Recent comments by presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann have stirred up the discussion about gay marriage once again. While speaking to a group of high school…
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