The following post was written with love and grace. I would love it if your responses came from a similar place. It is long, and there are no pictures, but I believe it's worth the read. Much, much love to anyone who makes it to the end.
If you’ve read anything of spiritual nature on my blog, you’ll know that I struggle with my relationship with the church. I have built lasting friendships, felt nurtured and healthy, and participated in or witnessed miraculous, life-affirming things through the church, but I have also been hurt, angered, and disappointed in the church.
I have had moments when I have tried to throw in the towel, write the church off as a frustration I don’t need in my life, yet over and over again, I’m drawn back. I try my best to fixate on the positive rather than the negative, and the main reason I keep going back is because I have this innate need to right wrongs. It’s the thorn in my flesh (as the apostle, Paul, said). No matter how hard I try to ignore it or justify walking away from the church by labeling it “not worth my time” or “someone else’s problem,” there’s something in my gut that whispers and sometimes screams, “DO SOMETHING.”
I shared in a recent post that I strive to live honestly and vulnerably. Our parents taught us from an early age that honesty is the best policy, yet life teaches us that if we are honest about how we feel or think, there are people who will line up to hurt us, telling us we are wrong or that something is wrong with us. In turn, we lose our ability or desire to be vulnerable. We stop speaking up for fear of being hurt.
Much of this process occurred for me within the confines of church buildings. Throughout my upbringing, I had questions. Lots of questions. Sometimes, I was blessed with teachers and leaders who let me explore those questions, but most of the time, I was under the leadership of people who gave me stock answers, empty of personal conviction, because they were in a sense towing the party line. It was a culture where thinking was not encouraged; in fact, thinking was often discouraged or feared. It was a culture within which I felt like an alien. With adult perspective, I realize that there were many who felt this way, but as children and teenagers, we learned quickly to conform. Our adolescent minds yearned for answers to life’s toughest questions, and it was much easier to accept and move on than to wrestle.
When I was twelve, I was reading my Bible one day and came to a verse in Leviticus that read, “A man should not lie with a man as he does a woman.” On the edge of the page in giant blue highlighter, I wrote HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN. Period. I closed my Bible to pray and then opened it again to the same page. I carefully tore the edge off the page, crumpled it, and threw it in the trash can.
That is my first memory of connecting homosexuality with sin.
Before that, homosexuality was not an abstract concept about which I knew nothing. Homosexuality was a person. My dad’s brother, Mike, or Mikey, as his nieces and nephews called him, was gay. This had no meaning to me, of course, when I was really young. He was my uncle who sent me strange postcards addressed to “Madame Binky” or “The Queen of Hip Hop.” He was my uncle who showed up sporadically in his black t-shirts and Doc Martens, the one who let me listen to loud music on his Walkman. He scared the bejeesus out of me when I found him moshing in the back bedroom, sweat dripping from his face (and even then I knew whatever he was doing was nothing short of awesome). As I got older and more observant, he was the uncle who was difficult and distant at times, the one who caused considerable frustration for some of his family members, the one who refused to have his picture taken.
Mikey was the epitome of what uncles are supposed to be. He was kind and indulgent, exhaustively fascinated by my little person life. As I reached adolescence, he pushed the boundaries my parents had created for me. He is the reason I fell in love with Kurt Cobain in fifth grade, and on some level, he’s one of the reasons I ever felt that it was okay to ask questions.
When he died, we travelled to his house in Albuquerque, where his good friend, Bob, had cared for him in the last days of his life. Even in death, he was a character, like something out of a book or movie. Their house was decorated with vintage lunch boxes and thrift store furniture. As we sifted through his stuff, which didn’t amount to much, I wore his tinkle bells around my neck and his Doc Martens on my feet. He had a box of mix tapes under his bed, filled with songs from Nirvana and R. E. M. and L7. I claimed those as mine, too. I also took home Kekaw, Mikey’s cockatiel, who beeped like a microwave and danced to “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
When the guests arrived for his funeral, the room was filled with our family, a few sharp-dressed men, and one woman on whom I became fixated as she was wearing a slightly provocative skirt and top, her outfit finished off with a coonskin cap. In Albuquerque. In April. I kept thinking she must be hot.
By then, I was in eighth grade, navigating the world of adolescent sexuality and well-aware of what the word homosexuality meant. My uncle preferred relationships with men. I didn’t completely understand it, but I accepted it. I recognized this quality in some of my friends, boys and girls who fit stereotypes of fags and homos and lesbos.
Some of these friends were Christians like me, my friends from church or friends who went to other churches, friends I met at church camps or city-wide gatherings of teenagers, looking to connect with God. And no one talked about it. Ever. Unless you count the service I attended at a summer camp, where the minister held us in the auditorium for four hours asking anyone struggling with same-sex attraction to come forward for prayer and deliverance. No one went forward, and finally at 11:00, the youth leaders ushered us back to our rooms. Where no one talked about it.
Here is the church’s argument that homosexuality is a sin. I can rattle this off from memory because I have, in fact, hidden the word in my heart as the writer of Proverbs admonishes me, and this is what is taught in churches on a regular basis. The argument begins with these two Bible verses:
- Leviticus 18:22 (NIV): “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does a woman; that is detestable.”
- Romans 1:26-27 (NIV): “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
These two verses are the verses that specifically speak to homosexuality, and not general sexual sin. There are two more verses that speak directly about homosexuality, but I will get to those later. Many of the websites and books about this subject say things like,
The Christian point of view is based solely upon the Bible, the divinely inspired Word of God. A truly Christian standard of ethics is the conduct of divine revelation, not of statistical research nor of public opinion. For the Christian, the Bible is the final authority for both belief and behaviour. (Lehmann Strauss, www.bible.org)
This is representative of how a lot of Christians view this subject, as well as how they interpret the role of the Bible in the Christian faith. The language in it reflects something that has not sat well in my spirit from the moment I identified myself as a Christian. It’s this one word: truly. That one word suggests that if you do not adopt this line of thinking, then you are not really a Christian. If you believe something outside this prescribed notion, you are something else, something that is not Christian. Christians MUST be guided by “divine revelation,” specifically the revelation that fits with a specific opinion. And here is the other thing that puts my spirit on edge--that Christian ethics are guided solely by the Bible and not based on “statistical research or public opinion.”
Now, let’s be real. Even the most evangelical of my friends can not possibly live this out. We put it in our creeds, we teach it to our children, and we nod our heads the whole time. Yes, yes, yes. That’s true.
But let’s take an example that is completely unrelated to the issue of homosexuality. Look what the apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:5-9 (NIV): “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ...And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.”
To apply these verses to your life in a literal way either means you are a slave or you own slaves. How many of you, readers, are slaves or own slaves? Zero. In fact, I would venture to guess that exactly zero of you condone the practice of slavery. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if asked about the subject, you would not even hesitate to say, “I believe slavery is wrong.”
But if you rewind history to the mid-1800s, you will find church leaders defending slavery with these exact verses. If you rewind history to the 1950s, you will find church leaders who defended segregation just as fervently. Their claims were based in literal interpretations of the Bible, but also in what has proven to be faulty science (i.e. black people were inferior, comparable to animals). So, why do we not use these scriptures to justify slavery or segregation now? For one thing, there were people in the church who stood up to the status quo and fought for the rights of black people based on their spiritual conviction, but we also have to take into account drastic shifts in “statistical research [and] public opinion.”
Even the strictest interpreter of scripture allows life experience to shape how they view the world (and whether he wants to admit it or not, how he interprets Scripture), which brings me to those verses that the church uses to “prove” that homosexuality is a sin. The first verse from Leviticus 18:22 seems pretty straight forward--homosexuality is detestable. Other versions say it is an “abomination.” This is probably the single most quoted verse about homosexuality that helps Christians see it as a black and white issue. However, in these arguments, Christians are less likely to bring up a verse that shows up just two chapters later (one that I told you I would bring up later) in Leviticus 20:13 (NIV): “If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads.”
Did you get that? Gay people are to be put to death. PUT. TO. DEATH. Black and white. Straight from the same writer who said they were detestable. And to add insult to injury, those of us who do the killing don’t even need to worry about their blood being on our hands.
So, you know where I’m going here, right? Why don’t we put gay people to death and wipe our hands clean? Because of changes in “statistical research [and] public opinion.” And because when God gave us hearts and minds with which to navigate the world, part of the package was common sense. I could write pages and pages about the Levite laws and how many of them good Christian people do not live out in their daily lives (especially the parts about how we dress or what we eat), but this post is clearly already too long, and I need to stay on point.
So, let’s move on to the New Testament, the portion of the scriptures that most Christians find more inspirational for its applicability to real life. (Sidenote: I love and appreciate the Old Testament just as much as the New Testament, but I recognize why people identify with the NT more easily.)
In the verse from Romans, the apostle Paul is speaking about new Christians who were drawn into Pagan rituals. The early church viewed the Pagans as a danger to new converts. Many converts fell to the temptation of the old way of life that Paul preached so stridently to avoid. The new way of life in Christ is a path of grace. If there was a theme to the collective letters of Paul, it’s this: out with the old, in with the new! Grace is defined by loads of theologians as “God’s unmerited favor.” In adopting the theology of Christ--this grace-centered theology--we are new creations, Paul says. So, it makes perfect sense to me that Paul would be frustrated with Roman converts for taking part in Pagan rituals. That was the OLD! In Christ, people did not need to rely on ritual to communicate with God. Why would these people feel the need to fall back in to their old habits?
I don’t need to look any further than a day in my life to answer that question. There are days when my behavior is not at all graceful or Christ-like. I yell at my kids. I shut out my husband. I ignore my friends. I gossip about my friends. I lie. I feel hatred and bitterness and regret about the church and humanity in general. It is not graceful. It is not loving.
And then I thank God for Lamentations 3:23. God’s mercies are new every morning. And I start over.
The last passage (the other one I said I’d come back to) that is used to call homosexuality a sin is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV): “Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
This is the one used by Christians who are, I believe, genuinely well-intentioned. It’s what births such catchphrases as “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” There is a growing number of Christians who live their daily lives by this maxim. Many of them have gay friends. Many of them are motivated to reach out to the gay community to show gay people that the church is not solely made up of people like the hatemongers at Westboro Baptist Church.
Bravo, Christians, for moving in what I believe is the right direction. It is a far cry from the way the church has addressed gay people in the recent past.
But there is another segment of people within the church who have taken this issue to heart and are headed in a slightly different direction. I am part of this segment, and I want to address briefly a different but related debate. I believe people are born gay. Most of the Christian argument hinges upon the idea that being gay is a choice. If it is a choice, it can change. It can be prayed away. If one can choose to be gay, one can choose to not be gay. Based on this assumption, the traditional Christian argument that homosexuality is a sin makes sense. It could be compared to the idea that human beings are not naturally monogamous, but when in a committed relationship we choose to be monogamous (a choice that many struggle with, Christian and non-Christian alike).
But what if it isn’t a choice? What if God creates gay people already gay? What if it is who they are? If we are created in God’s image, what does this mean? Can a gay person be holy--set apart for God’s purpose? I think yes.
Based on this second assumption, gay people are free to live as new creations in Christ in the exact same way that straight people are. It seems as if maybe this is what Paul meant when he said in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” What is the point of this verse? Is it to point out distinctions, or is it to point out the inclusivity of God’s grace and love? What is the point of all scripture? Is it to point out distinctions or to point out the inclusivity of God’s grace and love?
My husband I briefly discussed whether I should post this. When I was almost finished, I started feeling nervous and fearful. I told him, “If I post this, we might lose friends.”
He responded, “What friends? Who cares?”
I understand the root of his response, and it’s part of the reason I love him, but the reality is that I don’t want to lose friends over this. I don’t. Because I don’t think sharing my opinion on something warrants the end of a relationship.
In the past, I have shared my opinion on the subject and been told to my face that it was heresy. I have been told that I am a false prophet, that I was spitting in the face of God. I have been told that I shouldn’t say these things because if people agree with me or change their opinions based on my opinion, it is like the blind leading the blind. I have even been told that I will be held accountable on Judgment Day. (I know some of you probably are saying some of these things in your head, while others of you are trying to pick your jaws up off the ground because you can’t believe people would say these things to me.)
But let me let you in on a secret, I’m not worried about talking to God on Judgment Day about this because I talk to God about this every day (well, not every day, but often). I think the reason this issue is so divisive is that many people feel conflicted when they are told one thing, but their spirit tells them something different.
I decided to finally post something very public because someone needs to. There are more of me out there than we all think. In more progressive churches, gay people are already leading our congregations. In congregations that don’t want to rock the boat but also support the gay community, their gay members are deacons and elders. And I hate to break it to all my evangelical friends, but there are gay people all over your pews (and especially your choir benches!). And you know who else is sitting in those pews? People like me. People who have been silenced by statistical research and more often public opinion, but that is changing.
That is changing, friends.
Some of you may be thinking why does this matter? It matters because one of the parts of the Bible that SCREAMS at me is when in a parable, Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!” (NLT) Who are the least of these? In that particular scripture, he mentions people needing food or drink or shelter or clothing or a friend.
The least of these includes anyone in need. And right now, our gay brothers and sisters are in deep need of our love, grace, understanding and acceptance.
I titled this post the way I did because I knew it would make people read, but I also used that title because I don’t “tolerate” gay people and “their lifestyle.” I tolerate the smell of my husband’s breath after he eats onions. I tolerate people who talk loudly in movie theaters. I tolerate long lines at the DMV because all of those uncomfortable things are necessary for me to get something I want--a kiss, the latest Ryan Gosling flick, or a new license.
I accept gay people. I accept them for who they are--friends, children of God, and human beings capable of loving and extending grace to me despite my faults and shortcomings.
My prayer is for forgiveness for any part I have ever played in making someone else feel less than. My prayer is that this does not fall on deaf ears in the Christian community. My prayer is that this will encourage others to read, think, and pray for answers about how they are to address this issue in their lives. My prayer is that this instills hope in the hearts and minds of my gay friends.
Thanks for reading. I welcome your thoughts.
(After an overwhelming response, I posted a follow-up HERE.)
(After an overwhelming response, I posted a follow-up HERE.)