A few years ago, my church was picketed within the span of a month by both anti-gay protestors and pro-gay protestors. Our church members kindly offered both groups free coffee. We are currently, at least in the USA, and probably in the wider evangelical global church, caught up in a debate over sexuality. It has spilled out into a reverse culture war of sorts, where a $1000 gift (out of millions of others) to a controversial organization can illicit massive public shaming and boycotting, and the tongue clucking of a mayor, and that is to say nothing of the opinions of noted Southern grandparents who like to duck hunt. Of course, the ensuing counter boycotts and protests show that we are deeply divided. My own denomination is currently experiencing schism not exclusively over the issue of sexuality, but as an ever present specter.
This week we delved into two texts that try to grapple (or maybe just preach to the choir) with the problems at hand. Adrian Thatcher’s God, Sex, and Gender and Andrew Marin’s Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community both make cases for changing the ways in which Christian’s approach the topic. Thatcher in particular in fail swoop attempts to re-write Christian sexuality and tradition. His handling of the Biblical text and Christian tradition is progressive to say the least, and leads him to a few conflicting conclusions.
In short, because of the changes in culture and how modern humans view sex, Thatcher argues for pre-marital contracepted sex to be accepted within the Christian community. He fails to deal with the issue that contraception is never 100% full proof, and I can point you to several friends who understand this first hand. Nor does he deal with how this will effect true Christian community, basically standardizing extra-marital sex. One must wonder how a bride will feel being married by a pastor/priest who before fully commended the love making of her husband to be with the organ player in a previous relationship. A sticky wicket for sure, and this is often where progressive attempts to blur biblical and traditional lines have lead us, into the great unknown, ignoring the gifts of restrictions in our sex lives (disciplines and chastity) for our protection. Modernity has of course made sexual fulfillment the highest right and necessity of being human, and for sure we have full and total access to whatever can satisfy us. Thatcher misses the tension here and just moves the goal posts a bit to the left to fit his comfort levels, for conservatives are simply repressed Pharasaic moralizers, stifling the love of others. Unfortunately, often this is the heart of the matter. It seems, that both progressives and traditionalists might have a sex problem. If anything, narratives win out.
Marin in his already famous book, attempts to bridge the gap, and opens the discussion to a much more complex situation. Marin calls for love and grace to permeate the discussion, and allow for gay people to tell their stories. Thatcher here can re-enter with the strength of his book to at least have a pastoral and generous heart for those who might have been rejected by society and the church. This of course is what the church should specialize in, loving all with radical grace. Even recently, ex-gay speaker and writer Rosario Butterfield exclaimed that “homophobia is a sin” and one that the church is often guilty. The way forward for Christians will be difficult and complicated, but I believe that there is a way forward, and a way that many are already living out. That is holding out love and acceptance, without having to punt on a traditional Christian sexual ethic. Some salient points:
- God’s plan for sexuality is for our human flourishing, and protection. We rarely communicate this.
- The genius of the Sermon on the Mount is that all of us are adulterers, thieves, and murderers. We cannot meet God’s incredible standard of holiness. What is more, we are all sexually broken: straight, gay, intersex. We long for a day when our sexualities will be put right and made holy. The Sermon on the Mount is not a call to an attempt at greater striving for holiness, it is a statement of utter human failure in sin. It is a statement of our utter and complete dependence on the grace of Jesus Christ poured out for us on the cross and magnified in the resurrection, in which new hearts are granted through the Holy Spirit, and whence full wholeness will one day come. We walk in grace.
- With that said, all will fail sexually. Our goal is not to strain out the gnat, but offer transformative grace to all who fail, while also holding up the standard that God has set.
- Both traditionalists and progressives must listen to the voices caught in the middle, those who actually live out this struggle. There are many voices who identify as gay, yet hold to celibacy (Wesley Hill and Eve Tushnet for instance), or those who identify as post-gay or ex-gay (I am not talking about people who are proponents of reparative therapy). Their voices should not be ignored or stifled.
- You can disagree with someone on the issue, and still love them and welcome them. Disagreement does not equal intolerance. Disagreement can be done with compassion and understanding.
- Holding to a traditional view on sex does not make one a bigot or a homophobe.
- Certainly as our cultures pass into a new perspective on marriage and sex, the church will need to hold to a standard, an alternative view on sex, but still needs to be flexible on how it defines membership and leadership. Cases will need to be worked out on an individual basis, with much grace and patience.
- We need to get out of the business of attempting to legislate morality, get on with the business of strengthening marriages and families, and loving all so that the transformative grace of the gospel can win the argument, not might and right.
In the Chick-fil-A dustup a few years ago Dan Cathy, the CEO of the company, individually reached out to Campus Pride’s president Shane Windmeyer (the leader of the Chick-fil-A boycott). Cathy befriended Windmeyer, spent time with him, and even decided to make some changes in how his company was giving money. In the end both men became friends, and while they still do not fully agree with each other’s beliefs on marriage and sexuality, they have been able to look past that and see each other as humans and friends. Both Cathy and Windmeyer have taken heat from their respective constituencies for the friendship. I believe that this is an example of how best the church and Christians can move forward on the issue. Taking the step across the protest lines is not an easy thing, but as Christians we are called to embrace all, even those who call us “enemy.”