Scripture, the word of God has a way of reading us, perhaps even more than we read it. Scripture is not reserved within the content of a book, it is expressed; it is sharper than a two-edged sword. I have yearned to live a life in accordance with God’s word. It seems that God has taken me up on that desire, although it has taken me where I did not expect. God has removed the sides of the tent I thought were safe and secure, framed by right and wrong. Nadia Bolz Weber reminds us “Jesus brings a kingdom ruled by the crucified one and populated by the unclean and always found in the unexpected.”
The unexpected invites us to wrestle, to hold the tension (which might require some strength training and flexibility) because if we are going to study Scripture we are going to be challenged by what Scripture says as much as what it does not say. We are going to be confronted with what we might be projecting onto the word of God because of the frame that has been constructed.
Both God, Sex and Gender by Adrian Thatcher and Andrew Marin’s work in Love is an Orientation have exposed and brought into focus the tent and its construction. It brings me into tension of experience and Scripture, reason and tradition not as separate entities but as elements contributing the whole. Thatcher advocates and makes the assumption “that Experience does count as a distinct source of theology.” Experience is always rooted. As we read, think and write we are interacting with what we have been taught, what we have heard, and whom we know. “Cultural experiences shape not only a people’s mindset but their subsequent action and reactions.” When our cultural context is stretched or exposed we may sense growth or vulnerability.
I know. I have experienced all of these. I have friends that are gay. I wrote last fall of attending the wedding of two of my gay friends. Though it is some years ago, I am one who also told a gay friend that all she had to do to “change” was to pray. I have been that ‘someone’ who has been ignorant and fearful. Five years ago for a course required “stretching experience” I attended a UCC Metropolitan Church. They knew I was the straight one, yet they welcomed me. I have not forgotten the words I heard as the offering plate was lifted in thanksgiving, “Lord, thank you for these gifts, may we use them for your service and your glory, for if we did not have this place, we would not have a place to be.” It was during those spring months that I read Marin’s book for the first time. I admit I was searching, how could I relate to my gay friends? Were they really going to go to hell as I had been told and taught all those years? What I read then has informed my Christian walk. “Productive dialog comes from cognitive insight and can only be accomplished through an incarnational posture of humility and living as a learner.” My gay Christian friends are my teachers.
Two specific things have been in my memory bank since that first reading. The first is that we tell people that God hears and answers prayer, so what do we say when we learn that for many God has not answered their prayer concerning same-sex attraction? The second is that we do not understand identity. I am heterosexual, but I do not even think of my identity in relation to that, whereas a gay, lesbian, bisexual and/or transgendered sense of self comes from within. “Their sexual identity is who they are.” Marin references the searching present within the LGBT communities to sort out and sort through their identity and to follow faithfully after Christ.
He writes of their perseverance and persistence in faith. It is this faith, their faith, the same faith that I have in the same Lord that challenges me to not limit my interpretation of Scripture. This does not mean it is easy; we can thank Thatcher for wading us into deep water on this one. By delving into the history of gender and sexuality Thatcher exposes our orientation to see only one interpretation. And when we do so we miss the underlying sins that God seems to always be concerned with – hospitality, oppression, partiality to name a few. The God of heaven and earth is not just focused on one nation’s goodwill at the expense of others. God’s rule keeping has an undercurrent that I have often missed.
The call presented by both Marin and Thatcher is one of mutual listening. This mutual listening will hopefully lead to inclusion. But Nadia Bolz Weber speaks honestly as a pastor of an LGTBQ congregation that inclusion is not easy, “If the quality of my Christianity lies in my ability to be more inclusive than the next pastor, things get tricky because I will always, always encounter people … whom I don’t want in the tent with me. Always. I only really want to be inclusive of some kinds of people and not of others.” She is right. I can write of my support for my gay Christian friends and those that are not gay, but will I love my neighbor or the person who sees things differently?
Bolz Weber writes about the Ethiopian eunuch. In a traditional interpretation of the passage we typically focus on the conversion of the eunuch. But she wonders if something else is going on. “Perhaps Philip, in this conversation with a gender-transgressive foreigner – which consisted only of questions – learned what seeking the Lord really looked like, in a way that could only be learned from someone who did it in the face of so much opposition and rejection.” The eunuch had gone to Jerusalem to worship, knowing because of who he was that he would not be admitted (see Deut. 23:1). This story offers another conversion, the conversion of Philip. Interfacing with our reading I think I am starting to get it.
 Ibid. 26-27.
 Ibid., 36, 38.
 Ibid., 32.
 Thatcher, 172.
 Bolz Weber, 91.
 Ibid., 93.