Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Christians and GLBTs - bridging the gap

I’m doing something I’ve never done before – I’m participating in a synchroblog. If you’ve never heard of a synchroblog (I hadn’t!), it’s when a bunch of people all write blog posts on the same day on the same topic. This synchroblog is organized by New Direction Ministries, whose mission is to “bridge the gaps” between, and within, the Christian community and the gay community. I wrote earlier about New Direction in this post, and my respect for them has only increased since. Over fifty people (including Brian McLaren and Donald Miller - famous people!) are blogging their ideas about how to “bridge the gap” – please check out the full list of participating blogs here.

For eight months now, the number one question I’ve been thinking about and reading about and discussing with friends is this: How does homosexuality mix with the Christian faith? I began seriously asking this question in October when someone whom I deeply love came out as gay, but the question had already been raised in other friendships I’ve had with lovely GLBT people, and also in my efforts to figure out my own sexuality, which turned out to be less straightforward and more “fluid” than I thought. I now think this may be one of the biggest questions I will encounter as I begin my ministry as a pastor, not only because I am pastoring in a neighborhood with a lot of same-sex couples and families, but because the only thing many young people know about the North American church is that we are “anti-gay.” The church is becoming known above all for being against a group of marginalized people, people whom Jesus would be busy befriending and loving, considering how much time he spent with the “outcasts” of his day. We no longer look like Jesus. This, in my opinion, is a huge problem.

So how can we start looking more like Jesus? There are a lot of answers to that question. When I read the Gospels, I see Jesus building relationships with people very different from Him by initiating honest conversations on their turf. Lately I keep coming back to the apostle Paul’s three favorite nouns: faith, hope and love. They pop up everywhere in his letters, and they also defined Christ’s way of relating. I think these words are important as we think about how to build relationships between people of different sexualities and beliefs. (I will be primarily addressing the Christian community here, but I think these three words should define the conversation no matter your faith background.)

Faith. Faith is throwing your weight on something you can’t know for sure. Many would say the opposite of faith is doubt, but I prefer to think the opposite of faith is certainty, or perhaps indifference. Like many Christians, until recently, I had a vague certainty about how Christians should think of homosexuality. This was an inbred and unquestioned conservative view, which I came by too easily, due to both laziness and fear. When I started seeking out and listening to gay-affirming theologies, views I initially disagreed with, I was surprised to be thoroughly challenged by some of their arguments, so much so that right now, I am sitting on a theological fence on the topic of homosexuality. But even when I settle on one side of the fence, I know I will stand there lightly. I am continually sobered by this fact: Sincere, intelligent Christians disagree on the morality of homosexual behavior – and not just the kind of people who say ‘Lord, Lord,’ but real Christ-followers, the fruit-producing kind (Luke 6:43-49). I am privileged to know real, fruit-producing Christ-followers who are "practicing" gays (talk about bridging the gap - these people embody the bridge!) I am reminded that none of us has a corner on the truth, and this means that we must be humble in conversation, listening before we speak, expecting to hear truth in the most unlikely places, to be challenged by the most unlikely people (see 1 Cor. 1:27-29). Uncertainty is scary, but it is honest. We must start by admitting that we could be wrong. In the end, I’ll throw some of my weight (faith) on what I think about homosexuality, but I’ll throw much more of my weight (faith) on the good news that Christ lived and died to reconcile a broken world to God, because this is the center of my life. My salvation does not depend on what I think about homosexuality. Christians who think differently from me on homosexuality are still my brothers and sisters in Christ, because they are on a Christ-led journey of healing and redemption, as I am. I throw my weight on Jesus, not on being “correct” on one ethical issue.

Hope. Hope is grabbing hold of a scandalous promise in the middle of suffering and seeming failure. Many would say the opposite of hope is despair, but I prefer to think the opposite of hope is idealism, or perhaps cynicism. Idealism says that friendship with those who disagree with me will be easy; I will soon convince them to see things the way I see them, they will be forever grateful, and we will live happily ever after. Cynicism says that we will never fully accept or love those who are different, we will only suffer, so we should limit our community to people who look like us and think like us. Hope, on the other hand, says that relationships with people who are very different from us involve getting hurt, hurting others, sharing in people’s suffering, loving in a costly and self-sacrificing way, and living with tension and mess – but in the end, both my friend and I will be transformed to look more like Christ. Both of us will see the kingdom break into our lives in fresh ways. To put it another way, idealism skips over the crucified Christ, and cynicism keeps the crucified Christ in the ground, but hope wades right through the mess and pain of the crucifixion clutching the incredible truth that Christ conquered death and now lives (!) to bring His kingdom in full. Jesus willingly waded into a mess by calling both Simon the Zealot and Matthew the Publican, sworn enemies, to be in his band of disciples. What crazy hope he had for these men! I think that we need to have more hope in the power of Christ to break down walls that divide us, and give us love for people who are very different. We are called to join Christ in His hope-filled kingdom work, pursuing justice and shalom, adopting a confessional stance in recognition of the ways the church has failed to love (or even spurred on the hate of) gay people, and advocating for the rights of our GLBT friends.

Love. Love is laying down your life (your priorities, your time, your opinions, your rights, your reputation) for the sake of your friends, or what’s more, for your enemies. Many would say the opposite of love is hate, but I prefer to think the opposite of love is fear. John said that there is no fear in love, in fact love drives out fear (1 John 4:18). Paul said that love is the “greatest of these,” and in the same vein, I think it may be the greatest way to look like Jesus in our relationships: moving from relating out of fear to relating out of love. We are afraid of so many things: fear of stirring up controversy in the church that could lead to division; fear of “slippery slopes” or societal breakdown; fear of offending people; fear of uncertainty; fear of our views being misunderstood by others; fear of our own fluctuating sexual identity or purity. These fears lie at the heart of prejudice; they drive judgmentalism, preventing us from seeing all humans in the image of God. We must learn to look at every person as Jesus does, with unconditional love, from the most flamboyant participant in a pride parade to the most vindictive participant in a “God hates gays” rally. This is no touchy-feely warm-fuzzy love; as Dorothy Day says, “Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.” She also says, “Love is the measure by which we shall be judged.” It is our mission. The greatest commandment is not “love God and convert your neighbor,” or “love God and ensure your neighbor’s theology is correct;” the greatest commandment is “love God and love your neighbor” (Luke 10:27). It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to convert and transform our friends, and to convert and transform in our own lives. Our job is to watch what the Spirit is doing and join in where He asks us to, always relating out of love instead of fear.

I pray every day for a makeover, a personal makeover and a church-wide makeover: I pray for the grace to look more and more like Jesus, who is alive in us, so we can bridge the gap the way He did – through friendships and conversations built on faith, hope, and love. I want us to risk “ruining” our reputations because of the people we love. It’s a dangerous and messy road, but it’s the road Jesus chose, and I want to follow Him.

For anyone who’s interested, I recently wrote a paper for school (Regent College) about the pastoral care of people who are same-sex attracted, in which I explore some of these ideas in more detail. I’m happy to e-mail it to anyone who wants to read it - just let me know.

Now go check out some of the other people’s blogs!


wendy said...

Thank you Beth - this is a beautiful, hope-filled, love-embodied, weight-throwing post :)

EileenWanita said...

Hey, that sounds like an interesting paper. I'd like to read it.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I, too, struggled with thinking that the opposite of faith was doubt, and every time I doubted, I'd beat myself up for it. I would up beating myself up a lot, and in some ways I still do, but I'm dcoming to a place where I see God as bigger than my doubts and see how silly it seems to view God any other way.

Anonymous said...

I love your discussion of these three virtues. Thank you for sharing.

-- Jarred.

Evan said...

Hey Beth - Thanks again for another great post. I'd appreciate it if you sent me a copy of your paper.

I'm not always sure where I stand on this issue either. Maybe my line of thinking is off, non-committal, or possibly even cowardly, but the question I keep asking myself about this, and other issues, is "who made me the gatekeeper?" Am I really the person who gets to choose one way or another if someone else gets to be a Christian? I'm pretty sure I'm not.

My "job" as a Christian is love and show compassion for other people. If I spend a lot of time worrying about who does what and with whom doesn't that essentially make me a gossip and undermine my Christianity. I know that this sounds overly permissive and make the whole "rebuking" thing hard to do, but if the person in question if filled with love and compassion what am I going to rebuke? Something like promiscuity is promiscuity, regardless of who it's with. If a gay person is in a committed monogamous relationship how is it any different than a straight married couple - we don't ask them what happens in the bedroom and if we did it would be rude and an invasion of privacy.

Maybe my stance is "I don't get what the big deal is."

Lam said...

I like what I've seen so far on your blog, and am very proud to have eaten Mexican food and ice cream with you!

Sarah said...

I think I'm going to have to read through this blog post a few times over. Maybe it's because you've joined the ranks of Regent folk ... lol ... and you seem to wrap your mind around some of these complex issues better than me! This has been one of the most encouraging blog posts I've read in a very very long time.

It's given me hope :

There are some things I'm uncertain about but I have hope in the Cross of Jesus Christ and to know that He's got ahold of me when my own personal fears surface and I begin to question if my convictions are the right convictions to have.

And another thing. I'm grateful and thankful that I have come to know you and perhaps call you friend. You're amazing! :)

Beth said...

Wendy, thanks for initiating this synchroblog! I've been reading them all, and it's very thought-provoking.

Edwardnortanfan, I agree - faith without periods or degrees of doubt might be more like certainty, so there is a place for doubt in the life of faith.

Jarred, thanks - I always appreciate your comments on the BTG blog.

Tank, you're right - we're not the gatekeepers, we don't dictate who's a Christian and who's not. And we are called to love and follow the leading of the Spirit. I do think that the Spirit can, at times, call us to "invade each other's privacy," and speak words of truth and concern to each other (Paul talks about this being appropriate in the context of a faith community in 1 Cor. 5, for example) - but this should only happen if there is a trusting, loving friendship already established, and if you are also willing to have words of truth spoken into your life by the other person - a reciprocity. I'll e-mail you my paper!

Lam, thanks! Congrats on your engagement! You should come over again soon.

Sarah, I'm excited to read your blog, too. And you can definitely call me friend - I call you friend.

Thanks for reading! Do check out some of the other blogs

Bethany said...


Great post. I loved the bit about certainty being the opposite of faith. I was reminded of the Anne Steele's hymn "Hope in Darkness" where she talks about "O for the bright, the joyful day/When hope shall in assurance die!" Here she is talking about hope also being the opposite of certainty.

It's been a real pleasure to chat with you about these issues. Please send me your paper.


the-everything-club said...
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the-everything-club said...

Love wins. Thanks Beth.

Anonymous said...

This is indeed an interesting post, and who could deny that love is supreme in these matters? I agree with others that your "definitions" of faith hope and love are refreshing and helpful.

What made your post interesting for me, however, is the theological perspective from which you take your position. Is liberation theology your basis for "bridging the gap"? Can you tell us more?

Anonymous said...

That was brilliant, thank you for posting it!


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