In the last blog we briefly surveyed some examples of when the church – having been prompted by human experience, divine revelation, and scientific discovery – reformed, revised or competently changed their understanding of Traditional interpretations of scripture.
At the end, we asked the question, when turning to the question of LGBTQ inclusion within the church, is their any reason for us to reexamine our traditional stance on this important topic?
In this blog we will be exploring three key points which may help us answer that question. At this point we are not looking at the Scriptures themselves, but will be examining if their is any evidence whether our theology, or the manner in which we hold it, needs to be re-looked at.
Gay People do exist
It is now widely accepted that Gay people do in fact exist. That is, that there are people in this world whose sexual orientation is directed towards people of the same sex.
This hasn’t always been acknowledged by the church. The church has long viewed homosexuality as nothing more than a sexual act, and one which is inherently sinful or degrading at that.
However, as society has taken note of the experiences of LGBTQ people, allowing their experience to shape our understanding of sexual orientation, and as science has developed to validate that experience, the church also has largely come to recognize that there is a portion of the human whanau whose sexual orientation is directed primarily to those of the same sex.
John Stott – a leading voice in the Evangelical world and one who himself held a firmly traditional stance on this topic – called for a clear distinction between ones orientation and ones action. “We may not blame people for what they are,” He said referring to a Gay or Lesbian person’s sexual orientation, “though we may for what they do. In every discussion of homosexuality we must be rigorous in differentiating between “being” and “doing” – that is, between a person’s identity and activity, sexual preference and sexual practice, constitution and conduct. (Stott: Christianity Today, Homosexual Marriage, 1985, Nov 22). ”
Many traditionalists have come to adopt this position, giving rise to what – could be argued – is now the Western Churches dominant response to this question. The policy that Gay Christians should be fully embraced and accepted into the life of the church, even in some cases making room for ordination and leadership, with the one exception, that they must commit themselves to celibacy.
The question remains, if this distinction between orientation and behavior, “identity and activity”, “preference and practice” is truly possible? If a person’s sexual orientation is in fact directed towards someone of the same sex, if that person’s sexual orientation is – from no fault of their own – unchangeable, is it possible to distinguish between a person’s desire, and the action which arises out of that desire? And going deeper, what is the effect of attempting to make such a distinction?
We will examine this in more detail in a future blog, however for now it is enough to say that our traditional understanding of sexual orientation has developed considerably in recent years, and that development has already created significant reforms within the church’s stance, belief and practice.
It is also important to recognize, that along with this developing understanding of sexual orientation within the church, there has also been a recognition of the dangers of the church’s attempts to change a person’s sexual orientation. It is now becoming abundantly clear that conversion therapy, and the ex-gay movement that arose with it, does not work. Several leaders and founders of ex-gay organizations (such as EXODUS INTERNATIONAL) have, in recent years, publicly renounced the movement, and testified that in their years of running such programs, that very few were ever changed, some going as far as to testify that change was impossible. Many now believe that conversion therapy is psychologically damaging. This raises another question, if ones sexual orientation is not chosen, than what are we saying to Gay and Lesbian people when we talk about homosexuality being no different from lying, or cheating, theft or even adultery?
One, speaks to what someone does, another goes to the heart of who someone is.
If we acknowledge this, recognizing that people do not choose to be gay, and that attempting to change a person’s sexuality is both harmful and rarely – if ever – truly successful, than this should at least give us pause to think deeper regarding how we engage in this conversation.
More on this later, but for now let’s turn to the next example, the Witness of the Spirit, is their clear evidence of the Spirit’s work within the lives of LGBTQ believers which might give us reason to explore this korero further?
The Witness of Wairua Tapu, the Holy Spirit
The Apostle Peter began to question his theology once he had borne witness to the work of the Spirit in the lives of Gentile believers. Is such a witness available within the lives of Christian Gay and Lesbian people?
Before, getting to know people from the rainbow community I had been taught that the idea of a gay christian, in a committed covenantal same-sex relationships, was a bit of a misnomer. You could not be a “practicing” Gay Christian. To do so would be to live in direct rebellion against God. Without repentance, defined as renouncing previous behavior, and committing to a life of celibacy, a gay Christian would not be filled with the Spirit.
Yet, as I’ve began to get to know my brothers and sisters in the rainbow community I’ve had cause to question this belief.
The first time I visited the Rainbow Church in Auckland I had no idea what to expect. It was a stormy Sunday night, and as the rain belted me I jumped out of my car and raced to the safety of the large Anglican Church building. As I entered I noted a small group of believers scattered among the first few rows. As I slipped into the back I still wondered what exactly I would find. Yet, as I joined my brothers and sisters in worship, I could not deny the clear sense of Wairua Tapu’s presence. And as I was served communion, and joined in prayer with these, my brother’s and sister’s in Christ, the feeling grew stronger. Regardless of what I’d been taught in the past, here among this community of queer, gay, lesbian, bi and trans believers, the Spirit dwelt.
My experience that cold Sunday night has been further confirmed as I’ve had the privilege to meet and get to know more LGBTQ Christians. Some single, others dating, still others married and in committed relationships. These people are disciples of Jesus, just like you and me. Their lives are a living witness of their commitment to Jesus, and Wairua Tapu’s acceptance of them is undeniable.
I know that for many – especially my Reformed and Protestant whanau – this “proof” will not be enough to cause you to completely re-frame your belief or understanding of LGBTQ Christians. Nor, is it intended to be. However, it does raise some questions which must be wrestled with. If – even while holding to a traditional belief – you could recognize Wairu Tapu’s presence in the lives of someone you believe to “be in sin”, what does this say about the magnificent grace of our Father? And if that grace, has been so graciously extended, than like Peter, should we not also be wary of casting aside those Wairua Tapu has accepted as his own (Acts 11)?
Examine the Fruit
But, to truly examine whether or not this korero needs to be revisited, then no example speaks louder than the collective experiences and voices of the LGBTQ community themselves.
Experiences of suffering, of trauma, experiences filled with pain and rejection.
Rangatahi kicked out of home after coming out, because their parents believe the extreme measure is worth it, if it will drive them to repentance.
Children, who grow up filled with shame because they cannot stop being attracted to people of the same sex. Who believe that they are an abomination, hated by God.
Teens who can’t shake the shame they feel upon realizing that they are gay. Who beg God to change them, who try desperately to change themselves, and when that fails, cry out to God, asking Him to kill them instead.
Adult men and woman, who after years of conversion therapy, trying desperately to change their sexual orientation, finally give up after becoming overcome by anxiety and depression, believing God must hate them as a result of their failure.
The stories of exclusion, trauma and heartache are endless. Something in our theology, has sent the message to the Rainbow Community that they are not loved, that they are not welcome, that God – and his people – hate and despise them.
Church community should be a place of safety, a place of healing and growth for all people, regardless of who you are, or how you identify. Sadly for many LGBTQ people, Church community is not a symbol of hope, but a place of despair and rejection.
The tree bears bad fruit. Something is wrong. Our theology, or something in the posture we use to hold it, is inherently twisted.
Words Aren’t Enough
Experience alone is of course not enough to overturn hundred’s of years of tradition. For Protestants especially, we are wary of experience, rightly cautious of being guided by our feelings rather than by Wairua Tapu. But, we are dishonest if we do not admit the vital role experience plays in helping us evaluate the fruit of our theology.
In this case it is not my experience that matters, nor is it yours. What matters is that we listen to the voices of those this theology most affects.
As we go forward in this conversation we must ask, How do LGBTQ people experience this theology? What affect does it have on them, and how does it manifest within Christian community?
Christian Theology was never meant to be developed absent of human experience. God came down, the Divine became human, dwelling among us, He got involved in the world, choosing to experience life with us, rather than separating himself from us.
Don’t be afraid to allow the experience of LGBTQ people to inform how you approach this korero. It will never be the whole picture, but if you allow yourself to stay grounded in the very real and human experiences of LGBTQ people, than at the very least you may find yourself asking some very crucial and important questions which you had not considered before.
A change in posture?
I have only briefly surveyed these points here. There is so much more that could be said, many more stories that could be told. If you are unconvinced by the argument I have put forward, I would encourage you to be intentional about getting to know, and listening to the experiences of LGBTQ people. Hear their stories, share life with them, discover for yourself if there is merit in any of what I have said.
I truly believe that if you do, that you will soon discover that at the very least, a change in posture is needed. If our theology, or the posture with which we use to hold it, is causing harm, if it is leading to people feeling excluded, rejected and cast aside, than there is something wrong.
But, do not take my word for it. Examine the fruit, and decide for yourself.
As usual I would love to hear your whakaaro (thoughts/opinions), join the korero on FB or leave a comment in the comments section.
If you want to hear stories of some LGBTQ people, here are some resources you might find helpful in order to get started
- The Liturgists Podcast LGBTQ Ep20 – sharing stories and perspectives on LGBTQ persons and the Church.
- “I Love you …. But.” – a LGBTQ person tells their story of being Gay and Christian in the Church.
- The Silent Trauma of Being Gay – A Gay man shares his experience of the church, and shares why he left