05 Jun 2013

The Author

Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, the Grand Rapids area has been my home for the past two years. We – my wife and I, moved here as something of an experiment, leaving our life in Eastern Michigan behind in the hope of establishing more meaningful spiritual community on the West side of the state. And if you’re also interested, I have my own blog, Avenues @ timmccollum.com.

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Gay And Christian: Believers Speak
Marquis

Recently at the Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids, Mathew Clark of The Gay Christian Therapy Center hosted a panel discussion called Homosexuality and Christianity: A new approach in a polarizing debate.  Along with Mathew Clark, the panelists included Stephanie Sandberg, who directed the Actors Theatre production “Seven Passages: The Stories of Gay Christians”; Ruth Bell Olsson, president of the Grand Rapids Red Project for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment; and Jim Lucas, longtime chaplain of the Gays in Faith Together support group. A highlight of the evening was the official public coming out of Dan Dobson, son of the legendary and venerable Ed Dobson who is the retired pastor of Calvary Church here in West Michigan.

This was my first meeting of this kind, and I actually didn’t know what to expect—perhaps some protests or signs, maybe even some threats of violence—but none of that occurred. To be honest, the meeting was mesmerizing and deeply interesting. Why? Well, I’m a heterosexual male married to the same woman for the past thirty-three years. We practice monogamy and fidelity and frankly, those seemed to be the main themes of the night—except it was monogamy and fidelity between same-sex partners. Anyway, after thinking and talking about this issue, there are a few take-aways from this meeting that I’d like to share with you.

We (Christians and society in general, but mostly Christians) really make life hard for the LGBT community.

There are a lot of ways we do this—heterosexism, homophobia, etc., those are the easy ones, but as a Christian, I can speak for my team and frankly, my team is very good at making life difficult for the LGBT community. We do this by not having conversations about homosexuality. There is pressure on us, however, to shift from the “abomination” stage of the conversation to the “neutral” stage of the conversation. By this, I mean we spoke out angrily against homosexuality (and some churches still consider this an intramural sport), but now we are content not to talk about it at all. The code word here is “neutrality.” There are several reasons for this, the main one is that we do not want to create another church split that isn’t about the color of the carpet we need to replace in the Sunday school rooms. Certainly, like any major change in thinking, steps need to be taken wisely and with great care. But even this plays into the “neutrality” state. Another way is to create two issues out of one: Should we affirm gay marriage? And, then should we go further and affirm homosexuality also (I think they mean gay sex)? Aren’t they both the same thing? Finally, I think we make it hard for the LGBT community when we invoke spiritual warfare when it comes to dealing with this issue. This comes about when those of us who have gay friends are guilty by association—that is when the “putting on the whole armor of God,” and the “we must constantly be on guard against Devil” arguments are invoked. I think the Devil gets really happy when we focus so much attention on him.

Reading the Bible literally is actually, really dangerous.

Wooden literalism gives us silly things like the rapture, snake handlers and prosperity gospel preachers. Sure, there are some things in the Bible that you should take literally like, “Jesus wept,” and “Love one another.” But ultimately, reading the Bible literally gives us dualisms that create an “us versus them” mentality. A good example of this is “love the sinner but hate the sin.” Nice, except that Jesus taught in Matthew 7:1-5 that we should love the sinner and hate our own sin. And if being gay is a sin, then it also is covered by the cross. And speaking of the Cross, Jesus’ death on the Cross was not to appease an angry God so He would change his mind about us. It was about US changing our minds about God. It’s about a God who identifies with all of us through his death, burial and resurrection.

Marriage equality and homosexuality are not good reasons to leave your church.

Of course, this assumes that your church is having a dialogue about marriage equality and homosexuality in the first place. If you are, you should hang in there because you may be creating a sacred space for your son or daughter who have not yet come out. IF you do want to break up with your church, I suggest you consider unnecessary capital campaigns and ornate building programs as the proper reasons. Clean water, mentoring, adoption, refugees, world hunger, and the HIV Aids pandemic are also good reasons to break up with your church IF they ignore these important issues.

We can affirm gay marriage and still affirm fidelity and monogamy.

I realize a lot of people were at this meeting, and they may have different take-aways than mine. And to be honest, I do not have a handle on all the implications of marriage equality and homosexuality. I do think it’s a problem when a gay person might marry a person of the opposite sex, hoping it “works” or “cures” them and then later leaves the other spouse and children behind in order to come out. But to be fair, this problem is not endemic to gay marriage. Too often it occurs in heterosexual marriages for different reasons. Which brings me to the conclusion that we all must be on the side of fidelity and monogamy in any kind of marriage.

This issue requires humility and a huge capacity to love in all of us. I’m convinced that the only viable response to the hostility about this issue is love, empathy, compassion and understanding—not more hostility.

I welcome your thoughts and opinions.

 

 

*photo courtesy of Dr. Matthew Clark

 

4 Comments
4 Comments
  1. Let me say that I am not opposed to gay people at all. I am a Christian and have faults of my own, and I am not into any kind of “activist” movement. As long as the gay lifestyle doesn’t come into a clash with my own lifestyle, then I am fine with it. But here’s the problem I face: unless the meaning of homosexuality today is way different from the biblical meaning of homosexuality, then we Christians today are supposed to be totally against it, and while we don’t always have to be vocal about it, we can’t tiptoe around the subject either. There are both psychological problems as well as moral problems with homosexuality. Not always, but sometimes. The recent explosion of homosexuality activities, as well as news of actors/actresses/sports figures coming out is an indication of how serious the problem is: gay people generally want to attract attention to themselves. . I often wonder “why?” For the most part, nobody cares that a basketball star is gay, no one cares if a movie/tv star is gay. Being gay…being Christian…when it comes down to it, it doesn’t do anything outwardly. It’s all an internal thing. When you cry out out that you live a different lifestyle all it does is bring you the 15 minutes of fame, after that, it fizzles. Without sounding condemning; claiming to be a “Gay Christian” is a shot at hypocriticism. Just as being a Liberal Christian is another shot at hypocriticism. Listen, when did Paul ever say “I have the right to do anything, because everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but not everything is constructive.”?
    I agree…gay Christians are not perfect, and they do exemplify the “Not perfect” without actually doing so, which is a slap in the face for so many straight Christians. But they are just like so many other Christians in that they DO tend to push their worldly identity in front of their heavenly identity.
    I just strongly believe it’s time for Christians…ALL Christians, to do away with titles. If you ARE in Christ, then you have the mind of Christ, and you ACT like Christ. I WILL ALWAYS refer to a Brother or Sister in Christ as being Christian. Nothing more matters to me.

    • First, let me thank you for reading my article and for taking the time to share your thoughts and beliefs about this issue. As I wrote in my article, this issue requires humility and a great capacity to love in all of us. And it’s with this in mind that I’d like to respond to your comments.

      I believe there are millions of people who might feel the same way you do if they were not gay.

      Question is, what exactly is a “gay” lifestyle? What exactly is “straight” lifestyle? I agree with your notion that it would be nice if Christians would just be “Christians.” But there are at least two problems with this notion: First, it denigrates the genuine reality of concrete human existence. We are more than just amorphous persons—we are white, black, gay, straight, Greek, Roman, male, female, American, Russian, smart, stupid—and these roles can be rightly used with the word “Christian.” Second, the reason Gay Christian is being used as a term in the first place is because of discrimination and exclusion by most Christians. The label is necessary as long as Christians continue to express hostility towards the gay community. Gay people are not narcissists, and they are not looking for attention—they are seeking social justice, equality under the law, social rights and benefits. The recent “explosion” of gay “activities” is due to greater social acceptance—not a sign of a problem. Homosexuality is not a fad, a disease, or a trend—it’s a deep-seated aspect of millions of human beings with dignity who are seeking to be given the same rights and social benefits as others. Over 78 large, blind, reputable studies conducted by unbiased psychological and social science experts have shown that there are no inherent psychological problems or deficiencies with gay people as gay per se. You can easily Google “gay mental health” and see for your self. Additionally, many of the problems some gay people encounter can be traced to social discrimination. Homosexuality is a naturally occurring variation, not an illness or misadaptation.

      Finally, I would ask, what interpretive principles do you use for your understanding of Scripture? Since the word “homosexuality” was not invented until at least 100 years ago, and it was not printed in the Bible until the 1946 RSV, and there is no Greek or Hebrew equivalent for this word, it’s reasonable to understand that Paul was probably not referring specifically to homosexuality as we culturally understand the word today. The theologian Cornelius Plantinga defines sin as the “culpable disruption of shalom.” This fits hermeneutically more precisely with Paul’s meaning (in the phrase you used) than incorrectly using it to elevate homosexuality as a “sin” above other sins. The Bible really does not fully address the topic of homosexuality. Jesus never talked about it. The prophets never talked about it. In Sodom homosexual activity is mentioned within the context of rape (raping angels nonetheless), and in Romans 1:24-27 we find it mentioned within the context of idolatry (Baal worship) involving lust and dishonorable passions. 1 Corinthians 6:9 and 1 Timothy 1:10 talk about homosexual activity in the context of prostitution and possibly pederasty. Nowhere does the Bible talk about a loving and committed homosexual relationship. The only thing the authors of the Bible knew about homosexuality was that which they saw expressed in the pagan worship of Baal, the temple prostitution, et cetera. If we follow the flawed logic and eisegesis of the literalist’s interpretation of these passages, we could also conclude that David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba is an indictment of heterosexual sex and marriage.

      As to my liberal hypocrisy, I just sound like a liberal Christian because I believe hurricanes are caused by high barometric pressure and not gay marriage. True hypocrisy, however, lies with those who after encountering Jesus, still feel He is not Christian enough for them.

      Thanks again for reading my article and I hope you check in often. You can also follow me on my blog, “the art of pew sitting” (timmccollum.com). Grace and Peace be with you.

  2. Wnnerful, wunnerful, wunnerful. I cannot thank you enough for both the blog and your comments. This is the first time in this ongoing discussion where I experienced being grounded, not up in the air (euphemism for truly confused) on this issue. I have taken the liberty of copying your words and would like your permission to send them to friends as well as quote you, with a proper cite, in other forums on this topic. What a relief.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Jerry. You may have my permission. I hope, however, this is not a substitute for your own, personal wrestling and study about his issue. May grace and piece be with you.

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