Tag Archives: same sex attraction

We are not Indiana: Gov. Pence please don’t save us

It is interesting to be alive as the United States goes “post-Christian.” I still remember sitting around the living room just after graduating from college predicting this day and looking forward to it, so we could get back to telling people the gospel and forming the church without being all clogged up with saluting the flag. We are not quite there yet — and I am not sure if getting what I hoped for (as usual) is going to be what I really want.

We get tagged by Gov. Pence and the RFRA

The example of the day for not getting what I want is the uproar over the “religious freedom” law in Indiana. (Here is a description from the NY Times, complete with a link to the bill). Governor Pence told ABC’s This Week that the new Indiana law is just an expansion of a federal law that is over 20 years old. It is about expanding individual rights for those who feel government has impinged upon them. “This is not about discrimination,” he said. “This is about empowering people to confront government overreach.” The supposedly controversial Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act is based on a 1993 Federal Law of the same name, signed by Bill Clinton. It protects individuals (which includes most anyone or anything that can get a federal id number) from risking a lawsuit by exercising their convictions. Not only can the Christian owners of a bakery refuse to write an inscription on the wedding cake of a gay couple, but the black owners of a T-shirt business don’t have to print the KKK’s burning crosses on shirts, and Jewish owners of a gift shop don’t have to put Nazi symbols on coffee cups.

However, Pence did not answer directly when asked six times whether under the law it would be legal for a merchant to refuse to serve gay customers. “The issue here is still: Is tolerance a two-way street or not?” he responded several times. The governor might have better reason to respond that way if “sexual orientation” were a protected class of people on Indiana’s list. But they are not. So the law leaves room for merchants to decide who is gay and whether they want to serve them based on their orientation. Why a state would want to further injure LGBT people now that they are finally enjoying the light of day is beyond me. Quite predictably, the bill has been roundly condemned around the nation. Seattle’s mayor went so far as to issue a travel ban to Indiana for city workers.

As a leader in the church, people turn and look at me suspiciously whenever religious arguments get adjudicated in the press. Republican Governor Pence says that Indiana is under fire for faith, so I am supposed to either defend him or not because he got on TV. People look at our church and wonder if LGBT people are a protected class among us, as if we were a state government! Once again, people who are not personally dealing with the varieties non-dominant sexual attractions start lumping everyone together into an “identity” and making them conform to the latest version of the political fight. I still don’t think those are our only choices. I am for religious freedom and I think the various RFRA’s, federal and in twenty-one states, make a lot of sense. At the same time I think the application in Indiana is wrong-headed and hurtful. I have the luxury of seeing things that way because I don’t need an RFRA to have religious freedom and I am not Indiana. Governments should be useful and are often dangerous; regardless, Jesus is Lord.

Jesus does not need an RFRA

“Flevit super illam” (He wept over it); by Enrique Simonet, 1892.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem yesterday he pointedly challenged the authority of both the empire and the religious leaders. They promptly killed him. We might like to remember his example. Alternatively, Republican Christians got themselves into power in Indiana and they intend to use the power of the state to defend their rights. They may save me from getting killed, I don’t know. But they also threaten to delude people into thinking that state law is somehow going to save them. It is not. It is just as likely to threaten your life. The big point of Palm Sunday, that even children could recognize, is that Jesus is the one who saves.

I think the people who are furious over the Indiana law are even more sure that state law will save people — specifically those who just want to love who they love without being discriminated against as a result. For more and more people, the state is god and the laws are the word of the lord. Whoever marshals enough firepower to win the legal fight rules — and people are deploying the weapons of “dialogue” in our country to overturn this law. The media is already holding court sessions for the latest round of social construction. The corporations are already deciding the verdict on Indiana. Charles Barkley gets on TV and pressures the NCAA to move the Final Four out of the state. Tim Cook of Apple denounces the law as an opening for discrimination (which it is). Salesforce.com cancels all events in the state. Yelp issues a warning. Angie’s List says it is rethinking expansion plans.

What Christians seem to miss on Palm Sunday is that Jesus is clearing out the temple of merchants and other powers so God is worshiped, not the regulations, laws and business interests that have come to substitute for God’s direct rule. As much as I am against oppression, I am surprised at how many Christians leave their faith behind in order to worship at the feet of the government (and the corporations who own it) whenever they experience discrimination, begging for freedom and demanding the power to make things right, as if American exceptionalism will actually save the world.

Meanwhile, in the church which, again, is not an Indiana in any way, shape or form, we are walking with real people who experience same sex attraction. Some are ready to strike out against inequality with their allies. Some may want to get married. Some don’t want to strike out or get married. And some would like people who are supposedly defending them to be quiet. The issues of faith , hope and love are bigger than the Constitution. I think criticizing Indiana’s lawmaking is important, but I know I will do more good, ultimately, if I follow Jesus more fearlessly in the face of bad laws. If I expect the powers-that-be to stop doing what the fallen powers of this world do, I will ultimately be less influential for good in that murky arena, too.

When the powers that be want to reduce loved ones down to a “protected class” we need to tell them our kingdom is not of this world any so-called “class” does not need their permission to express the first fruits of the age to come. If you can’t go that far, you can at least not project your frustration with Indiana on the church. We are not Indiana. We don’t need to fall into a political trap every time it is opened to us. We need to keep creating an alternative and not align ourselves with the pawns of the state who compete for some validation from their false god. Jesus is our hope for love and truth and we should keep speaking the truth in love.

That “other” person is someone I love!

I have traveled in the same circles with Ron Sider since I was in my twenties – actually ran into him on my son’s street a few weeks ago. I was profoundly influenced by Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. I am a fan.

I say all that so my small criticism of what he recently said in Christianity Today is not taken as a slam. His article: Tragedy, Tradition, and Opportunity in the Homosexuality Debate: We need a better approach to the traditional biblical ethic on sexuality in the November 18 CT was passed around by some of my acquaintances and friends in the BIC, which made me wonder what it was all about. So I read it.

A progressive evangelical “gay” policy

Here’s the gist: 1) He wants evangelicals to admit their track record on relating to: “gays” is tragic. 2) He makes a more-generous-than-usual argument about Biblical tradition that ends with the conclusion that everyone who is not in a lifelong heterosexual marriage should be celibate. 3) He ends with seeing the present argument as an opportunity: a) to do what it takes to nurture marriage, b) to listen to “gay people” c) To be nice: “Surely, we can ask the Holy Spirit to show us how to teach and nurture biblical sexual practice without ignoring, marginalizing, and driving away from Christ those who struggle with biblical norms.”

His thoughts seem revolutionary to some people. For instance, someone wrote in to voice their struggle with Ron’s assumption that gay people could be saved (!). Ron knows CT’s audience, so I appreciate his boldness. I saw that the moderator of our denomination and a bishop posted the article on Facebook. So he got some affirmation. One commenter said that he appreciated how a person of authority stated something that he had thought for a long time.

I’m only cousins with Evangelicals

LGBTQ debate?
Is there an epidemic of early debate training?

This is the one thing I offered on FB: “I don’t think I have ever been part of the ‘we’ Ron is talking about. I’ve certainly been listening to so-called gay people for my whole adult life. Just to be clear ‘gay’ people have been ‘us’ while ‘we’ have been dithering about ‘them.’”

Someone wrote in response to my thoughts: “clear?”

I guess my problem is not clear. So here I am writing about it.

For one thing, I have never been an evangelical. I officially left that fold (to the extent I was in it) when I became consciously part of the Brethren in Christ (that’s now another whole story, of course). I am fond of evangelicals, and I have ridden on their bus at times. I just wanted to miss all the excess Ron calls tragic. I am still getting tagged with the tragedy, but I tried to miss it. So when Ron says “we” need a better approach, I want to note that I did not adopt the former bad approach along with millions of other Christians.

For another thing, so-called “gay” people have been part of my life and part of the church for as long as I have been a part. The tone of the article sounds like “they” just got discovered and people should stop being reluctant to accept their existence! My views have developed along with the whole movement in the last 30 years, but my friendships with LGBTQ people have always been just that: friendships. They have been part of my “we.” When I think of the people Ron is talking about I think of faces, not some mysterious “other.” Christians belong to a transnational, transhistorical, transcultural body in the Spirit; only people who renounce Jesus could be considered truly “other,” I think – and we are called to love even them! So-called “gay” and so-called “straight” are called to the same allegiance and the same application of it.

We have tried to stay out of polarizing debates about sexuality during the life of Circle of Hope. But even we got blamed for the “tragic” behavior of evangelicals in the local gossip column! We ended up making our statement and trying to repair the divisions the “us” vs. “them” competition for the dominant, legalized thinking of the day caused in our community. I think we were pretty successful. But I suppose I am still sensitive about getting dragged into some loveless debate about some “thing,” when the “thing” happens to be someone I love.

Marriage in the New Creation

[My former church upgraded their teaching many times before they disbanded. This post is more where we began and I think it might have been a good place to say.  Here is the link to their last.]

All year we have been trying to get out of the Congress-type polarization of the Church’s dialogue about sexual expression and get into the grace of staying focused on everyone’s redemption. I think we are doing a good job. The pastors came up with a statement on marriage in March and taught it to the cell leaders. I think it is a good summary of where we have come so far. This post is based on that statement. What follows are three big points about marriage and sexuality and some basic ideas that might help apply them.

We need to keep the love chapter where it belongs

The apostle Paul places his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit is making the body of Christ out of the Lord’s followers (1 Corinthians 12-14). He does not place it after his chapter on marriage (1 Corinthians 7), which he could have easily done. The placement is important to note. Paul fully respects marriage as part of the order built into creation, but it is not equally important in the new creation.

In Christ, we are all bigger than the traditions that used to make up our identities. For instance, when Paul is talking to the church in Galatia about their temptation to follow the Jewish law he says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and “what counts is the new creation” (Galatians 5:6, 6:15).

When we are talking about the new traditions people are making and legislating about marriage and sexuality in our era, it is important to remember that what counts is the new creation. How I relate to everyone who is finding their way: relationally, sexually and otherwise, is based on this kind of thought: “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).

There is more to you than your marriage or lack of one

Making families is great, but the ultimate in family comes from relating as brothers and sisters in Christ and respecting God as our true parent. That is a reality that takes the work of our Savior and the power of the Spirit to experience.

Jesus affirms the oldest teachings in the scripture about marriage (Matthew 19:5-6). Elsewhere in the New Testament we are taught that marriage is to be honored by all; all the Bible writers assume they are talking about a relationship between a man and a woman, lifelong and exclusive. At the same time, marriage is not considered the ultimate expression of love and commitment; love and commitment come from Jesus and are most fully realized in the body of Christ.  Within that inspired and diverse body, composed of everyone who can name Jesus as Lord, “there are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” Every Jesus-follower is honorable and must be honored because each is given “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good” (1 Corinthians 12:5-7).

Our relationships with God through Jesus Christ are what define us. Our ultimate identity is not about how we are married or how we have sex, just like it is not about where we live or any other labels the world may slap on us.

The Church has slapped some labels on people, too.

Circle of Hope’s way of responding to our era’s new approaches to sexual expression has been based on the spirit of the preceding teaching from the Bible. At the same time, we know that the church has rarely been a safe place, historically, for sexual nonconformity. Many people have been oppressed and injured. One of the reasons people are deserting the church in vast numbers these days is not just because the members of the church do not live in the Spirit or do not express new creation life, it is because the church is even more oppressive than the world!

Because of this reality, we have tried to be even more careful to welcome every person as they are, no matter where they are on their journey, and have been committed to walk with them as they discover the fullness of what God has for them. We don’t do this just because people won’t like us if we don’t; we do it because Jesus is doing the same thing with us! Especially in regard to how people experience marriage, we don’t need that to be a big issue when we first meet someone. After all, we think that the best place to find fullness as one’s true self is as an honored member of the body of Christ, not in a sexual relationship, married or otherwise. So we try to keep our focus where the focus should be.

Some people might prefer a detailed policy statement

Our approach requires a great deal of love and personal commitment, not just careful adjudication or implementation of regulations. As Jesus-followers we need to love real, complex people with an unfolding future, not just organize identities as if we were the Social Security Administration. We want to have faith that requires our best — and loving people as they are will require our best. Being personally gracious and hospitable takes a lot of time and patience, but the  commitment it takes to work out our love in the ways we are directed is worth it.

Here are some basic applications of the scripture that answer questions people have about what we are talking about:

What about the pressure to choose a sexual identity? Sexual arousal is a characteristic of a person, not their identity. How we respond to our arousal and the feelings themselves tend to be fluid and are subject to the same temptations and maturation as are all our ways. Jesus is Lord of all our feelings and ways. We seek to honor each person as they experience their feelings and find their way along their unique journey as a member of the body of Christ.

What about the increasing experience of living together as sexual partners before marriage? Generally, sexual expression should happen within a relationship founded in a marriage covenant. Couples who cohabit as sexual partners without a public commitment should consider themselves married. Likewise, if they break up, they should consider themselves divorced. The rights the nation gives or withholds regarding marriage and other relationships are superseded by our life in faith as part of the new creation.

What about “same sex attraction?” Jesus followers who desire sexual relations with people of their own gender are no less honorable than anyone else. They are going to work out their sexuality in a variety of ways, as they are convicted and gifted.

  • Some will choose celibacy and struggle alongside Jesus and Paul.
  • Some will choose to have a committed relationship that can be a faithful response to their desire.
  • Some will marry a person of the complementary gender and not express their other attractions, as all married couples are called to do.

There does not need to be one approach to marriage and sexual expression that supposedly meets the needs and aspirations of all people. All approaches to marriage do not need to be seen as equal in value or validity. The key to unity in diversity is the work of grace that enables disparate people to manifest the Spirit for the common good.  We all experience brokenness, sin and loneliness in our loves; so we will bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). What counts is the new creation.