hard line stance against gays. I admire his initiative.
Here are my conclusions so far after meeting Dave, and reading Thatcher and Marin and Lee.
- Hatred and resentment in the Evangelical church toward gay people is sin. Attraction toward the opposite sex is not sin. If it was hatred is a far greater one. For this, I recommend the book Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gay-vs.-Christian Debate by Justin Lee,about a Christian man’s experience with being gay and how the present attempts at Evangelical cures have been judgmental and inhumane.
- Respectful dialogue is the best Christian expression of love with people of different views on gender. How do we respond when we hear the anguish of a gay person who has asked God to take away their desires? How do we respond to the unloving and judgmental treatment of gay people?
- There is more ambiguity than we realize about causes, biology and even Biblical interpretation about gay people. How do we respond when a gay man says he has never been attracted to a woman?
- I struggle with my experience, Biblical theology, reasoning and tradition after hearing the stories of the gay community and meeting Dave.
- My question for us is “How can we include gay people in the life of the church that treats them with respect and equally needing God’s grace?” If we start excluding people because of sin (think of the lack of commitment in heterosexual relationships) where do we stop?