Responding to Gay Marriage

gayandlesbianAwhile ago I wrote a piece that that went crazy. In case you missed it, you can find it here… LGBT: It’s All or Nothing. If you didn’t think this was an important issue… clearly, it is. For those who are interested, I thought we could dig down a bit today. This is a re-post that contains years of my own study and thought on the issue. Not coincidentally, several of the responses that follow are from friends of mine who happen to be gay. Grab a cup of coffee. This will take a minute.

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The very unusual length of this post (at least by my standards) demonstrates the complexity of this issue. I have friends who think this is a simple discussion. I would challenge you to re-think your position.

Clearly this is a topic that is super-charged with opinion and emotion… within the church and in the greater community. The left would say love and acceptance is the way of Jesus. All the while the right would point out the texts on the topic that seem to deal merely with condemnation.

I prefer a sandwich approach to the discussions. Admittedly this is more than a little corny. But I think you’ll see where I’m trying to go with this. While a Truth Sandwich certainly sounds best to my lofty view of Scripture, instead I have chosen the Love Sandwich from the spirit of Ephesians 4:15.

Allow me to develop the sandwich analogy a bit. You’ve probably had a sandwich that was mostly bread. Not so tasty, right? Why not? It’s not really what a sandwich is made for. Bread is good. Necessary for a diet even. But a sandwich implies that there is something else in between the slices of bread. In fact, we name it a _______ sandwich. What goes in the blank depends on your vegetarian/meatetarian inclinations. But the point is the same. The sandwich is known for what is in the middle.

In developing my position on the gay and lesbian discussion from a Christian perspective, I am seeking to be thoroughly biblical and surrounded – on both sides actually – by truth. However, what I want to be known for in this discussion is by what is in the middle. I want even my truth to be flavored by the love. Hence, the Love Sandwich.

Here are a few other cursory reasons:

1. most gays and lesbians are already familiar with the truth as the Bible states it
2. most gays and lesbians have not experienced much (if any) Christian love
3. while the truth may set you free, it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance

For starters when I began full-time Christian ministry 17 years ago I had zero friends who I was sure were gay or lesbian. That was my fault and part of the culture I was raised in. It’s not that I didn’t have any gay people around me growing up… I did. I just didn’t want or know how to relate to them. So I ignored that part of their reality and put my friendship with them mostly off limits… at least for that phase of my life. In the last few years I have been able to renew some of those friendships and begin to right some of those wrongs.

When you have friends who are gay and lesbian it takes the conversation to a whole new level. In fact until I started reaching out to people who are gay and lesbian, I’m not sure I really thought about it all that much.  When you start to listen, you hear their stories of the hatred and bigotry they have had to endure. And while the Matthew Shepard story may sound like an extreme, most gay and lesbian people have experienced vitriolic hatred that is similar in kind. They almost daily endure denigrating speech and mistreatment. It was from this place that I began to really think about what it meant to have a truly Christian perspective related to the gay and lesbian discussion.

So what does it mean to have a truly Christian perspective? Here’s how I have begun to digest it. Typically I hate lists for several reasons. Among them is that people almost always take them to be all-inclusive… even if the list-er says they’re not. The only reason I have chosen to use a list format here is to show the division and separation of items in my thinking. I have chosen to use a somewhat chronological approach. In other words, I generally think of the things mentioned here in this order…

1. I know there are some ultimate conclusions that I am going to have to draw from the data that I am able to mine from the Scriptures.

2. I know that I don’t know what it means or feels like to be gay.

3. I know that the gay and lesbian communities have, generally speaking, been treated horribly by the evangelical church.

4. I know that God created man in His image and as such all human beings have equal value… that is a truly pro-life position.

5. I know that the Scriptures have, at times, confusing and at other times, silent messages about gay and lesbian issues.

6. I know that the Scriptures ultimately seem to disapprove of same-gendered sexual relations in similar fashion to the way it disapproves of inappropriate heterosexual relationships  – i.e. (but not limited to) adultery.

7. I choose to live with this tension and maintain loving friendships with gay and lesbian friends… whether or not they ever become not gay.

8. I do so based on the teaching of Jesus. Because I am a follower of Jesus I do not believe that someone’s choices/persuasions/propensities give me an excuse to bad-mouth, slander or do anything but love every person made in His image.

So what is the Christian thing to do? Most of us have been content to arrive at a position that we feel can make us right before God. While there are plenty of theological difficulties with that approach, allow me in closing to address the practical problem. If all we do is identify what we think God’s mind is on this issue (which by itself is a pretty hefty claim), I believe we fall short because it fails to offer any solutions regarding how we treat those who do not agree with our findings for whatever reason.

I challenge all of us who follow Jesus to have a thoroughly thought-through and equally biblical, practical perspective.

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Love Exceeds Polarity

polarityThe so-called law of attraction postulates that like attracts like. For centuries this was presumed to be so and certainly there is truth to it. Fast forward to 1950 and a sociologist named Robert F. Winch introduces a theory that “opposites attract”. There is sufficient data to prove that at any given moment both may be true. But can this be true when the subject is connected to matters of religion? Is it possible for religious opposites to respect one another?

A friend of mine (who happens to be an Atheist) recently wrote a piece entitled The Difficulty of Respect, trying to get to the heart of these questions. His thoughts drove me back to my own thinking about why/how I am able to maintain genuine friendships with people who, not only do not believe what I do, but may even believe the opposite of what I believe… in terms of faith.

In my view, the answer is as simple and complex as the title of this post. True love is unconditional love. It isn’t merely lip service… saying I love someone. It isn’t love according to the law of attraction… loving only or primarily those who look like me (spiritually). True love exceeds polarity! I have previously written on this subject in similar fashion HERE.

Here is a brief bullet-point summary of how I try to live this out…

  • love doesn’t ignore polarity
  • love doesn’t force-feed religion
  • love doesn’t hide differences
  • love does seek to hear the perspective of others (especially when we don’t agree)
  • love does welcome opportunities to answer faith questions (when they are asked)
  • love does love someone whether or not they ever share my views on faith

I’ve lost some friends because of this thinking. Sadly all of them were Christians. Sadly they don’t understand the nature of the love that the Bible teaches. I understand that this kind of love is difficult to live out… for some of us more than others. But this is the way of Jesus. And as I always like to say, if the gospel (good news) matters, it has to matter in context. If you tell people that Jesus loves them, but you will not, what is that? Polarity is real. Especially in our current culture we have viewpoints that diametrically oppose one another. Biblical love exceeds polarity.

LGBT: It’s All or Nothing

red-equal-signI’ve started and re-started this post a dozen times. Not a big deal? Maybe not to you, but I usually write a post from start to finish and then do minor edits (usually punctuation and grammar-types). Why the hesitation? The same reason that most Christians are gravitating toward one of two polar positions: either total silence… or the other extreme… bombast. And are Christians really any different in this way than the rest of humanity? I think not. Most of us as humans seem to share the “all-or-nothing” vantage point. “You’re either for us or you’re against us”, we say. If you need further examples, just look at the world of politics (a post for another day).

When it comes to any person’s rights to humane treatment, one would think any decent person would be standing on the highest box saying , “Yes!” But, when you mix a little sexual tension in with the discussion, there is not only the loud “no”, mentioned earlier, you also get some downright ugliness.

Don’t misunderstand or misquote my heart in this matter. Do I have disagreements that are real with people who happen to be gay? Unfortunately, yes. Does that have anything at all to do with how they are treated as human beings? It better not. The equally unfortunate and bombastic Christian right seems to enjoy a near criminalization of the LGBT community. I will grant you that there is an equal arm of extremism within the LGBT fold that fires right back, but what does that have to do with anything?

As a follower of Jesus there are certain realities and jumping off points that I will always have as I attempt to wrestle well with what the Scriptures say on an issue and how that applies to life today. That said, human decency is never up for grabs. So while there may be some things on the list that I cannot agree with… for me, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. How do you wrestle with this issue?

Coexist? Or Something Else?

coexistFor years now I have been seeing this awful bumper sticker going around. Have you? I’m certain you’ve seen at least one version of it somewhere. Let me just go on the record (from a Christian perspective) that this cannot possibly be more wrong… but it may not be why you’re thinking.

I’m a word aficionado (a.k.a. snob). And the reason I am opposed to the bumper sticker in question may be different than your reason. It’s really about definition. The New Oxford American Dictionary says this (among other things) of the word coexist: “(of nations or peoples) exist in mutual tolerance despite different ideologies or interests: the task of diplomacy was to help different states to coexist.” This notion is ungodly, unbiblical, and not at all in keeping with the spirit of Jesus! But, once again… this may shake out differently than you might be thinking.

Coexistence is not good enough. Nowhere does the Bible command us to “tolerate our neighbor” or does Jesus ask us to “tolerate someone else the way that I have tolerated you.” Yet buried – not very deeply – within the idea of coexistence is the thought that I am putting up with your insolent, incorrect, and frankly, ignorant opinion (in this case, about religion). That is simply not the spirit of Jesus.

So, first, what am I not saying? I am not saying that we have to subscribe to all religions as equal. Anyone who has given any study to world religions knows that this is a mathematical impossibility. Though there have been many times I have wished it did, the Bible doesn’t teach that either. Neither am I saying that there is not a certain exclusivity housed in Christianity. I am saying (again) that how we talk about that matters. Unfortunately exclusivity almost always carries a spirit of joy that “I’m in and you’re out.” This is not the spirit of Jesus. At what points the gospel does separate us from others, it ought to break our hearts for them. Not condescending. Not disingenuous.

What I am saying is that the biblical view of existing with others who may not share our religious opinion has always been about one simple word that carries a lifetime of complexity… love. So it is not enough to merely coexist. Tolerating someone else is not deep enough for what we who believe are called to do. Our mission is to love. Whether or not someone ever shares or even understands our viewpoint… our command is to love.

Finally, while an everyone-gets-in-at-the-end spirituality makes heaven sound blissfully appealing (and while I even wish it worked this way), the Bible very simply does not teach this. Therefore, it is the job of those of us who believe to put up with the wrong opinions and spiritual philosophies of lesser-minded individuals until Jesus comes to rescue us from their insolence. Wrong. The strongest position we can take is to love someone, not in spite of their spiritual persuasion (or because of it); but because they have already, before the foundation of the world, been loved by God. How can I do any less?