DMINLGP

DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Who Do You Love?

Written by: on March 20, 2018

In the late 80s I was confronted by the depth of my own homophobia. It’s not that I had been outwardly “anti-gay,” as I had spent time with some of the most amazing LGBTQ people for most of my adult years to that point. Yeah, I know, that sounds like, “some of my best friends are gay…” That’s because that was my inner reasoning. I wasn’t ‘grossed out’ or uncomfortable with LGBTQ people, but I sure as heck didn’t know how to reckon their sexuality and/or gender differences with my conservative upbringing. I think at that point I was still saying things like, “Their sin is no worse than mine,” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin.”

 

In 1988, my husband entered a relationship with Jesus after we suffered a devastating miscarriage. In the months that followed, I looked for God to get me through and found God shining in my husband’s eyes. It was an amazing thing. Compassion and empathy were magnified there. We talked a lot about the people who started Scott (my husband) on this journey and he told me about a couple of college friends who had invited him to Bible studies and church, and one in particular, Ron, who prayed for Scott every day. I encouraged Scott to call Ron and let him know about the change in his life. We met up with him and I was in tears as I hugged Ron and said, “Thank you.” I knew full well that Ron’s prayers had played a significant part in the transformation of my husband.

 

I’m not sure when I found out that Ron is gay. All I know is that it shook me to the core. Ron is a former pastor, and he is gay. My entire upbringing screamed, “Wait. How is that possible?!” Ron loves Jesus with everything he has and wanted my husband to have the same experience. But I have always been told that LGBTQ people could not be “faithful” Christians because they lived in unrepentant sin. Everything I thought I knew turned upside down.

 

In 1993, the movie Philadelphia came out. I won’t take too much time to explain it here, but in that movie Tom Hanks plays a gay lawyer who is fired because he has contracted HIV/AIDS. This is based on the landmark case that changed the way we handle information regarding people with HIV in this country. More importantly for me, it opened my eyes to something I had not considered before – being LGBTQ is not just about sex. It’s about who we are drawn to romantically and who we long to be in a deep, lifelong relationship with. Just like those of us who are straight.

 

I set off on a journey to understand. What I found (and am still finding) is that there are no easy answers. Battle lines have been drawn. There is much debate about whether or not being LGBTQ is a result of nature, nurture, or both. There are shouting matches about what Scripture ‘plainly says.’ There are people on all sides wrapping themselves in hate and anger. One thing is clear in my eyes, though: LGBTQ people are the oppressed and the church is often the oppressor.

 

This thought has stayed in the back of my mind throughout my seminary training. What does God say about the oppressed and the oppressors? What does God say about people created in God’s image? What does that mean for the church and LGBTQ people?

 

When Andrew Marin’s book, Love is an Orientation, came out almost a decade ago, I pre-ordered the book. Finally, someone was talking about this subject in a way that wasn’t inflammatory! I read it eagerly and soaked up the words about loving the LGBTQ community and repenting of the way the church (and I) have treated them. Marin rests firmly in the middle ground, insisting that the only way forward is for the church to fully love members of the LGBTQ community. He doesn’t take ‘sides’ which, of course, makes people on both sides uncomfortable. To be honest, reading the book again, it makes me uncomfortable, but when I first read it I felt as if I had finally been given permission by someone in the evangelical church to focus on love first and foremost. I still didn’t have answers to the ‘zinger’ scriptures, but I now had a direction.

 

I guess you could say Marin’s book was a ‘gateway’ book for me and my husband. After we read it, we talked to a few friends who recommended books for us to read and people for us to follow. Soon we tired of just hearing about the LGBTQ community, we wanted to hear from members of that community. That’s when we read Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, by Justin Lee. It turns out that Justin’s story was very similar to Ron’s story. We started to hear about the horrors of ‘gay conversion therapy,’ and the ways in which a comment from well-meaning straight Christians could send LGBTQ Christians fleeing anything to do with the Church.

 

Our hearts were broken and, as a part of my seminary process, I started to realize that, just as I had learned with the verses weaponized against women in ministry, interpretations of those zingers may not be as cut and dried as I had long been taught. Marin addresses “The Big 5” in chapter seven,[1] and Lee talks about them in chapters 12 and 13 of Torn.[2] If you read nothing else, read those chapters of both books (well, read all of both books, really).

 

You see, the biggest accusation I hear about LGBTQ Christians and those of us who are welcoming and affirming is that we take a low view of the Bible and have no love for the written word of God. I can’t speak to every Christian’s motives on this (I know for a fact there are many who simply choose to dismiss the zingers), but I can speak for myself. Although I knew in my heart it was wrong to condemn the LGBTQ community to the wrath of God, I also knew I had to struggle with those verses, much in the same way I had to struggle with the verses men had used to condemn my calling to preach and teach. As I wrestled and struggled, I found that God’s wrath is never as deep as ours when it comes to who belongs and who doesn’t. I found that God deeply values community and relationships and people. I learned that the Bible rarely “clearly says” what we think it says – especially on controversial issues. And I learned that I was never called to convict or deny love to anyone.

 

This is one of those topics that easily divides us, especially in the evangelical community. It is also one of the topics that causes people to flee from the church and, possibly, from Jesus. I didn’t decide to become loving and affirming to the LGBTQ community because it is hip or cool. I asked God to open my eyes to the things that break God’s heart, and God introduced me to people who love Jesus but are told they have no place in his community. I met young people who would rather give up their lives than face the wrath of their Christian communities who “love the sinner but hate the sin.” I found out that God’s heart is breaking and many people claiming to work for God are the cause. I don’t want to be one of those people anymore.

 

I don’t take this position lightly. I hear often that by affirming and welcoming people in the LGBTQ community and not calling out their orientation as sin, I’m “loving people straight to hell” and ignoring the word of God. I don’t believe that is true but I remain open to the Spirit who corrects and teaches. I love Jesus, I love the Bible, and I love the Church. I believe I am following the two greatest commandments “upon which hang all the laws and the prophets.”[3]

 

 

                  [1]. Andrew Marin, Love is an Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Community, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 114-139.

                  [2]. Justin Lee, Torn: Rescuing the Gospel from the Gays-vs.-Christians Debate, (New York: Jericho Books, 2012), 168-208.

                  [3]. Matthew 22:38-40

About the Author

Kristin Hamilton

15 responses to “Who Do You Love?”

  1. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Wow, Kristin, thank you for your thoughtful and honest post. I can so appreciate the wrestling and struggling on this controversial issue. Like you, I wanted to first be God-honoring, even if it meant taking an unpopular position. What I found instead was the freedom to love, which I found to be more enjoyable, and actually a greater challenge. Also like you, “I found that God deeply values community and relationships and people.”
    When this was an emergent hot topic, I found great people on both sides of the issue, which for me, is always a sign for me to investigate further. I remember talking to a woman who was strongly advocating for gay rights but could not reconcile the scriptures. Her answers didn’t satisfy me, but when she asked me my position, I told her, “Jesus didn’t make this a big issue in His ministry so why should I?” His greatest issue was with religious leaders negatively influencing people out of community and loving relationships with each other and God. In debating this, I think sin is still doing what it does best- creating division and alienation. When I see homes, families, and churches split apart, it just feels like we’ve gotten off focus and I find myself refocusing on what angered and grieved Jesus most- unbelieving hearts and unloving leaders. There are still no easy answers to a challenging topic. Thank you for your post.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      “His greatest issue was with religious leaders negatively influencing people out of community and loving relationships with each other and God.”
      Yes, Jenn! I still remember a sermon from my childhood about how God feels when anyone puts obstacles in the path of someone who is seeking to follow Christ. “Let the little children come to me” is not simply about young humans, but about those who come with childlike faith hoping to experience Jesus. When we get in the way of that, it becomes clear to me just who is the sinner in that scenario.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Another thoughtful post Kristin. I appreciate your speaking of the struggle and wrestling with the issues that seems so clear at one point and then not so clear at another. Though there are those who would disagree with me, I believe that the wrestling is a part of “working out our salvation in fear and trembling.” It is a part of a healthy Christian walk of faith. Why else would be need faith? We value what cost us most and part of the cost is the wrestling—at least it is in my life. It often costs to love! Appreciate your post, Kristin.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Yes, the wrestling is hard and it is messy, Jim. I do think it is worth the cost, though. Look at how our wrestling together as a cohort has changed each of us for the better.

  3. Stu Cocanougher says:

    Thanks, Kristin for a well written post.

    If Christians were as good at showing LOVE as they were POINTING OUT SIN, the gay community would have a very different view of Christians.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      So true, Stu! I’d wear a t-shirt that said, “If we were as good at loving people as we are at pointing out their sin, we might never need to point out sin again.”

  4. Mary says:

    Your journey to understand mirrors mine somewhat, Kristin. Because I have so many gay/lesbian relatives, including my mother, it never occurred to me not to treat them with the same love and respect as I would give anyone else.
    It’s the bible study where I mostly connect with you. Earlier in my life I would have said my mother and all of my relatives were going to hell if they didn’t repent and accept Christ.
    It was when I began to see that there are people who want to think that they are God’s spokesmen and tell everybody else what they see as the truth and I realized they were not above using bible texts to “prove” their position that I really tried to study the Scriptures myself. Couple that with the fact that less than 10% of Christians (according to a recent Barna poll) have read the whole bible and you have a recipe for the strife we see in the church concerning LGBTQ and women and blacks and poor and anybody else that is “inferior”.
    Yes, all Christians should read this book and I will get the other one you talked about.
    Ok, well, thanks for letting me preach. You inspired me.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Isn’t it interesting, Mary, that we manage to alienate so many people with a story that is so full of grace and redemption, often because people haven’t taken the time to read and understand the WHOLE story?
      I can only claim to be God’s spokesperson of love, anything else feels like so much arrogance to me. I would be scared to death to insert myself as a gatekeeper of orthodoxy regardless of how well I know the Bible.

  5. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    Kristin, your story articulates so well both who you are and what I long for the American church to be. This, I believe, the the crux of your post: “As I wrestled and struggled, I found that God’s wrath is never as deep as ours when it comes to who belongs and who doesn’t.”

    • mm Katy Drage Lines says:

      I think I am also a bit envious that you are able to trace your wrestling with markers like this. Like you, I’ve gradually moved from a homophobic upbringing to one that much more resembles your position. Yet I don’t (yet?) have words or stories to describe that transition. I appreciate both your journey and your ability to express it.

      • Kristin Hamilton says:

        Thank you Katy! I am incredibly grateful for those markers as well but I believe the journey you have taken is just as valuable because you have come to a point of love over fear or judgement. Just as your heart was broken for the Turkana, your heart has been broken for the American community you serve. It’s a beautiful thing to witness. 🙂

  6. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Kristin I was looking forward to reading your post this week. In getting to know you and your heart for this community I was very interested in your thoughts on Marin. I think because our culture has a very shallow perspective on Love we forget/deny the power of God Love towards us. Furthermore, the love we should be showing to others. Wrestling and struggling to me are apart of our faith walk. All of us as long as we are on this earth will have to endure it in some form or fashion. I think we forget that and hope that every question has a simple answer. It is just not the case. I have not found that to be true in my own life but I trust the Spirit of God enough to lead and guide me every step of the way. Thank you for sharing your personal narrative with us! Powerful testimony! 🙂

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Oh wouldn’t it be nice if all of the answers were easy, Christal?! Yet it is the wrestling that seems to lead us to love, regardless of where we land on the theology of it all. Thank you!

  7. Lynda Gittens says:

    Thank you for your awesome post. I remember Philadelphia. I cried so much but it was a powerful story. It revealed the importance of insurance.

    I am glad you shared your story with us. We must stay connected to the Holy Spirit so that we walk right with God’s vision.

    • Kristin Hamilton says:

      Yes, Lynda! I trust the Holy Spirit to keep me focused on what matters most.
      I love the way your story about insurance dovetails with the thoughts I had from Philadelphia. So many organizations and entities seek to dehumanize every person, especially those on the margins, that it is crucial the church avoids this at all costs.

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