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.”