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an unimportant question: the church and sexuality

University of Toronto doorway
In the past few weeks I have come across quite a few writings or conversations about the church and sexuality.  A pastor I know has written a book allowing for the option of same-sex marriage.  Another pastor I know says that the Bible clearly places this practice in the realm of sin (contrary to the ways of God).  A third pastor embraces all people in his church but insists that certain lines must be drawn when it comes to leadership roles.  One pastor indicated that the first question he is often asked is "What is your church's stance on homosexuality?"  He indicated that this is now being used as a kind of litmus test for people to either embrace or reject the church in question. And this is unfortunate.  I don't mean to sound insensitive, but I don't believe that this is a really important question.  Let me explain why.  First, it reduces the complexity of human relationships to one question. Second, I suspect that the questioner is most likely way way way down the track of deciding how this should all play out and wants to hear a specific answer instead of honestly grappling with the basic (and hard) question about what love looks like. As a result, the question is most often a set-up for instant rejection/approval without taking the time to get to know anyone (and that's not very loving).

But perhaps my biggest problem with this question is that it makes so many assumptions, all of which run counter to what Jesus taught.  These assumptions end up being very unhelpful when trying to live in a loving community. And, rather embarrassingly, they show how much our beliefs and actions are reflections of our current culture rather than the "main and plain" teachings of Jesus. Here are some of the assumptions I see in the question:

1. It assumes that the matter of sexuality is of such importance that it should divide us. The fact that Jesus never talked about sexuality at any length should be a clue as to how out of proportion our attention to this topic is. Jesus did spend a lot of time showing people how to love the unlovely, how to be instruments of healing, how to be generous, how to live by faith instead of making judgments based on perceptions, how to give and receive forgiveness, and how to walk in grace instead of law.  If we find a faith community which is missing some of these things, perhaps we are the ones to bring them!

2. It assumes that our views on sexuality determine whether or not we are true followers of Jesus. Let's face it, all of us are on a journey to wholeness. This means none of us can claim undeniable, infallible righteousness as our own.  The disciples are excellent illustrations of what it looks like to be sincere, yet messed-up followers of Jesus. And yet Jesus trusted them to carry on his work.  It is important to remember that brokenness does not disqualify us from following Jesus; it is meant to keep us close to him.

3. It assumes that other matters of faith can be discerned from this one question. A person should never be reduced to their views on a certain subject such as sexuality or politics.  Jesus called a despised tax collector (part of the corrupt system) as well as people of questionable reputation (Mary Magdalene) to follow him.  There were also people of good standing in the community that were his supporters.  Just because someone holds a certain position or viewpoint does not give us license to extrapolate this to every area of their life.  Jesus never did this. He treated each person as a valuable, multi-dimensional, and beloved individual, not a caricature.

4. It assumes that there is an obvious answer to the question.  I don't believe there is.  People were always asking Jesus questions about current issues of the day, hoping that he would prove them right or prove himself a fake.  Jesus didn't fall into these traps; instead, he often turned the question back on the questioner, making them look at their own motives and invariably, their lack of compassion and generosity.

5. It elevates issues to such a high status that a flourishing faith community becomes unsustainable.  If we get the answer we want (yes or no) and join a certain church, I suspect that a few years down the road, we will find something else in the community that we disagree with and use that as our cue to exit, probably self-righteously.  Aligning with others along an issue is no way to build a community. A true community gathers around persons, not things, and a Christian community gathers around One, Jesus.  Dean and I are very different people and we come to different conclusions on many things, but that is no reason for us to part ways.  Living with and loving others means that we must become comfortable with tension and learn to use it as a springboard for meaningful interaction, gracious encounter, and an opportunity to embrace the "other."  This is exactly what we find in the life of Jesus. He built (and is still building) a community of people who had only one thing in common: they were all going Jesus' way (reminds me of Lenny Kravitz's song Are You Gonna Go My Way?).  And sometimes even that was in question. Yes, they got things wrong, they failed, they fought and sometimes they exchanged harsh words, but they kept following...together. And as they lived and walked together with Jesus, they were changed.

To me, the real issue is not sexual identity or same-sex marriage, but whether we are learning to love as Jesus loved. A simple assent to same-sex marriage does not guarantee a loving, flourishing community.  Nor does seeing homosexuality as an untenable lifestyle make someone a rigid legalist.  As human beings, we have a track record of being able to tarnish and breakdown and destroy what was meant for good. We can make 'living hells' through divorce, abuse, selfishness, infidelity, greed, violence, immaturity, jealousy, and hatred. On the whole, we do not love well.  We use others to fill our needs and to alleviate the pain of rejection, loneliness, and insecurity. In general, we tend to take instead of give, and we have little capacity for humility, suffering, and commitment. And this is sad, but not hopeless. We can learn to love well by walking with the One who shows us what real, unending, self-giving love looks like. And to me, that is the more important question: whether we are still answering Jesus's call to "Come, follow me."

Comments

Anonymous said…
I agree strongly with you that Jesus doesn't have much to say about sexuality. His ethical code was love, and he brought this code forth to destroy religious ethical systems. He believed the golden rule to be the completion of the law of Moses. His love is of a higher order and completely destroys human and religious concepts of sin and justice. For the Church the love of Jesus is a real problem. His love destroys religious judgment and self-righteousness and is not compatible with the politics of faith or the heirarchies of belief.  

All ethical questions are unimportant to the Church, not just questions of sexual ethics: these questions go away when one focuses on love instead of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

But let me ask you, if one loves homosexuals, how can one forbid them from marrying? To forbid such a thing seems to be a random application of human judgment, a casting of the first stone. Does allowing for gay marriage constitute the formation & imposition of an ethical system? Or is it rather, to quote Lenny Kravitz, a way to "let love rule?"       

Having had several close gay friends, I have to say that I find it pretty hard to reconcile the radical love of Jesus with an anti-gay-marriage stance. I might not feel
comfortable with it, but I'm pretty certain that's my problem.

You seem more concerned with the larger question of whether or not the liberal church is a better reflection of the love of Jesus. In general, I would answer "no" (as I believe the Church in general has been subverted). But on this specific question, as insignificant as you may find it, I believe their position is a better reflection of the radical love of Jesus. If you get to know some gay people you will probably agree.

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