Recently, prominant blogger and author Rachel Held Evans (RHE) has been hosting a discussion about God and the Gay Christian, a new book written by Matthew Vines which deconstructs common arguments against homosexuality that are often presented in Christian circles. I haven’t read the book, but I have read things that Vines has written about the book, and I’ve also read everything that RHE has written about the book, which naturally makes me perfectly qualified to talk about the subject.
At a high level, the premise of the book is that when the Bible says that “homosexuality is bad!”, it’s condemning a very different type of behavior than what we in our society know as homosexuality. In essence, Vines’ argument is that the Bible is condemning people who are so full of sexual lust and desire that they go against their normative sexual identity, be that straight, gay, or somewhere in between. In other words, the Bible appears to say nothing at all about two gay men who remain in a committed, loving familial relationship—and more to the point, such a concept would have been completely and impossibly alien to people two thousand years ago.
I’m not going to spend too much time in this post talking about the theological implications and arguments that are raised about the subject. There has already been an enormous amount of ink spilled on this topic, and both RHE and Vines do a far better job of presenting and dissecting the issue than I would be able to. If you want more of that, I strongly encourage you to go read all of Rachel’s blog posts on the subject, and also read the comments. It’s an incredibly detailed, careful, and thought-provoking discussion. And it’s very clear to me after reading all of the posts that the topic is much more nuanced and complex than either side often admits. For the record, I find many of Vines’ arguments convincing, but not all of them; nevertheless, as I’ve said before, I am in favor of marriage equality, both from a secular and religious perspective.
However, as I was reading through the discussion on RHE’s blog about this book, I came across two comments which really resonated with me. These comments both get at the following, extremely important question: Where do we go from here? In the first of these comments, Caspian says:
I think we are fast approaching a point on this subject where we are simply going to have to make a CHOICE of what actions we will take. We are all, both affirming and non affirming, going in circles trying to PROOVE our perspective is the right one. We’ve got mountains of evidence (that has been rehashed ad nausiam in multiple variations) on both sides to make our cases. I think by this time we should know that neither side is ever going to find that one nugget of indisputable fact.
And I don’t think we’re meant to.
In the end though, we will all need to make our choice. None of us can truly live by the conscience of others. And when the time comes to answer for our choices, none of us can make someone else’s conviction our alibi. […] If I am wrong, I can only depend of God’s grace; which, as I understand it, is sufficient for me.
To my mind, Caspian cuts directly to the crux of the issue. Just as I don’t get to hide behind someone else’s conviction for my choices, I don’t get to impose my conscience on someone else. I can guarantee you with 100% certainty that any LGBT person who is Christian has heard all the arguments for and against homosexuality, and they’ve probably heard them in harsh, cold, hurtful terms on more than one occasion. So when an LGBT person tells me they are Christian and they believe God supports them in their sexuality, now I get to make a choice: I can either question their faith, tell them that they didn’t really hear God’s voice, that they’re just twisting God’s voice to hear what they want to hear, that they’re living in a life of sin, or I can simply say “I believe you; I believe that you’ve truly sought God’s will, and that this is the wisdom He has given you.” And if I’m forced to pick between those two options, I will always unflinchingly choose the second option.
But it’s not enough for me to consider my own choice to this issue. I think the church, as a collective body, also has to ask the question, “Where do we go from here?” Which brings me to the second comment on RHE’s blog, by Jack Hartford, which says
I believe that is where we are with same sex marriage today. Same sex marriage is a cultural reality. Even if your state does not recognize it, other states do, and there are same sex couples who are married in every state. The US Sup. Ct. will likely hold that it is a constitutional right. I would be shocked if they didn’t. So it is a reality here to stay. The Church has done a poor job at accepting this reality. The focus does not need to be on the morality of same-sex relationships. Rather, the focus should be on the importance for commitment, love, respect, etc. The discussion should turn to how churches should counsel same-sex married couples.
If the church believes gay sex is a sin within a committed, legal marriage, then does the church promote divorce? If they have been together 15 years and have two children together, does the church want to tear apart this family? If so, who gets custody of the children? Who gets the house? Must one pay alimony to the other? How do you divide property? Who will oversee this? So the church is in the business of promoting divorce now? That cannot be right. It seems to me the morality is the same. When two people commit to spend their lives together, raise children together, accumulate assets together, and have done so in a way that it is recognized under the law, then that couple should be encouraged to love one another, respect one another, work through problems and issues, stay committed to one another and to fulfill the commitments they have made. It is incomprehensible to me that any church should recommend a divorce, even if the couple is a same sex couple. Yet that seems to be the very message coming out of the church.
In the last few decades, the United States has transitioned from a country that is largely opposed to homosexuality and LGBT marriage rights, to one in which gay marriage is legal in a rapidly-growing majority of the states (even two of the most conservative states in the union). And regardless of what you believe about what Christianity says about homosexuality, I whole-heartedly support this trend. See, we live in a country which is supposed to separate religion from government (which is a Good ThingTM), and that means that you don’t get to have the justification for a law be “Because the Bible Says So”.
So what is the church to do when a lesbian couple converts to Christianity after 10 years of marriage? I guarantee you it will happen; similar things have already happened. Is the Church really going to turn them away at the gates? That’s not the Christianity I was taught. Are we going to ask them to get a divorce? Ask them to stay together but spend the rest of their lives celibate? Do we allow them positions of leadership in the Church? If the Church turns them away, on whose authority? Are you really willing to take up the judgment mantle on that issue? I know I’m not. Not in a million years would I want that responsibility. Once again for me, the only response I am willing to endorse is the following: “I believe you, and I believe that God has grace for you, just as He does for me.” And I dearly hope that is the response the Church rallies behind.
One final note: this isn’t a question of idle curiousity for me. One of my passions is working with and mentoring teens through our church, and I know that questions of sexuality are a terrifying and critical issue that many students will grapple with. While I’ve not yet had a student come out to me, I am sure that it will probably happen, and I’ve put a lot of thought into how to respond when it does. My hope is that my response to the student’s trembling “Where do I go from here?” would sound something like this: “Wow. Thank you for sharing with me—that takes courage. Let’s pray.”