In light of recent events, I decided it was worth reposting this with some edits. I have very few answers, lots of questions, and a ton of uncertainty. And I hope admitting that is ok. And frankly, being prophetic doesn't mean you have to be a jerk about it, so I hope that I'm coming at this with humility, pastorally, as much like Jesus as I can. I want us to all acknowledge our own humanity within this, that this is just hard and that, no matter our position, be it solid or undecided or in-process or whatever, that other people are no less made in the image of God than I am for their position or their struggles.
I have a confession make: I've struggled with homosexuality most of my life.
I don't mean I've struggled with same-sex attraction. I think we can all agree that Mark Wahlberg and Brad Pitt are fine specimens of the male gender, but for me, that appreciation turns quickly into envy and possibly jealousy; I wish I looked like them, though preferably without the effort it takes them.
It's a problem.
No, my struggle is more basic than that: I don't know what to make of homosexuality at all. I struggle to reconcile the people I know with the scriptures I believe, the friendships and relationships and emotions with the principles. When I read the scriptures, I see principles that teach us to love our God and our neighbors, to respect each other, and a way of life that is full of grace and mercy and justice. But I also see a lot of things that show us where the boundaries of sin are, and I find it hard to read scripture in a way that says acting on homosexual urges, regardless of their origin (the nature vs. nurture debate is still far from over), is inside that boundary.
What makes it harder are the names I can put to people I know and care for who have followed those urges. My emotions want me to simply accept their actions, since who am I ("just" a sinner) to judge? They seem to love each other, and who am I to say they shouldn't be able to marry who they love? I did, why shouldn't they?'
That would be fair.
And frankly, I don't want to lose the friendships and respect of those who so strongly support gay relationships; it seems that these days, if you were to speak out against, or you were to even doubt the “ok-ness” of homosexuality, you lose the right to speak at all, about anything.
Apparently, that’s called being "tolerant."
Of course, the same thing is true for the "other" side. As has been so eloquently demonstrated by World Vision in the last few days, if you speak out for LGBTQ equality, you lose all street cred in the evangelical world (and apparently, so do small children who can't defend themselves). Even being misinterpreted to that end will end you in some weird theological prison.
Apparently, that's called being "biblical." It says so right in Matthew 18.
In fact, it’s the very reason I nearly didn’t post this about a thousand times (both times), why I edited it a thousand times, why I rewrote whole chunks: if somebody misunderstands, misinterprets, or simply is offended, then I lose the right to speak to them; pro-gay or anti-gay, it would make no difference. I could lose job opportunities if someone reads this and says "oh, he's clearly (for/against the issue)" and decides I'm too great a risk. Offense apparently means cutting off the relationship entirely.
So then I go back to scripture. Some things in scripture are contextual and others are cross-contextual. Women as leaders, for example, is a contextual issue. The ECC is unashamedly egalitarian because there are actual examples of celebrated female leaders in the scriptures (both old and new testaments), and the two passages we see speaking against this practice are both rooted in the context of their respective situations. However, homosexuality seems, to me, to be cross-contextual, since it's addresses in multiple contexts and multiple authors and multiple cultures, and every time they seem to say the same thing: acting on the impulse is a sin.
I see so many of my peers, particularly in my generation, advocating for homosexual egalitarianism within the church. And I respect their opinions, since they're very smart and well-read and travel to Bolivia to care for orphans. Their character in other areas is so much like Jesus. They make me think hard about the way I read the scriptures, the way I see my neighbors.
And what if they're right?
What if I’ve been reading the scriptures wrong? What if I misunderstood the context? What if this whole thing is wrong in MY head and it’s not actually my peers in the church-world that are crazy? On the other hand, what if they’re reading too much of a 21st-Century perspective on love into the scriptures in a way that was never intended? What if they’ve unintentionally compromised their beliefs in order to sound politically correct or to feel like they fit in or to give themselves a voice where they wouldn’t have one otherwise?
And the argument just goes back and forth,
back and forth,
back and forth in my head, a pendulum whose near-perpetual motion is starting to make me a bit dizzy.
The fact is that "hate the sin, love the sinner" doesn't help me, since the people who usually say that to me don't seem - to me - to love others that are different from them very well. But I also don't want to compromise the truth contained in the scriptures by trying to make them say something they don't simply to resolve a cognitive dissonance between my culture and my religion.
What seems to keep coming back is the tension within love that you see in the scriptures. The kind of love God has is patient, kind, generous, and trusting. But it also speaks truth into the lives of others, honestly, openly, albeit carefully. Some things are not beneficial, the scriptures say, and you shouldn’t do them no matter how strong the urge, no matter how harmless it seems. And so when someone is wrong, love says so, because the relationship it is based on can handle that tension. Love looks out for others. Love doesn’t seem concerned that you always FEEL love in order TO love.
There's a difference between love and permissiveness.
It seems to me that the "accept me for who I am" argument doesn't work for several reasons. First, I doubt anyone saying that to me would respond too kindly to being told the same in return; nobody accepts a racist "for who they are" anymore, and the same goes for anyone labeled a "homophobe." Even if we say otherwise, we all BEHAVE as if we believe that our actions - and even our beliefs themselves - are actually choices. We behave as though we are not genetically programmed, but that we can choose to do something, choose to believe something. Which means that we really do believe people can change their actions and beliefs, even if we only believe that only OTHERS should change.
I suppose it raises the question though, who ought to change? That could be the crux of the culture war.
Second, while God always accepts us as we are, for Him that is not an end, that is only a beginning. God is ever-challenging us to grow in faith and holiness, to become closer to His image and character, and that means leaving sin behind, a piece at a time. His love is big enough to be dissatisfied with where we started. God believes we can and should change.
It's part of love.
And so my struggle is, how do I imitate God here, in the tension? How do I live authentically, true to both the scriptures and my friends, so they can see that God loves them fiercely, but that it doesn't always mean He'll just sign off on everything we want or feel? How do I come out the other side having represented God well to my neighbors? How do I best love God and people in a culture that believes love means encouraging you to do whatever you feel is ok, regardless of the consequences and regardless of how it affects others? In a culture that is passive-aggressive, how do I confront in a healthy way, a way they understand?
How do I live in the tension?
How do I love?