Disclosure: Okay, so I’m going to ask some very controversial questions for our Christian community to consider and I want you to really think about your answers. But I need to first say that these are 100% honest questions and it means a lot to me that we are loving and sincere. It’s not just a hypothetical conversation. It’s not just for friendly debate. It means something. So PLEASE only read this if you can do so in a civil way.
Topic: The topic is concerning homosexuality and how we treat individuals in the church. But we aren’t yet talking about if certain actions, or the acceptance of said actions, are right or wrong. The particular view you have on the rightness or wrongness of homosexual acts is not what this is about. Here, we are talking about what the appropriate atmosphere and reaction might be in our churches, especially if you DO feel/believe those actions are wrong or that accepting/affirming those actions is wrong. This is more practical than theological in other words. The following section is me speaking as if there is agreement that homosexual relationships/actions are wrong.
First, let’s get rid of a few myths:
1) While, like with almost any belief or philosophy, there are people who do form groups and push opinions on other people, the vast majority of the LGBTQ+ community are just trying to live their lives. They are not pushing anything on you. Nor do they desire to.
2) I don’t recall the exact stats because I’m away from the book, but the book “Us Vs. Us” by Andrew Marin said that somewhere close to 90% of the LGBTQ+ community comes from a religious upbringing and that something close to 80% of those who grew up in that religious community wishes to return if they could without judgment. The bottom line is that these are generally not a bunch of atheists trying to ruin churches like many would have us believe. They love the church and miss it.
3) Roughly 30% of the LGBTQ+ community has attempted suicide at least once and 60% of those attempts were within the first 5 years of coming out and provoked by the reaction of friends, family, and churches. So, mostly young people and most people from spiritual communities.
4) It is true that certain environments and childhood trauma can increase the likelihood of same-sex attraction or gender identity questions, but it is also true that many times there are genetic reasons, chemical/hormonal realities, for such inclinations. These can’t be changed in most cases. Can one remain celibate or at least try to? Sure, they can try. And if their understanding is that they should be celibate for religious convictions and they make a “mistake” (like most heterosexual Christians do), then they can ask for forgiveness and try to put themselves in better situations for next time. But the bottom line is that, for many people, the feelings can’t change because the feelings are either genetic or because the environment and/or childhood trauma was so severe that the consequences are as permanent and as strong as heterosexual inclinations, or anxiety, or one’s personality, and so on.
5) Along the same lines, there is no scientific evidence for homosexuality to be considered a mental illness. That idea was taken off the table in 1973 because of a realization that it was an early presupposition of psychology with no legitimate evidence.
6) Nowhere in Scripture is any interpretation of homosexuality considered greater or lesser than any other sin. Nor is having a difference in interpretation regarding the subject of homosexuality less or more legitimate than a different interpretation of any other Scriptural subject besides the core teachings of the Gospel of Jesus as defined in places like 1 John and in 1 Corinthians 15.
7) If one considers homosexual actions sinful he should remember that inclinations and questions are not sins (or else Jesus sinned through his temptations and questions). Only when that inclination becomes lust or action is it against God’s will, and even then there is forgiveness for the one who has a heart committed to Jesus, just like with any other sin.
Summary of the Responses to the Myths: Homosexuals and the LGBTQ community tend to be religious on some level, they tend to come from religious backgrounds, they do not necessarily have a mental illness (though admittedly, *some* grew into those inclinations because of trauma), they can’t usually change those inclinations, they have a high suicide and suicide attempt percentage and much of that comes at a young age because of cruel treatment from their community (including church communities) once they come out regarding their inclinations. The average LGBTQ+ person is just trying to live their life, not convert you to their “cause.” Inclinations are not sins, misinterpretations or mistakes in actions are not unforgivable. All of us will die believing or doing something wrong and thus relying on the grace of God, assuming the person loves God, is in Christ, etc.. If homosexuality is a sin, there is no reason to see it any differently.
Items 1-5 above are borderline undebatable. Virtually all recent research says something close to the same thing.
However, I can see where someone would disagree with items 6-7 if one holds a traditional view on the subject, and that’s fair enough. I respect disagreements here, but remember that whatever principle you apply to this subject in Scripture must be applied equally to all other subjects besides the foundational elements of the Gospel as defined specifically by the Apostles.
*Now, to the point*
Let’s assume you do agree with the seven items above in principle, but you believe the actions (or lust) are still sinful. Again, fair enough. I respect your interpretation.
One more time….fair enough! I respect that. I am not trying to demonize you. So please don’t demonize me if I disagree with you.
First, how then should we treat members in our churches who are not in the LGBTQ+ community but, in a civil and non-binding way, believe and state out loud that they disagree with your view and “x” is the biblical argument as to why they are “fully affirming” of the community.
Is this member still respected? Should he/she still be a full member and is he/she a Christian? Can we, with passionate but loving conversations, agree to disagree with this member if you don’t not agree with the view?
Second, now a member of the LGBTQ community comes to your church and says they want to be a participating member of the church and that he will remain celibate the best he can. He, like you believes the actions are wrong. He doesn’t pretend he will be perfect, but he will do his best. Is he accepted as a full member and a Christian? (I think most churches, even many conservative ones, would say yes to this).
Third, now a member of the LGBTQ community comes to your church but she, like the non-LGBTQ member above, believes that there are good Scriptural reasons to disagree with your view. She doesn’t bind it or try to push. However, if it comes up she will say her understanding just like anyone else gets to. But although she thinks dating someone of her sex is okay, she’s not interested so she stays single all her life as far as you can tell. Is she accepted as a full member and a Christian? Can we passionately but lovingly agree to disagree and grow together as a family over time? Just like with any other interpretation issue outside of the Gospel message?
Last, a LGBTQ couple come to your church. Like the previous example and like the non-LGBTQ member, they are humble and eager to learn, but they have a different understanding. They believe God was talking about corrupt pagan worship and pedophiles only when homosexuality was mentioned. And they believe it as strongly as you do about your understanding. And they use the same types of tools to get to that conclusion. They are always willing to have a passionate but loving discussion on the issue and agree to disagree if necessary. Just like with any other view outside of the Gospel message. Are these individuals still Christians? If so, can they still be full members?
My personal conclusions:
I for one am essentially affirming of the homosexual (and LGBTQ+) community. It’s more complex than that, but I think I can safely say that, with certain understandings (which I will talk about in a future post) I am affirming. That does not mean that I always feel comfortable with how I get to that point. If I’m honest, I sometimes question if I’m doing interpretive gymnastics just because I love these people and I would rather be too accepting than not accepting enough regarding something that was likey mistranslated as homosexuality but was really a cultural problem with pedophilia and temple prostitution. “Essentially affirming” just means that I have a good argument for my belief and that I choose to meet people where they are. By affirming I mean that I see a good theological, historical, and Christo-centric path to respecting same-sex relationships. That said, I do not expect most Christians to ever get to that point. And frankly, they might be right. I’m open to being corrected. I have my reasons to believe what I believe, but I’m only human. So, I’m where I am always having a heavy reliance on God the Father, His words, His Word (Jesus), His Spirit, and healthy debate with my brothers and sisters (to keep me honest).
That said, it is not a timidly held view. Don’t pretend that I’ve been lazy or that I don’t love God or read my Bible. I’ve done my homework, I love God, His words, His Word (Jesus), the Spirit, His grace, His justice, and His truth. I am not ashamed, and I am not lazy. But I do not bind my view. I can see where someone else would be coming from. I respect that other people with different views love God and His truth just as much. And that doesn’t necessarily mean you don’t love the homosexual community.
All of that said, even if I wasn’t “essentially affirming,” I see no reason that persons 1, 2, or 3 in the examples above should not be lovingly accepted and appreciated as Christian family even in our conservative congregations.
I understand the difficulty for someone who doesn’t hold my view when it comes to the last example I gave. In that case, it is not just theoretical, it’s real.
I don’t think it’s healthy for everyone to agree with me. I don’t want that. We shouldn’t have “affirming churches” and then “non-affirming churches.” We should have churches where we lovingly challenge one another and build up one another in Christ. And sometimes that’s passionate. I want the people with my view to have a respected voice. But I also respect the opposite view and want it to be heard and respected.
The conflict comes when we act like this particular issue is a bigger issue than any other issue. It’s not. Any biblical issue is big and should be respected and treated with care. But the Gospel message is the only non-negotiable when it comes to the family of God. If a person has a heart for truth, for the Gospel message, for righteousness, for Jesus, and puts Him on in baptism, then that person is our family. We can disagree strongly and pull someone aside and teach them our understanding so that, assuming we are right, they hear the way of the Lord more perfectly. But the bottom line is that one having this view of “affirmation,” even if I’m wrong, is not any “more wrong” than whatever you’re wrong about. And one doing these acts with a same-sex spouse is no more wrong than whatever you’re wrong about. Should we sin that grace may abound? God forbid! But through faith, prayer, humility, study, community conversations, the Spirit, and the example of Jesus, we should fix our hearts of Christ, and in him, and by grace we are ALL saved from our moral and intellectual mistakes and misinterpretations. Even if we don’t know what those mistakes are. That’s all of us, no exceptions. And thank God for that.
I’m not asking anyone to change their mind or to stop talking about their understanding or to pretend they’re okay with something they aren’t. But it should not be any more of an issue here than it is with any other issue, including your own. – Jesse
Also Read: The NRSVue: Bible Translations, Homosexuality, and Fornication