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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The Spirit of Jesus and Religious Freedom

Indiana Religious Freedom ActWith all of the venom (from both sides of the issue) coming from and to Indiana regarding the recent Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I thought it might be helpful to be reminded of the words of Jesus. The phrase I use in this title is one I have come to use frequently. I am often asked what I mean by it. As I understand it, the spirit of Jesus is the heartbeat behind what he said and did. This is from Jesus’ words in Luke 6:

27 “But to you who are willing to listen, I say, love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. 28 Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also. 30 Give to anyone who asks; and when things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back. 31 Do to others as you would like them to do to you.

32 “If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! 33 And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! 34 And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return.

35 “Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. 36 You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate.

Morality cannot be legislated. The way of Jesus was and will always be beyond politics. Particularly if you claim to be one of his followers, what do you hear in the above (unedited) words of Jesus?

Calling Foul On the World Vision Debacle

New Orleans Saints v Green Bay PackersIn case you missed it, this week World Vision decided then un-decided to amend its hiring policy as it relates to same-sex couples. In my view this now-event highlights the growing polarity that exists within Christianity as well as the majority of the American culture. Frankly I am most often at odds with both extremes of this continuing expanse. Sadly, Christian voices seem to echo the intentional brashness modeled by news agencies such as FOX and MSNBC. Two examples worth reading are those drawn up by Rachel Held Evans (representing the left, if you will) and one drawn up by Trevin Wax of the Gospel Coalition. In my view both sides give in to sensationalism and, at times, plain untruths – whether intentional or unintentional.

So, I call, “Foul!” I wish that the reality was in keeping with the above NFL-tied picture. I wish that these were offsetting penalties. Unfortunately they are not. This kind of infighting only makes Christianity look arrogant and as equally confused as the rest of the culture seems to be.

Not ironically, I have many common friends with each of the above authors. I also wrote to both of them soliciting some clarifications. Neither responded in time to be included in this post.

Here are few scattered thoughts that I think “both sides” could afford to consider in their writing:

  1. arguments based in emotion are typically short-lived
  2. you could be wrong… allow for that in your language
  3. throwing rocks is sophomoric and unfruitful
  4. the gay/lesbian issue is not going away… we have to learn to handle it better
  5. what you say is always trumped by how you say it

Having said all of that, I understand how and why many in the evangelical world spoke out. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the gay issue is likely to become a benchmark issue for people of faith. I say unfortunately because I find the attention given to this issue to be incongruous with the scope of Scripture. While many have made it a touchstone issue, the Scriptures (by proportion to today’s attention), give it little. In fact, some of you are reading right now mainly to determine if I have come down on “the right side of the issue”.

I have MANY gay friends. And, yes, I am proud of that. Because I have worked hard to earn and keep those friendships. Most of my hard work has had to come because of the ignorance and cruelty of many so-called Christians. People that have spoken and acted in hatred toward people who are gay. 100% of my gay friends know my theological position regarding their sexuality. And if you ask any of them – and if we know the same people, feel free to ask – they will tell you that I have and will always show them the love of Jesus as true friends.

The bottom line in this story for me is that I don’t know why Richard Stearns and the board of World Vision thought their initial revised position was a necessary step. I’m not sure that I would have made the same initial decision if it was mine to make. However, I’m equally bothered that they could change course so quickly when pressured. Why would such a weighty decision that was presumably prayed about and considered deeply be abandoned because of the cacophony of the masses? Policymaking should be done slowly on the basis of principle… not constituents.

So the biggest foul for me continues to be the way in which Christians express their varying points of view. If we say we are trying to follow Jesus, the way we express ourselves matters as much or more than having the “right position”.

The Gospel According to Phil

Phil RobertsonDuck Dynasty has become a hard-to-explain American phenomenon. Plus nothing. People who have never even shot a gun or hunted anything find themselves glued to the television to listen in on the raw antics of the Robertson family… 14 million of us. That’s right, I said us. Before we downgraded our cable package I was one of the faithful.

This post is in response to some recent “hot water” (I’m sure he doesn’t feel the heat) into which the patriarch of the family, Phil Robertson, has stepped squarely. My main audience is composed of people who believe in Jesus… not all… but most. Like no other, this post is mainly for those of us who already believe. Perhaps to your sadness, I don’t really think there is a whole lot to talk about here. Did any of us really expect a backwoods, old school, child of the 60’s who throws his grandkid’s cell phone into the lake to have left-leaning views on homosexuality? Instead I would like to challenge our reaction to such events. Let’s do this.

Stop Expecting People Who Do Not Believe to Act Like Believers
Seriously. Why are we surprised when people who do not believe act in ways that are appropriate to their own system of belief? Do you really think that a network who, by its own admission, has been a strong supporter of the gay community would not take offense to Phil’s statement? This very simple principle has been the highest value as I have learned to have genuine friendships with people who do not subscribe to my beliefs. Please for their sake, for the sake of the gospel stop expecting people who do not believe to act like believers.

Start Educating Yourself
We have become such a soundbyte culture that we sit around waiting for the next news story to drop so that we can react to it on Facebook or Twitter or better yet, on someone’s site that we do not even know. This kind of reacting is detrimental to the cause of Christ and does not exemplify the spirit of Jesus. How many who have commented even took the time to read the initial lengthy interview? I’ll make it easy for you. You can click HERE to find it. I have said it before, but I’ll say it again here because it fits. It is my strong opinion that you should not even comment on something about which you have not first educated yourself. Responding secondarily via someone else’s opinion has a lessening and demeaning legal title… hearsay.

Stop Pretending You Know Phil Robertson
Unless you do, but I’m going to guess that would be an underwhelmingly small minority of us. You can only read about his story and his life. That gets you in the door, but not on the stage. You don’t know his family or him or what God has asked of him and/or them.

Start Practicing the Great Commandment
You know… the one that Phil paraphrased. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus said that the biggest way we can demonstrate our faith to those who do not share it is to love each other (those of us who do follow Jesus). We suck at this. Am I angry with some Christians right now? Yes, I am. More about that in a minute. But the answer is not for me to dig my heels in and win an argument. My command is to love. My desire is to mirror what I find in Philippians 2:5-8. I want to…

have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

You want to keep Christ in Christmas? It happens in moments like these.

Stop Being Mean-Spirited
There are moments when people that call themselves Christians embarrass me. And, for the record, it is not just people who may have a more conservative position than my own. It goes the other way too. In this particular conversation I have heard angry pro-gay Christians say horrible things about Phil and his family. There have been equally hideous words and sentiments coming from those to the right. Christianity is not an argument to be won. It is not a debate in which you are to be the victor. Christianity is a person and his name is Jesus. And his attitude is made clear as referenced in the text above and throughout the New Testament. Are there end-of-the-discussion realities that will in an ultimate sense separate us from those who do not yet believe? Absolutely. Does that fact give us the right to fly off the handle about ____________… whatever the issue? Absolutely not.

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?