Can the Church Accept Gay Marriage? P10: Can we Love our neighbour if we don’t know them?

*note, this piece is part of an ongoing series. The conversation in this blog builds directly upon the conversation prior. If you’re just joining this korero, I would encourage you to start with part one, which you can find here

The Law is Love

Let us start by remembering the words of the One we have committed to follow. When asked what the greatest Law was, he responded by saying “love God, love your neighbour, love yourself.”

What has become very telling to me in recent years is how few Christians seem to have genuine relationships with our whanau from the queer community. And as a result, much of what has been meant in love has resulted in further harm and alienation. If we are to Love our rainbow whanau, than to do that well, we must know them.

Yet, if all we know of the Rainbow community is what we have seen on TV, or within the media, or from the pulpit of John Piper, then we won’t get very far in “loving our neighbour”, because let’s be honest, if you don’t know someone, it’s pretty hard to Love them.

In the reverse, if what we know of Traditionalist Christian’s is their projection via the Izzy’s and Tamaki’s of this world through the lens of the media, then we too will struggle to Love. To Love, we must listen, we must be willing to see each other, hear one another, and seek to understand that which is beneath.

We will only do this if we are committed to the Way of Love, to seeing people as people, and if we are willing to resist the temptation to lump everyone we disagree with into a box with their worst stereotypes.

So, the first step, is building relationship. To create opportunities to hear the voices and stories of Queer Christians, both in relation to their experiences of faith and the church, and also on a personal level, to get to know the real people behind the projected Queer image that exists.

If a community is committed to seeking to move in this direction, it must begin by finding ways to bring Queer voices into the Church. Voices that could share with courage, and conviction, their lives and their journey’s. We must look for opportunities to connect our community in meaningful ways to the queer community, and find ways for our faith whanau to serve and love the Rainbow community. I think we can all agree, that our Rainbow whanau do not feel loved, accepted, or included in the body of Christ (at large). Whatever we think theologically, learning to Love our neighbour as ourselves, requires that we know our neighbours.

It must be acknowledged, that for Queer Christians, this will take courage. They will have to go into spaces where they will not feel safe, where they face the risk of abuse, and humiliation, where there is the chance that their salvation, faith and identity will be ridiculed and/or called into question. It is important to recognize the power dynamics that exist, and the vulnerability that Queer Christians face.

For you and I, straight believers, we may risk our reputations, but generally we can debate theology, walk away, and it doesn’t affect us all that much, however for Queer Christians, there is a reason many don’t feel safe in the church. Many will have faced abuse, and ridicule at some point, many will be used to having their faith and their identity questioned, many would have experienced homophobia and hatred from people that have confessed our faith. The stakes for Queer Christians are high, because they involve more than a loss of reputation, they involve the loss of community, and the risk of abuse.

For this to happen, we will need to make some commitments.

Commitments to listen to our Queer Christian whanau, to create space for their voices to be heard, commitments to creating an environment that is safe for LGBTQ people, and commitments to stand up for them when they face pushback or abuse.

Another commitment we might consider making, is to refrain from making pronouncement’s on one another’s salvation. To choose to refrain from commenting on the sinfulness of one’s sexuality, and choose rather to emphasis our love for one another. It is not a requirement of our faith to tell someone that they are a sinner, and it definitely isn’t right of us to do so in every situation. As we have surveyed, there is room, and a time, for silence. During this time, it will be important to be clear, to acknowledge the diversity of belief, and to instruct our people that we will be prioritizing Love for one another, and that means that at least for a time we will refrain from teaching from the pulpit that Queer covenantal relationships are a sin. Equally, those on the affirming side will refrain from teaching that it is not. We will leave space for ambiguity, for silence, for the Spirit to speak.

 It might be that we need to move away from utilizing the sermon as the dominate form of learning and instruction while participating in this conversation. Sermons are great and they have their place, but they are not the best way to engage in difficult and challenging conversations. Moving these conversation from the pulpit into smaller groups, that can be facilitated in a manner which allows everyone the opportunity to speak, to be heard, and to be understood, may be a more productive way to deal with the nitty gritty details of this conversation. Smaller, conversational based groups, can create a safe environment, and allow space for people to practice loving one another through disagreement, and difference.

Whatever the method, we will vocally name our theological differences, and highlight that we have chosen to choose LOVE for one another, naming that Love and unity in this instance requires us to sit in this discomfort, and to learn to listen to one another.

We will leave space for love, acknowledging our difference in belief, we will embrace the messiness that is community.

Perhaps, another commitment we will need to make is to adjust the way we speak to and about one another. On the affirming side, we must be aware of how quickly, or easily we use the language of homophobia or bigotry. There may be cases where the names are appropriate, however as we go through this process it will be important to recognize that these terms can be unhelpful. Our focus should be on how to speak with our brothers and sisters in a manner that helps them come forward on the journey. This does not mean we avoid hard conversations, or that we remain silent when we see behaviour that is hurting our whanau, but it means that we approach these situations with a posture of love, seeking the best for others, and with the desire to bring them forward on the journey.

On the Traditionalist side, there is a need to adjust the language used when speaking about Queer people. Conversations about the Gay Lobby, or the Gay agenda, are unhelpful and inaccurate. They project an image of queer people that is played out in the media and popular culture, but which bears little resemblance to the real people living amongst us. Queer people are not a homogeneous group, there is no organized queer body that gathers on a Friday night and plans how they can disrupt churches and take over the world. There are just real people, trying to move forward and find place and space in this crazy world we live in. And coming closer to home, Queer people are our whanau, and friends, they are fellow disciples of Jesus just trying to follow the Way. They may hold a Traditionalist view, they may not, but either way how we talk about them, the language we use, matters.

Another tendency that we have within dominate Christian culture is to portray Queer people as unrestrained, sexual beings. When I hear this sort of korero I cringe, it’s unhelpful at best, and at worst it’s downright offensive. In this conversation, we are talking about Queer Christians, people with different values, and ethics, many who still hold to a conservative sexual ethic in many ways. Painting them as some out-of-control, lust filled beings, is vulgar and offensive, and quite frankly says more about us, than it does about our rainbow whanau.

We’ve formed relationships, what next?

After, a period of listening, learning, and loving, the natural question which will arise is, what next? What does this mean for our faith, for how we understand the scriptures? How do we make sense of what we have been taught, in light of the lived experience we have had of Queer believers? We will turn to these questions in our next blog.

A.J. Hendry

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