The Bible is part of an ongoing story of God moving towards his people, and human culture moving very, very gradually towards God in an ever-expanding consciousness. Since the very beginning God has been pulling us forward, showing us better and better ways to be human. We’ve come a long way and we’ve got an awfully long way to go, but each breakthrough in equality and justice is a step towards God.
Accepting gay people as equals is the next big step.
What are we so scared of?
I still sometimes doubt if I’m doing the right thing here. I suspect I’m not alone in that.
But what are we scared of? Do we really think that if we welcome, love and accept people in gay relationships, God will punish us? For what, being too inclusive, too loving?
If so, we need to seriously re-examine our view of God.
From what we know about Jesus, it seems to me that God is far more likely to be angry at those who exclude and alienate his beloved children because of their sexual orientation, than at those who find themselves experiencing same-sex attraction.
The standard is love
I know it can feel a bit like we’re lowering our standards. Like we’re letting go of our morals, changing the rules to make Christianity easier to swallow.
But it was never supposed to be about rules, that was the whole point.
We have the ultimate standard: love.
Real, life-changing, earth-shattering, hardcore, sacrificial, Jesus-love.
We stand against that which is harmful, damaging, unjust, unloving, inhumane – that which prevents people from living a full life in relationship with God and others. I can think of all sorts of things that fall into that category that are commonplace in churches. Homosexuality is not one of them.
A New Testament solution to the gay debate
It would be naive to expect everyone to come an agreement on this. If we try to force everyone to think the same, then we are missing the point (and we will fail).
In New Testament times, there were hugely controversial and divisive issues within the church that are perhaps comparable to the homosexuality debate today. There were an awful lot of Christians in the early church who argued that all believers should be circumcised, that they should avoid certain foods and that the Sabbath should be kept holy. Then there were other Christians (e.g. Paul) who strongly believed that Jesus had changed everything, and so these old laws no longer applied.
These issues were a HUGE deal at the time. The Jews had always done things this way (in Exodus 4, God nearly kills Moses for neglecting to circumcise his son!) so it is hardly surprising that people were not taking these new ideas lightly.
Paul’s response is very interesting. He doesn’t try to make everyone think the same as him, but instead suggests that everyone should be allowed to do whatever they feel is right before God:
Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.
Romans 14:1-6 NIV (emphases added)
Is homosexuality a ‘disputable matter’ in the church today? Absolutely. So what should we do?
Stop judging people. It’s not our job. If someone genuinely believes that God is happy for them to be in a homosexual relationship, then leave them be. If someone believes God wants them to be celibate, then support them. It’s not our place to judge.
This means that by Paul’s logic, even if you believe that homosexuality is a sin, you should still allow people in gay relationships to engage fully in the life of the church, and to participate in the sacraments (Romans 15:7).
(Note: marriage is a sacrament.)
Clearly this cannot be applied to just anything – if someone is doing something that is harmful to them or others, then of course the right thing to do would be to challenge that behaviour. But homosexuality in the church today is most definitely a “disputable matter”: whether it is a “sin” or not is entirely a matter of opinion.
People on both sides of the debate, then, are called to stand down; to stop trying to enforce their opinions on others, and to strive instead for unity. The aim of the church is surely to be a loving community, bringing people into deeper relationship with God and with others. Everything else is of secondary importance.
The church has failed at this spectacularly. I have heard of very few gay people who have felt fully accepted and welcomed in church. The vast majority of the time they are judged, excluded, prevented from fully participating. In many, many cases this will have led to them feeling that if God exists at all, he doesn’t like them very much.
After teaching his disciples to be like children and to welcome children in his name, Jesus says:
If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!
Matthew 18:6 NIV
I have most often heard passages like this used to support anti-gay arguments. People are terrified that if they condone homosexual behaviour and it turns out to be a sin, they will be subject to divine wrath and punishment.
But Jesus was always welcoming people, loving people, encouraging them into relationship with God despite their many shortcomings. He always leaned towards acceptance, unity and love, and stood fiercely against those who insisted that people needed to meet standards of purity.
So what if we interpreted this passage more like this?
If anyone causes one of my children (gay or straight) – those who want to follow me – to fall away from me, woe to that person! If you exclude them or prevent them from fully entering into life with me, woe to you!
Sobering stuff. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to wait to see what is worse than having a large millstone hung around my neck and being drowned in the depths of the sea.
When it comes down to it…
For many people, the problem is that they just don’t like the idea of it. The thought of the “act” itself repulses them.
Well if that’s the case for you, you’re probably not gay.
If you don’t like it, don’t do it. Just don’t assume everyone should be like you.
Buckle up, we’re about to get serious.
If we are happy to allow people who are divorced and remarried to participate fully in the church, but exclude people in gay relationships, then our actions are based on prejudice. They have to be. Why else would we accept one and not the other? Whether we are aware of it or not, an underlying prejudice is colouring our interpretation of the Bible. Just as people genuinely believed that certain races were inferior and used the Bible to defend their position, if we prevent people in monogamous homosexual relationships from fully participating in church, we are using the Bible to prop up our own deep-seated prejudices. Prejudices that need to be seen for what they are and gouged out.
(I’m ashamed to say I am not completely over my prejudices, but I’m working on it. I can see now that’s what they are – ugly stains in my worldview that I’ve picked up along the way and that I am in the process of scrubbing off.)
I welcome comments whether you agree with me or not – I’m looking to start a conversation. If you’d like to discuss with me any issues raised in my blog posts but would prefer not to write a public comment, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.