Honestly, it seemed so much simpler forty years ago. Sexual topics were little discussed in the church and there was wide spread consensus on many of the issues back then. With the coming of the sixties, issues concerning gender, sex and family were thrust into the forefront of the church’s attention and today have become a central focus. My personal awareness on the gay/lesbian world came long before they were hot button issues. In college, I learned that my youth minister during high school was gay, as well as a minister friend, who went on to minister in Chicago’s thriving gay community as early as the mid-1970s. Since then, the issue has taken center stage in our society and in the church. In fact, a friend this past week shared that he had been selected to head a committee to determine how to handle issues such as gay marriage and membership in his church. Already, his church is experiencing division over these issues and is floundering to find a way forward that keeps the peace. Even in churches where there are no gay participants, these issues are creating waves, and for people like me, confusion. Not wishing to add to the negativity of so many Christians, yet sincerely desiring to know a biblical understanding what God’s thinking is on these issues, I have longed for some wisdom to help me make informative decisions.
In God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction, Adrian Thatcher presents a thoroughly biblical study on many areas of sexuality. What Thatcher does throughout the book is provide several different approaches to each topic, fairly laying out different theological interpretations, only giving his own conclusions at the end. Thatcher includes a number of possible interpretations of passages specifically dealing with homosexuality. As with many recent studies, it seems this topic requires the most learned scholars to understand the particular nuances of the passages and the context that ultimately suggest an allowance for same sex relationships. But, I am also aware that many other scholars would argue against these conclusions. So, not being a scholar of biblical languages, am no closer to feeling like I have a grasp on what God’s take on all this might actually be. It seems like I am caught in an interpretation war that is mostly beyond my ability to keep up with. So I continue to be confused.
My deepest concern is to honor God and His Word. I seek to know and follow His truth. As one theologian stated: “Christians need to study the Bible painstakingly and properly so that we are a people committed to biblical concerns, views, principles, and in many areas, its practices. Only through diligent study may we proclaim what God desires for his people, regardless of culture or era.”[i] Thatcher calls this an “essentialist” view, which “teaches us to look beyond the shifting and ephemeral fads and fashion of any culture.”[ii] In my confusion, I wonder if there is in Scripture some solid grounding in this area or not? I am still hopeful that there might be clear and essential truths about God’s heart on same sex relations and gay marriage that rises above the clamor and confusion. Today, it seems we are leaning more on what Thatcher calls “constructionist,” where it is felt that “God grant(s) to people of the earth responsibilities for developing just relations with one another, leaving it to us to construct how these are to work.”[iii] With this approach, there seems to be no clear agreement on these issues among Christians, and the church seems to be playing a game constant catch-up with our modern society. Rather than striving for set principles or providing a clear and unified message, the churches seems to be floundering in its attempts to find a solution. No wonder I feel so unsettled about these important issues!
However, as I continue to search, I strongly believe that Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation, provides a helpful way forward. First, he suggests that we start from a position of humility. As Christians, we should be the first to admit we are sinners in need of God’s forgiveness and grace. I am afraid that too often, in issues like homosexuality, Christians come across as sinless saints and treat others as if they are the only sinners. In fact, as Marin reminds us, I am no different from you! I am learning more each day that God begins His real work in my life when I recognize and experience sorrow over my sin. As Marin reaches out, his attitude is one of humble awareness of his true self: “My sin is no different than yours, and God’s grace is here to meet us all at our point of need. I am here not as someone who used to be gay, but as one of you. I am an undeserving sinner who has encountered God’s amazing grace.”[iv] How much better would the church be if we a similar attitude as we dealt–not only gays, but–with anyone who might live different lives or have different attitudes than us?
Marin helpfully suggests that we should remember our goal as witnesses for Christ. He suggests that: “Christians look at a gay or lesbian person and see a potential behavioral change instead of a person longing to know the same Christ we seek.”[v] I think this is a brilliant point. We are good at seeing particular areas of person’s life as being the roadblocks to their being brought to Christ, and so we seek to “clean them up” in order to present them to God in a partially reformed state. However, behavior change is God’s work, not ours. And because we focus on the behavior, we forget the real goal of our work as witnesses, which is to “peacefully pointing gays and lesbians in the direction of learning how to have an intimate, real, conversational relationship with the Father and Judge….”[vi] So, instead of seeking to change people, either their thinking or their behavior, maybe we should devote our energy to what is most important: To help them know God through Jesus Christ.
I hope someday to have a clearer understanding of God’s take on these important issues, but today I am merely confused…and saddened. I see hurt on both sides of the isle, on the division within the church over these issues and in pain brought to gay people by Christians. I think the church could use a large dose of humility, as I find it ironic that she is often critical of gay marriage yet lacks concern for the fifty percent divorce rate within her ranks. It is my hope, in the midst of my search, that any gay person I have the opportunity to befriend would say to me what was said to Andrew Marin: “I wish I had known a believer in Christ who would affirm that God and his people loved us and were devoted to us in our journey, regardless of the outcome.”[vii]
[i] Robert Lowery, “Biblical Models of the Church: Contributions of the Stone-Campbell Movement to the Church of the Twenty-First Century,” in Evangelicalism and the Stone-Campbell Movement, ed. William R. Baker (Downers Grove, IL: 2002), Kindle, 2596.
[ii] Adrian Thatcher, God, Sex, and Gender: An Introduction (Chichester: West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2011), Kindle, 803.
[iii] Ibid., 806.
[v] Ibid., 85.
[vii] Ibid, 192.