Over Coffee written in simple conversational style brings to surface the need for a faith based dialogue of a topic that remains quite sensitive to the conservative church. The author Dave Thompson has done remarkably well in his attempt to reduce the distance between differing perspectives and bring them to dialogue. First, there is the question of acceptance that finds its beginnings in recognizing that individuals uniquely differ from each other. Next there is the extension of grace which is essential to accept and embrace that which is different without judging. Grace steps beyond mere tolerance. Perhaps more of this is required on the part of the church recognizing that we are all creatures adversely affected by the Fall and stand in need to be redeemed.
A few questions surfaced in my mind while reading the book. Why does it seem that there are more gay people today than there were a quarter of a century ago. Is it because they are able to express their sexual orientation more openly now than before, or are the numbers actually on the increase? If the latter is the case, why is it so? What are the factors contributing to it? Are there other social, emotional and relational factors outside of physical and mental causes that have to do with it? Do relational problems between parents affect sexual orientation of children? Does single parenting affect children’s sexual orientation? Do dysfunctional families affect an individual’s sexuality and orientation? There are certainly no pat answers to these questions but asking them does affect the dynamics of addressing the issue within the context of the Church.
Although there has been a lot of discussion in the recent past, in India homosexuality is still an offence punishable with mprisonment. That places the matter in a totally different perspective in this context. Indian religion and culture hold differing views on homosexuality. While in Hinduism, homosexuality has never been considered a crime culturally it has never been accepted. The ancient manu (hindu law) states that if a woman is found to be a lesbian, her head should be shaved, two of her fingers cut off and she be paraded on a donkey. For a man who is homosexual, the punishment is less harsh. He is to lose caste and become an outcaste.
Ever since the Delhi High court ruled in favour of gay relationships in 2009 (recently set aside by the Supreme Court of India) India’s gay culture came out in the open. However, the country remains overwhelmingly conservative. Indian culture frowns upon sex outside marriage, even among heterosexual couples. Following cue from other nations, India’s gay pride march took place in Kolkata for the first time in 1999. Larger events have now become common in the country’s capital and in other metros. Gay film festivals and university campus also continue to mushroom. All this to say that there is a greater awareness of the reality and a louder voice for acceptance.
Recognizing how increasingly hot and burning the discussion on homosexuality and same sex partnership is getting to be, I feel just as much as the pastor in the book did during his conversation with Thompson: ‘as torn as a man can be’. The issue of sexual orientation is one of the many things in life that I don’t fully understand. Nevertheless, without being judgmental and extending grace, I am honestly in search of the right answers. This leaves me wondering whether the issue will ever be resolved and when the debate will come to a conclusion. What will be the next hot topic for discussion over coffee?